A study by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) says incidents of domestic terrorism increased by 357% between 2013 and 2021. According to U.S. law, domestic terrorism is generally defined as involving criminal acts dangerous to human life occurring in the U.S. that appear intended to coerce a civilian population or influence or affect the conduct of government.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) tracks cases (which it defines as investigations and disruptions) consistent with its investigative mission. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) tracks incidents which it defines attacks or plots, consistent with its definition of domestic terrorism. From calendar year 2010 to 2021, I&A tracked a total of 231 domestic terrorism incidents, with racially- or ethnically-motivated violent extremists committing the most violent incidents during the time period.
The FBI and DHS I&A collaborate via headquarters staff, fusion centers, and through serving on task forces, to identify and counter domestic terrorism threats. GAO found that they generally followed leading collaboration practices, but challenges remain. For example, FBI and DHS have agreements in place, but they have not assessed if these agreements fully reflect how their personnel should collaborate on their shared charge of preventing domestic terrorism. Due to the rapidly evolving threat landscape, having up-to-date, comprehensive formal agreements would enhance the two entities’ collaboration.
Further, GAO said that FBI and DHS I&A have evaluated individual activities but have not consistently assessed the overall effectiveness of their collaborative efforts. Doing so can ensure both agencies are capitalizing on efforts that may lead to improved information to counter domestic terrorism threats.
GAO is making six recommendations, three each to the FBI and DHS, including to assess agreements in place and evaluate collaborative efforts. Both agencies agreed with the recommendations.