In a recent congressional hearing, Head of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Intelligence and Analysis John Cohen detailed how the DHS has shifted its intelligence strategy since the January 6 riots that breached the U.S. Capitol building. The House Intelligence Committee received testimony from Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and DHS officials on the topic of domestic terrorism.
The current threat landscape is "one of the most complex, volatile and dynamic that I've experienced in my career," said Cohen. Disinformation, violent crime and international and domestic terrorism are some of the important risk factors for security professionals to consider highlighted by Cohen in his address. According to Cohen, "the primary terrorism facing the U.S. comes from lone offenders and small groups of individuals who are motivated by extremist ideologies."
In response to a question from Indiana Rep. Andre Carson, Cohen detailed the specific changes made by DHS since the events of January 6, 2021, which included:
- Redoubled efforts to coordinate intelligence sharing between federal, state, local and private organizations
- Increased analysis of online activity and the evaluation of activity for potential risks of violence
- Incorporation of threat-related intelligence into operational planning
Cohen pointed to the example of Inauguration Day, which took place just two weeks after the Capitol building was breached by rioters. He noted that organizers and participants in the January 6 riots did not view them as an end goal, but rather a starting point, and that people involved in the breach continued to express violent intentions online. In order to prevent more violence, the DHS increased physical security measures around the Capitol building on Inauguration Day, ensured the high visibility of national guard and law enforcement and instituted a public security presence both in Washington D.C. and state capitols around the country.
Cohen spoke to prevention tools employed by the U.S. over the past two decades, citing the effectiveness of joint terrorism task forces (JTTs). However, he said that JTTs alone are no longer enough to deal with the domestic threats facing the country today. Local, community-based prevention can help reach potentially escalated individuals before their actions reach a threat level necessitating a terrorism investigation. DHS has increased funding directed into communities in order to mitigate the risk of violence from the onset.