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Security officials raise alert for Fourth of July despite lack of specific threat

As the Fourth of July approaches, security officials are on a heightened state of alert. What’s behind the warnings? Hari Sreenivasan talks to Daniel Benjamin, former coordinator for counterterrorism at the State Department.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    As we head into the July 4 weekend, many law enforcement and security officials across the United States are in a heightened state of alert.

    Hari Sreenivasan has that story.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Thanks, Judy.

    So what’s behind the increased state of readiness?

    For that, we are joined by Daniel Benjamin. He’s a former coordinator for counterterrorism at the State Department during the first term of the Obama administration. He’s now a professor at Dartmouth College at the Dickey Center, and he joins us from New Hampshire.

    So, we kind of get some mixed signals here. The Department of Homeland Security and FBI say to everyone, be increasingly vigilant over this holiday weekend. Yet they aren’t saying there’s a specific threat.

  • DANIEL BENJAMIN, Former State Department Counterterrorism Coordinator:

    That’s correct.

    First, they’re not saying it to everyone. They’re saying it to law enforcement. And if you wanted to compare this to the old days, this wouldn’t be actually a change color in the color-coded scheme that we used to have. It’s sort of an alert to authorities to be vigilant, to be cautious, to make sure they are well-staffed and to look into people of interest in case they’re tracking anyone.

    They have said that they do not have any credible intelligence on particular plotting, and in fact to date there’s been no announcement of any credible intelligence on plotting by ISIS in particular against the United States.

    But because of the increased incidence of what have been called lone wolf attacks, people who wish to act out, want to carry out violent attacks to show their common cause with ISIS, I think there’s a greater concern this time around than most times.

    That is to say, there’s a slightly greater chance that someone will try to do something than has been the case in the past.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Right. I mean, speaking of probabilities, there’s a greater chance that somebody is killed in a drunk driving accident in America over the Fourth of July weekend than killed by an ISIS fighter. Right?

  • DANIEL BENJAMIN:

    Well, historically speaking, vastly greater chance.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Right. Is this circumstantial? Is this the month of Ramadan? Is this a series of the attacks that have happened in Tunisia and other places that they’re trying to warn law enforcement about?

  • DANIEL BENJAMIN:

    That’s certainly a part of it.

    It’s important to recall that at the beginning of Ramadan, an ISIS spokesman called for people essentially to carry out independent acts, independent acts of jihad around the world. And we did see the attacks in Kuwait, in Tunisia and in Lyon in France just a few days ago. Those likely were not coordinated.

    It’s possible the one in Kuwait was a real ISIS attack, but perhaps an ISIS group in Saudi Arabia. The one in France seems to have been completely independent and without any outside coordination, although it’s, of course, still early days in the investigation.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Is the concern here about someone going overseas, being trained by ISIS and coming back, or someone who is here, sort of homegrown in the United States, and inspired to carry out an act of violence?

  • DANIEL BENJAMIN:

    Both are concerns, but, just as an empirical matter, the people who are just here, who have never gone abroad have been the ones who have been most active in the United States and in Western Europe. We have only had one case that I’m aware of where someone who had been in Syria had been involved in fighting came back and carried out a violent attack.

    That was in Brussels at a Jewish museum. But most of the activity has been by people who are motivated to show that they too are part of the cause.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right, Daniel Benjamin from Dartmouth College, thanks so much.

  • DANIEL BENJAMIN:

    My pleasure.

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