China, Russia and white supremacy top DHS’ first public threat assessment
The Department of Homeland Security has concluded its first-ever “Homeland Threat Assessment,” a comprehensive report designed to educate the public on the largest threats facing the country. The report, first obtained by CBS News, highlights major threats posed by China and Russia and identifies white supremacists as posing the “most persistent and lethal threat” of all domestic violent extremist groups.
In an exclusive interview, acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf said the report “touches on all the major threat streams that I look at on a daily basis.”
In September, a senior DHS official alleged in a whistleblower complaint that Wolf told him to withhold an intelligence notification on Russian activities because it “made the president look bad,” and claimed senior Trump administration officials urged analysts to downplay the threat of violent white supremacy. But Wolf told CBS News on Monday that the Homeland Threat Assessment was free from political influence.
“I am obviously aware of those complaints,” he said. “I think if you look at the document, Russia is mentioned somewhere in the document between 30 and 40 different times, so if we were trying to downplay Russia, we didn’t do a very good job, I would say. The threat is specifically called out there when we talk about election, potential election interference, or disinformation… We are very upfront.”
These are the major takeaways from the report.
The report cited multiple potential threats from China, warning the country “already poses a high cyber espionage threat to the Homeland and Beijing’s cyber-attack capabilities will grow.”
It also said China has been a “particularly persistent” source of counterfeit medical supplies during the coronavirus pandemic, claiming that more than 1 million FDA-prohibited COVID-19 test kits and 75,000 counterfeit masks have been seized from illicit Chinese manufacturers. The report warned that Beijing has been monitoring shortages in U.S. medical supply chains, and said China could exploit those shortages to force the government to adopt more pro-China policies.
Wolf told CBS News that he believes “the most long term strategic threat to Americans to the Homeland and really to our way of life would be the threat from China.”
“It cuts across a variety of different threats, from the cyber threats we see, from foreign influence, to supply chain security, to exploiting our academic and visa systems, foreign investment here in the U.S., trade policy violations and the like. It goes on and on and on…” he said. “Just across the board, threat after threat stream, we see China playing a very significant and enhanced role trying to really do the U.S. some long-term harm.”
The report also highlighted Russia’s efforts to influence the 2020 U.S. Presidential election by exacerbating existing social and political tensions in an effort to “sway U.S. voter perceptions.”
The report did not indicate a preference by Russia for a specific candidate, but did note an effort to undermine the campaign of Joe Biden: “Russia uses divisive measures to disrupt the electoral process — including 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,” the report says.
Wolf told CBS News that despite foreign attempts to influence the election, he does not believe that any election infrastructure has been compromised.
“What we know right now is that none of those nation states are targeting election infrastructure, at least haven’t done so successfully,” he said. “That is different than what we saw in 2016 at this time, leading up to the election.”
The report also highlighted Russia’s skill in cyber espionage and cyber attacks, warning that the nation likely has the ability to conduct attacks that would last hours to days, and is developing the capability to conduct “more debilitating” attacks.
The report found that the most likely terrorist threat to the United States comes from “ideologically motivated lone offenders and small groups,” with domestic violent extremists posing the “primary terrorist threat” inside the U.S. Of the domestic violent extremists, the report said, “racially and ethnically motivated violent extremists—specifically white supremacist extremists (WSEs)—will remain the most persistent and lethal threat.”
White supremacist groups have killed more people than any other domestic violent extremist group, according to the report. But Wolf told CBS News that the report is “also very clear to call out anarchist threats.”
“..if you are only looking at deaths, and you are not looking at property damage, insurance claims and all the other societal factors, and only looking at deaths, then yes, white supremacist extremists sort of lead that category,” Wolf said. “But as we have witnessed over the last several months, the movements and the civil unrest we have seen here inside the U.S., while maybe not lethal, certainly have lasting implications to the homeland and do serve as a threat to the homeland.”
The report said that “DHS law enforcement officers suffered over 300 separate injuries and were assaulted with sledgehammers, commercial grade fireworks, rocks, metal pipes, improvised explosive devices, and more” as part of violence perpetrated by “anarchist extremists.”
The report touched on a number of other threats, including Iran and North Korea. While the report stressed that the cyber capabilities of both nations were weaker than those of China and Russia, it nevertheless warned that the nations could develop the ability to conduct disruptive attacks.
While the report said that U.S. counterterrorism efforts have reduced the likelihood of a foreign terrorist attack on U.S. soil, it warned that terrorist groups “can adapt quickly and resurge,” and said Iran “will continue to develop and maintain terrorist capabilities” to deter the U.S. from “regime-threatening actions” or to retaliate for such activity. The report made clear that the founding principal of combatting terrorism “will always be a priority to the Department of Homeland Security.”
The report also cited illegal immigration, noting that while the vast majority of migrants do not pose a security risk, “pathways used by migrants to travel to the United States have been exploited by threat actors.”
The report concluded by noting the record-breaking hurricane and wildfire seasons that have caused billions of dollars in damage this year. While the report cited active land management as a potential solution for the wildfires, it did not mention climate change in either section — despite the fact that experts have linkedto global warming.