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Saturday, March 2, 2024

HSToday 2024 Threat Forecast: Part III: The Internal Threat

Homeland Security Today is proud to share our Editorial Board and expert community’s 2024 Threat Assessment.  In an election year, with tremendous risks and vulnerabilities facing the nation, we take stock each year by asking our cadre of experienced homeland security practioners what they would like to share with you, our community of readers. A true variety of threats, this piece is presented in three parts:

  1. Terrorism – experts discuss both external and internal threats from terrorists, terrorist groups, and lone wolves.
  2. AI, Cyber & Advanced Technology – experts discuss the varied and persistent threats from cyber attackers and from rapidly advancing technology.
  3. Internal Threat – this year many of our experts cited the numerous threats to our nation and our democracy from internal threats.

This collection underscores the variety of threats and voracity of those who wish us harm – personally, economically, militarily.  We hope this compilation provides some insight into what you already know, and alerts you to some challenges you perhaps have not considered.  If you are in the homeland security community and would like to weigh-in on something you do not see here, please reach out to [email protected]with the RE line: Threats for 2024. Please provide a bio if you would like to be considered for publication.

Key takeaways:

  • Internal dissention and disagreement puts America and its institutions at great peril from our elections to foreign policy to border security
  • Misinformation is misunderstood and our ability to combat it will determine the outcome of many critical challenges facing the country
  • Misunderstanding the activity, strength and strategy of foreign nation’s like Iran, China, Russia, North Korea, and foreign terrorist groups like Hezbollah, Hamas, Al-Qaeda, ISIS leads to a heightened risk and threat environment
  • Our nation must devote more focus to strategic foresight and mitigate against “strategic surprise” by nurturing our people’s understanding, and mastery of, complexity
  • Allowing the potential of AI and quantum computing to benefit us while balancing the need for security will be pivotal to our future – collaboration is key to understanding the technology and its implications
  • Specific threats like lone wolf terrorism, drones, biological threats and vulnerabilities like lack of preparedness for natural disasters, continues to increase
  • Ransomware is increasing exponentially and poses a considerable threat to critical infrastructure

PART III:  INTERNAL THREATS

Managing complexity
In my former government roles, when asked “what kept me up at night,” I often replied that I felt confident that we were quite effective at protecting from or mitigating the impacts of specific known threats. Instead, I worried that we aren’t set up to effectively manage a complex environment with an array of concurrent threats, arising from a variety of threat actors, domestically and abroad, while simultaneously making rapid decisions and taking action. This level of complexity creates conflicting demands on our focus and resources. Relationships between leaders can fracture as priorities and views diverge. The pressure to find an answer, so that we can move to the next issue, is significant.

We continue to prove the old adage – For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.

From the 9/11 Commission Report finding that the need to rapidly reach consensus on threats to ensure ample warning led to discounting alternate interpretations or threats perceived as having low probability of occurrence. To the failure to incorporate intelligence gathered in advance of January 6th into planning.

Our counterparts around the world are not immune, as demonstrated most recently where the perceptions of the threat posed by Hamas, combined with the assessment of Israel’s vulnerabilities, led to a horrific loss of life on October 7th– and now to war.

As I look at threats for the coming year, I’m most worried that we are, yet again, vulnerable to strategic surprise.  Our operating environment is even more complex than that of 9/11, yet our collective attention spans have decreased to that of a soundbite. We need to have structures and processes that let us plan for, and respond to, a variety of needs at once, and simultaneously explore a divergence in views.  We need more people who can be comfortable with complexity.  To stay ahead of the threat, we need the ability to make decisions and act on the assessment considered most likely, while still incorporating those viewed as less probable, but with high impact, into our planning. Only when we can create structures and plans that allow us to meet this level of complexity, can we ensure we will be able to respond as we need – and secure the homeland.

Patricia Cogswell
Former Deputy Administrator, U.S. Transportation Security Administration
Former Assistant Director, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
Partner, Defense & Security, Guidehouse

 

 


Narrative Warfare, perpetrated both by adversarial nations states, non-state actors, and domestic extremists poses the biggest threat to our democracy in 2024. The Weaponization of our own domestic narrative is much more insidious and ultimately more harmful than any one kinetic attack.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security 2024 Threat Assessment lists “Foreign Misinformation” as a continuing threat. That assessment is not accurate for three reasons:

1, The line between foreign and domestic has been blurred. The origination of the information is inconsequential to its impact domestically.

