[House Prints 114-B]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office]

   114th Congress    }                            {    Committee                        
                          COMMITTEE PRINT              
   1st Session       }                            {    Print 114-B


                              FINAL REPORT

                                 of the

                             TASK FORCE ON
                             FIGHTER TRAVEL

                        HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES


                              October 2015

                             FIRST SESSION

                         U.S. GOVERNMENT PUBLISHING OFFICE 

97-200 PDF                     WASHINGTON : 2015 


                   Michael T. McCaul, Texas, Chairman
Lamar Smith, Texas                   Bennie G. Thompson, Mississippi
Peter T. King, New York              Loretta Sanchez, California
Mike Rogers, Alabama                 Sheila Jackson Lee, Texas
Candice S. Miller, Michigan, Vice    James R. Langevin, Rhode Island
    Chair                            Brian Higgins, New York
Jeff Duncan, South Carolina          Cedric L. Richmond, Louisiana
Tom Marino, Pennsylvania             William R. Keating, Massachusetts
Lou Barletta, Pennsylvania           Donald M. Payne, Jr., New Jersey
Scott Perry, Pennsylvania            Filemon Vela, Texas
Curt Clawson, Florida                Bonnie Watson Coleman, New Jersey
John Katko, New York                 Kathleen M. Rice, New York
Will Hurd, Texas                     Norma J. Torres, California
Earl L. ``Buddy'' Carter, Georgia
Mark Walker, North Carolina
Barry Loudermilk, Georgia
Martha McSally, Arizona
John Ratcliffe, Texas
Daniel M. Donovan, Jr., New York
                   Brendan P. Shields, Staff Director
                    Joan V. O'Hara, General Counsel
                    Michael S. Twinchek, Chief Clerk
                I. Lanier Avant, Minority Staff Director


John Katko, New York, Republican     Loretta Sanchez, California, 
    Lead                                 Democratic Lead
Will Hurd, Texas                     Donald M. Payne, Jr., New Jersey
Barry Loudermilk, Georgia            Filemon Vela, Texas
Martha McSally, Arizona
John Ratcliffe, Texas
                  Miles Taylor, Republican Staff Lead
                 Nicole Tisdale,  Democratic Staff Lead

    Special thanks to Committee Staff who contributed to this 
final report:
Paul Anstine, Lanier Avant, Kate Bonvechio, Mandy Bowers, Adam 
Comis, Cate Cullen, Moira Bergin, Luke Burke, Alan Carroll, 
Paige Davies, Steven Giaier, Katy Flynn, Laura Fullerton, Hope 
Goins, Cedric Haynes, Kerry Kinirons, Kyle Klein, Vanessa 
Layne, Tyler Lowe, Kyle McFarland, Jason Miller, John Neal, 
Ramzi Nemo, Leaksmy Norin, Alison Northrop, Joan O'Hara, Jason 
Olin, Christopher Schepis, Brendan Shields, Andrea Thompson, 
Claire Woolf, and Maseh Zarif.

                         LETTER OF TRANSMITTAL

             U.S. House of Representatives,
                    Committee on Homeland Security,
     Task Force on Combating Terrorist and Foreign Fighter 
                                      Washington, DC, October 2015.

    Dear Chairman McCaul and Ranking Member Thompson: We are 
transmitting to you the final report of the Task Force on 
Combating Terrorist and Foreign Fighter Travel for review. The 
final report is an examination of the Government's preparedness 
to respond to the global surge in terrorist travel, in addition 
to key findings and recommendations for the United States to 
consider as we look to combat the threat at home and abroad. We 
look forward to working across the aisle and with other 
committees to develop much-needed legislation to tackle this 
                                                John Katko,
                                       Republican Lead, Task Force.

                                           Loretta Sanchez,
                                       Democratic Lead, Task Force.

                                                 Will Hurd.

                                          Barry Loudermilk.

                                            Martha McSally.

                                            John Ratcliffe.

                                       Donald M. Payne, Jr.

                                              Filemon Vela.
                            C O N T E N T S

Introduction.....................................................     1
    Executive Summary............................................     1
        Threat Environment.......................................     1
        Task Force on Combating Terrorist and Foreign Fighter 
          Travel.................................................     1
        Results of the Review....................................     1
    Notes on Methodology.........................................     2
    The Threat...................................................     3
        The Global Surge in Foreign Fighters.....................     5
        The Danger of Foreign Fighters: Recruits, ``Returnees,'' 
          and Remote Radicalization..............................    10
        Americans on the Pathway to Terror.......................    15
Key Findings and Recommendations.................................    21
    Overview.....................................................    21
        U.S. Government Strategy and Planning to Combat the 
          Threat.................................................    21
        Identifying Terrorists and Foreign Fighters--and 
          Preventing Them From Traveling.........................    21
        Detecting and Disrupting Terrorists and Foreign Fighters 
          When They Travel.......................................    22
        Overseas Security Gaps...................................    23
    U.S. Government Strategy and Planning........................    23
    Identification and Prevention................................    28
        Watchlisting.............................................    29
        Information Sharing......................................    31
        Prevention Activities....................................    38
    Detection and Disruption.....................................    47
        Pre-Travel Phase.........................................    48
        Travel Phase.............................................    53
    Overseas Gaps................................................    56
        Intelligence Collection and Information Sharing..........    59
        Traveler Screening.......................................    60
        Counterterrorism Laws and Prosecutions...................    62
        Border Security..........................................    63
Appendices.......................................................    73
    Appendix I: Task Force Activity..............................    73
        Official Member Briefings................................    73
        Official Staff Briefings.................................    74
        Official Member Travel...................................    74
        Official Staff Travel....................................    74
        Other Task Force Meetings and Consultations..............    75
    Appendix II: American Foreign Fighter Aspirants and Recruits.    77
    Appendix III: Abbreviations..................................    79

                           Executive Summary

                           THREAT ENVIRONMENT

    Today we are witnessing the largest global convergence of 
jihadists in history, as individuals from more than 100 
countries have migrated to the conflict zone in Syria and Iraq 
since 2011.\1\ Some initially flew to the region to join 
opposition groups seeking to oust Syrian dictator Bashar al-
Assad, but most are now joining the Islamic State of Iraq and 
Syria (ISIS), inspired to become a part of the group's 
``caliphate'' and to expand its repressive society. Over 25,000 
foreign fighters have traveled to the battlefield to enlist 
with Islamist terrorist groups, including at least 4,500 
Westerners. More than 250 individuals from the United States 
have also joined or attempted to fight with extremists in the 
conflict zone.\2\
    \1\ Barbara Starr, `` `A Few Dozen Americans' in ISIS Ranks,'' CNN, 
July 15, 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2015/07/15/politics/isis-american-
    \2\ Ibid.
    These fighters pose a serious threat to the United States 
and its allies. Armed with combat experience and extremist 
connections, many of them are only a plane-flight away from our 
shores. Even if they do not return home to plot attacks, 
foreign fighters have taken the lead in recruiting a new 
generation of terrorists and are seeking to radicalize 
Westerners online to spread terror back home.


    Responding to the growing threat, the House Committee on 
Homeland Security established the Task Force on Combating 
Terrorist and Foreign Fighter Travel in March 2015. Chairman 
Michael McCaul and Ranking Member Bennie Thompson appointed a 
bipartisan group of eight lawmakers charged with reviewing the 
threat to the United States from foreign fighters, examining 
the Government's preparedness to respond to a surge in 
terrorist travel, and providing a final report with findings 
and recommendations to address the challenge. Members and staff 
also assessed security measures in other countries, as U.S. 
defenses depend partly on whether foreign governments are able 
to interdict extremists before they reach our shores.

                         RESULTS OF THE REVIEW

    The Task Force makes 32 key findings and provides 
accompanying recommendations, which can be read in full 
starting in the second part of this report. Among other 
conclusions reached, the Task Force finds that:
   Despite concerted efforts to stem the flow, we have 
        largely failed to stop Americans from traveling 
        overseas to join jihadists. Of the hundreds of 
        Americans who have sought to travel to the conflict 
        zone in Syria and Iraq, authorities have only 
        interdicted a fraction of them. Several dozen have also 
        managed to make it back into America.
   The U.S. Government lacks a National strategy for 
        combating terrorist travel and has not produced one in 
        nearly a decade.
   The unprecedented speed at which Americans are being 
        radicalized by violent extremists is straining Federal 
        law enforcement's ability to monitor and intercept 
   Jihadist recruiters are increasingly using secure 
        websites and apps to communicate with Americans, making 
        it harder for law enforcement to disrupt plots and 
        terrorist travel.
   There is currently no comprehensive global database 
        of foreign fighter names. Instead, countries including 
        the United States rely on a patchwork system for 
        swapping extremist identities, increasing the odds 
        foreign fighters will slip through the cracks.
   ``Broken travel'' and other evasive transit tactics 
        are making it harder to track foreign fighters.
   Few initiatives exist Nation-wide to raise awareness 
        about foreign-fighter recruitment and to assist 
        communities with spotting warning signs.
   The Federal Government has failed to develop clear 
        early-intervention strategies--or ``off-ramps'' to 
        radicalization--to prevent suspects already on law 
        enforcement's radar from leaving to fight with 
   Gaping security weaknesses overseas--especially in 
        Europe--are putting the U.S. homeland in danger by 
        making it easier for aspiring foreign fighters to 
        migrate to terrorist hotspots and for jihadists to 
        return to the West.
   Despite improvements since 9/11, foreign partners 
        are still sharing information about terrorist suspects 
        in a manner which is ad hoc, intermittent, and often 
   Ultimately, severing today's foreign-fighter flows 
        depends on eliminating the problem at the source in 
        Syria and Iraq and, in the long run, preventing the 
        emergence of additional terrorist sanctuaries.
    The Task Force's final report is divided into two primary 
sections. The Introduction provides background on the foreign 
fighter phenomenon, an assessment of why it is a threat to the 
United States, and an analysis of 58 case studies of Americans 
who traveled or attempted to travel to fight in Syria and Iraq.
    The Key Findings & Recommendations section outlines the 
Task Force's main conclusions and is sub-divided into four 
parts: (1) U.S. Government strategy and planning to combat the 
threat; (2) efforts to identify terrorists and foreign 
fighters--and prevent them from traveling; (3) efforts to 
detect and disrupt terrorists and foreign fighters when they 
travel; and (4) overseas security gaps.

                          Notes on Methodology

    The Task Force conducted the investigation over a 6-month 
period. Its final report is based on briefings, meetings, 
domestic and foreign site visits, and analysis of Classified 
and Unclassified documents. A summary of the group's activity 
can be found in Appendix I. The Task Force spoke with current 
and former Federal officials throughout the National security 
community and at all relevant departments and agencies. The 
group also consulted with State and local law enforcement, 
outside experts, and foreign officials on several continents.
    Members and staff did not examine all U.S. Government 
efforts to stop extremists from crossing borders but instead 
focused on those with the most relevance to the foreign fighter 
threat. Nevertheless, the Task Force's review is one of the 
most extensive public examinations of U.S. Government efforts 
to counter terrorist travel in the post-9/11 world. The 9/11 
Commission gave considerable attention to the subject, but 
since then Government activity in this space has expanded 
rapidly. The proliferation of these programs, projects, and 
activities is one reason the Task Force urges more regular, 
Government-wide audits of America's defenses against terrorist 
    \3\ See Key Finding 1.
    Where practicable, we have tried to cite publicly-available 
sources, due to the fact that many of the Task Force's 
briefings were either closed to the public or Classified. Our 
written analysis of U.S. foreign fighter case studies, for 
instance, relies entirely on open sources. However, some 
material is cited anonymously in cases where individuals were 
assured confidentiality in order to discuss issues more freely.
    The Task Force's final report was submitted to the Chairman 
and the Ranking Member of the House Homeland Security Committee 
in September 2015 to be considered and prepared for final 
release.\4\ Prior to publication, it was shared with the White 
House and all departments and agencies that cooperated with the 
review, partly to prevent the unauthorized disclosure of 
sensitive information. The Committee made technical, 
conforming, and other edits to the report based on agency 
comments and corrections.
    \4\ The Committee was given discretion to make technical, 
grammatical, and other conforming changes prior to release.

                               The Threat

    The United States and the international community face a 
grave and growing threat from jihadist foreign fighters. These 
are individuals who leave home, travel abroad to terrorist safe 
havens, and join or assist violent extremist groups. Today's 
foreign fighters are being lured overseas largely by groups 
like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and al-Qaeda's 
affiliates to promote a perverse brand of militant Islamism. 
Not only are they strengthening terrorist armies that oppress 
millions, but some are also plotting attacks against the West 
and radicalizing new generations.
    Foreign fighters have contributed to an alarming rise in 
global terrorism by expanding extremist networks, inciting 
individuals back home to conduct attacks, or by returning to 
carry out acts of terror themselves. For instance, one 
prominent British foreign fighter killed this year in Syria was 
linked to terrorist plots spanning the globe, from the United 
Kingdom to Australia, without ever having left the Middle 
East.\5\ In another case, an American from Ohio was arrested in 
April after returning from Syria to plan an attack on a U.S. 
military base, where he intended to behead soldiers.\6\ This 
case is part of a broader challenge. Indeed, since early 2014 
more than a dozen terrorist plots against Western targets have 
involved so-called ``returnees'' from terrorist safe havens 
like Syria and Libya.\7\
    \5\ Kimiko De Freytas-Tamura, ``Junaid Hussain, ISIS Recruiter, 
Reported Killed in Airstrike,'' The New York Times, August 27, 2015, 
islamic-state-recruiter-killed.html?_r=0; Mark Schliebs, ``American 
Drone Expunges Aussie-Linked Islamic Terrorist,'' August 28, 2015, 
    \6\ John Bacon, ``Ohio Man Accused of Planning U.S. Terror 
Strike,'' USA Today, April 16, 2015, http://www.usatoday.com/story/
    \7\ See ``The Danger of Foreign Fighters'' subsection of this 
report for a list of recent returnee attacks.
    Foreign fighters are also the motive power behind the 
growth of ISIS. Despite a year of U.S. and allied airstrikes, 
the group has held most of its territory and continues to 
replenish its ranks with outside recruits.\8\ Military 
officials estimate airstrikes have killed around 10,000 
extremists, but new foreign fighters replace them almost as 
quickly as they are killed.\9\ ISIS has also grown from a 
single terrorist sanctuary to having a direct presence, 
affiliates, or groups pledging support in 18 countries.\10\ The 
organization is believed to have inspired or directed nearly 60 
terrorist plots or attacks against Western countries, including 
15 in the United States.\11\ Some of these were masterminded by 
foreign fighters based in Syria, while others were carried out 
by returnees themselves or homegrown extremists.
    \8\ Ken Dilanian, Zeina Karam, and Bassem Mroue, Associated Press, 
``Pummeled in Its Capital, Islamic State Group Still Hanging Tough 
across Iraq and Syria,'' U.S. News, July 31, 2015, http://
    \9\ Ibid.
    \10\ U.S. Congress. Majority Staff of the House Homeland Security 
Committee. Terror Threat Snapshot: September 2015, https://
    \11\ Ibid.
    The foreign fighter phenomenon is not new. For decades, 
Western citizens have gone to extremist hotspots to fight or 
train with Islamist terror groups, from Afghanistan to Somalia, 
and many of them have returned with nefarious intentions. Since 
9/11, dozens of Americans extremists have been arrested after 
coming back home from terrorist safe havens, including 
individuals plotting attacks.\12\ In 2002, for instance, 
American citizen Jose Padilla was arrested in Chicago for 
allegedly planning a ``dirty bomb'' attack; he had attended an 
al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan in 2000. In another case, 
Afghan-American Najibullah Zazi traveled from New York to 
Pakistan and was arrested in 2009 after returning home to 
conduct a suicide attack on the New York City subway system. 
The same year Faisal Shazad went abroad and received training 
from the Pakistani-Taliban; he came back to the United States 
and was arrested after attempting a car bombing in Times 
    \12\ Brian Michael Jenkins, ``When Jihadis Come Marching Home: The 
Terrorist Threat Posed by Westerners Returning from Syria and Iraq,'' 
Perspectives. RAND Corporation, 2014, 12-13, http://www.rand.org/
    The level of terrorist travel we are seeing today, however, 
is without precedent. The numbers are now so high that Western 
governments are becoming increasingly worried they will be 
unable to prevent violent extremists from entering their 
countries undetected. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) 
Director James Comey warned last year that we need to brace 
ourselves for a wider ``terrorist diaspora'' out of Syria and 
Iraq.\13\ Whether directed to conduct attacks or not, many of 
these individuals will return with the combat experience, 
extremist connections, and motivations to do so. Indeed, the 
ripple effect of terror created by foreign fighter travel to 
and from Syria and Iraq, in particular, will pose a threat to 
America for decades to come unless dealt with quickly and 
    \13\ House Committee on Homeland Security, Worldwide Threats to the 
Homeland: Hearing Before the Committee on Homeland Security, 113th 
Cong., 2nd sess., September 17, 2014, http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/


    Today's explosive growth in foreign fighter travel to Syria 
and Iraq has surpassed other jihadist conflicts in both scope 
and magnitude. Travelers hail from all corners of the globe, 
represent an array of ethnicities, and span virtually all age 
ranges. While some individuals initially traveled to the region 
for humanitarian purposes, the overwhelming majority are now 
headed there because of jihadist ideology or to live in the so-
called Islamic State. Migration to the conflict zone does not 
appear to have abated, and the threat continues to evolve as 
new safe havens attract additional foreign fighters.

          From Afar: Foreign Recruits and the Syrian Civil War

    The foreign fighter phenomenon in Syria and Iraq has its 
origins in the Syrian civil war. Local protests broke out in 
Syria in March 2011 after a group of teenagers were arrested 
and tortured by Syrian authorities for painting revolutionary 
slogans on school property.\14\ Security forces opened fire on 
the protestors, sparking nationwide demonstrations that shifted 
from pro-democracy demands to calls for the Bashar al-Assad 
regime's ouster. By July 2011, hundreds of thousands had taken 
to the streets as the government tried unsuccessfully to crush 
the rebellion. The opposition soon took up arms to expel 
Assad's security forces from their local territories.\15\
    \14\ Kareem Fahim and Hwaida Saad, ``A Faceless Teenage Refugee Who 
Helped Ignite Syria's War,'' The New York Times, February 08, 2013, 
    \15\ Lucy Rodgers, David Gritten, James Offer, and Patrick Asare, 
``Syria: The Story of the Conflict,'' BBC News, March 12, 2015, http://
    The country descended into full-scale civil war by 2012. 
Rebel brigades assembled to fight government forces for control 
of cities and towns across Syria. Several high-level defectors 
from the regular Syrian Army formed the Free Syrian Army, 
attracting thousands of recruits. But the conflict devolved 
further as various nationalist, sectarian, and religious 
factions, primarily Sunnis, emerged to fight Assad's Shia 
Alawite government. War volunteers trickled into the country 
from abroad, with some traveling to support the anti-Assad 
insurgency and others arriving with more radical goals. 
Jihadist groups capitalized on the chaos and gained influence.
    By 2013, the influx of foreign fighters was growing 
quickly. Rebel fighters on the ground appealed to the world by 
documenting the regime's atrocities on social media, and 
prominent Sunni clerics called for Muslims to travel to the 
war-torn country to oust Assad.\16\ By summer, nearly 5,000 
foreign fighters from 60 countries had arrived.\17\ One scholar 
observed that the numbers ``exceeded that of any previous 
conflict in the modern history of the Muslim world.''\18\ 
Although an estimated 10,000 total fighters came to Afghanistan 
to attack the Soviets in the 1980s, there were likely never 
more than 3,000 to 4,000 at any given period.\19\
    \16\ Thomas Hegghammer and Aaron Y. Zelin, ``How Syria's Civil War 
Became a Holy Crusade,'' Foreign Affairs, October 15, 2014, https://
    \17\ Ibid.
    \18\ Thomas Hegghammer, ``Syria's Foreign Fighters,'' Foreign 
Policy, December 9, 2013, http://foreignpolicy.com/2013/12/09/syrias-
    \19\ Ibid.
    By the end of 2013, analysts estimated more than 8,500 
foreign fighters had flocked to Syria to fight with the anti-
Assad opposition or join Sunni jihadist groups.\20\ Around 70 
percent were from the Middle East and North Africa, but 2,000 
or so were assessed to be from Western countries.\21\ U.S. 
intelligence and security officials grew especially alarmed 
about the number of extremists entering the conflict zone, 
which was then thought to include ``dozens'' of Americans.\22\
    \20\ Aaron Y. Zelin, ``Up to 11,000 Foreign Fighters in Syria; 
Steep Rise among Western Europeans,'' ICSR Insight, December 17, 2013, 
    \21\ Ibid.
    \22\ Eric Schmitt, ``U.S. Says Dozens of Americans Have Sought to 
Join Rebels in Syria,'' The New York Times, November 20, 2013, http://

                            The Rise of ISIS

    One jihadist group in particular saw an opening. The 
Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), a successor organization to al-
Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), called for sectarian war and the creation 
of a regional Islamic state.\23\ AQI was a terrorist group 
whose leadership had pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden in 
2004 and which led an insurgency against U.S. forces in the 
country. After the group's leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was 
killed in a 2006 U.S. airstrike, it rebranded as ISI. The 
terror outfit was weakened by the surge of U.S. troops into 
Iraq, the Anbar awakening, and later the death of its two top 
leaders in 2010. With the eventual withdrawal of American 
forces, however, ISI took advantage of the security vacuum and 
Sunni disenfranchisement with the central government to ramp up 
attacks. Its new leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, oversaw the 
escalation in violence.
    \23\ Christopher M. Blanchard, Carla E. Humud, Kenneth Katzman, and 
Matthew C. Weed, The ``Islamic State'' Crisis and U.S. Policy (CRS 
Report No. R43612) (Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, 
2015), http://fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/R43612.pdf.
    In April 2013, al-Baghdadi declared the creation of the 
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (hereafter, ISIS). He 
sought to merge his forces with those of al-Qaeda's Syrian 
affiliate, but al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri rejected the 
merger, creating a schism between the groups. Nevertheless, 
ISIS expanded its operations in northern and eastern Syria, 
claiming territory and creating tension with other rebel 
factions. The momentum allowed ISIS to attract additional 
resources, especially more foreign fighters.\24\
    \24\ Barak Mendelsohn, ``After Disowning ISIS, Al Qaeda Is Back On 
Top,'' Foreign Affairs, February 13, 2014, https://
    On New Year's Day 2014, ISIS convoys stormed Falluja and 
Ramadi, Iraqi cities which only a few years earlier had been 
liberated from extremists by U.S. forces. The Iraqi army 
crumbled as the fighters arrived in convoys of 70-100 trucks, 
armed with heavy weapons and anti-aircraft guns.\25\ The 
group's growing success resonated with Islamist radicals across 
social media. ISIS launched another major offensive in June 
2014, capturing Iraq's second largest city, Mosul, and taking 
control of others towns as it pushed south toward Baghdad.
    \25\ Brett McGurk, Al-Qaeda's Resurgence in Iraq: A Threat to U.S. 
Interests: Hearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, 
testimony, 113th Cong., 2nd sess., February 5, 2014, http://

    The Declaration of the Caliphate and the Great Jihadi Migration

    On June 29, 2014, ISIS declared it was re-establishing the 
``caliphate,'' or Islamic State, on the territory it controlled 
in Syria and Iraq.\26\ Baghdadi was declared the State's 
leader--the caliph--via an audio recording posted on-line. In 
the eyes of ISIS followers, he was a successor to the prophet 
Muhammad and now the self-appointed leader of the Muslim world. 
ISIS called on Muslims to swear allegiance to the caliphate or 
be branded ``apostates.'' Mainstream Muslims and even other 
jihadist groups dismissed the declaration as a stunt and 
declared the caliphate to be illegitimate.\27\
    \26\ ``Isis Rebels Declare 'Islamic State' in Iraq and Syria,'' BBC 
News, June 30, 2014, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-
    \27\ Paul Cruickshank, ``Al Qaeda in Yemen Rebukes ISIS--CNN.com,'' 
CNN, November 21, 2014, http://www.cnn.com/2014/11/21/world/meast/al-
    For many extremists, however, the announcement was 
groundbreaking. The establishment of an Islamic State had been 
the long-term goal of Osama bin Laden, though he did not 
believe it would happen in his lifetime. The declaration marked 
the first time in 90 years--since Turkish secularist Kemal 
Ataturk abolished the Ottoman Empire--that an Islamist group 
claimed dominion over the entire Muslim world.
    A new wave of travelers headed to the region, aspiring to 
become jihadists and to participate in what they saw as a 
historic movement. Just days after the announcement, U.S. 
officials put the number of foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq 
at more than 7,000.\28\ Within 2 months officials revised the 
figure upward to between 12,000 and 15,000.\29\ The United 
Nations (UN) assessed militants from more than 80 countries had 
arrived.\30\ The increase in numbers was partly from greater 
global awareness; as countries became more attuned to the 
threat, they realized more of their citizens traveled to the 
conflict zone and revised official figures accordingly. 
However, much of the growth was from new travelers.
    \28\ U.S. Department of Justice. Office of Public Affairs. Attorney 
General Holder Urges International Effort to Confront Threat of Syrian 
Foreign Fighters, July 8, 2014, http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/attorney-
    \29\ Daniel L. Byman and Jeremy Shapiro, ``Managing the Foreign 
Fighter Threat,'' The Brookings Institution, January 14, 2015, http://
    \30\ U.N. Department of Public Information, ``Security Council 
Unanimously Adopts Resolution Condemning Violent Extremism, 
Underscoring Need to Prevent Travel, Support for Foreign Terrorist 
Fighters,'' SC/11580, September 24, 2014, http://www.un.org/press/en/
    ISIS militants started a new recruitment campaign to sell 
their society to a wider audience. The group promoted its 
territory as a place not just for fighters but also for 
families and called for extremists to bring their entire 
households--mothers, fathers and children--to the new Islamic 
State.\31\ The group promised religious schooling for girls and 
boys and instruction for children on how to dress and maintain 
a household.\32\ Women were promised homes with electricity, 
food, and salaries of up to $1,100 for each family--though they 
were likely not told the homes had come from locals who had 
been thrown out and the salaries looted from banks, oil 
smuggling, and kidnapping ransom.\33\
    \31\ Keith Sullivan and Karla Adam, ``Hoping to Create a New 
Society, the Islamic State Recruits Entire Families,'' Washington Post, 
December 24, 2014, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-
    \32\ Ibid.
    \33\ Ibid.
    Despite using a softer pitch, the group's strongest appeal 
was to hardcore and aspiring extremists. ISIS promoted videos 
depicting its brutal murder of non-believers and sought to 
demonstrate its leadership of the global jihadist movement by 
intimidating Western countries. In August and September 2014, 
it released grisly videos of the beheading of several American, 
British, and Australian hostages.

