July 23rd, 2015
06:33 PM ET

FBI Director: "ISIL is not your parents' al Qaeda"

CNN's Wolf Blitzer sits down with FBI Director James Comey at the Aspen Security Forum, to discuss a range of threats to the homeland.

Additional information: The Situation Room:http://www.cnn.com/shows/situation-room

 

MANDATORY CREDIT // The Situation Room  

FULL TRANSCRIPT:

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

BLITZER:  Mr. Director, what keeps you up at night?

(LAUGHTER)

COMEY:  What keeps me up at night is, probably, these days, the ISIL threat in the homeland.  And I worry very much about what I can't see.  You know, that's what keeps me up.

If you imagine a nationwide haystack, we're trying to find needles in that haystack.  And a lot of those needles are invisible to us, either because of the way in which they're communicating or just because they haven't communicated or touched a place where we could see them.

BLITZER: Is that now a bigger threat to the U.S. homeland than al Qaeda?

COMEY:  Yes.  Yes.  The - the threat that ISIL presents, poses to the United States, is very different in kind, in type, in degree than al Qaeda.  ISIL is not your - your parents' al Qaeda.  It's a very different model.

BLITZER:  Why is ISIS so powerful?

COMEY:  Well, they have adopted a model that takes advantage of social media in a way to crowd source terrorism.  They have invested about the last year in pushing a message of poison, primarily through Twitter, but other parts of social media, that is a siren song with two dimensions.

They are preaching through social media to troubled souls, urging them to join their so-called caliphate in Syria and Iraq, or if you can't join, kill where you are.  And Twitter is a valuable enterprise, because it works to sell shoes or to sell ideas.  It works to sell this message to troubled souls.

With al Qaeda, if you wanted to consume their propaganda, you had to go find it somewhere on the Web.  You'd read their magazine.  If you wanted to talk to a terrorist, you might send an e-mail in to their magazine and hope that somebody answers you.

ISIL has changed that model entirely, because ISIL is buzzing on your hip, right.  That message is being pushed all day long.

And if you want to talk to a terrorist, they're right there on Twitter direct messaging for you to communicate with.

It’s the reason we have these investigations all across the United States, that year of investment is producing a warped view of the world.

And the people that ISIL's trying to reach are people that Al Qaeda would never use as an operative.

BLITZER: Why is that?

COMEY: Because they are often unstable, troubled, drug users and - and ISIL also does something that Al Qaeda would never do. They'll vet an operative by tasking them. Right? Give them as assignment, go kill somebody, as a way of checking out whether they are a real person or an informant of some kind.

BLITZER: So when ISIS publicly puts out there on social media, if you can't come over to Iraq and Syria and fight with us, go out there and kill U.S. military personnel or law enforcement officers, you take that seriously.

COMEY: Very.

BLITZER: You told us recently that you and your colleagues thwarted a July 4th attack or attacks, right?

COMEY: Correct.

BLITZER: What can you tell us about that?

COMEY: Not much.

(LAUGHTER)

COMEY:  There were a number of - what's interesting about the ISIL model there too is the normal terms inspired, directed or enabled blend together with ISIL. Because they just push it - they're like a devil on somebody's shoulders saying kill, kill, kill all day long. So to figure out whether someone was directed or inspired or enabled is actually a waste of time in many cases. There were a number of people who were bent on engaging in attacks in the United States, killing innocent people, timed to the July 4th holiday. And thanks to great work, not just by the FBI, but by our partners, State, local and Federal law enforcement, it was disrupted.

BLITZER: And that's why you concluded now that ISIS represents the major threat to the U.S. homeland as far as terrorism is concerned?

COMEY: Right. And one of the reasons I say that is the sheer volume. Again I have investigations - the FBI has investigations related to this threat all across the country. There are hundreds of investigations. We're trying to understand where somebody is on the spectrum of a consumer of this poison on Twitter, to an actor who's about to try and murder innocent people, and evaluate where are they on that spectrum. We have hundreds of people we’re looking at on that spectrum. The ISIL Tweeters in theory have 21,000 English language followers. Hundreds of those people, probably thousands, are in the United States.

