DHS, FBI warn national security threats ‘have never been greater or more complex’

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The country’s top counterterrorism officials are warning the threats here at home are evolving and growing.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, FBI Director Christopher Wray, and Christine Abizaid, Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, all testified before a Senate Committee on Thursday.

“The threats facing our homeland have never been greater or more complex,” said Mayorkas. “Congress may not have predicted the extent of today’s threat environment when our department was created 20 years ago. But our mission has never been more vital.”

Their testimony warned the threats we face today often come from individuals instead of large organizations.

“Terrorist organizations such as ISIS and Al-Qaeda remain committed to attacking inside the United States,” said Abizaid. “However, unlike 21 years ago, the threat today is more likely to take the form of an individual attacker inspired by these groups rather than a networked and hierarchal directed plot.”

The threats can range from cyber-attacks against our hospitals, water systems, and electric grids, to violent domestic terrorism attacks.

“What makes our current situation unique, and I add particularly serious, is the fact that we’re seeing so many different threat areas all elevated at the same time,” said Wray. “These actors often move very quickly from radicalization to action and often use easily obtainable weapons. Think a gun, a knife a car, a crude IED against soft targets, which is really just intelligence community speak for everyday people going about their everyday lives.”

Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs, grilled Wray over how the FBI tracks domestic terrorism cases.

“Why has the FBI been unable to collect and report complete data about domestic terrorism despite a federal law requiring you to do so?” Peters asked Wray.

“State and local and tribal law enforcement are not required to report domestic terrorism incidents to us and so while we do get lots of reports of that through our joint terrorism task force, it’s not as systematic as any of us would like it to be,” said Wray. “We’re committed to working with the committee on this topic.”

Republicans on the committee criticized the Biden administration’s handling of migrants at the southern border, which they argue threatens national security.

“Is the southern border currently in crisis? Yes or no?” asked Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs.

“We are seeing an unprecedented movement of people from country to country,” said Mayorkas. “It is not restricted to the southern border.”

Wray and Mayorkas called for more resources to combat these growing threats and urged Congress to act quickly to renew their powers to protect against unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), often known as drones.

“It’s important for Americans to understand that if that authority is not reauthorized next month, public gatherings like the Super Bowl in Arizona, like New Year’s Eve in New York, like Formula 1 in Las Vegas, and I could go on. None of those things will have protection from this threat,” said Wray.

There is a bipartisan bill on the table to reauthorize those powers for DHS and the Justice Department to fight against the UAS threat.