DHS Releases Homeland Threat Assessment Naming China, Russia, and Domestic Extremism as Top Threats
Are you concerned about threats from China, Russia, and domestic extremism?
What’s the story?
- The Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) completed its first ever Homeland Threat Assessment (HTA), which is a comprehensive report designed to “provide the American people with an overview of the information collected and analyzed by DHS employees around the world and provided to the Secretary of Homeland Security.”
- The 26 page HTA was first obtained by CBS News and among the topics it delves into include cyber threats, economic security, transnational criminal organizations, illegal immigration, and natural disasters.
- Two of the prominent threats discussed are foreign influence activity in the Homeland and terrorism, so here is a summary of the HTA’s findings with respect to the major foreign and domestic actors in those areas, with an emphasis on threats to the election:
- The HTA addresses in-depth the extensive threats posed by China’s campaign of cyber and economic espionage, malign foreign investment, and supply chain security.
- In terms of China’s influence activities related to the election, the HTA notes that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will “continue using overt and covert influence operations to denigrate the U.S. Presidential Administration and its policies to shape the U.S. domestic information environment in favor of China.” It also finds that China will use “soft power” such as economic measures and lobbying to promote U.S. policies more aligned with China’s interests.
- In an election interference assessment released in August 2020, the intelligence community (IC) assessed that “China prefers that President Trump ― whom Beijing sees as unpredictable ― does not win reelection. China has been expanding its influence efforts ahead of November 2020 to shape the policy environment in the United States, pressure political figures it views as opposed to China’s interests, and deflect and counter criticism of China… For example, it has harshly criticized the Administration’s statements and actions on Hong Kong, TikTok, the legal status of the South China Sea, and China’s efforts to dominate the 5G market. Beijing recognizes that all of these efforts might affect the presidential race.”
- According to the HTA, Russian influence actors “will continue using overt and covert methods to aggravate social and racial tensions” and “stoke political resentment” using media manipulation “across social media platforms, proxy websites, and traditional media, to include state-controlled outlets ― to exacerbate U.S. social, political, racial, and cultural fault lines.”
- The HTA notes that, “Although some of this activity might be framed in the context of the U.S. election ― seemingly in support of or opposition to political candidates ― we assess that Moscow’s overarching objective is to weaken the United States through discord, division, and distraction in hopes that America becomes less able to challenge Russia’s strategic objectives.”
- Russian actors have attacked and praised multiple presidential candidates of both major political parties in these efforts, including measures “denigrating former Vice President Biden and what it sees as an anti-Russia “establishment” ― as part of a broader effort to divide and destabilize America.” Those findings echo the IC’s assessment of election interference released in August.
- The HTA expects that Russian online influence actors will engage in efforts to discourage voter turnout and suppress votes in the 2020 election similar to those used in 2016, in which trolls “directed messages at specific audiences with false information about the time, manner, or place of voting to suppress votes.” Russian influence actors also posed as U.S. persons to discourage African Americans, Native Americans, and other minority groups from participating in the 2016 election.
- The HTA states that Iran “will continue to promote messages supporting its foreign policy objectives and to use online influence operations to increase societal tensions in the United States.”
- Additionally, it finds that “Tehran most likely considers the current U.S. Administration a threat to the regime’s stability. Iran’s critical messaging of the U.S. President almost certainly will continue throughout 2020.”
- The IC’s assessment of election interference from August found that Iran is “driven by a perception that President Trump’s reelection would result in a continuation of U.S. pressure on Iran in an effort to foment regime change.”
Domestic Violent Extremists (DVEs)
- The HTA cites the primary terrorist threat in the U.S. as being lone offenders and small cells of individuals, including DVEs and Homegrown Violent Extremists (HVEs) who are inspired by foreign terror groups. Some have seized on increased social and political tensions in 2020 to advance their goals, and there will be an elevated threat at least through early 2021.
- It states that, “Some DVEs have heightened their attention to election- or campaign-related activities, candidates’ public statements, and policy issues connected to specific candidates, judging from domestic terrorism plots since 2018 targeting individuals based on their actual or perceived political affiliations. Open-air, publicly accessible parts of physical election infrastructure, such as campaign-associated mass gatherings, polling places, and voter registration events, would be the most likely flashpoints for political violence.”
- Among DVEs, “racially and ethnically motivated violent extremists ― specifically white supremacist extremists (WSEs) ― will remain the most persist and lethal threat in the Homeland.” It adds that in the 2018-2019 period, WSEs conducted half of all lethal attacks perpetrated by DVEs (8 of 16), and that those resulted in a majority of all deaths (39 of 48).
- Other DVEs are anti-government in nature, and the HTA notes that these extremists who are “sometimes influenced by anarchist ideology, have been associated with multiple plots and attacks, which included a significant uptick in violence against law enforcement and government symbols in 202.” These anti-government and/or anti-authority extremists “are likely to be emboldened by a perceived success exploiting otherwise peaceful protest movements and concealing violent tactics” used “against government officials, facilities, and counter-protestors.”
Foreign Terror Organizations (FTOs)
- Al Qaeda and ISIS maintain an interest in attacking the Homeland, but the HTA states that “we expect the primary threat from these groups to remain overseas in the coming year due to sustained U.S. counterterrorism pressure.” It warns that, “Nevertheless, these groups can adapt quickly, and terrorists overseas will continue to probe for vulnerabilities in U.S. immigration and border security programs.”
- Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah (LH) “have demonstrated the intent to conduct an array of operations in the Homeland. Iran or LH could advance an attack plot ― with little or no warning ― in response to heightened tensions.” The HTA also notes that the federal government “in recent years has arrested several individuals acting on behalf of the Government of Iran or LH who have conducted surveillance indicative of contingency planning for lethal attacks in the U.S.”
— Eric Revell
(Photo Credit: iStock.com / ninjaMonkeyStudio)
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