FBI Warns of Intelligence Gap on Foreign Fighters in Syria, Iraq

Media Contact: Lauren Claffey; April Ward (202) 226-8477

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security held a hearing entitled “Countering Violent Islamist Extremism: The Urgent Threat of Foreign Fighters and Homegrown Terror.” The hearing explored the current and evolving dual terror threats to the homeland – foreign fighters who have gone to join extremist groups overseas and homegrown violent Islamist extremism.

During the hearing, the committee heard from officials from DHS, FBI and the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) on efforts and strategies to counter these threats. The officials highlighted the number of foreign fighters joining the fight in Syria and Iraq has grown to more than 20,000, and expressed concern about the lack of intelligence gathering on the ground in Syria on these terrorists.

“We don't have it under control,” said Mr. Michael Steinback, Assistant Director for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  “Absolutely, we're doing the best we can. If I were to say that we had it under control, then I would say I know of every single individual traveling. I don't. And I don't know every person there and I don't know everyone coming back. So it's not even close to being under control.”

Members also discussed the Obama administration’s plan to accept tens of thousands of Syrian refugees into the United States by the end of 2016 through an expedited refugee program. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, asked if DHS, FBI and NCTC concurred with the planned refugee program.

“Would bringing in Syrian refugees pose a greater risk to Americans?” asked McCaul.

“Yes, I’m concerned,” said Steinback. “We’ll have to go take a look at those lists and go through all of those intelligence holdings and be very careful to try and identify connections to foreign terrorist groups.”

McCaul, along with Subcommittee Chairmen Peter King, R-N.Y., and Candice Miller, R-Mich., previously sent a letter to the White House on the Syrian refugee plan. “Screening these refugees is not a task to be taken lightly,” said the Chairmen. “As we saw with previous Iraqi refugees…the lack of a thorough security screening process can result in individuals with terrorist ties exploiting the refugee program to resettle in the U.S. homeland.”

Video of McCaul’s questions is available HERE.

Video of Seinback’s response on databases is available HERE.

Full video of the hearing is available HERE.