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Senate Looks at Ways to Counter Online Radicalization; Interview with Sen. Ron Johnson; Anti-ISIS Strategies Discussed at Hearing; Dead Gunman Called Islam His Weapon; Senate Looks at Social Media's Terrorism Link. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired May 7, 2015 - 13:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1:00 p.m. here in Washington, 6:00 p.m. in London, 8:00 p.m. in Riyadh, 2:00 p.m. Friday in Pyongyang. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.

We start with the debate over social media and terror recruiting. This morning, we heard from senators and counterterror experts in an important hearing up on Capitol Hill on strategies and failures in the U.S. intelligence community.

Up first, the effect of social media.


SEN. RON JOHNSON, R-WI, CHAIRMAN, SENATE HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE: The minute those individuals who are really serious about it go offline, we go dark. We lose our capability of following that and we have -- we really have no idea. Isn't that basically correct?

J.M. BERGER, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: The ability of government to follow it on social -- open social media is often murky.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're limited.

BERGER: People in different agencies have different understandings of what they're legally allowed to do when it comes to monitoring the communications of Americans even on the open social media platforms. And that's somewhere where a government wide initiative to clarify authorities would be very helpful.

DAVEED GARTENSTEIN-ROSS, FOUNDATION FOR DEFENSE DEMOCRACIES: We can see with ISIS the massive impact that these accounts have had. I mean, the amount of people who've been drawn to the Syria-Iraq theater is greater already than it was during the Afghan-Soviet War, in terms of the number of foreign fighters who have come. Social media plays a very big part in that. So, I think, in general, it is advantageous to shut these accounts down and this is something that should absolutely be the company's decision. The U.S. government has no authority to do that.


BLITZER: Then, the question he moved to messaging and how to counter the growing popularity of ISIS propaganda.


PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: The message we -- that U.S. government officials should constantly say is this group positions itself as the defender of Islam but its victims are overwhelmingly Muslim. It's a factually correct statement that requires no know -- special knowledge of Islam. And I think it's a powerfully undercutting message for what this group is trying to say about themselves to the Muslim world.

MUBIN SHAIKH, FORMER COUNTERTERRORISM OPERATIVE: At the end of the day, if you want to fight back against recruitment of 15-year-old kids, you need to work with 15-year-old kids.

JOHNSON: So, we invented the Internet. We invented these social network sites. We've got Hollywood. We've got the capabilities, as Mr. Sheikh was saying, to blow these guys out of the water from the standpoint of communications. So, we need to work on that. We need to work on that quickly.


BLITZER: These hearings highlighted what was missed before this week's attack in Garland, Texas, right outside of Dallas. One of the shooters, Elton Simpson, was very active on social media, but ISIS apparently countered that with volume.


BERGER: One of the reasons that -- you know, that was surprising about the Garland event was it was something that they had actually specifically talked about but then turned into an attack. And that's pretty unusual because they create so much noise that that needle in the haystack can be very difficult to detect.


BLITZER: Let's bring in the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security committee who presided over the social media and terror hearing and one of the key witnesses. Wisconsin republican senator Ron Johnson is joining us as is the former jihadist, the counterterrorism operative and author, Mubin Shaikh.

Senator, let's start with you. What do you see as the greatest threat to the American people from the social media presence of groups, terror groups like ISIS?

JOHNSON: The recruitment probability. Yes, I think, Wolf, one of the more disheartening parts of the hearing was sort of the unanimous opinion that this is just a harbinger of things to come. If it's -- if we finally can defeat ISIS, which, by the way, means denying them that territory, destroying that caliphate, I mean, that's a huge undertaking right there.

But there are going to be other groups that notice what ISIS has done to effectively use social media because now with modern technology, individuals that harbor, you know, these evil thoughts can find one another and they can travel and meet each other very quickly. And so, this is -- this is -- you know, this isn't an one-off deal here. This is going to continue.

BLITZER: Mubin, is this a winnable war, this war on ISIS, the propaganda, the social media? Because U.S. officials, high-level officials have said to me repeatedly they seem to be much better at it than the U.S. is.

SHAIKH: I think it is a winnable war but who's going to do the playing? Who's going to do the fighting? I mean, this is one thing that the -- I think the Senate Committee understands that it's not really the government that's going to win that war. It's going to be other people.

