Worldwide Threats to the Homeland
Statement for the Record
Good morning, Chairman Green, Ranking Member Thompson, and members of the committee. Today, I am honored to be here, representing the people of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), who tackle some of the most complex and most grave threats we face every day with perseverance, professionalism, and integrity—sometimes at the greatest of costs. I am extremely proud of their service and commitment to the FBI’s mission and to ensuring the safety and security of communities throughout our nation. On their behalf, I would like to express my appreciation for the support you have given them in the past and ask for your continued support in the future.
Despite the many challenges our FBI workforce has faced, I am immensely proud of their dedication to protecting the American people and upholding the Constitution. Our country continues to face challenges, yet, through it all, the women and men of the FBI stand at the ready to tackle those challenges. The list of diverse threats we face underscores the complexity and breadth of the FBI’s mission: to protect the American people and to uphold the Constitution of the United States. I am prepared to discuss with you what the FBI is doing to address these threats and what the FBI is doing to ensure our people adhere to the highest of standards while it conducts its mission.
Key Threats and Challenges
Our nation continues to face a multitude of serious and evolving threats ranging from homegrown violent extremists (“HVEs”) to hostile foreign intelligence services and operatives, from sophisticated cyber-based attacks to internet-facilitated sexual exploitation of children, from violent gangs and criminal organizations to public corruption and corporate fraud. Keeping pace with these threats is a significant challenge for the FBI. As an organization, we must be able to stay current with constantly evolving technologies. Our adversaries take advantage of modern technology, including the internet and social media, to facilitate illegal activities, recruit followers, encourage terrorist attacks and other illicit actions, and disperse information on building improvised explosive devices and other means to attack the United States. The breadth of these threats and challenges are as complex as any time in our history. And the consequences of not responding to and countering threats and challenges have never been greater.
The FBI is establishing strong capabilities and capacities to assess threats, share intelligence, and leverage key technologies. We are hiring some of the best to serve as special agents, intelligence analysts, and professional staff. We have built, and are continuously enhancing, a workforce that possesses the skills and knowledge to deal with the complex threats and challenges we face today and tomorrow. We are building a leadership team that views change and transformation as a positive tool for keeping the FBI focused on the key threats facing our nation.
Today’s FBI is a national security and law enforcement organization that uses, collects, and shares intelligence in everything we do. Each FBI employee understands that, to defeat the key threats facing our nation, we must constantly strive to be more efficient and more effective. Just as our adversaries continue to evolve, so, too, must the FBI. We live in a time of persistent terrorist, nation-state, and criminal threats to our national security, our economy, and indeed our communities.
As we saw earlier last month with the devastating attack in Israel, terrorist actors are still very intent on using violence and brutality to spread their ideologies. Protecting the American people from terrorism remains the FBI’s number one priority. The threat from terrorism is as persistent and complex as ever. We are in an environment where the threats from international terrorism, domestic terrorism, and state-sponsored terrorism are all simultaneously elevated.
The greatest terrorism threat to our homeland is posed by lone actors or small cells of individuals who typically radicalize to violence online, and who primarily use easily accessible weapons to attack soft targets. We see the lone offender threat with both domestic violent extremists (“DVEs”) and HVEs [homegrown violent extremists], two distinct threats, both of which are located primarily in the United States and typically radicalize and mobilize to violence on their own. DVEs are individuals based and operating primarily within the United States or its territories without direction or inspiration from a foreign terrorist group or other foreign power who seek to further political or social goals through unlawful acts of force or violence. In comparison, HVEs are individuals of any citizenship who have lived and/or operated primarily in the United States or its territories, who advocate, are engaged in, or are preparing to engage in ideologically motivated terrorist activities in furtherance of political or social objectives promoted by a foreign terrorist organization but are acting independently of direction by a foreign terrorist organization (“FTO”).
