FBI director: Smartphones powerful recruiting tools for terrorists

Director visited Cincinnati field office Wednesday for second time since he took over as leader in 2013

WLWT News 5 at 6:00
WLWT News 5 at 6:00

CINCINNATI – The director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, James Comey, paid a visit to the agency's Cincinnati field office for the second time since he took over as the FBI's leader in 2013.

Comey said agents are trying to identify people in all 50 states, including Ohio, who could become radicalized by the terror group ISIS which is also known as ISIL.

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Comey said social media and smartphones are making it easier than ever for people who want to do harm to America because potential recruits no longer have to seek out a terror group's website or wait to connect via email.

"Instead, the terrorist is buzzing in the pocket of a troubled soul 24 hours a day, through Twitter and Twitter direct messaging," Comey said. "And if they find a real live one then they'll move them to an encrypted form of communication which makes life even more difficult for us."

Despite the dangers presented by social media, Comey is hopeful that U.S. citizens who might be tempted to fall in with ISIS or ISIL, are starting to realize how menacing the terror organization is and how much trouble they face if they get caught.

"We have to send very tough messages that this not a game," Comey said. "If we catch you doing this you're going to get a very long stretch in jail, either for going to be with ISIL or offering to and attempting to act on their violent poison here in the United States. I think that's starting to take root."

Comey, who met with local police leaders during his visit, also talked about spikes in deadly gun violence nationwide, including the kind of violence Cincinnati witnessed during the summer months.

"All of us in law enforcement, all of us who follow the media, are seeing a very real, significant increase in violent crime, especially homicide, in cities all over the United States."

Comey said police leaders across the country say most cases of gun violence involve young men of color and multiple homicide scenes which makes Comey think shootouts between young men may be driving the spike in gun crimes.

"We have a lot of guns in this country, but one of the ways we reduce crime is making criminals afraid to have that gun," Comey said. "If a gun becomes just another article of clothing then it will be on them, them every altercation, every disrespect will become a shootout instead of a fistfight."

Comey said heroin may also be a contributing factor to violent crimes and warned Mexican drug traffickers are also making what he called huge amounts of "highly pure methamphetamine" and said those traffickers want to expand their business into cities like Cincinnati.

In response to a question about Issue 3, Comey said he's not sure what to make of the proposed constitutional amendment which would legalize both medical and recreational marijuana in Ohio.

Voters in the Buckeye State will weigh in on Issue 3 when they head to the polls on Nov. 3.

"I don't know enough to give you an intelligent response. It's not an issue the FBI's involved in," Comey said. "I've thought about it some. I've talked to my partners in drug enforcement about it. There's some interesting experiments going on in two of the (states in the) United States, and so to me the issue is not a clear one, and one I'm not expert on enough to comment."