2, “Mis” information is accidental. It is not terribly threatening nor difficult to handle. “Dis” information is intentional and it is more difficult to address.

3, Ultimately, information itself is not dangerous, but the weaponization of information (in story form) is a tremendous threat.

Our adversaries, both foreign and domestic, are actively engaged in Narrative Warfare and many Americans, both civil and military, have no grasp of what that means. Narrative Warfare is not conflict over information. It is conflict over the meaning of manipulated stories targeting specific audiences.

Ajit Maan, Ph.D.
Adjunct Faculty, Joint Special operations University
Author, Plato’s Fear, Narrative Warfare and Editor, Soft Power on Hard Problems

 

 


As I think about threats to the homeland, I believe that we are in the midst of a perfect storm of political discord, misinformation and effective adversary social media manipulation that seeks to divert our attention from the real threats that we face. As I hear the issues being discussed in this election cycle, abortion, the southern border, election fraud….none seem to be that relevant to our national security. We face a clear, present and persistent threat to our national security from Russia, China, Iran and North Korea. All seek us to take our eyes off of them to focus on irrelevant issues and I fear this lack of focus provides them unprecedented opportunities to undermine our interests and our national security. The cultural wars notwithstanding, I fear lack of focus and attention on the real threats we face will make defending our Nation and our way do life more difficult moving forward.

Brigadier General Francis X. Taylor
Former Under Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis, U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Former Ambassador-at-Large and Coordinator for Counterterrorism
Homeland Security Today Lifetime Achievement Winner
President, Cambridge Global Advisors

 

 


In 2024, safeguarding our elections and related election critical infrastructure is at the top of homeland security concerns. The charged political climate and the likelihood of a closely contested election create a ripe opportunity for adversarial nation-state actors, such as Russia and China, to meddle with our democratic process. Simultaneously, the domestic landscape has fostered physical threats against election workers and their workplaces.

Election security and resilience must claim the spotlight in 2024, demanding a robust strategy to deter and thwart threat actors. However, navigating the contested information arena and the potential surge of AI-driven disinformation, including deep fakes, introduces novel challenges not as pronounced in 2020.

Adding complexity to mitigation efforts is the dual objective of protecting the system and the personnel operating it as well as maintaining public confidence in the accuracy of vote counting. Clear and proactive communication, leveraging partnerships at the federal, state, and local levels, and transparent planning are crucial pillars for effective homeland security efforts.

Robert Kolasky
Former founding Director for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s National Risk Management Center
Government Technology & Services Coalition’s Strategic Advisor of the Year 2023
Senior Vice President, Critical Infrastructure, Exiger

 

 


Amidst a landscape defined by unprecedented challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic, artificial intelligence advancements, political polarization, and escalating global conflicts in regions like Ukraine and Israel, the absence of a dedicated U.S. Office of Strategic Foresight emerges as a glaring vulnerability. Homeland security professionals, across all disciplines, must confront the reality that our nation’s preparedness hinges on our ability to not only react to current threats, but to anticipate and adapt to emerging ones.

As we reflect on the 9/11 Commission report’s identification of a “failure of imagination” as a central shortcoming, the need for foresight becomes even more apparent. Foresight, particularly through scenario-based planning, is a cornerstone for innovative thought, allowing us to think unconstrained about potential threats on the horizon.

In the absence of a formalized foresight capability at the federal level, we risk being blindsided by unforeseen risks and disruptions. Recent events underscore the imperative for a holistic perspective that considers diverse future scenarios. A U.S. Office of Strategic Foresight would provide the essential framework for systematic examination of emerging signals of change, identification of trends, and comprehensive scenario planning.

By cultivating a capacity to envision and prepare for potential threats, homeland security professionals can not only bolster our nation’s resilience but also enhance readiness in the face of evolving challenges.  Addressing this gap is not merely a strategic imperative; it is a proactive measure essential for safeguarding the future of our country.