Domestic and homegrown violent extremists are often motivated and inspired by a mix of social or political, ideological, and personal grievances against their targets, and more recently have focused on accessible targets to include civilians, law enforcement and the military, symbols or members of the U.S. government, houses of worship, retail locations, and mass public gatherings. Lone actors present a particular challenge to law enforcement and intelligence agencies. These actors are difficult to identify, investigate, and disrupt before they take violent action, especially because of the insular nature of their radicalization and mobilization to violence and limited discussions with others regarding their plans.
The top domestic terrorism threat we face continues to be from DVEs we categorize as racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists (“RMVEs”) and anti-government or anti- authority violent extremists (“AGAAVEs”). The number of FBI domestic terrorism investigations has more than doubled since the spring of 2020. As of September 2023, the FBI was conducting approximately 2,700 investigations within the domestic terrorism program. As of September 2023, the FBI was also conducting approximately 4,000 investigations within its international terrorism program.
The FBI uses all tools available at its disposal to combat domestic terrorism. These efforts represent a critical part of the National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism, which was released in June 2021. The strategy sets forth a comprehensive, whole-of-government approach to address the many facets of the domestic terrorism threat.
The FBI assesses HVEs as the greatest, most immediate international terrorism threat to the homeland. HVEs are people located and radicalized to violence primarily in the United States, who are not receiving individualized direction from FTOs but are inspired by FTOs, including the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (“ISIS”) and al-Qaida and their affiliates, to commit violence. An HVE’s lack of a direct connection with an FTO, ability to rapidly mobilize without detection, and use of encrypted communications pose significant challenges to our ability to proactively identify and disrupt potential violent attacks.
While we work to assist our Israeli colleagues and understand the global implications of the ongoing conflict in Israel, we are paying heightened attention to how the events abroad could directly affect and inspire people to commit violence here in the Homeland. Terrorist organizations worldwide, as well as individuals attracted to violence, have praised Hamas' horrific attack on Israeli civilians. We have seen violent extremists across ideologies seeking to target Jewish and Muslim people and institutions through physical assaults, bomb threats, and online calls for mass casualty attacks. Our top concern stems from lone offenders inspired by—or reacting to—the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict, as they pose the most likely threat to Americans, especially Jewish, Muslim, and Arab-American communities in the United States. We have seen an increase in reported threats to Jewish and Muslim people, institutions, and houses of worship here in the United States and are moving quickly to mitigate them.
As of right now, we have no information to indicate that Hamas has the intent or capability to conduct operations inside the US, though we cannot, and do not, discount that possibility, but we are especially concerned about the possibility of Hamas supporters engaging in violence on the group’s behalf. As always, we are concerned with any foreign terrorist organization who may exploit the attacks in Israel as a tool to mobilize their followers around the world. In recent years, there have been several events and incidents in the United States that were purportedly motivated, at least in part, by the conflict between Israel and Hamas. These have included the targeting of individuals, houses of worship, and institutions associated with the Jewish and Muslim faiths with acts of physical assault, vandalism, or harassment. Anti-Semitism and anti-Islamic sentiment permeate many violent extremist ideologies and serves as a primary driver for attacks by a diverse set of violent extremists who pose a persistent threat to Jewish and Muslim communities and institutions in the United States and abroad. Foreign terrorist organizations have exploited previous conflicts between Israel and Hamas via media outlets and online communications to call on their supporters located in the United States to conduct attacks. Some violent extremists have used times of heightened tensions to incite violence against religious minorities, targeting both Jewish and Muslim Americans.
The FBI remains concerned about the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and that the intent of FTOs, such as ISIS and al-Qaida and their affiliates, is to carry out or inspire large-scale attacks in the United States.
Despite its loss of physical territory in Iraq and Syria, ISIS remains relentless in its campaign of violence against the United States and our partners—both here at home and overseas. ISIS and its supporters continue to aggressively promote its hate-fueled rhetoric and attract like-minded violent extremists with a willingness to conduct attacks against the United States and our interests abroad. ISIS’ successful use of social media and messaging applications to attract individuals is of continued concern to us. Like other foreign terrorist groups, ISIS advocates for lone offender attacks in the United States and Western countries via videos and other English language propaganda that have specifically advocated for attacks against civilians, the military, law enforcement and intelligence community personnel.
