Ahead of 9/11 Anniversary, Gottheimer Announces “Online Arsenal to Combat Foreign Terrorist Organizations” Using Social Media to Spread Extremism and Finance Terror

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NORTH JERSEY, September 9, 2020 | comments

Announces new legislation to prevent terrorist cryptocurrency fundraising; hold social media companies accountable

Gottheimer announces steps to protect U.S. from evolving terror threats to homeland

Above: An example provided by the U.S. Department of Justice of a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization soliciting online cryptocurrency contributions.

Today, Wednesday, September 9, 2020, ahead of this week’s nineteenth anniversary of the horrific September 11th attacks, U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) announced a new “Online Arsenal to Combat Foreign Terrorist Organizations,” as terror and extremist threats have continued to evolve in recent years. U.S. State Department-designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs) are increasingly utilizing social media platforms to spread hate and extremism, recruit, and raise funds for acts of terror with cryptocurrencies.

The National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) has previously assessed that nearly every one of the U.S. State Department's 69 designated FTOs has a social media presence.

Gottheimer’s “Online Arsenal to Combat Foreign Terrorist Organizations” includes:

  • New Legislation to Hold Social Media Companies Accountable with Financial & Criminal Penalties:Gottheimer plans to introduce new legislation to require regular disclosure of the presence of FTOs fundraising on social media, as well as financial and criminal penalties for any social media company that knowingly permits accounts tied to designated terrorist groups to solicit support and resources on its platform. Recently, public reporting detailed Facebook accounts linked to ISIS are still evading detection on the platform, allowing them to continue to generate extremist content online.
  • Aggressive Action Against Foreign Terrorist Organizations Utilizing Cryptocurrency for Terrorist Financing:After the federal government’s recent seizure of millions of dollars in bitcoin tied to FTOs — the largest ever seizure of online terrorist financing — Gottheimer and House Financial Services National Security Subcommittee Chairman Emanuel Cleaver (MO-5) requested that the Attorney General and Treasury Secretary brief the Subcommittee on this operation. Gottheimer and Cleaver also requested the Treasury provide an assessment of its actions to proactively confront designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations in the financial space — all to help Congress take action to help address these new threats.
  • Enacting Bipartisan Legislation to Combat Terrorist Propaganda on Social Media: The House recently passed bipartisan legislation that included Gottheimer’s provision to combat foreign terrorist organizations spreading extremist propaganda on social media, by requiring the Secretary of Defense, in coordination with the Secretary of State, to report to Congress on the use of online social media by FTOs and the threat posed to U.S. national security by online radicalization

“Nineteen years ago this week, we lost nearly 3,000 Americans — including more than 400 firefighters, police, EMS, and other first responders who ran into the towers — true patriots, who, as ever, put others ahead of themselves and their families. Now, as we’ve seen in recent years, these threats of terror against Americans and our homeland continue to evolve,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5). “We now have a constant spread of violent extremism, disinformation, foreign interference, and hate online that’s undermining our democracy — and these forces continue to use the platforms provided by U.S.-based social media companies to spread hate and terrorist propaganda and recruit new members. Now, they’re growing even more sophisticated, using digital assets like cryptocurrencies to finance their next attacks. We have to fight back — by truly bringing together an online arsenal to combat these threats at every angle.”

“The strategies we utilize to combat terrorism have changed significantly in the last 19 years with the emergence and evolution of social media. NJOHSP has found both domestic and foreign terrorists have increased their activity online and are employing similar tactics to recruit, fundraise, and inspire attacks,” said Director Jared M. Maples, Director of the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness. “My Office continues to educate the public on these threats with intelligence products like our latest Terrorism Threat Assessment, as well as provide tools such as our online Disinformation Hub to avoid falling prey to these campaigns. Furthermore, we look forward to our continued partnership with Congressman Josh Gottheimer in assisting NJOHSP as we lead and coordinate New Jersey’s counterterrorism efforts.”

In October 2019, Gottheimer led a bipartisan initiative demanding Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey remove all content from FTOs and affiliated profiles, including Hamas and Hezbollah. In early November 2019, in response to the bipartisan efforts, Twitter suspended some content affiliated with FTOs, including both the official English and Arabic language accounts of the terrorist Hamas movement, the English and Arabic language accounts of Hezbollah television channel and propaganda news service Al-Manar, the Hamas television channel and propaganda news service Quds News Network, and other Hamas and Hezbollah affiliated activists.

