FBI Director: Americans Fighting With ISIS 'Entitled' to Come Back

By Susan Jones | October 6, 2014 | 9:13 AM EDT

James Comey, a senior Justice Department official under President George W. Bush, replaced Robert Mueller as FBI director. (AP File Photo)

(CNSNews.com) - FBI Director James Comey told CBS's "60 Minutes" that "a dozen or so" Americans are fighting with terrorists in Syria; "yes," he knows who they are; and they are "entitled to come back" unless their passport is revoked; and if they do come back, they will be tracked.

Asked if he know who "each and every one" of the Americans are, Comey said, "of that dozen or so, I do."

Comey said he expects some of these Americans to return to the United States: "Ultimately, an American citizen, unless their passport's revoked, is entitled to come back. So, someone who's fought with ISIL, with an American passport wants to come back, we will track them very carefully."

Here's the exchange between Pelley and Comey:



Pelly: How many Americans are fighting in Syria on the side of the terrorists?

Comey: In the area of a dozen or so.

Pelley: Do you know who they are?

Comey: Yes.

Pelley: Each and every one of them?

Comey: I think of that, dozen or so, I do. I hesitate only because I don't know what I don't know.

Pelley: With American passports, how do you keep them from coming home and attacking the homeland?

Comey: Ultimately, an American citizen, unless their passport's revoked, is entitled to come back. So, someone who's fought with ISIL, with American passport wants to come back, we will track them very carefully.

On Sept. 2,  State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters, "The United States, including the State Department, has long had the authority to revoke passports.

"Obviously, there are different reasons for that, including fraud but also pending legal charges, which would be more applicable in some of these cases that we’re discussing (foreign fighters). Clearly, we wouldn’t make those decisions on our own. We would make them in coordination with law enforcement authorities."

Psaki continued: "There are also capabilities that the United States has, including putting individuals on a no-fly list...So I think, obviously, there are a range of steps and ways that we can prevent individuals who pose harm to us from either returning to the United States or being allowed to stay...being allowed to operate as private citizens in the United States. And that’s – we’ve long had those capabilities."

Asked if "any such maneuvers" were actually underway, Psaki said she would "not going to be able to confirm numbers or any specifics."

The FBI is not only tracking Americans who are in Syria, but also those who want to go.

Last month, FBI agents arrested a 19-year-old Colorado women, Shannon Conley, as she attempted to board a flight to Turkey. She later pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to provide support to a designated foreign terrorist organization, specifically Al-Qaeda  and its affiliates, including ISIS/ISIL.

The U.S. Justice Department said FBI agents met with Conley "on numerous occasions" to try to "persuade her not to carry out her plans to travel overseas to provide support to a foreign terrorist organization and to engage in violent jihad."

Conley's foray into terrorism began when she met a man on the Internet who said he was an active member of ISIS. The two later became engaged.

'Lone Rat,' Not Lone Wolf


Asked if "lone wolves" are the biggest threat to the U.S., Comey told "60 Minutes" he doesn't like that term, "because it conveys a sense of dignity I don't think they deserve.

"These homegrown violent extremists are troubled souls, who are seeking meaning in some misguided way. And so they come across the propaganda and they become radicalized on their own, independent study, and they're also able to equip themselves with training again on the Internet, and then engage in jihad after emerging from their basement."

"The name 'lone wolf' offends you?" Pelley asked.

"It does," Comey said. "I'd prefer 'lone rat' to capture the kind of person we're talking about."

Despite the threat posed by ISIS/ISIL and lone wolves, Comey said the U.S. is better able to deal with the threat than it was when al Qaeda was at its peak:

"We are better organized as an intelligence community. We're better organized and equipped at the border. We have relationships with our foreign partners. All of which make us better able to see dots and connect dots. The transformation since before 9/11 is striking."

He specifically mentioned that the FBI's Hostage Rescue team has "more than doubled in size since 9/11," and members of that team have joined U.S. Special Operations Forces in hundreds of missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, even capturing a suspect indicted for his role in the Benghazi terror attack.

"We're there to make sure that we have a criminal option in our country's toolbox when we take the fight to the terrorists," Comey said, referring to the Obama administration's preference to try terrorists in court.