From “Losers to Lions” a term coined by some officials for people taking extreme measures and joining terrorist groups, in an effort to try to become something greater than themselves.
Whether it starts out of curiosity or just lost souls looking for a cause, Americans even, Texans are getting sucked into Isis propaganda and committing acts of violence on their own.
In a very out-of-character move, before another life is lost at the hands of a terrorist, federal law enforcement officials are going out rather publicly calling on Americans to help them in their fight. “They are usually not doing well in their lives, and are vulnerable to this sort of radicalization process and then they become what they think is a lion pulling off an act of terror,” said Congressman Michael McCaul who also serves as Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security.
Rep. McCaul said we are past the days of terrorists like Bin Laden who lived in caves and used couriers for communication. “They are very sophisticated over social media and they are very good at radicalizing young, usually males, to join the fight. Either there or (to) kill in the United States,” he said. According to Rep. McCaul federal law enforcement agencies are pretty good at getting in front of those trying to leave the country to join in the fight with Isis. Two Central Texas men are behind bars right now for their dealings with Isis. The FBI said 23-year-old Rahatul Khan from Round Rock, was recruiting people to travel overseas to support terrorist activities, including committing violent jihad. Part of that group was 24-year-old Michael Wolfe from Austin, who was sentenced on similar charges. Both are men, both are in their early 20s. Traditionally, young men are targets, but we are starting to see some women, such as the San Bernardino attacks. “They want to become part of something bigger, and they think this is an adventure. ‘What's this Isis stuff all about?’ And they go on the Internet and they look at the videos,” Rep. McCaul said.
Those trying to leave the country to join Isis are not what is really concerning federal law enforcement as they can usually get them before they leave; it's those on U.S. soil in their homes. Christopher Combs is a Special Agent in Charge for the FBI in San Antonio. “Now with self-radicalization, with this home grown violent extremism, that's the kid in the basement who's doing it himself and wakes up one day and decides today is the day. That's hard, that's really hard for law enforcement to get in front of,’ he said.
Agent Combs said this new form of Isis recruitment calls for a different plea for help. “The FBI is going out rather publicly, rather out of character, to say we need the public’s help,” he said.
Fred Burton used to be a Special Agent and worked as the Deputy Chief of the State Department Counter Terrorism Division, he said the call to the public is necessary. “I have been in this business since 1980, and I have to say that I have never seen it this bad globally. This is the biggest challenge facing our country today from a counter terrorism perspective.” He said the FBI is doing a good job thwarting many plots, but they simply don't have the man power for all the investigations. ”If you have in the neighborhood of a thousand domestic terrorism investigations, investigations in every state, think of the man power it requires to watch those potential suspects. Most Americans have the unrealistic expectation that the FBI is going to stop every one of these attacks, it's not going to happen, they are going to miss a few,” Burton said.
So how does Isis find these people? Burton said it starts with social media, chatrooms or blogs. This is where agents go in and act as decoy recruiters. But if an actual Isis recruiter gets a hold of them, they take them into what's called the "dark space" an encrypted area, where agents can't access and they are using what's called electronic dead drops. “If you and I are in communication of carrying out a terrorist attack, we share our passwords with each other, but I go in and I create a draft, then you can go in and look at my draft. We don't necessarily send it to each other, to where it could be intercepted. “There's a parallel world of threats that are constant, that literally if you're in the business will just drive you crazy because there's so many of them,” Burton said.
Rep. McCaul said it's not just the responsibility of federal law enforcement anymore, “There were warning signs that popped up and flags that we missed, and quite frankly the American average citizen failed to report.” Rep. McCaul said Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev was so radicalized; he was kicked out of his mosque, but no law enforcement agencies even knew. “When people see a person changing, or going through radicalization if that was reported we could stop terrorist events. We've stopped a lot of bad things from happening, but in each of the cases we've had failures, the signs were there and weren't reported.”
That's why federal law enforcement is calling on the public. McCaul said “The neighbors always say after the fact ‘Oh yeah we noticed they were acting a little strange’ you know they don't talk about that until after the event.” Agent Combs said “We need the public. The public is going to see the one offs, the self- radicalizing, you're going to see somebody at school turning the other way, and you’re going to see somebody at work turning the other way.
These are two normally secretive agencies that are stepping out in a very public way to calling on the help of the American people.