FBI Director James Comey provided a troubling assessment Thursday of the agency’s efforts to combat the domestic threat posed by potential ISIS operatives. Saying there are “hundreds, maybe thousands” of people in the U.S. being actively recruited by ISIS, Comey painted a grim picture of the government’s “needle in a haystack” search for potential threats.
“The haystack is the entire country,” Comey said Thursday. “We are looking for the needles, but increasingly the needles are unavailable to us.”
Officials say ISIS’ recruitment efforts involve an unprecedented level of sophistication in its social media outreach. Using Twitter and Facebook and other social media platforms, the Syria-based terrorist group is effectively targeting what Comey described as “disturbed” people particularly vulnerable to their overtures. The terrorist group then directs them to encrypted venues where Comey said their communications become “lost to us.”
“This is the ‘going dark’ problem in living color,” said Comey. “There are Elton Simpsons out there that I have not found and I cannot see.”
The group’s method of mobilizing operatives like Simpson and Nadir Soofi makes attacks particularly difficult to anticipate. Unlike Al Quaeda, ISIS does not necessarily impose direct orders or vet attack plans, frustrating the officials’ attempts to prevent attacks. The FBI was only able to notify Texas authorities of a potential threat of actions by Simpson three hoursbefore the “draw Muhammad” attack Sunday.
Comey said that hundreds of investigations are currently being conducted all over the country, with all 56 of the agency’s field divisions involved.