WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D-MI), Chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, convened a hearing with top national security and counterterrorism officials to examine evolving and persistent threats to homeland security. During the hearing, Peters pressed the witnesses on a report he released yesterday that found the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) are not adequately addressing the threat posed by domestic terrorism, including white supremacist and anti-government violence. The committee also heard about the federal government’s efforts to protect the country from cyber-attacks and increasingly severe natural disasters, efforts to secure our Northern and Southern borders, and what tools and resources the agencies need to counter the threat posed by drones and weapons of mass destruction. DHS Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas, FBI Director Christopher R. Wray, and National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) Director Christine Abizaid testified before the committee.
“More than twenty years ago, the September 11th terrorist attacks changed our nation forever. In response, Congress created the Department of Homeland Security and our entire national security apparatus focused on keeping Americans safe from international terrorism. However, in the more than two decades following those attacks, the threats to our communities have evolved and have become increasingly complex,” said Peters during his opening remarks. “The scope and the volume of these – and many other national security threats – requires Congress and this Administration to work together to ensure that we are doing everything we can to keep Americans safe.”
To watch video of Senator Peters’ questions, click here.
The number of domestic terrorism attacks inspired by white supremacist and anti-government ideologies has continued to rise. During the hearing, Peters pressed the witnesses about his report that found DHS and the FBI have failed to effectively track and report data on the domestic terrorism threat despite being required to do so by a 2019 law spearheaded by Peters. The investigation also found that while independent experts and national security officials call white supremacist and anti-government violence the most significant terrorist threat facing our nation today, this lack of data has limited Congress’ ability to determine whether counterterrorism agencies are allocating resources to effectively address the growing threat posed by domestic terrorism. Peters pressed Mayorkas and Wray on the federal governments’ inability to collect and report comprehensive data about domestic terrorist attacks despite being required by law to do so. The hearing also examined how lawmakers can provide FBI and DHS with the necessary resources to track and measure the domestic terror threat. Peters highlighted that his report shows that while our nation must continue to monitor and combat international terrorism, the federal government must utilize a data-driven approach to align resources to address the evolving threat of domestic terrorism.
Increasing numbers of registered unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), commonly known as drones, create a higher risk of both unintentional disasters or attacks using these technologies. Football stadiums, large mass gatherings, and critical infrastructure facilities have all been documented as sites of potential attacks from domestic and foreign adversaries using UAS. With current authorities that grant federal agencies the necessary tools to counter threats from UAS set to expire before the end of the year, Peters asked Mayorkas about the ramifications of allowing these authorities to lapse and the harm a nefarious actor could cause at a large-scale event. Director Wray also discussed how the FBI will not be able to protect large-scale sites and events – like the Super Bowl – from malicious UAS should the counter-UAS authorities expire. Peters introduced and passed out of the committee bipartisan legislation that would extend the critical authorities needed to combat threats from UAS.
The hearing also examined the threat posed by chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear weapons that have the potential to cause everything from mass casualties and incapacitation, to agricultural destruction, and other serious disruptions to our economic and national security. Peters highlighted his bipartisan legislation to reauthorize and strengthen the Office of Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction (CWMD) within DHS – whose authorities are also set to expire soon.