Al-Qaida also maintains its desire to conduct and to inspire large-scale attacks. Because continued pressure has degraded some of the group’s senior leadership, we assess that, in the near term, al-Qaida is more likely to continue to focus on cultivating its international affiliates and supporting small-scale, readily achievable attacks in regions such as East and West Africa. Nevertheless, propaganda from al-Qaida leaders continues to seek individuals inspired to conduct their own attacks in the United States and other Western nations.
Iran and its global proxies and partners, including Iraqi Shia militant groups, attack and plot against the United States and our allies throughout the Middle East. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (“IRGC-QF”) has too provided support to militant resistance groups and terrorist organizations. And Iran has supported Lebanese Hizballah and other terrorist groups. Hizballah has sent operatives to build terrorist infrastructures worldwide. The arrests of individuals in the United States allegedly linked to Hizballah’s main overseas terrorist arm, and their intelligence-collection and -procurement efforts, demonstrate Hizballah’s interest in long-term contingency planning activities here in the Homeland. Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah also has threatened retaliation for the death of IRGC-QF Commander Qassem Soleimani. This willingness to seek retaliation against the United States was reflected in charges the Department brought in 2022 against a member of the IRGC, working on behalf of the Qods Force, who was plotting to murder a former national security advisor.
While the terrorism threat continues to evolve, the FBI’s resolve to counter that threat remains constant. We continually adapt and rely heavily on the strength of our federal, state, local, tribal, territorial, and international partnerships to combat all terrorist threats to the United States and our interests. To that end, we use all available lawful investigative techniques and methods to combat these threats while continuing to collect, analyze, and share intelligence concerning the threats posed by violent extremists who desire to harm Americans and U.S. interests. We will continue to share information and encourage the sharing of information among our numerous partners via our Joint Terrorism Task Forces across the country, and our legal attaché offices around the world.
In addition to fighting terrorism, countering the proliferation of weapons-of-mass-destruction materials, technologies, and expertise, preventing their use by any actor, and securing nuclear and radioactive materials of concern are also top national security priority missions for the FBI. The FBI considers preventing, mitigating, investigating, and responding to weapons of mass destruction (“WMD”) terrorism a “no-fail” mission because a WMD attack could result in substantial injuries, illness, or loss of lives, while yielding significant social, economic, political, and other national security consequences. In collaboration with federal, state, local, tribal, territorial, and other partners, the FBI integrates complementary efforts to counter WMD terrorism. An example of this collaboration is the FBI-led Weapons of Mass Destruction Strategic Group. This interagency crisis action team spans more than 15 departments and agencies to coordinate the federal government’s response to WMD threats and incidents. Alongside the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security maintains the largest footprint on the strategic group.
Cybercriminal syndicates and nation-states continue to innovate, using unique techniques to compromise our networks and maximize the reach and impact of their operations. Those techniques include selling malware as a service or targeting vendors to access scores of victims by hacking just one provider.
These criminals and nation-states believe that they can compromise our networks, steal our property, extort us, and hold our critical infrastructure at risk without incurring any risk themselves. In the last few years, we have seen the People’s Republic of China (“PRC”), the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (“DPRK”), and Russia use cyber operations to target U.S. research. We have seen the PRC working to obtain controlled dual-use technology, while developing an arsenal of advanced cyber capabilities that could be used against other countries in the event of a real-world conflict. And we have seen the disruptive impact a serious supply-chain compromise can have through the SolarWinds-related intrusions, conducted by the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service. As these adversaries become more sophisticated, we are increasingly concerned about our ability to detect specific cyber operations against U.S. organizations. One of the most worrisome facets is their focus on compromising U.S. critical infrastructure, especially during a crisis.
Making things more difficult, there is often no bright line that separates where nation-state activity ends and cybercriminal activity begins. Some cybercriminals contract or sell services to nation-states; some nation-state actors moonlight as cybercriminals to fund personal activities; and nation-states are increasingly using tools typically used by criminal actors, such as ransomware.
