As pundits debate who won last night’s Republican debate, FBI Director James Comey, along with NYPD Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, held a news conference to give an update on terror threats facing the United States. Comey was in the city to address the NYPD Shield Conference.
First, Comey became the first major U.S. official to declare the Chattanooga shootings as an attack “inspired by a foreign terror organization.” In July, Mohammad Abdulazeez went on a shooting spree, killing four Marines and a U.S. sailor (via CNN):
There is no doubt that the Chattanooga killer was inspired, motivated by foreign terrorist organization propaganda," Comey said, adding it's difficult to determine which terrorist group may have inspired Abdulazeez.
The FBI has been investigating the shootings as a terrorism case from the outset, Comey said.
His comments mark the first time a U.S. official has provided details outlining why the Chattanooga shootings are thought to be an act of terrorism.
During his Oval Office address after the horrific San Bernardino shootings, President Obama referred to the Chattanooga and the Fort Hood shootings as acts of terrorism. The San Bernardino is increasingly looking like an act of terrorism, as the FBI has taken over the investigation and reclassified it a federal terrorism investigation. In that attack, Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik murdered 14 people and wounding 22 others. Both were married. Both were radicalized as early as 2013.
Scrutiny has been directed towards the Department of Homeland Security for failing to review Malik’s social media presence during her visa application process for fear of civil liberties violation and “bad public relations” for the Obama administration. She eventually passed three background checks.
Republican presidential candidate ripped into this bureaucratic failure in the screening process last night, saying that even parents and employers look at the social media activity of their children and interviewees.
Today, Comey said that Farook and Malik communicated through direct, private messages, and found no evidence of social media posting by them after they became radicalized.
Comey: Farook & Malik communicated in "direct, private messages. We have found no evidence of a posting on social media by either of them."— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) December 16, 2015
He also went into how terror threats have changed regarding operational capability. This isn’t “your parents” al-Qaeda anymore, meaning the days of terrorists attacking visible landmarks by careful and methodical planning that evaded detection, long-term surveillance, and using a multiple operatives in coordinated attacks are over. He added that al-Qaeda didn’t go for these smaller scale attacks since that would send a message of weakness–that America’s counterterrorism operations were succeeding and preventing them from carrying out “the next big thing.” The rise of the Islamic State has changed the game.
Yet, attempted smaller scale attacks have occurred since 9/11. Richard Reid tried to ignite explosives in his shoes; Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to blow up an airliner by setting off an explosive device hidden in his underwear; and Faisal Shahzad attempted to detonate a car bomb in Times Square; he left keys to the getaway vehicle and his Connecticut home in the car he rigged to explode.
Regarding social media, Comey said ISIS has revolutionized terror through this medium. Recently, to protect people’s privacy, tech companies have deployed methods to encrypt personal information. Comey stated that he a strong supporter of encryption, and the need for safety and security on the Internet. At the same time, ISIS has been sending encrypted messages on chatting apps, which law enforcement cannot monitor, according to CNN.
Comey conceded that balancing Internet privacy and security isn’t an easy question to answer, but noted that the “temperature” on this issue has come down since last year. All parties involved in this debate now know we’re not at war with one another, and that they share the same goals. He assured the public that the Department of Justice issuing subpoenas to tech companies wouldn’t destroy the Internet.