ISIS is working to send its fighters to the West, warned CIA Director John Brennan on Capitol Hill, June 16.
As pressure mounts on Islamic State, the terrorist group will rely on guerrilla tactics and “intensify its global campaign” through high profile attacks like the ones in Brussels and Paris—which the CIA believes were directed by Islamic State leaders.
Brennan said ISIS has been working to build an apparatus to direct and inspire attacks outside Iraq and Syria.
His testimony before U.S. senators comes after a terror attack in Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, in which Omar Mateen pledged allegiance to ISIS while shooting and killing 49 people and injuring dozens. Brennan said the CIA has not found a link between Mateen and a foreign terrorist organization, despite Mateen’s pledge during the attack.
Brennan said ISIS’ finances have been squeezed, while less fighters are traveling to Syria, and militants are becoming disillusioned with the group, but that the organization remains a threat.
Although ISIS has lost ground in Syria and Iraq, Brennan said the organization is “resilient” and will “regain momentum.”
The CIA director said ISIS is working on infiltrating fighters to the West through refugee flows or legitimate travel.
ISIS fighters in Libya, a gateway to Europe, are a concern, as the terrorist group tries to increase its influence in Africa and plot attacks in the region, including Europe.
“The branch in Libya is probably the most developed and most dangerous,” said Brennan.
The CIA director noted that there are now about 18,000 to 20,000 ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria—a decrease from an estimated 33,000 fighters last year. But ISIS still has more fighters than Al-Qaeda in its prime.
“The numbers of ISIL fighters now far exceed what Al-Qaeda had at its height,” said Brennan, “We’re talking about tens of thousands of individuals.”
ISIS has “made an extensive use of the internet,” Brennan says. The group is expanding globally through propaganda on social media sites like Twitter, Tumblr, and Telegram, as well as radio and mobile apps.
Countries outside the Middle East are also a concern, the CIA says—especially in Asia.
Brennan said he recently traveled to Singapore to speak with his Asian counterparts about what might transpire in Southeast Asia as various organizations in the region increase their interaction and connections with ISIS.
Brennan said China’s modernization of its military is also a concern; as well as North Korea’s pursuit in developing nuclear weapons.
Terrorist groups linked to ISIS, like Boko Haram in Africa, are also a threat. And Russia is always on the list.
Brennan said the new president, who will succeed President Obama in January, 2017, will have to work on cybersecurity.
“That individual, whoever is elected, needs to use their all four to eight years to tackle this issue because it’s going to take time in order to come up with the types of understandings that are necessary,” said Brennan.
“Terrorism is going to continue to plague us, and that’s related to the cyber issue,” he said.
The CIA director recommends global standards on what the appropriate role for governments should be when it comes to the internet.
“We don’t want to face the equivalent of 9/11 in that cyber domain,” said Brennan.
“When I think about the government’s inability to be able to follow up on a court order and a warrant that grants the access to some type of device that holds a lot of documents or information that it could be exculpatory about an investigation as well as provide investigative leads to prevent the next attack, that is something that this government has to come to grips with in terms of what is the authority and responsibility and the role of the government in making sure that this country is kept safe from those who want to do us harm using that digital domain,” he said.
Brennan’s remarks on the government’s role of the internet comes after a battle between the FBI and Apple over unlocking an iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino shooters earlier this year.
Apple refused to unlock the device, citing consumer privacy, but the FBI eventually sought help from a third party to hack into the phone.