WASHINGTON — FBI Director Christopher Wray told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Wednesday that the bureau is tracking several hundred homegrown terror suspects, not counting those linked to a terror group or domestic extremist groups such as white supremacists.
“In every state in the nation who have been inspired by ISIS or al-Qaeda or similar groups, and radicalize, no longer by traveling to training camps, but via the internet through videos, or private chat rooms, or other means. How is the FBI countering that threat?” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) asked at the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing to examine the FBI’s annual budget request. “It seems to be very difficult to identify these individuals.”
Wray told the senator she put her finger “on what I would call sort of our highest counterterrorism priority at the moment.”
“We have about 1,000 investigations into exactly the kind of people you’re describing, covering all 50 states as I’m sitting here right now. And that’s not even counting, you know, the al-Qaeda investigations, the traditional ISIS investigations, the domestic terrorism investigations, but just the group you’re talking about,” he said.
“And what makes it so hard is that there are not many dots to connect with some of these people. They pick soft targets, they use easy to use weapons, you know, IEDs, cars, knives, guns. And they can make decisions on the spur of the moment. We’re trying to get better at looking for red flags, as to when people who are getting radicalized sort of make that switch into potentially mobilizing.”
Wray said trying to stop homegrown extremists includes a lot of “outreach to the community, partnership with our state and local law enforcement who know those communities better, but it’s hard.”
“It’s something I’d compare notes with my foreign counterparts on a lot and they have the same challenge,” he added. “All of our closest allies have the same issue.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) noted that in 2015 the FBI reported 5,850 incidents of hate crimes and specific offenses against Muslims, a 67 percent jump from 2014. “Given this tremendous increase, what is the FBI doing to increase its investigative resources related to hate crimes?” she asked.
“Well, we have dedicated units that focus on civil rights offenses including hate crimes,” Wray said, adding that there are “about the same number of domestic terrorism investigations, which is about 1,000, as we do homegrown violent extremists.”
“And that covers the waterfront, though, all the way from white supremacist investigations all the way to anarchist investigations and pretty much everything in between,” he said.