Yesterday, the House Homeland Security Committee released the final report of its Task Force on Combating Terrorist and Foreign Fighter Travel and its conclusions weren't pretty. The following are a dozen hair-raising facts from the bipartisan report:
"Today, we are witnessing the largest global convergence of jihadists in history."
About 10,000 foreign fighters joined the jihad against the Soviets over roughly a 10-year period, with only 3-4,000 fighter joining at once. Today, over 25,000 foreign fighters are currently in Syria and the civil war is only four years old. When it started in 2011, the number of foreign fighters was a mere 1,000.
"We have largely failed to stop Americans from traveling overseas to join jihadists … Several dozen also managed to make it back into America."
This stunning conclusion will add ammunition to efforts to revoke the passports of Americans who are believed to have joined jihadists overseas. Aside from constitutional objections, one rebuttal has been if the government has the evidence to show an American has joined terrorists, then it can simply arrest them if they try to re-enter. The report shows that these American traitors have been able to evade detection and come back home to potentially carry out attacks and/or radicalize others.
"The U.S. government lacks a national strategy for combating terrorist travel and has not produced one in nearly a decade."
This statement, unfortunately, speaks for itself.
"The unprecedented speed at which Americans are being radicalized by violent extremists is straining federal law enforcement's ability to monitor and intercept suspects."
Over 250 Americans have joined or tried to join the jihadist groups in Iraq and Syria, including around 30 females. They come from 19 states, with 26% coming from Minnesota, 12% from California and 12% from New York/New Jersey.
"There have now been twice as many ISIS-inspired terror plots against the West in 2015 than there were in all of 2014."
This conclusion is unsettling—and charitable. A review by terrorism expert Patrick Poole found that the number of Islamist terrorism cases in the U.S. this year was double that of the previous two years combined. And that was as of about four months ago.
"[ISIS] is believed to have inspired or directed nearly 60 terrorist plots or attacks against Western countries, including 15 in the United States."
"Military officials estimate airstrikes have killed over 10,000 [ISIS] extremists, but new foreign fighters replace them almost as quickly as they are killed."
This substantiates the admission that the U.S. fight with ISIS was at a "stalemate." Our analysis of the numbers led to the same conclusion back in May. If you look at ISIS' membership and territorial expansion, the U.S. is barely making a dent.
Additionally, optimistic claims of success exempt ISIS' growth outside of Iraq and Syria. The Committee mentions reports that there are "hundreds, if not thousands" of ISIS members in Afghanistan now and the Libyan government believes it is dealing with 5,000 of its own jihadist foreign fighters now.
"Gaping security weaknesses overseas—especially in Europe—are putting the U.S. homeland in danger…"
The report raises several warnings about European security procedures, a pressing issue considering that about 1,550 fighters from France, 700 from Germany and 700 from the United Kingdom have joined the jihad in Syria and Iraq. The Committee found that counter-terrorism checks at European borders and airports are insufficient.
One-third of the international community does not issue fraud-resistant E-Passports or utilize the INTERPOL databases that contain the names of terrorists.
"In short, information about foreign fighters is crossing borders less quickly than the extremists themselves."
The report emphasizes that intelligence-sharing remains a severe problem. There isn't even an international comprehensive database of foreign fighter names.
"The federal government has failed to develop clear early intervention strategies—or 'off-ramps'- to radicalization—to prevent suspects already on law enforcement's radar from leaving to join extremists."
Someone who is actively trying to join a group like ISIS or Al-Qaeda is probably too far gone to be rescued, unless they get a brutal wakeup call when they see the caliphate first-hand. The report states that 80% of foreign fighters download extremist propaganda and/or engage a jihadist online. It is critical that we target the ideology that precedes the violent act.
"Few initiatives exist nationwide to raise community awareness about foreign fighter recruitment and to assist communities with spotting warning signs."
The report says that 75% of foreign fighter arrests in the U.S. happen due to the involvement of a confidential informant who is close enough to the suspect to provide the critical evidence. Presumably, this would be a Muslim in most cases. This is why Islamist propaganda that demonizes the FBI and its informants must be rebutted, such as when the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) claims that the War on Terror is "made up" by the FBI and its informants are paid to frame innocent Muslims.
"The Administration has launched programs to counter-message terrorist propaganda abroad, but little is being done here at home."
The report isn't exactly kind to our ideological strategy abroad, either. It says the U.S. government has not exploited the opportunity presented by "jaded jihadists"—Islamist terrorists who join the caliphate, realize it wasn't all it was cracked up to be and flee. For example, a State Department video featuring such testimonies had only 500 views over two months.
Ryan Mauro is ClarionProject.org’s national security analyst, a fellow with Clarion Project and an adjunct professor of homeland security. Mauro is frequently interviewed on top-tier television and radio. Read more, contact or arrange a speaking engagement.