 Undeterred: Military Intervention and Continued Foreign Fighter Flows

    The United States conducted its first series of coordinated 
airstrikes against ISIS in August 2014. The strikes focused 
initially on curbing ISIS advances in northern Iraq and 
protecting religious minorities but eventually shifted to 
supporting offensive operations against the militant group in 
both Iraq and its Syrian territory. In September, President 
Obama declared the aim of degrading and ultimately destroying 
the group. The United States has since conducted more than 
5,000 airstrikes against ISIS.\34\
    \34\ U.S. Department of Defense, ``Special Report: Inherent 
Resolve,'' Operation Inherent Resolve: Targeted Operations Against ISIL 
Terrorists, accessed September 19, 2015, http://www.defense.gov/News/
    Airstrikes, however, do not appear to have kept aspiring 
foreign fighters away. When the strikes began, counterterrorism 
officials estimated the total number of extremists was around 
15,000.\35\ However, fighters continued to enter Syria at a 
rate of about 1,000 per month. In December 2014, intelligence 
officials pegged the total at more than 18,000,\36\ and by 
February 2015 it surpassed 20,000.\37\ Today the figure stands 
at 25,000-plus foreign fighters, more than triple the number 
from just a year ago.\38\ The majority of these fighters still 
come from the Middle East and North Africa, with Tunisia as the 
most significant source country. But the total also includes 
4,500 Westerners and more than 250 Americans, figures which 
have surged since 2014.\39\
    \35\ Matthew G. Olsen, Worldwide Threats to the Homeland: Hearing 
Before the Committee on Homeland Security, 113th Cong., 2nd sess., 
September 17, 2014, http://docs.house.gov/meetings/HM/HM00/20140917/
    \36\ Jeff Seldin, ``More Foreign Fighters in Iraq, Syria,'' VOA, 
December 24, 2014, http://www.voanews.com/content/estimates-rising-of-
    \37\ Nicholas J. Rasmussen, Countering Violent Islamist Extremism: 
The Urgent Threat of Foreign Fighters and Homegrown Terror: Hearing 
before the House Committee on Homeland Security, 114th Cong., 1st 
sess., February 11, 2015, http://docs.house.gov/meetings/HM/HM00/
    \38\ Using U.S. Government public estimates, the overall number has 
risen from 7,000-plus in July of last year to 25,000-plus today.
    \39\ Homeland Security Committee. Terror Threat Snapshot: September 
    Indeed, foreign fighters have helped ISIS to remain strong. 
Nearly 10,000 of the group's foot soldiers have been killed by 
airstrikes, but they have been replaced by new foreign and 
domestic fighters almost as quickly as they are taken off the 
battlefield.\40\ There has been ``no meaningful degradation in 
their numbers,'' according to one defense official, as 
estimates place ISIS's total fighting force at 20-30,000--the 
same as it was last fall.\41\
    \40\ Dilanian, Karam, and Mroue, AP, ``Islamic State Hanging 
    \41\ Laura Smith-Spark and Noisette Martel, ``U.S. Official: 10,000 
ISIS Fighters Killed in 9 Months,'' CNN, June 3, 2015, http://

                            New Sanctuaries

    While ISIS is focused on holding its territory in Syria and 
Iraq, the group has also declared other ``provinces'' in places 
like Afghanistan, Algeria, Egypt, and Libya.\42\ ISIS 
recruiters on social media have called for followers to travel 
to these locations if they cannot make it to Syria and Iraq, 
and it appears many have heeded the call. The groups has also 
publicly accepted pledges of allegiance from established 
Islamist terrorist groups like Boko Haram in Nigeria. Unlike 
al-Qaeda, ISIS does not require a multi-year application 
process for groups to become a franchise of its terror brand, 
enabling it to grow faster and farther.\43\
    \42\ Eric Schmitt and David Kirk Patrick, ``Islamic State Sprouting 
Limbs Beyond Its Base,'' The New York Times, February 14, 2015, http://
    \43\ Ibid.
    Taking advantage of a post-Qaddafi security vacuum, ISIS 
has reportedly sent two senior foreign fighters to Libya to set 
up a new base of operations, and members of the group have put 
out recruitment calls for extremists to migrate there.\44\ In 
early 2015, Libya's foreign minister estimated that more than 
5,000 foreign fighters aligned with an array of terrorist 
groups had arrived in the country.\45\ ISIS-linked militants 
trained in Libya are suspected of being responsible for 
devastating terrorist attacks in neighboring Tunisia, and 
officials fear the group may use Libya as a staging area to 
enter Europe by sea to attack Western countries.\46\
    \44\ Jack Moore, ``5,000 Foreign Fighters Flock to Libya as ISIS 
Call for Jihadists,'' Newsweek, March 3, 2015, http://
    \45\ Ibid.
    \46\ Everett Rosenfeld, ``Fear Grows in Europe as ISIS Comes to 
Libya,'' CNBC, February 20, 2015, http://www.cnbc.com/2015/02/20/
    Foreign fighters pledging allegiance to ISIS have similarly 
been building a base of operations in Afghanistan and have been 
taking advantage of the Taliban's leadership vacuum to recruit 
additional fighters in the wake of its leader Mullah Omar's 
death. ISIS is reported to have amassed hundreds, if not 
thousands, of fighters in the country already.\47\ Earlier this 
year Afghan President Ashraf Ghani warned of the ``terrible 
threat'' from the group, noting that it had ``[sent] advance 
guards to southern and western Afghanistan to test for 
vulnerabilities.''\48\ ISIS now claims credit for terrorist 
attacks across Afghanistan.
    \47\ Seth G. Jones, ``Expanding the Caliphate,'' Foreign Affairs, 
June 11, 2015, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/afghanistan/
    \48\ Emma Graham-Harrison, ``Taliban Fears over Young Recruits 
Attracted to Isis in Afghanistan,'' The Guardian, May 7, 2015, http://
    While it is unclear whether any Western, or specifically 
American, foreign fighters have traveled to other ISIS terror 
sanctuaries, the group's expansion in these locations 
nevertheless provides a potential ``menu'' of options for 
jihadist travelers. Not only does this make it harder to roll 
back groups like ISIS, but it increases the challenges 
authorities face in tracking their own citizens who try to join 
the extremist movement.


    Foreign fighters represent a three-fold threat to the 
United States and the international community. First, they 
supply the human capital terrorist groups like ISIS need to 
operate, expand, and plot against the West. Second, 
``returnees'' who come back from jihadist battlefields are 
often armed with the training to conduct attacks and the 
extremist connections to build terrorist networks at home. 
Third, even if fighters do not return home, they can engage 
others on-line from terror safe havens and inspire them to 
radicalize--or worse--to commit acts of violence without ever 
stepping foot out of the country.

                       Jihadists Without Borders

    Foreign fighters have proven instrumental in fueling 
Islamist terror groups like ISIS. As noted earlier, jihadists 
from abroad have steadily backfilled the group's losses, 
preventing thousands of U.S. and coalition airstrikes from 
diminishing its ranks. This of course has allowed ISIS to 
continue its reign of terror and even expand. Indeed, those who 
arrive in the conflict zone are typically willing and ready to 
participate in the group's atrocities. ``We believe the hardest 
fighting people in ISIS are the foreign fighters,'' one 
official told the Task Force staff.\49\
    \49\ Task Force staff briefing, March 2015.
    Western recruits in particular have ended up at the 
forefront of the violence, and as one ISIS defector noted, they 
can be even more brutal than local jihadists.\50\ Take the case 
of 26-year-old British citizen Mohammed Emwazi, better known as 
``Jihadi John.'' He is believed to have traveled to Syria 
around 2012 and to have later joined ISIS.\51\ Before long, he 
had become the group's most visible spokesman and the masked 
face in its grisly beheading videos. After disappearing from 
public view for months, the British jihadist recently released 
a video pledging to return to Britain and ``carry on cutting 
heads off.''\52\
    \50\ Geoff Earle, ``Western ISIS Fighters Are the Most Brutal: 
Defector,'' New York Post, September 29, 2014, http://nypost.com/2014/
    \51\ Soaud Mekhennet and Adam Goldman, `` `Jihadi John': Islamic 
State Killer Is Identified as Londoner Mohammed Emwazi,'' Washington 
Post, February 26, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-
    \52\ Omar Wahid, ``Jihadi John--`I Will Go Back to Britain . . . 
and Will Carry on Cutting Heads Off': In a Chilling New Video, Man Said 
to Be Hooded Butcher Vows to Return . . . and Murder All Unbelievers,'' 
Daily Mail Online, August 22, 2015, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/
    But Jihadi John is not an exception. Western foreign 
fighters have engaged heavily in the group's atrocities. 
Analysts for the International Center for the Study of 
Radicalization say extremists in Syria use Westerners for 
``excessively brutal operations that locals may refuse to be 
involved in,'' including suicide bombings, beheadings, and 
torture.\53\ In fact, U.S. officials estimate most of the 
group's suicide bombers are from foreign countries.\54\ One of 
the first Americans to die in the conflict, Moner Mohammad 
Abusalha, was responsible for a suicide bombing attack on a 
Syrian restaurant, the video of which was later distributed by 
extremists on social media.\55\ In the recording, Abusalha rips 
up his American passport, urges others to travel to the 
conflict zone, and warns that America ``is not safe''; it ends 
with him driving an explosive-laden truck into the attack site 
and detonating it.\56\ In yet another indication Westerners are 
engaging in serious violence, Germany recently estimated that 
100 of its 700 citizens who went to Syria had been killed while 
fighting alongside ISIS.\57\
    \53\ Peter Neumann, ``War on Two Fronts: Perceptions on the Fight 
against the Islamic State,'' The Finnish Institute of International 
Affairs, October 29, 2014, http://www.fiia.fi/en/event/702/
    \54\ McGurk, Al-Qaeda's Resurgence in Iraq.
    \55\ Peter Bergen, ``The All-American Al Qaeda Suicide Bomber,'' 
CNN, July 31, 2014, http://www.cnn.com/2014/07/31/opinion/bergen-
    \56\ Meg Wagner, ``Video: American Suicide Bomber in Syria 
Threatens U.S.,'' NY Daily News, July 30, 2014, http://
    \57\ Suman Varandani, ``About 100 Germans Killed Fighting Alongside 
ISIS In Iraq And Syria Since 2012, German Interior Minister Says,'' 
International Business Times, August 24, 2015, http://www.ibtimes.com/

                           The ``Returnees''

    The biggest fear about those who travel to fight in 
terrorist hotspots is that they will return to plot attacks or 
to recruit others for their extremist networks. A 2013 study 
found that one out of nine Western jihadists conducted attacks 
when they came back from conflict zones.\58\ While this is only 
around 10 percent, it is still a worrying figure, given the 
fact that more than 25,000 extremists have gone abroad to 
become foreign fighters in Syria alone. Moreover, unlike many 
of the jihadists tracked in the study, today's extremists are 
more plugged into social media, allowing them to stay 
radicalized and engaged long after they have left the 
battlefield. Research also finds attacks conducted by returnees 
are more deadly than those carried out by home-grown 
    \58\ The study was based on an analysis of Western returnees from 
1990 to 2010 who had joined insurgencies in places like Afghanistan and 
Somalia. See: Thomas Hegghammer, ``Should I Stay or Should I Go? 
Explaining Variation in Western Jihadists Choice between Domestic and 
Foreign Fighting,'' American Political Science Review, February 2013, 
doi: 10.1017/S0003055412000615.
    \59\ Ibid.
    These worries have materialized in the United States this 
year, as several American returnees have been arrested and 
charged by authorities.\60\ In February, the FBI detained an 
Ohio man, Abdirahman Sheik Mohamud, who reportedly came back 
from training with extremists in Syria and planned to attack a 
U.S. military base and kill soldiers execution-style.\61\ 
Mohamud returned after a radical, al-Qaeda-affiliated cleric 
urged him to conduct an attack in the United States.\62\ 
Another suspect, New York resident Arafat Nagi, was arrested in 
July and charged with attempting to recruit for ISIS after 
coming back from Turkey where he had sought to join the 
    \60\ These arrests are in addition to the dozens of Americans 
arrested this year either attempting to travel to Syria or engaging in 
support or plotting inspired by ISIS.
    \61\ United States of America v. Abdirahman Sheik Mohamud, April 
16, 2015, http://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/opa/press-
releases/attachments/2015/04/16/mohamud- _indictment.pdf.
    \62\ Ibid.
    \63\ While Nagi is not a Syria returnee--as it does not appear he 
crossed from Turkey into the conflict zone--his case is nevertheless 
emblematic of radicalized individuals who come back and attempt to 
recruit others to join the group. See: Lou Michel, ``Accused ISIS 
Recruiter Had Threatened to Behead Daughter, Sources Say,'' The Buffalo 
News, July 29, 2015, http://www.buffalonews.com/city-region/lackawanna/
    However, American returnees are not the only threat to the 
United States. Other Western citizens in the conflict zone--
from dozens of countries--can travel easily to U.S. territory 
without applying for a visa, including most European 
jihadists.\64\ European security officials estimate 20 to 30 
percent of their foreign fighters have already departed Syria 
and Iraq.\65\
    \64\ The security of the Visa Waiver Program is discussed elsewhere 
in the Task Force's report, especially in Key Finding 23.
    \65\ Gilles De Kerchove et al., ``Rehabilitation and Reintegration 
of Returning Foreign Terrorist Fighters,'' The Washington Institute for 
Near East Policy, February 23, 2015, http://
    Since early 2014, there has been an alarming global uptick 
in terrorist plots involving foreign-fighter returnees. They 
include, but are not limited to, the following:\66\
    \66\ This list is not comprehensive and also does not reflect 
Islamist terror plots by returnees from other jihadist safe havens, 
such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen. The Charlie Hebdo attacks, 
for instance, were plotted by suspects alleged to have trained in 
   August 2015 (France).--Plot to attack a concert on 
        French soil; suspect allegedly returned from ISIS' 
        stronghold in Raqqa, Syria with instructions to conduct 
        the attack.\67\
    \67\ ``Arrested French Jihadist `Instructed' to Attack Concert,'' 
France 24, September 18, 2015, http://www.france24.com/en/20150918-
   August 2015 (Belgium).--Attempted mass shooting 
        against passengers on a train from Amsterdam to Paris; 
        suspect alleged to have fought in Syria.\68\
    \68\ ``Suspected Train Gunman `known to French Intelligence','' 
France 24, August 23, 2015, http://www.france24.com/en/20150822-france-
   July 2015 (Kosovo).--Plot to contaminate the 
        capital's water supply; two suspects believed to have 
        fought in Syria.\69\
    \69\ Rick Lyman, ``Kosovo Charges 5 People in Plot to Poison 
Water,'' The New York Times, July 12, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/
   June 2015 (Tunisia).--Mass shooting on resort beach 
        killing 40 people, mostly Western tourists; while 
        suspect did not travel to Syria, he is said to have 
        trained with ISIS in Libya.\70\
    \70\ Chris Stephen, ``Tunisia Gunman Trained in Libya at Same Time 
as Bardo Museum Attackers,'' The Guardian, June 30, 2015, http://
   April 2015 (Saudi Arabia).--Plot to bomb U.S. 
        Embassy in Riyadh; suspects include two Syrian foreign 
        fighters and a Saudi citizen.\71\
    \71\ ``Saudi Arabia Arrest 93 Terror Suspects, Foils Car Bomb Plot 
on U.S. Embassy,'' Fox News, April 29, 2015, http://www.foxnews.com/
   April 2015 (United States).--Plot to attack a U.S. 
        military base, as noted above; suspect trained in Syria 
        and was directed to return to the United States to 
        conduct attack.\72\
    \72\ Bacon, ``Ohio Man Accused of Planning U.S. Terror Strike.''
   March 2015 (United Kingdom).--Plot to conduct mass 
        public shooting; suspect was a British MI5 agent who 
        had traveled to Syria and reportedly double-crossed his 
        U.K. handlers.\73\
    \73\ Duncan Gardham, ``British Double Agent `plotted to Kill His 
MI5 Handler and Attack UK' after Infiltrating Jihadist Group in 
Syria,'' Daily Mail Online, March 28, 2015, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/
   March 2015 (Tunisia).--Mass shooting attack killing 
        19 people at the National Bardo Museum in Tunis; two 
        suspects allegedly trained in Libya with ISIS, which 
        claimed credit for the attack.\74\
    \74\ Faith Karimi, Tim Lister, and Greg Botelho, ``2 Suspects in 
Tunisia Attack Trained in Libya,'' CNN, March 20, 2015, http://
   March 2015 (Canada).--Plot to bomb U.S. consulate in 
        Canada; suspect who had allegedly trained with 
        extremists in Pakistan and Libya.\75\
    \75\ Michele Mandel, ``Man Accused of U.S. Consulate/Bay St. Bomb 
Plot to Be Deported,'' Ottawa Sun, June 5, 2015, http://
   January 2015 (Turkey).--Plot to attack U.S., French, 
        and Belgian consulates in Istanbul; suspects included 
        17 militants from Syria who infiltrated Turkey.\76\
    \76\ Yuksel Temel, ``Intelligence Uncovers ISIS Plot to Attack 
Consulates,'' Daily Sabah, January 25, 2015, http://www.dailysabah.com/
   January 2015 (Belgium).--Plot to conduct a major 
        attack on police; two suspects killed during raid and 
        had reportedly returned from Syria.\77\
    \77\ Matthew Dalton, ``Belgium Antiterror Raid Leaves Two Suspects 
Dead,'' The Wall Street Journal, January 15, 2015, http://www.wsj.com/
   January 2015 (France).--Shooting attack in Paris 
        against cartoon publication; at least one suspect is 
        believed to have returned from Yemen.
   May 2014 (Belgium).--Shooting attack killing four at 
        a Jewish museum in Brussels; suspect allegedly was ISIS 
        militant in Syria.\78\
    \78\ Kevin Rawlinson, ``Jewish Museum Shooting Suspect Is `Islamic 
State Torturer' '' The Guardian, September 6, 2014, http://
   February 2014 (France).--Plot to bomb a carnival in 
        the French Riviera; suspect had traveled to Syria to 
        fight for ISIS.\79\
    \79\ Ben McPartland, ``Several `planned Terrorist Attacks' Foiled 
in France,'' The Local France, November 03, 2014, http://
    When they come back, foreign fighters are still a long-term 
threat no matter whether they engage in immediate attack 
plotting. Peter Neumann, a U.K.-based expert on the phenomenon, 
outlined the concerns clearly:

``We don't know whether they will act today or tomorrow, but 
what we do know is that in five, 10, 15 years, not just next 
month, they will pose a danger. They've had military training; 
they've set up networks. We've seen it with the Afghan Arabs 
[i.e. the fighters who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 
1980s]. Many of them subsequently became involved in every 
conflict of the 1990s: Bosnia, Kosovo, Chechnya. Others went 
home to Libya, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and, once there, like the 
other Afghan Arabs, they became the elite: the leadership of 
the new jihad.''\80\
    \80\ Mary Anne Weaver, ``Her Majesty's Jihadists,'' The New York 
Times, April 14, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/19/magazine/her-

                         Remote Radicalization

    Even if foreign fighters do not return to the West, they 
still pose a threat by radicalizing others on-line. Most of the 
recruiting by groups like ISIS is not done through a central 
unit; it is performed at the grassroots by rank-and-file 
foreign fighters.\81\ They have taken the lead in seeking new 
jihadist followers by communicating with others back home, 
documenting their battlefield experiences on-line, and 
distributing extremist propaganda on social media.
    \81\ Jenkins, ``When Jihadis Come Marching Home,'' 5-6. http://
    Many Islamist terror groups initially sought to recruit 
only men for the fighting. The approach has shifted, though, 
and groups like ISIS are encouraging women to migrate to its 
territory. Females who have made it to the conflict zone are 
now actively drafting other women. Umm Layth, a 20-year-old 
British citizen in Syria, for example, boasts a large social-
media following and advises women on traveling to Syria, while 
others use Tumblr accounts to blog about daily ISIS life.\82\
    \82\ Aryn Baker, ``How ISIS Is Recruiting Women Around the World,'' 
Time Inc., September 6, 2014, http://time.com/3276567/how-isis-is-
    Foreign jihadists have proven skilled at producing on-line 
content for each of their target audiences. Gruesome, 
Hollywood-style videos have been directed at recruiting 
potential martyrs and hardcore fighters. But ISIS has also 
sought to portray the lighter sides of its perceived caliphate 
to attract a wider following. The ninth issue of Dabiq, the 
group's on-line magazine, included a feature article on 
``Healthcare in the [Caliphate],'' claiming ISIS provides 
``extensive healthcare by running a host of medical facilities 
including hospitals and clinics in all major cities.''\83\ The 
article adds that these facilities provide a ``wide range of 
medical services,'' from X-rays and complex surgeries to 
ultrasounds and brain scans.\84\ ISIS foreign fighters have 
also sought to appeal to those back home by emphasizing 
Western-style comforts. One social media campaign showed ISIS 
supporters posing with jars of Nutella,\85\ while another 
documented the caliphate's ice cream parlors.\86\
    \83\ ``Health Care in the [Caliphate],'' Dabiq, no. 9, 25-26, 
    \84\ Ibid.
    \85\ Natalie Andrews and Felicia Schwartz, ``Islamic State Pushes 
Social-Media Battle With West,'' The Wall Street Journal, August 22, 
2014, http://www.wsj.com/articles/isis-pushes-social-media-battle-with-
    \86\ Ruth Pollard, ``Islamic State Propaganda: What the West 
Doesn't Understand'' The Sydney Morning Herald, July 9, 2015, http://
    In addition to promoting travel to Syria and Iraq, foreign 
fighters also aim to radicalize Westerners back home to conduct 
attacks. For instance, authorities believe one of the shooters 
in the May assault on a draw-Mohammad contest in Garland, Texas 
was radicalized and directly encouraged on-line by a known ISIS 
recruiter in Syria.\87\ This approach to supporting attacks--
virtually reaching out to potential foot soldiers--has allowed 
the terror group to scale-up its violence. At the time of 
writing, there had been nearly twice as many ISIS-linked attack 
plots against the West in 2015 (37) as there were in all of 
2014 (20).\88\
    \87\ Evan Perez, Pamela Brown, and Jim Sciutto, ``Texas Attacker 
Had Private Convos with Known Terrorists,'' CNN, May 7, 2015, http://
    \88\ House Homeland Security Committee. Terror Threat Snapshot: 
September 2015.


    Intelligence officials estimate more than 250 Americans 
have tried or succeeded in getting to Syria and Iraq to fight 
with militant groups.\89\ This includes individuals who were 
stopped before traveling, who made it to the conflict zone and 
are still there, who were killed, and others who have come 
back. Some have been arrested on terror charges, though most 
have not. Americans are being recruited in growing numbers and 
continue to attempt to migrate to jihadist battlefields in 
Syria and beyond, posing a serious counterterrorism challenge 
for the United States.
    \89\ Starr, `` `A Few Dozen Americans' in ISIS Ranks.''


