FBI investigators are still unable to read 109 encrypted messages sent by one of the two men who opened fire outside the Muhammad Art Exhibit in Garland, Texas, that took place in May.
Elton Simpson exchanged these messages with an overseas terrorist before the attack, according to FBI Director James Comey, who released this information to Congress members in the aftermath of the San Bernardino terrorist shootings.
“In May, when two terrorists attempted to kill a lot of people in Garland, Texas, and were stopped by the action of great local law enforcement again, that morning, before one of those terrorists left to try and commit mass murder, he exchanged 109 messages with an overseas terrorist,” said Comey, adding: “We have no idea what he said because those messages were encrypted.”
Breitbart Texas was on scene at the Curtis Culwell Center when Simpson and roommate Nadir Soofi drove up and began shooting with assault rifles at the event organized by Pamela Geller. A guard killed both suspects and only one officer sustained a minor gunshot in the leg during the incident. Later, British-born ISIS recruiter and hacker Junaid Hussain, was linked to the gunman. The Islamic State took credit for the failed attack. The FBI was aware of Simpson for nearly a decade but did not closely follow his violent, pro-jihad tweets because “there were so many like him;’ the FBI also indicated they were overwhelmed, Breitbart News reported.
On Wednesday, Comey said those messages were not reviewed by the FBI because “they were exchanged on devices equipped with encryption software of a kind that the FBI director and other law enforcement leaders have been arguing should not be available,” according to the Dallas Morning News.
The terrorists exchanged those encrypted messages over the “dark web,” a major roadblock for the FBI in tracking down terrorists KXAS 5 (NBC) reported. Recently, Dallas FBI Special Agent in Charge Tom Class called the dark web a place where technology and U.S. privacy laws limit what agents can do. Islamic State terrorists recruit youth over the dark web. Class named the dark web as the most “significant threat” to the U.S. and our national security, noting it is the nation’s top priority.
However, to decipher the encrypted messages, the FBI needs more cooperation from technology companies and new laws to provide more tools to access those communications, according to the Dallas NBC affiliate news. Weeks ago, Class noted the need to find a balance between protecting privacy rights and protecting the safety of citizens.
Comey cited the Garland attack messages as proof the issue must be fixed so that terrorists, spies, and other criminals can no longer evade detection. He wants more help from technology companies to help decrypt these kinds of messages in instances where the government has a warrant, KXAS 5 also reported, although Comey declined to say what role, if any, encrypted communications played in the San Bernardino attack.
The Dallas newspaper added that Sen. John Cornyn expressed “shock” to learn that because the 109 messages were encrypted “not even with a court order could the FBI get access to those messages.” He believes encryption capabilities should not be law-enforcement proof. “It’s not just a problem with terrorism,” he said, calling it a factor in robbery, rape, and murder cases also. “And it has become part of terrorist trade craft. We value our privacy but we also value our security and public safety and those two things in this instance are on a collision course.”
Comey pointed out that increasingly the FBI is at a disadvantage because they cannot see what the terrorists say. In regards to Simpson and Garland, the Bureau Director said: “We have no idea what he said because those messages were encrypted. And to this day, I can’t tell you what he said with that terrorist 109 times the morning of that attack. That is a big problem. We have to grapple with it.”
Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.