Will Next Investigation Be: Who Let Islamic State In?

By Terence P. Jeffrey | January 15, 2016 | 6:07am EST
ISIS, some of whose fighters are shown here, has promised to be "in direct confrontation" with Americans. (AP File Photo)

"Our last message is to the Americans," Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi said in an audio recording released on Jan. 21, 2014. "Soon we will be in direct confrontation, and the sons of Islam have prepared for such a day. So watch, for we are with you, watching."

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Brett McGurk quoted these words from Baghdadi in written testimony he submitted to the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Feb. 5, 2014.

Baghdadi leads the terrorist movement that then called itself the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and now calls itself simply the Islamic State.

This week, testifying in the House Armed Services Committee, former Acting CIA Director Michael Morell gave his assessment of whether the United States should take seriously the Islamic State's threats to attack this country.

"The head of the U.K.'s domestic security agency has warned that ISIS is planning mass casualty attacks in Britain," Morell told the committee. "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," he said. "Sometimes they tell you exactly what they are going to do."

"ISIS has told us they are going to attack us here," he said. "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," Morell said.

In his written testimony, Morell distinguished between two types of attacks ISIS could perpetrate here — "indirect" attacks and "directed" attacks.

"In mid-2015, that threat was largely indirect — ISIS's ability to radicalize young American men and women to conduct lone wolf attacks here," he said. "That indirect threat remains today."

"Such attacks have already occurred in the U.S., 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," he said.

"Today," Morell said, "we face an additional threat from ISIS — a direct threat — an ISIS capability to plan and direct attacks in the homeland from the group's safe haven in Iraq and Syria. Just like the group did in Paris in November."

"Nearly 30,000 individuals from over 100 countries have traveled to Syria and Iraq," he said. "Some are homesteading there to help create the caliphate, others will die on the battlefield, but still others will return home — carrying with them the potential to conduct attacks. This has already happened in Europe."

While the federal government may not be able stop native U.S. citizens living here from becoming radicalized Islamic State sympathizers, it has a duty to stop Islamic State sympathizers and other radical Islamists who are foreign nationals from entering the United States.

After 9/11, Congress created The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States to investigate how that attack unfolded. Among its discoveries: The government did not adequately enforce the existing immigration and border-security laws.

"It is perhaps obvious to state that terrorists cannot plan and carry out attacks in the United States if they are unable to enter the country," said the 9/11 Commission staff report on "Terrorist Travel."

"Yet prior to September 11, while there were efforts to enhance border security, no agency of the U.S. government thought of border security as a tool in the counterterrorism arsenal," said this report. "Indeed, even after 19 hijackers demonstrated the relative ease of obtaining a U.S. visa and gaining admission into the United States, border security still is not considered a cornerstone of national security policy."

This report was published Aug. 21, 2004 — three years after 9/11.

The report said of the hijackers: "we endeavor to dispel the myth that their entry into the United States was 'clean and legal.' It was not."

"Three hijackers carried passports with indicators of Islamic extremism linked to al Qaeda; two others carried passports manipulated in a fraudulent manner," said the report. "It is likely that several more hijackers carried passports with similar fraudulent manipulation.

"Two hijackers lied on their visa applications," it said. "Once in the United States, two hijacker violated the terms of their visas. One overstayed his visa. And all but one obtained some form of state identification.

"We know that six of the hijackers used these state identifications to check in for their flights on September 11," said the report. "Three of them were fraudulently obtained."

And the presence of illegal immigrants in the United States helped the hijackers.

"Three Salvadoran immigrants living in Virginia, two illegally and one as a lawful permanent resident, were found guilty of helping four September 11 operatives use fraudulent documentation to obtain Virginia identification documents," said this 9/11 Commission staff report.

More than 14 years have passed since 9/11. Yet our borders are still open and our immigration laws are not enforced.

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