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Global Terrorism: Threats to the Homeland

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Christopher Wray
Director
Federal Bureau of Investigation

Statement Before the House Homeland Security Committee
Washington, D.C.

October 30, 2019
Global Terrorism: Threats to the Homeland

Statement for the Record

Good morning Chairman Thompson, Ranking Member Rogers, and members of the committee.

Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss the current threats to the United States homeland. Our nation continues to face a multitude of serious and evolving threats ranging from homegrown violent extremists (HVEs) to cyber criminals to hostile foreign intelligence services and operatives. Keeping pace with these threats is a significant challenge for the FBI. Our adversaries—terrorists, foreign intelligence services, and criminals—take advantage of modern technology to hide their communications; recruit followers; and plan, conduct, and encourage espionage, cyber attacks, or terrorism to disperse information on different methods to attack the U.S. homeland and to facilitate other illegal activities.

Just as our adversaries evolve, so, too, must the FBI. We live in a time of acute and persistent terrorist and criminal threats to our national security, our economy, and indeed our communities. These diverse threats underscore the complexity and breadth of the FBI’s mission: to protect the American people and uphold the Constitution of the United States.

Counterterrorism

Preventing terrorist attacks remains the FBI’s top priority. However, the threat posed by terrorism—both international terrorism (IT) and domestic violent extremism—has evolved significantly since 9/11.

The most persistent threats to the nation and to U.S. interests abroad are homegrown violent extremists (HVEs), domestic violent extremists, and foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs). The IT threat to the U.S. has expanded from sophisticated, externally directed FTO plots to include individual attacks carried out by HVEs who are inspired by designated terrorist organizations. We remain concerned that groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS) and al Qaeda have the intent to carry out large-scale attacks in the U.S.

The FBI assesses HVEs are the greatest, most immediate terrorism threat to the homeland. These individuals are FTO-inspired individuals who are in the U.S., have been radicalized primarily in the U.S., and are not receiving individualized direction from FTOs. We, along with our law enforcement partners, face significant challenges in identifying and disrupting HVEs. This is due, in part, to their lack of a direct connection with an FTO, an ability to rapidly mobilize, and the use of encrypted communications.

In recent years, prolific use of social media by FTOs has greatly enhanced their ability to disseminate messages. We have also been confronting a surge in terrorist propaganda and training available via the Internet and social media. Due to online recruitment, indoctrination, and instruction, FTOs are no longer dependent on finding ways to get terrorist operatives into the United States to recruit and carry out acts of terrorism. Terrorists in ungoverned spaces—both physical and virtual—readily disseminate propaganda and training materials to attract easily influenced individuals around the world to their cause. They motivate these individuals to act at home or encourage them to travel. This is a significant transformation from the terrorist threat our nation faced a decade ago.

Despite their territorial defeat in Iraq and Syria, ISIS remains relentless and ruthless in its campaign of violence against the West and has aggressively promoted its hateful message, attracting like-minded violent extremists. The message is not tailored solely to those who overtly express signs of radicalization. It is seen by many who enter messaging apps and participate in social networks. Ultimately, many of the individuals drawn to ISIS seek a sense of belonging. Echoing other terrorist groups, ISIS has advocated for lone offender attacks in Western countries. Recent ISIS videos and propaganda have specifically advocated for attacks against soldiers, law enforcement, and intelligence community personnel.

Many foreign terrorist organizations use various digital communication platforms to reach individuals they believe may be susceptible and sympathetic to violent terrorist messages. However, no group has been as successful at drawing people into its perverse ideology as ISIS, which has proven dangerously competent at employing such tools. ISIS uses traditional media platforms as well as widespread social media campaigns to propagate its ideology. With the broad distribution of social media, terrorists can spot, assess, recruit, and radicalize vulnerable persons of all ages in the U.S. either to travel to foreign lands or to conduct an attack on the homeland. Through the Internet, terrorists anywhere overseas now have direct access to our local communities to target and recruit our citizens and spread their message faster than was imagined just a few years ago.

The threats posed by foreign fighters, including those recruited from the U.S., are very dynamic. We will continue working to identify individuals who seek to join the ranks of foreign fighters traveling in support of ISIS, those foreign fighters who may attempt to return to the United States, and HVEs who may aspire to attack the United States from within.

Read more: https://www.fbi.gov/news/testimony/global-terrorism-threats-to-the-homeland-103019