Fifteen years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, counterterrorism efforts expand beyond the physical world to social media and encrypted communications, where federal workers actively try to prevent terrorists from radicalizing potential attackers online.
That’s how three top senior counterterrorism officials described their sprawling challenge to a Senate committee Tuesday, where they faced questions about how they could better use technology to prevent future attacks. The hearing was held shortly after the anniversary of 9/11, and also within months and days of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando as well as a series of pipe- and pressure-cooker bombs detonating in the New York City area.
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FBI Director James Comey said the bureau uses sources and undercover agents to identify people who are at risk of radicalizing or who are transitioning from simply consuming information to actively planning attacks. “We are making good progress with the help of companies like Twitter at chasing the Islamic State” off the platform—the microblogging site has suspended hundreds of thousands of accounts promoting terrorism—but Comey said the challenge is that such efforts push some users “to a place where they’re less able to proselytize broadly but more able to communicate in a secure way. [We’ve] chased them to apps like Telegram.”
The bureau’s mission is to understand what kind of activity takes place in those encrypted spaces, he said.
But the “increasing ability of terrorist actors to communicate with each other outside our reach” makes tracking terrorist plots more difficult, said Nicholas Rasmussen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, during the hearing.
Here are a few other takeaways:
1. Congress wants to know exactly how the Department of Homeland Security will counter violent extremism.
DHS’ new Office of Community Partnerships, established one year ago with the mission …