Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan testifies before the House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee on April 30, 2019. (DHS photo by Tara A. Molle)

House Homeland Leaders to McAleenan: What’s DHS Doing to Fight Domestic Terror?

The top Democrat and Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee asked Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan for “a better understanding of how the Department is utilizing its existing tools and authorities to respond to attacks like the ones we have seen in recent days” and want him to testify about domestic terrorism threats next month.

Today’s letter from Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Ranking Member Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) noted that last weekend’s shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, “come on the heels of a string of recent acts of violence being treated as domestic terrorism,” including the July 28 shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in Central California and the April 27 synagogue attack in Poway, Calif.

“These acts of mass violence remind us once again of the serious threat our nation faces from domestic terrorists. In recent testimony, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Christopher Wray stated that the FBI had made more domestic terrorism arrests in the first three quarters of Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 than all of FY 2018 combined,” the lawmakers wrote. “Additionally, Director Wray informed Congress that the number of domestic terrorism arrests equals those connected to international terrorism. The FBI’s response to these recent acts of violence includes opening domestic terrorism investigations.”

“For its part, the National Counterterrorism Center, which has traditionally focused on intelligence ‘pertaining to terrorism and [counterterrorism] except intelligence pertaining exclusively to domestic terrorism,’ is reportedly utilizing its resources to assist the Federal efforts to combat domestic terrorism.”

Thompson and Rogers added that DHS “was established to champion resilience, reduce threats to the homeland, and promote engagement between the public and private partners,” and “as we approach the 18th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks, this mission is more critical than ever.”

McAleenan said Tuesday on “CBS This Morning” that “we need to invest more — no question” in domestic threats as the DHS Office for Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention, established in April, only has an eighth of the funding as a similar program under the last administration.

“I’ve asked Congress for an out-of-cycle budget request to help bolster it and increase our reach and capability. But it doesn’t cover the level and scope of effort across the Department of Homeland Security enterprise,” McAleenan said.

McAleenan agreed with Wray’s statements on the domestic terror threat, saying that over the past two years a “number of their investigations are racially motivated and within that category the majority are white-supremacist-extremist motivated.”

McAleenan told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee during a budget hearing in May that “white supremacist extremist violence is a huge issue and one that we need a whole of community effort for,” and would be a priority of the new office.

The House Homeland Security Committee leaders said in their letter that McAleenan “acknowledged that the Department needs to do more to address domestic terrorism,” and “we are committed to ensuring DHS has the resources necessary to do so.”

Thompson and Rogers asked the acting secretary if a DHS Counterterrorism Advisory Board had been established to “facilitate a cohesive and coordinated operational response” and whether Community Awareness Briefings or Community Resilience Exercises had been scheduled to convey domestic extremism recruitment tactics and threats. They also want to know if the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties has established Incident Community Coordination Teams and what they have done in impacted communities.

“Are you contemplating any updates to the National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS) to better communicate information about terrorist threats to the American public?” they asked. “Has the Office of Intelligence and Analysis created new intelligence products for State, local, Tribal and Territorial law enforcement in light of the recent attacks?”

The lawmakers also asked McAleenan whether DHS has placed new information on the Homeland Security Information Network, how fusion centers and field personnel were utilized last weekend after the mass shootings, and whether or not DHS did any other sort of additional outreach with impacted communities.

Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15, a private investigator and a security consultant. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera and SiriusXM.

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