Gottheimer is also leading several efforts to combat foreign and domestic terrorism and to support 9/11 survivors and first responders, including:

  • Introducing the bipartisan U.S.-Israel Anti-Killer Drone Act, which will boost cooperation between the U.S. and Israel by developing technology to counter 'killer drones' amid the ongoing terrorist drone war in the Middle East.
  • Introducing the bipartisan Freezing Assets of Suspected Terrorists and Enemy Recruits (FASTER) Actto give law enforcement the capability to freeze the assets of all domestic terrorists, and those who provide material support to terrorists, when a suspect is arrested by federal law enforcement; and to implement a one-of-a-kind National Homegrown Terrorism Incident Clearinghouse for all levels of law enforcement to collect and share information on incidents of homegrown, lone-wolf terrorism and violent extremism — to help investigate and thwart future attacks.
  • Helping introducing the bipartisan Saracini Enhanced Aviation Safety Actto protect the safety of Americans by requiring the installation of secondary cockpits barriers on airplanes to help stop another 9/11 style attack. 
  • Introducing the bipartisan Darren Drake Act, to require DHS and TSA to provide rental companies and car dealers with the information they need to flag and stop potential terror threats. 
  • Passing the bipartisan Never Forget the Heroes Act to support 9/11 first responders and survivors, of which Gottheimer was an original cosponsor and which the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, co-chaired by Gottheimer, endorsed. The law provides long-overdue support to cover 9/11 survivors’ and first responders’ injuries, lost earnings, benefits, and out-of-pocket medical expenses.

Gottheimer was joined today by New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness (NJOHSP) Director Jared Maples; New Jersey Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association (NJ FMBA) President Ed Donnelly; and Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) Senior Vice President for Research Dr. Jonathan Schanzer.

Watch today’s virtual event HERE.

Gottheimer’s full remarks as prepared for delivery are below.

Thank you for joining me today, and for all the work each of you — and your colleagues do — to keep Jersey and our nation safe, for your strong advocacy in countering violent extremism, for consistently fighting the rise in terrorism, both abroad and here domestically, and for always standing by our first responders.

We’re here today to announce an online arsenal against terrorism — to protect our nation against terrorist organizations that continue to evolve and innovate and threaten us in new ways.

It’s hard to believe that this Friday will be nineteen years since terror struck our homeland that morning in 2001.

Nineteen years since we lost nearly 3,000 Americans — including more than 400 firefighters, police, EMS, and other first responders who ran into the towers — true patriots, who, as ever, put others ahead of themselves and their families.

It’s what they’ve always done and it’s why I remain so grateful for what they do each day, and why I’m so committed to getting the backs of those who always get ours

That day, from Bergen County alone, we lost 147 residents — not to mention the scores lost across New Jersey.

On top of that, more than 2,000 first responders and others who were in and around the World Trade Center have died since that day, as a result of 9/11 exposure. 

Thankfully, earlier this Congress, we fought for and passed the bipartisan Never Forget the Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer , and Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act — to make sure we fully find the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund — something that Eddie from the NJ FMBA will touch on today.

What’s still unbelievable is how many lives were taken that day by Al-Qaeda, how many families destroyed, how many more servicemen and women have since fought for and died at home and abroad in the global fight against terror. With ISIS abroad, Al-Shabab, Hezbollah, Hamas, PIJ, and others — these are people whose hatred is so great that they are willing to sacrifice everything to threaten our way of life. 

But now, as we’ve seen in recent years, these threats are continuing to evolve.

We now have a constant spread of violent extremism, disinformation, foreign interference, and hate online that’s undermining our democracy — and these forces continue to use the platforms provided by U.S.-based social media companies to spread hate and terrorist propaganda. Now, they’re growing even more sophisticated, using digital assets like cryptocurrencies to finance their next attacks

We have to fight back — by truly bringing together an online arsenal to combat these threats at every angle.

That is why today, I’m announcing the following measures we need to confront this threat and stay one step ahead of our enemies. 

First — I will be introducing brand new legislation to require regular disclosure of the presence of Foreign Terrorists Organizations fundraising on social media, as well as financial and criminal penalties for any social media company that knowingly permits accounts tied to designated terrorist groups to solicit support and resources on its platform.

These are actions we as a county simply cannot stand for.  Right now, everyone — including tech companies and each social media platform — need to be doing everything they can to stop the spread of terrorism and extremism, and halt terrorist groups’ abilities to raise funds to commit acts of terror.  They’ve simply not done enough to date — and it’s time we cracked down and held irresponsible social media companies accountable for allowing foreign terrorist organizations on their sites. 

Several social media companies are taking proactive measures, but there are others that take more of a hands-off approach.

Last year, I successfully led a bipartisan charge, calling on Twitter to suspend content affiliated with Foreign Terrorist Organizations, including Hamas and Hezbollah, from its platform. The official English and Arabic language accounts of several terrorist movements were taken down, but a great deal of content remains, and some accounts have even resurfaced. Social media companies need to be vigilant. 

And now, as we’ve seen recently, Al-Qaeda, ISIS, and Hamas are soliciting cryptocurrency donations from around the world to fund their activities, and they’re using online tools and social media accounts to solicit these funds. 

Recently, federal authorities seized millions of dollars in cryptocurrency from major foreign terrorist groups, as well as about 300 cryptocurrency accounts associated with this online fundraising campaign, and four websites and four Facebook pages used to solicit funds. I will share screenshots of this illicit fundraising on my website later. 

