- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The FBI has about 1,000 open domestic terrorism investigations — approximately the same number as more traditional jihadi terrorist cases — the bureau’s new director said Wednesday, as he sought to assure Congress that his agents take the domestic threat seriously.

After last month’s clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia, Democrats said they believe the Trump administration is too focused on radical Islam and isn’t paying enough attention to white supremacists and anti-government militants here at home.

Several Democrats at a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on threats to the country said they wanted different priorities. They said the white nationalists and anti-government groups pose even bigger dangers.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, Missouri Democrat, said there have been nearly three times as many domestic terrorism incidents in the years since Sept. 11, 2001, as there have been foreign-inspired jihadi incidents. She said the combined death tolls are similar for both categories — 106 for domestic and 119 for Islamic extremists.

“I don’t think many Americans understand the level of threat that we have in this country from white supremacists, anti-government and other violent extremists,” said Ms. McCaskill, the ranking Democrat on the committee.

Sen. Kamala D. Harris, California Democrat, demanded that the committee open an investigation into the dangers from white supremacists.

Federal officials said they take both sides of the threat seriously and don’t divide their manpower or budget between the two.

“There are a significant number of agents who are working very hard on that subject, so I can assure you it’s a top, top priority,” said FBI Director Christopher A. Wray.

He said the FBI has made 176 arrests of subjects from domestic terrorism investigations over the past year or so.

Still, officials said they believe homegrown Islamic extremists remain the biggest threat, with those who went to the Middle East to fight alongside the Islamic State returning to their home countries and the terrorist war effort spreading.

One tactic they said could spread from the Middle East to the U.S. is the use of drones for attacks.

Nicholas J. Rasmussen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said they have briefed state and local authorities on the dangers of a terrorist using a drone to drop a grenade or spread a toxin.

“Two years ago, this was not a problem. A year ago, this was an emerging problem. Now it’s a real problem,” Mr. Rasmussen said.

Senators seemed shocked at the level of the threat and dismayed that there wasn’t a more complete answer among federal officials.

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke said the government may need new authority to be able to intercept the signals controlling the drones, “so we can try to determine whether this is a friendly or foe type of drone.”

On the border, smugglers use drones to carry hard drugs such as heroin or methamphetamine from Mexico into the U.S.

Border Patrol agents say they don’t have any defense other than trying to spot and track the drones — and if the operators tape over the drones’ lights and fly them high enough, they are virtually impossible to detect at night.

During the hearing, both Democrats and Republicans demanded more answers from Ms. Duke about Mr. Trump’s border plans, saying his call to build a wall remains woefully unsupported by evidence.

Ms. Duke said she is scheduled to get a comprehensive southern border strategy document from her staff next week and will submit it to Congress within a month. That document is supposed to justify the mix of agents, technology and infrastructure, including fencing, that U.S. Customs and Border Protection believes it needs.

Ms. Duke also faced questions over her part in the Trump administration’s decision to phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. DACA is the Obama-era deportation amnesty for illegal immigrant Dreamers.

While calling the overall decision cruel, Democrats have said they are even more worried about the Oct. 5 deadline Ms. Duke set for Dreamers whose permits expire in the next six months to get renewals. Democrats and immigrant rights groups have begged for an extension, saying the hurricanes that have struck the U.S. may have left some Dreamers struggling.

“Are 700,000 young people supposed to suffer because you didn’t figure out how to implement this program properly?” Ms. Harris said.

A federal judge in New York this week called the deadline “heartless.”

But Ms. Duke held firm, saying the one-month period allowed was a balance between the legal situation and the humanitarian needs of the illegal immigrants.

“It is an unconstitutional program, so that is constraining,” Ms. Duke said.

“It’s not my position to come up with a statute. That would be Congress’ responsibility,” she said.

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