Robin Champ
Former Chief, Enterprise Strategy Division, U.S. Secret Service
Former Chief Strategist, Defense Threat Reduction Agency
Vice President, Strategic Foresight, LBL Strategies

 

 


The United States will continue to grapple with substantial biological threats, both natural and human-generated, that could precipitate devastating losses. The escalating frequency and diversity of naturally occurring biological events underscores the heightened risk of pandemics now and in the future. Concurrently, the U.S. will continue to contend with threats to its agriculture from various diseases. Increasing dual-use research in laboratories will further exacerbate global catastrophic biological risks that could trigger widespread disasters. Past instances of accidental releases serve as stark reminders of the risks we will continue to face tied to laboratory accidents and inadequate biosecurity. Information hazards stemming from dual-use research and the increasing power of artificial intelligence will further complicate the emergence of biological information as a security concern. Revelations about the persistence of biological weapons programs in other countries, along with ongoing conflicts in Ukraine and Israel, have reignited concerns. The Department of State continues to identify China, Iran, North Korea, and Russia as engaging in activities related to biological weapons and questionable dual-use research. Current and future advances in synthetic biology and biotechnology will expedite the modification, development, and combination of dangerous pathogens. The growing interconnection and convergence of biological data, human health, and cyber/AI domains signify that security breaches in one area will have far-reaching impacts in others. U.S. vulnerability to the vast array of biological threats will increase if we do not take action now.

J.T. O’Brien, MS
Research Associate
Bipartisan Commission on Biodefense &

Asha M. George, DrPH
Executive DirectorBipartisan Commission on Biodefense

 

 


In 2023, the United States (US) faced a record 25 natural disaster events with losses exceeding $1 billion or more. Additionally, many state and local governments face human-caused threats in both physical and cyberspace. As global tensions continue to rise with ongoing conflicts abroad, emergency managers must be prepared for the potential impacts they may have here at home. This includes emergency managers placing a heavy emphasis on updating emergency response and catastrophic incident plans and exercising them alongside military/ civil defense partners, such as the National Guard, to determine how to best mitigate any existing or future gaps that may exist in the wake of an incident of national significance that could threaten civilian life, property, and our economy.

Last year, we also experienced significant impacts to US utilities and infrastructure because of extreme climate events including heatflooding, and winter storms. As disasters continue to increase in frequency and magnitude, emergency managers have a critical role in preparing their communities, and residents thereof, for significant utility, particularly electricity, outages, and disruptions in the wake of disasters/ emergencies. While grid experts work to secure and make our energy grids more resilient, emergency managers must work closely with industry partners to do the same – consistent communication, collaboration, and coordination – between industry and all levels of government and across international borders – are fundamental to a successful response and a prepared citizenry.

Brock Long
Former Administrator, Federal Emergency Management Agency
Executive Chairman of Hagerty Consulting

 

 


When contemplating the biggest threat facing the United States in the coming year, my mind doesn’t go directly to threats like cyber attacks, terrorism, hypersonic missiles, or world war. Not even our unsecured borders and the rampant illegal immigration which is enabling access to undocumented individuals, some of whom could pose a significant threat to our homeland. Rather, my thoughts turn, sadly, to the threats originating from inside our great nation. A malaise has been building internally for decades, breaking down our shared values and dividing us against each other.

The education system is partly to blame. Many children from kindergarten through twelfth grade are no longer taught to be proud of our great nation. Rather, they’re conditioned to believe it’s irredeemably flawed. Remarkably, patriotism is sometimes misconstrued as racism. Undermining young peoples’ trust in America’s government and institutions poses an insidious threat to our nation. One risk is the rapidly diminishing propensity for young people to serve in the armed forces. Every service is facing recruiting challenges, straining the all-volunteer force and eroding readiness at a time when external threats are mounting. I suspect the same is true for law enforcement in the face of increasing internal threats.

The worst manifestation of the enemy within is hate. Just a few days ago I was reading a segment of family history drafted by my aunt in 1984 when she interviewed her father (my paternal grandfather), Max Stosz. Max was born in 1912 in the small farming community of Sugal in Austria-Hungary. Life was good in his early years. But following World War I, my grandfather’s recollection is that the Austria-Hungarian empire was divided up among several nations, including Romania, and everything changed under the new Romanian rule.

The changes weren’t for the better. Worst of all, my grandfather had a repulsive recollection of how the Jewish people were purged before his eyes. He recounted to my aunt seeing the Jews searched out and killed by the Romanian army and “students.” When she asked why there was such animosity against the Jewish people, my grandfather told my aunt he thought it was because they had more, accomplished more, and were envied. In addition, the young students of the newly regulated schools were being taught and trained with an attitude of hostility towards the Jews. My aunt sensed an anxiety in my grandfather that, if he were to have had more schooling, it might also have changed his beliefs. Therefore, he dropped out of school at the age of 12 and apprenticed to a Jewish furrier.

