The director, James Comey, said that the surging interest in ISIS was fueled by social media in a way that's different from "your grandfather's Al Qaeda model."
“I do believe that our work disrupted efforts to kill people, likely in connection with July 4th,” Comey said Thursday of the arrests, which occurred during the past 4-6 weeks.
Comey declined to identify specific July 4th plots, but confirmed that the bureau had launched a broad campaign aimed at disrupting ISIS sympathizers in the days leading up to the holiday.
He said the suspects were inspired and directed by an unprecedented social media campaign carried out by ISIS, which has 21,000 English-language followers —- many inside the United States.
“What we’re seeing now is living proof that social media works. It’s the reason that Twitter is worth billions of dollars. It’s an extraordinarily effective way to sell shoes, or vacation, or terrorism,” said Comey.
Comey said that social media has changed the way terrorist organizations recruit.
“It’s very different and much more effective at radicalizing than your grandfather’s Al Qaeda model,” he said.
ISIS is more unpredictable and unstable than Al Qaeda, which puts greater emphasis on long term planning and strategy into its attacks, according to the FBI director.
He also raised concerns about “going dark,” in which members of ISIS encourage supporters to switch to encrypted messaging to communicate with the group.
On Wednesday, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, alongside Comey, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that the Justice Department hopes to work with technology companies to find a solution. Comey praised Twitter on Thursday as “thoughtful and hardworking” in its effort to shutdown accounts associated with ISIS.
A number of the FBI’s recent ISIS-related arrests have been disclosed to the public, including five men in the New York City area accused of area casing the George Washington Bridge. The FBI said when agents searched one of the suspect’s apartments they found plans for a pressure cooker bomb like the ones used in the Boston Marathon attacks.
The domestic threat posed by ISIS is cause for great concern because of its effort to inspire “nearly random acts of violence” in every state, said Comey.