“COMBATING TERRORIST AND FOREIGN FIGHTER TRAVEL” lists 32 Key Findings

By Russ Phillips

This morning on ABC’s “This Week” moderated by George Stephanopoulos presidential candidates Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Martin O’Malley were interviewed on topics including the Syrian refugees and responding to the ISIS threat.

Next the Roundtable took place with participation including U.S. Representative Keith Ellison (MN), the first Muslim elected to Congress and U.S. Representative Martha McSally (AZ), the first woman fighter pilot to fly in combat who is now a member of the House Homeland Security Committee.

McSally served on the bipartisan Foreign Fighter Task Force that conducted an extensive, six month review to assess the severity of the threat from individuals who leave home to join jihadist groups overseas and to identify potential security gaps. The Final Report of the Task Force was issued September 29, 2015.

The Task Force makes 32 Key Findings and associated recommendations to improve America’s security posture—and to ensure foreign countries are doing the same. Below is an abbreviated summary with references to the appropriate sections where complete descriptions (see Final Report) of each Key Finding can be found.

U.S. Government Strategy and Planning to Combat the Threat

Key Finding 1: The U.S. lacks a comprehensive strategy for combating terrorist and foreign fighter travel. p. 22

Key Finding 2: Despite concerted eforts to stem the flow, we have largely failed to stop Americans from traveling overseas to join jihadists. p. 23

Key Finding 3: The growing complexity of the threat may be creating unseen gaps in our defenses, yet it has been years since any large-scale “stress test” has been conducted on U.S. defenses against terrorist travel. p. 23

Key Finding 4: ISIS operatives are urging followers to travel to the group’s other “provinces” in places like Libya, yet it is unclear whether agencies are keeping pace with changes in foreign-fighter destinations. p. 24

Key Finding 5: Ultimately, severing foreign fighter flows depends on eliminating the problem at the source. p. 24

Identifying Terrorists and Foreign Fighters—and Preventing Them from Traveling

Key Finding 6: Improvements have been made to the terrorist watchlisting process, yet no independent review has been done to assess them and whether more are needed in light of the evolving threat environment. p. 26

Key Finding 7: Individuals can now contest their status on the no-fly list; however, more should be done to ensure the new process will appropriately balance due process rights with national security concerns. p. 27

Key Finding 8: Despite improvements since 9/11, foreign partners are still sharing information about terrorist suspects in a manner which is ad hoc, intermittent, and often incomplete. p. 28

Key Finding 9: There is currently no comprehensive global database of foreign fighter names. Instead, countries including the U.S. rely on a weak, patchwork system for swapping individual extremist identities. p. 29

Key Finding 10: DHS should continue its eforts to quickly leverage unclassified data in classified environments to identify potential foreign fighters. p. 30

Key Finding 11: The DHS Counterterrorism Advisory Board has not been authorized by Congress nor does its charter reflect recent changes to the threat environment, including the rise of the foreign fighter threat. p. 30

Key Finding 12: More can be done to incorporate valuable “financial intelligence” into counterterrorism screening and vetting processes. p. 31

Key Finding 13: State and local fusion centers are underutilized by federal law enforcement nationwide when it comes to combating the immediate foreign fighter threat and terrorist travel generally. p. 32

Key Finding 14: State and local law enforcement personnel continue to express concern that they are not provided with the appropriate security clearances to assist with counterterrorism challenges. p. 32

Key Finding 15: The unprecedented speed at which Americans are being radicalized by violent extremists is straining federal law enforcement’s ability to monitor and intercept suspects before it’s too late. p. 33

Key Finding 16: Few initiatives exist nationwide to raise community awareness about foreign-fighter recruitment and to assist communities with spotting warning signs. p. 33

Key Finding 17: The federal government has failed to develop clear intervention strategies—or “of-ramps” to radicalization—to prevent suspects already on law enforcement’s radar from leaving to join extremists. p. 34

Key Finding 18: Jihadist recruiters are increasingly using secure websites and apps to communicate with Americans, making it harder for law enforcement to disrupt plots and terrorist travel. p. 35

Key Finding 19: The Administration has launched programs to counter-message terrorist propaganda abroad, but little is being done here at home. p. 36

Key Finding 20: The U.S. has not made adequate use of “jaded jihadists” to convince others not to join the fight. p. 37

Key Finding 21: Unlike many other governments, U.S. authorities have not relied heavily on passport revocation to stop extremists. p. 37

Detecting and Disrupting Terrorists and Foreign Fighters When They Travel

Key Finding 22: While substantial progress has been made since 9/11 to enhance visa security, there may be additional opportunities to expand screening to identify potential extremists earlier in the process. p. 39

Key Finding 23: The Administration has improved the security of the Visa Waiver Program, but continuous enhancements must be made in light of the changing threat. p. 40

Key Finding 24: U.S. authorities remain concerned about terrorists posing as refugees, yet it is unclear to what extent security improvements to the refugee screening process mitigate potential vulnerabilities. p. 42

Key Finding 25: “Broken travel” and other evasive tactics are making it harder to track foreign fighters. p. 43

Key Finding 26: More could be done to give frontline operators at borders and ports better intelligence reachback capabilities so DHS can “connect the dots” and uncover previously unidentified terrorists and foreign fighters. p. 44

Key Finding 27: U.S. authorities continue to “push the border outward” by deploying homeland security initiatives overseas. Expanding these eforts might help detect threats sooner. p. 44

Key Finding 28: Only a fraction of U.S. states have access to INTERPOL databases; wider access could help spot wanted foreign fighters who have slipped past border security. p. 45

Overseas Security Gaps

Key Finding 29: Gaping security weaknesses overseas—especially in Europe—are putting the U.S. homeland in danger by making it easier for aspiring foreign fighters to migrate to terrorist hotspots and for jihadists to return to the West. p. 46

Key Finding 30: Extremists are using fraudulent passports to travel discretely. However, a third of the international community—including major source countries of foreign fighters—still do not issue fraud-resistant “e-passports,” and most countries are still unable to validate the authenticity of “e-passports.” p. 52

Key Finding 31: Many countries do not consistently add information to INTERPOL’s databases, and the majority do not screen against INTERPOL databases in real-time at their borders and airports. p. 53

Key Finding 32: U.S. departments and agencies have spent billions of dollars to help foreign partners improve their terror-travel defenses, but the lack of a coordinated strategy for such assistance results in greater risk of overlap, waste, and duplication between programs. p. 54


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *