DHS 2020 Threat Assessment
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released its 2020 threat assessment. Here is a brief summary:
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We are increasingly concerned about the threat posed by nation state actors in an emerging era of great power competition. DHS is specifically concerned with the direct and indirect threat posed to the Homeland by the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The Chinese Communist Party (CCP)-led PRC is challenging America’s place as the world’s global and economic leader. Threats emanating from China include damaging the U.S. economy through intellectual property theft, production and distribution of counterfeit goods, and unfair trade practices. DHS has a mandate to mitigate these threats and we will do so with a clear-eyed view that China is a long-term strategic competitor to the U.S.
Domestic violent extremism is a threat to the Homeland.
As Americans, we all have the right to believe whatever we want, but we don’t have a right to carry out acts of violence to further those beliefs. The Department works with other Government, non-Government, and private sector partners to prevent individuals from making this transition from protected speech to domestic terrorism reflected by violence. As Secretary, I am concerned about any form of violent extremism. That is why we design our programs to be threat agnostic – ensuring that we can combat a broad range of domestic threats. However, I am particularly concerned about white supremacist violent extremists who have been exceptionally lethal in their abhorrent, targeted attacks in recent years. I am proud of our work to prevent terrorizing tactics by domestic terrorists and violent extremists who seek to force ideological change in the United States through violence, death, and destruction.
Exploitation of Lawful and Protected Speech and Protests.
During the course of developing the HTA we began to see a new, alarming trend of exploitation of lawful protests causing violence, death, and destruction in American communities. This anti-government, anti-authority and anarchist violent extremism was identified by DHS in September 2019 when we published our Strategic Framework for Countering Terrorism and Targeted Violence. As the date of publication of this HTA, we have seen over 100 days of violence and destruction in our cities. The co-opting of lawful protests led to destruction of government property and have turned deadly. Indeed, DHS law enforcement officers suffered over 300 separate injuries and were assaulted with sledgehammers, commercial grade fireworks, rocks, metal pipes, improvised explosive devices, and more. This violence, perpetrated by anarchist extremists and detailed in numerous public statements that remain available on the DHS website, significantly threatens the Homeland by undermining officer and public safety— as well as our values and way of life. While the HTA touches on these issues, we are still in the nascent stages of understanding the threat this situation poses to Americans, the Homeland, and the American way of life.
Cyber security threats from nation-states and non-state actors present challenging threats to our Homeland and critical infrastructure.
DHS has a critical mission to protect America’s infrastructure, which includes our cyberinfrastructure. We are concerned with the intents, capabilities, and actions of nation-states such as China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea. Nation-state targeting of our assets seeks to disrupt the infrastructure that keeps the American economy moving forward and poses a threat to national security. On top of the threats to critical infrastructure, cybercriminals also target our networks to steal information, hold organizations hostage, and harm American companies for their own gain.
Nation-states will continue to try to undermine American elections.
Threats to our election have been another rapidly evolving issue. Nation-states like China, Russia, and Iran will try to use cyber capabilities or foreign influence to compromise or disrupt infrastructure related to the 2020 U.S. Presidential election, aggravate social and racial tensions, undermine trust in U.S. authorities, and criticize our elected officials. Perhaps most alarming is that our adversaries are seeking to sway the preferences and perceptions of U.S. voters using influence operations. Americans need to understand this threat and arm themselves with all information available to avoid falling prey to these tactics. While Russia has been a persistent threat by attempting to harm our democratic and election systems, it is clear China and Iran also pose threats in this space. The IC’s Election Threat Update from August 2020 and Microsoft’s announcement of cyber-attacks from China, Russia, and Iran provide further evidence of this threat and underscore the importance in public and private partnerships to secure democratic processes. DHS’s #Protect2020 website can help you understand the threat to our elections and increase your preparedness and awareness.
Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs) continue to profit at the expense of American lives.
Mexican cartels and other TCOs will continue to smuggle hard narcotics like fentanyl, heroin, and methamphetamine into our communities, contributing to an alarming level of overdoses in the United States. No American community is immune from the impact of these drugs. Furthermore, cartels will continue to use dangerous human smuggling methods to facilitate migrants to our borders, putting these migrants and our officers and agents at significant risk given the current COVID-19 pandemic.
The threat of illegal and mass migration to the United States.
Traditional migration push factors like insecurity and economic conditions continue to push individuals north to the United States. While we are addressing illegal migration through a network of initiatives, we are concerned that during a pandemic this poses a more specific threat to the migrants, the communities they transit, to U.S. border communities, and to our officers and agents who encounter migrants when they enter the United States. To mitigation this threat we instituted enhanced restrictions at our borders, limited travel to only essential travelers and implemented a Center for Disease Control (CDC) order that protects Americans from COVID-19.
Natural occurrences continue to harm the life and property of Americans.
In 2020 alone we have seen an unprecedented storm season that has taken the livelihoods of many Americans in our Gulf states and a historic wildfire season that has caused devastation on the West Coast. Americans in-between our coasts also face the threat of natural disasters from a variety of causes. On top of the threat to life and safety, these events have devastating impacts on local and national economies. The Department is at the forefront of providing information to help Americans prepare, and we stand ready to respond after these events occur.
Likewise, a foreign-born virus reached our shores in 2020. COVID-19 is the most recent and deadly, in a list of infectious diseases that have threatened the lives of Americans. We have seen unprecedented impact to life, health, and public safety from COVID-19 and taken action to prevent our healthcare system from being overburdened from COVID-19 patients. DHS was at the forefront mitigating threat and we took decisive action to restrict air and sea travel from disease hot-spots, close our land borders to non-essential travel, provide lifesaving PPE to Americans, prevent fraudulent PPE from entering our supply chains, and identify fraudsters who are trying to exploit this situation for their own personal gain.
Homeland Threat Assessment October 2020, Department of Homeland Security, (October 2020).