    The Task Force reviewed 58 cases of Americans who joined or 
attempted to join Islamist terrorists in Syria and Iraq since 
the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011.\90\ These 
individuals are listed in Appendix II. We did not review all 
American foreign fighter cases, only those which were publicly 
available. Some cases are not public due to on-going 
investigations, while data about other suspects is often 
unconfirmed or Classified.\91\ Nevertheless, the instances we 
reviewed provide a sample of how wide-spread the foreign 
fighter phenomenon has become.
    \90\ The overwhelming majority of individuals reviewed were U.S. 
person; in other words, they were U.S. citizens or legal permanent 
residents of the United States. Only several cases concerned subjects 
with other kinds of immigration status, e.g. visa overstays or 
    \91\ While we assessed some Classified information related to these 
cases, we strongly urge the administration to conduct a full end-to-end 
review of all U.S. foreign fighter cases, recommended as part of Key 
Finding 2 in this report.
    The majority of aspiring foreign fighters have managed to 
make it out of the United States without being stopped.--Of the 
250-plus Americans who have joined or tried to join extremists 
in Syria and Iraq, we were able to identify only 28 cases in 
which U.S. authorities apprehended suspects before they 
departed for the Middle East. A handful of suspects were 
stopped in other countries, but it appears the majority--more 
than 85 percent--still managed to evade American law 
enforcement on the way to the conflict zone. The first suspect 
authorities seem to have stopped was a 21-year-old Illinois 
man, Abdella Ahmad Tounsi, whose case is representative of many 
others. He was flagged after reaching out to an on-line 
terrorist recruiter, who was really an undercover FBI agent, 
and searching for ways to fight in Syria.\92\ Tounsi was 
arrested in 2013 at O'Hare Airport where he planned to fly to 
Turkey and then travel into Syria to join al-Qaeda's affiliate 
in the country.\93\
    \92\ Michael Tarm, ``Chicago-area Teen Latest Snared in Website 
Traps,'' Yahoo! News, April 23, 2013, http://news.yahoo.com/chicago-
    \93\ Ibid.
    Airstrikes have not deterred radicalized Americans, who are 
attempting to travel to Syria at a growing rate.--Based on the 
58 cases we reviewed, there have been sharp increases in the 
number of Americans trying to travel to Syria each succeeding 
year (10 percent of known cases occurred in 2013, 40 percent in 
2014, and 50 percent in 2015), indicating that coalition 
airstrikes in the region have not dissuaded travelers. Overall 
U.S. Government figures confirm the growth: In late 2013, U.S. 
officials said ``dozens'' of Americans had sought to join 
Syrian rebels;\94\ in July 2014, they estimated the figure to 
be around 100;\95\ and by July of this year the estimates 
reached 250-plus.\96\
    \94\ Schmitt, ``U.S. Says Dozens of Americans Have Sought to Join 
Rebels in Syria.''
    \95\ Reuters, ``Fewer than 100 Americans Probed for Fighting in 
Syria, Iraq: U.S. Attorney General,'' Business Insider, July 08, 2014, 
    \96\ Barbara Starr, `` `A Few Dozen Americans' in ISIS Ranks,'' 
CNN, July 15, 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2015/07/15/politics/isis-
    Most aspiring fighters are now specifically attempting to 
join ISIS, not other terrorist groups.--Early in the conflict, 
Americans were traveling to enlist with al-Qaeda's affiliate in 
Syria, Jabhat al-Nusrah; around 20 percent of those we studied 
tried or succeeded in joining the group. However, the last 
known suspect traveled to join al-Nusra in early 2014; the 
other 80 percent sought to join ISIS. In March 2014, the FBI 
made its first arrest of an American trying to join ISIS when 
20-year-old community college student Nicholas Teausant was 
caught fleeing the country; the suspect had broadcast his 
extremist views widely on Facebook and Instagram before setting 
off for Syria.\97\ Since then, many U.S. suspects have tread a 
common path: Espousing their support for ISIS on social media 
and then attempting to leave America, en route to the so-called 
    \97\ ``Arrest Demonstrates Influence of Online Terrorist 
Materials,'' Anti-Defamation League (Blog), March 20, 2014, http://
    U.S. recruits are young and most are men.--The average age 
of U.S. foreign fighters and aspirants in our sample was 24 
years old, demonstrating jihadist groups are still primarily 
catering to a young audience. The youngest was 15 years old, 
while the oldest was 47. The majority we studied, 85 percent, 
were men. However, a growing number of women are being drawn to 
the conflict zone. Based on our sample, we estimate more than 
30 American women have joined or attempted to join ISIS.\98\
    \98\ Of the aspiring U.S. foreign fighters in our sample, nine (15 
percent) were women. If applied to the 250-plus estimate of total 
Americans who have traveled or attempted to travel, you get a 
prediction of around 38 females.
    Aspiring foreign fighters come from across America.--We 
found young people from at least 19 U.S. States have sought to 
become foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq, with the most in our 
sample coming from Minnesota (26 percent), California (12 
percent), and the New York/New Jersey area (12 percent).
    On-line propaganda and social media are major factors in 
U.S. recruitment.--In almost 80 percent of cases, we found 
examples of U.S. foreign fighter aspirants downloading 
extremist propaganda, promoting it on-line, or engaging with 
other extremists on social media. Some communicated with ISIS 
fighters in Syria using secure messaging apps like Surespot or 
posed questions to overseas jihadists via the anonymous website 
Ask.fm; others promoted jihadist content across multiple 
platforms. Keonna Thomas, a Philadelphia mother who was 
arrested in April before attempting to leave the country, did 
both. She tweeted about becoming a martyr and responded eagerly 
to an ISIS fighter in Syria who messaged her about whether she 
would want to join a suicide operation. ``That would be 
amazing,'' she responded. ``A girl can only wish.''\99\
    \99\ U.S. Department of Justice. Office of Public Affairs. 
Philadelphia Woman Arrested for Attempting to Provide Material Support 
to ISIL, April 3, 2015, http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/philadelphia-
    Americans who make it to the conflict zone are reaching 
back to recruit others.--A number of the cases we reviewed 
involved Americans who made it to Syria and attempted to 
remotely recruit others back home. Abdi Nur, only 20 years old 
when he left Minnesota for Syria last year, is a prime example. 
Once in the conflict zone, he spent months persuading his 
friends in Minneapolis to join him. His peer-to-peer recruiting 
nearly worked, as six of his friends attempted to leave the 
United States for Syria; they were arrested by the FBI this 
April.\100\ In a separate case, Ohio suspect Abdirahman Sheik 
Mohamud was urged by his brother Aden to join him overseas. 
Aden provided detailed instructions and contacts for getting 
from Turkey into the conflict zone.\101\ Mohamud agreed to join 
him and left the United States for Syria, though his brother 
was later killed in the fighting.\102\
    \100\ Evan Perez and Shimon Prokupecz, ``ISIS Arrests Highlight 
Role of American Recruiter,'' CNN, April 20, 2015, http://www.cnn.com/
    \101\ U.S. Department of Justice. Office of Public Affairs. 
Columbus, Ohio, Man Charged with Providing Material Support to 
Terrorists, April 16, 2015, http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/columbus-
    \102\ Ibid.
    Roughly 20 percent of aspiring U.S. foreign fighters have 
been killed in Syria.--Twelve of the 58 individuals we reviewed 
died after joining jihadist groups in the terrorist hotspot. 
Accordingly, we estimate nearly 1 in 5 Americans who have 
traveled or attempted to travel to Syria have been killed in 
the fighting. U.S. intelligence officials have already 
indicated more than 20 American have been killed.\103\ Some 
reportedly died in fighting on the battlefield while others, 
like Florida resident Moner Abusalha, conducted suicide 
    \103\ Starr, `` `A Few Dozen Americans' in ISIS Ranks.''
    Nearly all of those who have been apprehended are charged 
with ``material support,'' but other charges have also been 
used.--Ninety percent of arrested suspects have been charged 
with providing or attempting to provide ``material support to a 
foreign terrorist organization''--usually in the form of trying 
to provide themselves as recruits to an extremist group. 
Several suspects have been arrested on charges of lying to 
authorities, passport fraud, gun crimes, or other infractions.
    Around 10 percent of U.S. returnees have been arrested by 
authorities.--Intelligence officials have indicated that around 
40 Americans have returned from Syria after engaging with or 
pledging allegiance to jihadist groups, and our review found 
five of them have been arrested by authorities. Three were 
charged with providing material support to a foreign terrorist 
organization for allegedly engaging with al-Nusrah Front while 
in Syria; two others were charged with lying to the FBI, one of 
which had pledged allegiance to ISIS. One of the returnees was 
arrested plotting a terrorist attack against a U.S. military 
    \104\ U.S. Department of Justice, Columbus, Ohio, Man Charged with 
Providing Material Support to Terrorists.
    Human intelligence has been critical in stopping 
suspects.--More than 75 percent of U.S. foreign-fighter arrest 
cases involved a confidential source, informant, family member, 
or concerned community member who cooperated with or tipped off 
authorities. In other words, private citizens have been key to 
detecting aspiring travelers. For example, in October 2014 
three teenage girls from Denver attempted to join ISIS in 
Syria, but they were stopped when their parents alerted law 
enforcement.\105\ The girls were detained in Germany and 
deported back to the United States.\106\ In another case, 
several suspects were stopped in part because of a community 
member who changed his mind about joining ISIS and decided to 
cooperate with authorities.\107\
    \105\ Shimon Prokupecz, ``3 Denver Teens Back Home after Failed 
Trip to Syria,'' CNN, October 23, 2014, http://www.cnn.com/2014/10/21/
    \106\ Ibid.
    \107\ U.S. Department of Justice. Federal Bureau of Investigation. 
Office of Public Affairs. Six Minnesota Men Charged with Conspiracy to 
Provide Material Support to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant: 
Four Defendants Arrested in Minneapolis; Two Arrested in San Diego, 
April 20, 2015, https://www.fbi.gov/minneapolis/press-releases/2015/

 Peer-to-Peer Extremism: How Americans are Recruited On-line and Lured 
                             Across Borders

    Many past foreign-fighter cases involved individuals who 
were radicalized through personal contact with extremists, but 
that paradigm has changed. Based on our review, we find that 
the majority of U.S. foreign fighter aspirants were radicalized 
in part on-line, either through Islamist terror propaganda or 
peer-to-peer recruiting on social media. Indeed, as noted 
above, almost 80 percent of cases we studied involved 
radicalized Americans downloading extremist propaganda, 
promoting it on-line, or engaging with other extremists on 
Twitter, Facebook, and the like.
    Recruits are motivated to join terrorist groups for a wide 
array of reasons. Many ISIS recruits, for instance, are 
inspired by jihadist ideology and see a historic opportunity to 
live in the caliphate. Others are motivated by the desire for 
adventure, to be a part of a cause larger than themselves, or 
for camaraderie and a sense of belonging. In almost all cases, 
though, suspects feel excluded from society or think they have 
failed to live up to expectations. These perceptions are often 
reinforced by a stressor life event, such as a drug arrest or 
school expulsion, that moves them to act. Other Americans 
aspired to travel to the terrorist safe haven believing they 
would find love, such as 19-year-old Shannon Maureen Conley, a 
nurse's aide from Colorado. She received a 4-year prison 
sentence this year for attempting to join ISIS in Syria, where 
she planned to marry an ISIS fighter she met on-line.\108\ 
Conley still reportedly signs her letters from jail with the 
closing ``behind enemy lines.''\109\
    \108\ Michael Martinez, Ana Cabrera, and Sara Weisfeldt, ``Colorado 
Woman Gets 4 Years for Wanting to Join ISIS,'' CNN, January 24, 2015, 
    \109\ Ibid.
    On-line recruiters follow a similar path in trying to 
seduce Americans and other Westerners. They start by soliciting 
followers on social media, such as Twitter or Ask.fm, and 
``field questions about joining the Islamic State.''\110\ They 
then subtly proselytize to interested parties, providing 
``almost the on-line version of [a] religious seminar,'' 
observers note.\111\ Once they spot promising extremists, 
recruiters will communicate with them using direct-message 
tools to determine whether they are serious and to weed out 
``spies.''\112\ Often extremists move the conversations to 
secure apps and encrypted platforms so they cannot be monitored 
while giving recruits instructions on traveling to Syria or 
even attack orders. FBI Director James Comey has equated the 
sophisticated outreach by ISIS recruiters to ``a devil on their 
shoulder all day long saying, `Kill, kill, kill.' ''\113\
    \110\ Alessandria Masi, ``ISIS Recruiting Westerners: How The 
`Islamic State' Goes After Non-Muslims And Recent Converts In The 
West,'' International Business Times, September 08, 2014, http://
    \111\ Ibid.
    \112\ Ibid.
    \113\ Dustin Volz, ``FBI Director: ISIS Is Relying on Encryption to 
Recruit Americans and Order Killings,'' National Journal, July 8, 2015, 
    One 23-year-old American woman reported that ISIS 
recruiters spent hours each day chatting with her.\114\ ``I was 
on my own a lot,'' she explained to The New York Times, ``and 
they were on-line all the time.''\115\ One extremist in Syria 
with whom she communicated used methods consistent with a 
manual written by ISIS's predecessor, al-Qaeda in Iraq: ``A 
Course in the Art of Recruiting.''\116\ The manual recommends 
recruiters develop a relationship by keeping in regular touch 
with prospects, spending as much time with them as possible, 
listening to them carefully, and then drawing them closer to 
instill the basics of their ideology.\117\ The woman's contacts 
spent months chatting with her, with one eventually urging her 
to travel to Syria.\118\ The FBI reportedly interceded in the 
case, but several months later, the Times says the woman was 
still communicating on-line with extremists.\119\
    \114\ Rukmini Callimachi, ``ISIS and the Lonely Young American,'' 
The New York Times, June 27, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/28/
    \115\ Ibid.
    \116\ Ibid.
    \117\ Ibid.
    \118\ Ibid.
    \119\ Ibid.

  Routes to the Conflict Zone: The ``Jihadi Superhighway'' and Beyond

    Most American foreign fighters have traveled--or planned to 
travel--through Europe to get to Syria, according to the 
results of our review. The continent has become a ``jihadi 
superhighway'' to and from the conflict zone.\120\ Turkey in 
particular has served as the primary point of entry and exit 
into Syria. In 55 percent of the cases we studied, suspects 
plotted to travel from America to Turkey, where they then 
planned to cross into Syria. The country's porous border has 
been an ideal gateway for aspiring jihadists seeking to get in 
and out of the terrorist safe haven.
    \120\ Michael McCaul, ``Europe Has a Jihadi Superhighway Problem,'' 
Time Inc., November 11, 2014, http://time.com/3578462/european-union-
    While Turkey has begun to crack down on illegal border 
crossings, foreign fighter flows appear to continue 
unabated.\121\ ``This is an easy battlefield to get to,'' an 
administration official conceded to the Task Force.\122\ One 
American who traveled to Syria and fought on the front lines 
with rebels echoed the assessment. ``I just went on-line and 
bought a ticket,'' he explained. ``It was that easy. It was 
like booking a flight to Miami Beach.''\123\
    \121\ Findings and Recommendations regarding overseas security gaps 
which have facilitated this type of terrorist travel are outlined in 
the ``Detection & Disruption'' section of this report.
    \122\ Task Force briefing, July 2015.
    \123\ Cheryl K. Chumley, ``U.S. Veteran: Going to Syria to Fight 
`like Booking Flight to Miami Beach','' Washington Times, January 2, 
2015, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/jan/2/us-veteran-going-
    Foreign-fighter recruiters have tried to make it simple for 
Americans to join them abroad. Supporters distribute manuals 
providing plain, English-language advice on getting to the safe 
haven. In February 2015, ISIS published ``Hijrah to the Islamic 
State,'' a how-to guide for dealing with border security, 
planning travel routes, and deciding what to pack.\124\ Another 
manual, ``How to Survive in the West,'' advises followers on 
avoiding law enforcement detection and instructs them on 
getting in touch with extremists once they arrive.\125\ FBI 
Assistant Director Michael Steinbach said in a February hearing 
that the support individuals receive as they prepare to migrate 
to the conflict zone has been tough to combat. The problem is 
``not even close to being under control,'' he explained.\126\
    \124\ Constanze Letsch, ``UK Police Move to Take down Islamic State 
How-to Guide from Internet,'' The Guardian, February 25, 2015, http://
    \125\ ``How to Survive in the West: A Mujahid Guide,'' 2015.
    \126\ Countering Violent Islamist Extremism: The Urgent Threat of 
Foreign Fighters and Homegrown Terror, House Committee on Homeland 
Security: Hearing Before the Committee on Homeland Security, House of 
Representatives, 114th Cong., 1st sess., February 11, 2015, http://
    Extremists are also advising travelers to ``break'' their 
travel to make it more difficult for authorities to catch 
them.\127\ ISIS recruiters are urging followers to buy airline 
tickets to holiday destinations that do not look suspicious 
and, once there, book onward travel to Turkey.\128\ Would-be 
fighters are also using what is popularly known as ``hidden 
city ticketing'' by booking a flight to a false end-destination 
and getting off the plane at the connecting stop. One of the 
Americans who made it to Syria used this tactic. He bought a 
one-way flight to Greece with a connection in Istanbul. 
According to the indictment, he never boarded his connecting 
flight and instead made his way to the battlefield.\129\
    \127\ The challenge of ``broken travel'' is covered further in this 
report in Key Finding 25.
    \128\ James Dowling, ``Jihadists Urged to Take European Holiday 
before Joining Islamic State to Avoid Raising Suspicion,'' Herald Sun, 
June 14, 2015, http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/victoria/jihadists-
    \129\ United States of America v. Abdirahman Sheik Mohamud.
    Extremists on no-fly lists or seeking to avoid law 
enforcement scrutiny at airports have opted instead to travel 
by land or sea. Most commonly, these aspiring fighters have 
driven or taken buses through the Balkans to the Bulgarian or 
Greek border, where they then enter Turkey.\130\ Alternatively, 
extremists have found they can board Turkey-bound ferries and 
cruise ships from Mediterranean countries, where there is 
little security and passports are often not checked.\131\
    \130\ Alessandria Masi and Hanna Sender, ``How Foreign Fighters 
Joining ISIS Travel To The Islamic State Group's `Caliphate' '' 
International Business Times, March 03, 2015, http://www.ibtimes.com/
    \131\ Ibid.



    The Task Force makes 32 Key Findings and associated 
recommendations to improve America's security posture--and to 
ensure foreign countries are doing the same. Below is an 
abbreviated summary with references to the appropriate sections 
where complete descriptions of each Key Finding can be found.


    1. The United States lacks a comprehensive strategy for 
        combating terrorist and foreign fighter travel (see p. 
    2. Despite concerted efforts to stem the flow, we have 
        largely failed to stop Americans from traveling 
        overseas to join jihadists (see p. 25).
    3. The growing complexity of the threat may be creating 
        unseen gaps in our defenses, yet it has been years 
        since any large-scale ``stress test'' has been 
        conducted on U.S. defenses against terrorist travel 
        (see p. 26).
    4. ISIS operatives are urging followers to travel to the 
        group's other ``provinces'' in places like Libya, yet 
        it is unclear whether agencies are keeping pace with 
        changes in foreign-fighter destinations (see p. 27).
    5. Ultimately, severing foreign fighter flows depends on 
        eliminating the problem at the source (see p. 28).


    6. Improvements have been made to the terrorist 
        watchlisting process, yet no independent review has 
        been done to assess them and whether more are needed in 
        light of the evolving threat environment (see p. 29).
    7. Individuals can now contest their status on the no-fly 
        list; however, more should be done to ensure the new 
        process will appropriately balance due process rights 
        with National security concerns (see p. 30).
    8. Despite improvements since 9/11, foreign partners are 
        still sharing information about terrorist suspects in a 
        manner which is ad hoc, intermittent, and often 
        incomplete (see p. 32).
    9. There is currently no comprehensive global database of 
        foreign fighter names. Instead, countries including the 
        U.S. rely on a weak, patchwork system for swapping 
        individual extremist identities (see p. 33).
    10. DHS should continue its efforts to quickly leverage 
        Unclassified data in Classified environments to 
        identify potential foreign fighters (see p. 34).
    11. The DHS Counterterrorism Advisory Board has not been 
        authorized by Congress nor does its charter reflect 
        recent changes to the threat environment, including the 
        rise of the foreign fighter threat (see p. 35).
    12. More can be done to incorporate valuable ``financial 
        intelligence'' into counterterrorism screening and 
        vetting processes (see p. 36).
    13. State and local fusion centers are underutilized by 
        Federal law enforcement Nation-wide when it comes to 
        combating the immediate foreign fighter threat and 
        terrorist travel generally (see p. 36).
    14. State and local law enforcement personnel continue to 
        express concern that they are not provided with the 
        appropriate security clearances to assist with 
        counterterrorism challenges (see p. 38).
    15. The unprecedented speed at which Americans are being 
        radicalized by violent extremists is straining Federal 
        law enforcement's ability to monitor and intercept 
        suspects before it's too late (see p. 39).
    16. Few initiatives exist Nation-wide to raise community 
        awareness about foreign-fighter recruitment and to 
        assist communities with spotting warning signs (see p. 
    17. The Federal Government has failed to develop clear 
        intervention strategies--or ``off-ramps'' to 
        radicalization--to prevent suspects already on law 
        enforcement's radar from leaving to join extremists 
        (see p. 41).
    18. Jihadist recruiters are increasingly using secure 
        websites and apps to communicate with Americans, making 
        it harder for law enforcement to disrupt plots and 
        terrorist travel (see p. 42).
    19. The administration has launched programs to counter-
        message terrorist propaganda abroad, but little is 
        being done here at home (see p. 43).
    20. The United States has not made adequate use of ``jaded 
        jihadists'' to convince others not to join the fight 
        (see p. 44).
    21. Unlike many other governments, U.S. authorities have 
        not relied heavily on passport revocation to stop 
        extremists (see p. 45).


    22. While substantial progress has been made since 9/11 to 
        enhance visa security, there may be additional 
        opportunities to expand screening to identify potential 
        extremists earlier in the process (see p. 48).
    23. The administration has improved the security of the 
        Visa Waiver Program, but continuous enhancements must 
        be made in light of the changing threat (see p. 50).
    24. U.S. authorities remain concerned about terrorists 
        posing as refugees, yet it is unclear to what extent 
        security improvements to the refugee screening process 
        mitigate potential vulnerabilities (see p. 52).
    25. ``Broken travel'' and other evasive tactics are making 
        it harder to track foreign fighters (see p. 54).
    26. More could be done to give front-line operators at 
        borders and ports better intelligence reach-back 
        capabilities so DHS can ``connect the dots'' and 
        uncover previously unidentified terrorists and foreign 
        fighters (see p. 55).
    27. U.S. authorities continue to ``push the border 
        outward'' by deploying homeland security initiatives 
        overseas. Expanding these efforts might help detect 
        threats sooner (see p. 55).
    28. Only a fraction of U.S. States have access to INTERPOL 
        databases; wider access could help spot wanted foreign 
        fighters who have slipped past border security (see p. 

                         OVERSEAS SECURITY GAPS

    29. Gaping security weaknesses overseas--especially in 
        Europe--are putting the U.S. homeland in danger by 
        making it easier for aspiring foreign fighters to 
        migrate to terrorist hotspots and for jihadists to 
        return to the West (see p. 57).
    30. Extremists are using fraudulent passports to travel 
        discretely. However, a third of the international 
        community--including major source countries of foreign 
        fighters--still do not issue fraud-resistant ``e-
        passports,'' and most countries are still unable to 
        validate the authenticity of ``e-passports'' (see p. 
    31. Many countries do not consistently add information to 
        INTERPOL's databases, and the majority do not screen 
        against INTERPOL databases in real-time at their 
        borders and airports (see p. 68).
    32. U.S. departments and agencies have spent billions of 
        dollars to help foreign partners improve their terror-
        travel defenses, but the lack of a coordinated strategy 
        for such assistance results in greater risk of overlap, 
        waste, and duplication between programs (see p. 71).

                 U.S. Government Strategy and Planning

    After the attacks of September 11, 2001, it was clear 
America needed to take urgent steps to keep terrorists from 
entering its borders. The 9/11 Commission, for instance, found 
it was so easy for the hijackers to operate within the United 
States that they traveled ``into, out of, and around the 
country and complacently [used] their real names with little 
fear of capture.''\132\ Since then, the U.S. Government has 
taken extraordinary steps to disrupt terrorists at all stages 
of travel--from fusing real-time intelligence into the border 
screening process to enhancing travel-document security. These 
measures have made it harder for extremists to cross our 
    \132\ National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United 
States, ``What to do? A Global Strategy: Reflecting on a Generational 
Challenge,'' chap. 12, http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/911/report/
    But the threat environment has evolved, which is why the 
Task Force conducted its review. While post-9/11 reforms 
focused largely on preventing terrorists from infiltrating our 
country to attack, today we need to be equally concerned about 
keeping Americans from exiting our country to join terrorist 
groups. The latter challenge demands a different set of tools. 
This is why it is important for the Government to be able to 
adjust its strategies and plans. We must adapt to new threats 
and get resources where they are needed.
    Unfortunately, our country has a surplus of programs for 
combating terrorist travel but a deficit of strategic guidance 
to keep them aligned with the threat. Agencies must be able to 
make sense of new trends, take stock of existing 
counterterrorism efforts, and pivot to fix weaknesses. Yet the 
Task Force found there is no clear, whole-of-Government system 
for cataloging the proliferation of terror-travel programs, nor 
a strategy to ``stitch the seams'' between them.
    The administration has undoubtedly stepped up security to 
cut off foreign fighter flows, as documented throughout this 
report, but more must be done to identify and close potential 
gaps in our defenses against terrorist travel writ large.

    Key Finding 1.--The U.S. Government lacks a comprehensive 
strategy for combating terrorist and foreign fighter travel and 
has failed to maintain a system for identifying and plugging 
related gaps in America's defenses.
    It has been nearly a decade since the Executive branch 
produced a whole-of-Government plan to constrain terrorist 
movements. In its 2004 final report, the 9/11 Commission 
recommended the United States develop ``a strategy to intercept 
terrorists, find terrorist travel facilitators, and constrain 
terrorist mobility.'' That year, Congress passed the 
Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevent Act, which mandated 
such a plan, required the administration to explain how it 
would be implemented, and called for an assessment of 
vulnerabilities in U.S. and foreign travel systems that could 
be exploited by extremists.\133\ The result was the 2006 
National Strategy to Combat Terrorist Travel.\134\ It has not 
been updated since.
    \133\ National Security Intelligence Reform Act, 2004, Pub. L. No. 
108-458, 108th Cong., http://www.dni.gov/files/documents/
    \134\ National Counterterrorism Center, ``National Strategy to 
Combat Terrorist Travel.'' May 2, 2006. http://fas.org/irp/threat/
    The 2006 Strategy is woefully outdated. While it provided a 
thorough overview of U.S. efforts to keep extremists from 
crossing borders, some of those programs have changed or are 
now defunct, and new ones have been created. The evolving 
threat environment has also made the document obsolete. For 
instance, the Strategy makes no mention of foreign fighters or 
the challenges associated with extremists' social media 
    There appears to be no comprehensive accounting of 
terrorist-travel programs in the U.S. Government or any 
systematic Government-wide efforts to identify gaps between 
them. The President's 2011 National Strategy for 
Counterterrorism makes little mention of the subject aside from 
noting the United States will work with foreign partners to 
``identify terrorist operatives and prevent their travel . . . 
across National borders and within States.''\135\ A full audit 
of America's terror-travel preventative and protective measures 
should be produced, as the administration has identified 
``disrupting the flow of foreign fighters'' as one of its top 
priorities in the fight against ISIS.\136\
    \135\ The White House, ``National Strategy for Counterterrorism,'' 
June 2011, https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/
    \136\ Individual departments and agencies have been tasked to 
determine how they can improve security to defend against the foreign 
fighter threat, and those reviews have produced notable enhancements in 
security. This is not the same, however, as producing a Government-wide 
strategy that outlines all relevant programs, identifies gaps, and 
prioritizes resources.
    We found that hundreds of programs, projects, and 
initiatives have sprouted up to combat terrorist travel since 
9/11, but without an overarching strategy to coordinate them, 
the United States may be wasting taxpayer dollars and failing 
to allocate resources where they are needed most. Indeed, lack 
of a strategy not only increases the risk terrorists might 
exploit weaknesses in the U.S. travel system, but also raises 
the prospect of waste, overlap, and duplication between 
   Recommendation.--The Executive branch should provide 
        a National Strategy to Combat Terrorist Travel to 
        Congress. Thereafter, the administration should 
        annually assess the evolving terror threat to the 
        United States, catalogue existing U.S. Government 
        programs designed to obstruct terrorist travel, propose 
        areas for reform and the elimination of duplicative 
        programs, identify gaps in our defenses, and prioritize 
        resources to fill gaps in a risk-based fashion. The 
        strategy should not only take into account the travel 
        into the United States of known or suspected terrorists 
        but should also consider foreign fighter travel to 
        terrorist safe havens.

    Key Finding 2.--Despite concerted efforts to stem the flow, 
we have largely failed to stop Americans from traveling 
overseas to join jihadists. Of the hundreds of Americans who 
have sought to travel to the conflict zone in Syria and Iraq, 
authorities have only interdicted a fraction of them. Several 
dozen have also managed to make it back into America.
    The Task Force was only able to identify 28 cases where 
U.S. individuals were stopped before leaving the United 
States--a small fraction of the total that have attempted to 
travel to the conflict zone.\137\ A handful of others were 
stopped at other stages of the journey. The majority appear to 
have succeeded, despite concerted Government efforts to prevent 
Americans from joining groups like ISIS abroad. In fact, around 
40 have even made it back to the United States, and some 
individuals have gone back and forth to the conflict zone 
multiple times.\138\ One suspect from Florida allegedly trained 
with extremists in Syria and returned to the United States for 
several months before heading back to the conflict zone; during 
that time, he was never on the radar screen of U.S. 
    \137\ See the ``Americans on the Pathway to Terror: By-the-
Numbers'' sub-section of this report.
    \138\ See ``Appendix II: American Foreign Fighter Aspirants and 
Recruits'' for the public cases the Task Force reviewed.
    \139\ Michael S. Schmidt and Mark Mazzetti, ``Suicide Bomber From 
U.S. Came Home Before Attack,'' The New York Times, July 30, 2014, 
    We believe it is unacceptable that so many Americans have 
been able to make it to the world's most dangerous terrorist 
safe haven (and back) without being interdicted. While we 
commend the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and 
other agencies for a string of successful arrests this year, a 
great deal can and must be learned from instances where we 
failed, including what was known and when about each suspect 
and whether more could have been done to stop them. This may 
help reveal any systemic weaknesses in the security 
architecture we have built into the U.S. travel system since 9/
    Unfortunately, the administration has not called for a 
formal Government-wide examination of these cases. Some 
agencies have done their own ``after-action'' reviews which 
have produced useful conclusions, but there is yet to be a 
coordinated and comprehensive interagency investigation into 
why each of these Americans slipped through the cracks. Our 
Task Force has identified some of the security weaknesses 
highlighted by the foreign fighter phenomenon, but only the 
Executive branch has the time and resources to do the 
comprehensive, deep-dive review that is needed of all of the 
recent American foreign fighter cases.
   Recommendation.--The administration should launch an 
        end-to-end review of all cases involving Americans 
        traveling or attempting to travel to Syria and Iraq to 
        join Islamist terror groups-taking into consideration 
        all relevant Classified and Unclassified information--
        to determine what lessons can be learned and to prevent 
        additional Americans from traveling to overseas 
        terrorist sanctuaries. The final conclusions should be 
        presented to Congress, along with any relevant 
        legislative recommendations.

