Remarks by Ambassador Verma at U.S.-India Expert Workshop on Countering Terrorist Use of the Internet

(As Prepared for Delivery)

Thank you for that kind introduction.  It’s a great pleasure to be here at this workshop with such an impressive group of law enforcement officials and experts.  I understand we have participants from a number of countries, including India, Bangladesh, the United Kingdom, and the United States.  I’d like to especially thank Sharad Kumar, Director General of the National Investigation Agency, for hosting us today, as well as our representatives from the Department of Justice and FBI who helped put this workshop together.  The NIA embodies the highest standards of professionalism and we’re honored to have such a dedicated partner.

Indians and Americans are no strangers to terrorism.  From the streets of New York and Mumbai to the steps of the Pentagon and India’s Parliament, our citizens have been the target of terrorists, but we have responded to this global menace with strength and resolve.  And what’s more clear than ever before is the importance of the United States and India working together to counter terror.  This point was underscored by Secretary of State John Kerry, when he was in Delhi last week.

26/11 was a turning point in our CT partnership.  I keenly remember in the aftermath of that horrific attack, the extraordinary measures undertaken by the FBI to assist our Indian partners in Mumbai.  This partnership has only strengthened over time, and the Bureau once again led the way assisting Indian authorities after the Pathankot attack in January.  We have a number of representatives from the Department of Justice and FBI in the room today, and I want to thank them for their hard work and dedication building bridges with Indian partners.

Today, our CT cooperation has evolved into a multi-faceted partnership.  In July, our two governments convened the Counterterrorism Joint Working Group in Washington.  Established 16 years ago, this is one of our oldest government-to-government dialogues.  At the end of this month, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson will host Home Minister Singh for the U.S.-India Homeland Security Dialogue.  Our intelligence sharing has reached unprecedented levels, which has directly helped Indian security agencies foil potential attacks.  We marked a major milestone in June with the signing of HSPD-6, an agreement to share terrorist-screening information.  Our security personnel continue to train together and exchange best practices through workshops like this one.  In fact, the State Department Anti-Terrorism Assistance program has trained more than 2500 Indian security personnel during the past two decades.  Two weeks ago, I inaugurated a new ATA course at the Central Detective Training School in Uttar Pradesh.

Our strategic convergence on countering-terrorism has never been closer.  Last year, the United States and India signed a Joint Declaration on Combatting Terrorism, which outlined a shared vision for CT cooperation and reiterated our concerns about terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Haqqani Network, Jaish-e-Mohammed, and others.  We’re also aware India is located in a challenging neighborhood and the United States has been very clear, at the highest levels, that Pakistan can and must do more to eliminate terrorist safe havens.  Across the board, our security cooperation is making our two nations, and the world, a safer place.

But the nebulous and evolving nature of terrorism requires that we continuously revamp our approaches in order to stay ahead of emerging threats.  At a scope never seen before, terrorist groups are using digital technologies to recruit, radicalize, and finance terrorist activity across borders and to coordinate attacks from remote locations, where they are often beyond the reach of national authorities.  ISIL in particular, with its sophisticated use of social media, has changed the rules of the game.  While ISIL has faced significant reversals in Iraq and Syria at the hands of the International Coalition, the group remains a clear and present threat in South Asia, as Secretary Kerry underscored last week in New Delhi and Dhaka.

The internet and social media offer ISIL potent marketing tools to reach followers around the world, raise illicit sources of funding, and to disseminate the techniques and know-how to carry out heinous attacks.  In an interconnected world, it only takes the push of a button for ISIL and other terrorist groups to reach a global audience.  These digital technologies have been a key component of ISIL’s drive to recruit foreign fighters, 40,000 of whom have poured into Syria over the last four years.  That’s almost twice as many as we saw travel to Afghanistan in the 1980s.  ISIL has also used digital technologies to encourage self-radicalized or lone-wolf extremists to conduct heinous attacks near where they are located.  The recent attacks in the United States, France, Bangladesh, and elsewhere highlight the gravity of this threat.  Terrorists are no longer simply building bombs and hatching plots in secret; they now post instruction manuals online and urge individuals to commit violence on their own accord.

Although only a small percentage of susceptible individuals have been influenced by terrorists online, that number is still too large.  We must better understand how extremist messages and propaganda gain currency, particularly among disaffected and alienated young people.  When governance fails or economic opportunity wains, the potential pool of recruits undoubtedly grows and the Internet becomes an even more effective tool to indoctrinate, train, and recruit new fighters.

We must therefore find ways to disrupt the ability of terrorist groups to recruit and radicalize followers through digital technologies.  We have to do so while at the same time respecting privacy rights and due process.  As democratic societies that value and protect free speech, we have a unique responsibility to find the right balance.  The tensions between privacy and security — and free speech and maintaining order — are not new; but certainly the use of digital technologies put these tensions into a newer and sharper focus than perhaps we have seen in the past.  Finding the right balance and deploying the right tools is not easy.

That’s why today’s workshop is so important.  With such an impressive group of law enforcement experts from around the world, I hope you can share your experiences and learn from each other.  As you share examples and case studies from your own investigations, your discussions will bring about strategies that can serve as models for partners facing similar challenges.  These strategies can help us deal with the challenges associated with terrorist use of the internet, while respecting our respective criminal justice and constitutional systems.

I would submit that part of the solution involves working with the private sector, civil society, media, and religious leaders to disseminate alternative narratives.  These alternative narratives can counter terrorist propaganda, for example, by amplifying the stories of those who defect from terrorist organizations, showcasing the life of misery as a foreign terrorist fighter, and by highlighting the damage terrorists are inflicting on civilians, and on Muslim communities in particular.  Earlier this year, the White House, partnering with the Departments of State and Justice, held a successful engagement with representatives from advertising, media, and civil society to discuss counter-messaging and I understand there will be a panel on this issue tomorrow.

Counter-messaging is only one part of the strategy.  We also need to be able to identify, trace, track and ultimately put out of business terror networks that use the Internet.  And, again, we have to do so taking into account the constitutional protections afforded to our people under the law.  This will require closer coordination between our law enforcement and intelligence agencies; it will require better sharing of real time threat information; and it will require smoother, quicker and more efficient handling of cross-border cases, particularly when our mutual legal assistance treaty comes into play.

Let me close by underscoring a point I made earlier.  No state can address the threat of terrorism alone.  We all know how bureaucratic stove-piping inside our own agencies and governments hampers responses to terrorist threats.  The same applies to cooperation between international partners.  Only when we work together in an effective manner – by sharing information, evidence, and best practices – can we defeat transnational threats like terrorism.  Secretary Kerry said it best when he was in Delhi last week.  “The battle to counter and defeat violent extremists does not rest with any one nation and cannot be won by any single campaign.  It is a global cause requiring consistent focus and persistent action; a willingness to adapt our tactics as threats evolve; and a commitment to tackling this challenge at every level – in the security of our airlines, cities, and ports; in the flow of money and arms across our borders; in the integrity of judicial and law enforcement personnel; in the battle of ideas waged in schools, houses of worship, and on social media.”  I think his words eloquently capture why our CT cooperation and this workshop are so important.  I sincerely hope this workshop spurs additional engagements in the future.  Thank you for your service and for making our citizens safer.