WASHINGTON — American jihadists returning to the United States and other homegrown terrorists could mount attacks on US military personnel within the country, according to Representative Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security.
“I think, unfortunately, it would be not-so-difficult to pull off,” the Texas Republican said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”
A group claiming to be the computer hacking wing of the Islamic State released what it described as a hit list of US military personnel, including names, addresses, and photos, over the weekend. The Pentagon said it is investigating the threat and has notified the families.
McCaul emphasized that an attack on American forces in the Unites States by Islamic State operatives and other radicals could be prevented by adequate surveillance and other measures.
“Good intelligence stops plots against the homeland. . . . Without that intelligence, we can’t effectively stop it,” he said. “That’s what I’m worried about.”
McCaul also said the withdrawal of US troops, including Special Forces commandoes, from Yemen over the weekend as a Shi’ite militia advanced against government forces would weaken the United States’s ability to monitor militants in the region.
In releasing its online list, the Islamic State affiliate called on its members and sympathizers in the United States to kill the 100 service members whose names it posted on a website.
The group said the targeted personnel had participated in efforts to defeat it in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and elsewhere.
Federal officials said it does not appear that the information had been hacked from government computer servers. One Defense Department official, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said that most of the information could be found in public records, residential address search sites, and social media.
The officials said the list appears to be drawn from personnel who have appeared in news articles about airstrikes on the militant group. Some of the names also appear to be drawn from the Defense Department’s own official reports on the campaign against the Islamic State.
But the list also included armed services personnel and others in the United States or elsewhere who have had nothing to do with the bombing campaigns, officials said.
For instance, the list includes B-52 crew members stationed in Louisiana and North Dakota, but the air campaign is not using those bombers, the Defense Department official said. Several women are included on the list, but their faces in the photos were blurred. One of the photos appears to be at an official meeting with President Obama.
US officials have acknowledged the skillful use of the Internet by the Islamic State, particularly social media.
“With the huge amount of data we have from various different servers and databases, we have decided to leak 100 addresses so that our brothers in America can deal with you,” the Islamic State’s so-called Hacking Division said in the posting.
It added: “And now we have made it easy for you by giving you addresses, all you need to do is take the final step, so what are you waiting for?”
The military is facing challenges in balancing how it performs two essential functions: protecting its personnel while providing the American public with information.