So, as dangerous as nation-states are, we do not have the luxury of focusing on them alone. In the past year, we also have seen cybercriminals target hospitals, medical centers, educational institutions, and other critical infrastructure for theft or ransomware, causing massive disruption to our daily lives. Incidents affecting medical centers have led to the interruption of computer networks and systems that put patients’ lives at an increased risk.
We have also seen the rise of an ecosystem of services dedicated to supporting cybercrime in exchange for cryptocurrency. Criminals now have new tools to engage in destructive behavior—for example, deploying ransomware to paralyze entire hospitals, police departments, and businesses—as well as new means to better conceal their tracks. It is not that individual malicious cyber actors have necessarily become much more sophisticated, but that they can now more easily rent sophisticated capabilities.
We must make it harder and more painful for malicious cyber actors and criminals to carry on their malicious activities. Using its role as the lead federal agency for threat response, the FBI works seamlessly with domestic and international partners to defend their networks, attribute malicious activity, sanction bad behavior, and take the fight to our adversaries overseas. We must impose consequences on cyber adversaries, and use our collective law enforcement and intelligence capabilities to do so through joint and enabled operations sequenced for maximum impact. And we must continue to work with the Department of State and other key agencies to ensure that our foreign partners are able and willing to cooperate in our efforts to disrupt perpetrators of cybercrime.
An example of this approach is the coordinated international operation announced in April 2023 against Genesis Market, a criminal online marketplace offering access to data stolen from over 1.5 million compromised computers around the world containing over 80 million account access credentials. Genesis Market was also a prolific initial access broker in the cybercrime world, providing criminals a user-friendly database to search for stolen credentials and more easily infiltrate victims’ computers and accounts. As part of this operation, law enforcement seized 11 domain names used to support Genesis Market’s infrastructure pursuant to a warrant authorized by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. A total of 22 international agencies and 44 FBI field offices worked with the FBI Milwaukee Field Office investigating the case. And on April 5, the U.S. Department of the Treasury announced sanctions against Genesis Market.
In total, along with our colleagues at the Department of Justice (“DOJ”), we took over 1,000 actions against cyber adversaries in 2022, including arrests, criminal charges, convictions, dismantlements, and disruptions. We enabled many more actions through our dedicated partnerships with the private sector, with foreign partners, and with federal, state, and local entities. We also provided thousands of individualized threat warnings and disseminated 70 public threat advisories by way of Joint Cybersecurity Advisories, FBI Liaison Alert System (“FLASH”) reports, Private Industry Notifications (“PINs”), and Public Service Announcements (“PSAs”)—many of which were jointly authored with other U.S. agencies and international partners.
Along with our partners in the interagency, the FBI has devoted significant energy and resources to partnerships with the private sector. We are working hard to push important threat information to network defenders, but we have also been making it as easy as possible for the private sector to share important information with us. For example, we are emphasizing to the private sector how we keep our presence unobtrusive in the wake of an incident, as well as how we protect identities and other information that the private sector shares with us. We are still committed to providing useful feedback and improving coordination with our government partners so that we are speaking with one voice. But, we need the private sector to do its part, too. We need the private sector to come forward to warn us and our partners when they see malicious cyber activity. We also need the private sector to work with us when we warn them that they are being targeted. Significant cyber incidents—SolarWinds, Cyclops Blink, the Colonial pipeline incident—only emphasize what we have been saying for a long time: the government cannot protect against cyber threats on its own. We need a whole-of-society approach that matches the scope of the danger. There is no other option for defending a country where nearly all of our critical infrastructure, personal data, intellectual property, and network infrastructure sits in private hands.
In summary, the FBI is engaged in myriad efforts to combat cyber threats, from improving threat identification and information-sharing inside and outside of the government to developing and retaining new talent, to examining the way we operate to disrupt and defeat these threats. We take all potential threats to public and private sector systems seriously, and will continue to investigate and hold accountable those who pose a threat in cyberspace.
Foreign Intelligence Threats
Nations such as the PRC, Russia, and Iran are becoming more aggressive and more capable than ever before. These nations seek to undermine our core democratic, economic, and scientific institutions, and they employ a growing range of tactics. Defending American institutions and values against these threats is a national security imperative and a priority for the FBI.
