Terrorism Prevention Plan Ignores Outside Risks, Watchdog Says

  • Report faults Department of Homeland Security strategy
  • Extremist attacks killed 240 people in the U.S. in last decade

The Department of Homeland Security needs more study of how outside pressures, including the Covid-19 pandemic, affect its efforts to combat terrorism, a government watchdog says.

The Government Accountability Office, in a report Tuesday, called on the department to revise a strategy for preventing violent extremism after assessing risks and the resources DHS needs to keep the country safe.

“Until DHS revises or supplements the strategy to address these key elements, the department will not have the information it needs to make well-informed decisions,” the GAO said. Economic issues, demographics, new technologies, and other external factors could hinder the 2019 strategy and related plans, it said.

A 2020 plan, for example, mentioned the Covid-19 pandemic but failed to analyze how it could affect efforts to prevent terrorism, the report said. DHS officials told the watchdog agency that leaving out any analysis of external factors was an “oversight,” according to the report.

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Members of the Charlottesville, Va., community and protest groups mourn near a makeshift memorial for Heather Heyer, on Aug. 12, 2018 — the one-year anniversary of her death during a clash between white supremacists and counter-protesters over removing Confederate statues.

DHS should also incorporate data on terrorism and targeted violence into a broader agency framework for data management—a move that would make the agency “better able to leverage data to support and inform its prevention efforts,” the report said. The GAO also recommends DHS clarify the definition of the “targeted violence” the agency seeks to prevent.

Homeland Security Revamp Effort Seeks to Skirt Turf Skirmishes

DHS said it plans to respond to the GAO’s recommendations by reviewing its terrorism strategy and setting final definitions for key terminology.

This week’s analysis follows a 2017 GAO finding that DHS and the Justice Department lacked a cohesive strategy for evaluating how to thwart violent extremists. The agencies committed to addressing that in an interagency task force but never did, the GAO said.

From 2010 to 2020, 81 violent extremist attacks resulted in 240 deaths in the U.S., according to a crime database maintained by University of Maryland researchers.

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

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Sarah Babbage at sbabbage@bgov.com; Robin Meszoly at rmeszoly@bgov.com

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