News media are reporting on a recently issued document prepared by expert advisers to the United Nations Security Council concerning extremists affiliated with ISIS, al Qaeda, and other Muslim terrorist organizations (see, for instance, here and here).
According to these experts:
- As many as 30,000 foreign fighters in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere are prepared to return to their home countries — or, in the case of the European Union (EU) with its borderless travel rules, anywhere in the visa-free zone — in order to commit attacks.
- Recruiting by ISIS and al Qaeda has not slowed down, and in fact has increased in level and sophistication, in part to cover the ranks as fighters are killed or disperse.
- Use of encryption and the "dark web" are making it possible for the extremist groups to outpace even the most advanced devices and techniques of western intelligence services, making it difficult or even impossible to track and crack messages and codes among and between members, or recruiters and jihadists-in-waiting.
This is sobering news. If FBI Director Comey or Director of National Intelligence Clapper are to be believed, even as there is a decline in the number of American citizens or resident aliens physically trying to get to Syria to join ISIS or other groups, online recruiting remains robust. And, those dozens who did make it abroad will almost certainly be among the intended returnees, given the symbolic importance of striking at the heart of America.
We also should not forget that, where the EU member states and a growing number of other countries are concerned, their nationals enjoy visa-free travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program. While the VWP was tightened up legislatively not so long ago to attempt to minimize its inherent weaknesses, we should not underestimate the potential that someone can nonetheless slip through.
It remains a real possibility that one of Europe's disaffected and radicalized Muslims, often the native-born children of immigrants if the history of recent attacks is an indicator (and it is), either having returned from the battlefront or having been recruited on the dark web, can slip through our nation's security protocols and into the country simply because they are not known by anyone to be, or to have connections with, violent Islamic fundamentalists.