    Key Finding 3.--The growing complexity and changing nature 
of the foreign fighter phenomenon may be creating unseen gaps 
in our defenses, yet it has been years since any large-scale 
``stress test'' has been conducted on U.S. Government 
protection and prevention programs against terrorist travel.
    The last major Government exercise on terrorist travel 
occurred in 2009. That year, the Federal Emergency Management 
Agency (FEMA) managed an exercise centered on the ``aftermath 
of a notional terrorist event outside of the United States'' 
and how to prevent ``subsequent efforts by the terrorists to 
enter the United States and carry out additional 
attacks.''\140\ The exercise tested how agencies at all levels 
of Government would respond in such a scenario.
    \140\ U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency 
Management Agency, ``National Level Exercise 1009 Fact Sheet,'' 2009, 
    But the threat environment has changed. The 2009 exercise 
centered on terrorists attempting to enter the country, but as 
we have noted, officials today should be just as concerned 
about Americans leaving the country to train overseas with 
terrorist groups as foreign fighters. Such individuals can 
represent a serious security threat to the United States, 
particularly upon their return to the country, so preventing 
them from joining extremists abroad in the first place should 
be a top law enforcement goal.
   Recommendation.--The White House should lead a 
        National-level exercise series designed around the 
        foreign fighter threat to test all phases of extremist 
        planning and travel to determine how partners at all 
        levels of Government--and abroad--are currently 
        responding to these scenarios. The primary focus of the 
        exercises should be to identify weaknesses at home and 
        abroad that may be exploited by terrorists and foreign 
        fighters seeking to travel to and from the United 
        States and overseas terrorist sanctuaries.\141\
    \141\ The Task Force is grateful for the work of the Homeland 
Security Advisory Council, which recently put forward a similar 
recommendation. See: U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Homeland 
Security Advisory Council, ``Foreign Fighter Task Force Interim 
Report,'' Spring 2015, http://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/

    Key Finding 4.--In addition to Syria and Iraq, ISIS 
operatives are urging followers to travel to the group's other 
``provinces'' in places like Libya, yet it is unclear to what 
extent departments and agencies are shifting diplomatic, 
intelligence, law enforcement, policy, and other resources to 
keep pace with and track evolving foreign fighter flows to 
other emerging safe havens.
    ISIS continues to boast to its followers that it has 
expanded beyond Syria and Iraq. Indeed, the group now has a 
direct presence, affiliates, or groups pledging support in at 
least 18 countries or territories, including: Afghanistan, 
Algeria, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Jordan, Libya, Lebanon, 
Nigeria, the Palestinian territories, Pakistan, the 
Philippines, Russia (North Caucasus region), Sudan, Syria, 
Tunisia, and Yemen.\142\ The ability for extremists to operate 
openly in many of these areas is tenuous, but several are 
emerging terrorist sanctuaries.
    \142\ House Homeland Security Committee, Terror Threat Snapshot: 
September 2015.
    ISIS operatives have urged followers on social media to 
head to its other provinces. In one on-line handbook popular 
with extremists, the author writes that ``if the Muslim finds 
it hard to flee to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria through 
Turkey, he can escape to the Islamic State in Libya, or 
[Afghanistan/Pakistan], or in Nigeria (under Boko Haram 
territory).''\143\ Thousands of foreign fighters appear to be 
heeding the call in places like Libya, and others have 
reportedly begun to appear in Nigeria.\144\ It is unclear if 
there are Westerners in these groups, but the trend is 
    \143\ SWJ Editors, ``ISIS Publishes Manual on `How to Survive in 
the West','' Small Wars Journal, June 9, 2015, http://
    \144\ Moore, ``5,000 Foreign Fighters Flock to Libya as ISIS Call 
for Jihadists''; Julia Payne, ``Exclusive: Captured Video Appears to 
Show Foreign Fighters in Nigeria's Boko Haram,'' Reuters, May 26, 2015, 
    Current U.S. Government efforts to combat the flow of 
foreign fighters are heavily focused on keeping fighters from 
traveling to and from Syria and Iraq, but as we have seen, the 
terror threat environment can change quickly. Radicalized 
individuals who were once intent on traveling to Afghanistan or 
Somalia are now traveling to Syria, and more may soon begin 
traveling to new ISIS outposts. We cannot be caught off-guard 
by changes in terror-travel destinations, which is why law 
enforcement and the intelligence community must continue to 
closely track changes in extremist migration to new terrorist 
hot spots.
   Recommendation.--The Intelligence Community should 
        provide Congress with regular updates documenting 
        foreign fighter flows to other terrorist sanctuaries, 
        in addition to Syria and Iraq, and in coordination with 
        interagency partners should provide updates on actions 
        being taken to prevent extremist migration to those 

    Key Finding 5.--Ultimately, severing foreign fighter flows 
to any conflict zone depends on eliminating the problem at the 
source and preventing the emergence of terrorist sanctuaries.
    We find that, in the long run, the only truly effective 
method for preventing our citizens from joining terrorist 
organizations abroad is to eliminate the sanctuaries in which 
those groups thrive. ``We are playing defense over here,'' one 
senior official told the Task Force, ``but what we are doing 
overseas--the offense--is key.''\145\
    \145\ Task Force briefing, July 2015.
    The ``center of gravity'' of the current foreign fighter 
phenomenon is still in Syria and Iraq, and as long as the safe 
haven in that region persists, so will the drive of individuals 
around the world--including radicalized Americans--to migrate 
to it. Indeed, the safe haven enhances the perceived legitimacy 
of groups like ISIS, helping to radicalize even more 
individuals to its cause.
    Terrorist groups thrive in the world's lawless outposts. We 
have learned this the hard way. If left unaddressed, failing 
states and ungoverned spaces become the playgrounds of 
fanatics, who exploit these areas to expand their influence, 
solicit recruits, and plot attacks. We have seen this in Syria. 
We have seen this in Afghanistan. And we have seen this in the 
Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa. Without clear 
strategies to identify and prevent the emergence of extremist 
sanctuaries, America risks those locations becoming new 
headquarters of terrorist planning against our homeland.
    ``Every policy decision we make needs to be seen through 
this lens,'' the 9/11 Commission wrote more than a decade ago. 
The Commission offered the following warning: ``If, for 
example, Iraq becomes a failed state, it will go to the top of 
the list of places that are breeding grounds for attacks 
against Americans at home. Similarly, if we are paying 
insufficient attention to Afghanistan . . . its countryside 
could once again offer refuge to al-Qaeda, or its 
    \146\ 9/11 Commission report, chap. 12, http://
   Recommendation.--In the near term, the United States 
        and its allies must defeat terrorist groups in Syria 
        and Iraq to keep Westerners from being drawn to the 
        region where they are further radicalized and trained 
        by violent extremists. In the long run, the U.S. 
        Government must heed the advice of the 9/11 Commission 
        and ``identify and prioritize actual or potential 
        terrorist sanctuaries'' and develop realistic 
        strategies to prevent extremists from taking root 
        within them.

                     Identification and Prevention

    An effective counterterrorism system must be able to 
recognize extremist suspects in order to prevent them from 
crossing borders, and if they do, authorities must be alerted 
to their movements so they can be stopped. Accordingly, the 
Task Force categorized four phases critical for stopping 
terrorist and foreign fighter travel: (1) Identification, (2) 
prevention, (3) detection, and (4) disruption. Information 
sharing is a critical pillar of the identification phase. From 
State and local police to foreign governments, intelligence 
must be disseminated quickly and securely to ensure front-line 
operators are able to spot violent extremists. More robust 
terrorism watch lists, for instance, have allowed U.S. 
authorities to keep thousands of potentially dangerous 
individuals with terrorist ties out of the United States since 
    However, preventing individuals from traveling out of the 
country to terrorist safe havens remains a difficult task. In 
many cases, intelligence agencies and police are unaware of an 
American's plan to travel overseas to link up with terrorists 
until after he or she has already left. When authorities are 
made aware, in many cases it is because of a tip from family, 
friends, or community members. Even then, preventing a 
suspect's travel can be difficult. The Task Force examined 
America's progress in the ``identification and prevention'' 
phases of terrorist and foreign fighter travel, and we propose 
a number of urgent improvements to strengthen our country's 


    The 9/11 Commission found that before the 2001 terrorist 
attacks, the United States lacked a single list of suspected 
terrorists and did not distribute a similar document or 
database to relevant departments and agencies.\147\ This meant 
even terrorist known to authorities might be able to evade 
screening systems at the border. After 2001, the White House 
and Congress mandated the creation an integrated terrorist 
watch list and required agencies to better fuse intelligence 
information into it.
    \147\ Ibid.
    The result is that today America boasts the most 
sophisticated watchlisting and screening system in the world. 
Authorities have gone to great lengths to integrate 
intelligence databases into a centralized clearinghouse of 
terrorist suspects, which is then used to compile the terrorist 
watch list, known officially as the Terrorist Screening 
Database (TSDB). The TSDB is one of our most effective tools 
for detecting the movement of extremists. For instance, 
agencies like the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), 
FBI, and State and local law enforcement rely on the watch list 
to identify known or suspected terrorists trying to board 
aircraft, obtain visas, enter the country, or engage in other 
    \148\ ``Terrorist Watchlist,'' U.S. Government Sharing Environment, 

    Key Finding 6.--Both the 2009 Christmas Day bombing of a 
U.S. airliner and the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing led to 
extensive improvements in the terrorist watchlisting process. 
Yet no independent review has been conducted to assess the 
impact of recent changes to the watchlisting process and 
whether further changes are warranted in light of the evolving 
threat environment.
    On Christmas day 2009, Nigerian citizen Umar Farouk 
Abdulmutallab--known widely as the ``underwear bomber''--
attempted to detonate explosives on Northwest Airlines Flight 
253. A subsequent White House review determined that 
counterterrorism agencies had information that raised red flags 
about Abdulmutallab but failed to connect the dots and place 
him on the terrorist watch list.\149\ Doing so may have 
prevented him from boarding the aircraft and may have resulted 
in additional screening that could have detected his 
    \149\ White House. Summary of the White House Review of the 
December 25, 2009 Attempted Terrorist Attack, https://
www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/summary_of_wh_re- view_12-25-
    Similarly, following the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing, 
authorities determined that information held by the U.S. 
Government about Tamerlan Tsarnaev was not pieced together 
comprehensively. A fully consolidated and accurate record for 
Tsarnaev in the terrorist watch list might have led authorities 
to perform additional screening when he returned from Russia, 
where he is alleged to have met with Islamist militants.\150\
    \150\ U.S. Congress. Committee on Homeland Security. The Road to 
Boston: Counterterrorism Challenges and Lessons from the Boston 
Marathon Bombings, March 2014, 29-35. https://homeland.house.gov/files/
    The National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) and the 
interagency community have made commendable progress in recent 
years to close gaps in the watchlisting process, to ensure 
critical intelligence information is integrated in near-real-
time to our screening systems, and to make sure data from 
disparate sources is combined to better identify extremists. 
Multiple revisions to the interagency Watchlisting Guidance 
have been made in recent years, resulting in a larger (but more 
accurate) terrorist watch list. Improvements have also led to 
an array of interagency initiatives to ensure authorities on 
the front lines have the timely information they need to stop 
terrorist movements.
    Nevertheless, no independent review has been conducted of 
these changes to the watchlisting and screening process. In 
2012, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) recommended 
regular assessments of the watchlisting process were warranted 
to ensure the watch list is achieving its intended 
outcomes.\151\ Interagency policy reviews have been conducted 
of this critical counterterrorism tool, but we believe it is 
important for a third-party to ensure security deficiencies 
have been fixed and that policies and procedures are keeping 
pace with an evolving threat environment--especially the threat 
from foreign fighters.
    \151\ U.S. Government Accountability Office. Report to 
Congressional Requesters, Terror Watchlist: Routinely Assessing Impacts 
of Agency Actions since the December 25, 2009, Attempted Attack Could 
Help Inform Future Efforts, GAO-12-476 (Washington, DC, 2012), http://
   Recommendation.--GAO should conduct an independent 
        review to determine whether past weaknesses in the 
        watchlisting process have been reconciled and whether 
        additional changes are needed to enhance America's 
        defenses. This includes ensuring that information is 
        being integrated into the terrorist watch list from all 
        relevant sources across the Government, that it is 
        being done in a timely manner, that agencies are 
        equipped to handle increased demands for information to 
        improve the watch list, that the right authorities have 
        the watch list access they need, and that individuals 
        who should no longer be included on the list are 
        removed appropriately.

    Key Finding 7.--The administration has revised the 
administrative ``redress'' process, which allows an individual 
who has purchased a plane ticket, been denied boarding, and 
sought redress, to contest his or her inclusion on the no-fly 
list; however, more work should be done to ensure that judicial 
review of such listings appropriately balances due process 
rights with National security concerns.
    In connection with a number of court cases pending across 
the country where individuals challenged their inclusion on the 
no-fly list, DHS has made significant changes to the redress 
process by which such listings are reviewed. Among other 
things, U.S. persons who purchase a ticket, are denied 
boarding, and subsequently seek to challenge an alleged no-fly 
listing, are now informed as to whether they are on the list 
and, if they are on the list, given an opportunity to request 
additional information. If the individual seeks additional 
information, DHS then provides a second, more detailed 
response, which will include the applicable no-fly criterion 
and, where possible, additional Unclassified information. This 
change allows affected Americans to have access to more 
information with which to respond through the administrative 
    However, issues remain if these matters proceed to courts. 
Departments and agencies claim there are major challenges in 
the court system with appropriately handling the Classified, 
privileged, or sensitive information on which no-fly listings 
are often based. Current law does not provide a statutory 
mechanism for addressing these issues, and as a result, some 
cases may not be able to be decided on the merits. We need a 
system that enables judicial review of no-fly list decisions 
based on the facts and with respect to individual rights, while 
also establishing effective mechanisms for the protection of 
Classified or otherwise sensitive information.
   Recommendation.--The administration should provide 
        Congress with a formal plan for reforming the process 
        for review of no-fly listings which safeguards civil 
        liberties, due process, and national security in line 
        with recent court decisions. This plan should include 
        any legislative changes sought by the administration to 
        ensure Classified or otherwise sensitive information is 
        handled appropriately and protected from disclosure 
        when no-fly listings are challenged in court.

                          INFORMATION SHARING

    It is difficult to overstate how important post-9/11 
information sharing has been in combating terrorist threats to 
the United States. American lives have been saved and our 
country is safer because of tectonic shifts in the level of 
cooperation between agencies at home and with foreign partners. 
When it comes to disrupting terrorist travel, information 
sharing is the backbone of a strong security posture. If one 
agency identifies a violent extremist and fails to notify other 
partners, the suspect may easily enter our country undetected. 
That is why at all levels of government (international, 
Federal, State, and local) the exchange of terrorist identities 
has become a leading National security objective.
    The foreign fighter threat--whether from Americans seeking 
to join terrorists abroad or returning home from extremist safe 
havens--presents challenges to our information-sharing 
environment. The sheer volume of jihadist travelers has made it 
difficult for authorities to keep track of individuals who pose 
a threat and turn attention away from those who do not. In 
response, the administration has taken action to ramp up 
information-sharing activities, from improving intelligence 
exchanges with our allies to sending more frequent bulletins to 
State and local law enforcement.
    We believe even more can be done to ensure Federal, State, 
and local agencies are quickly exchanging information about 
suspects in an environment where radicalization happens far 
more quickly than ever before. And we believe more must be done 
abroad. Foreign partner information sharing is uneven, leading 
to gaps in our collective knowledge of the individuals who have 
traveled to dangerous terrorist sanctuaries.

    Key Finding 8.--America relies on foreign partner 
intelligence information to identify terrorists and foreign 
fighters, yet many countries still share the names of suspects 
with the United States in a manner that is ad hoc, 
intermittent, and often incomplete--a worrying gap in our 
defenses against extremist travel.
    Foreign fighters can only be stopped from crossing borders 
(and prevented from conducting attacks) if authorities are 
aware of them. This means countries must share fighter names 
with the United States so those individuals can be 
appropriately watchlisted. Sharing has improved with our 
partners lately, but there are still disturbing weaknesses. For 
example, European security services reportedly failed to share 
the name of a suspected extremist who returned from Syria and 
attempted a mass shooting in August on a train from Amsterdam 
to Paris, even though the assailant was on the radar of 
European authorities.\152\ If the suspect had attempted instead 
to travel to America to conduct the attack, U.S. authorities 
likely would not have noticed since the individual was not on 
our watch list. That is why information sharing is so 
    \152\ ``France Attack Suspect Unknown to U.S. Authorities,'' CNN, 
August 25, 2015, http://www.cnn.com/videos/tv/2015/08/25/new-day-
savidge-france-supect-american-heroes-latest.- cnn?sr=biob-armfeed.
    In 2003, President Bush issued Homeland Security 
Presidential Directive 6 (HSPD-6), which directed U.S. agencies 
to work with foreign governments to exchange terrorist 
screening information, particularly the names and identifiers 
of known or suspected terrorists. The United States has since 
signed agreements with more than 40 countries to swap terrorist 
watchlist data, including most Visa Waiver Program (VWP) 
countries. Although the United States also shares such data 
through other channels, HSPD-6 agreements are seen as enhancing 
the transparency, frequency, and quality of those exchanges.
    However, information-sharing among many of the countries 
who have signed HSPD-6 pacts remains inadequate. Some countries 
signed agreements years ago, but have never used the mechanism 
to share terrorist names with the United States or do so only 
infrequently.\153\ Moreover, while some are willing to share 
the names of suspected terrorists and foreign fighters, others 
are reportedly only willing to share the identities of 
convicted terrorists.\154\ This creates potentially disturbing 
gaps in our awareness of extremists who may attempt travel to 
the United States.
    \153\ GAO also flagged this problem in 2011, but the Task Force 
believes it persists. See: U.S. Government Accountability Office. 
Report to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, 
U.S. Senate. Visa Waiver Program: DHS Has Implemented the Electronic 
System for Travel Authorization, but Further Steps Needed to Address 
Potential Program Risks, GAO-11-335 (Washington, DC, May 2011), http://
    \154\ Ibid.
    Some countries are also reluctant to share names of their 
own citizens for privacy reasons, even if those individuals are 
terror suspects they are tracking. In these cases, foreign 
partners will presumably share a name if the suspect tries to 
travel to the United States. But in places like Europe where 
there are few internal border checkpoints, it is difficult to 
see how authorities would know if their citizens were headed to 
America. A German suspect could easily drive to Spain, for 
instance, to evade German authorities and fly to America 
    It is also unclear to what extent foreign partners are 
reporting all of the ``encounters'' they have with terrorists 
from our own watch lists that we have warned them about. While 
some HSPD-6 countries let U.S. authorities know when they have 
run into individuals we have flagged, they are not necessarily 
required to do so in real time or to provide details of those 
encounters. Moreover, there still appears to be no universal 
case management system for foreign partners to report when they 
have encountered a suspect from our watch list.\155\
    \155\ Ibid. This concern was first flagged by GAO, but it appears 
to have persisted.
    Senior officials have acknowledged to the Task Force that 
until recently, the United States has rarely put serious 
pressure on our foreign partners to live up to their HSPD-6 
agreements. Only with the rise in the foreign fighter threat 
did U.S. departments and agencies begin to push foreign 
partners to share names more regularly and thoroughly using the 
process. Sharing reportedly has improved, but there is clearly 
more to be done to increase participation and accountability.
   Recommendation.--The Inspectors General of DHS, the 
        State Department, the FBI, and the Intelligence 
        Community should conduct a deep-dive review of the U.S. 
        Government's HSPD-6 information-sharing agreements, the 
        process for reaching and enforcing agreements, 
        compliance with such agreements, possible performance 
        indicators, and related matters to determine if more 
        can be done to standardize, streamline, and enhance 
        foreign fighter information sharing with partners. The 
        review should be provided to Congress.
   Recommendation.--DHS, FBI, and the State Department 
        should provide a Classified report annually to Congress 
        on HSPD-6 information-sharing agreements and 
        compliance, by country. The administration should also 
        provide Congress with any proposals to adjust the 
        requirements of HSPD-6 information-sharing agreements 
        and to increase foreign partner compliance.
   Recommendation.--GAO should complete its on-going 
        review of the overall status of information-sharing 
        agreements required under the VWP and provide Congress 
        with an overview of any identified weaknesses or 

    Key Finding 9.--There is currently no comprehensive global 
database of foreign fighter names. Instead, countries including 
the United States rely on a patchwork system for swapping 
individual extremist identities. This is an inherently weak 
arrangement that increases the odds a foreign fighter will be 
able to cross border undetected when traveling to and from a 
terrorist sanctuary.
    Countries around the globe continue to rely on bilateral 
and regional information-sharing agreements to exchange 
terrorist watch lists and compare foreign fighter names. The 
result is that global awareness of foreign fighter travel is 
piecemeal and deeply fragmented. In other words, a foreign 
fighter leaving Syria might be kept out of country X but can 
travel freely through country Y which has not been made aware 
he is a suspect.
    The closest the international community has come to 
centrally tracking foreign fighters is a through a database 
created last year by INTERPOL. The organization's ``foreign 
terrorist fighter'' analytic file is available on a membership 
basis to all 190 INTERPOL countries, each of which can add to 
the database and can screen against it to detect foreign 
fighters attempting to enter their territory.\156\
    \156\ Currently around 50 member states have joined the initiative.
    Unfortunately, only a fraction of INTERPOL countries have 
participated in it. Indeed, more than 25,000 foreign fighters 
have gone to Syria and Iraq, yet at last count INTERPOL's 
database only included around 5,000 names because foreign 
partners are reluctant to share.\157\ This has to change--and 
quickly. Thousands of these fighters are returning home, and 
this database has the potential to become the global 
``tripwire'' to detect their movements. Even the few thousand 
names already added to the INTERPOL database have been useful 
to the United States, as many of them were previously unknown 
to us.\158\
    \157\ Information provided to Task Force staff by INTERPOL 
Washington in September 2015.
    \158\ Task Force briefing with INTERPOL officials in France, May 
   Recommendation.--The United States must work with 
        international partners to designate INTERPOL as a 
        central repository for foreign fighter identities. The 
        administration must strongly urge partners who have 
        shared foreign fighter data with U.S. authorities to 
        share the same data, where possible, via INTERPOL 
        systems with the rest of the international community. 
        This would enhance U.S. security by ensuring more 
        individuals of concern are stopped well before they 
        reach American borders.
   Recommendation.--The administration should conduct a 
        Classified review of the foreign fighter names known to 
        the United States and determine whether there are any 
        additional identities that can be added to INTERPOL's 
        foreign fighter database. More broadly, this review 
        should also consider whether the process in place for 
        quickly declassifying information to place in INTERPOL 
        systems is adequate.

    Key Finding 10.--DHS is seeking to more quickly leverage 
the Unclassified data it collects to identify high-risk 
individuals--including terrorists and foreign fighters--
traveling to, through, and from the United States. To do so, 
the Department requires an interim ability to query 
Unclassified data in Classified environments.\159\
    \159\ See related finding from the Homeland Security Advisory 
Council: ``Foreign Fighter Task Force Interim Report,'' Spring 2015.
    Much of the information the U.S. Government receives from 
foreign partners is Classified, like the identities of possible 
terrorists. Using that information to screen for suspects must 
be done on secure systems. DHS has proposed an interim process 
which will allow intelligence analysts to tap Unclassified data 
sets directly from Classified systems and detect extremists who 
may have entered the country or are attempting to do so.\160\ 
For example, a DHS analysts might want to search the manifests 
of planes bound for the United States for the name of a certain 
foreign fighter, but the analyst might not be able to do so 
easily if the name was received from a sensitive source 
overseas, making it Classified. He or she would be unable to 
type a Classified piece of data into the search box unless the 
system was on a Classified network.\161\
    \160\ U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Privacy Impact for the 
DHS Data Framework--Interim Process to Address an Emergent Threat, DHS/
ALL/PIA-051, April 15, 2015, http://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/
publications/privacy-pia-dhswide-dataframework-april-2015- .pdf.
    \161\ This example is a hypothetical and was not provided by DHS.
    The Task Force believes a temporary data transfer process 
should be used to address such challenges but only until the 
long-planned DHS data framework is capable of meeting the 
mission need. DHS should revert to a model with more privacy 
safeguards once the technical capabilities are available. We 
understand that access to this data in the Classified domain 
will be limited to intelligence analysts, support staff for 
intelligence analysts, and CBP personnel conducting targeting 
and intelligence analysis. Technical personnel will be 
responsible for loading the data onto the Classified domain and 
performing system administration functions, but they will not 
have access to the actual data after the uploading is complete.
   Recommendation.--DHS should expedite efforts to 
        fully develop the DHS Data Framework so that 
        information at all levels of classification can be used 
        for critical counterterrorism purposes by DHS and other 
        relevant agencies. The Department should report to 
        Congress on its interim use of this capability, 
        progress in developing the full framework, and any 
        additional resources needed to complete the effort.

    Key Finding 11.--The DHS Counterterrorism Advisory Board 
(CTAB) is the Department's key forum for fusing operations, 
intelligence, and policy information at a senior level to 
better mitigate terrorist threats; however, the CTAB's charter 
has not been authorized by Congress nor does it reflect recent 
changes to the threat environment, including the rising threat 
of foreign fighters and homegrown terror.
    Established in 2010, the CTAB brings together top DHS 
officials at the behest of the Secretary of Homeland Security 
to share information and coordinate counterterrorism 
activities. By many accounts, the CTAB has improved the 
Department's ability to adapt to the threat environment and 
keep policy responses in sync across the many DHS components. 
The CTAB, however, is not currently authorized in law, running 
the risk it could fall into disuse or stray from its core 
counterterrorism mandate. Moreover, its original charter does 
not reflect changes in the threat environment, including the 
surge in home-grown extremism and the threat from foreign 
fighters.\162\ Authorization in law and updates to the charter 
would keep the CTAB on a strong footing so it can be best used 
by future DHS Secretaries and their lieutenants.
    \162\ Homeland Security Advisory Council, ``Foreign Fighter Task 
Force Interim Report,'' Spring 2015.
   Recommendation.--Congress should authorize the 
        activities of the CTAB, and in line with the 
        recommendations of the Homeland Security Advisory 
        Council, ensure that its charter is reviewed and 
        revised to reflect ``(1) the current threat 
        environment, (2) any policy changes that have been made 
        since issuance, and (3) to align DHS CT activities 
        under the Secretary's Unity of Effort guidance.''\163\
    \163\ Ibid.

    Key Finding 12.--More can be done to incorporate valuable 
``financial intelligence'' into counterterrorism screening and 
vetting processes. This data can be used to detect previously 
unknown extremists and to identify individuals tied to 
terrorism attempting to transit the United States, among other 
counterterrorism priorities.
    Since 9/11, significant barriers to intelligence 
information sharing have been reduced or eliminated across the 
U.S. Government, allowing authorities to connect the dots to 
spot and interdict violent extremists seeking to do our country 
harm. Much of this information is leveraged during the travel 
screening process to screen passengers so that law enforcement 
can catch terrorists and foreign fighters while they are on the 
move. The Task Force spoke with a number of officials who have 
indicated that more can be done to integrate financial 
intelligence into the systems used to screen for terrorist 
travel. We support on-going efforts to bolster this type of 
information sharing between Federal agencies.
   Recommendation.--The administration should 
        accelerate efforts to better incorporate financial 
        intelligence into vetting and screening systems and 
        provide Congress with regular updates on its progress.