With that, the greatest long-term threat to our nation’s ideas, innovation, and economic security is the foreign intelligence and economic espionage threat from the PRC. By extension, it is also a threat to our national security. The PRC government aspires to reshape the international rules-based system to its benefit. Often, with little regard for international norms and laws.
When it comes to economic espionage, the PRC uses every means at its disposal, blending cyber, human intelligence, diplomacy, corporate transactions, and other pressure on U.S. companies operating in the PRC, to steal our companies’ innovations. These efforts are consistent with the PRC government’s expressed goals to become an international power, modernize its military, and create innovation-driven economic growth.
To pursue this goal, the PRC uses human intelligence officers, co-optees, and corrupt corporate insiders, as well as sophisticated cyber intrusions, pressure on U.S. companies in China, shell-game corporate transactions, and joint-venture “partnerships” that are anything but a true partnership. There is nothing traditional about the scale of their theft. It is unprecedented. American workers and companies are facing a greater, more complex danger than they have dealt with before. Stolen innovation means stolen jobs, stolen opportunities for American workers, and stolen national power.
National Counterintelligence Task Force (“NCITF”)
As the lead U.S. counterintelligence agency, the FBI is responsible for detecting and lawfully countering the actions of foreign intelligence services and organizations as they seek to adversely affect U.S. national interests. Recognizing the need to coordinate similar efforts across agencies, the FBI established the NCITF in 2019 to create a whole-of-government approach to counterintelligence. The FBI established this national-level task force in the National Capital Region to coordinate, facilitate, and focus these multi-agency counterintelligence operations, and to programmatically support local Counterintelligence Task Force (“CITF”) operations. Combining the authorities and operational capabilities of the U.S. Intelligence Community, non-Title-50 departments and agencies, law enforcement agencies around the country, and local CITFs in each FBI field office, the NCITF coordinates and leads whole-of-government efforts to defeat hostile intelligence activities targeting the United States.
The Department of Defense (“DOD”) has been a key partner in the NCITF since its founding. While the FBI has had long-term collaborative relationships with DOD entities such as the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, Naval Criminal Investigative Service, and Army Counterintelligence, the NCITF has allowed us to enhance our collaboration for greater impact. We plan to emphasize this whole-of-government approach as a powerful formula to mitigate the modern counterintelligence threat.
Transnational Repression and Other Counterintelligence Threats
In recent years, we have seen a rise in efforts by authoritarian regimes to interfere with freedom of expression and punish dissidents abroad. These acts of repression cross national borders, often reaching into the United States. Governments such as the PRC, the Russian Federation, and the Government of Iran stalk, intimidate, and harass ex-patriots or dissidents who speak against the regime from the United States.
Transnational repression can occur in different forms, including assaults and attempted kidnapping. Governments use transnational repression tactics to silence the voices of their citizens, U.S. residents, or others living abroad who are critical of their regimes. This sort of repressive behavior is antithetical to our values. People from all over the world are drawn to the United States by the promise of living in a free and open society that adheres to the rule of law. To ensure that this promise remains a reality, we must continue to use all of our tools to block authoritarian regimes that seek to extend their tactics of repression beyond their shores.
In addition, our nation is confronting multifaceted foreign threats seeking both to influence our national policies and public opinion and to harm our national dialogue and debate. The FBI and our interagency partners remain focused on foreign malign influence operations, including subversive, undeclared, coercive, and criminal actions used by foreign governments in their attempts to sway U.S. citizens’ preferences and perspectives, shift U.S. policies, increase discord in the United States, and undermine the American people’s confidence in our democratic institutions and processes.
Foreign malign influence is not a new problem, but the interconnectedness of the modern world, combined with the anonymity of the internet, have changed the nature of the threat. The FBI is the lead federal agency responsible for investigating foreign malign influence threats. Several years ago, we established the Foreign Influence Task Force (“FITF”) to identify and counteract foreign malign influence operations targeting the United States. The FITF is led by our Counterintelligence Division, and comprises agents, analysts, and professional staff from the Counterintelligence, Cyber, Counterterrorism, and Criminal Investigative divisions. It is specifically charged with identifying and combating foreign malign influence operations targeting democratic institutions inside the United States.
