Michael Morell is the former deputy director of the CIA and has twice served as acting director. He is the author of The Great War of Our Time: The CIA’s Fight Against Terrorism — From al Qa’ida to ISIS.
In the aftermath of the attempted terrorist attack on May 4 in Garland, Texas–for which ISIS claimed responsibility–we find ourselves again considering the question of whether or not ISIS is a real threat. The answer is yes. A very serious one.
Extremists inspired by Osama bin Laden’s ideology consider themselves to be at war with the U.S.; they want to attack us. It is important to never forget that–no matter how long it has been since 9/11. ISIS is just the latest manifestation of bin Laden’s design. The group has grown faster than any terrorist group we can remember, and the threat it poses to us is as wide-ranging as any we have seen.
What ISIS has that al-Qaeda doesn’t is a Madison Avenue level of sophisticated messaging and social media. ISIS has a multilingual propaganda arm known as al-Hayat, which uses GoPros and cameras mounted on drones to make videos that appeal to its followers. And ISIS uses just about every tool in the platform box–from Twitter to YouTube to Instagram–to great effect, attracting fighters and funding. Digital media are one of the group’s most significant strengths; they have helped ISIS become an organization that poses four significant threats to the U.S.