U.S. intelligence officials believe individuals linked to terror groups in Syria have tried to enter the United States as refugees, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul said in a national security address today.
McCaul’s comments were sourced to an unclassified letter from the National Counterterrorism Center he received earlier this week, which said the center has identified “individuals with ties to terrorist groups in Syria attempting to gain entry into the U.S. through the U.S. refugee program.”
Federal officials have previously indicated that terrorist groups have wanted to exploit the refugee program into the United States.
The Texas Republican said the United States has entered a new phase in the fight against terror, citing last week’s San Bernardino, California, shooting that killed 14 people as “a call to action."
“Make no mistake: we are a nation at war,” he said. “Fourteen years after 9/11, the fight against Islamist terror rages on, and our adversaries have opened up new battlegrounds across the world. Our own city streets are now the front lines.”
Panning President Obama’s primetime Sunday address on the terror threat for containing no new policy announcements, McCaul touted the actions taken by the Republican-led Congress since the Paris attacks, including a refugee bill that would add security requirements to the vetting of Iraqi and Syrian refugees and plans to vote on a bill to tighten the visa waiver program this week.
“We must do more, urgently, to shut down the jihadi superhighway to and from the conflict zone,” he said.
He said 250 Americans with terror links have traveled to Syria, and that 50 have returned to the United States. But law enforcement officials have said that not every individual who has returned from Syria is linked to terror, and that many traveled to the country for humanitarian and personal reasons.
McCaul said he plans to introduce legislation that would form a panel of tech, law enforcement and privacy experts that would help lawmakers craft legislation addressing concerns about terrorists’ communicating via encryption.
“We should be careful not to vilify ‘encryption’ itself, which is essential for privacy, data security, and global commerce,” he said. “But I have personally been briefed on cases where terrorists communicated in darkness and where we couldn’t shine a light, even with a lawful warrant.”