WASHINGTON — The Biden administration on Friday announced a major initiative aimed at overhauling the government’s approach to domestic terrorism, ordering intelligence agencies to conduct a “comprehensive threat assessment” into what officials say has become a pressing national security challenge.
“The Jan. 6th assault on the Capitol and the tragic deaths and destruction that occurred underscored what we have long known,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. “The rise of domestic violent extremism is a serious and growing national security threat. The Biden administration will approach this threat with the necessary resources and resolve.”
President Joe Biden on Friday ordered the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to conduct the national threat assessment in cooperation with the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, Psaki said.
“The key point here is that we want fact-based analysis upon which we can shape policy,” she added. “So this is really the first step in the process, and we will rely on our appropriate law enforcement and intelligence officials to provide that analysis.”
The White House National Security Council also will develop a capability to counter domestic violent extremism, Psaki said, and launch a policy review “to determine how the government can share information better about this threat.”
The administration will also look for ways to address domestic radicalization and the role of social media, Psaki said.
The announcement comes in the wake of the security and intelligence failures that allowed domestic extremists to overrun the Capitol, leading to the deaths of a police officer, a rioter and three others. More than 140 people have been hit with federal charges in connection with the riot, including some members of far-right militia groups.
Big questions remain about what intelligence federal agencies collected about the potential for violence on Jan. 6 and who saw that information. But many experts believe there was a systemic failure involving the FBI, DHS and the D.C. and Capitol Police, all of which were aware of threat information on social media but failed to establish a sufficient security presence.
FBI officials have said for years that they have felt hamstrung in their approach to domestic extremists, because the government has been loath to use the surveillance tools it deploys against al Qaeda or ISIS adherents to Americans who hold radical political beliefs that may lead some of them to violence.
Three of the people leading the effort, Psaki said, are Claire Linkens, the NSC’s senior director for counterterrorism; Joshua Geltzer, a former NSC official and counterterrorism expert who has been named special assistant to the president and special adviser to the homeland security adviser on countering domestic violent extremism; and Russ Travers, the former head of the National Counterterrorism Center and a veteran intelligence official who was forced out of his job by the Trump administration.