A 'rogue's gallery' of threats made against US since Hamas attack on Israel, FBI Director Christopher Wray says

Wray is concerned that some will "draw inspiration" from the war.

November 15, 2023, 1:40 PM

Since Hamas' surprise terror attack against Israel on Oct. 7, law enforcement has seen a "rogue's gallery" of calls for attacks against the U.S. from Hezbollah to Al Qaeda, FBI Director Christopher Wray said Wednesday.

"Given those calls for action, our most immediate concern is that individuals or small groups will draw inspiration from the events in the Middle East to carry out attacks here at home," he said in testimony before the House Homeland Security Committee. "We are keeping a close eye on what impact we have on those terrorist groups intentions here in the United States and how those tensions might evolve."

Wray told the committee during the "Worldwide Threats to the Homeland" hearing that the "biggest chunk of the threats" reported to the FBI are "threats to the Jewish community, synagogues, Jewish prominent officials, things like that."

Director of the National Counterterrorism Center Christine Abizaid testified that "terrorists and violent extremists are exploiting multiple core grievances to fuel violence."

"Here in the United States homeland, our current heightened threat posture is driven primarily by our concern that individuals may increasingly mobilize for attacks, particularly against Jewish, Arab and Muslim communities," she said. "This is consistent with our years-long assessment that those inspired to terrorism, rather than those directly linked to hierarchical organizations, are the most likely to carry out a successful attack on U.S. soil."

Committee Chairman Mark Green, a Republican, pressed the FBI director on the increase in known or suspected terrorists crossing into the U.S., asking how concerning the increase is to the bureau.

"The threats that come from the other side of the border are affecting every state," Wray said, adding they are concerned about terrorists not on the watch list.

A Department of Homeland Security official monitoring the hearing said known or suspected terrorists at the border are "uncommon," pointing out that those who get flagged in the terrorist screening database may be family members of suspects.

Many of the current global challenges the U.S. faces are attributable to the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021, Green argued, echoing previous sentiments expressed by Republican critics of the Biden administration's withdrawal.

"The catastrophic Afghanistan withdrawal two years ago signaled weakness and a lack of leadership to the world," he said. "Our nation's adversaries have been emboldened to attack our allies and our friends and are undermining our security here at home. Significant threats to our cities and our local communities are only growing."

Green said that many homeland security concerns can be traced back to the southern border.

"I don't say this lightly: This is one of the most dangerous times in the history of the United States," Green said. "Some of the greatest threats include an open and lawless southwest border. Ask any border sheriff, or for that matter, the mayor of New York City."

Green compared the border to a "college town bar that doesn't card."

"Before long, they have a line out the door," he said.

Wray agreed that migrants escaping from Border Patrol agents and entering the country is a "great concern" -- and he argued vehemently against calls to strip the FBI of funding, saying the funds were critical for the FBI to carry out its work along the border and elsewhere. He touted the bureau's work, saying the FBI has 2,000 active investigations across all 56 field offices into China's "relentless efforts to steal our innovation and intellectual properties" -- just hours before President Joe Biden is set to meet with China's President Xi Jinping in San Fransisco to discuss economic issues.

Over the past two years, law enforcement has seized enough fentanyl to kill 270 million Americans, Wray said.

And the bureau has about 380 investigations into cartel leadership, Wray added.

"Lack of funding means more power to the cartels. The FBI has investigations into 100 different ransomware variants. ... Limiting our funding means more hacks, more intrusions, more damage to critical infrastructure," he argued.

During his opening statement, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the department's drone detection capabilities will expire on Saturday and stressed the importance of reauthorizing Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a key surveillance tool that law enforcement officials have argued has helped thwart would-be terror attacks.

Wray said it is imperative to reauthorize FISA Section 702, despite concerns from some civil liberties advocates that the authorization is an overreach.

"It would be absolutely devastating if the next time an adversary like Iran, China launches a major cyber-attack," he said. "We don't see it coming because 702 was allowed to lapse or the fast-moving situation in the Middle East. Just imagine if some foreign terrorist organization overseas shifts its intentions and directs an operative here -- and imagine if we’re not able to disrupt the threat because the FBI’s 702 authorities have been so watered down."

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