The House Committee on Homeland Security heard testimony today from intelligence apparatchiks Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, FBI Director James Comey, and Director of the National Counterterrorism Center Matthew Olson concerning potential "threats to the homeland"—with ISIS, naturally, at the center of attention.
The witnesses reminded the committee several times during the proceedings that, in the words of Olson, the intelligence community has "no information that ISIL is plotting an attack against the United States." Nor, once again, does the intelligence community have any specific evidence that ISIS is trying to ooze through the "porous southern border." Cue Johnson:
We see no specific intelligence or evidence to suggest that ISIL is attempting to infiltrate this country through our southern border.
Olson concurred, stating that, while there has been a "very small number of sympathizers of ISIL posting messages on social media about this," evidence remains scarce that "there's an operational plot to infiltrate or move operatives into the United States from the south."
Meanwhile, ISIS may be working to help America grow our very own terrorists here at home. Olson, while admitting that "it remains to be seen what the impact of that information on potential recruits is," warned that "there's obviously a concern that the [ISIS] propaganda is having an impact on recruiting," evidenced by the number of foreigners traveling to fight in Syria.
And all three witnesses agreed that declaring homegrown terrorism a problem is far easier than doing anything about it. As Comey dryly noted, "in a country this big and this free…it's a big challenge for us."
A challenge that keeps getting bigger, as Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.) pointed out:
There have been more than 70 homegrown violent jihadist plots or attacks in the United States since 9/11, according to the Congressional Research Service. More than two-thirds of them have been uncovered or have taken place in only the past five years.
Given the dearth of terrorist attacks actually carried out, has the intelligence community has been doing a relatively decent job despite the bigness and the freeness of the nation?
Well, perhaps. But the FBI has developed a rather worrisome habit of manufacturing terrorist plots that it can then foil in heroic fashion. According to a report from Human Rights Watch:
All of the high-profile domestic terrorism plots of the last decade, with four exceptions, were actually FBI sting operations—plots conducted with the direct involvement of law enforcement informants or agents, including plots that were proposed or led by informants.
Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) was therefore unintentionally right when he said "we need to remain vigilant and improve awareness and vigilance at home." We should certainly be keeping an eye on our public servants, at the very least.