NYT: White House Divided over Whether ISIS or Al-Qaeda Poses Biggest Threat

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Al-Qaeda has been replaced by the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) as the number one threat to the U.S. homeland, argue members of President Obama’s top intelligence, counterterrorism, and law enforcement team, who focus on national threats, reports The News York Times (NYT).

The report notes:

The F.B.I., the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security are concerned more about the rising risk from the Islamic State, while the Pentagon, intelligence agencies and the National Counterterrorism Center, which focus more on threats abroad, are more anxious about Qaeda operatives overseas.

“The debate is evolving in real time, thus there have been no large shifts in money or personnel yet in one direction or the other,” it adds. “But it is the first time senior American officials have spoken so openly about the evolution.”

Unnamed officials from President Obama’s top intelligence, counterterrorism and law enforcement departments are reportedly divided over which of the two jihadist groups–ISIS or al-Qaeda–poses the principal threat to the American homeland.

“The split reflects a rising concern that the Islamic State poses a more immediate danger because of its unprecedented social media campaign, using sophisticated online messaging to inspire followers to launch attacks across the United States,” reports The Times. 

It continues:

Many intelligence and counterterrorism officials warn, however, that Qaeda operatives in Yemen and Syria are capitalizing on the turmoil in those countries to plot much larger “mass casualty” attacks, including bringing down airliners carrying hundreds of passengers.

The argument over who should carry the title of the most menacing terror group against the United States homeland will influence how the American government spends billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars on counterterrorism operations, how it assigns thousands of federal officials, intelligence analysts, and service members to battle a specific threat that senior officials say is rapidly changing, notes the article.

Already, the White House is in the process of reviewing its counterterrorism policy to combat ISIS.

Unnamed intelligence officials reportedly revealed that the National Counterterrorism Center “has diverted analysts working on longer-term extremist threats to focus on [ISIS].”

In June alone, the majority of people under surveillance by the FBI in investigations related to terrorism were linked to ISIS. FBI supervisors were forced to reassign criminal squads to keep tabs on terror suspects.

“For all the concern, there have been no Qaeda attacks in the United States in 14 years, though some were thwarted or fell apart,” acknowledges NYT. “And most of the Islamic State-inspired plots so far have been unsophisticated but increasingly difficult for the authorities to detect in advance.”

“The White House seems to be leaning toward the Islamic State, increasingly alarmed by what Lisa Monaco, President Obama’s homeland security and counterterrorism adviser, recently called the group’s ‘unique threat’ to the United States,” it adds.

It is difficult to calculate how much the United Staters spends on counterterrorism because many of the individuals and agencies involved play other roles, as well.

“Senior American officials,” nevertheless, “say that counterterrorism programs employ roughly one in four of the more than 100,000 people who work at the C.I.A. and other intelligence agencies, and account for about one-third of the $50 billion annual intelligence budget,” reports The New York Times.