With this new legislation, we can take the fight against terror to today’s online battlefield.

Second — we need to take aggressive actions to thwart the use of cryptocurrency by these foreign terrorist groups. 

That’s why, upon learning of the federal government’s seizure of these millions of dollars in bitcoin, I partnered with the Chairman of the House Financial Services’ National Security Subcommittee, Congressman Emanuel Cleaver. 

Together, we requested that the Attorney General and Treasury Secretary brief the Subcommittee on this operation

This was the largest ever seizure of online terrorist financing, and it is absolutely vital that Congress learn more as we figure out how to address these new threats.

We also requested the Treasury provide an assessment of its actions to proactively confront designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations in the financial space.

Together, Congress and the rest of the federal government must put country first and figure out how best to protect U.S. financial networks from terrorist threats.

Third — I’m fighting to enact critical new provisions into law that will help protect our nation.

This summer, the House passed bipartisan legislation that included my provision to combat foreign terrorist organizations spreading extremist propaganda on social media.

The legislation requires the Secretary of Defense, in coordination with the Secretary of State, to report to Congress on the use of online social media by State Department-designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations, and the threat posed to U.S. national security by online radicalization

There is simply no reason why terrorist organizations, that have killed countless Americans and our allies, deserve access to social media platforms to promote themselves as sponsors of violent, radical, hate-filled extremism.

Now that this provision was passed by the House, the full bipartisan bill will go to conference with the Senate, and I’m urging Congressional leadership to ensure my provision makes it to the President’s desk to be fully signed into law.

These are all key parts of an arsenal to fully fight terrorists from using social media and digital technologies to expand and fund their hate — but it doesn’t stop here — far from it.

We need every tool to fight terror right here at home, and abroad.

That’s why I also support strong sanctions against Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, to cut off Hezbollah, Hamas, and its other proxies.

While abroad, we need to ensure our military servicemen and women have all the resources they need to protect themselves on the frontlines. 

That’s why I’ve introduced a bipartisan bill — the U.S.-Israel Anti-Killer Drone Act — to boost cooperation between the U.S. and our historic ally Israel in developing technology to counter 'killer drones' amid the ongoing terrorist drone war in the Middle East. 

But it’s not only ISIS-inspired and other foreign terrorist threats. We’ve also seen a dramatic spike in age-old home-grown enemies: white supremacy, right-wing nationalists, and other extremists here in our backyards. 

Here at home, we need to ensure our first responders, firefighters, and police have what they need to protect our communities, to fight domestic terror, and to keep themselves safe while doing so.

We need to be doing everything to disrupt and defeat all homegrown threats, which is why I’ve introduced a bipartisan bill — the FASTER Act, the Freezing Assets of Suspected Terrorists and Enemy Recruits Act — to give law enforcement the capability to freeze the assets of all domestic terrorists, and those who provide material support to terrorists, when a suspect is arrested by federal law enforcement — and it will implement a one-of-a-kind National Homegrown Terrorism Incident Clearinghouse for all levels of law enforcement to collect and share information on incidents of homegrown, lone-wolf terrorism and violent extremism — to help investigate and thwart future attacks. 

We should also extend the Saricini Act — to add secondary barriers outside cockpits of all airplanes, not just new ones, to help stop another 9/11 style attack

To help stop ISIS-inspired truck and other vehicular terrorist attacks — like what killed local New Milford resident Darren Drake during the October 2017 New York City terrorist truck attack on the West Side Highway —  I’ve introduced bipartisan legislation in his name requiring DHS and TSA to provide rental companies and car dealers with the information they need to flag and stop a potential threat in its tracks. 

For our first responders who were at the forefront of responding to the 9/11 attacks, I’m proud to have been a part of helping pass the Never Forget the Heroes Act — of which I was an original cosponsor — to provide long-overdue support to cover 9/11 survivors’ and first responders’ injuries, lost earnings, benefits, and out-of-pocket medical expenses.

Hundreds of Jersey and New York law enforcement, firefighters, EMTs, and others answered the call and rushed toward the pile as others ran out that day.

With the help of the bipartisan endorsement from the Problem Solvers Caucus, which I co-chair, and a lot of hard work across the aisle, this bill was signed into law this Congress — to get the backs of those who bravely had ours

To close, it’s clear that we need every tool to fight terror at home and abroad — and we need a full online arsenal as terrorists are, more and more, spreading propaganda and hate to radicalize online, and raising money to carry out their heinous acts.

I won’t stand for it. 

We must keep fighting back.

We live in the greatest country in the world, and it’s in no small part thanks to the work that our first responders do every day — and to the work of all those fighting terror here, throughout New Jersey and throughout our country.

Our best days will always be ahead of us, with you all working together to protect our community.

May God bless you, and may God continue to bless the United States of America. 

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