The “greatest threat to the homeland” is U.S.-based lone actors or small groups who are radicalized online and “inspired” by foreign terrorists, FBI Director Christopher Wray said Wednesday, warning that the United States is in a “heightened threat environment.”
Wray, alongside Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and National Counterterrorism Center Director Christine Abizaid, testified Wednesday at the House Homeland Security Committee’s hearing dedicated to worldwide threats.
Committee Chair Mark Green, R-Tenn., opened the hearing by warning that the United States is facing “one of the most dangerous times” in the country’s history.
The three officials pointed to a number of threats facing the United States, but Wray testified that lone actors radicalized online pose the greatest risk.
“When we talk about the greatest threat to the homeland, the greatest threat to the homeland is lone or small groups, typically radicalized online, using easily accessible weapons to attack soft targets,” Wray testified.
Wray said that lone actors include both “domestic violent extremists” and “homegrown violent extremists who are individuals here who are inspired by foreign terrorists.”
“That’s what we call it at the highest threat level,” he said.
As for domestic violent extremism, Wray said the “most lethal activity” has been by “racially motivated violent extremists.” He also said that some have been “anti-government, anti-authority extremists.”
When pressed by Democrat lawmakers on whether Wray was referring to the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021, Wray said “that would be one variation on it.”
“But so would the violence that we saw in the summer of 2020,” he explained, calling those violent activities “anarchism.”
But since Hamas’ brutal attack on Israel on Oct. 7, “the number of tips and threats that are being reported to [the FBI] have gone up significantly.”
“We were already … at an elevated threat environment even before Oct. 7,” Wray said. “And it’s gone to a whole other level since Oct. 7.”
He added that the “biggest chunk of threats that have been reported in to us by a good margin are threats to the Jewish community, synagogues … prominent things like that.”
“We also have a large number of tips and leads related specifically to Hamas and radicalization and recruitment,” Wray said, also noting that the FBI has seen “some threats” to Muslim Americans.
“We are urgently running down every tip and lead we get and trying to mitigate them,” he said.
Wray added, “I feel very strongly that we are in a heightened threat environment.”
As for other threats, Biden administration officials warned about China on the same day when President Biden met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in California.
“I have been very consistent in saying that there is no country that presents a broader, more comprehensive threat to our economic security or national security or innovation than the Chinese government,” Wray said. “And they use nontraditional collectors, not just traditional intelligence operatives, to cause that threat.”
Wray also pointed to Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which is set to lapse next month, and urged Congress to reauthorize the tool.
“It would be absolutely devastating if the next time an adversary like Iran or China launches a major cyberattack, [and] we don’t see it coming because 702 was allowed to lapse, or with the fast-moving situation in the Middle East,” Wray said.
“Just imagine if some foreign terrorist organization overseas shifts its intentions and directs an operative here who’d been contingency planning to carry out an attack in our own backyard,” Wray continued. “And imagine if we’re not able to disrupt that threat because the FBI 702 authorities have been so watered down.”
FISA Section 702 is set to sunset on Dec. 31, and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are proposing reforms in order to reauthorize the section with more congressional oversight.