The New York Times finally acknowledged conclusions identified by the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT) and others for months, if not years, on how inept leaders turned a blind eye to the rise in Europe of the world's most lethal Islamist terror network.
The Times article, "How ISIS Built the Machinery of Terror Under Europe's Gaze," discusses how ISIS is far better organized than commonly understood. It also underscores how Western intelligence, law enforcement and political leadership committed glaring mistakes that enabled it to become much more of a threat than it should be.
ISIS is obsessed with inflicting as many gruesome fatalities as possible against the West, but it will settle for smaller scale assaults in the interim. It has established a unit solely dedicated to orchestrating attacks in Europe and Western interests throughout the Middle East and Africa. Quoting from internal documents, the Times notes that the ISIS external operations branch is fundamentally a factory for producing potential jihadists.
The terror group implemented extensive procedures to maintain operational integrity through encryption and strict procedures for communicating over mobile phones. These measures are designed to obscure ties to ISIS after attacks occurred. ISIS additionally improved the process for developing TATP, a powerful explosive produced with readily available materials.
The Times article also details the ineffectiveness of Western leadership. The ability of ISIS to establish a caliphate substantially enhances its ability to prepare and plot against its neighbors in the region and the West. People attracted to it know generally where they need to travel to establish contact. The West, however, remains unwilling to eliminate the caliphates in Iraq/Syria and Libya.
Of additional interest is how the West missed so many clues and, again, continues to fail to connect the dots. The inability to track individuals going to war zones and returning to Europe is a massive intelligence failure. European law enforcement officials who identified potential jihadists were unable to effectively track or even identify the threat that they might pose. Even after attacks might have occurred, officials quickly dismissed any direct or indirect connections to ISIS.
Western officials really believed until 2014 that ISIS was the 'JV team.' It appears that it was not only the assessment as articulated by the U.S. president but was broadly shared throughout the international security community.
As a result, the West has become much more vulnerable to the stronger Islamist terror threat. The IPT predicts in a recent analysis how ISIS will continue to target Europe over the next 18 to 24 months without a new strategy for defeating it. The Times helpfully details to its readers in part how the IPT reached its conclusions.
Pete Hoekstra is the Shillman Senior Fellow at the Investigative Project on Terrorism and the former Chairman of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee. He is the author of "Architects of Disaster: The Destruction of Libya."