Kerry: '7- to 11-Thousand Foreign Fighters' in Syria Pose Terror Threat

By Patrick Goodenough | February 28, 2014 | 12:20am EST

Secretary of State John Kerry and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the State Department on Thursday, February 27, 2014. (Photo: State Department)

( – Secretary of State John Kerry defended the need for intelligence surveillance Thursday, saying the U.S. and other countries “have a global interest in trying to know what terrorists are going to do before they do it,” and citing “seven to eleven thousand foreign fighters” in Syria who could pose a security threat on their return home.

Speaking alongside his German counterpart, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Kerry said that as co-author with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) of the Commercial Privacy Bill of Rights Act, he was “more than acutely aware of the need for people to have their information, their rights, protected, their information protected.”

“But I’m also well aware that we live in a very dangerous world, that there are many people plotting very dangerous acts in all parts of the world,” he said. “No one is free from this.”

“Currently in Syria, there are in the – somewhere in the range of seven to eleven thousand foreign fighters,” Kerry said. “And those foreign fighters are learning the worst methods of persuasion – terror. And many of them will return to the countries from which they have come.”

“And that includes many countries in Europe, it includes the United States, it includes Australia, it includes parts of the Middle East, South Central Asia, and Asia. And I’ve talked to leaders in those countries who are deeply concerned about what those people may do when they return to their country,” he continued.

“So we have a global interest in trying to know what terrorists are going to do before they do it.”

Kerry also invoked the al-Qaeda attack on America in September 2001.

“There was information available to people before the events of 9/11,” he said. “There were telephone conversations made back and forth and so forth.”

“We believe there’s a balance that permits law enforcement and national security to be preserved in their interests and also to preserve privacy.”

Relations between the U.S. and Germany were strained last fall after claims that the National Security Agency had been bugging Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone.

Steinmeier said the U.S. and Germany “do have different assessments as regards the importance of privacy and security and granting civil liberties.” He spoke about the need for “an honest and frank dialogue about the future of protecting privacy in the age of the Internet.”

Kerry acknowledged that “there have been instances where it’s gone over a line. President Obama has said that. That’s why he engaged in the most far-reaching re-evaluation and review of our practices, and that’s why he issued new instructions in order precisely to deal with this issue.”

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