    Key Finding 13.--State and local fusion centers are 
underutilized by Federal law enforcement Nation-wide when it 
comes to combating the immediate foreign fighter threat and 
terrorist travel generally.
    In the wake of 9/11, many States and urban areas around the 
country established fusion centers to enhance sharing of 
counterterrorism information and criminal intelligence at all 
levels of government. The National Network of Fusion Centers 
now includes 78 separate centers, many of which bring together 
Federal, State, and local law enforcement; emergency 
responders; public health professionals; private-sector 
representatives; and others. Most of these centers receive 
Federal assistance, whether through grant dollars or the 
support of Federal intelligence analysts who sit alongside 
their State and local counterparts to share information.
    With the terror threat becoming more diffuse Nationally, 
fusion centers are more important than ever. Federal agencies 
are strained by the workload associated with monitoring the 
surging number of home-grown extremists, aspiring foreign 
fighters, returnees, and other terrorist targets. State and 
local partners not only can help lighten the load but are also 
able to provide invaluable on-the-ground assistance to mitigate 
terror threats.
    Cooperation between fusion centers and Federal law 
enforcement, including the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Forces 
(JTTFs) has improved considerably in recent years, yet some 
centers still report they are underutilized and not made aware 
of terrorism-related investigations or activities within their 
respective areas of responsibility. For example, when a 
watchlisted individual is stopped for a traffic violation or is 
detected traveling through a U.S. airport, there is currently 
no mechanism to automatically notify the closest fusion center, 
even though law enforcement represented in that center may 
ultimately be called on to respond. The lack of automatic 
coordination also may deprive authorities of key local insights 
that could help interdict terror suspects. Similarly, fusion 
centers are not automatically notified when an American foreign 
fighter suspect returns from an overseas extremist sanctuary.
    When fusion centers are used, the benefits are clear. In 
one recent case, Federal officials received a tip that 
unidentified Americans from a specific state traveled overseas 
to fight with Islamist militants.\164\ The fragmentary 
intelligence was passed down to the relevant fusion center. In 
a matter of weeks, the center pieced together information from 
local sources and managed to identify the suspects. They 
quickly notified Federal counterterrorism officials, who placed 
the suspects on the terrorist watch list to ensure they did not 
make it back into America undetected.
    \164\ This example was shared with the Task Force in April 2015 by 
Homeland Security officials.
   Recommendation.--Federal law enforcement, including 
        the FBI's JTTFs, should better leverage the National 
        Network of Fusion Centers for assistance with 
        terrorist-travel related matters. Stronger 
        relationships between the two--and co-location where 
        possible--will further enhance information-sharing and 
        help Government agencies stop extremists from entering 
        our country and keep more Americans from leaving to 
        join terrorist groups.
   Recommendation.--Federal authorities should explore 
        providing notification to fusion centers when there are 
        hits against the terrorist watch list of individuals 
        within a given fusion center's area of operations. 
        Routine notification will give State and local partners 
        awareness in case they are called on to assist and 
        would create an additional opportunity for those 
        partners to connect the dots and provide Federal 
        authorities any pertinent information they have on 
        those subjects.
   Recommendation.--Federal law enforcement should 
        regularly notify fusion centers when a ``returnee'' 
        comes back to their area of operations. These 
        individuals, who return from overseas terrorist 
        sanctuaries, pose a potential threat to the homeland. 
        If made aware, fusion centers can serve as a force 
        multiplier and an additional source of information to 
        determine whether such individuals are seeking to 
        recruit others to join extremist groups, are planning 
        to head back to the conflict zone, or are engaged in 
        attack plotting.

    Key Finding 14.--State and local law enforcement personnel 
continue to express concern that they are not provided with 
important counterterrorism information, whether because of a 
lack of security clearances, insufficient security clearance 
levels, or delays in security clearance processing.
    State and local law enforcement partners are essential for 
deterring, detecting, and disrupting terrorist travel. However, 
the Task Force finds there is still frustration among State and 
locals about the security clearance process, which is run by 
the Federal Government. Some departments with a presence at 
fusion centers say they have too few officers--or none--with 
security clearances, while others feel hamstrung by the long 
delays in security clearance processing.
    Security clearance levels are also an issue. Most State and 
local law enforcement personnel who are granted security 
clearances are approved up to the ``Secret'' level. However, 
counterterrorism information is often classified at ``Top 
Secret'' and above, making it difficult if not impossible for 
those officers to assist in sensitive cases. The Task Force 
understands that DHS has recently decided to streamline its 
process and make it easier for State and local law enforcement 
to be granted higher clearances, where needed--a welcome 
   Recommendation.--DHS, FBI, and the Director of 
        National Intelligence's (DNI) Program Manager for the 
        Information Sharing Environment should: (1) Complete a 
        thorough review of security clearances held by non-
        Federal Fusion Center personnel and all State and local 
        law enforcement; and (2) provide guidance on expediting 
        clearances to those populations and ensuring partners 
        have the appropriate level of access.
   Recommendation.--DHS should regularly report to 
        Congress on its sponsorship of Top Secret clearances 
        for select State and local law enforcement personnel in 
        States and major urban areas.

                         PREVENTION ACTIVITIES

    Actually ``preventing'' a known or suspected terrorist from 
crossing borders typically comes down to blunt law enforcement 
tactics: Interdiction, arrest, and prosecution. If authorities 
lack enough evidence to detain a suspect on terror charges, 
they will sometimes prevent them from leaving a country by 
detaining them on lesser charges, such as immigration 
violations or making false statements to investigators.
    But the foreign fighter threat has created a different 
dynamic. We cannot simply rely on stopping suspects when they 
arrive at the airport. Many of the hundreds of American who 
have attempted to travel to Syria and Iraq were not known to 
law enforcement before they traveled, and some on law 
enforcement's radar could not be charged without more 
sufficient evidence they were planning to join a foreign 
terrorist organization overseas.
    As a result, prevention activities are increasingly 
important. These include efforts to help communities spot signs 
an individual may be seeking to join violent extremists 
overseas and to dissuade them from departing the country. 
Prevention also requires authorities to be nimble in monitoring 
the wide array of suspects on their radar, as a decision to 
join a group like ISIS is often made quickly and discretely. 
With extremists increasingly engaging Americans using secure 
communications, authorities might not be aware of a suspect's 
decision to travel to a terrorist hot spot, making it all-the-
more important for communities to look at developing ``off-
ramps'' to radicalization to prevent individuals from falling 
victim to extremist recruitment in the first place.

    Key Finding 15.--The unprecedented speed at which Americans 
are being radicalized by violent extremists is straining 
Federal law enforcement's ability to monitor and intercept 
suspects before it's too late.
    We were told repeatedly throughout our review that never 
before have authorities witnessed such a condensed period of 
radicalization, i.e., the time between an individual's first 
encounter with extremist propaganda to when they are prepared 
to act on it. Also, no official could point to another period 
where so many Americans have been inspired to travel overseas 
to become foreign fighters in a single terror hotspot.
    The scope and magnitude of terrorist recruitment world-wide 
is taking its toll on all law enforcement, including here in 
the United States. Some of our foreign partners have admitted 
they do not have adequate coverage on their terrorist suspects 
or have been forced to limit their focus to counterterrorism at 
the expense of investigating other criminal matters. While the 
circumstance are not quite as dire here, the threat environment 
certainly has put strain on U.S. authorities, especially at the 
FBI. The FBI director now says the agency is investigating ISIS 
supporters in all 50 States.\165\
    \165\ Julia Payne, ``FBI Investigating ISIS Suspects in All 50 
States,'' The Hill, May 26, 2015, http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-
    A diffuse threat environment calls for a distributed 
response, which means better engaging State and local law 
enforcement across the country. Since 9/11, Federal law 
enforcement has brought sheriffs' offices and police 
departments into the fold through improved information sharing 
and involvement in counterterrorism investigations. But with 
the continued surge in the terror threat, closer cooperation 
will be needed.
   Recommendation.--Federal law enforcement agencies 
        should rely more on State and local partners to help 
        manage the high load of counterterrorism cases. Already 
        police departments in major cities have reportedly 
        begun to devote more resources to helping Federal 
        agencies keep tabs on terrorism suspects, whether to 
        keep them from fleeing to link up with other extremists 
        overseas or mobilizing at home. Leaders of Federal 
        departments and agencies must be clear with State and 
        local partners about how they can best assist in this 
        new age of terror and should also consider additional 
        training and enhanced integration to better leverage 
        law enforcement partners around the country.

    Key Finding 16.--The majority of recent disruptions of 
aspiring U.S. foreign fighters occurred because of--or were 
aided by--warnings to law enforcement, whether from family, 
friends, informants, or the general public. Nevertheless, few 
initiatives exist Nation-wide to raise community awareness in 
order to keep more individuals from being recruited to join 
overseas terrorist organizations.
    Information from the public is crucial for stopping foreign 
fighter flows. ``A lot of cases we've disrupted, it's because 
somebody tipped us off,'' explained one senior administration 
official who spoke with the Task Force.\166\ The FBI, DHS, and 
other agencies have done commendable investigative work to 
identify extremists, but without community engagement their 
work is considerably more difficult.
    \166\ Task Force briefing, July 2015.
    Unfortunately, the administration relies on small 
initiatives with few staff, shoestring budgets, and limited 
records of success to spread awareness about the threat. The 
``Community Awareness Brief'' is the Federal Government's 
primary domestic outreach effort to address domestic 
radicalization and inform communities about terrorist 
recruiting. Officials have compared it to a ``D.A.R.E. 
program'' for counterterrorism,\167\ but it has only been 
presented in a small number of cities. Usually delivered by a 
handful of DHS and NCTC staffers, the brief is sometimes 
followed by a Community Resilience Exercise designed to engage 
participants in mock scenarios involving the radicalization of 
a community member. Unfortunately, resource constraints have 
kept these initiatives from being scaled beyond one-off 
presentations held intermittently around the country.
    \167\ This is a reference to the Drug Abuse Resistance Education 
program; comments made by General Frank Taylor during the following 
hearing: House Committee on Homeland Security, Countering Violent 
Islamist Extremism: The Urgent Threat of Foreign Fighters and Homegrown 
Terror, 114 Cong., 1st sess., Doc. (Washington: Government Printing 
Office, 2015), http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CHRG-114hhrg94106/html/
    Moreover, departments and agencies have not done enough to 
successfully enlist nongovernmental partners in prevention 
efforts. Several NGOs, including the Countering Extremism 
Project and the World Organization for Resource Development and 
Education (WORDE), are involved in this space, but the 
administration has done little to help them mature or 
accelerate their efforts. Major foundations, which could bring 
resources to bear on the problem, have also rarely been 
contacted by U.S. authorities on the subject.
   Recommendation.--DHS should use the National Network 
        of Fusion Centers to more widely deploy initiatives 
        such as the U.S. Government's Community Awareness Brief 
        and Community Resilience Exercise, designed to increase 
        local understanding of the foreign fighter threat. 
        Training fusion center staff around the country to help 
        conduct these briefings could help to increase 
        community awareness and buy-in from local community 
   Recommendation.--DHS, in consultation with other 
        departments and agencies, should devise new approaches 
        for encouraging community members to report suspicious 
        activity, especially signs an individual is preparing 
        to travel overseas to join a foreign terrorist 
        organization. In considering new methods for 
        engagement, authorities should also rely on lessons 
        from the Department of Justice's (DOJ) Building 
        Communities of Trust initiative, recognizing that one 
        of the major barriers to cooperation in some 
        communities is distrust of law enforcement.

    Key Finding 17.--The Federal Government has failed to 
develop clear intervention strategies such as ``off-ramps'' to 
radicalization as an alternative to detaining individuals 
seeking to travel to fight with extremists overseas.
    Countries around the world have developed programs to 
address radicalization by intervening before a suspect becomes 
violent or enlists with a terrorist group. In some cases, these 
programs are also aimed at rehabilitating foreign fighters who 
have returned from overseas. Some of these efforts are a step 
too far for the United States. For Constitutional and policy 
reasons, the U.S. Government should be wary about running its 
own ``de-radicalization'' programs for individuals who, in some 
cases, may simply be engaging in speech and actions protected 
by the First Amendment. Family, friends, and community members 
are often far better suited than Government officials to 
intervene and prevent individuals from radicalizing to 
    But U.S. authorities are still faced with the reality that 
every day they are investigating suspects who have been 
radicalized by terrorist groups and could suddenly seek to 
become fighters on foreign battlefields or commit acts of 
terror here at home. The traditional wait-and-see approach is a 
blunt and risky one: Suspects are either arrested and 
prosecuted--or they are not. In only a handful of recent cases 
have Federal authorities sought to intervene earlier to engage 
family or community members in dissuading a suspect from 
heading overseas to join ISIS or al-Qaeda.
    We believe more should be done to develop ``off-ramps'' to 
radicalization, particularly as terrorist groups are 
increasingly recruiting people under the age of 18. While 
recognizing that we cannot just look the other way, our only 
choice should not be to incarcerate teenagers on terror charges 
when they are preyed upon by on-line extremists. Investigators, 
prosecutors, and judges need additional options so they can 
tailor their actions to the specifics of each case.
    Authorities have made some attempts to pursue alternatives 
to prosecution, but they do not appear to be based on any 
overarching guidance or best practices. In a handful of cases 
for instance, Federal authorities have engaged with parents 
when it appears their children might be Syria-bound. In a case 
this year, an 18-year-old Minnesota resident accused of 
attempting to join ISIS was released to a halfway house while 
awaiting trial, instead of being held in jail. There he 
received counseling and courses in civic education-but from an 
organization with no prior experience dealing with would-be 
foreign fighters.\168\ The experiment fell apart when he was 
found with a knife hidden in his room. The accused is now back 
in jail, though still participating in civics lessons.\169\
    \168\ Katie Zavadski, ``Group With No Jihadi Experience Rehabs ISIS 
Recruit,'' The Daily Beast, August 24, 2015, http://
    \169\ Ibid.
    So far, these efforts to pursue ``off-ramps'' have been ad 
hoc and lack a systematic framework. This is a problem. We 
cannot have law enforcement and justice officials developing 
intervention strategies on-the-fly out in the field, especially 
when they are swamped with counterterrorism cases and ill-
equipped to develop such strategies. Instead, policymakers in 
Washington should take the lead in developing baseline policy 
and legal guidance for appropriate interventions. This includes 
engaging with NGOs, civil rights groups, and civil liberties 
advocates to ensure intervention guidance is appropriate and 
methods are effective.
    The FBI recently announced plans to refer more suspects--
particularly juveniles--to interventions by involving community 
leaders, educators, mental health professionals, religious 
leaders, parents, and peers, depending on the 
circumstances.\170\ In these cases, the FBI will not 
necessarily cease its criminal investigation and will remain 
alert to suspects who might become dangerous or plan to travel 
to join extremists overseas.\171\ We are glad the FBI is taking 
additional steps to engage communities on interventions, but 
the framework for implementing these efforts remains unclear.
    \170\ Devlin Barrett, ``FBI to Seek Counseling, Not Handcuffs, for 
Some Islamic State Suspects,'' Wall Street Journal, August 5, 2015, 
    \171\ Ibid.
   Recommendation.--The administration should take 
        immediate steps to develop a baseline policy and legal 
        framework for intervening in cases of potential violent 
        radicalization, rather than relying on ad hoc 
        interventions. This guidance should be produced by DHS, 
        FBI, DOJ, and the NCTC--in consultation with other 
        departments and agencies and nongovernmental 
        organizations--distributed to appropriate parties, and 
        incorporated into field training where applicable. This 
        guidance must clearly spell out the legal parameters 
        for interveners, particularly as they could expose 
        themselves to liability if interventions fail.\172\ 
        Moreover, from this framework, the U.S. Government 
        should develop a ``playbook'' regarding violent 
        extremist cases outlining the array of options 
        available to families, communities, law enforcement, 
        prosecutors, and judges to dissuade, deter, or disrupt 
        an individual at different stages along the path to 
        violent extremism.
    \172\ Lorenzo Vidino and Seamus Hughes, Countering Violent 
Extremism in America, report, June 2015, https://cchs.gwu.edu/sites/
cchs.gwu.edu/files/downloads/CVE%20in%20Amer- ica%20.pdf.

    Key Finding 18.--Aspiring foreign fighters are increasingly 
being radicalized and recruited by extremists overseas via 
websites and apps with secure private messaging features. The 
result is that law enforcement faces greater difficulty 
accessing extremist communications, making it harder to disrupt 
violent plots and terrorist travel.
    The world is witnessing sweeping changes in extremist 
tactics, not least of which is the concept of crowd-sourced 
recruiting. As detailed in the ``Threat'' section of this 
report, terrorist groups like ISIS seek to identify possible 
recruits by issuing a call to arms to their thousands of social 
media followers, including on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and 
beyond. Then they engage promising radicals via direct message, 
communicating with them privately to determine their 
willingness to engage in jihad or persuade them to travel 
overseas. Finally, terrorist recruiters direct their subjects 
to use encrypted apps and hidden websites to prevent monitoring 
of their further conversations and plotting.
    This last stage is especially concerning. Extremists are 
using freely available communications tools to hide illegal 
activities, such as funneling young operatives to and from 
terrorist safe havens or planning to kill Americans within the 
homeland. Even faced with lawful warrants from the courts to 
access those communications, some companies are unable to 
comply because of built-in security and encryption. In some 
cases, technology is creating a virtual safe haven for 
terrorists to communicate around the world. The FBI has been 
especially vocal in highlighting these challenges as the terror 
threat level has risen.\173\
    \173\ Joint Statement with Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian 
Yates Before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Washington, DC, 114th 
Cong. (2015) (testimony of James B. Comey, Director, FBI).
    The ``going dark'' problem has stirred an important debate 
in this country about how technological changes are affecting 
privacy and public safety. We are not satisfied these 
challenges have been discussed as thoroughly and openly as they 
should be. Law enforcement and technology companies seem to be 
talking past each other, and no sustained dialogue has been 
established on the subject between key parties, including 
Congress, law enforcement, and private industry. American 
people deserve to see their leaders tackle this subject openly 
and through a robust dialogue.
   Recommendation.--A sustained and open dialogue and 
        enhanced cooperation is needed between all relevant 
        parties--including Congress, law enforcement, and 
        private industry--to discuss challenges and find 
        concrete solutions to the ``going dark'' problem, with 
        the ultimate goals of maintaining cybersecurity, 
        protecting civil liberties, and ensuring public safety, 
        especially against terrorist threats to the United 

    Key Finding 19.--The administration has launched public 
counter-messaging efforts at the State Department to push back 
against terrorist propaganda overseas, yet more needs to be 
done domestically.
    Terrorist organizations are recruiting on-line and across 
borders at a level we have never seen before. Thousands of 
citizens from more than 100 countries have already been drawn 
to fight with extremists in Syria and Iraq without ever meeting 
an ISIS ``recruiter'' face-to-face. U.S. officials who spoke 
with our Task Force say many if not most of the Americans who 
have been inspired to join groups like ISIS were radicalized 
on-line, not from someone in their communities, and the case 
studies we reviewed seem to support that claim.\174\ ``It used 
to be the assessment of the [Intelligence Community] that you 
could not go all the way down the path to radicalization 
without personal contact,'' one official told us. ``But that's 
all changed.''\175\ In an age of peer-to-peer radicalization, 
the new battlespace is on-line, and the United States must work 
openly and aggressively to contest it.
    \174\ See the ``Americans on the Pathway to Terror: By-the-
Numbers'' sub-section of this report.
    \175\ Task Force briefing, June 2015.
    Overseas, the State Department has launched a counter-
messaging campaign to challenge terrorist recruitment and 
propaganda, especially on social media. The Center for 
Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC) leads the 
effort and says it primarily targets individuals who are ``on 
the fence'' about traveling to enlist with extremist groups by 
using hard facts to expose their deception and the danger of 
enlisting in their ranks. The CSCC has started to engage 
foreign partners to counter extremist misinformation using more 
organic and credible approaches. Furthermore, the United States 
can learn from foreign partner governments which have engaged 
in their own counter-messaging efforts.
    But the CSCC has a staff of only a few dozen, compared to 
the tens of thousands of on-line ISIS followers who amplify the 
terrorist group's content. Its efforts have also been pilloried 
for being slow, bureaucratic, and ineffective at combating the 
viral success of ISIS propaganda.\176\ What is more worrisome 
is that State Department officials told the Task Force that 
under existing authorities they do not believe they can use the 
Center's resources to directly engage with Americans on-
line.\177\ In other words, the State Department can discourage 
foreigners from joining ISIS but not dissuade U.S. citizens.
    \176\ Greg Miller and Scott Higham, ``In a Propaganda War against 
ISIS, the U.S. Tried to Play by the Enemy's Rules,'' Washington Post, 
May 8, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/in-
    \177\ Task Force briefing with CSCC officials, May 2015.
    We do not believe counter-messaging is solely or even 
primarily the job of the U.S. Government. In fact, tweets and 
YouTube videos with the seal of the United States will likely 
be discredited by budding extremists. However, the Federal 
Government can help set the tone, share best practices from 
foreign partners, and most importantly jump-start efforts by 
non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other private sector 
partners to push back against terrorist recruitment and 
propaganda within our borders.
   Recommendation.--The administration should ramp up 
        counter-messaging efforts here at home and urgently 
        develop ways to empower nongovernmental organizations 
        to contest the propaganda of violent groups seeking to 
        radicalize and recruit Americans to travel to overseas 
        terrorist safe havens. As part of this effort, the 
        administration should also seek to work with non-
        traditional partners, including universities, the 
        private sector, and philanthropic foundations.
   Recommendation.--The administration should work more 
        closely with social media companies-including those who 
        are not routinely engaged by Government agencies but 
        whose platforms are often used by extremists\178\--and 
        urge them to accelerate the removal of violent-
        extremist content which violates their terms of 
        service, whether through tools which make it easier for 
        users to flag inappropriate material or by devoting 
        greater internal resources to identifying and removing 
        offending content and users.
    \178\ DHS, the State Department, and other Government agencies 
routinely interact with Facebook, Twitter, Google, and other major 
social media players. However, other websites that are regularly used 
by extremists to share content, such as Ask.fm, reportedly have not 
been contacted by U.S. departments and agencies to participate in 
dialogue about removing terrorist propaganda.

    Key Finding 20.--Unlike many countries, the U.S. Government 
has made little use of disaffected extremists to dissuade 
others from traveling to fight in terrorist sanctuaries.
    The Task Force found a number of our foreign partners have 
engaged ``jaded jihadists'' and returnees from the battlefield 
to tell their stories and convince others not to travel to 
terrorist safe havens. These individuals are likely viewed by 
potential extremists as more credible voices than governments. 
Therefore, they stand a better chance of dissuading likely or 
future jihadists from coming under the influence of groups like 
    We were disappointed however to find key U.S. departments 
and agencies have done little to leverage the stories of 
American returnees or family members of those who have fled to 
the conflict zone. In fact, one counterterrorism official even 
admitted to the Task Force that counter-messaging teams had not 
reached out to DOJ or FBI to see if any disaffected extremists 
on their radar would tell their stories publicly.\179\ Only 
very recently does that appear to have changed, though we are 
unaware of any meaningful progress.
    \179\ Task Force briefing, May 2015.
    Fortunately, the State Department has begun to shift its 
content in this direction, launching a series of ISIS defector 
YouTube videos.\180\ The videos include footage from interviews 
and news stories featuring individuals who were horrified to 
witness ISIS oppression up close. But these testimonials have 
received relatively little attention when posted from State 
Department social media accounts. One such video only received 
500 views despite being posted for 2 months; by comparison, a 
recent ISIS execution video received tens of thousands of views 
within hours of going on-line.
    \180\ For an example, see: U.S. Department of State, ``Daesh 
Defectors: `I Was Afraid All the Time' '' YouTube, July 24, 2015, 
    Grassroots messaging has a better chance than Government 
missives of reaching vulnerable young people, as noted earlier. 
Accordingly, U.S. authorities must empower nongovernmental and 
non-traditional partners to do this kind of outreach. For 
instance, a U.K.-based foundation recently sponsored an ISIS 
counter-messaging campaign--#NotAnotherBrother--which showcases 
the ``reality of life as a foreign fighter.''\181\ The slick, 
privately-produced video has drawn far more attention world-
wide when compared with similar U.S.-Government-produced 
    \181\ Quilliam Foundation, ``Quilliam Launches 
#NotAnotherBrother,'' news release, August 4, 2015, http://
   Recommendation.--The administration should launch a 
        concerted effort to use the testimonials of disaffected 
        ``former'' foreign fighters, extremists, and their 
        friends and relatives to counter the narratives that 
        persuade Americans to travel overseas to fight with 
        extremist groups. Most importantly, the administration 
        should help facilitate and distribute these stories 
        through non-Governmental channels where possible and 
        empower non-traditional partners to do the same. 
        Departments and agencies should also work with foreign 
        partners to get permission to use narratives which they 
        have produced featuring their own citizens.

    Key Finding 21.--Many Western countries have begun to use 
passport revocation as a means to keep aspiring foreign 
fighters from traveling, but the tool has been little-used by 
U.S. authorities.
    A number of Western governments have taken direct action to 
stop suspects by taking away their means of travel: Passports. 
Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, and others have 
used this tool as a last resort when they think extremists 
might take off for the conflict zone but when there is limited 
ability to prosecute them in advance. For example, Australian 
authorities confiscated the passport of a Musa Cerantonio, a 
vocal ISIS recruiter and jihadist preacher, after he reportedly 
tried to flee to Syria in June 2014; he made it to the 
Philippines before being deported back to Australia.\182\
    \182\ Graeme Wood, ``What ISIS Really Wants,'' The Atlantic, 
February 15, 2015, http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/03/
    The U.S. Government has the ability under the law to revoke 
passports on a number of different grounds, including for 
National security purposes.\183\ But unlike some foreign 
partners, American authorities cannot make this decision 
unilaterally. The Supreme Court has ruled that an individual's 
right to travel cannot be violated without due process, which 
has been interpreted to mean an American passport cannot be 
revoked without giving the suspect a chance to contest the 
evidence against him or her.\184\ There appear to be few public 
cases of passports being revoked on National security grounds, 
which could be explained by the fact that National security and 
counterterrorism investigations often involve Classified 
information. Law enforcement agencies face difficult trade-offs 
when deciding whether to use Classified information in court, 
as noted elsewhere in this report.
    \183\ Revocation or Limitation of Passports, 22 CFR  51.62 (2014).
    \184\ Task Force Briefing with State Department, June 2015. Also 
see: Kent v. Dulles (June 16, 1958).
    This does not mean the tool has never been used. The U.S. 
State Department revoked the passport of Anwar al-Awlaki, a top 
al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula leader, nearly 6 months 
before he was killed in a drone strike in Yemen. First though, 
the Department sent a cable to its embassy in Yemen directing 
that it send a message ``to Mr. [Awlaki] informing him that 
there is an important letter for him at post regarding his U.S. 
passport.''\185\ Presumably if Awlaki had shown up, he would 
have been served with a passport revocation letter and later 
been given the opportunity to contest the charges against him. 
He never showed, and the passport was revoked.
    \185\ United States, Department of State, Passport Revocation--
Anwar Nasser Aulaqi, http://images.politico.com/global/2012/11/28/
    Passport revocation is not the only way to make it 
difficult for a suspect to travel. America's advanced 
watchlisting system, discussed earlier, allows authorities to 
flag foreign-fighter suspects in a secure database and to be 
notified when any of them attempt to fly out of the country on 
their passports. Moreover, with enough evidence, a watchlisted 
terror suspect can be upgraded to the no-fly list, which 
automatically prevents them from boarding an aircraft.
    But if an American has already left the United States for 
Syria, adding their name to the watch list may not do much good 
in keeping them from getting the rest way to the battlefield. 
The majority of Americans who have attempted to fight in Syria 
and Iraq managed to leave the country before being stopped by 
U.S. law enforcement; only later did many of them come to the 
attention of authorities. Many are presumably still able to 
travel on their passports if the documents have not been 
cancelled, making it easier for them to return to the West. On 
the other hand, when an individual's passport is revoked, a 
government can alert nearly all other countries via INTERPOL 
that the document is no longer valid and should not be 
accepted, theoretically constraining a suspect's international 
    The Task Force is concerned about the gap between passport 
revocation and watchlisting. The latter is not an equal 
substitute for the former. We must assume suspects dead set on 
joining a terrorist group in Syria and Iraq could eventually 
find a way out of the United States. In those cases, we need to 
be able to make it more difficult for them to travel the 
remainder of the way to the conflict zone and, ultimately, 
prevent them from returning to the West undetected.
   Recommendation.--The administration should conduct a 
        review of its passport revocation policies and 
        procedures which could be used in cases involving 
        terrorist travel and foreign fighters and report to 
        Congress on any changes desired to streamline and 
        improve the process while protecting due process rights 
        and civil liberties. This review should consider 
        similar actions undertaken by foreign partners and also 
        propose alternatives to passport revocation which could 
        have a similar effect in slowing or obstructing 
        terrorist travel across borders.

