Islamic extremists have more secret cells hidden throughout Europe that could be deployed in terror attacks against civilians, the top U.S. intelligence official warned on Monday.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said during a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor that terror groups have additional clandestine cells similar to those that mobilized during attacks in Paris and Brussels in recent months.
In particular, Clapper certified that U.S. intelligence officials “continue to see evidence on the part of ISIL” in Germany, England and Italy. ISIL is an alternate acronym for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
“That is a concern, obviously, of ours and European allies. I assure you we are doing all we can to share with them,” he added.
Following the deadly attacks in Paris and Brussels, focus on sharing information has ratcheted up considerably to ensure that intelligence and law enforcement agencies across Europe are on the same page. Some critics said after the March Brussels attack that Belgian officials were not adequately prepared to deal with the rising threat of radicals tied to ISIS.
Sharing information “is a major emphasis of ours,” Clapper said on Monday.
European security officials have cracked down on suspected extremists at a dramatic rate since the violence in Paris and then Brussels, arresting multiple people believed to have links to ISIS.
The extremist group has increasingly promised that the attacks in Europe are part of a larger campaign to inflict violence far from its self-proclaimed caliphate in the Middle East, worrying officials and the public in Europe and the U.S.
In the weeks and months since those attacks, a rough portrait of the extremists’ presence in Europe has begun to emerge, Clapper told reporters on Monday.
“We’ve learned that they are fanatic, very OPSEC conscious — meaning operational security conscious — they’re very mindful of that,” he said. “They have taken advantage, to some extent, of the migrant crisis in Europe — something which the nations, I think, have a growing awareness of.”
He cautioned, however, that officials “don’t have the total picture for them.”
ISIS operators have a “mindfulness of the efforts mounted to monitor them,” Clapper maintained.
“They are very, very security-conscious.”
Among other signs of efforts to evade detection, Clapper said that extremists have flocked to encrypted messaging applications that scramble communications to make them inaccessible to anyone without a passcode.
The growth of encrypted messaging platforms has frustrated officials in the U.S., who warn that the technology has allowed terrorists and criminals to remain hidden behind a veil of algorithm.
“From our standpoint, it’s not a good thing,” Clapper said.
The proliferation of encrypted messaging services has expanded dramatically in the years since Edward Snowden’s leaks about the National Security Agency (NSA).
According to Clapper, Snowden’s revelations accelerated the development of encryption “by about seven years.”
“That’s an estimate which I think is quite valid by NSA,” Clapper said, “that the projected growth, maturation and instantiation of commercially available encryption, that it forecast for seven years a few years ago, [and] was accelerated to now because of the revelations.”