BLITZER: Like who?

SHAIKH: Other peers. Peers, teenagers, Muslim communities. I mean, Muslim communities really are the best place, I think, and the most credible voices in this regards.

BLITZER: Senator, where are -- where are the solutions? Because this is a huge problem and you're just beginning to dwell on it during your important hearing today.

JOHNSON: First of all, we need more Mubin Shaikhs, no doubt about that. And we need the members of those communities to also be looking out. One of the things we found out from some briefings is that people, you know, from the government who've engaged in those communities have found out that people in those communities think we have such perfect information as the federal government that we know who these young people are that are being radicalized. We don't. So, the fact of the matter is if you see something, you have to say something. You have to alert authorities. We need everybody to be on the alert.

[13:05:18] Is that happening, though, Mubin? Because the senator makes a fair point.

SHAIKH: Yes, there -- I mean, you have two sides. You have the cooperative members of the community who do want to do something, who understand that these are their kids being taken, these are their parents that are going to end up on the front page of the paper. But on the flip side, you have, you know, obstructionists in they saying -- organizations who say that all this CVE, Counter-Violence Extremism, is just an excuse to gather intelligence.

BLITZER: You spoke, Senator, earlier today about what you described as a rapid response communications strategy and possible legislation that would enable that. What are -- what are you driving at?

JOHNSON: Well, we have to respond very quickly. We have to counter with the truth. Because -- the truth is is this is going to be a losing organization. But, right now, because ISIS isn't losing, they're perceived as winning. As long as they're perceived as winning, they're going to continue to inspire this type of capability. Now, you know, bureaucratic government doesn't move very rapidly. But one of the points I made is elected officials certainly have experience in campaigns with a rapid response in a campaign.

So, we've got the technology. We invented the Internet, the social networks. We've got the messaging capability. We need to start utilizing it. So, it's a -- from my standpoint, just an obvious piece of legislation. Let's set that up. I think a number of members of our committee, as well as the witnesses are pretty well committee to designing some system that will work.

BLITZER: Senator, as you know, the U.S. Second Court of Appeals today ruled the NSA's bulk collection of phone data was illegal. It was never ordered by Congress. And as you know, the provision in the Patriot Act that originally opened the door for that NSA program set to expire on June 1st. So, what do you think needs to happen now?

JOHNSON: Well, we're going to be taking up that legislation here in Congress and there are a number of different proposals. One thing I think that came out of this hearing as well is understanding exactly how the online social media is used. First, the connection is made and that's an open source. But once the members of ISIS or these other terrorist groups find committed jihadists that are willing to be recruited, they move offline to encrypted sites and they go dark.

So, technology's moving at a speed where we can't keep up with it. So, we are losing our capability along our first line of defense against Islamic terror. And that is an effect intelligence gathering capability, combined with robust Congressional oversight and continuous monitoring. You know, we've got to maintain that delicate balance but we also have to recognize reality. We're actually losing capability of monitoring this to keep ourselves safe.

BLITZER: Senator Johnson, thanks very much for joining us. Thanks for chairing that hearing earlier today. Mubin, we're going to keep you here. We have more to discuss.

Coming up, we're going to take a closer look at the growing number of Americans showing support for ISIS. They're mostly young. They come from a variety of backgrounds. How is ISIS becoming so successful in recruiting them?

And later, polls are open across the U.K. in an election with major implications for the British and, indeed, for the rest of the world. We're going live to London.


[13:11:52] BLITZER: Three years before he tried to shoot up a Texas event designed to offend Muslims, Elton Simpson described his religion as a weapon to be used against Satan. A video produced to raise money for the mosque Simpson joined in Phoenix takes on grim new significance in light of last Sunday's failed attack in which only Simpson and his roommate, slash, accomplice, Nadir Soofi, were killed. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- a form of weaponry to go out in the real world and use that weaponry to shield you against the tricks of Shaton.


