Department will work "with urgency and focus to address" insider threats, secretary says.
The Biden administration will probe a part of its own workforce to root out “domestic violent extremism,” with the Homeland Security Department announcing on Monday it will launch a review.
The investigation will determine how to prevent and respond to racially or ethnically motivated violence and other extremist acts, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said. DHS has cautioned there is a heightened threat for domestic attacks and has designated its effort to counter the threat as a "national priority area" in doling out Federal Emergency Management Agency grants. Mayorkas pointed specifically to the Jan. 6 violent insurrection attempt at the U.S. Capitol Building as evidence that domestic extremism is the most “lethal and persistent terrorism-related threat to our country today.”
“As we work to safeguard our nation, we must be vigilant in our efforts to identify and combat domestic violent extremism within both the broader community and our own organization. Hateful acts and violent extremism will not be tolerated within our department,” the secretary said in a message to the department’s 240,000 employees on Monday. “Violent extremism has no place at DHS and we will work with urgency and focus to address it.”
The department's chief security officer will lead the probe and report back to Mayorkas on findings. DHS is planning to issue new internal requirements for reporting insider threats and other actions “associated with domestic violent extremism." It will also issue reminders related to its anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies.
“Each of you brings great honor to DHS,” Mayorkas said. “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.”
President Biden previously announced he would seek internal probes at Homeland Security, proposing a 22% surge in funding at both Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Offices of Professional Responsibility as part of his fiscal 2022 budget request. The money would go toward ensuring proper investigations of complaints lodged against their workforces, including “those related to white supremacy or ideological and non-ideological beliefs.” CBP launched an internal investigation after ProPublica in 2019 exposed a Facebook group in which employees were posting racist, sexist and xenophobic content, subsequently disciplining several workers.
Mark Morgan, who briefly led the Border Patrol under President Obama and headed up both ICE and CBP under President Trump, recently told Government Executive he thought it was unfair that the Biden administration singled out Homeland Security components for review.
“Why is it that it’s CBP and ICE that gets brought under the microscope,” Morgan said. “It’s political.”
The Defense Department earlier this month announced it was launching a counter-extremism initiative to root out extremist behavior within the military. Defense will define prohibited extremist activities and commission a study on how prevalent such behavior is within its ranks. Each service will also boost its screening for potentially violent extremist personnel.