                        Detection and Disruption

    If terrorists and foreign fighters cannot be deterred from 
crossing borders, then the United States must be able to detect 
and disrupt them when they do. This requires real-time 
counterterrorism information to be used at border checkpoints, 
airports, and beyond to spot travelers who have been flagged. 
It also requires shrewd analysis of travel patterns and the 
identification of suspicious behavior. This is no easy task. 
More than half a billion people cross borders into the United 
States each year, 330 million of which are non-citizens.\186\ 
Catching the small number who have ties to terrorism requires 
close cooperation at all levels of government.
    \186\ U.S. Customs and Border Protection. ``Border in Miles: How 
Long is the U.S. Border with Canada and Mexico?'' July 30, 2013, 
    America failed to adequately integrate counterterrorism 
information at the borders before 9/11, a vulnerability which 
allowed extremists to travel back-and-forth to the United 
States undetected by law enforcement. In fact, the 9/11 
Commission concluded 15 of the 19 hijackers were ``potentially 
vulnerable to interception by border authorities'' but were not 
detected because of ``systemic weaknesses'' in the U.S. border 
system.\187\ But extraordinary progress has been made since 
then. Law enforcement agencies now conduct National security 
checks on virtually every traveler--whether they are a foreign 
national applying for a visa or an American returning home--
before they board flights to ensure they do not have ties to 
terrorism. Moreover, U.S. border officers are deployed to a 
number of countries overseas to detect threats early by pushing 
the screening process outward.
    \187\ 9/11 Commission report, chap. 12, http://
    The danger from foreign fighters requires us to reexamine 
these systems to keep suspects from slipping through the 
cracks. The Task Force found several potential weaknesses in 
U.S. detection and disruption efforts. For instance, more could 
be done to tackle the challenge of ``broken travel,'' where 
extremists switch planes and destinations to avoid law 
enforcement detection, and authorities could put in place 
measures to weed out violent extremists earlier in the visa 
application process.

                            PRE-TRAVEL PHASE

    Pre-travel screening allows authorities to conduct advance 
security checks to identify high-risk individuals who might be 
connected to violent extremist groups. In some ways, pre-travel 
security screening is more important than the physical 
screening of a traveler. Most terrorist suspects and foreign 
fighters are not carrying weapons or explosive when they fly. 
Authorities are more likely to detect them by searching 
counterterrorism databases than by searching duffel bags for 
illicit materials. We believe additional enhancements can be 
made to detect threats in the pre-travel phase and to prevent 
extremists from taking advantage of legal travel routes into 
our country.

    Key Finding 22.--Substantial progress has been made since 
9/11 to enhance visa security and conduct advance 
counterterrorism reviews of foreign nationals seeking to visit 
the United States. The Task Force believes there may be 
additional opportunities to expand screening to identify 
potential extremists earlier in the process.
    To visit the United States, citizens of most countries must 
obtain visas, which are issued at overseas embassies and 
consulates by the State Department. In 2014, the State 
Department granted nearly 10 million visas to foreigners 
seeking temporary entry into America (and nearly 500,000 
immigrant visas for permanent residence).\188\ This involves 
submitting an on-line questionnaire, scheduling an interview at 
a U.S. embassy or consulate, providing biographic and biometric 
information (such as fingerprints), and awaiting a formal 
decision. The process can take anywhere from a few days to a 
few weeks.\189\
    \188\ United States, Department of State, Immigrant and 
Nonimmigrant Visas Issued at Foreign Service Posts: Fiscal Years 2010-
2014, http://travel.state.gov/content/dam/visas/Statistics/
    \189\ Task Force briefing with DHS and State Department, June 2015.
    The visa issuance process represents a critical stage for 
law enforcement to detect individuals with terrorist ties and 
prevent them from entering the United States. Many of the 
subjects who have been convicted on terrorism charges in the 
United States since 
9/11 are foreign-born individuals who traveled to America on 
visas--whether on student visas, tourist visas, or for legal 
permanent residence. Some had potentially detectable terrorist 
connections beforehand, and others committed visa fraud by 
providing false information.
    All visa applications are screened extensively against 
criminal and counterterrorism databases, though this was not 
always the case. For a number of years before and after 9/11, 
the State Department only screened an applicant's basic 
information and to see if he or she matched a name on a 
terrorist watch list; as a result, approximately 2 percent of 
visa applications were flagged to receive a more extensive 
counterterrorism review.\190\ If a visa was approved, it was 
not typically screened against classified databases again. 
Today the State Department forwards 100 percent of visa 
applications to NCTC for deeper, more sophisticated screening 
to uncover possible terrorism connections.\191\ The Department 
also continuously checks visas against Government databases in 
case new information is discovered tying an individual to 
terrorist activity.\192\ These improvements have led to the 
denial of thousands of U.S. visas due to counterterrorism 
concerns, some of which may not otherwise have been 
    \190\ Ibid.
    \191\ Written testimony of CBP Office of Field Operations Acting 
Deputy Assistant Commissioner for a House Committee on Oversight and 
Government Reform, Subcommittee on National Security hearing titled 
``Border Security Oversight, Part III: Border Crossing Cards and B1/B2 
Visas,'' 113th Cong. (2013) (testimony of John Wagner).
    \192\ Ibid.
    \193\ Ibid.
    In higher-risk foreign countries, the U.S. Government has 
implemented an added defensive measure, the Visa Security 
Program (VSP). VSP is run by DHS in 19 countries and aims to do 
more in-depth counterterrorism screening to keep violent 
extremists from gaining entry into America. At these higher-
threat locations, visa applications undergo a more rigorous 
screening process, including an immediate National security 
review when their immigration application is submitted on-line, 
which allows Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents 
to flag concerns with an applicant even before they show up at 
the embassy for an interview. The additional time and manpower 
of Visa Security Units (VSUs) allows for suspicious applicants 
to be vetted more thoroughly. Once DHS has made a determination 
on the applicant, it provides the State Department with a 
recommendation on the individual's admissibility.\194\
    \194\ Task Force briefing with DHS and the State Department, June 
    VSP runs applications through a system called PATRIOT (Pre-
Adjudicated Threat Recognition and Intelligence Operations 
Team) well before State Department officers review the 
applications. PATRIOT culls through public safety, criminal, 
and National security databases and gives analysts in 
Washington, DC the opportunity to do a deeper review to ensure 
U.S. authorities do not have information on an applicant that 
would be reason to deny them entry into the country. When an 
application is flagged through the VSP, an officer at the 
relevant U.S. overseas post is assigned to it and can do 
additional work on-the-ground in the host country to resolve 
any concerns.\195\
    \195\ Ibid.
    The Task Force believes the VSP is a valuable additional 
layer of security. We also recognize the VSP could be expensive 
to deploy globally, given that DHS prefers to have an agent on 
the ground to conduct follow-on reviews after an application is 
initially screened. However, we believe the up-front screening 
that occurs as part of the VSP--an immediate and automatic 
National security review of each visa application through the 
PATRIOT system--does not need to be limited to only the 19 
existing VSP countries when there are 225 U.S. visa-issuing 
posts world-wide.
    Over time, PATRIOT screening could be expanded virtually to 
all visa-issuing posts world-wide and provide an extra layer of 
security to help State Department officers decide which 
individuals should be granted entry into the United States and 
which should not. Under the current system, a full 
counterterrorism review sometimes does not occur until weeks 
after an application is submitted; near-instant security checks 
would help give the U.S. Government additional lead time to do 
background investigation on applications which get flagged, 
offering more opportunities to uncover previously-unknown 
terrorist ties. The VSP program has already helped identify new 
terrorist tactics and has provided additional information on 
known extremists, so we believe finding a way to deploy some 
elements globally would yield additional National security 
   Recommendation.--DHS, in conjunction with the 
        Department of State, should strengthen security 
        screening of travelers who require a visa by working to 
        deploy virtual elements of the VSP globally, 
        specifically through the expanded use of the PATRIOT 
        screening system. PATRIOT is currently used for remote 
        screening; however it only supports locations in which 
        VSP units currently exist. DHS should consider 
        expanding the use of the system to additional high-risk 
        embassies and consulates where VSP units may not 
        currently have a presence.\196\ DHS should also explore 
        conducting full VSP reviews using more cost-effective 
        means--particularly by training other U.S. Government 
        personnel to do the on-the-ground VSP assessments in 
        countries where DHS has a more limited presence.
    \196\ Over time, DHS should also examine how to deploy the system 
to all countries.

    Key Finding 23.--The administration has improved the 
security of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), but continuous 
enhancements must be made to keep pace with changing terrorist 
tactics and to detect violent extremists before they board 
U.S.-bound planes.
    Some critics have labeled the VWP the ``Achilles' heel'' of 
U.S. security out of fear that foreign fighters from those 
countries will be able to slip into the United States 
undetected. It is true that most European jihadists who have 
fought in Syria are from VWP countries, and although such 
residents can get into America with greater ease, they are 
still subjected to security checks. Moreover, their home 
countries must implement travel security enhancements in order 
to participate in the program.
    Citizens of VWP countries can travel to the United States 
for up to 90 days without having to obtain an entry visa; in 
return, U.S. citizens must also be allowed to travel visa-free 
to the participating country. VWP countries tend to be 
developed economies that are viewed as a low security threat to 
America, and the program brings substantial economic benefits 
to the United States and participating nations.
    In place of a visa, VWP travelers must fill out the 
Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), when booking 
travel to the United States. This on-line form provides key 
information on each traveler to U.S. authorities and is 
screened against terrorist watch lists and criminal databases. 
Due to the heightened concerns about foreign fighters, DHS 
announced in November 2014 that VWP travelers would be required 
to submit additional information, including aliases, 
citizenships, parents' names, national identification number, 
contact information, employment information, and city of 
birth.\197\ Additional information makes it easier for law 
enforcement to identify terrorists and to expedite legitimate 
travel. Moreover, ESTA forms are continuously screened against 
the watch list and other security databases to ensure no new 
ties to terrorism are detected after an individual has been 
    \197\ U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of the 
Secretary, ``Statement by Secretary Johnson on Security Enhancements to 
the Visa Waiver Program,'' news release, November 3, 2014, http://
    \198\ House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, 113th 
Cong. (2013) (testimony of John Wagner).
    There are currently 38 VWP countries, 30 of which are in 
Europe.\199\ To participate, the U.S. Government requires that 
countries meet several standards and implement security 
improvements, including: (1) Issuing their residents secure, 
machine-readable passports; (2) having less than a 3 percent 
visa-refusal rate into the United States; (3) reporting lost/
stolen passports; (4) sharing information with U.S. authorities 
on travelers (including criminals and known or suspected 
terrorists); (5) requiring its residents to fill out an on-line 
authorization form, ESTA, before traveling to the United 
States; and (6) increasing their own airport security 
    \199\ U.S. Department of State, ``Visa Waiver Program,'' http://
    Many officials believe the VWP actually enhances rather 
than weakens U.S. security against terrorist travel. In 
particular, all participating countries are required to 
regularly share information that they might not normally 
provide, including: Intelligence about terrorists; biographic, 
biometric, and criminal data; and information on lost and 
stolen passports. This data helps to prevent violent extremists 
from entering the United States. DHS also recently announced 
VWP countries would soon be required to begin issuing their 
citizens fraud-resistant e-passports, to regularly screen 
against INTERPOL's Stolen and Lost Travel Document Database, 
and to permit additional Federal air marshals on flights from 
their countries to the United States.\200\
    \200\ U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of the 
Secretary, ``Statement by Secretary Jeh C. Johnson on Intention to 
Implement Security Enhancements to the Visa Waiver Program,'' news 
release, August 6, 2015, http://www.dhs.gov/news/2015/08/06/statement-
    We believe DHS and the administration have been attentive 
to the need for security improvements to the VWP. But given 
that the threat environment has changed and continues to 
evolve, we strongly urge the Department to remain vigilant and 
to consider additional security measures.
   Recommendation.--The administration should 
        continuously explore further changes to the process for 
        screening visa-free travelers, including additional 
        security improvements to ESTA. Elsewhere in this 
        report, the Task Force makes additional recommendations 
        which might improve the overall security of the VWP and 
        leverage it to obstruct terrorist and foreign fighter 
        travel overseas, including those detailed under Key 
        Findings 8, 29, 30, and 31.
   Recommendation.--The Secretary of Homeland Security, 
        in consultation with the Secretary of State, should 
        enforce VWP eligibility reviews for certain countries 
        annually rather than every 2 years and should provide 
        annual intelligence and threat assessments, in 
        consultation with the DNI, of high-risk VWP countries. 
        These assessments should include travel vulnerabilities 
        which may be exploited by terrorists, as well as each 
        country's overall compliance with VWP obligations. The 
        foreign fighter threat has shown how quickly a country 
        deemed ``low-risk'' for terrorist travel can quickly 
        become a ``high-risk'' source country for violent 
   Recommendation.--DHS should work with Congress to 
        give the Secretary explicit authority to temporarily 
        suspend a country's VWP status for failure to share 
        counterterrorism information. As it currently stands, 
        the Secretary is not granted explicit authority in the 
        law to suspend a country's status for failing to pass 
        along information that is critical for stopping 
        terrorist movements, even though countries have agreed 
        to provide such information as a condition of 
        participation in the program. If the Secretary had 
        clearer suspension authority it would be a more 
        credible tool to encourage partners to comply with 
        security requirements. The Secretary should also 
        continue to use the current foreign fighter threat as 
        an opportunity to regularly remind participating VWP 
        countries of their obligations under the program.
   Recommendation.--DHS should explore strengthening 
        the security of the ESTA application by introducing 
        mechanisms to instantly verify the data provided by 
        applicants. Such tools are already standard on many 
        internet-based forms and sign-ups. Data validation, for 
        instance, could easily be introduced to confirm an 
        applicant's email address or mobile phone number 
        through a confirmation code to be re-entered on the 
        form. This would give authorities greater confidence in 
        the information supplied by applicants, particularly 
        individuals who might be supplying false information. 
        DHS should also engage with private-sector companies 
        who provide on-line tools capable of ``deception 
        detection'' on web-based forms.

    Key Finding 24.--U.S. law enforcement and intelligence 
agencies remain concerned about terrorists posing as refugees. 
Agencies have made improvements to the refugee security 
screening process, but more must be done to mitigate potential 
    Members of terrorist groups like ISIS have publicly bragged 
they are working to sneak operatives into the West posing as 
refugees, and European officials are worried this is already 
the case.\201\ The Task Force recognizes terrorist infiltration 
into the United States through the refugee process is less 
likely than other routes and more time intensive for 
extremists, but these threats must be kept in mind during the 
refugee screening process. Such tactics would not be new for 
terrorist groups, and more than 4 million people have fled the 
conflict zone in Syria, offering extremists ample opportunity 
to blend into migrant groups.
    \201\ See the ``Border Security'' section of Key Finding 29 in this 
    America has a proud tradition of welcoming refugees, 
especially those fleeing war and violence in their home 
countries. However we also must remain vigilant that we do not 
inadvertently grant admission into our country to violent 
extremists seeking to do our people harm. Fighters belonging to 
ISIS's predecessor, al-Qaeda in Iraq, successfully slipped into 
the United States through the refugee resettlement program in 
2009, when two terrorist responsible for killing U.S. troops in 
Iraq were granted entry and settled in Kentucky. Only later did 
the FBI and DHS discover this error and arrest the suspects 
after finding their fingerprints matched those found on IEDs in 
    \202\ James Meek, Cindy Galli, and Brian Ross, ``Exclusive: U.S. 
May Have Let `Dozens' of Terrorists Into Country As Refugees,'' ABC 
News, November 20, 2013, http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/al-qaeda-
    Law enforcement and intelligence officials have expressed 
concern publicly and privately to Task Force Members that our 
refugee screening process has inherent vulnerabilities, 
particularly in war-torn countries where we have little 
intelligence on the ground. The lack of information makes it 
difficult to conduct high-confidence background checks on 
potential refugees.\203\ In other words, we cannot screen 
against information we do not have. In these cases, departments 
and agencies should establish clear plans to enhance background 
reviews and outline how domestic agencies like the FBI will be 
involved in mitigating any risks associated with populations of 
concern which are granted entry.
    \203\ FBI Assistant Director for Counterterrorism Michael Steinbach 
made this point in a February hearing before the Committee: House 
Committee on Homeland Security, Countering Violent Islamist Extremism: 
The Urgent Threat of Foreign Fighters and Homegrown Terror, 114th 
Cong., 1st sess., Hrg. (Washington: Government Printing Office, 2015), 
   Recommendation.--The administration should provide a 
        report to Congress highlighting the refugee routes most 
        vulnerable to terrorist exploitation based on 
        intelligence, detailing the state of the refugee 
        vetting process for those countries, and outlining 
        plans to mitigate any vulnerabilities in the system.

                              TRAVEL PHASE

    America has sought to build out a ``layered'' defense 
against terrorist travel and has made considerable improvements 
since the early 2000s. Indeed, passengers traveling to, from, 
and within the United States are subject to security screening 
procedures--some seen and some unseen--at virtually every stage 
in their journey. These measures include watch list vetting, 
automated targeting to identify high-risk passengers, physical 
traveler and baggage screening, Federal air marshal protection, 
and other security layers.
    In the wake of past security breaches, passengers are now 
vetted against counterterrorism databases at multiple stages 
throughout their journey, potentially including after they have 
booked their ticket, when they check in at the airport, once 
the aircraft departs, and--for those headed into the country--
at the border and immigration checkpoint. Continuous checks 
allow law enforcement to spot suspicious travel patterns and 
ensure real-time intelligence can be fused into the process to 
stop terrorist suspects who are on the move.\204\
    \204\ Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, House 
Committee on Homeland Security, Intelligence Sharing and Terrorist 
Travel, 112th Cong., 1st sess., Hrg. (Washington: Government Printing 
Office, 2011), http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CHRG-112hhrg73736/html/
    Despite improvements, the foreign fighter threat has 
stressed the system. Terrorists are changing their tactics, and 
authorities are having a harder time tracking them. The Task 
Force commends DHS in particular for stepping up efforts to 
interdict terrorists and foreign fighters, but we believe 
additional steps can be taken to tighten security in the travel 

    Key Finding 25.--Aspiring foreign fighters are increasingly 
using ``broken travel'' and other evasive tactics, making it 
difficult for authorities to detect and disrupt their 
    Earlier this year, INTERPOL chief Juergen Stock warned the 
U.N. Security Council about ``broken travel,'' explaining that 
foreign fighters were increasingly using circuitous routes and 
middlemen to get to and from the conflict zone.\205\ For 
example, an aspiring American foreign fighter might book a 
round-trip ticket from New York to Athens, but skip the return 
flight and instead drive through Turkey to get to Syria. This 
can make it harder for law enforcement to track suspects. ``It 
is a concern,'' explained DHS intelligence chief Frank Taylor 
at a committee hearing this year. ``People can book a flight to 
an end-destination . . . and go other places.''\206\ U.S. 
officials testifying before the committee in February also 
emphasized extremists are varying their routes using 
combinations of air, land, and sea transportation.\207\
    \205\ Carole Landry, ``Foreign Fighters Switching Tactics to Reach 
Syria, Iraq,'' Yahoo News, May 29, 2015, http://news.yahoo.com/us-says-
    \206\ House Committee on Homeland Security, Countering Violent 
Islamist Extremism: The Urgent Threat of Foreign Fighters and Homegrown 
    \207\ Ibid.
    We are concerned the international travel system is not 
well-suited for detecting broken travel and similar approaches 
used by terrorists and foreign fighters. Spotting such tactics 
requires close and continuous information sharing between 
countries regarding passenger manifests, screening data, and 
other information that some do not even routinely collect. The 
problem does not appear to have an easy solution, but closer 
multilateral information exchanges--at least in cases of known 
or suspected terrorists--might help illuminate terror travel 
routes and result in better tracking of suspects.
   Recommendation.--U.S. authorities must engage with 
        air carriers and foreign partners to discuss enhancing 
        air passenger targeting systems, information sharing, 
        and additional protocols that might make it easier to 
        spot extremists' broken travel tactics. Federal law 
        enforcement and intelligence agencies should undertake 
        a concerted effort to ensure all relevant travel data 
        is being leveraged to uncover extremists' evasive 
        transit patterns. Other governments, especially in 
        Europe, can address this challenge by improving 
        collection of passenger data, as discussed in the 
        ``Overseas Gaps'' section of this report, and sharing 
        it in counterterrorism cases.

    Key Finding 26.--More could be done to give front-line 
operators better intelligence reach-back capabilities so DHS 
can ``connect the dots'' and uncover previously unidentified 
terrorists and foreign fighters using information obtained at 
border checkpoints.
    DHS Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers currently 
have the ability to pass along suspicious information collected 
at the borders for analysts to review. However, the process is 
not fully automated, and it does not take full advantage of the 
Government's array of criminal-intelligence and travel 
databases, meaning that important connections could be getting 
    For example, an officer might interview a suspicious 
passenger in secondary screening and receive a phone number for 
the place the passenger is staying while in the country. While 
the traveler himself might not pop up on a terrorist watch 
list, the phone number might be connected to a known terrorist 
facilitator. But even if the CBP officer passed along his 
interview data to analysts, existing systems might not be able 
to make the terrorism connection. Indeed, CBP still does not 
have full, automated access to some sensitive databases or to 
certain useful collections of travel data held by other 
departments and agencies.
    The above scenario is a hypothetical. Nevertheless we 
believe it is important for CBP officers to have the ability to 
easily and quickly transmit information gained during 
inspections to be fully vetted for National security reasons. 
This means the agency must have access--or reach-back--to all 
relevant Unclassified and Classified systems needed to uncover 
previously-unknown terrorism connections, especially when 
engaging with high-risk subjects.
   Recommendation.--DHS should work with other relevant 
        agencies to provide Congress with a plan to better 
        integrate intelligence and law enforcement information 
        into CBP's counterterrorism screening processes. This 
        plan should improve CBP's ability to fully vet discrete 
        pieces of information acquired during inspections. The 
        Department should also consider co-locating of some of 
        its vetting personnel with other agencies to facilitate 
        closer collaboration and information sharing.

    Key Finding 27.--U.S. authorities continue to ``push the 
border outward'' by deploying homeland security initiatives 
overseas, like CBP's Preclearance program. Expanding such 
initiatives could help detect threats sooner.
    The Task Force commends DHS for working to increase the use 
of the Preclearance program at overseas airports with flights 
to the United States. In the select locations where it has been 
established, the Preclearance program allows overseas-based CBP 
officers to screen all passengers and luggage before a flight 
takes off for the United States. Officers are able to use the 
same authorities they would have if the inspections were 
conducted on U.S. soil.
    CBP currently has 15 Preclearance locations in six 
countries, including Ireland, Aruba, The Bahamas, Bermuda, 
Canada, and the United Arab Emirates. However the foreign 
fighter threat has shown many other locations to be far more 
vulnerable to terrorist travel than those currently covered by 
the program. We are pleased that DHS announced plans earlier 
this year to seek an expansion of preclearance operations to 10 
new airports, including to high-risk terror transit countries 
like Turkey.\208\ The Department should keep Congress apprised 
of these negotiations and continue to refine its risk-based 
methodology for choosing new sites.
    \208\ ``DHS Announces Intent to Expand Preclearance to 10 New 
Airports,'' The Department of Homeland Security, May 29, 2015, http://
   Recommendation.--DHS should continue with its 
        efforts to expand preclearance operations, should 
        maintain rigorous risk-based selection criteria, and 
        should provide Congress with a clear and continuing 
        justification for selecting additional locations.

    Key Finding 28.--Federal authorities use the International 
Criminal Police Organization's (INTERPOL) databases frequently 
for counterterrorism purposes, but only a fraction of U.S. 
States have access to INTERPOL's systems. Expansion to more 
States could help detect wanted foreign fighters who have 
slipped past border security.
    INTERPOL oversees systems--including terrorist and criminal 
databases and a world-wide database of lost and stolen 
passports--that are crucial global tools for combating 
terrorist and foreign fighter travel (for more detail, see Key 
Finding 31). Currently, all travelers entering and exiting the 
United States are screened against these systems. Federal law 
enforcement agencies also have worked in recent years to extend 
INTERPOL screening beyond the border by giving other Government 
partners access to the system.
    However, we found that fewer than a quarter of U.S. States 
currently have access to INTERPOL systems. Those which do can 
use the databases to catch wanted international fugitives 
during law enforcement stops or to ensure individuals are not 
presenting fraudulent travel documents to get drivers licenses. 
These tools could help more State and local agencies identify 
violent extremist who may have entered the country undetected 
or under a different alias.
   Recommendation.--The administration should report to 
        Congress in its next budget request how it will empower 
        INTERPOL Washington to work with a broader slate of 
        state and local partners to expand access to INTERPOL's 
        systems, especially for counterterrorism purposes.
   Recommendation.--The administration should consider 
        granting State and local law enforcement the ability to 
        quickly submit INTERPOL notices for wanted subjects in 
        their jurisdictions. Aspiring foreign fighters often 
        leave for the conflict zone with little or no notice, 
        and giving State and local partners the ability to 
        expedite notices to INTERPOL's 190 member states could 
        help stop extremists in their tracks on the way to 
        terrorist safe havens, especially in cases where local 
        authorities are tipped off to a suspect who was not 
        previously on Federal law enforcement's radar.