BLITZER: Shaton is the devil or Satan. The FBI is interviewing fellow mosque members, family members, friends and associates of both men. And some of those people are openly sharing what they look -- what now looks very much like warning signs. Nadir's Soofi's mother, for instance, telling "The Wall Street Journal" that she learned back in January that Soofi had bought an AK47 and she was horrified long before that. Soofi sent his mother DVDs of the American-born Al Qaeda preacher Anwar Al Awlaki whom an American drone took out and killed back in 2011. "The fact that Awlaki was killed," says Sharon Soofi, "instigated a deeper passion for his teachings." A direct quote from her.

Meanwhile, in New York, authorities say they are home-grown would-be terrorists, two women who allegedly planned to set off a bomb here in the United States appeared in federal court today. They pled not guilty to charges against them. The complaint -- the criminal complaint accuses the Noel Valencia and Asia Siddiqui of supporting violent jihad. Prosecutors say they researched and bought materials to make bombs.

The threat of homegrown terrorists is becoming an increasing concern for authorities here in the U.S. Let's get some more perspective on what's going on. Joining us, Tom Fuentes. He's our CNN Law Enforcement Analyst, a former FBI assistant director. Phil Mudd is a CNN Counter-Terrorism Analyst, a former CIA counter-terrorism official. And Mubin Shaikh is still with us. He's former jihadist, counterterrorism operative who testified before a Senate panel just a little while ago today.

Mubin, let's talk about these two women in New York first. First of all, what is the attraction of these young American women to a group like ISIS?

SHAIKH: Well, I think for a lot of these individuals, it's about identity and belonging. And they've just plugged out to belonging to the -- whether it's the American system, British Canadian, and they've decided to give their allegiance and internalize their commitment to groups like ISIS.

BLITZER: Listen to Senator Cory Booker, Phil. He was there at the hearing and he's talking about how effective these terrorists are in using social media.


SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY: The videos that they're doing are incredibly slick, fancy and attractive. Here are a bunch of extremist terrorists giving out things to kids and sharing the like (ph). If you toggle back over to the United States and what we're doing, here is the think and turn away Web site by the Department of State. If you look, if you know anything about social media, the one things you should look at is the engagement of people on our social media feeds and it's laughable.

[13:15:02] Three retweets, two retweets.


BLITZER: And Senator Cory Booker, he knows social media. He's very active on social media.


BLITZER: There's a problem here, isn't there?

MUDD: There's a problem. It's twofold. One is on what message you're putting out there. The U.S. government is not designed to put out messages to 20-year-olds in Iraq and Syria. The question here is not going to be, in my judgement, whether the U.S. government leads this. The question is going to be whether the U.S. government works with Twitter, FaceBook, works with foreign governments and enables, for example, non-government organizations, individuals, what Mubin has mentioned earlier today. The second, which we might get into later, the second problem with this is, how then you collect this stuff on the back end because people in my old business are very cautious about going to Twitter online when you're working in a CIA office or an FBI office and say, hey, I'm going to follow somebody. That's American information from an American company about an American individual. That still makes people nervous.

BLITZER: At the FBI, I assume it does as well, right?


BLITZER: So what do you - so what's the solution here?

FUENTES: Good question. You know, I think the solution is that when you do get cooperation from the community and they suggest that an individual has become radicalized and maybe should be watched, as has happened in about 60 or 70 cases in the last year, successfully intervened by the FBI and U.S. authorities, follow that and just keep the community outreach going and hope that their peers and classmates and mentors and people in their community want to cooperate with the authorities. The government - there's no video that the government can put out that's going to counteract the message of ISIS going out.

BLITZER: Mubin, you have a unique perspective. You were a jihadist at one point in your life. You converted, if you will. You're now fighting them. Is there a solution here?

MUBIN SHAIKH, FORMER JIHADIST: Yes, I think we need to expand the options in the tool box. One of them should be a channel of sorts that doesn't criminalize individuals. I mean if you're going to lay charges for a 15-year-old kid, that parent is not going to pick up the phone and call the FBI, especially if their kid is going to face a 15-year prison sentence. So maybe we need to look at alternative measures, non-prosecutorial, that could maybe shift things.

BLITZER: Is that realistic though you think?

SHAIKH: I think so. I mean the U.K. has used a form of that channel. They have a channel program. Canada's trying to work on that. Australia definitely has something like that. And this is - this is a way for the government to interact with community leaders without necessarily securitizing it or going down the prosecutorial -

BLITZER: What do you think, is that realistic?

