“Travel and technology,” Wray said, “have really blurred the lines between foreign and domestic threats.”
The FBI director said the frequently cited expression of “connecting the dots” to stop a terrorist attack has taken on a new kind of urgency for many investigators because attackers can mobilize so quickly and often are not part of a large, well-established network.
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In many terrorism cases, Wray said, “you’re talking about largely lone actors, maybe one or two other people who do not have to do a lot of plotting, who do not need to have a lot of money… don ‘ t need to do a lot of training, and whose targets are pretty much everywhere. ”
As a result, Wray continued, “there are very few dots out there, as compared to, say, the 9/11 model of an al-Qaeda sleeper cell. … With fewer dots and much less time in which to connect those dots, it may well be that Ken’s folks have one dot and we have the other dot, and if we’re not super latched up, we’re going to miss the only picture that’s out there and it’s got to happen fast. ”
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McCallum said in Britain, investigations involving individuals motivated by racism, neo-Nazism, or related hateful ideologies represent about 20 percent of the terrorism caseload. Many of the individuals of concern are young.
“The neo-Nazi racist groups, there is, if anything, a greater emphasis on juveniles within the caseload, a more obsessive interest in weaponry – in many cases even before there is some kind of attack planned,” said McCallum. “There’s kind of an interest in weaponry for its own sake, so it creates a very difficult cocktail of risk we have to manage with great care.”
Wray noted that while racist violence has generally been categorized as a domestic terror threat, increasingly the perpetrators appear to draw inspiration, often through social media, from people in foreign countries who conducted their own terrorist attacks.
In the recent Buffalo supermarket shooting in which a young White man allegedly targeted Black shoppers at a supermarket, the suspect’s writing showed admiration for a 2019 gunman who killed 51 people at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Another frequent source of inspiration for such attacks is a 2011 shooting in Oslo by a far-right extremist who killed 77 people.
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“You have people who may not be conspiring or colluding with each other, but who are in effect inspiring or egging each other on,” said Wray. “You can see that for example with the attack in New Zealand, the attack in Norway, in some sense you see an attack in the US that inspires somebody else to attack somewhere else.”
Those inspirational, international connections mean that the FBI and MI5 have to be constantly “comparing notes on what they are seeing,” the FBI director said.
The two security chiefs spoke to reporters as Wray wrapped up several days of meetings in London with various United Kingdom law enforcement and intelligence officials.
On Wednesday, Wray and McCallum made rare joint speeches to sound an alarm to the British business community about the danger that Chinese hacking and covert influence operations pose to Western companies’ long term interests.
McCallum said the problem of Chinese espionage is at the top of the agenda for the intelligence-sharing alliance known as the Five Eyes, which includes the United States, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. ”