Ambassador Nathan A. Sales
Coordinator for Counterterrorism
February 27, 2018
Good morning, everyone. On behalf of the State Department, INTERPOL, and the International Institute for Justice and the Rule of Law, I’d like to welcome all of you.
Thank you all for traveling from far and wide to take part in this important conference on our collective law enforcement efforts to combat ISIS. And thank you in advance for the thought-provoking conversations to come.
Let me start by emphasizing the extraordinary progress the D-ISIS Coalition has made on the ground in Iraq and Syria. Nearly all the territory ISIS once controlled has now been liberated.
Yet as we defeat ISIS on the battlefield, the group has adapted to our success. The fight is by no means over – it’s simply moving into a new phase. Battle-hardened terrorists are heading home from the war zone or wreaking havoc in third countries. Homegrown terrorists – people who are inspired by ISIS but have never set foot in Syria or Iraq – are carrying out attacks.
We need a coordinated and effective strategy for this next stage of the conflict – which is why we’re here today. To do that, we need a shared understanding of ISIS as it evolves, and of the tools best suited to confronting it. As ISIS becomes more dispersed, our priority must be to stop it from reconstituting itself as a fighting force with a physical safe haven. We must also keep it from using the internet as a virtual safe haven from which to radicalize or recruit new followers.
As ISIS adapts, the struggle in most places will move from military to law enforcement solutions. Increasingly, we’ll need to supplement our military efforts to defeat ISIS with civilian measures that can ensure the group’s enduring defeat.
Let me be more specific. Our efforts will include law enforcement tools, such as prosecuting foreign terrorist fighters, collecting and using battlefield evidence, and updating our laws to more effectively target the threat. We’ll need tougher border screening and more robust information sharing – both within governments and among them. We’ll need to designate and sanction ISIS affiliates and financiers to cut off the flow of money. And we’ll need to counter terrorist narratives.
These lines of effort received a powerful boost this past December, when the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2396 with 66 co-sponsors. UNSCR 2396 includes a number of key CT tools and obligations. Watchlists of known and suspected terrorists. Information sharing, including of passenger name records, or PNR. Prosecutions of fighters returning from the battlefield and those inspired by ISIS. And designations to cut off the flow of money to terrorist organizations and their members.
I’d like to take a few minutes to explain what the United States is doing to counter ISIS in the law enforcement arena. My hope is that this will provide a useful point of departure for our discussions over the next two days.
Watchlisting and Information Sharing
Every day more than a million people enter the United States by land, sea, and air. We screen their names and other data against our watchlists of known and suspected terrorists to identify potential threats. Every country that’s serious about protecting their borders would benefit from this kind of screening. The United States and many others in this room stand ready to support each government’s efforts to build a watchlisting system that protects their own country and improves international security.
Over the last several years, we’ve entered dozens of bilateral arrangements with our allies and partners under Homeland Security Presidential Directive 6. These information-sharing arrangements allow us to exchange watchlist data with partner countries. They enable us to help each other spot terrorists who are moving between our countries.
Last year alone, we signed another ten HSPD-6 arrangements, bringing the total number to 69. We’ll be looking to sign more in the coming year. And we’ll be looking for our partners that have signed these arrangements to fully implement them.
It’s also crucial to share information through multilateral platforms, such as INTERPOL. It’s no coincidence that INTERPOL is co-hosting this event. As we move into the next phase of our fight against ISIS, the capabilities they provide will be of the utmost importance.
INTERPOL databases multiply the impact of checking against domestic watchlists. These tools bring together the information provided by dozens of governments in one place, allowing countries to screen travelers against information they otherwise wouldn’t have access to.
However, it’s not enough to just sign up for access to INTERPOL databases. A lonely INTERPOL-connected terminal in a backroom office is as good as useless. Unless our border control authorities and law enforcement officers have real time, seamless access, we’ll never be quick and thorough enough to thwart the next attack.
I encourage each of you, when you return home, to ask whether every border official and police officer has access to these databases. If they don’t, then your people on the front lines don’t have the information they need to protect your citizens.
I also want to emphasize the importance of PNR data – that’s Passenger Name Records. PNR data is the information you give an airline when you book a ticket – names, seat assignments, contact details, and so on.
PNR has been a foundation of U.S. border security for years. We use it to look for suspicious travel patterns, flagging threats who might have escaped notice. We also use it to illuminate hidden connections between known terrorists and their unknown associates.
Under UNSCR 2396, all UN members are required to develop the same kinds of systems. The United States is committed to doing what we can to help. We’re prepared to share our PNR system with countries that want it, and the Netherlands also is looking into options to make their system available via international channels.
Prosecution and Detention
When terrorists have been captured by our cops or our soldiers, sometimes we’ll want to prosecute them. Here in the United States, we have a robust set of criminal laws that we use to keep ISIS operatives from walking free on the streets of Manhattan or Washington, DC.
Consistent with UNSCR 2396 and other resolutions, we call on other countries to enact adequate laws to ensure their prosecutors have the tools they need to handle the next phase of the ISIS threat. That means laws that cover a wide range of terrorist activity, and laws that impose significant penalties on those who are convicted.
Successful prosecution also relies on accepting responsibility for repatriating our citizens captured on the battlefield. Let me be clear: as politically difficult as this may be today, failing to take custody of these fighters now will lead to more difficult and painful consequences down the road. If these fighters make their way home or into the territory of our allies and partners, we’ll all pay the price for inaction.
At the same time, we need to recognize that in some cases prosecution won’t be appropriate. That’s why President Trump announced last month his decision to reexamine our military detention policy and to keep open the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay.
Finally, all countries must develop the necessary legal regimes to designate and sanction terrorists. This allows us to cut off their financing – we don’t just want to stop the bomber, we want to stop the moneyman who buys the bomb.
In that spirit, today I am announcing Secretary Tillerson’s decision to designate seven ISIS-affiliated groups: ISIS-West Africa, ISIS-Somalia, ISIS-Egypt, ISIS-Bangladesh, ISIS-Philippines, the Maute Group, and Jund al-Khilafah-Tunisia. The Secretary has also designated two ISIS-affiliated leaders: Mahad Moalim and Abu Musab al-Barnawi.
These terrorists have been designated under a combination of regimes, including as Specially Designated Global Terrorists under Executive Order 13224 and as Foreign Terrorist Organizations under Section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
Listing each atrocity for which these groups are responsible would take all day, so I’ll just mention a few. In December 2016, ISIS-Egypt bombed Cairo’s Coptic Christian cathedral, killing 28 people. ISIS-Bangladesh murdered 22 people in a July 2016 assault on the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka. Jund al-Khilafah-Tunisia beheaded a shepherd in November 2015. The Maute Group is responsible for the siege of the Philippines city of Marawi and the September 2016 Davao market bombing, which killed 15 people and wounded 70 others.
Today’s designations join the eight ISIS-affiliated groups we’ve previously listed. We’ve designated these groups and individuals to illuminate ISIS’s global network, and to emphasize that the campaign against ISIS is far from over. These designations will deny the ISIS network the resources it needs to carry out terrorist attacks.
In conclusion, I want to express my deep appreciation for the international cooperation we’ve seen in our campaign against ISIS. I know that many of you are developing your own initiatives to continue this fight as we shift from a military arena to a civilian one.
My hope is that this conference will help us focus our attention on achieving the enduring defeat of this depraved terrorist organization – as well as al-Qa’ida and self-directed terrorists who are inspired by these groups.
With that, again, I want to thank all of our attendees for their continued, committed efforts toward this cause, and I look forward to the next two days of discussions.