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The FBI and Counterterrorism

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is the lead agency in the United States for combating international and domestic terrorism.

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 forever changed the FBI. The agency transformed itself into an intelligence-driven, threat-based, national security and law enforcement agency, with counterterrorism, both domestic and international, as our highest priority. To achieve this transformation, the Bureau focused on three main areas:

  • We improved the way we analyze and share intelligence to drive our investigations and to stay ahead of changing threats.
  • We greatly enhanced the FBI’s technology, giving us tools to help understand the intelligence data we collect and how to make the best use of it. In 2002, we created a Cyber Division at FBI Headquarters to address emerging cyber threats.
  • We enhanced our partnerships with our counterparts in law enforcement, the intelligence community, and the public and private sectors.

In the last few years, threats from domestic terrorist extremists have emerged as a larger threat than international terrorism. As a matter of fact, in recent years, domestic violent extremists have caused more deaths in the United States than international terrorists.

Between 2015 and 2019 the most lethal threat posed by domestic violent extremists in the U.S. stemmed from racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists. However, in 2020, three of the four fatal domestic terrorism homeland attacks were perpetrated by anti-government or anti-authority violent extremists.

For the FBI to investigate a case as domestic terrorism the following criteria must be met: the existence of a potential federal criminal violation, the unlawful use or threat of force or violence, and the existence of ideological motivation. The FBI can never open an investigation based solely on protected First Amendment activity. We cannot and do not investigate ideology.

Racially or Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremism (RMVE) and Anti-Government or Anti-Authority Violent Extremism (AGAAVE) is viewed by the FBI as the top domestic violent extremism threats in 2021. The Bureau elevated RMVE to be one of our top threat priorities—on the same level as international terrorist groups such as ISIS.

The primary threat to the homeland today is the one posed by lone actors or small cells who often look to attack soft, familiar targets with easily acquired weapons. The threat has created a new set of challenges for law enforcement because these actors are difficult to identify, investigate, and disrupt before they take violent action. There are far fewer “dots” to connect when individuals act alone and do not discuss plans with others.

That’s why it is critical for anyone who has information about someone planning to do harm to our community to report it to law enforcement immediately. We’ve all become familiar with the phrase “If you see something, say something.” We hope you do.

Posted by FBI Houston on 29 Sep 2021