The domestic counterintelligence environment is more complex than ever. We face a persistent and pervasive national security threat from foreign adversaries, particularly the governments of China and Russia, and Iran, who conduct sophisticated intelligence operations using coercion, subversion, malign influence, cyber and economic espionage, traditional spying, and non-traditional human intelligence collection. Together, they pose a continuous threat to U.S. national security and our economy by targeting strategic technologies, industries, sectors, and critical infrastructure. Historically, these asymmetric national security threats involved foreign intelligence service officers seeking U.S. government and U.S. Intelligence Community information. Now, however, the FBI has observed foreign adversaries employing a wide range of nontraditional collection techniques, including the use of human collectors not affiliated with intelligence services, foreign investment in critical U.S. sectors, and infiltration of U.S. supply chains. The FBI continues to adjust our counterintelligence priorities to address this evolution.
The United States faces many criminal threats, including financial and health care fraud, transnational and regional organized criminal enterprises, crimes against children and human trafficking, violent threats against election personnel, and public corruption. Criminal organizations—domestic and international—and individual criminal activity represent a significant threat to security and safety in communities across the nation.
Violent crimes and gang activities exact a high toll on individuals and communities. Many of today’s gangs are sophisticated and well-organized. They use violence to control neighborhoods and boost their illegal money-making activities, which include robbery, human trafficking, drug and gun trafficking, fraud, extortion, and prostitution rings. These gangs do not limit their illegal activities to single jurisdictions or communities. The FBI is vital to this fight in big cities and small towns throughout the nation because we are able to cross jurisdictions and investigate wherever the evidence leads.
Every day, FBI special agents partner with federal, state, local, territorial, and tribal officers and deputies on joint task forces and on individual investigations. FBI joint task forces—Violent Crime Safe Streets, Violent Gang Safe Streets, and Safe Trails—focus on identifying and targeting major groups operating as criminal enterprises. Much of the FBI criminal intelligence is derived from our state, local, territorial, and tribal law enforcement partners, who know their communities inside and out. Joint task forces benefit from FBI surveillance assets, and our sources track these gangs to identify emerging trends. Through these multi-subject and multi-jurisdictional investigations, the FBI concentrates its efforts on high-level groups engaged in criminal conspiracies and patterns of racketeering. This investigative model enables us to target senior gang leadership and develop enterprise-based prosecutions.
By way of example, the FBI has dedicated tremendous resources to combat the threat of violence posed by MS-13. The atypical nature of this gang has required a multi-pronged approach. We work through our task forces here in the United States, while simultaneously gathering intelligence and aiding our international law enforcement partners. We do this through the FBI’s Transnational Anti-Gang Task Forces. Established in El Salvador in 2007 through the FBI’s National Gang Task Force, Legal Attaché San Salvador, and the United States Department of State, each Anti-Gang Task Force is responsible for the investigation of, primarily, MS-13 operations in the northern triangle of Central America and the United States. This program combines the expertise, resources, and jurisdiction of participating agencies to investigate and counter transnational criminal gang activity in Central America and the United States. There are now Transnational Anti-Gang Task Forces in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Through these combined efforts, the FBI has achieved substantial success in countering the MS-13 threat across Central America and the United States.
Transnational Organized Crime (“TOC”)
More than a decade ago, organized crime was characterized by hierarchical organizations, or families, that exerted influence over criminal activities in neighborhoods, cities, or states. But organized crime has changed dramatically. Today, international criminal enterprises run multinational, multibillion-dollar schemes from start to finish. Modern-day criminal enterprises are flat, fluid networks with global reach. While still engaged in many of the “traditional” organized crime activities of loan-sharking, extortion, and murder, modern criminal enterprises are also involved in trafficking counterfeit prescription drugs containing fentanyl, targeting stock market fraud and manipulation, cyber-facilitated bank fraud and embezzlement, illicit drug trafficking, identity theft, human trafficking, money laundering, alien smuggling, public corruption, weapons trafficking, kidnapping, and other illegal activities.
