How many Americans in ISIS? No one knows

“We don’t know what we don’t know,” a U.S. intelligence official told The Daily Beast when asked if there were more than 12 Americans in ISIS. “We have some identifying information on some of the Americans, it may not be their name but we have enough information. That said, we readily acknowledge that that number is probably low and there are others we don’t know about.”

“I think 12 is probably low only because there is always stuff we don’t know,” said Andrew Liepman, who left his post as the deputy director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) in 2012 and is now a senior policy analyst at the Rand Corporation. “I would not say that number is hugely low, but we always have to remember what we don’t know.”…

The problem for the U.S. intelligence community in part is that Syria itself is a bit of a black hole. Syria remains what’s known as a “denied area” for U.S. intelligence agencies, meaning any military or intelligence officer that operates inside Syria does so at great risk of being killed or captured.

“To have a SOF operator captured even though they don’t mind taking the risk, would be a big strategic defeat,” a senior U.S. intelligence official told The Daily Beast, using the acronym for special operations forces.