A senior Homeland Security official told Congress Wednesday that the Islamic State's access to people with American and European passports posses a long-term threat to the U.S., including the risk of acts of terrorism within the United States.
"Although we currently have no credible information to indicate that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant… is planning to attack the homeland, we remain concerned in the long-term that their access to westerners and to safe havens in the Middle East and the Levant, will allow them to plan and coordinate attacks in the U.S.," Jennifer Lasley, a deputy undersecretary at the Department of Homeland Security, told a House subcommittee.
This undated file image posted on a militant website on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014 shows fighters from the al-Qaida linked Islamic State marching in Raqqa, Syria. U.S. officials told Congress Wednesday that the group's access to western passports poses a long-term threat to the country. (AP Photo/militant website, File)
"We also remain concerned that U.S. persons who link up with violent extremist groups in Syria, regardless of their original reasons for traveling to the country, could gain combat skills, extremist connections, and possibly become radicalized, or be further persuaded to conduct organized, coordinated or lone-wolf attacks, potentially targeting U.S. and western interests," Lasley added.
Lasley said DHS is worried that the ability of the Islamic State to secure vast areas of the Middle East will make it easier for the terrorist group to plan terrorist attacks.
"We are therefore concerned that Syria could emerge as a base of operations for Al Qaeda's international agenda, which could include attacks against the homeland," she said.
Even without direct contact, Lasley said the Islamic State could have the ability to radicalize and recruit westerners through social media.
"[T]hey do have a very sophisticated and savvy media campaign, especially a social media campaign," she said. "I think our near-term concern is that that campaign will be quite appealing to individuals who would seek to radicalize, whether they are over in Europe or they're here in the homeland."
"And they could conduct an attack on their own at any time based on that media campaign," she added. "So that is a very clear, near-term concern that we have."
That fear was also expressed in an internal memo obtained by TheBlaze earlier this week, which said Islamic State attacks have the potential to be sudden and sporadic, in part because of the group's ability to radicalize people through social media.
The officials testified at a hearing that was aimed at addressing whether and how the U.S. needs to beef up security given that some westerners are supporting the terrorist group. Subcommittee Chairwoman Candice Miller (R-Mich.) said she is writing legislation that would require the U.S. to take more care in implementing a visa program that eases travel restrictions for people from trusted countries, including many European countries.
Several members of Congress have proposed legislation allowing the U.S. to revoke passport rights of any American who leaves the country to fight with the Islamic State.
A senior Customs and Border Protection official said Wednesday that he believes the Islamic State poses both a short- and long-term threat to the United States because more than 100 Americans have left to fight with the group in the Middle East.
"Over 100 Americans that have traveled to fight with ISIL… and other extremist groups overseas," Troy Miller, acting assistant commissioner at CBP's Intelligence and Investigative Liaison, told a House subcommittee Wednesday.
"I do believe that it could be a short-term and long-term threat to the United States," he said of the group.
Last week, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel also said more than 100 Americans had left to fight with the group, but lower-level defense officials later put that number at closer to 100, and didn't say it was "over" 100.