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DHS Has Seen Few Incidents of Violent Domestic Extremism in Its Ranks, but Internal Threats Remain

A year-long probe by DHS turns up only a handful of employees engaging in extremist behavior.

The Homeland Security Department has identified just five employees who engaged in domestic violent extremism over the last few years, according to an internal report released on Friday, but reporting failures and other shortcomings leave it vulnerable to insider threats. 

The exact number of incidents of extremism within DHS from fiscal 2019 through June 2021 is unclear, a working group found, as the department has no set definition of what qualifies or system to track them. DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas launched the investigation last year, creating the panel following the Jan. 6 insurrection attempt at the U.S. Capitol Building. 

DHS has no clear list of behaviors that indicate domestic violent extremism, the working group found, nor does it have any training in place to help employees identify and report it. Its insider threat program and other oversight entities do not prepare their staff for encountering extremism within the department’s ranks and even when they do, there is no centralized case management system to log such cases. The insider threat program is under-resourced, the working group found, suggesting DHS ask for money to beef it up and support more training. 

The department identified 35 allegations of domestic violent extremism during the period it reviewed, but only five cases were substantiated as directly falling into that category. Examples included racial or ethnic, animal or environmental, abortion and anti-government extremism.

“To ensure we are able to continue executing our critical mission with honor and integrity, we will not tolerate hateful acts or violent extremist activity within our department,” Mayorkas said on Friday. “The findings of this internal review highlight key steps that our department will continue to take with urgency to better prevent, detect, and respond to potential internal threats related to domestic violent extremism, and protect the integrity of our mission.”

The working group suggested DHS create baseline policies, such as a definition of domestic violent extremism, and a list of related behaviors that would lead to guidance on how to identify and respond to problematic individuals. Once funding is secured, DHS should set up training for all employees and leadership should message to the workforce on their obligations to report wrongdoing and refrain from engaging in certain activities. While the working group said DHS should explore monitoring employees’ social media and encourage employees to inform on their colleagues, it said the department must protect civil liberties and whistleblower rights. 

The best way to protect against extremists in the workplace is to prevent them from entering in the first place, the panel said, calling for enhanced hiring screenings and changes to forms that would help identify risky applicants. 

DHS on Friday vowed to implement the recommendations over the coming months, saying it has already incorporated some of the suggestions into its policies. The working group said it should continue to exist to monitor implementation and encourage interagency collaboration. 

“Each of you brings great honor to DHS,” Mayorkas said last year when setting up the review. “We will not allow hateful acts or violent extremism to penetrate the fabric of our department and fundamentally compromise our ability to protect the homeland.”

Following a request from President Biden, Customs and Border Protection is set to receive $74 million to beef up its Office of Professional Responsibility staffing as part of the omnibus funding bill. The White House said the money would go toward proper investigations of complaints lodged against the CBP workforce, including “those related to white supremacy or ideological and non-ideological beliefs.”

Following the Jan. 6 riots, DHS cautioned there was a heightened threat for domestic attacks and designated its effort to counter the threat as a "national priority area" in doling out Federal Emergency Management Agency grants.