At the annual worldwide threats hearing in the Senate this week, top US intelligence officials talked about the possibility of ISIS infiltrating America and mounting an attack in 2016.
Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that ISIS (also known as the Islamic State, ISIL, or Daesh) “will probably attempt to conduct additional attacks in Europe, and attempt to direct attacks on the US homeland in 2016.”
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the committee that ISIS is “taking advantage of the torrent of migrants to insert operatives into that flow” and warned that the group is “pretty skilled at phony passports so they can travel ostensibly as legitimate travelers.”
“As we saw in the November Paris attacks,” in which ISIS operatives trained in the Middle East killed 130 people across the city in a single night, “returning foreign fighters with firsthand battlefield experience pose a dangerous operational threat,” Clapper said.
“Although the US is a much harder target than Europe, ISIL’s leaders are determined to strike the US homeland beyond inspiring homegrown violent extremists attacks.”
However, some experts have thrown cold water on these alarming predictions.
Christopher Swift, an adjunct professor of national security studies at Georgetown University and international lawyer at Foley & Lardner, said concerns about highly trained ISIS operatives getting into the US are likely overblown. He said this week that ISIS is more likely to try to radicalize people who are already in the US rather than send operatives overseas.
“It’s a lower-cost strategy for ISIS and they don’t need to have a major event to have an effect, it’s sufficient for them to have a moderate number of small events that are difficult for people to anticipate,” Swift, who testified in front of the House subcommittee on terrorism this week, told Business Insider.
And because anyone with an internet connection can find ISIS propaganda online, it’s easy for people with no formal connections to terrorist groups to become radicalized but fly under the radar of US law enforcement. People coming into the US who have traveled to conflict zones overseas, however, are going to look more suspicious.
It would also take highly trained ISIS operatives out of the group’s territory in the Middle East, where they could be useful.
“Throwing a set of operatives at the US border, you’re taking high-value people and throwing them at a hard target,” Swift said. “It would show a level of desperation on their part because it’d show they’re willing to make an investment that they haven’t been willing to make to date.”
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SOURCE: Business Insider, Pamela Engel