FBI more than doubles domestic terrorism investigations: Christopher Wray

The bureau has also increased the number of agents working these cases by 260%.

September 21, 2021, 2:55 PM

FBI Director Christopher Wray told a U.S. Senate panel Tuesday morning that the bureau has been forced to surge resources toward its domestic terrorism investigations in the past 18 months -- increasing personnel by 260% to help handle a caseload that has more than doubled from roughly 1,000 ongoing investigations to 2,700.

"Terrorism moves at the speed of social media," Wray told the Senate Homeland Security Committee. "You have the ability of lone actors, disgruntled in one part of the country to spin up similar like-minded individuals in other parts of the country and urge them into action."

Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, who appeared alongside Wray, agreed with him that social media is a "terrain that can so easily propagate misinformation, false information and allow communications to occur among loosely affiliated individuals."

Wray offered more detail during questioning with Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah.

"The first bucket, the homegrown violent extremists, has been humming along fairly consistently at about 1,000 investigations -- sometimes a little more sometimes a little less -- over the last few years," Wray explained. "The domestic violent extremists bucket, had been going up quite significantly over the last few years, which is why we're now at 2,700 domestic terrorism investigations when if you went back two and a half years ago we're probably more about 1,000 So it's been a really significant jump there."

FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies before a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing to discuss security threats 20 years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Sept. 21, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Greg Nash/AP

Wray added that officials are "concerned that with developments in Afghanistan, among other things... I think we anticipate, unfortunately, growth in both categories as we look ahead, over the next couple years."

Those numbers appear to be impacted significantly by the FBI's hundreds of ongoing investigations into the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

"Overall, the FBI assesses that the January 6th siege of the Capitol Complex demonstrates a willingness by some to use violence against the government in furtherance of their political and social goals," Wray said in written testimony provided to the Senate Homeland Security Committee. "This ideologically motivated violence — domestic terrorism — underscores the symbolic nature of the National Capital Region and the willingness of some Domestic Violent Extremists to travel to events in this area and violently engage law enforcement and their perceived adversaries."

Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas testifies before a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing on terror threats to the U.S. in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, Sept. 21, 2021, in Washington, D.C.
Jim Lo Scalzo-Pool/Getty Images

Wray said that even with the surge of resources to tackle domestic terrorism cases, the FBI has not been forced to divert attention away from investigations into threats posed by foreign terrorist organizations like al-Qaida and ISIS, and added the bureau is "certainly watching the evolving situation in Afghanistan."

In the past several years, Wray said the FBI has thwarted potential terrorist attacks in at least seven cities, including Las Vegas, Tampa, New York, Cleveland, Kansas City, Miami and Pittsburgh.

Wray also flagged what he described as "a sharp and deeply disturbing uptick in violence against the law enforcement community." He said thatin just the past eight months, 52 law enforcement officers have been killed feloniously in the line of duty, already lapsing the total number killed in all of 2020.