Global Terrorism Threats – hearing 2019-10-30

Image credit: Hamilton County Public Health

US counterterrorism leaders will be questioned by Congress.

Christopher Wray, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and leaders from the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have been called on to come before the House Committee on Homeland Security on October 30th. What science, technology, innovation, or security matters should lawmakers ask them about to ensure the US is as safe as possible?

This is your one-stop-shop to learn about the issues and provide questions and statements of fact to help inform the work of lawmakers.

This hearing was held on Wednesday 10/30/19.

Hearing details

Who: Christopher Wray, Director of the FBI; Russell Travers, Acting Director of the NCTC (subpoenaed); Kevin McAleenan, Acting Secretary of DHS (subpoenaed), David J. Glawe, Under Secretary of the Office of Intelligence and Analysis at DHS

What: US House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security hearing: “Global terrorism: Threats to the homeland, part II.”

When: Wednesday, October 30, 2019 at 10:00am ET

Where: 310 Cannon House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515 / Webcast

Nonpartisan analysis and research

Quick reads

The Trump Administration’s National Strategy for Counterterrorism: Homeland security issues in the 116th Congresss – Congressional Research Service (CRS) Insight

Long-range emerging threats facing the US as identified by federal agencies – Government Accountability Office (GAO) Highlights

The Federal Bureau of Investigation: Just the facts – CRS In Focus

National Counterterrorism Center – CRS In Focus

DHS’s chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear program consolidation efforts – GAO Highlights

The Visa Waiver Program: Balancing tourism and national security – CRS In Focus

Defense primer: The national technology and industrial base – CRS In Focus

Deep fakes and national security – CRS In Focus

Homeland Security: Research and development coordination has improved, but additional actions needed to track and evaluate projects – GAO Highlights

Cybersecurity: Federal Agency Roles – CRS In Focus

Deep dives

National security: Long-range emerging threats facing the US as identified by federal agencies – GAO Report

Artificial intelligence and national security – CRS Report

Countering overseas threats – GAO Issue Summary

Terrorism-related issue sharing – GAO Issue Summary

Terrorism, violent extremism, and the internet: Free speech considerations – CRS Report

State sponsors of acts of international terrorism – legislative parameters: In brief – CRS Report

Homeland Security: Research and development coordination has improved, but additional actions needed to track and evaluate projects – GAO Report

DHS’s chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear program consolidation efforts – GAO Report

Sample questions for lawmakers to ask counterterrorism leaders

In the event of a pandemic or biological attack, there will be some amount of panic in our population. Already, vaccine-preventable diseases like measles are causing outbreaks, suffering, and alarm in the US, in part because of misinformation from the anti-vaccination movement, and because our public health apparatus has not convinced the American people that vaccines are safe, despite the overwhelming data supporting the effectiveness and safety of vaccines and other approved medical countermeasures.

Skepticism toward medical countermeasures combined with a misinformation campaign, such as that deployed by Russia in their election-meddling effort, could greatly exacerbate the suffering brought on by a biological threat.

What strategies does the US have in place to counter misinformation campaigns that may be deployed in combination with a pandemic or biological attack?

Protecting people from biological threats such as anthrax, smallpox, and other deadly pathogens is a critical aspect of our security. Our country has been relying on the rather flawed BioWatch program for the detection of biothreats. A Los Angeles Times investigation criticized DHS for replacing the BioWatch system with the also problematic and unproven BioDetection 21 program. We in Congress are concerned – a bipartisan group of Members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to this effect.

Please explain the requirements development process that led to the implementation of the BioDetection 21 system, why it was thought that this system would be better than the previously deployed Biowatch, and the testing that showed that this system would indeed meet those requirements.

While the North Korean nuclear threat gets the bulk of the attention, North Korea’s biological weapons program is also of great concern. Experts suspect North Korea has a stock of smallpox virus, which can cause a disease that is so terrible that humanity saw fit to eradicate it from the natural world. Considering that North Korea has already used the chemical agent VX at the Kuala Lumpur airport, what protections do you know of that are in place to ensure Americans’ safety from possible North Korean bioweapons efforts?

Followup: The US biodefense stockpile includes countermeasures against biological threats like smallpox and anthrax, but what is our strategy against an attack by an agent that we are not prepared for?

Within the past two years, dozens of critical weapons of mass destruction training exercises have been cancelled, and over 100 scientists and experts in nuclear or radiological threats have been either reassigned or have left the department. This has caused over 30 past and current DHS contractors to voice concerns in July 2019 that these departmental actions have made Americans less safe.

Given that an act of nuclear terrorism is quite possibly the highest-impact threat facing America today, can you please explain the nature of these cuts? Have they truly made Americans less safe?

More sample questions will be added to this space as evidence-based contributions are received.

A / V content

On-the-go audio

National Counterterrorism Center deputy director on enduring extremist threats – Intelligence Matters (IM) podcast

Top DHS cybersecurity official on protecting US infrastructure – IM podcast

In-Q-Tel president Chris Darby on investment and innovation in US intelligence – IM podcast

How the genetic revolution could affect national security – IM podcast

Managing the world’s WMD threats: NTI’s Laura Holgate – IM podcast

Intelligence Matters podcast archive

Video collection

Global terrorsim: Threats to the homeland, Part I – House Homeland Security Committee hearing

Examining the global terrorism landscape – Subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa, and International Terrorism of the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing

What is terrorism? – ABC News In-depth video

Terrorism is a major threat to international peace and security – United Nations video

Hunting ISIS – Frontline video

The secret history of ISIS – Frontline film

Journalism and political context

Press clips

UN head warns world faces ‘unprecedented threat’ from violent extremism and terrorism – Time piece

US sees rising threat in the West from Qaeda branch in Syria – New York Times piece

Abroad or not, counterterrorism fight is vital – Albuquerque Journal column

Rethinking counterterrorism – New York Times column

DHS’s new counterterrorism strategy reflects professionalism, not politics – Defense One commentary

Synthetic biology: A call for a new culture of responsibility – CSPI’s Ali Nouri for The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists opinion piece

Congressional activity

Chairman Thompson subpoenas DHS acting secretary McAleenan and NCTC Acting Director Travers – press release

Domestic and International Terrorism DATA Act, H.R.3106

Securing American Nonprofit Organizations Against Terrorism Act of 2019, H.R.2476

A resolution condemning the March 15, 2019, terrorist attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand, offering sincere condolences to all of the victims and their families, and expressing and standing in solidarity with the people and Government of New Zealand, S.Res.124