September 25, 2019

At First-Ever Domestic Terrorism Hearing in Senate Homeland Security Committee, Senator Hassan Focuses on Gaps in Federal Government’s Efforts to Prevent Attacks

Senator Hassan Also Raised How to Strengthen Efforts to Counter Threats to Houses of Worship in New Hampshire & Across the Country

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To watch the Senator’s questioning, click here.

WASHINGTON – During the first-ever hearing on domestic terrorism in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) today questioned expert witnesses about how to better prevent domestic terrorist attacks and prosecute domestic terrorists.

“Charleston 2015, Charlottesville 2017, Pittsburgh 2018, Poway 2019, Dallas 2019, Gilroy 2019, El Paso 2019. These are just a few of the cities impacted by domestic terrorist attacks in recent years and they all have one thing in common: None of the perpetrators of these attacks were under FBI investigation at the time of the attack,” said Senator Hassan.

“I have deep concerns that the federal government does not understand the full scope of the [domestic terrorist] threat, and given current legal and resource constraints, is limited in its ability to prevent future attacks,” Senator Hassan said, asking Foreign Policy Research Fellow and former FBI agent Clint Watts to “expand on how current laws may constrain domestic terrorist investigations [and] how these constraints both impact the FBI’s understanding of the threat and the resources dedicated to preventing this threat.”

Watts discussed how during his time in the FBI, if an agent identified a threat from an individual associated with or inspired by a Foreign Terrorist Organization, it was reported to their International Terrorism section, and the FBI was able to make connections between other possible Foreign Terrorist Organization threats and therefore do a better analysis of the threat. However, “The problem for the FBI is, without some sort of [domestic terrorism] designation, there’s no way for analysts or even investigators to report centrally in,” Watts stated. “At this point, it’s almost impossible for a domestic terrorism investigator in the FBI or DHS who’s out there on their own to piece it together. There has to be some sort of designation or measurement…to help those investigators be more pre-emptive.”

Senator Hassan also raised the rise in threats to Granite State houses of worship: “In New Hampshire, one Rabbi noted to me that they now only open the doors to the temple shortly before services begin, and they lock the doors shortly after the start of services. As she leads her congregation during those minutes when the doors are open, she says she wonders, ‘Is this the night we die?’”

In a question to George Selim, who led outreach efforts to prevent terrorism under both the Bush and Obama Administrations, Senator Hassan asked about “how Congress, the Department of Homeland Security, and the entire federal government can work with law enforcement and community organizations to keep soft targets like houses of worship safe from threats.” Selim emphasized the importance of working across federal, state, and local levels, and the need for more resources and personnel to build awareness of threats and support education, training, and community partnerships.

Senator Hassan is backing legislation to increase grant funding for houses of worship to strengthen their buildings’ physical security. Earlier this year, Senator Hassan announced with the New Hampshire congressional delegation $150,000 in these grants to seven religious institutions in the state.

As a member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, Senator Hassan has prioritized protecting national security and keeping Granite Staters and all Americans safe. Senator Hassan recently joined Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah to introduce a bipartisan bill that requires federal agencies to report to Congress after a foreign or domestic terrorist attack with information about exactly what happened and recommendations to prevent future attacks. Senator Hassan has also focused on bipartisan oversight over the Administration’s handling of the release of convicted terrorist offenders once they complete their sentences. Additionally, in May, Senator Hassan and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) expressing concern over the rise in domestic terrorism and requesting information about what steps DHS has taken to mitigate and prevent these threats.

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