And the other challenge that we face, again, totally unlike your typical Al Qaeda model, is what we call the flash to bang, is both short and unpredictable with ISIL, that is often an operative will have an idea to do something, say on July 4th and wake up on June 2nd and say, you know, I'm not waiting. Today's the day I'm going to go kill people. Which poses an additional challenge for us conducting investigations.

BLITZER:  You think you have a pretty good appreciation of how many Americans have actually gone over there and trained with ISIS?

COMEY:  I think we have a reasonable idea.  It's not a high confidence read, because there's lots of ways to get to Syria.  But I think we have a pretty good sense.

BLITZER:  How many?

COMEY:  I'll - I'll give you dozens of people have gone with ISIL, to ISIL.  Again, it's hard phenomenon to track, because they range in age from 18 to 62.

BLITZER:  What's the biggest stumbling block you have right now, because we were talking about the encrypted communications, the dark side?

COMEY:  I'd say one of two stumbling blocks in these cases.  The first is the technological one.  ISIL's MO is, they'll broadcast on Twitter, get people to follow them, then move them to Twitter direct messaging while they evaluate whether they're a potential live one, either to travel or to kill where they are.

Then they'll move them to an encrypted mobile messaging app where they go dark to us.  And so that's what I mean by the needle becoming invisible.  We can, with court authority, get access to the Twitter contacts, but we don't have the ability to break strong encryption.

So if they move to the mobile messaging app, we're going to lose them.

BLITZER: What do you need now, legally, in order to get access to that?

Because as you know, there's a big controversy.  A lot of people who don't want their privacy infringed on.  They don't want you to have access to that.

COMEY:  They - we need what the FBI needs in all of our investigations, right, we want to listen to that communication or intercept the content flowing back and forth.  We've got to get a court order.

So we go to a judge or, if it's sitting on a device, we go to a judge for a search warrant. But the problem we're facing is, even with judicial orders, which is at the core of our work, we are unable to find out what people are talking about when we've demonstrated probable cause to believe they are terrorists or they are serious criminals.

BLITZER: Why is that?

COMEY: Because of the nature of the encryption. We don't have the ability to break the strong encryption.
The way in which the, the mobile messaging app for example has been designed, stops it by virtue of its design. It is end-to-end encrypted so, without the key of one of the two devices at the user end, you have no ability with a court order to intercept and look at that communication.

BLITZER: So do you want the software manufacturer to allow some sort of key that would give you that kind of access, once you get a court order?

COMEY: The answer is, I don't know exactly. I can picture the end state we need. We need judges' orders to be complied with. Now how to figure that out? Lots of people, smart people, tell me, oh, it's too hard. I don't buy that. I don't think we've tried hard enough yet. If we recognize that we all share the same values, I think smart people can figure out how to do it.

July 23rd, 2015
10:27 AM ET

FBI Director Comey tells Wolf Blitzer Khorasan Group diminished

FBI Director James Comey says U.S. military strikes have diminished the al Qaeda offshoot Khorasan Group, but the bigger threat faced by the U.S. is now ISIS.

Comey, in an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, used an appearance at the Aspen Security Forum to raise concerns about encrypted communications the FBI can't access, comparing ISIS militants to needles in a regional haystack.

"If you imagine a nationwide haystack, we are trying to find needles in that haystack. And a lot of those needles are invisible to us either because in they are communicated or just because they have communicated in a place that we can't see them," Comey said. "And knowing there are needles out there that you can't see is very worrisome."

Comey said Wednesday SIS has become a bigger threat to the United States than al Qaeda.

"The threat that ISIL presents and poses to the United States is very different in kind, in type and degree than al Qaeda," Comey said. "ISIL is not your parents al Qaeda. It's a very different model. And by virtue of that model, it's currently the threat we are worried about in the homeland most of all."

The Pentagon announced Tuesday Muhsin al Fadhli, a Kuwaiti-born jihadi and leader of the Khorasan Group, was killed earlier this month in a targeted strike. The strike happened July 8 while Fadhli was traveling to Sarmada. Syria.

"His death will degrade and disrupt ongoing external operations of al-Qaeda against the United States and our allies and partners," Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said in a written statement.

While terrorist groups like ISIS and the al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra are responsible for much of the violence inside Syria, the Khorasan Group was believed to direct most of its energy plotting external attacks in the West.