History is the best teacher, and my grandfather’s story is compelling. Hate should not be allowed to take root anywhere, especially in America—the land of opportunity. Why then in America are schools teaching students that what matters most is not what people say or do, but rather what they look like? Value is assigned based on inherent demographic characteristics such as gender, race, and ethnicity, over which one has no control. Young children are categorized as either “oppressed” or “oppressors” based on what they look like. That’s laying the groundwork for resentment and hate, which is evident all too clearly today with the rise of antisemitism, particularly on college and university campuses.

The people of America need to stand up and say “no” to those individuals and institutions that seek to break down our civil society. We need to reignite pride and patriotism, starting in the schools. We owe it to our children and grandchildren. America is a great nation, and we always have been and will continue to be stronger and more secure when united together.

Sandra Stosz
Former Vice Admiral, U.S. Coast Guard
Author, Breaking Ice & Breaking Glass: Leading in Uncharted Waters


In 2024, we can see the confluence of multiple factors that make the year especially challenging from a homeland security perspective.
I have worked the issue set of terrorism and violent extremism for the bulk of my career, and two issues loom large from that perspective. First, the events of October 7 and their aftermath have had – and are continuing to have – a ripple effect through various online violent extremist communities, including jihadist and white nationalist/neo-Nazi groups. Homeland security practitioners should be paying attention to the convergent and also morphing or evolving forms of violent extremism that result.
A second overarching factor is the 2024 elections. The 2020 elections were, of course, one of the most contentious in this country’s history, and conspiracy theories about the election and the events of January 6, 2021 continue to swirl. Conspiracy theories and polarized discourse that intersects with violence or the threat of violence will certainly be critical features of this year’s election landscape.
If you’re an extremist actor, trying to exploit this environment is like shooting fish in a barrel. The same is true if you are an adversarial foreign state looking to interfere with the election or seed narratives of division and discontent. So this additional factor – foreign mis/disinformation – is another challenge that homeland security practitioners should be following.
There are, of course, many more homeland security challenges beyond this. A migration surge at the southern border. Potential supply chain disruptions – including due to maritime attacks and climate change – could have homeland security implications. Numerous technological advances could provide malign actors the opportunity to innovate.
Essentially, from a homeland security perspective this threat environment would be challenging even under the best of circumstances. But these are not the best of circumstances. We are an angrily fractured society whose divisions are accentuated by a social media environment that thrives on controversy and difference, led by politicians who are incentivized to contribute to our dangerous levels of polarization rather than finding a way to abate them.
Daveed Gartenstein-Ross
Founder & CEO
Valens Global

Read the other Threat Forecasts here.

  1. Terrorism – experts discuss both external and internal threats from terrorists, terrorist groups, and lone wolves.
  2. AI, Cyber & Advanced Technology – experts discuss the varied and persistent threats from cyber attackers and from rapidly advancing technology.
  3. Internal Threat – this year many of our experts cited the numerous threats to our nation and our democracy from internal threats.
Kristina Tanasichuk
Kristina Tanasichuk
Kristina Tanasichuk is Executive Editor of Homeland Security Today and CEO of the Government Technology & Services Coalition. She founded GTSC to advance communication and collaboration between the public and private sector in defense of our homeland.  A leader in homeland security public private partnership, critical infrastructure protection, cyber security, STEM, innovation, commercialization and much more, she brings to HSToday decades of experience and expertise in the intersection of the public and private sectors in support of our homeland's security. Tanasichuk worked for Chairman Tom Bliley on electric utility restructuring for the House Commerce Committee, represented municipal electric utilities sorting out deregulation, the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank in Washington, D.C. and ran the largest homeland security conference and trade show in the country. Immediately after 9/11 she represented public works departments In homeland security and emergency management. She is also the president and founder of Women in Homeland Security and served as president of InfraGard of the National Capital Region, a member of the Fairfax County Law Enforcement Foundation, the U.S. Coast Guard Enlisted Memorial Foundation and on the Board of USCG Mutual Assistance. She has an MPA from George Mason University and has attended the FBI and DEA Citizens Academies and the Marine Corps Executive Leadership Program. Most recently she was awarded the "Above & Beyond Award" by the Intelligence & Law Enforcement Training Seminar (INLETS) and was awarded Small Business Person of the Year by AFCEA International. Tanasichuk brings a new vision and in-depth knowledge of the federal homeland and national security apparatus to the media platform.

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