1 of 4 | Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas looks on during a House Committee on Homeland Security hearing titled "Worldwide Threats to the Homeland" at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI | License Photo
Nov. 15 (UPI) -- Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and FBI Director Christopher Wray warned Wednesday, during a hearing on global threats to the homeland, that the United States is vulnerable to attack.
His comments came as House Homeland Security Committee chairman Mark Green called the present "one of the most dangerous times in the history of the United States."
"The ongoing war in the Middle East has raised the threat of an attack against Americans in the United States to another level," Wray told the committee, as Mayorkas urged Congress to extend the powers of the Department of Homeland Security, which was created more than two decades ago following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
"Twenty-two years have passed since Sept. 11. Since then, the nature of the threats we face has evolved, and the security challenges are becoming more dynamic each day," Green said. "I do not say this lightly; this is one of the most dangerous times in the history of the United States."
Mayorkas, who was also joined by the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Christine Abizaid, said that even in the brief time since the department's 2024 Homeland Threat Assessment was published, "the world has changed."
"Hamas terrorists horrifically attacked thousands of innocent men, women and children in Israel on Oct. 7, brutally murdering, wounding and taking hostages of all ages. In the days and weeks since then, we have responded to an increase in threats against Jewish, Muslim and Arab-American communities," Mayorkas said.
Green, R-Tenn., said in addition to threats from wars in Israel and Ukraine, and rising Chinese aggression in the Taiwan Strait and South China Sea, the United States' homeland is also threatened by the crisis at the southern border with Mexico.
"What has changed was the cancelation of effective policies that had secured our borders. The Biden administration ended proven policies like Remain in Mexico, asylum cooperative agreements and construction of new border wall system," Green added.
During his testimony, Mayorkas called on Congress to extend measures specifically dealing with drones and weapons of mass destruction, which are part of a bill the House approved Tuesday to avert a government shutdown.
Another bill, the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards program, expired in July and is currently stalled in the Senate. It requires more than 3,200 high-risk facilities throughout the country to report "chemicals of interest," while allowing the department to inspect and develop security plans.
"Congress must not allow these DHS authorities to lapse," Mayorkas said. "This is not a moment to let our guard down."
During the hearing, Wray also called on Congress to reauthorize Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which allows the United States government to collect suspicious communications from foreigners overseas without getting a warrant.
"I can tell you that it would be absolutely devastating if the next time an adversary like Iran or China launches a major cyber attack, we don't see it coming because 702 was allowed to lapse," Wray testified.
"Or with the fast-moving situation in the Middle East, just imagine if some foreign terrorist organization overseas ships its intentions and directs an operative here with a contingency planning to carry out an attack in our own backyard," Wray added.
"Imagine if we are not able to disrupt the threat because the FBI's 702 authorities have been so watered down."