(CNSNews.com) - Testifying in the House Armed Services Committee today, former Acting CIA Director Michael Morell said that the Islamic State, which he referred to as ISIS, poses a “a significant strategic and lethal threat to the United States of America” and that it envisions a “global caliphate” that “would extend to the United States of America itself.”
“ISIS is gaining affiliates among extremists groups around the world,” Morell told the committee. “They are signing up—these groups are signing up--for what ISIS desires as its objective: a global caliphate, where day-to-day life is governed by extreme religious views. In the mind of ISIS, it’s global caliphate would extend to the United States of America itself."
“We have not faced the likes of it before,” Morell told the committee in a hearing entitled, "Outside Views on the U.S. Strategy for Iraq and Syria and the Evolution of Islamic Extremism."
“Let me start with the bottom line: I believe ISIS poses a significant strategic and lethal threat to the United States of America,” said Morell. “That is a very strong statement. Let me walk you through why I believe that. The nature and significance of the threat posed by ISIS flow from the fact that ISIS is at the same time a terrorist group, a quasi-state and a revolutionary political movement.”
Morell said he believe ISIS now poses both an indirect and a direct threat to the U.S. homeland, with the indirect threat represented by “homegrown extremists” who align themselves with ISIS.
“There are thousands of ISIS sympathizers in the United States, more than al Qaida ever had,” said Morell. “The FBI has over 900 open investigations into home-grown extremists, the vast majority radicalized by ISIS and a large number of which relate to individuals who may be plotting attacks here. Such attacks have already occurred in the United States, including the attack in San Bernardino last month, which in terms of fatalities was the largest terrorist attack in the United States since 9/11.”
Morell said the direct threat comes from ISIS’s ability to plan attacks on the United States from the territory it now controls in Iraq and Syria, which he said has become virtually an ISIS-controlled state—or what he called a “quasi-state.”
“Today, in addition to that indirect threat, we face a direct threat,” said Morell. “We face a direct threat from ISIS--an ISIS capability to plan and direct attacks in the homeland from the group’s safe haven in Iraq and Syria—largely from Raqqa in Syria--just like the group did in Paris in November.”
He said that a direct ISIS attack on the United States would differ from an indirect attack in that it would be bring more casualties.
“A lone wolf attack, while horrific, is likely to produce fairly limited casualties on the order of the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, three killed, or the shootings at Fort Hood in 2009, 12 killed,” he said. “A directed attack, however, carries the potential to be more complex and more sophisticated, multiple simultaneous attacks for example, and therefore more deadly—again just like Paris, 130 killed, or London in 2005, 56 killed, or even 9/11 itself.”
He noted that ISIS has said it wants to carry out attacks in the United States and that these threats are serious.
“The head of the UK’s domestic security agency has warned that ISIS is planning mass casualty attacks in Britain,” said Morell. “ISIS has said that it wants to conduct similar attacks on the United States. One of the things I learned in 33 years in the CIA is sometimes it is really important to listen to what your adversary tells you. Sometimes they tell you exactly what they are going to do. ISIS has told us they are going to attack us here. Now that they have the attack capability in Europe they are almost certainly working to do the same thing here, and unless they are degraded, they will succeed here. I don’t have any doubt about that.
He said that the only difference between ISIS and an ordinary state is that ISIS is not recognized by other governments or have relations with them.
“ISIS is a state in every respect of the word except one,” said Morell. “It does not have foreign recognition or relations with other states. But in every other respect it is a state. It has an executive. It has an army. It has a police force. It has a set of laws. It has a judiciary. It provides social services. It takes care of its poor. And it raises taxes.
Morell said that ISIS is gaining affiliates around the world and that its ultimate vision is to create a global caliphate that would include the United States.
“ISIS is gaining affiliates among extremists groups around the world,” said Morell. “They are signing up—these groups are signing up--for what ISIS desires as its objective: a global caliphate, where day-to-day life is governed by extreme religious views. In the mind of ISIS, it’s global caliphate would extend to the United States of America itself.
“When they join ISIS, these affiliates evolve from focusing on local issues, local grievances, to focusing on establishing an extension of the caliphate themselves,” said Morell. “They want their own little caliphates. And their targets evolve from local to international ones.”
“ISIS has gained affiliates faster than al Qaeda ever did,” he said. “From nothing a year ago, there are now militant groups in nearly 20 countries that have sworn allegiance to ISIS. They have conducted attacks that have already killed Americans, and they carry the potential to themselves grab large amounts of territory.”
It could happen soon in Libya, he warned.
“Libya is a place where his could happen in the near term,” he said. “ISIS controls territory in Libya. They are currently expanding that territory and foreign fighters are beginning to go to Libya to fight with the ISIS group there. I would not be surprised if we woke up one morning and ISIS in Libya had grabbed a large part of Libyan territory in the same kind of blitzkrieg on a smaller scale that we saw in Iraq.”