Comey also said Wednesday that investigators haven't determined why Mohammad Abdulazeez carried out the shootings that killed four Marines and a sailor last week in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He said the FBI is determined to "understand every second of his life" for the last two years, at least.

Comey said the prospect of a terrorist group launching a cyberattack on the United States is a small but growing problem.

CNN Receives 14 News And Documemtary Emmy Nominations
July 22nd, 2015
03:59 PM ET

CNN Receives 14 News And Documemtary Emmy Nominations

CNN received 14 nominations for the 36th Annual News and Documentary Emmy Awards, it was announced today. CNN’s diverse nominations encompass television programming, newsgathering, digital, and Spanish-language, and include:

Outstanding Coverage of a Breaking News Story in a Regularly Scheduled Newscast

The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer

Ÿ Rescue from Mt. Sinjar, reported by Elise Labott, Barbara Starr, Ivan Watson, anchor Wolf Blitzer

Outstanding Investigative Journalism in a Regularly Scheduled Newscast

Anderson Cooper 360

Ÿ Crisis At The VA, Veterans Dying While Waiting For Care, reported by Drew Griffin

Ÿ Theme Parks Investigation, reported by Kyra Phillips

FULL POST

July 21st, 2015
06:26 PM ET

Presidential Candidate Mike Huckabee joins Wolf Blitzer on The Situation Room

Republican presidential candidate and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee shared his views on the recent Iran nuclear deal on  The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer, here is what he had to say.

Additional information: The Situation Room:http://www.cnn.com/shows/situation-room FULL POST

July 15th, 2015
07:21 PM ET

Does the deal restrict Iran's ability to buy weapons?

The President's National Security Advisor Susan Rice, joins CNN's Wolf Blitzer to discuss the Iran Nuclear Deal.

Additional information: The Situation Room:http://www.cnn.com/shows/situation-room FULL POST

July 14th, 2015
06:18 PM ET

Former Bush Speechwriter talks about Serena Williams tweets

'

David Frum, Senior Editor at The Atlantic, caused a stir on Twitter suggesting Serena Williams may be on steroids, here's what he told CNN's Wolf Blitzer. 

July 13th, 2015
07:27 PM ET

Rick Santorum: Idea of negotiating with Iran "is a folly"

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum joins CNN's The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer and discusses the Iran nuclear negotiations, 2016 race and more.

July 7th, 2015
05:39 PM ET

Hillary: 'People should and do trust me'

Hillary Clinton responds to questions on her trustworthiness in an exclusive interview with CNN's Brianna Keilar.

July 7th, 2015
05:30 PM ET

Hillary Clinton on how 33,000 emails got deleted

In an interview with CNN's Brianna Keilar, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton discussed her email and why she wiped her private server clean.

July 6th, 2015
01:37 PM ET

CNN Exclusive: Hillary Clinton to do first national TV interview with CNN's Brianna Keilar

The full interview with Hillary Clinton will air Tuesday on CNN's "The Situation Room" at 5 p.m. EDT and again on "Anderson Cooper 360" at 8 p.m. EDT. 

Hillary Clinton on Tuesday will give the first nationally televised interview of her presidential campaign to CNN senior political correspondent Brianna Keilar.

The Democratic front-runner has largely stayed away from the press, only occasionally taking questions from reporters and granting interviews to local news outlets in early-voting states like Iowa and New Hampshire.

But she hasn't granted national outlets interviews since jumping into the 2016 race in April. The first one, with Keilar, will take place in Iowa City, as Clinton campaigns in the first state to vote in the presidential nominating process.

Clinton's status as her party's favorite isn't in doubt, but Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has narrowed the gap in recent polls, particularly in New Hampshire and Iowa.

A CNN/ORC poll conducted June 18-24 found that Clinton's lead in New Hampshire had dwindled to eight percentage points, with 43% of the Granite State's Democrats backing her while 35% support Sanders.

Clinton's lead in Iowa is 52% to Sanders' 33%, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll.

One nagging challenge for Clinton is that polls show voters generally don't consider her honest and trustworthy — potentially the result of ongoing controversies about her family foundation's acceptance of foreign contributions and her use of a personal email account on a private server during her tenure as President Barack Obama's secretary of state.

The interview comes after Clinton's campaign faced its latest round of criticism over the weekend for using a moving rope line to keep reporters away from Clinton during a New Hampshire parade.

 

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