TOC networks exploit legitimate institutions for critical financial and business services that enable the storage or transfer of illicit proceeds. Preventing and combating transnational organized crime demands a concentrated effort by the FBI and federal, state, local, tribal, territorial, and international partners.
As part of our efforts to combat the TOC threat, the FBI is focused on the cartels trafficking narcotics across our border. The FBI has 328 pending investigations linked to cartel leadership, and 78 of those investigations are along the southern border. Additionally, the FBI actively participates in 17 Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (“OCDETF”) across the United States, investigating major drug trafficking, money laundering, and other high-priority transnational organized crime networks. On top of that, we are pursuing health care fraud investigations against medical professionals and pill mills through our prescription drug initiative, investigating the gangs and criminal groups responsible for distributing substances like fentanyl through our Safe Streets Task Forces, and disrupting and dismantling darknet marketplaces that facilitate the sale of counterfeit prescription opioids and other illicit drugs through our Joint Criminal Opioid Darknet Enforcement team.
While the FBI continues to share intelligence about criminal groups with our partners and combines resources and expertise to gain a full understanding of each group, the threat of transnational crime remains a significant and growing threat to national and international security with implications for public safety, public health, democratic institutions, and economic stability across the globe. TOC groups increasingly exploit jurisdictional boundaries to conduct their criminal activities overseas. Furthermore, they are diversifying their use of the darknet and emerging technologies to engage in illegal activity, such as trafficking illicit drugs and contraband across international borders and into the United States.
Crimes Against Children and Human Trafficking
Every year, thousands of children become victims of crimes, whether it is through kidnappings, violent attacks, sexual abuse, human trafficking, or online predators. The FBI is uniquely positioned to provide a rapid, proactive, and comprehensive response. We help identify, locate, and recover child victims. Our strong relationships with federal, state, local, territorial, tribal, and international law enforcement partners also help to identify, prioritize, investigate, and deter individuals and criminal networks from exploiting children.
But the FBI’s ability to learn about and investigate child sexual exploitation is being threatened by the proliferation of sites on the darknet. For example, currently, there are at least 30 child sexual abuse material sites operating openly and notoriously on the darknet. Some of these exploitative sites are exclusively dedicated to the sexual abuse of infants and toddlers. The sites often expand rapidly, with one site obtaining as many as 200,000 new members within its first few weeks of operation.
Another growing area of concern involving the sexual exploitation of children is the explosion in incidents of children and teens being coerced into sending explicit images online and extorted for money. Known as financial sextortion, in 2022, law enforcement received over 13,000 reports of this type of crime, resulting in at least 12,600 victims here and abroad, and more than 20 suicides. A large percentage of these sextortion schemes originate outside the United States, primarily in West African countries such as Nigeria and Ivory Coast. The FBI continues to collaborate with other law enforcement partners and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to mitigate this criminal activity and provide the public with informational alerts and victim resources regarding these crimes.
The FBI has several programs in place to arrest child predators and to recover missing and endangered children. To this end, the FBI funds or participates in a variety of endeavors, including our Innocence Lost National Initiative, Innocent Images National Initiative, Operation Cross Country, Child Abduction Rapid Deployment Team, Victim Services, over 80 Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Forces, over 74 International Violent Crimes Against Children Task Force officers, as well as numerous community outreach programs to educate parents and children about safety measures they can follow. Through improved communications, the FBI is able to collaborate with partners throughout the world quickly, playing an integral role in crime prevention.
The Child Abduction Rapid Deployment Team is a rapid-response team with experienced investigators strategically located across the country to quickly respond to child abductions. Investigators provide a full array of investigative and technical resources during the most critical time following the abduction of a child, such as the collection and analysis of DNA, impression, and trace evidence, the processing of digital forensic evidence, and interviewing expertise.
