The most recent draft report predicts an “elevated threat environment at least through” early next year, concluding that some US-based violent extremists have capitalized on increased social and political tensions in 2020.
Although foreign terrorist organizations will continue to call for attacks on the US, the report says, they “probably will remain constrained in their ability to direct such plots over the next year.”
All three drafts state that white supremacist extremists are the deadliest threat. However, the placement and language about white supremacy in three versions of the DHS draft documents differ slightly.
The earliest available version of the “State of the Homeland Threat Assessment 2020” drafts reads: “We judge that ideologically-motivated lone offenders and small groups will pose the greatest terrorist threat to the Homeland through 2021, with white supremacist extremists presenting the most lethal threat.”
The lead section on terror threats to the homeland is changed in the latter two drafts to replace “white supremacist extremists” with “Domestic Violent Extremists presenting the most persistent and lethal threat.”
The reports, however, all contain this language: “Among DVEs [Domestic Violent Extremists], we judge that white supremacist extremists (WSEs) will remain the most persistent and lethal threat in the Homeland through 2021.”
Wittes published the documents because he wanted there to be a “benchmark about what the career folks at DHS actually assessed the threats to be against” the final product that is released by the department.
He told CNN that “the most striking thing is in this political atmosphere; they have said what they said” — that white supremacist violence is the threat they are most concerned about.
“I don’t want to criticize them when that language is there. That said it is somewhat different in the first draft than the subsequent two and I do think the nature of the change is notable as a reflection of the political pressure they are under,” he said.
CNN has reached out to DHS for comment. The final 2020 threat assessment has not been publicly released.
The 2020 draft report also finds that Russian state-affiliated actors will continue targeting US industry and all levels of government with “intrusive cyber espionage.” According to the draft, China and Russia are the most capable nation-state cyber adversaries, but Iran and North Korea also pose a threat to the US.
One of the report’s “key take-aways” is that “Russia probably will be the primary covert foreign influence actor and purveyor of disinformation and misinformation in the Homeland.”
Moscow’s primary aim is to undermine the US electoral process and weaken the United States. Some Kremlin-linked disinformation also might motivate acts of violence in the US, the draft report says.
Officials in his administration, however, have warned against white supremacist extremism.
“In our modern age, the continued menace of racially based violent extremism, particularly white supremacist extremism, is an abhorrent affront to the nation, the struggle and unity of its diverse population,” he said in a speech at the Brookings Institution almost a year ago.
The threat assessment was prompted by a 2019 DHS counterterrorism strategy that called for annual reports to inform government officials and the public.