WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and Chairman of the Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee, questioned the Commander of the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), Admiral Kurt W. Tidd on the rise of ISIS in Latin America.

Senator Ernst asked Admiral Tidd if he was concerned about the rise of ISIS in Latin America, to which the Admiral responded, “Senator, we’re very concerned. There is, I think, a tendency to often think that ISIS is only present in the middle east or north Africa, and the reality is ISIS is present here in the western hemisphere.” Additionally, Senator Ernst asked Admiral Tidd if he felt prepared and equipped to counter their recruiting efforts in the region. Admiral Tidd stated that “That is probably the, one of the areas of greatest work that we are engaged in.” Additionally, the admiral noted that what’s more concerning is the efforts by ISIS to encourage radicalized individuals to stay in their home countries to and conduct attacks on their home soil or the United States.

The Iowa Senator also raised concern over the pathways being used by cartels to move goods into North America, and the possibility of terrorist organizations exploiting those pathways. Admiral Tidd stated that “we have to assume that [ISIS] is going to try.”

During the hearing, Senator Ernst also spoke with Admiral Tidd about the need to counter the misinformation campaign and activity by the Russians aimed to weaken the United States’ relationship with their partnering nations in the region.

Click here or on the image below to watch Senator Ernst’s questioning of SOUTHCOM Commander Admiral Tidd.

Below is the full text of Senator Ernst’s questions.

On the rise of ISIS in Latin America:

Senator Ernst: “Admiral Tidd, in February of 2017, the Associated Press reported that Trinidad and Tobago has become the largest per-capita source of ISIS recruits in the Western hemisphere. And according to the report, as many as many as 125 fighters have traveled from the island to ISIS controlled areas over the past 4 years. So are you concerned about the rise of ISIS in SOUTHCOM?”

Admiral Tidd: “Senator, we’re very concerned. There is, I think, a tendency to often think that ISIS is only present in the middle east or north Africa, and the reality is ISIS is present here in the western hemisphere. You cited the case of foreign fighters that have gone over to Iraq and Syria to fight, obviously we’re very concerned about the return of those fighters, but what’s become more troubling is an effort, an active effort on the part of ISIS to communicate to radicalize individuals, telling them ‘stay home, and conduct attacks in your home countries against your countries and the United States, and our interests in this region’.

“You cited Trinidad and Tobago, but that’s not the only country where we know there is a presence of radicalized individuals to whom the ISIS message is very appealing, and I think it’s an area that we need to pay close attention. Our counter-network approach we’re applying enables us to recognize that this presence of ISIS in the theater, when previously we focused exclusively on commodities, it was often times it was, we focused more on the criminal networks and did not pay attention to the fact that there are also terrorist networks as well.”

Senator Ernst: “So those terrorist networks, they understand those pathways that are being used by various cartels and so-forth, moving goods into the NORTHCOM area. Do you think those could be exploited then by those terrorist organizations?”

Admiral Tidd: “ISIS, when it did recent issues of Dabiq communicates directly in English language to radicalized individuals to attempt to exploit those pathways into the United States, so we have to assume they’re going to try.”

Senator Ernst: “Okay. Those that are fighting in Iraq and Syria, how are they able to reach back into the Caribbean and radicalize the folks there? What do you think is the primary means of communication?”

Admiral Tidd: “I think its internet, by cyber means.”

Senator Ernst: “And is cyber something you believe we should pay attention to then?”

Admiral Tidd: “I think we all recognize that it’s a domain that must bear increasing attention.”

Senator Ernst: “Absolutely, I appreciate that. And then, do you think we are doing enough to counter ISIS’s recruiting efforts in the SOUTHCOM region?”

Admiral Tidd: “That is probably the, one of the areas of greatest work that we are engaged in. In order to work with our partner nations and in our discussions with them, they now recognize that they must pay attention to the rise of the radicalization phenomenon. We were all, I think, had a wakeup call with the attacks that occurred in Paris and Brussels, but also in San Bernardino and in Orlando, that individuals can become radicalized and can conduct horrific attacks, and so it’s up to all of us to work together, exchange information, and attempt to remove the conditions that lead to radicalization.”

On countering Russian Misinformation Campaigns:

Senator Ernst: “[Admiral Tidd] I did appreciate meeting with you last week or last month, excuse me. We had a very good conversation and during that conversation, you brought up the fact that you had seen more activities from the Russians - you mentioned that a little bit earlier as well with some other countries - you stated that it may not be with a military bent, but that there were some other military activities that they were engaging in. Can you enlighten us as to the types of activities you are seeing from the Russians and why that would be of a national security interest to us?”

Admiral Tidd: “Thank you, Senator. We have seen the deployment of ships, particularly frequent deployment of intelligence collection ships, that we know operate frequently on the east coast of the United States and then spends time down in the Caribbean. We’ve also seen periodically the deployment of long-range aviation, comes down and spends a bit of time down in our theater. But probably of greater long-term concern as the very aggressive arms sales programs where Russia is down and talking with our traditional partners, attempting to displace the United States as the partner of choice. And then the part that I think is most troubling, we see they are engaged in very aggressive misinformation campaigns. Basically peddling the story that the United States is not a reliable partner in Latin America, that we are not interested in the region, and that we are withdrawing from the region. It’s troubling because of resource constraints that we’ve had, and the requirement of the number of forces available in our theater - as that has declined- that plays directly into that narrative that Russia has been peddling. These are relationships we have with strong partners and it’s just up to us to be able to prove that we are the partner of choice.”

Senator Ernst: “So not only do we need to maintain a presence there, but we also need to reinforce our own message-“

Admiral Tidd: “Absolutely.”

Senator Ernst: “-to those areas.