Statement of Subcommittee Chairman Peter T. King (R-NY)
Counterterrorism and Intelligence Subcommittee
House Homeland Security Committee Terror Inmates: Countering Violent Extremism in Prison and Beyond Remarks as Prepared
The United States is facing a long-term, growing threat of terrorism from ISIS and other radical Islamist terrorist groups.
At least 55 people in the United States have been arrested for links to ISIS so far this year. Over the past several years, approximately 200 more have traveled to the Middle East to join the terror group. Just last week, FBI Director Comey stated that the FBI had an estimated 900 active investigations of suspected Islamic State-inspired operatives and other home-grown violent extremists across the United States, and has previously noted that such investigations are taking place in all 50 states. There can be no doubt that we have an extremism problem in the U.S.
Even more disturbing is that there are an unknown number of people who are watching terror propaganda and potentially being radicalized, but who are not on law enforcement’s radar. Compelled by this jihadist propaganda, these individuals could choose to carry out a small-scale attack with little planning and no notice.
DHS Secretary Johnson and Director Comey have done a good job over the past year communicating with the public about this threat, and their agencies are stretched to the limit in their efforts to investigate, arrest, and prosecute terrorists walking the streets.
An issue that rarely comes up, however, is how the U.S. is preparing to ensure that the 100-plus individuals in Federal prison for links to terrorism who will be released in the next five years do not pose a continued threat to the Homeland.
In the wake of 9/11, our federal, state, and local law enforcement did great work in arresting and prosecuting potential terrorists. But we can’t forget about these individuals once they are incarcerated; 90% will eventually be released. We have never been faced with such large numbers of terror inmates before.
When this Committee held a hearing in 2011 on prison radicalization, the primary focus was on the threat of inmates being radicalized once in prison. There are still a number of concerns related to how prisoners are monitored, how employees are trained to watch for possible signs of radicalization, and how religious service providers are vetted.
We are all familiar with the known cases of individuals who became radicalized inside prison and then attempted to carry out attacks within the Homeland, cases like Kevin James and Jose Padilla. Prison radicalization is not unique to the United States. In France, the Charlie Hebdo attackers were radicalized in prison.
In the United States, the challenge of prison radicalization – both within prison and once inmates are released – must be addressed with consistent, proactive information-sharing among Federal agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and state and local partners; close cooperation among prison chaplains of all faiths and with law enforcement; and careful monitoring of former inmates after their release into society.
The goal of this hearing is to have a public discussion about the eventual release of hundreds of individuals serving time for terrorism and to understand what is being done to prevent further radicalization within the prison system.
We welcome today our distinguished panel of experts to testify about the current risk of prison radicalization, provide their views on current government programs – and the lack of sufficient programs, and provide recommendations to help the Federal government and Congress create an effective response to this situation.