Top U.S. Terrorism Official: ISIS Territorial Losses Haven't Degraded Global Attack Reach
WASHINGTON -- A top official at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence told senators today that victories against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq have not degraded the terror group's ability to inspire worldwide attacks as guidance for homegrown terrorists on ops and methods is already well-entrenched in global jihadist circles.
Lora Shiao, acting director for intelligence at the National Counterterrorism Center, said before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that "the terrorist landscape we face today involves more threats in more places from more terrorist actors than at any time in the past 16 years," as "both ISIS and al-Qaeda have proven to be extremely resilient organizations."
While losses of caliphate territory are "depriving the group of what was once a key part of its global narrative," she said ISIS "takes a long view of the conflict" and has "already adapted its narrative to compensate by portraying the struggle as a long-term process that will test the fortitude of its followers."
"Unfortunately, we don't see ISIS' loss of territory translating into a corresponding reduction in its ability to inspire attacks," Shiao said. "...The number of arrests and disruptions we've seen worldwide tells us that ISIS's global reach remains largely intact, even as the group is being defeated on the battlefield."
Meanwhile, al-Qaeda "has never stopped being a top priority for the counterterrorism community," and veteran pre-9/11 operatives are currently in Syria. "The various al-Qaeda affiliates have also managed to sustain recruitment, maintain local relationships and derive sufficient resources to enable their operations. So we see this continued evolution of al-Qaeda as evidence of its resiliency."
The great concern in the U.S. is homegrown violent extremists, she emphasized, using simple tactics that don't draw the attention of law enforcement in the planning stages.
FBI Deputy Assistant Director for Counterterrorism Nikki Floris called ISIS and homegrown violent extremists "the greatest threat to U.S. interests in the homeland and abroad."
"No group has been as successful at drawing people into its perverse message as ISIS" in its online operations, she said, as the group "uses high-quality traditional media platforms, as well as widespread social media campaigns, to propagate its extremist ideology."
"We have even seen ISIS and other terrorist organizations use social media to spot and assess potential recruits," Floris added. "Through the internet, terrorists overseas now have direct access to our local communities to target and recruit our citizens and spread the message of radicalization, faster than we imagined just a few years ago." Increasingly, these communications are encrypted, leaving the FBI in the dark.
Shiao said that as far as cyber warfare, though, "ISIS really has minimal hacking skills."
"They are able to deface websites, they have put out hit lists of personally identifiable information on Westerners," she said. "But this is primarily for intimidation. It's not a key strength for them."