ISIL Keeps FBI Director Awake At Night

Photo: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images.
FBI Director James Comey testifies during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Going Dark and data encryption in Washington, USA on JULY 8, 2015.
The director of the FBI believes that the Islamic State group — known by its acronyms ISIL or ISIS — is now a bigger threat to the United States than any other terrorist group, including al-Qaida.

"I worry very much about what I can't see," FBI chief James Comey said during a talk at the Aspen Security Forum on Wednesday. "If you can imagine a nationwide haystack, we're trying to find needles in that haystack. A lot of those needles are invisible to us either because of the way in which they're communicating or because they haven't communicated or touched a place where we can see them."

Alleged plots inspired by the Islamic State group and al-Qaida have made headlines in the past month. In early July, the FBI announced it had foiled an alleged ISIL plot set for Independence Day by arresting more than 10 individuals, including the son of a Boston police captain.

If you can imagine a nationwide haystack, we're trying to find needles in that haystack.

JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR
And, last week, 24-year-old Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez drove into a naval recruiting center in Chattanooga, TN, and allegedly shot and killed five servicemembers; Abdulazeez is reputed to have downloaded audio recordings of sermons by Anwar al-Awlaki, an al-Qaida recruiter who was killed in a 2011 drone strike, ABC News reported.

But during Wednesday's talk, Comey declined to comment on the ongoing investigation into Abdulazeez's background.

The sorts of terrorists Comey believes most threaten the United States today are individual actors — marginalized young people who find inconceivable solace in violence. And Comey said that most of them are now drawn to ISIL, not al-Qaida.

"ISIL is not your parents' al-Qaida. It's a very different model," Comey told CNN news anchor Wolf Blitzer during the forum.
"They have invested about the last year in pushing a message — a poison — primarily through Twitter," Comey said. "They are preaching through social media to troubled souls, urging them to join their so-called caliphate, in Syria and Iraq; or if you can't join, kill where you are."

Comey speculated that dozens of Americans have traveled to the Middle East to train with ISIL, though he said he did not have a "'high-confidence read' on the issue" and did not specify a time frame for the trips. He added that Twitter accounts affiliated with the terrorist group count more than 21,000 English-speaking followers worldwide.

Vanda Felbab-Brown, Ph.D., a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute's Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence, agreed that ISIL now represents a larger threat than al-Qaida, but says that threat must be put in perspective.

...You have messaging being concocted by people in their 50s. Young people need to learn how to dissuade other young people from such errors.

Vanda Felbab-Brown, Brookings Institute
"I do not think people should be scared on a daily basis. That would be totally ineffective and unproductive," Felbab-Brown told Refinery29.

Felbab-Brown adds that young people have a responsibility to dissuade their peers from joining terrorist groups. She compares most attempts by the government to discredit ISIL propaganda to ineffective anti-drug campaigns.

"Very often, you have messaging being concocted by people in their 50s," Felbab-Brown says. "Young people need to learn how to dissuade other young people from such errors."

And that means assessing why young Americans would be attracted to such groups in the first place, she adds.

"I think [young people] need to engage with their peers and think about why [ISIL] would appeal to anyone, and what kind of messaging would be effective in exposing the true brutality and awfulness of the group," Felbab-Brown says.

To put that fear in perspective, nearly twice as many people have been killed on American soil by right-wing extremists since 9/11 than by Muslim terrorist groups, according to a report by the New America Foundation.

Since September 11, 2001, 28 people have died from "deadly jihadist attacks," according to the report. That's less than 0.001% of the number of people killed in car crashes in the United States in 2013.

More from Politics

Less than 12 hours after being criticized for calling out a former Miss Universe about her weight, Donald Trump is doubling down on his body-shaming ...
Watching the first presidential debate, I felt three things: terror, inspiration, and skepticism
Election Day lasts just one day — a 24-hour culmination of the seemingly never-ending campaign season. But we’ll spend the next two, four, six years ...
If the chaotic party politics of the 2016 election have left you feeling completely birdbrained, this video is for you. The Founding Fathers (presented ...
Imagine if Donald Trump had accused Hillary Clinton of fighting ISIS her "whole life"? Or if Clinton had coined the term "Trumped Up, Trickle Down" on ...
"Wrong." "That makes me smart." "Why Not?" "Ugh." No, those aren't snippets of a conversation with a cranky 5-year-old. They're just a few of the ...
1. ICYMI: Charlotte lifted its curfew after days of protests following the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott. Scott, 43, was shot and killed last Tuesday...
When Donald Trump attacked her suitabilty for office during Monday's debate, Hillary Clinton was ready with the comeback of the evening. Towards...
People are already having feelings about the presidential debate — and no one’s even had time to finish their wine yet. Twitter was gearing up for the ...
Between Two Ferns With Zach Galifianakis: Hillary Clinton from Funny Or Die Update: Hillary Clinton's appearance on Between Two Ferns may have smashed ...
We're just hours away from the first presidential debate of the 2016 election. The 90-minute showdown between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is ...
We share the 12 questions we want to hear moderator Lester Holt ask Clinton and Trump tonight
Step aside, old-school political merch. We're way past bumper stickers and buttons. With the election just months away, people across the country are ...
1. Here At Home: Police arrested a suspect in connection with a shooting at a Washington state mall that left five people dead. The shooting took place...