                             Overseas Gaps

    The Task Force's biggest concern is that foreign 
governments have not done enough to close conspicuous security 
gaps which are susceptible to extremist exploitation. These 
weaknesses make it easier for Americans to get to jihadist 
battlefields and increase the threat of extremists traveling 
undetected and reaching U.S. soil. Many of our foreign partners 
remain in a ``pre-9/11'' counterterrorism posture, with 
security gaps that mirror our own from 15 years ago. Barriers 
between intelligence and police prevent information sharing in 
some countries, while in others lax counterterrorism screening 
at airports and border crossings makes it easier for extremists 
to slip through undetected. Additionally, some countries still 
do not even criminalize participation in international 
terrorism, making it difficult to jail foreign fighters.
    Over the past decade, the U.S. Government has provided 
billions of dollars in counterterrorism assistance to foreign 
partners, especially to disrupt terrorist travel. For example, 
the State Department and DHS have helped other governments 
screen passengers against terrorist watch lists and strengthen 
border security. Similarly, DOJ has deployed its legal experts 
world-wide to advise foreign officials on crafting and 
enforcing counterterrorism laws. In many places these efforts 
have been successful, but the Task Force is concerned 
assistance efforts have been uncoordinated and lack overarching 
strategic guidance.
    Recognizing overseas gaps, the Obama administration pushed 
the U.N. Security Council last year to pass Resolution 2178, 
which required U.N. member states to detain and prosecute 
foreign fighters crossing their borders.\209\ The resolution 
also pressured members to accelerate counterterrorism 
information sharing and tighten border controls through more 
secure travel documents and suspicious-passenger targeting 
systems.\210\ Some countries are making progress, but we 
believe many have a long way to go.
    \209\ UN Department of Public Information, ``Security Council 
Unanimously Adopts Resolution Condemning Violent Extremism.''
    \210\ Ibid.

    Key Finding 29.--U.S. defenses against terrorist travel are 
weakened by glaring and persistent security gaps in foreign 
countries. This includes insufficient intelligence collection, 
poor information sharing, lax screening of travelers, 
inadequate laws for prosecuting terrorists and foreign 
fighters, and weak border security. We are particularly 
concerned about gaps in Europe, which has become a major 
transit pathway for jihadists.
    America cannot stop threats if it cannot see them coming. 
In the case of terrorist travel, when foreign governments are 
unable to identify extremists within their own borders or do 
not share information about them, it increases the odds they 
will evade our own security systems. Unfortunately, a number of 
our foreign partners have invested too little in border 
management and counterterrorism tools, missing critical 
opportunities to stop the movement of extremists and increasing 
the risk to the rest of the international community.
    When assessing overseas gaps, the Task Force focused 
primarily on problems in Europe for two reasons. First, most of 
the Westerners who have gone to fight in Syria and Iraq--
including the Americans--transited Europe at some point, with 
the most common entry point into Syria being Turkey, which 
straddles Europe and Asia. Second, thousands of Europeans have 
gone to fight with jihadists, and it is easier for them to 
travel to the United States on their passports than it is for 
citizens on most other continents. Thus, European foreign 
fighters represent a somewhat higher terror travel threat to 
the United States.
    Europe's 26-country Schengen Area is ground zero for the 
continent's terrorist travel woes. Members of the area have 
abolished border checkpoints and passport controls to allow 
anyone inside it to move effortlessly between the many 
countries. But in addition to helping tourists, the wide-open 
area has become a boon for terrorists. The European Union (EU) 
does not have common police or intelligence services, making it 
easy for violent extremists and foreign fighters to change 
locations and keep authorities from catching onto them. The 
assailant behind an attempted terrorist attack in August on a 
high-speed train from Amsterdam to Paris--Ayoub El Khazzani--is 
the perfect example. He is suspected of having traveled to link 
up with extremists in Syria and despite being on several 
European countries' watch lists, traveled easily between 
France, Belgium, Austria, and Germany before launching his 
    \211\ Lauren Frayer, ``In Spanish Barrio, Residents Recall Train 
Attack Suspect Charged in France,'' Los Angeles Times, August 28, 2015, 
    Jihadists are well-aware of Europe's security loopholes. An 
ISIS e-book published this year advises aspiring fighters to 
start their travel to Syria in tourist hotspots like Spain and 
Greece--``or any European country''--because authorities are 
less likely to detect them.\212\ Jihadi John, the masked 
British ISIS fighter responsible for gruesome public beheading 
videos, reportedly traveled freely through Europe despite being 
on a terrorist watch list. Similarly Hayat Boumeddiene, an 
associate of the Charlie Hebdo terrorists, was known to French 
police but avoided detection by leaving the country, driving to 
Spain, and boarding a flight for Turkey. ``I had no difficulty 
getting here,'' she bragged from Syria in an ISIS-published 
    \212\ Hijrah to the Islamic State, 2015.
    \213\ Kim Willsher, ``Islamic State Magazine Interviews Hayat 
Boumeddiene,'' The Guardian, February 12, 2015, http://
    The larger concern is that some European extremists might 
be able to make it to the United States undetected once they 
have left the battlefield. We have no doubt that European 
authorities have failed to identify a sizeable number of their 
citizens who have migrated to Syria and Iraq because there are 
so many of them and their movements are hard to track in a 
place like the Schengen Area, with its lax counterterrorism 
policies. As a result, such individuals are probably not on 
E.U. or American terrorist watch lists, allowing them to return 
to the West under-the-radar.
    Many of our foreign partners in Europe, such as the United 
Kingdom, have sophisticated efforts in place to stop terrorist 
travel, while others are starting to take more serious action. 
Terrorist attacks in the streets of Brussels and Paris were a 
wake-up call, and European authorities are disrupting plots 
every month, some of which have been planned by returning 
jihadists. The heightened threat environment has led to a 
flurry of E.U.-wide activity to improve security. But we remain 
concerned some of our partners are not moving quickly enough, 
allowing terrorist and foreign fighter travel to continue in 
both directions.


    Much of Europe has slashed defense and intelligence budgets 
in the decades since the Cold War ended. Those cuts, combined 
with a surge in cases involving terrorists and home-grown 
violent extremists, have put serious strain on security 
services across the continent. Indeed, the Task Force 
consistently heard concerns that a number of our foreign 
partners do not have sufficient capabilities needed to identify 
and track the rising number of terrorists and home-grown 
violent extremists.\214\ This is a real problem. If European 
security services cannot identify extremists in the first 
place, then they will be unable to share their biographic 
information with partners like the United States, and most 
importantly, detect them when they travel.
    \214\ Due to the sensitivities of outlining intelligence and 
information-sharing gaps, the Task Force declines to identify specific 
partner countries by name, except where noted by public sources.
    A deteriorating threat picture has motivated some countries 
to take action. In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, for 
instance, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls declared the 
country's ``No. 1 priority, the No. 1 requirement'' would be 
``to further reinforce the human and technical resources of 
intelligence services''; the government has since announced 
plans for an additional 3,000 counterterrorism 
professionals.\215\ But this does not solve the problem of 
intra-European cooperation, which is essential when terrorist 
can so easily move between European countries.
    \215\ Maya Vidon-White and John Dyer, Special for USA TODAY, 
``Europe Shifts Policy in Escalating War on Terror,'' USA Today, 
January 25, 2015, http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2015/01/25/
    The Task Force found barriers to information sharing to be 
a problem--within countries, between them, and with the United 
States. A number of European governments are stymied by legacy 
bureaucratic stovepipes, turf battles, or strict data privacy 
laws that prevent collaboration between agencies. Even in major 
West European capitals, security agencies are often still not 
well-integrated with border authorities and do not freely share 
information. We found one top U.S. ally, for instance, did not 
regularly include border officials in its National security 
policymaking process, despite serious counterterrorism threats 
at the country's borders.
    E.U. security officials also expressed concern to the Task 
Force that continent's intelligence and security services are 
not always exchanging information with one another. In the 26-
country Schengen Area, for example, Country X might share its 
foreign fighter names with Country Y but not with neighboring 
Country Z. This creates a security gap since an individual can 
travel freely anywhere inside the area. E.U.-wide watchlists 
were supposed to solve this problem, but officials say member 
states have been reluctant to place all of their suspects in 
those databases.
    In short, information about foreign fighters is crossing 
borders less quickly than the extremists themselves. Turkey is 
an illustrative example. Despite the fact that it is the main 
transit point into Syria for Westerners, several European 
countries were still hesitant to share their watch lists of 
suspected foreign fighters with Turkey, whether for privacy, 
security, or political reasons. The result is that the Turkish 
government says it is unable to identify and stop many 
individuals who might be headed to or from the conflict zone.
    U.S. officials have reportedly begun to urge their 
counterparts in Europe to share all the data they can with 
Turkish authorities. Some progress has been made. In 2011, 
Turkey's ``no-entry'' watch list only had 280 names; as of 
July, it contained more than 14,000 names from 94 countries, 
thanks in large part to information provided by foreign 
intelligence and security agencies.\216\ But with the number of 
known foreign fighters getting close to 30,000, Turkey is 
clearly still missing a substantial number of names, some of 
which foreign partners likely possess but may not have shared.
    \216\ Task Force staff meeting with Turkish officials, July 2015.
    As far as transatlantic information sharing goes, we 
believe counterterrorism exchanges between the United States 
and Europe have improved considerably in recent years, but some 
of our partners are still not living up to their obligations, 
as detailed in Key Finding 8.

                           TRAVELER SCREENING

    We are deeply concerned our European allies are not 
conducting sufficient counterterrorism checks at their borders 
and airports. Many countries have failed to implement 
comprehensive watchlisting and screening procedures or do not 
conduct suspicious traveler ``targeting'' to find previously 
unidentified extremists based on travel patterns and other 
data. These tools are critical tripwires needed to prevent the 
cross-border movement of violent extremists.
    Most alarming is the failure of European states to screen 
their own citizens against terrorist watch lists when they 
travel. E.U. rules forbids blanket screening of citizens, 
meaning most Europeans are not checked for terror ties when 
they fly into and out of the continent.\217\ Border guards are 
permitted to vet specific individuals who seem suspicious 
against counterterrorism databases, but only on a ``non-
systematic'' bases.\218\ With so many Europeans traveling to 
fight in Syria, we believe this is a dangerous weakness, which 
could allow extremists to easily make it back home without 
being flagged.\219\ By comparison, anyone traveling to and from 
the United States, including U.S. citizens, are screened 
against counterterrorism databases at multiple points in the 
journey, from ticket purchase to takeoff.
    \217\ Dave Keating, ``EU Leaders to Call for Revision of Schengen 
Border Code,'' Politico, February 12, 2015, http://www.politico.eu/
Fortunately, this is not true for non-E.U. persons, who are typically 
screened against terrorist and criminal databases when they enter and 
exit the European Union.
    \218\ Ibid.
    \219\ European leaders are aware of this security gap and have put 
forward measures to do more checks ``on the basis of a risk 
assessment,'' e.g. on individuals traveling from higher-risk locations. 
The Task Force believes such half-measures are woefully inadequate and 
that all E.U. nationals should be screened against terrorism watch 
lists when traveling to and from the continent.
    We are also concerned even more basic screening measures, 
such as full passport checks, are not happening at European 
airports and external border crossing. Border guards reportedly 
screen only 30 percent of E.U. passports for fraud when 
citizens depart from or return to the Schengen Area.\220\ Most 
of the time they simply do a quick visual inspections before 
waiving E.U. citizens past the checkpoint.\221\ This lax 
security practice is an open invitation to fraud and a glaring 
security loophole which makes it easier for extremists to sneak 
into the West on false documents.\222\ European leaders pledged 
at the beginning of this year to do more, but a May report 
indicated there was no agreement between countries on doing 
systematic checks on traveler documents; indeed, only one 
country was doing so.\223\
    \220\ Adrian Croft and Barbara Lewis, ``EU Leaders Urge Stricter 
Border Checks in Counter-terror Drive,'' Reuters UK, February 12, 2015, 
    \221\ As a result, the bulk of European passports do not get 
checked against INTERPOL's global Stolen and Lost Travel Document 
Database, a process which happens for anyone entering or exiting the 
United States.
    \222\ E.U. officials are reportedly beginning to require more 
thorough inspections of E.U. passports in light of security concerns, 
but knowledgeable observers have reported to the Task Force that such 
changes do not appear to have widely taken effect.
    \223\ Foreign Terrorist Fighters--Application of the Schengen 
Border Code--Follow-up--Update on Progress on the Preparation of Risk 
Indicators, report (Brussels: Council of the European Union, 2015), 
    European authorities have also failed to develop a system 
for collecting data on air passengers flying into and out of 
the continent. The combination of airplane manifests and 
booking information-known as Passenger Name Record (PNR) 
data\224\--would allow border officers to spot suspicious 
individuals before they arrive at the airport. U.S. authorities 
say such tools have been essential for helping them identify 
previously unknown terrorist suspects and for deciding in a 
risk-based manner which travelers to send to secondary 
screening before they even land.
    \224\ Advance Passenger Information (API) data typically includes a 
passenger's flight information as well as information received by a 
passenger at the time of check-in on government-issued travel 
documents, including name and date of birth. Passenger Name Record 
(PNR) data is more detailed and is received by authorities earlier; it 
includes the information customers provide to airlines when they buy 
their tickets, including booking and payment details. This information 
is then used by law enforcement to screen passengers and assign risk 
    The European Union is currently considering a PNR system 
which, like the United States, would require airlines to share 
data on passengers entering or exiting the European Union for 
counterterrorism purposes. However, the Task Force is worried 
such a system will not be approved and fully implemented for 
years because of the European Union's slow bureaucratic 
movement on the issue.\225\ Currently a handful of E.U. states 
have developed their own ``pilot'' PNR systems, but a patchwork 
of different national systems is a weak substitute for a 
regional system. Without an E.U.-wide capability, more violent 
extremists will slip through the cracks. This, in turn, affects 
America's security as well.
    \225\ As of this writing, E.U. leaders are still in negotiations 
over an E.U.-wide PNR system. The issue has been debated within the 
European Parliament since 2011 but has been held up by member states 
over data privacy concerns.
    The lack of a PNR system is not just a European problem. In 
fact, most countries not only lack PNR systems but do not 
collect even more basic Advanced Passenger Information (API). 
While PNR data is more detailed and can be received by 
authorities when a ticket is purchased, API data is what a 
passenger submits at check-in, including name, date of birth, 
and basic flight information. According to a U.N. report, only 
one-fourth of countries in the world collect and screen API 
data before flights in order to identify threats, a serious 
global gap in efforts to stem terrorist travel.\226\ And only 
12 of the United Nations' 193 member states have API systems 
which can do passenger risk assessments in near-real-time to 
alert border authorities to terror suspects and potential 
foreign fighters who may be headed their way.\227\
    \226\ ``UN Urges Greater Use of Advance Passenger Information to 
Stem Flow of Foreign Terrorist Fighters,'' U.N. News Center, June 11, 
2015, http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=51128#.VdPQTbJVikp.
    \227\ Ibid.
    Turkey, which is not a member of the European Union, has 
grappled with many of the same issues. We are pleased to see 
Turkish authorities have begun to toughen watchlist screening, 
including adding thousands of names to its no-entry list in 
recent months and placing ``Risk Analysis Units'' (RAUs) at 
airports and bus stations to detect suspicious travelers. 
Turkey says these efforts have helped it deport more than 1,300 
suspects since the Syrian civil war began, including 
individuals who have tried multiple times to enter Turkey on 
the way to join ISIS.
    The Task Force is concerned however that other countries 
may not always be notified by Turkish police when one of their 
own citizens is turned away at the Turkish border for 
counterterrorism reasons. Notification is important, as it tips 
off authorities from the origin country to investigate 
suspicious individuals once they return. Moreover, even though 
the RAUs are a step in the right direction, some have 
questioned whether they are analytically rigorous and whether 
the officers doing the manual targeting have the tools to 
conduct effective, risk-based searches of passengers.
    We are also concerned that Turkey may not be 
comprehensively screening all outbound air passengers against 
national and international terrorist databases and watch lists, 
as well as travelers at locations like seaports and land border 
crossings which extremists leaving Syria are increasingly using 
to avoid scrutiny. Additionally, Turkey still has not 
implemented its own API/PNR systems. Such capabilities are 
urgently needed to spot arriving and departing foreign 
fighters, especially since Turkey is the main transit country 
to the ISIS safe haven. Officials say they are working on one, 
but the time line for implementation is unclear. Despite these 
areas for improvement, Turkey has come a long way in the past 
year and is clearly taking steps to tighten security.


    We found a number of foreign partners have been slow to 
update their counterterrorism laws to keep pace with the 
threat, including several key countries in Europe. Turkey is 
the most concerning example. Turkish law does not criminalize 
participation in international terrorism; instead it focuses 
more narrowly on defining terrorism as a crime against the 
Turkish state or its people.\228\ The State Department believes 
this ``can be an impediment to operational and legal 
cooperation against global terrorist network,'' and with 
thousands of foreign fighters transiting Turkey's territory, 
the Task Force believes it is indeed an impediment.
    \228\ ``Country Reports: Europe Overview,'' U.S. Department of 
State, http://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/crt/2014/239406.htm.
    Legal inconsistencies on the continent are a systemic 
problem. Countries like France have made it a crime to join a 
terrorist group abroad. In contrast, some Nordic countries have 
not made the law as clear and, therefore, lack the legal tools 
to prosecute citizens for attempting to become foreign 
fighters.\229\ Sweden, for example, can prosecute individuals 
for preparing to commit acts of terrorism but does not 
criminalize the act of training with terrorists or waging war 
on behalf of a terrorist group.\230\ European officials signed 
a pact in May to synchronize their counterterrorism laws in 
light of the foreign fighter threat, but it is unclear whether 
states will treat the move as merely symbolic or act on it 
    \229\ John Thor Dahleburg, ``European Nations Unify Laws to Prevent 
Foreign Fighters,'' Yahoo News, May 19, 2015, http://news.yahoo.com/
    \230\ However, the Swedish government has pledged to tighten its 
laws in the coming months to close gaps. See: Simon Johnson and Dominic 
Evans, ``Sweden to Tighten Anti-terrorism Laws,'' Reuters UK, August 
28, 2015, http://uk.reuters.com/article/2015/08/28/uk-sweden-security-
    \231\ Ibid.
    Some countries in the international community have made 
legislative improvements since the passage of U.N. Security 
Council Resolution 2178, which urged all U.N. member states to 
combat foreign fighter travel. Nearly two dozen have updated 
their laws to better prosecute aspiring and returning foreign 
fighters, and others are working to do the same.\232\ In 
Europe, Bulgaria is a noteworthy case. The State Department 
warned last year that Bulgaria ``lack[ed] a comprehensive 
counterterrorism legal framework,'' but this year the country 
put forward major terror-related legislation, citing Resolution 
    \232\ Task Force briefing with State Department, July 2015.
    \233\ Alexandra Farone, ``Bulgaria Justice Ministry Proposes 
Criminal Code Changes to Fight Terrorism,'' JURIST, March 10, 2015, 
    Even with counterterrorism laws on the books, governments 
have struggled to prosecute extremists, especially when their 
lawyers have limited experience with terrorism crimes. DOJ has 
worked to deploy legal experts to some of these countries, such 
as in the Balkans, where states are less equipped to prosecute 
such cases.\234\ However, in other places the problem is making 
litigation ``stick'' on appeal. In Sweden for instance, several 
counterterrorism cases were thrown out last year when judges 
found the evidence was insufficient to prove suspects would 
have carried out their plots had they not been 
intercepted.\235\ This is a recurring theme in parts of Europe 
where judges are less accustomed to hearing terrorism cases or 
where vague laws make it difficult to prosecute them.
    \234\ DOJ, Attorney General Holder Urges International Effort to 
Confront Threat of Syrian Foreign Fighters.
    \235\ ``Country Reports: Europe Overview,'' U.S. Department of 

                            BORDER SECURITY

    We are also worried a weak European border security posture 
is increasing the risk of extremists infiltrating the West 
undetected. The continent faces an unprecedented immigration 
crisis. In fact, Europe is on track to see nearly double the 
number of illegal migrants this year than it did in 2014. By 
year's end, the United Nations estimates more than 400,000 will 
have arrived.\236\ Most are fleeing the conflict in Syria or 
instability in North Africa, and they are slipping across land 
borders or transiting the Mediterranean by boat to reach 
European border states like Greece or Italy. Once in mainland 
Europe--and inside the Schengen Area--these refugees can travel 
freely to the country of their choice to seek asylum.
    \236\ Mark Rivett-Carnac, ``U.N.: 850,000 Refugees Are Expected to 
Reach Europe During 2015 and 2016,'' Time, September 9, 2015, http://
    ISIS has boasted for months that it is using migrant boats 
as a Trojan Horse to plant operatives into the West,\237\ and 
the European Union's border control agency, Frontex, warned 
this year it was possible extremists were doing so.\238\ Not 
long ago a top E.U. official confirmed there was information 
suggesting militants had successfully been smuggled in on these 
illegal routes.\239\ Terrorist exploitation of refugee pathways 
is not a hypothetical. In May of this year, Italian police 
arrested a Moroccan man for helping organize the ISIS-linked 
terrorist attack on Tunisia's Bardo Museum, which resulted in 
the deaths of more than a dozen Western tourists. The man is 
believed to have arrived in Italy on a smuggler's boat.\240\
    \237\ Jack Crone, ``ISIS Plotting Trojan Horse Campaign by 
Smuggling Militants into Western Europe Disguised as Refugees ,'' Mail 
Online, October 06, 2014, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-
    \238\ ``Islamic State Militants `smuggled to Europe'--BBC News,'' 
BBC News, May 17, 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-32770390.
    \239\ John Thor Dahleburg, ``EU Official: Migrant Boats Also 
Carrying IS Fighters,'' The Big Story, July 6, 2015, http://
    \240\ The Associated Press, ``Tunisia Museum Terror Attack Suspect 
Arrested in Italy,'' NY Daily News, May 20, 2015, http://
    Unfortunately, the European countries where migrants land 
are not inclined to thoroughly vet them. Under European law, 
refugees must stay in the country where they arrive and are 
registered. Yet many Mediterranean states are already 
overburdened by large migrant populations drawing on social 
services and do not want the new arrivals to stay. As a result, 
border states have an incentive to ``look the other way'' and 
let unregistered migrants make their way into the rest of the 
continent to become another country's problem.
    ``Nobody checked us upon reaching Italy,'' one Syrian 
migrant named Muhammad reported. ``No coast guard, no policeman 
ever asked if we had papers. Nobody registered us, nobody took 
a photo of us, nobody took our fingerprints, no one asked us 
who we were.''\241\ The Task Force was disturbed to find such 
cases were all-too-common--even the norm--in European border 
states overwhelmed by refugee arrivals.
    \241\ Harald Doornbos and Jenan Moussa, ``Italy Opens the Door to 
Disaster,'' Foreign Policy, April 13, 2015, http://foreignpolicy.com/
    Some refugees are screened against counterterrorism 
databases, but the Task Force was told the majority of arrivals 
are not. Extremists who blend in with these asylum-seekers and 
make their way onto the continent could easily obtain European 
passports within a few short years and have visa-free access to 
the United States. While the scenario is not the likeliest 
route for terrorist travel, it is certainly possible, 
especially since terrorist groups have vowed to exploit 
weaknesses in refugee routes.
    The refugee quoted above, Muhammed, is now settled in 
Germany but warns that others could follow his same path to 
commit acts of terror. ``Any ISIS terrorist could have entered 
Italy and traveled further into Europe without any problem,'' 
he explained. ``ISIS members can take their guns and hand 
grenades with them, because the Italians even never checked any 
of the luggage.''\242\ Italian authorities have taken steps to 
mitigate the danger of terrorist exploitation at their borders, 
but the system for screening new arrivals is still nowhere near 
    \242\ Ibid.
    Governments throughout the region have criticized 
Mediterranean countries for not showing leadership to tackle 
the migrant crisis. But Mediterranean states are quick to note 
they are overwhelmed by the influx of refugees and need more 
assistance from the rest of Europe, arguing border security 
should be a shared burden and not just the job of those at the 
continent's frontiers. Whatever the case, Europe's halting 
response to the crisis at its borders is a golden opportunity 
for terrorists and a ticking time-bomb for the West.

    As noted above, the Task Force focused primarily on 
security weaknesses in Europe because of the routes American 
foreign fighters have taken to the conflict zone in Syria and 
Iraq, as well as how easy it is for potential European 
extremists to travel to the United States on their passports. 
We do not mean to suggest our European partners are failing to 
confront terrorism and the foreign fighter threat overall, but 
rather that foundational problems remain and must be addressed 
with greater urgency. Many countries face steeper challenges 
when it comes to combating terrorist travel, especially in 
North Africa and the Middle East. More must be done globally to 
shine a light on these security deficiencies and collaborate to 
reconcile them.
   Recommendation.--The State Department and DHS, in 
        consultation with the intelligence community, should 
        produce a regular report card highlighting the progress 
        of foreign partners in fulfilling their obligations 
        under U.N. Security Council Resolution 2178 on foreign 
        fighters and underscore areas where partners need 
        improvement. Such reports should be provided to 
        Congress in Classified and Unclassified form, with the 
        latter being made public. Moreover, they should assess 
        the progress of foreign partners in areas including, 
        but not limited to, intelligence collection, 
        information sharing, traveler screening, legal 
        frameworks, and border security; where possible, these 
        assessments should also incorporate any similar 
        insights on foreign partner capacity released by the 
        U.N.'s Counterterrorism Implementation Task Force 
   Recommendation.--The administration must continue 
        pressing foreign partners, especially in Europe, to end 
        the patchwork approach to information sharing by 
        including more terrorist and foreign fighter names in 
        regional and international terrorist watch lists--
        rather than conducting exchanges on a selective, 
        bilateral basis. We understand there are sometimes 
        sensitivities to such sharing, but to the furthest 
        extent possible these partners must move toward 
        universal situational awareness to combat the growing 
        and dynamic terrorist threat. Additionally, the 
        administration should continue its efforts to make sure 
        foreign governments are sharing appropriate information 
        with Turkish authorities, who are on the front lines of 
        the foreign fighter migration.
   Recommendation.--The United States must increase 
        pressure on European partners to begin universally and 
        systematically screening E.U.-citizen travelers against 
        terrorist watch lists. Moreover, officials should 
        encourage states outside of the European Union, 
        especially Turkey, to screen both inbound and outbound 
        travelers against national and international 
        counterterrorism databases to detect possible foreign 
        fighters--at airports, land border crossings, and sea 
   Recommendation.--The European Union must quickly 
        approve and implement a regional air passenger 
        targeting system to collect and analyze Passenger Name 
        Record data for counterterrorism purposes. The United 
        States should continue to encourage the European Union 
        to move in this direction and, in the meantime, should 
        consider how to provide expanded assistance to E.U. 
        countries looking to develop their own individual PNR 
        systems, which are a crucial tool for counterterrorism 
        investigations and uncovering previously unidentified 
        extremists. DHS and State Department should also 
        explore tying VWP participation to a country's ability 
        to conduct PNR vetting.
   Recommendation.--U.S. authorities should engage in a 
        high-level dialogue with the U.N., E.U., and relevant 
        non-E.U. countries on establishing a better systematic 
        process for vetting refugees fleeing North Africa and 
        the conflict in Syria. Regional authorities must be 
        able to ensure the biographic and biometric information 
        of migrants is screened against counterterrorism 
        databases to weed out potential extremists attempting 
        to infiltrate the West.
   Recommendation.--DHS and the State Department should 
        explore accelerated expansion of their off-the-shelf 
        interdiction capabilities to high-risk countries. Both 
        departments currently offer ready-made hardware and 
        software to help foreign partners conduct watchlisting, 
        screening, and targeting of terrorists and foreign 
        fighters, including the State Department's Personal 
        Identification Secure Comparison and Evaluation System 
        (PISCES) and CBP's Automated Targeting System Global 
        (ATS-G). The provision of these tools should be better 
        coordinated between the two departments, and in the 
        long run such assistance should be provided consistent 
        with priorities established under the Foreign Partner 
        Engagement Plan, a tool the Task Force calls for under 
        Key Finding 32.
   Recommendation.--For countries unwilling to accept 
        U.S. border screening tools and assistance, DHS and the 
        State Department should consider releasing ``open-
        source'' software based on their watchlisting, 
        screening, and targeting tools. This software could be 
        provided to a neutral organization like INTERPOL for 
        distribution and would offer a more limited set of the 
        capabilities than the technology provided directly by 
        the U.S. Government. Even with fewer capabilities, an 
        open-source platform would give countries a powerful 
        starting point for developing and deploying their own 
        terrorist interdiction systems at border checkpoints. 
        The administration should provide Congress with details 
        on how it would implement such a program.

