The top U.S. intelligence official said Thursday that last year was the deadliest year for global terrorism ever recorded, as he testified to Congress on the “grim” evolution of the extremist threat.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper catalogued the growing terror-fueled violence in stark terms — and offered statistics that would appear to challenge Obama administration claims that the country and world are safer today.
“When the final accounting is done, 2014 will have been the most lethal year for global terrorism in the 45 years such data has been compiled,” Clapper told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
He said that in 2013, about 11,500 worldwide attacks killed about 22,000 people. But in the first nine months alone of 2014, he said, preliminary data from a University of Maryland research unit show nearly 13,000 attacks killed 31,000 people.
Half of those attacks and fatalities were in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, he said. He said the Islamic State conducted more attacks than any other terror group in those first nine months.
Despite this assessment, Secretary of State John Kerry testified at a separate hearing on Wednesday that, “Despite ISIL, despite the visible killings that you see and how horrific they are, we are actually living in a period of less daily threat to Americans and to people in the world than normally; less deaths, less violent deaths today, than through the last century.”
That prompted a quick response from lawmakers and from inside the intelligence community.
Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn , former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told Fox News that Kerry is “out of touch with reality, he clearly is not listening to the entire U.S. intelligence community.”
The Clapper testimony came as Congress focused attention Thursday on what’s being done to defeat the Islamic State — at all levels of government — as more cases surface of westerners trying to link up with the terror network, including a disturbing case out of New York City.
Clapper said Thursday that about 180 Americans have been involved in various stages of traveling or trying to travel to fight in the region. He said more than 3,400 total western fighters have gone to Syria and Iraq.
He spoke after the Justice Department announced Wednesday that three New York City residents plotted to travel to Syria to join ISIS militants and “wage jihad.”
One of the defendants also offered to kill the president of the United States if ordered to do so, the criminal complaint alleged.
The Obama administration, meanwhile, has forged ahead with a campaign of airstrikes against ISIS, with the help of Middle East allies. At the same time, though, President Obama has downplayed the threat. In a recent interview with Vox.com, he accused the media of overplaying the issue.
“If it bleeds, it leads, right?” he said.
FBI Director James Comey has said his bureau is investigating possible ISIS supporters in all 50 states.
Aside from Clapper’s testimony, a House judiciary subcommittee was holding a separate hearing on Thursday on the threat of ISIS in America. FBI and other local law enforcement officials were set to testify.
Fox News’ Bret Baier contributed to this report.