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FBI official says domestic terror threats more than twice as high as international threats

Rioters breach the security perimeter and penetrate the U.S. Capitol on January 6 in an effort to stop certification of Joe Biden as president-elect of the United States. File Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI
Rioters breach the security perimeter and penetrate the U.S. Capitol on January 6 in an effort to stop certification of Joe Biden as president-elect of the United States. File Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo

Sept. 29 (UPI) -- An FBI counterterrorism official on Wednesday told House lawmakers that the United States is facing more than twice as many domestic terror threats than international terror threats.

Timothy Langan, assistant director of the FBI counterterrorism division, told the House oversight and reform committee that the United States is currently approaching more than 2,700 domestic terrorism threats compared to fewer than 1,000 international threats.

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He added that 83 deaths linked to domestic terrorism have been reported in the United States from 2015 to 2020, while 80 deaths linked to international terrorism have been reported in the same period.

"Preventing acts of terrorism is the FBI's number one priority, the greatest terrorism threat facing our homeland is that posed by lone actors, or small cells, who typically radicalize online and look to use easily accessible weapons to attack soft targets," he said.

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Langan appeared alongside John Cohen, Homeland Security coordinator for counterterrorism and Brad Wiegmann, deputy assistant attorney general at the Justice Department national security division to discuss a "whole-of-government counter-extremism strategy" that was unveiled by Biden's administration in June.

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The plan features four main objectives -- understanding and sharing cosmetic terrorism-related information, preventing recruitment of domestic terrorists, disrupting and deterring domestic terror activities and confronting long-term contributors.

The June plan also seeks $100 million to add key staff in the Justice and Homeland Security departments and monitoring federal employees who could pose an "inside" threat.

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"In implementing this strategy, we will remain focused on reducing the threat of violence," Cohen said in a written statement. "We must make it harder to carry out an attack and reduce the potential for loss of life by preventing radicalization and mobilization to violence."

Cohen said that while their motives may vary many attackers share common behavioral characteristics.

"In particular these are people who tend to be angry, socially disconnected, seeking a sense of life meaning, they spend significant time online and ultimately self-connect with a cause or grievance to justify the use of violence as a way to express their anger and achieve a sense of social connection or self-worth," he said.

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He added that one of the primary challenges to identifying these threats is that they do not often fit into "traditional terrorism or extremism-related definitional categories" and that grant funding, training and technical assistance must be provided to local communities to help them identify "high-risk individuals who do not meet the investigative threshold for terrorism-related investigations."

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Despite the prominence of extremist activity arising from speech online, Wiegmann said the Justice Department cannot collect information "solely on the basis of hate speech or First Amendment-protected activities."

"If someone is online, saying they hate a particular religious group or ethnic group, that in and of itself is not enough to initiate investigative activity," he said. "But if it's coupled with any kind of indications of violence, that would be something that we can investigate."

Wednesday's hearing came almost nine months after radical supporters of former President Donald Trump attacked the Capitol in a bid to keep him in power. More than 650 people have been arrested and charged with crimes, including some domestic terror charges.

In April, the Homeland Security Department ordered an internal review to investigate violent domestic extremism and White supremacy within its ranks.

The agency, which oversees the Coast Guard, Border Patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Secret Service and has about 240,000 employees, has faced criticism over some high-profile controversies -- including the 2019 discovery of a Facebook group in which former and current border agents made jokes about migrants' deaths and racist remarks about Latino members of Congress.

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A select House panel has been formed to investigate the Jan. 6 attack. Last week, the panel subpoenaed four Trump aides, including former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.

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