    Key Finding 30.--Extremists are using fraudulent passports 
to travel discretely. However, a third of the international 
community--including major source countries of foreign 
fighters--still do not issue fraud-resistant ``e-passports,'' 
and most countries are still unable to validate the 
authenticity of ``e-passports.''
    It is no secret why passport security is critical in the 
fight against terrorist travel. ``For terrorists, travel 
documents are as important as weapons,'' the 9/11 Commission 
noted in its final report.\243\ Unsurprisingly, a number of 
recent foreign fighter suspects have been found using altered 
passports, fake passports, and even travel documents belonging 
to siblings in order to sneak into Syria or travel home.\244\ 
Some are even faking their deaths on the battlefield to avoid 
scrutiny,\245\ increasing concerns that fighters might try to 
come home with a different identity. Responding to concerns, 
the United Nations reminded member states last fall that 
preventing the forgery of identity papers was a key aspect of 
preventing ``the movement of terrorists.''\246\
    \243\ The 9/11 Commission Report, http://www.9-11commission.gov/
    \244\ For instance, see: Tom Rayner, ``Foreign IS Recruits Using 
Fake Syrian Passports,'' Sky News, February 25, 2015, http://
    \245\ Dipesh Gadher and Richard Kerbaj, ``Islamic Militants Faking 
Deaths to Get Home, Say Security Sources,'' The Australian, June 22, 
2014, http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/world/islamic-militants-
    \246\ U.N. Department of Public Information, ``Security Council 
Unanimously Adopts Resolution Condemning Violent Extremism.''
    Fraud-resistant ``e-passports'' are a useful 
counterterrorism tool, and adoption of them has grown world-
wide in recent years, according to the International Civil 
Aviation Organization (ICAO). These documents are considered 
more secure because they incorporate a passenger's biometric 
information, typically via smart card containing the 
passenger's face, fingerprint, or iris scan data. However, 
having an e-passport is not enough; the country reading it must 
be able to confirm it is authentic, too, which is done through 
ICAO's ``public key directory'' program. This allows 
authorities to validate, for instance, that a traveler's 
fingerprint matches the traveler's passport.
    The Task Force was disappointed to find many countries 
around the world still do not issue e-passports, including key 
source countries for foreign fighters. In fact, at least 70 
governments--or one-third of the international community--do 
not issue their citizens e-passports.\247\ Tunisia is one of 
the laggards, which is disturbing considering it is the top 
source country for foreign fighters headed to Syria and 
Iraq.\248\ Without a secure passport requirement, it is easier 
for Tunisian jihadists to fake their identities, disguise their 
travel to the conflict zone, or more easily pose as refugees 
when trying to enter the West. Other countries of concern which 
lack e-passports include Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Yemen, 
Afghanistan, Pakistan, and more.\249\
    \247\ Passport Control Mechanisms: The Most Significant Challenges, 
publication, 1st ed., vol. 10 (International Civil Aviation 
Organization), http://www.icao.int/publications/journalsreports/2014/
    \248\ Tom Shiel, ``Islamic State: Where Do Its Fighters Come 
From?,'' The Telegraph, June 8, 2015, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/
    \249\ Ibid.
    Perhaps more worrisome is the fact that the majority of 
governments in the world cannot definitively read and 
authenticate e-passports. This is good news for terrorists and 
foreign fighters traveling on fraudulent documents. Fewer than 
25 percent of countries participate in the ICAO system that 
allows authorities to confirm an e-passport belongs to its 
holder. Running the document through the system also confirms 
it was issued by a legitimate authority, has not been altered, 
and has not been flagged in the lost or stolen passport 
system.\250\ But key transit countries for Western foreign 
fighters--including Turkey, Greece, and most of the Balkans 
states--are not part of the ICAO's program and therefore do not 
have a reliable system to spot falsified e-passports.\251\
    \250\ Ibid.
    \251\ Ibid.
   Recommendation.--DHS should consider requiring all 
        VWP countries to develop the means to validate fraud-
        resistant e-passports at their borders and airports. 
        This includes participation in ICAO's ``public key 
        directory program'' which helps border officers confirm 
        a passport belongs to the person holding it. VWP 
        countries will soon be required to issue their citizens 
        e-passports if they are headed to the United States, 
        but that does not mean those countries can actually 
        authenticate such documents at their own border 
        checkpoints. Requiring our partners to do so would make 
        it harder for terrorists and foreign fighters to use 
        fake documents to cross borders--and could keep them 
        further from our own.
   Recommendation.--DHS, in conjunction with the State 
        Department, should identify other points of leverage to 
        require or encourage non-VWP countries to issue e-
        passports and to develop the means to read them at 
        their borders and airports, including providing 
        expanded technical assistance to foreign partners to do 

    Key Finding 31.--Many countries do not consistently add 
information to INTERPOL's databases, and the majority do not 
screen against INTERPOL databases in real-time at their borders 
and airports. This is a clear gap in global defenses against 
terrorist and foreign fighter travel.
    In December 2014, American medical student Sam Neher 
traveled to Turkey as a tourist and, while on vacation in 
Istanbul, his passport was stolen. Neher visited the U.S. 
Consulate, reported the incident, and received a temporary ID, 
according to a news report.\252\ Little did he know, his 
passport made its way into a secretive trade in fraudulent 
documents that is thriving in Turkey and Syria. American and 
European passports are in high demand because travelers holding 
them can access many countries without a visa. According to the 
report, Neher's passport wound up in the hands of ISIS in 
Syria, a potential tool for the group to send a jihadist 
    \252\ Mike Giglio and Munzer Al-Awad, ``How An American Tourist 
Lost His Passport In Istanbul And Was Sucked Into Syria's War,'' 
BuzzFeed, May 28, 2015, http://www.buzzfeed.com/mikegiglio/stolen-
    \253\ Ibid.
    Stolen passports like Neher's are supposed to be reported 
to INTERPOL, which maintains a Stolen and Lost Travel Document 
Database used to keep terrorists and criminals from traveling 
on stolen IDs. But the Task Force found the system is deeply 
fragmented. Many governments are inconsistent in reporting 
their citizens' missing passports to INTERPOL. Even when they 
do, other countries must screen against the database to see 
whether a traveler is using the document illegally. Sadly, the 
majority of countries in the international community have not 
connected INTERPOL systems to their border posts for agents to 
screen against them in real-time.\254\
    \254\ Task Force staff site visit to INTERPOL Washington, June 30, 
    INTERPOL is a voluntary international police organization 
made up of 190 participating countries, each of which has its 
own locally-run office connected to INTERPOL systems, known as 
a National Central Bureau (NCB). Like most countries, America's 
NCB is based in the Nation's capital and is run by DHS and DOJ, 
which manage U.S. access to the organization's extensive 
criminal and terrorism databases, as well as its lost and 
stolen passport database.
    INTERPOL officials have been pushing member countries for 
years to use its systems out in the field, especially at border 
checkpoints.\255\ The United States began doing so in the mid-
2000s by screening inbound passengers against the police 
organization's data. The screening was so useful that U.S. 
authorities extended it Nation-wide and began using it to 
screen outbound passenger, visa applicants, and more. The 
United States now screens more than 400 million people against 
INTERPOL's databases annually and gets 35,000 ``hits'' on the 
system, helping law enforcement catch wanted criminals and spot 
fake passports.\256\ The organization's data has also helped 
U.S. law enforcement identify hundreds of previously-unknown 
terrorist suspects and foreign fighters, which have been added 
to watch lists to ensure they do not enter the United 
    \255\ In 2012, INTERPOL's chief blasted countries for failing to 
use the system. See: Associated Press, ``Interpol Chief: Countries Not 
Using Databases,'' Fox News, January 19, 2012, http://www.foxnews.com/
    \256\ Task Force briefing with INTERPOL Washington, June 4, 2015.
    \257\ Ibid.
    But far too few countries are using these systems at the 
border. In fact, INTERPOL officials have lamented that ``only a 
handful of countries'' are checking its lost and stolen 
passport database before passengers board flights.\258\ By some 
estimates, fewer than 25 percent of INTERPOL members have set 
up real-time access to its datasets beyond their NCBs.\259\ The 
reasons are varied. Some governments lack the resources to 
establish connectivity with disparate border posts. Others are 
held back by internal policy challenges, where the law 
enforcement agencies with access to INTERPOL do not provide it 
to the country's immigration agencies. But the result is the 
same: Lackluster use of the system allows more criminals and 
extremists to travel the world under the radar.
    \258\ Elisha Fieldstadt and Becky Bratu, ``Missing Passport 
Databases Not Routinely Checked: Interpol--NBC News,'' NBC News, March 
14, 2014, http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/missing-jet/missing-
    \259\ Task Force briefing with INTERPOL Washington, June 4, 2015.
    INTERPOL member states are also not consistent in 
submitting information to the organization's databases. While 
the United States adds stolen passport numbers in near-real-
time to INTERPOL's records, some governments wait days or weeks 
before uploading a new batch of lost passport numbers, a window 
which could allow terrorists and smugglers to cross borders 
with fraudulent IDs. Even some close U.S. allies with 
sophisticated security screening have had lapses in their 
reporting to the system.\260\ But when reports are made in a 
timely manner, it can make all the difference. One of the 
suspects arrested in connection with a terrorist attack this 
year on tourists in Tunisia was detained in Italy in part 
because his mother reported her son's passport missing 
immediately after the attack.\261\
    \260\ The Task Force heard these concerns from multiple officials 
while examining security screening measures in Europe.
    \261\ Associated Press, ``Man Arrested in Tunisia Museum Attack 
Came to Italy on Migrant Boat,'' Fox News, May 20, 2015, http://
    It is especially important for countries close to terrorist 
safe havens to use INTERPOL's databases. The Task Force found a 
number of countries along foreign fighter routes to and from 
the conflict zone have actually improved their use of the 
system. Bulgaria, for instance, now screens against the 
organization's databases at the borders, which has allowed it 
to detect wanted foreign fighters attempting to cross into its 
territory. Turkey, however, appears to be inconsistent in its 
use of INTERPOL to screen travelers, an issue which the Task 
Force hopes the Turkish government will address expeditiously.
   Recommendation.--The U.S. Government should make it 
        a top diplomatic priority to ramp up foreign partner 
        use of INTERPOL systems, including the regular 
        provision of information to the organization's 
        databases, and as a screening mechanism at borders and 
        ports of entry, especially for counterterrorism 
        purposes. The State Department should regularly assess 
        foreign partner use of INTERPOL systems and share its 
        findings with INTERPOL Washington in order to identify 
        avenues for promoting and enhancing the utilization of 
        these systems.
   Recommendation.--INTERPOL Washington should be 
        further empowered to deliver assistance to foreign 
        partners who are not fully utilizing the system, 
        whether independently or through a program established 
        out of INTERPOL's headquarters in France. Specifically, 
        INTERPOL Washington should focus on transferring its 
        knowledge, expertise, and systems to high-risk terror-
        transit countries. The administration should submit a 
        proposal to Congress to enable INTERPOL Washington to 
        deliver this more robust capacity-building assistance 
        among select member countries, as identified in 
        consultation with interagency partners and with respect 
        to a Government-wide Foreign Partner Engagement Plan 
        (see the recommendation under Key Finding 32).
   Recommendation.--DHS should require VWP countries to 
        screen travelers crossing their borders against all 
        INTERPOL systems, including the Lost and Stolen 
        Passport Database and notices of wanted individuals, 
        including terrorist and foreign fighter suspects.\262\ 
        A number of VWP countries--whose citizens can travel 
        easily to our country--do not use these tools in real-
        time at their borders or airports, a security loophole 
        which makes it easier for extremists to travel and 
        increases the chances they could get to the United 
        States undetected.
    \262\ The Department recently announced plans to begin requiring 
VWP countries to screen against INTERPOL's Stolen and Lost Travel 
Document Database. See: ``Statement by Secretary Jeh C. Johnson on 
Intention to Implement Security Enhancements to the Visa Waiver 
Program,'' news release, August 6, 2015, The Department of Homeland 
Security, http://www.dhs.gov/news/2015/08/06/statement-secretary-jeh-c-
   Recommendation.--In conjunction with the State 
        Department, DHS and DOJ should identify other forms of 
        assistance which might be leveraged to require non-VWP 
        countries to use INTERPOL more comprehensively.

    Key Finding 32.--U.S. departments and agencies have spent 
billions of dollars to help foreign partners improve their 
terror-travel defenses, but there is no strategy to make sure 
assistance is coordinated and goes to the highest-risk 
countries. The lack of a Government-wide engagement plan 
results in greater risk of overlap, waste, and duplication 
between programs.
    In the years since 9/11, the United States has spent 
considerable time and money to help our allies build the 
capacity to stop terrorist travel. We have done this by sharing 
our expertise and best practices. In some cases we have 
provided travel screening equipment and systems directly to our 
partners. These efforts have been designed to push our defenses 
outward and to stop threats earlier.
    Multiple U.S. departments and agencies work with foreign 
partners on these issues. The State Department, for instance, 
runs the Terrorist Interdiction Program which provides border 
control hardware and software--including watchlisting tools--to 
other countries. Around 200 border checkpoints around the world 
are now tied to the program, which has helped successfully 
catch terrorists trying to cross borders.\263\ DHS's Customs 
and Border Protection (CBP) provides a similar tool to foreign 
partners called Automated Targeting System--Global (ATS-G), 
which can be used to conduct passenger risk assessments in 
advance of arriving flights to weed out terrorist suspects and 
foreign fighters. Agencies also provide their expertise. For 
example, DOJ's Overseas Prosecutorial Development Assistance 
and Training (OPDAT) program assists prosecutors and judicial 
personnel in foreign countries with strengthening 
counterterrorism laws and prosecuting violent extremists.
    \263\ ``Programs and Initiatives,'' U.S. Department of State, 
http://www.state.gov/j/ct/programs/index.htm#TSI.; ``Terrorist 
Interdiction Program (TIP),'' U.S. Department of State, http://2001-
    The Task Force found however that the proliferation of 
assistance programs has increased the potential for overlap, 
waste, and duplication among agencies. GAO highlighted similar 
concerns in 2011. For example, they discovered that seven 
different offices or components across the Federal Government 
were providing training to foreign officials on how to 
recognize fraudulent travel documents.\264\ In one instance, 
two U.S. Government agencies in Pakistan even scheduled fraud-
detection training sessions in the same month without knowing 
it. One had ample funding but no Pakistani officials had 
enrolled in the class; the other had a full student roster but 
lacked necessary funding.\265\
    \264\ ``Combating Terrorism: Additional Steps Needed to Enhance 
Foreign Partners' Capacity to Prevent Terrorist Travel,'' U.S. 
Government Accountability Office, June 30, 2011, http://www.gao.gov/
    \265\ Ibid.
    We are concerned departments and agencies are still not 
adequately coordinating their efforts. For instance, the Task 
Force spoke to two separate agencies providing counterterrorism 
screening systems to foreign partners, yet neither could 
readily identify the countries in which the other operated. We 
were also unable to find overarching strategic guidance for 
coordinating U.S. assistance to combat terrorist travel. One 
agency claimed to be using a risk-based priority list, ranking 
countries that needed assistance the most because of security 
gaps. But those efforts were only begun recently and officials 
declined to provide supporting data. More than other types of 
aid, the lack of a high-level strategy for terrorist 
interdiction assistance is concerning given the urgency of the 
   Recommendation.--The administration should produce 
        an annual Foreign Partner Engagement Plan as part of a 
        National Strategy to Combat Terror Travel (see Key 
        Finding 1, where the Task Force calls for the 
        Strategy). The Plan should be coordinated with all 
        relevant agencies and must prioritize engagement and 
        assistance based on--among other criteria--foreign 
        partner intelligence capabilities, information-sharing, 
        travel screening, border security, counterterrorism 
        laws, prosecutorial capacity, and related areas. As 
        part of the development of the Plan, agencies should 
        conduct an audit of current initiatives and spending on 
        terrorist-travel related assistance to foreign partners 
        to identify areas for adjustment to align with risk-
        based priorities. Moreover, the Plan should be provided 
        in conjunction with the President's Budget submission 
        to Congress to ensure priorities are aligned with 
        resource requests.


    This list includes activities conducted by Members and/or 
staff of the Task Force; however, the listing is partial and 
does not include all activities, meetings, and other 
consultations conducted during the course of the Task Force's 

                       Official Member Briefings

Terrorist Watchlisting and Foreign Fighters (March 2015)
Briefers: National Counterterrorism Center

Foreign Partner Information Sharing and Watchlist Enhancements 
(April 2015)
Briefers: Federal Bureau of Investigation's Terrorist Screening 

Interagency Programs to Counter Domestic Radicalization (April 
Briefers: Department of Homeland Security, Department of 
Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, National 
Counterterrorism Center

Site Visit: National Counterterrorism Center (April 2015)
Briefers: National Counterterrorism Center

Site Visit: Washington Regional Threat Analysis Center (April 
Briefers: Center leadership and State and local law enforcement

Counter-Messaging Terrorist Propaganda (May 2015)
Briefers: Department of State

INTERPOL Efforts to Counter Terrorist and Foreign Fighter 
Travel (June 2015)
Briefers: INTERPOL Washington

Preventing Terrorist Exploitation of Visa-Free Travel Routes to 
America (June 2015)
Briefers: Department of Homeland Security, Department of State

On-line Counterterrorism Operations (June 2015)\266\
    \266\ This briefing was hosted by the Full Committee, rather than 
the Task Force.
Briefers: Federal Bureau of Investigation

Extremists' Use of ``Dark Space'' (June 2014)\267\
    \267\ Ibid.
Briefers: Federal Bureau of Investigation

Immigration Screening and Passport Revocations to Stop 
Terrorist Travel (June 2015)
Briefers: Department of Homeland Security, Department of State

Intelligence Information Sharing (June 2015)
Briefers: Office of the Director of National Intelligence

Site Visit: Joint Terrorism Task Force--Washington (June 2015)
Briefers: Federal Bureau of Investigation

Homeland Security Advisory Council: Interim Report on Foreign 
Fighters (July 2015)
Briefers: Homeland Security Advisory Council

Overseas U.S. Diplomatic Efforts to Obstruct Foreign Fighter 
Flows (July 2015)
Briefers: Department of State

Arrest and Prosecution of U.S. Foreign Fighter Suspects (July 
Briefers: Department of Justice

                        Official Staff Briefings

Department of Defense (1)
Department of Homeland Security (6)
Department of Justice (2)
Department of State (2)
Federal Bureau of Investigation (5)
Government Accountability Office (7)
INTERPOL Washington (2)
National Counterterrorism Center (1)
Other Intelligence Community (3)

                         Official Member Travel


U.S. Embassy
Meeting with Prime Minister Abadi
Meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Zebari
Meeting with Speaker Jabouri


U.S. Embassy
Meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu
Meeting with Defense Minister Yaalon
Meeting with Deputy Foreign Minister Hanegbi


U.S. Embassy
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Ministry of Interior
Hollings Center for International Dialogue
Istanbul Airport Security Brief


U.S. Embassy
Ministry of Interior
Interior Committee, Bundestag


U.S. Embassy and Mission to the European Union (European Union)
Meeting with Interior Minister Jambon
E.U. Counterterrorism Officials
NATO Headquarters
Transatlantic Policy Network


U.S. Embassy
French Counterterrorism Officials

                         Official Staff Travel


U.S. Embassy
Ministry of Public Order and Citizen Protection
Civil Aviation Authority
Hellenic Coast Guard
Hellenic Police


U.S. Embassy
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Izmir Port Security
E.U. Counterterrorism Officials
Turkish National Police


U.S. Embassy
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Ministry of Interior
Catania Refugee Processing Center
International Organization for Migration
U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees

              Other Task Force Meetings and Consultations

    Members and staff also met with State and local 
representatives, former Government officials, think tanks, 
academics, professional organizations, and other individuals 
during the course of the review. Though they are not listed by 
name, the Task Force is grateful for the valuable input it 
received and the contributions of these individuals and 


                 Name                         Age \268\                  Gender                   State
Abdella Ahmad Tounisi................  21.....................  M......................  IL
Abdi Nur.............................  20.....................  M......................  MN
Abdifatah Aden.......................  .......................  M......................  OH
Abdirahmaan Muhumed..................  29.....................  M......................  MN
Abdirahman Sheik Mohamud.............  23.....................  M......................  OH
Abdirahman Yasin Daud................  21.....................  M......................  MN
Abdullah Ramo Pazara.................  .......................  M......................  MO
Abdullahi Yusuf......................  18.....................  M......................  MN
Abdurasul Juraboev...................  23.....................  M......................  NY
Adam Dandach.........................  20.....................  M......................  CA
Adnan Abdihamid Farah................  19.....................  M......................  MN
Ahmad Abousamra......................  32.....................  M......................  MA
Akba Jihad Jordan....................  22.....................  M......................  NC
Akhror Saidakhmetov..................  19.....................  M......................  NY
Amir Farouq Ibrahim..................  32.....................  M......................  PA
Arafat Nagi..........................  44.....................  M......................  NY
Asher Abid Khan......................  20.....................  M......................  TX
Avin Marsalis Brown..................  21.....................  M......................  NC
Basit Javed..........................  29.....................  M......................  NC
Bilal Abood..........................  37.....................  M......................  TX
Colorado Teenager #1.................  15.....................  F......................  CO
Colorado Teenager #2.................  15.....................  F......................  CO
Colorado Teenager #3.................  17.....................  F......................  CO
Donald Ray Morgan....................  44.....................  M......................  NC
Douglas McArthur McCain..............  33.....................  M......................  CA
Eric Harroun.........................  30.....................  M......................  AZ
Guled Ali Omar.......................  20.....................  M......................  MN
``H.M.''.............................  .......................  M......................  MN
Hamza Naj Ahmed......................  19.....................  M......................  MN
Hanad Abdullahi Mohallim.............  18.....................  M......................  MN
Hanad Mustafe Musse..................  19.....................  M......................  MN
Hasan Edmonds........................  22.....................  M......................  IL
Hoda.................................  20.....................  F......................  AL
Jaelyn Delshaun Young................  20.....................  F......................  MS
Joshua Van Haften....................  34.....................  M......................  WI
Keonna Thomas........................  30.....................  F......................  PA
Leon Nathan Davis....................  37.....................  M......................  GA
Michael Wolfe........................  23.....................  M......................  TX
Mohamad Saeed Kodaimati..............  24.....................  M......................  CA
Mohamed Abdihamid Farah..............  21.....................  M......................  MN
Mohammad Hamzah Khan.................  19.....................  M......................  IL
Mohamud Mohamed Mohamud..............  20.....................  M......................  MN
Moner Abu-Salha......................  22.....................  M......................  FL
Muhammad Oda Dakhlalla...............  22.....................  M......................  MS
Muhanad Badawi.......................  24.....................  M......................  CA
Nader Elhuzayel......................  24.....................  M......................  CA
Nader Saadeh.........................  20.....................  M......................  NJ
Nicholas Teausant....................  20.....................  M......................  CA
Nicole Lynn Mansfield................  33.....................  F......................  MI
Nihad Rosic..........................  26.....................  M......................  NY
``S.R.G.''...........................  .......................  M......................  TX
Samuel Rahamin Topaz.................  21.....................  M......................  NJ
Shannon Maureen Conley...............  19.....................  F......................  CO
Sinh Vinh Ngo Nguyen.................  24.....................  M......................  CA
Tairod Nathan Webster Pugh...........  47.....................  M......................  NJ
Yusra Ismail.........................  20.....................  F......................  MN
Yusuf Jama...........................  21.....................  M......................  MN
Zacharia Yusuf Abdurahman............  19.....................  M......................  MN
\268\ This includes the age of the suspect at arrest, time of death, or other relevant incident. In some cases,
  the exact age is an estimate based on publicly-available data.

                      APPENDIX III: ABBREVIATIONS

               Abbreviation                           Definition
API.......................................  Advanced Passenger
AQI.......................................  al-Qaeda in Iraq
ATS-G.....................................  U.S. Customs and Border
                                             Protection's Automated
                                             Targeting System Global
CBP.......................................  U.S. Customs and Border
CSCC......................................  Center for Strategic
CTAB......................................  Department of Homeland
                                             Security's Counterterrorism
                                             Advisory Board
DHS.......................................  Department of Homeland
DNI.......................................  Director of National
DOJ.......................................  Department of Justice
ESTA......................................  Electronic System for Travel
EU........................................  European Union
FBI.......................................  Federal Bureau of
FEMA......................................  Federal Emergency Management
GAO.......................................  Government Accountability
HSPD-6....................................  Homeland Security
                                             Presidential Directive 6
ICAO......................................  International Civil Aviation
ICE.......................................  Immigration and Customs
ISIS......................................  Islamic State of Iraq and
                                             Syria (also Islamic State
                                             of Iraq and the Levant)
INTERPOL..................................  International Criminal
                                             Police Organization
JTTF......................................  Federal Bureau of
                                             Investigation's Joint
                                             Terrorism Task Force
NCB.......................................  National Central Bureau
NCTC......................................  National Counterterrorism
NGO.......................................  Non-Governmental
OPDAT.....................................  The Department of Justice's
                                             Overseas Prosecutorial
                                             Development Assistance and
PATRIOT...................................  Pre-Adjudicated Threat
                                             Recognition and
                                             Intelligence Operations
PISCES....................................  Personal Identification
                                             Secure Comparison and
                                             Evaluation System
PNR.......................................  Passenger Name Record
RAU.......................................  Risk Analysis Unit
TSA.......................................  Transportation Security
TSDB......................................  Terrorist Screening Database
UN........................................  United Nations
VSP.......................................  Visa Security Program
VSU.......................................  Visa Security Unit
VWP.......................................  Visa Waiver Program
WORDE.....................................  World Organization for
                                             Resource Development and