How to keep U.S. safe from ISIS recruits

Story highlights

  • Terrorist attacks in Paris earlier this month killed 130 people
  • Dan Coats: We must be more aggressive in taking action to screen all those who enter the United States

Sen. Dan Coats, R-Indiana, is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. The views expressed are his own.

(CNN)Recent attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in Paris, Beirut, the Sinai Peninsula and other locations underscore the significant terror capabilities of this so-called caliphate. Indeed, ISIS is attracting followers from across the globe, followers who are intent on destroying our way of life.

How serious is the threat?
European law enforcement officials have publicly estimated that between 5,000 and 6,000 European nationals, including British, French, Belgian and Dutch citizens, have traveled to Syria to join ISIS, while the Associated Press reported last week that more than 1,200 ISIS recruits have returned to Europe. Indeed, several of the individuals involved with the Paris attacks are French citizens who spent time training with ISIS.
    Dan Coats
    Some of these suspected recruits have been arrested, but many remain at large as the massive manhunt in Belgium has continued over the weekend. Yet despite it being Brussels that has been in virtual lockdown this weekend, it is important to remember that the threat posed by ISIS recruits is by no means confined to Europe.
    For example, FBI Director James Comey recently told Congress that approximately 250 Americans have traveled or attempted to travel to Syria, and that ISIS is communicating with potential American recruits through social media.
    "Whether or not the individuals are affiliated with a foreign terrorist organization and are willing to travel abroad to fight or are inspired by the call to arms to act in their communities, they potentially pose a significant threat to the safety of the United States and U.S. persons," Comey said in a statement last month to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
    Given these realities, it is clear we must be more aggressive in taking action to screen all those who enter the United States, as well as take stronger actions against American citizens who join terrorist organizations.
    This effort must include a fresh look at the Visa Waiver Program, which allows citizens from 38 participating countries to travel to the United States without first obtaining a visa. This means that travelers from most European countries, Australia and many other nations do not have to go through a visa application process, avoiding the extra scrutiny this process entails.
    True, the VWP has been a useful tool to encourage tourism and business travel to our country, and it also has value in allowing the United States to devote greater attention to travelers from countries that lack adequate passport integrity and security systems. However, the benefits should be balanced with security, and there are ways to tighten up current clearance procedures and make them more focused on counterterrorism efforts.
    With that in mind, earlier this year, I reintroduced the Counterterrorism Border Security Enhancement Act as a first step in confronting the threats we face. Among my proposals would be to:
    -- Review entry procedures by requiring the Department of Homeland Security, in consultation with the State Department, to consider improvements of existing border security and entry procedures, specifically with respect to the threat of ISIS and growing participation by U.S. and European nationals in terrorist activity.
    -- Review and reform the Visa Waiver Program by requiring the Department of Homeland Security to review and update requirements for travelers and partner countries as well as to terminate VWP participation for any country not fully cooperating with information sharing efforts.
    -- Improve visa application training by requiring the State Department to submit a plan for training consular officers on visa interview techniques that emphasize counterterrorism efforts.
    -- Authorize the State Department to revoke and confiscate the passport of a U.S. citizen suspected of engaging in terrorist activities outside the United States or who has demonstrated an intent to engage in terrorist activities.
    -- Add terrorism to the definition of treason by amending federal law to clarify that "terrorist organizations" are considered an enemy.
    It is imperative that we address the dangers posed by ISIS before the group is able to strike us here at home. Implementation of these kind of commonsense measures would be a good start in helping to stop that from happening.