Clinton calls for U.S. ‘intelligence surge’ in wake of Orlando attack

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton said on Monday that if elected, she would pressure U.S. technology companies to help intelligence agencies disrupt violent plots after a gunman inspired by radical Islamist groups killed 49 people in an Orlando nightclub.

Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton pauses as she speaks at a campaign rally in Cleveland, Ohio June 13, 2016. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk

In a speech in Cleveland, she articulated plans for expanded online surveillance of potential extremist attackers. She is campaigning against presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump ahead of the November presidential election.

“We already know we need more resources for this fight. The professionals who keep us safe would be the first to say we need better intelligence to discover and disrupt terrorist plots before they can be carried out,” Clinton said.

“That’s why I’ve proposed an ‘intelligence surge’ to bolster our capabilities across the board, with appropriate safeguards here at home.”

While Clinton did not detail what her effort would entail, she said she wants technology companies to be more cooperative to government requests for help in countering online propaganda, tracking patterns in social media and intercepting communications.

Clinton’s comments will likely further stoke an international debate over digital privacy, which has flared after attacks in Paris, Brussels and San Bernardino, California.

Omar Mateen, the 29-year-old Orlando shooter and a U.S. citizen, was likely inspired by jihadist content online, but there is not yet evidence that he was part of any plot directed by others outside the United States, FBI Director James Comey said Monday.

Facebook FB.O, Alphabet's Google GOOGL.O and Twitter TWTR.N have all dedicated more resources to combating online propaganda and recruiting by Islamic militants within the past year. But they do so quietly to avoid the perception that they are overly cozy with authorities.

The companies rely heavily on users to flag problematic content, which is impossible to eliminate completely without creating a highly censored Internet, according to technologists.

Counterterrorism experts have also long said so-called lone wolf attackers are difficult to track and stop because they often do not communicate their plans to others.

Twitter and Facebook had no immediate response to questions about Clinton’s comments. Google declined comment.

The Center for Democracy and Technology and Electronic Frontier Foundation, both digital advocacy groups, said they were waiting for more specifics from Clinton before commenting.

Unlike Trump, Clinton did not call for blocking online content. She did not reiterate her previous push for a massive effort to break encryption, and she ruled out targeted surveillance of Muslim Americans as “dangerous.”

Reporting by Dustin Volz in Washington; additional reporting by Julia Edwards in Washington and Joseph Menn in San Francisco; Editing by Cynthia Osterman