MUDD: Yes, it is. This has happened in a few places overseas. We've seen the beginnings of this. The United States. There was a case out of Minneapolis recently where a federal judge sent the kid into sort of what you might call a rehab program for ideology.

Here's the problem. It's a political problem. If you have, let's say, 30 or 40 percent of those kids going back into the movement, which wouldn't be a surprise in the world of violent crime, we acknowledge that in America. We have not accepted that in the United States. The first kid who goes back after a federal rehab program and gets involved in violence, people are going to be up in arms. And I'm going to say, I agree with Mubin, there's got to be, for a 16-year-old, 17- year-old, a middle ground between saying, go home to your mom and saying you're going to federal prison.

BLITZER: What do you think, Tom?

FUENTES: Friends of mine from the embassy here, from the Royal Malaysia Police, tell me that they have a very robust rehab program in Malaysia and that they think it's very successful. But again, as Phil mentions, and it's a good point, it's got to be successful 100 percent of the time in this country. If one person comes back out and repeats what he did before, then everybody's going to be outraged and say the program doesn't work.

BLITZER: Because even - even this Elton Simpson, he was arrested. He was given the probation. He was sentenced to three-years' probation, never served, and then all of a sudden he drives with his friend, Nadir Soofi, outside of Dallas and does what he does over there. So people are wondering, if you give these people a second chance, is that really going to pay off? And that's a problem, right?

SHAIKH: Of course, it is. I mean what ends up happening is the only option left is to perpetually monitor individuals and that's not the society you want to live in. A top -

BLITZER: It's not realistic either. You need -

SHAIKH: It's not realistic, exactly.

BLITZER: There's too many people out there.

SHAIKH: Yes. I think what needs to be done is possibly make it easier to convict individuals. You know, I mean, it doesn't need to be a drawn out - long drawn-out process where we give them all the chances they want and then they just go and do it anyway.

BLITZER: All right, stand by, we're going to come back. We're going to continue this conversation.

Coming up, we're going to hear about a new law that many are calling heavily intrusive. Lawmakers say it's necessary to track potential terrorists, prevent so-called lone wolf attacks. The panel continues the conversation right after this.


[13:22:42] BLITZER: Here in the United States, the National Security Agency does not have the authority for the mass collection of American's phone records, that according to a ruling from a federal appeals court today. The court ruled that the NSA data collection operation is not legal under the U.S. Patriot Act. At the same time that the U.S. program is under scrutiny, other countries, though, they're beefing up anti-terror programs. The French parliament has approved stronger intelligence services, including bulk collection of phone records. And Canada's House of Commons has voted to expand the government's spy powers.

Let's bring back our panel, Tom Fuentes, law enforcement analyst, former FBI assistant director, Phil Mudd, our CNN counterterrorism analyst, former CIA counterterrorism official, and Mubin Shaikh, a former jihadist and counterterrorism operative.

Mubin, we were talking earlier, there was a specific case of a young woman who was on Twitter tweeting all sorts of stuff and you intervened and got involved. Tell us about that.

SHAIKH: Yes, this was an American girl in the state of Washington. A convert.

BLITZER: A convert to Islam?

SHAIKH: A convert to Islam. And -

BLITZER: And (INAUDIBLE) you said earlier, you converted from jihadism. I didn't mean to suggest you converted from Islam to another religion.


BLITZER: You're still a Muslim.


BLITZER: And - but - but you're no longer a jihadist. But go ahead.

SHAIKH: Right. Thank you for that.

She - she had been seen talking to extremist recruiters online. Some individuals tagged me in a tweet and said, hey, maybe you should talk to her. Talk her out of this stuff. And I engaged her at the micro level, again, a number of conversations. BLITZER: What does that mean you engaged her at the micro level?

SHAIKH: So, you know, insert myself into the conversation that's happening. She obviously saw that I was being tagged in the tweet. And then started to have conversations with her, both publicly and then in direct messaging, to explain to her that what - what are these verses that they use because they abuse and mutilate the scriptures. And so as we went on and on, I convinced her that, look, what these people were saying is wrong. They were telling her how they love her, they want to marry her. And she's a vulnerable girl. And, you know, I explained to her that, listen, these people are predators. They're there just to lure you over and to ruin you when you get over there.