The FBI also focuses efforts to stop human trafficking of both children and adults. The FBI works collaboratively with law enforcement partners to disrupt all forms of human trafficking through Human Trafficking Task Forces nationwide. One way the FBI combats this pernicious crime problem is through investigations such as Operation Cross Country. Over a two-week period in 2023, the FBI, along with other federal, state, local, and tribal partners, executed approximately 350 operations to recover survivors of human trafficking and disrupt traffickers. These operations identified and located 59 minor victims of child sex trafficking, child sexual exploitation, or related state offenses and located 59 actively missing children. Furthermore, the FBI and its partners located 141 adults who were identified as potential victims of sexual exploitation, human trafficking, or related state offenses. In addition to identifying and recovering missing children and potential victims, the law enforcement activity conducted during Operation Cross Country led to the identification or arrest of 126 suspects implicated in potential child sexual exploitation, human trafficking, or related state or federal offenses.
Although many victims of human trafficking recovered by the FBI are adult U.S. citizens, the FBI and its partners recognize that foreign nationals, children, and other vulnerable populations are disproportionately harmed by both sex and labor trafficking. We take a victim-centered, trauma-informed approach to investigating these cases and strive to ensure the needs of victims are fully addressed at all stages. To accomplish this, the FBI works in conjunction with other law enforcement agencies and victim specialists on the federal, state, local, and tribal levels, as well as with a variety of vetted non-governmental organizations. Even after the arrest and conviction of human traffickers, the FBI often continues to work with partner agencies and organizations to assist victims and survivors in moving beyond their exploitation.
Reauthorization of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act
Before closing, I would be remiss if I did not underscore an urgent legislative matter directly relevant to our discussion today. As the committee knows, at the end of December, Section 702 and other provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) will expire unless renewed.
Loss of this vital provision, or its reauthorization in a narrowed form, would raise profound risks. For the FBI in particular, either outcome could mean substantially impairing, or in some cases entirely eliminating, our ability to find and disrupt many of the most serious security threats I described earlier in my statement.
I am especially concerned about one frequently discussed proposal, which would require the government to obtain a warrant or court order from a judge before personnel could conduct a “U.S. person query” of information previously obtained through use of Section 702. A warrant requirement would amount to a de facto ban, because query applications either would not meet the legal standard to win court approval; or because, when the standard could be met, it would be so only after the expenditure of scarce resources, the submission and review of a lengthy legal filing, and the passage of significant time—which, in the world of rapidly evolving threats, the government often does not have. That would be a significant blow to the FBI, which relies on this longstanding, lawful capability afforded by Section 702 to rapidly uncover previously hidden threats and connections, and to take swift steps to protect the homeland when needed.
To be sure, no one more deeply shares members’ concerns regarding past FBI compliance violations related to FISA, including the rules for querying Section 702 collection using U.S. person identifiers, than I do. These violations never should have happened and preventing recurrence is a matter of utmost priority. The FBI took these episodes seriously and responded rigorously, already yielding significant results in dramatically reducing the number of “U.S. person queries” by the FBI of the Section 702 database and in substantially improving its compliance rate. Moreover, as we publicly announced in June, the FBI is implementing further measures both to keep improving our compliance and to hold our personnel accountable for misuse of Section 702 and other FISA provisions, including through an escalating scheme for employee accountability, including discipline and culminating in possible dismissal.
Together with other leaders of the Intelligence Community and the Department of Justice, I remain committed to working with this committee and others in Congress, on potential reforms to Section 702 that would not diminish its critical intelligence value. There are many options for meaningfully enhancing privacy, oversight, and accountability, while fully preserving Section 702’s efficacy. Doing that will be critical to fulfilling the FBI’s continuing mission of identifying and stopping national security threats within the U.S. homeland.
The strength of any organization is its people. The threats we face as a nation have never been greater or more diverse, and the expectations placed on the FBI have never been higher. Our fellow citizens look to the FBI to protect the United States from those threats, and, every day, the men and women of the FBI continue to meet and exceed those expectations. I want to thank them for their dedicated service.
Chairman Green, Ranking Member Thompson, and members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today. I am happy to answer your questions.