CIA head: No reduction in ISIS terror threat

CIA head: No reduction in ISIS terror threat
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Despite military gains, international efforts to push Islamic extremists from their stronghold in the Middle East have failed to hinder their ability to carry out terror attacks around the globe, the head of the CIA testified on Thursday. 

The U.S.-led coalition “has made important progress” against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria’s (ISIS) self-proclaimed caliphate, CIA Director John BrennanJohn Owen BrennanTrump critic Brennan praises his Iran decision: I 'applaud' him Schumer: Trump must get congressional approval before any military action against Iran 'Fox & Friends' co-host Kilmeade: Trump needs to 'clarify' comments on accepting foreign campaign intelligence MORE told a Senate panel, and “several notable indicators are trending in the right direction.”

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“Unfortunately, despite all our progress against ISIL on the battlefield and in the financial realm, our efforts have not reduced the group’s terrorism capability and global reach,” Brennan added, using an alternative name for ISIS.

“The resources needed for terrorism are very modest, and the group would have to suffer even heavier losses of territory, manpower and money for its terrorist capacity to decline significantly.”

The U.S.-led effort has lowered the number of ISIS fighters in Syria and Iraq from roughly 32,000 last year to between 18,000 and 22,000 now, Brennan said. But in the same time, the number of ISIS fighters has doubled in Libya, where the organization has gained a foothold, to between 5,000 and 8,000 fighters.

If anything, the military fight in Syria and Iraq may be prompting ISIS and its foreign branches to turn more actively toward terrorism abroad, the CIA chief warned.  

"In fact, as the pressure mounts on ISIL, we judge that it will intensify its global terror campaign to maintain its dominance of the global terrorism agenda,” Brennan said.

ISIS “is training and attempting to deploy operatives for further attacks,” he told the Senate Intelligence Committee. “ISIL has a large cadre of Western fighters who could potentially serve as operatives for attacks in the West.

“And the group is probably exploring a variety of means for infiltrating operatives into the West, including refugee flows, smuggling routes and legitimate methods of travel.”

The comments paint a troubling picture of the U.S.’s fight against ISIS and its adherents.

And even as the group itself continues to plot attacks abroad, its internet propaganda is inspiring supporters such as the killers who launched recent attacks in San Bernardino, Calif., and Orlando, Fla.

Brennan on Thursday said that the CIA has not discovered a link between the man who killed 49 people in Orlando this weekend in the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history and any foreign terrorist organization. 

The gunman, 29-year-old Omar Mateen, is believed to have watched extremist propaganda online in the run-up to his attack, and he pledged allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi during a 911 call shortly before he was killed in a shootout with police.

The CIA is working both “upstream and “downstream” to stop that flow of propaganda, Brennan testified.

--This report was updated at 10:40 a.m.