With ISIS distributing its propaganda and recruiting messages to as many as 200,000 people on social media worldwide, U.S. officials warned Wednesday there is no way to monitor their online encrypted communications.
The officials, appearing before the House Homeland Security Committee, said while there are only several thousand hardcore ISIS propagandists, technology was complicating efforts to monitor them.
“There are 200-plus social media companies. Some of these companies build their business model around end-to-end encryption,” said Michael Steinbach, head of the FBI’s counterterrorism division. “There is no ability currently for us to see that” communication, he said.
“We’re past going dark in certain instances. We are dark,” he added.
Steinbach said he was concerned that evolving technologies were outpacing laws that allow law enforcement to intercept communications by suspects.
Referring to the case in Boston this week when a man was shot and killed by police after allegedly plotting with another suspect to behead local officers, Steinbach indicated the 26-year- old suspect had gone operational.
“The targets that are out there, we are monitoring them very closely for any type of action, any type of oversteps, any mobilization factors and when we see those we’re not taking a chance,” he said.
Recent cases, including the draw Muhammad cartoon contest shooting in Garland, Texas, where suspects Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi were killed by a security guard, also show how connected Americans are to ISIS in Syria.
“Even if we have coverage by, let’s say, a warrant or a wiretap, they can then jump into a message box and then to another platform that’s called dark space that we can’t cover and we don’t know what those communications are,” said Michael McCaul of Texas, the Republican Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.
Lawmakers were told there are two types of radicalization: the “slow burn,” which can sometimes take years, and the “flash to bang.”
In an exchange with Rep. Peter King, R-NY, John Mulligan, the deputy director of the National Counterterrorism Center, testified,”I would suggest, congressman, that you are absolutely correct and that they believe they are able to operationalize people solely through social media.
“They believe they can enter into the dialogue and provide the tools and they are not getting into very complex tools.”
A recent FBI and Homeland security bulletin, obtained exclusively by Fox, warned that police and service members were ISIS targets, and especially so during Memorial Day and upcoming federal holidays.
The Associated Press contributed to this story
Catherine Herridge is an award-winning Chief Intelligence correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC) based in Washington, D.C. She covers intelligence, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security. Herridge joined FNC in 1996 as a London-based correspondent.