BLITZER: It sounds like a fabulous - one example, Mubin may have saved this young woman's life in this particular case, but we need a lot of Mubins, Phil, in order to do this. The U.S. government can't do that.

MUDD: That's right. I think, again, the U.S. government should be an enabler. As a former government official, the governor feels like since we have so much capability and responsibility, people like me have to testify in front of Congress, we have to solve every problem.

[13:25:05] We cannot solve this problem. You've got to go into community, Minneapolis, Seattle, Los Angeles, New York, and say, who's around, people like Mubin, who can engage. How do we help them? Maybe provide training, maybe provide funding. But if we say department xyz or agency xyz in the government has to lead this, that, to me, complete failure. It's not going to work.

BLITZER: You think - you agree?

FUENTES: Also, Wolf, you know, the FBI isn't trying to arrest every single person that says they want to go join. There have been several of these cases, they've gone to the family, they've gone to the person. They've said, you know, you see that the FBI has interviewed them and said, OK, we heard that you want to do this and try to talk them out of it. In one case the 19-year-old girl from Denver a year ago that wanted to join, they went to her parents, they went with her to her parents and finally the FBI agents followed her on the jetway to get on the airplane and they said, please, please, don't get on this plane. She refused. I'm going. And they finally take her.

So they're not interested in prosecuting every one of these cases. They would like nothing better than to talk people out of it and get them on a different path. And, you know, going back to what I said earlier, the government can come up with every website and message they want to do. It's the Mubins of the world that are going to change their minds, not the U.S. government videos that are produced and go through our process.

BLITZER: And the social media activity, it's almost all in English, right? It's not in Arabic or Urdu (ph) or some other language?

SHAIKH: Yes, especially the western foreign fighters and those individuals that they're recruiting in the west, it's overwhelmingly English. BLITZER: And so - I mean and they're very good at this, the people who

are doing this for ISIS or al Qaeda or al Shabaab or any of these other terror groups?

SHAIKH: Well, they're products of the western system itself. And so they understand the popular culture. You'll see this a lot, references to popular culture in ISIS tweets, in ISIS messaging. A lot of the videos that they put out were screen grabs taken from "Grand Theft Auto." So, you know, they know how to use the means, they know how to use the popular culture.

BLITZER: But we - we, when I say "we," we invented all this stuff, as you know, Phil, the social media, all of these forums, whether it's FaceBook or Twitter, anything else, we can't compete with them? Is that - that sounds crazy to me.

MUDD: I don't think - in some ways we can't compete because the speed with which this is changing is too fast for the slow government. That is - when we started, you - the al Qaeda program, post-9/11, you had a few guys, Egyptians, Yemenis, Arabs, south Asian, who were involved in leadership of al Qaeda. A couple Americans who were messaging maybe on al Jazeera. It's only a little more than a decade where we now have thousands of people from North America and western Europe who are talking in native languages across not the media we knew even 15 years ago, but across YouTube, across Twitter. So, you know, having been a government official, I can tell you that the speed of that revolution, the world of terror, is something I don't think the government is suited to accommodate. We can't deal with this.

BLITZER: Any media stuff, you think, the United States needs to do right now?

FUENTES: Well, what we need to do is be smarter than we've been in the past. You know, for example, the FBI, right now, is still reeling from sequestration. They have not recovered from the number of analysts and linguists that they had to stop hiring because of sequestration.

BLITZER: That's those forced budget - the forced budget cuts.

FUENTES: And you can't turn that hiring program on and off like a water faucet. They're still trying to come back. They estimate that about a 20 percent reduction in the manpower they should have that they've lost because of that. But people don't think of that when we have these political stunts happen.

BLITZER: All right, we've got to leave it on that note. Political stunts. We've often left our conversations on that note.

Mubin Shaikh, thanks very much for coming in. Tom Fuentes, Phil Mudd, guys, thanks to you as well.

Just ahead, across the United Kingdom today, voters are going to the polls in an election that could change their country for years to come and also have some major worldwide implications. We're going live to London when we come back.