Terrorism Data Lag Spurs Senate Complaints of ‘Flying Blind’ (1)

(Adds DHS spokesperson response in seventh paragraph.)

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Senators on both sides of the aisle are increasingly frustrated with federal agencies’ delay in sharing information on domestic terrorism incidents.

Sens. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who hold the top seats on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, on Thursday criticized the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI for what the senators called incomplete and tardy compliance with a congressional mandate to share data.

The fiscal 2020 defense authorization law (Public Law 116-92), signed in late 2019, required DHS and the FBI to prepare annual reports with precise details of domestic terrorism incidents and investigations. The agencies shared their first report a year late in May 2021 and haven’t submitted another one since.

The delay in sharing information with Congress is striking as the Biden administration repeatedly says it’s committed to combating rising threats from White supremacists and other domestic extremists.

Domestic terrorism threats have garnered renewed attention in recent weeks after the deadly mass shootings of Black shoppers at a Buffalo, N.Y., grocery store and elementary school children and teachers in Uvalde, Texas. DHS released a new terrorism advisory this week warning that domestic threats are increasingly complex.

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“We’re sort of flying blind in the sense that we don’t have the data that we need to be able to respond as our oversight role, or even our legislative role,” Portman said during a committee hearing on White supremacist violence.

A DHS spokesperson said the agency is committed to sharing information at every level of government and will work with its federal partners to provide the information the committee is seeking.

Witnesses at Thursday’s hearing underscored the importance of improving the collection and sharing of data on domestic extremism.

Failure to produce detailed domestic terrorism data allows agencies to set their priorities based on institutional biases, including targeting protest movements and people of color, rather than focusing on the most persistent and lethal threats posed by White supremacists, said former FBI agent Michael German, a fellow at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice.

Elizabeth Yates, a senior researcher on antisemitism at the nonprofit Human Rights First, recommended that lawmakers also require increased transparency on how agencies are using resources to combat domestic terrorism.

Peters pledged to press DHS and the FBI on their lagging compliance and said it’s part of broader inadequacies in the government’s ability to combat domestic terrorism.

“We cannot effectively tackle this problem if our law enforcement and counterterrorism agencies are not effectively tracking these crimes,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ellen M. Gilmer in Washington at egilmer@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Robin Meszoly at rmeszoly@bgov.com; Loren Duggan at lduggan@bgov.com

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