Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe made a series of odd, seemingly contradictory statements about why the FBI is having trouble catching Americans who travel to Syria and join terrorist groups when he spoke on a panel at the Center For Strategic & International Studies in 2014, according to a review of his comments. McCabe, who at the time was the Executive Assistant Director within the FBI’s National Security Branch, claimed that Americans who are joining terrorists groups in Syria are “a very diverse group,” and that “there isn’t a single easily identifiable community from which our Syria travelers all spring from,” before apparently contradicting himself a few minutes later:
About 35 minutes into the discussion, McCabe began describing the FBI’s attempts to identify Americans planning to join terrorist groups in Syria and cited the Bureau’s community outreach efforts. “The next step in that partnership circle is, of course, community outreach: opening lines of communication, opening lines of awareness, with our key communities around the country, we think is going to be essential to staying ahead of this issue,” McCabe told the audience at the event, which was billed as “The Syrian Conflict’s Foreign Fighters: Concerns at Home and Abroad” and took place on May 30th, 2014. “We had some success with in doing that with our efforts to address the travel of folks to Somalia to affiliate with Al-Shabaab back in 2006, 2007, 2008, but quite frankly, this issue is more challenging.”
“There isn’t a single easily identifiable community from which our Syria travelers all spring from,” McCabe continued. “They are a very diverse group. They span the range of religious backgrounds, of socioeconomic background, educational background, they are of both genders. They are – you know, they – when you put them all together, they look like America. It’s a widely diverse group of folks of all ages and all backgrounds, so it’s – our outreach efforts will be challenged.”
Several minutes later, however, McCabe described the FBI’s difficulties countering online propaganda, and mentioned how terrorist groups are having success by targeting “populations of greatest concern” within the United States. “Syria is happening now in the age of social media, in the age of internet propaganda, and the ability for extremists, for radicalizers, for recruiters, to reach directly out to those populations of greatest concern to kind of glorify with images of the battle, what’s happening there,” McCabe said.
McCabe also offered an equally convoluted explanation of the Bureau’s difficulties with stopping homegrown terrorists. “There isn’t a clear, one clear, kind of jump-off point from the United States to travel over to Syria. And as the General mentioned, the population is so diverse. If you look at, even in the last few months, we’ve had disruptions of individuals who were attempted to travel to Syria for the purpose of affiliating with designated terrorist groups, and we’ve made arrests of individuals in Sacramento, California, in Chicago, Illinois, in Raleigh, North Carolina, in Detroit, Michigan, so it spans the country.”
McCabe, an anti-Trump James Comey ally who was fired last week for leaking, also claimed that it is not concerning, let alone illegal, for Americans to travel to Syria, and insisted that it would still not be illegal if they were travelling to the war-torn country to support the brutal dictatorship or its opposition, which has known ties to terrorist groups. “One of the challenges of kind of getting your hands around the issue is that, of course, it’s not illegal to travel to Syria,” McCabe told the audience. “It’s not illegal to travel to Turkey. It’s not even concerning, in and of itself. There are many, many reasons why Americans might choose to travel to Syria. Travelling to Syria for the purpose of supporting the regime or the opposition is not in and of itself illegal. There are many folks who travel for humanitarian purposes.”
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