The mission is simple, but the issues surrounding homeland security are becoming complex, according to James Comey, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Comey visited UT Thursday morning to brief on the FBI’s plans against domestic, international and cyberspace terrorism. Comey’s speech was a part of a symposium titled “Intelligence in Defense of the Homeland” hosted by the Clements Center, which addressed the challenges intelligence and law enforcement agencies face in dealing with attacks by extremists.
“Those two things that we love — privacy and public safety — are crashing into each other,” Comey said.
Comey based his discussion on three dimensions of counterterrorist threats. The first and second detail ISIS caliphate’s propaganda through social media to inspire, direct and enable people to acts of violence.
“(ISIS) has invested in a social media campaign and (is) constantly pushing out these images (of hyper-violence) and this siren song: come or kill, come or kill,” Comey said. “Where are people on the spectrum between consuming the poison and acting on the poison?”
The third point Comey outlined was terrorist diaspora, the most pertinent concern to the FBI and intelligence agencies. He said it’s plausible for the U.S. to militarily defeat ISIS at the point of contact, but said he fears people will flow out of the conflict zones and manifest in terrorist activities.
Amy Pillsbury-Price, graduate student in business and global policy studies, said she agreed with Comey about the importance of having a conversation on security in today’s globalized context.
“Our world is so international, so global now,” Pillsbury-Price said. “It’s (no longer) national solutions to international problems, so we have to figure out a way to work with these international entities.”
Comey listed ways in which the FBI is trying to combat criminal acts through cyberspace, including imposing costs on offenders to deter future terrorist efforts.
“These bad guys sit in their pajamas halfway around the world threatening our country and think that because they are far away, they are safe,” Comey said. “We must make them feel our breath on the back of their necks. We must make them feel the cost of their actions.”
Alex Suryapranta, electrical and computer engineering senior, said the talk magnified the issue of balancing security efforts with public privacy.
“This whole debate about liberty versus privacy has taken center stage in national security issues and we can’t sweep this under the rug anymore,” Suryapranta said. “We really need to find a compromise between securing our liberties, our privacies and free speech, while also securing ourselves from the next big happening.”
Comey concluded by highlighting the timeliness of discussing issues regarding counterterrorism and having plans in place before attacks happen.
“(Intelligence agencies) can’t have this conversation after something really bad happens,” Comey said. “I don’t want to be a pessimist, but bad things are going to happen and even I know that we can’t have thoughtful conversations about things we care about in the aftermath of a human disaster.”