Many perspectives, 1 simple etiquette

Pentagon Officials Send Mixed Signals on ISIS Threats to Military Families

Author: Wendy Innes
Created: 14 January, 2015
Updated: 15 October, 2022
6 min read
Several weeks ago, ISIS issued a threat against military members and their families, saying that their jihadist supporters would seek them out and kill them where they live. When asked about it during a recent Facebook town hall event, General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, denied such a threat existed despite publicized warnings from the Army and the FBI.

The general went on to say that the U.S. military is bombing ISIS in the Middle East so that they can't attack Americans at home. This response adheres to the administration's official talking points, but it does a great disservice to military members and their families to deny a threat exists and is counter to the Army's own advice for service members to take measures to protect themselves and their families.

According to a recent article in the Los Angeles Times, it appears that cause for concern is warranted. ISIS and its supporters took to social media recently regarding the fate of a Jordanian pilot shot down while supporting U.S.-led bombing efforts against the group.

Supporters of the radical Islamic militant group used the Twitter hashtag, "Suggest a way to kill the Jordanian pilot pig" to discuss graphic ways to execute the captured pilot, such as chopping him up or using him to teach children how to kill "the infidels and the apostates."

While most ISIS cells work autonomously, the groups are using social media to link cells against their common enemy which could lead to coordinated attacks on military and civilian personnel in and around installations here in the United States. Further, the recent hacking of U.S. Central Command’s Twitter feed and YouTube site suggests that Islamic militants are incorporating a new weapon into their arsenal.

A statement released by CENTCOM Monday stated, "These sites reside on commercial, non-Defense Department servers and both sites have been temporarily taken offline while we look into the incident further."

However, some supporters of ISIS have purportedly obtained rosters of retired Army personnel and posted them on social media with phrases such as, "American Soldiers, We are coming, Watch your back!"

While CENTCOM goes on to say that its "initial assessment is that no classified information was posted and that none of the information posted came from CENTCOM's server or social media sites," the attack highlights that the use of cyber-terrorism to obtain such data is a real possibility. Armed with sensitive information regarding the private lives of soldiers, sailors, and airmen, their safety and that of their families is brought into question.

A warning was issued in late September by the Army Threat Integration Center (ARTIC) that jihadist sympathizers in the U.S. were encouraged to locate military families and attack them in their homes.

The Special Assessment stated:

"Based on a law enforcement bulletin citing a jihadist tweet, ISIL has called on lone offenders in the US to use the 'yellow pages,' social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter to find the addresses of service members, 'show up and slaughter them.'"

Of particular concern -- and in light of the recent attacks on journalists in Paris -- are the estimated 300 Americans who are currently fighting with ISIS as stated in the assessment. Officials fear that they could return to the U.S. and carry out attacks using skills acquired in terrorist camps throughout the Arab region where ISIS is currently engaged.

Despite efforts to track these individuals, the Obama administration admitted on September 22, 2014, that they were not able to track all of them and some of these individuals had already re-entered the country. In theory, these would be the people who would attack military members and their families.

Adding to the concerns of military members and their families, there have been isolated reports of military families being followed or harassed in areas with a heavy military population.

In the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, a major hub for the U.S. Navy as well as having a substantial Army and Air Force presence, two military spouses stated on social media that men began questioning them regarding their family's military status and then began aggressively following them. One woman drove to a police station while the other drove onto a military installation in order to lose the men following them. It is unknown if either incident was reported to law enforcement or base officials.

The women were identified as military spouses based on decals on their vehicles.

When questioned further during the Facebook town hall event about these threats, General Dempsey responded by saying:

"We don’t currently assess that there is a specific threat to military families on the homeland. But I want to assure you that I take this very seriously. We monitor threats to U.S. persons and facilities both abroad and overseas. We work with other agencies of government and with law enforcement. We adjust force protection levels when necessary. Most important, we maintain pressure on groups who threaten us where they live so we can live our lives as we choose."

Despite the general's assurances that there is no threat, the ARTIC assessment and the Pentagon have given military families a number of recommendations to help keep them safe:

  • DoD personnel are reminded to use operational security (OPSEC) at work and at home. Be cautious of conversations while in a public forum either on cell phone or in person.
  • Don't display DoD affiliated credentials (CAC/Building passes/military ID) when in public.
  • Remove all DoD, military, or law enforcement decals or identifiers from clothing and vehicles. This includes military pride decals.
  • Vary travel routes to and from work.
  • If you see something, say something…report suspicious activity. Report immediate threats to physical safety to 911 and suspicious activities to police non-emergency numbers.
  • Maintain situational awareness or avoid public venues where large groups of people congregate.
  • Educate family members on basic security practices (i.e. lock all points of entry, don’t leave keys hidden outside the home, keep doors locked even when at home, etc.). Do not display anything that could identify the occupants as being affiliated with the military or law enforcement.
  • Be careful of information shared on social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc…)
  • Update security settings on social media accounts and change passwords regularly.
  • Do not post anything on social media sites that affiliates the account holder with DoD/the military or law enforcement.
  • Do not post anything on social media opposing terrorist groups or organizations.
  • Wear civilian clothes when traveling to and from work, and if wearing uniform is necessary, reduce the number of stops to the essential.

It is unfortunate that America's military families must be on guard in their own homes, but there is no doubt that the country's men and women in uniform will do what they have always done; adapt, overcome, and carry on.

Anyone who notices suspicious activity, or has any information regarding terror activities on U.S. soil is urged to contact the FBI at 1-800-225-5324 or online at tips.fbi.gov.

Photo Source: Reuters