FBI Official Reports No Reduced Terror Capability, Wariness With Encryption, Utility of Cooperation with Muslim Community

A top FBI official, Michael Steinbach, the Executive Assistant Director of the Bureau’s National Security Branch, expressed today his agreement with recent testimony by Director James Comey that the Islamic State’s terror capabilities remain the same as they did in 2014.

Testifying at the Senate committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs’ Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, Mr. Steinbach maintained that the success of the US military in Iraq and Syria against the Islamic State has not diminished the terror group’s ability to strike here.

Mr. Steinbach was following up on testimony in which he noted that “preventing terror attacks remains the FBI’s main priority.” He detailed the three main types of threats which the FBI sees. There are those enabled by the guidance of extremists, those directed explicitly by terror groups, and those inspired by the acts of terrorists.

Asked by the chairman of the subcommittee, Rob Portman, R-OH, if these “lone wolves” are the biggest threat, Mr. Steinbach replied simply “yes.”

Senator Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, asked Mr. Steinbach whether it was his estimation that the FBI has the appropriate tools it needs online. She referenced a bill recently voted down in the Senate that would have given FBI field agents the ability to issue National Security Letters, and inquired whether or nor he thought they were needed.

“We need a robust set of tools,” he replied. “We need those tools in the online space.”

Mr. Steinbach also commented on the difficulty of discerning who is just passively consuming extremist content online and who might be disposed to acting on it.

Mrs. Ayotte asked him if the Orlando shooter was consuming that content, to which he replied characteristically, “yes.”

Earlier, Mr. Steinbach had identified the two challenges he says the FBI has to overcome. The first is volume; the sheer amount of data intercepted by the Bureau leaves identifying communications they find worrisome a difficult task.

The second is encryption.

“[Encrypted] apps make communications more secret than before,” explained Mr. Steinbach, and asked that the public keep open a conversation on the value of encryption versus the value of national security.

“We need to continue to have conversations on that,” he opined. “Without the ability to see those communications, we’re dark, we’re blind.”

Mr. Steinbach also cited the increasing alacrity of what he called the “flash to bang” of radicalization.

“Many of the cases [begin] with an online anonymous moniker…[and a] concerning trend is the speed to which they mobilize.”

While in the past he said it took months or years, it now often takes days or weeks.

Claire McCaskill, D-MI, asked the Executive Assistant Director what percentage of leads are generated from Muslim communities. While he said that the FBI does not categorize who tips, he noted that field officers do work closely with mosques, and added that there is “quite a bit of communication back and forth…at the foundational level.”

“I will say,” he went on, “we get a lot of information and assistance from those communities.”

Mrs. McCaskill followed up by asking if the Muslim community is helpful.

Mr. Stein praised religious communities in general, calling them “overwhelmingly…helpful,” and said there is not an adversarial relationship with the Muslim community.

“We couldn’t do our jobs without them.”

by Marlon J. Ettinger


Wee Hours

Amendments, Tabled and Passed

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell successfully moved forward motions to table the amendments proposed by Senators Chris Murphy, D-CT, and Dianne Feinstein, D-CA. Those amendments had failed to pass cloture motions earlier in the day.

Mr. McConnell also put forward an amendment for Senator John McCain, R-AZ, amendment 4787 to 4685. The amendment empowers intelligence agencies to use National Security measures to access metadata without a warrant.

Cavaliers and the American Bird

Rob Portman, R-OH, rose to congratulate the Cleveland Cavaliers on their victory last night in the NBA finals over the Golden State Warriors.

He also introduced S. Resolution 502, designating June 20th American Eagle day, before adjourning the Senate until 10:00 AM tomorrow, with a recess between 12:30 and 2:15 PM to allow for committee meetings.

by Marlon J. Ettinger

Wee Hours

Voinovich Resolution

The two Senators from Ohio gave statements on the floor remembering the late George V. Voinovich, who had a storied career in Ohio politics.

Sen. Sherrod Brown(D) spoke of his colleague fondly, recalling the four years they had spent together in the upper chamber. He also commended Mr. Voinovich’s bipartisan legacy.

The Republican Senator, Rob Portman, introduced a resolution honoring the late Senator, calling him “an amazing public servant” and enumerating some of the varied roles Mr. Voinovich played in his many years in Ohio politics: County Commissioner, County Auditor, Mayor of Cleveland, Lieutenant Governor, Governor, and once his term limit was reached in the Executive, enthusiastic election as one of Ohio’s Senators, a position he inhabited from 1999 to 2011.

“This was a guy who devoted his life to public service,” concluded Portman, before introducing Simple Resolution 493, which honored the ex-Senator and passed with unanimous consent.

National Child Awareness Month

The Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell(KY) introduced S. Resolution 494, which designates September 2016 National Child Awareness Month. The resolution passed with unanimous consent.

Time to Wake Up

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, D-RI, gave the last speech on the floor before the Senate adjourned for the day. Standing next to an image of Earth with the words “Time To Wake Up” emblazoned in capital letters over it, Sen. Whitehouse opened by marking this speech as his 140th on climate.

He condemned House Republicans voting to unanimously reject climate measures, and compared the current GOP stance on climate change to that of thirty years ago, when the former Rhode Island Senator John Chafee held a two day panel hearing on ozone depletion and the greenhouse effect.

“The GOP’s trust in science has eroded,” said Sen. Whitehouse.

“When one looks at how that party is funded, and how it has become virtually the political wing of the fossil fuel industry, one sees the sad state of affairs.”

“A very few Republicans in Congress are now so bold to accept mainstream science…yet none will yet act,” he continued later in his speech.

Senator Whitehouse finished by highlighting a 2009 ad published in the New York Times urging urgent climate action at the Copenhagen climate summit. Among those who signed were Donald Trump, his two sons, and his daughter Ivanka as representatives of the Trump Organization.  Mr. Trump today rejects the scientific consensus on man-made climate change, and has called it a “hoax.”

Trump Urgent Climate Action

The 2009 New York Times advertisement, Above.

by Marlon J. Ettinger