With ISIS distributing its propaganda and recruiting messages to as many as 200,000 people on social media worldwide, U.S. officials warned Wednesday there is no way to monitor their online encrypted communications.
The officials, appearing before the House Homeland Security Committee, said while there are only several thousand hardcore ISIS propagandists, technology was complicating efforts to monitor them.
“There are 200-plus social media companies. Some of these companies build their business model around end-to-end encryption,” said Michael Steinbach, head of the FBI’s counterterrorism division. “There is no ability currently for us to see that” communication, he said.
“We’re past going dark in certain instances. We are dark,” he added.
Steinbach said he was concerned that evolving technologies were outpacing laws that allow law enforcement to intercept communications by suspects.
Referring to the case in Boston this week when a man was shot and killed by police after allegedly plotting with another suspect to behead local officers, Steinbach indicated the 26-year- old suspect had gone operational.
“The targets that are out there, we are monitoring them very closely for any type of action, any type of oversteps, any mobilization factors and when we see those we’re not taking a chance,” he said.
Recent cases, including the draw Muhammad cartoon contest shooting in Garland, Texas, where suspects Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi were killed by a security guard, also show how connected Americans are to ISIS in Syria.
“Even if we have coverage by, let’s say, a warrant or a wiretap, they can then jump into a message box and then to another platform that’s called dark space that we can’t cover and we don’t know what those communications are,” said Michael McCaul of Texas, the Republican Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.
Lawmakers were told there are two types of radicalization: the “slow burn,” which can sometimes take years, and the “flash to bang.”