by Bethany Blankley
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security “could do more to address the threats of domestic terrorism,” the Office of Inspector General concluded in a newly published report. The findings come after DHS has acknowledged that at least 50 people on the terrorist watch list have entered the U.S. illegally through the southern border since President Joe Biden has been in office.
The OIG found that DHS doesn’t have “staff dedicated to long term oversight and coordination of its efforts to combat domestic terrorism” and unless it puts in place “a cohesive long-term approach,” the agency charged with preventing terrorism “may not be able to proactively prevent and protect the Nation from this evolving threat.”
The 29-page report was sent to Robert Silvers, the Undersecretary for Strategy, Policy and Plans at DHS, from Inspector General Joseph Cuffari. It includes six recommendations to improve DHS’ efforts to prevent and reduce terrorism from occurring in the U.S., with which DHS concurred.
After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Congress passed the Homeland Security Act of 2002, which was signed into law by former president George W. Bush. DHS was charged with one overarching primary purpose: to prevent terrorist attacks from occurring in the U.S. The OIG conducted the audit “to determine the extent to which DHS is positioned to prevent and reduce domestic terrorism in the United States” and found that it doesn’t appear to be well positioned to do so.
It found that DHS has only completed less than 30% of the actions first proposed in 2019 under the Trump administration. In 2019, the administration created a Strategic Framework for Countering Terrorism and Targeted Violence including establishing goals and milestones to achieve them. But since then, more than 70% of the milestone hadn’t been completed, the audit found.
“This occurred because the Department has not established a governance body with staff dedicated to long term oversight and coordination of its efforts to combat domestic terrorism,” the report states.
DHS also doesn’t compile national-level statistics on terrorism, the report found.
The OIG identified key areas of improvement to determine how DHS identifies domestic terrorism threats, how it tracks trends for future risk-based planning, and how it informs partners and the public about domestic terrorism.
It found that DHS “has limited access to the sources of information it needs to identify domestic terrorism threats” and that it “could do more to compile, maintain, and track domestic terrorism information for future planning.”
The OIG found ongoing problems with interagency sharing of data, a contributing factor leading up to the 9/11 attacks when various federal agencies failed to share data that some argue could have prevented the attacks. Consolidating federal agency efforts into DHS, in theory, was supposed to have led to greater sharing of information, the Bush administration argued when creating the agency.
However, the OIG found that DHS Intelligence analysts still don’t have access to FBI files, which aren’t disseminated throughout the federal government. It also found that state and local entities “are not obligated to pass information onto federal authorities.”
The OIG audit also found that the advisories DHS issues about potential terrorist threats may not even be timely enough to enable Americans to have the opportunity to protect themselves. And alerts DHS is charged with issuing through the National Terrorism Advisory System weren’t issued for seven years.
The Bush administration created the NTAS to communicate terrorist threats to the public. DHS is also required by law to issue warnings to state and local governments and the private sector. But from 2015 to 2022, no NTAS terrorism alerts were issued, the audit found.
DHS issued 17 bulletins, included warnings about domestic terrorism, according to the report, but only when the information was no longer actionable, it found.
“Without a cohesive long-term approach to countering domestic terrorism, DHS may not be able to proactively prevent and protect the Nation from this evolving threat,” the OIG concludes.
DHS concurred with all of the recommendations and committed to taking actions, but the majority won’t be completed until next year.
It will initiate a staffing and budget requirement assessment to be completed by March 31, 2023, after which it will complete oversight and coordination of agency efforts by June 30, 2023, it said.
It also said it will produce a plan to address current information gaps and statistics by June 30, 2023.
The only action it said would be completed by the end of this year would be having discussions with Department of Justice and FBI leadership related to accessing domestic terrorism case information.
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