This FBI agent says terrorists are plotting to wipe out the 911 emergency system in an attack 'only limited by your imagination'

This FBI agent says terrorists are plotting to wipe out the 911 emergency system in an attack 'only limited by your imagination'

Aristedes Mahairas

Jenny Cheng/Business Insider/Bloomberg Law/YouTube

FBI agent Aristedes Mahairas.

  • An FBI agent said terrorists are working to acquire cyber skills that could enable them to wipe out online networks and maximise casualties.
  • Aristedes Mahairas said terror groups may one day be able to take down America's 911 emergency response system, or hack the control system of an office building and wreak havoc.
  • The likes of ISIS and Al-Qaeda may not currently have these capabilities, but they are working to secure them, he said.

The FBI has warned that terrorists are working to acquire the cyber skills to carry out catastrophic attacks that could involve taking down America's 911 emergency response system.

Aristedes Mahairas, a special agent in charge of the New York FBI's Special Operations/Cyber Division, said terror groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda are plotting attacks that could wipe out online networks to maximise casualties.

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"The concern is that the cyber terrorists will one day be able to simultaneously execute an attack in the virtual world and in the physical world," Mahairas told Business Insider.

By way of an example, the FBI agent speculated on two horror scenarios:


  • A cyber terrorist, he said, could seize control of an office building's control system, shutting down communication apparatus, elevators, and fire safety features, such as sprinklers. "Simultaneously, [they] send in the terrorists who start taking hostages and killing indiscriminately," Mahairas said.
  • In another scenario, Mahairas suggested that terrorists could shut down the 911 emergency system while carrying out a physical atrocity. He also imagined a situation where cyber terrorists wiped out access to ATM machines.

"In such an environment, it would cause havoc," said the agent, who used to lead the New York FBI's counter-terror operations. "The truth is that such a scenario is only limited by your imagination."

Mahairas said terror groups may not currently have the capability to launch this kind of dual-pronged attack, but the FBI is working on the assumption that they one day could.

He continued: "It's really important to recognise that the terror groups are starting to leverage the technologies in such a way that it stands to reason that they are going to be able to recruit someone who is technically capable of spending time, effort, and energy to achieve that objective of eliminating the 911 emergency system...

"My working proposition is that they will eventually have the capability because they will be able to successfully recruit somebody."

Terrorists are also engaging hackers to help raise the money that actually carries out attacks, Mahairas said. "They need money, they need funds to pay their people, to feed them, to house them. If there's a lack of funding coming in then they may resolve to cybercriminal schemes," he added.