Law enforcement agencies should be granted the authority to go after jihadi propagandists online in the same way that local, state and federal agencies prosecute online child pornographers, the influential chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security said, outlining a broad counterterror strategy this week to take on Islamic State and other groups targeting the U.S. mainland.
Rep. Michael T. McCaul said that Islamic State and other emerging radical groups differ from their predecessors like al Qaeda in their ability to exploit social media sites to spread their virulent brand of jihad.
Allowing federal law enforcement such authority is one of several proposals included in the Texas Republican’s new counterterrorism strategy. As part of the plan, the House committee chief also proposed a new “deradicalization” program that would look to reform U.S. citizens who joined Islamic State but have since abandoned the terror group.
The plan, submitted to campaign officials for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and GOP nominee Donald Trump, is designed to fill the relative dearth of debate within the campaigns over counterterrorism strategy for the next administration.
“As radical Islamist terror continues to sweep the globe, it has become clear that we are not winning the overall fight against it,” Mr. McCaul said in a statement coinciding with the release of the new counterterror plan.
“My plan is a guidepost for Congress and the next president to do what is needed to win this generational struggle,” he added.
Aides said Mr. McCaul’s blueprint included some 100 policy recommendations developed in discussions with both Republican and Democratic colleagues.
U.S. intelligence and law enforcement have spent millions of dollars to track social media outlets tied to the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, attempting to glean information into the organization. But as monitoring continues, Islamic State’s potent propaganda and recruiting operation online continues unabated.
“There has been no attempt to shut it down,” Mr. McCaul said.
“At what point is [posting] how to make a bomb in your kitchen protected under free speech?” he asked.
Utilizing the internet to broadcast their message worldwide, Islamic State has been able to carry out attacks much faster and with little warning via legions of “lone wolf” attackers, individuals either loosely affiliated or inspired by the group’s virulent jihadi ideology. It is an approach that has posed difficulty for the U.S. intelligence community to confront, he added.
“We have this new generation of terrorists who are very savvy on the internet. They know how to exploit it, to recruit, to train and to radicalize from within,” Mr. McCaul said. “We’ve seen through the internet they’ve been able to recruit 40,000 foreign fighters from 120 different countries — something we’ve never seen before.”
Ahmad Khan Rahami, 28, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Afghanistan, is only the latest example of the kind of new threat the U.S. and its allies face from the terror infiltration online and on the battlefield, Mr. McCaul told the Washington, D.C.-based think tank American Enterprise Institute in an address Tuesday.
Mr. Rahami is currently in federal custody, suspected of planting a series of homemade bombs across New York City and New Jersey after apparently becoming radicalized during a series of visits to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
While the plan is designed to redirect the course of U.S. counterterrorism strategy, Mr. McCaul admitted it would not eliminate the threat altogether.
“We cannot stop it all, that is just the fact of the matter,” he said during Tuesday’s speech. “We must accept the notion that we are in this for the long term.”
He also suggested the next administration would have to take a smarter and more active approach to counterterrorism efforts than the one about to leave office.
“We haven’t had a military strategy in about four years,” McCaul said. “We had a policy of containment essentially, not [one] to defeat ISIS.”
• Carlo Muñoz can be reached at email@example.com.
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