Advertisement Close

CIA Chief: Unable to Find any Link Between Orlando Shooter and ISIL

posted on: Jun 16, 2016

Central Intelligence Agency Chief, John Brennan, said the CIA was unable to uncover any link between the Orlando shooter and ISIL during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing. The FBI said they were also unable to find any ties to the terrorist group, but that the shooter was placed on a terrorist watchlist for Facebook posts about ISIL.

Chief Brennan told the Senate committee that the CIA needs more access to Americans’ encrypted data in order to prevent future attacks from ISIL. However, there’s large pushback frrom both Congress and American communication companies who believe that more access to encryption is dangerous and goes against privacy rights.

Many Arab Americans have been subjected to wrongful CIA and FBI intelligence collecting, as well as counterterrorism programs that discriminate against the community and prace racial profiling. Many do not wish to see these programs expanded.

Watch Chief Brennan at his hearing:

By Spencer Ackerman

The Guardian

The Central Intelligence Agency chief has not been “able to uncover any link” between Orlando killer Omar Mateen and the Islamic State, despite Mateen’s stated allegiance to the jihadist group during Sunday’s LGBT nightclub massacre.

Reinforcing four days of internal government assessments across multiple agencies and a Federal Bureau of Investigation inquiry, the CIA director, John Brennan, contrasted “lone wolf” killers in Orlando and San Bernardino last December with recent terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels, which he told the Senate intelligence committee were “directed” by Isis leadership in Syria and Iraq.

Brennan described a spread-bet strategy by Isis as it loses territory in Iraq and Syria. The group’s “terrorist capacity or global reach” remain undiminished by US-led advances on Isis-held cities like Manbij and Fallujah, the latest developments in a war nearing its third year, and Brennan said the US should expect Isis to launch accelerating terrorist attacks worldwide, a reversion to its pre-2014 status quo.

“As the pressure mounts on Isil, we judge that it will intensify its global terror campaign to maintain its dominance of the global terrorism agenda,” Brennan said, using the administration’s preferred acronym for Isis.

But Brennan indicated that the shape of those attacks will vary. Isis is consolidating and “interconnecting” its foreign branches, he said, particularly its “most dangerous” branch in Libya, and also placing operatives in western countries, chiefly in Europe. It will also “inspire attacks by sympathizers with no ties to the group”, which Brennan said taxes security agencies’ ability to notice ahead of an attack.

Brennan urged the panel to renew a stalled push from the intelligence agencies to gain greater powers to access Americans’ encrypted data. Pushback from senators on the panel led Brennan to endorse a “congressional commission” on expanding legal authorities available to US security agencies to access encrypted data, and insisted he did not back a mechanism “perceived as a backdoor”.

“It has to be an effort undertaken by the government and private sector in a very thoughtful manner … and not cede this environment to the terrorists and those who would do us harm,” Brennan said.

The CIA director’s comments came as the House of Representatives is expected to vote on an amendment that would bar the security services from accessing Americans’ communications without warrants and compelling communications firms to weaken encryption.

Isis “remains a formidable adversary”, Brennan said, and the US is in for “a long and difficult fight” against it. Isis commands legions of fighters that “far exceeds what al-Qaida had at its height”, he said.

While those government estimates on al-Qaida’s fighting strength varied tremendously between 2001 and 2014, Brennan suggested Isis could rely on as many as 38,000 adherents, mostly combatants, across Iraq, Syria, Libya, Sinai, Nigeria, Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Its fighter totals in Iraq and Syria have declined over the past year, he said.

The FBI has determined that Mateen was not directed by or in contact with Isis before his attack at the Pulse nightclub. In Facebook posts from inside the club and a 911 call during the attack, Mateen reportedly declared his allegiance to Isis, something investigators are examining, particularly in light of his apparently complicated relationship with his sexuality.

While there appears to be no indication thus far that Mateen encrypted his digital data, Brennan said he “wonder[ed] whether we as a government do have the ability to monitor that domain for threats to our national security”.

His comment harkened back to an ultimately abandoned effort by the FBI and the justice department to compel Apple to weaken encryption on its operating system for a speculative effort to access an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino terrorists. Its fallout accelerated acrimony and distrust between the US government and Silicon Valley, particularly over digital security.

“This feud between the tech companies and law enforcement has to stop,” urged the Senate panel chairman, Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican.

The feud persists in Congress too. Privacy advocates in the House are pushing an amendment to the annual defense appropriations bill that would close the so-called “backdoor search” provision, which allows US intelligence and law enforcement agencies to search without warrants for Americans’ data inside the National Security Agency’s huge hoard of collected international communications data.

The proposed amendment would also prevent the government mandating that companies weaken their products’ encryption.

Advocates of the measure said it was important to wage the fight in the wake of the Orlando shooting, when advocates of the security agencies might be expected to hold the political advantage.

“We’re pressing forward because passage of our amendment in this political environment will send the strongest message possible that Congress is still dedicated to the privacy protections enshrined in the fourth amendment,” co-sponsor Thomas Massie, a Kentucky Republican, told the Guardian.

A vote was expected later on Thursday.

Ahead of the vote on Massie’s amendment, co-sponsored by California Democrat Zoe Lofgren, senior members of the House intelligence committee issued a letter urging its rejection and explicitly referencing the Orlando shooting.

“We cannot be lulled into a false sense of security,” wrote chairman Devin Nunesof California and Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia. “As recent events in Orlando have made tragically clear, terrorists will continue to attack the US homeland.”