Senator Hassan Also Questions Top Administration Officials on Ransomware Threats, Need to Strengthen Screening Process for Military Trainees Following Terrorist Attack in Pensacola, FL
WASHINGTON – During the Senate Homeland Security Committee’s annual Threats to the Homeland hearing, U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) questioned FBI Director Christopher Wray on combating illegal drug trafficking on the dark web, ransomware threats, and counterterrorism efforts.
To watch the Senator’s questioning, click here.
Before the Senator began her questioning, she commented on President Trump’s refusal to commit to the peaceful transfer of power: “This hearing is about threats to the homeland. Before we begin, we must acknowledge a new and dangerous threat to our country and our constitution: The President of the United States’ refusal to promise a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the election. Today, I call on every person who has sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution – including my fellow Senators – to condemn the President's remarks and to re-commit to ensuring a peaceful transfer of power, whatever the outcome of this election.”
The Senator also thanked National Counterterrorism Center Director Christopher Miller for his efforts to bring the killers of James Foley to justice.
Dark Web Drug Trafficking
Senator Hassan emphasized the importance of targeting individuals who access the dark web for the anonymous distribution of illegal drugs, and applauded the FBI’s announcement this week that Operation DisrupTor, an effort to stop drug trafficking on the dark web, resulted in the seizure of hundreds of kilograms of illicit drugs, including fentanyl, and dozens of firearms, as well as the arrests of 179 people.
“We appreciate your focus on the issue,” Director Wray said. “And J-CODE, which is essentially the operation that we’ve stood up that spins off these things, like Operation DisrupTor, is I think a really exciting, effective tool…to disrupt and dismantle dark net marketplaces, which is really a particularly important part of the opioid problem.”
The Senator also discussed her bipartisan efforts with Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) to seek additional information on agencies’ efforts to combat this pervasive threat. Director Wray committed to responding in a timely fashion to the bipartisan letter.
Cyber Threats to State and Local Government
Senator Hassan also questioned Director Wray on the FBI’s efforts to help protect state and local governments and other non-federal partners from ongoing cyberattacks, including ransomware.
“Over the past six months, there has been a further uptick in ransomware attacks on hospitals and schools amid the COVID-19 pandemic,” Senator Hassan said. “Our communities do not have the resources to effectively counter a wide range of cyber threats on their own, including ransomware.”
Director Wray agreed that ransomware is a particular concern for state and local governments, and discussed some of the efforts that the federal government has undertaken to better prepare these entities for a potential ransomware attack.
“One of the things that we’ve done recently is through our National Cyber Investigative Joint Task Force,” Director Wray said. “We have brought together a whole of government effort to focus…on the most damaging ransomware variance. Some of that is through…outreach and engagement where we working very closely with [the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency] at [the Department of Homeland Security] to help educate those entities on how to better harden and protect their infrastructure. Certainly having good cyber hygiene, backups, etcetera, is one of the best defenses against ransomware.”
Screening Military Trainees Following Pensacola Terrorist Attack
Senator Hassan then emphasized the need to address a potential vulnerability in the screening process for military trainee exchanges following the terrorist attack in Pensacola, Florida last year.
“Last December, a member of the Saudi military, in the United States on a training mission, killed three people and injured eight at a Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida,” Senator Hassan said. “Al-Qaeda’s Yemeni affiliate claimed credit for the attack, marking the terrorist group’s first successful attack in the United States in several years.”
When asked by Senator Hassan about the adequacy of screening done by the United States on foreign military trainees entering the country, Director Wray and Director Miller both replied that they are confident that the Department of Defense has taken steps to close the vulnerability that led to this national security threat.