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Wray warns of Islamic terrorist, national security threats posed by China, Iran

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One day before Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas testified before a House committee acknowledging there is a border crisis, FBI Director Christopher Wray reiterated what he has said for months: the U.S. is facing increased terrorist threats.

Wray spoke to members of the American Bar Association’s Committee on Law and National Security on Tuesday in Washington, D.C., about the evolving threat landscape facing the U.S. He did so after recently testifying before Congress about the FBI’s concerns about terrorists, including those affiliated with ISIS, coming through the border.

In his address, he highlighted several national security threats posed by different groups, with China and Iran at the top of the list.

“Today’s national security threats are more complex and sophisticated than ever,” he said. “We’re seeing hostile nation-states becoming more aggressive in their efforts to steal our secrets and our innovation, target our critical infrastructure, and export their repression to our shores.

“Front and center is China – the defining threat of our generation. To put it simply, the CCP [Communist Party of China] is throwing its whole government at undermining the security and economy of the rule-of-law world. China’s hacking program is larger than that of every other major nation, combined. And if each one of the FBI’s cyber agents and intelligence analysts focused exclusively on the China threat, China’s hackers would still outnumber FBI cyber personnel by at least 50 to 1.”

His warning came as federal authorities warned all 50 state governors of “disabling cyberattacks” targeting water and wastewater systems nationwide, reportedly being perpetrated by Iranian and Chinese state actors, and as the greatest number of Chinese nationals have illegally entered the country under the Biden administration, including one that illegally entered a U.S. Marine Corps base, The Center Square reported.

Wray explained that Chinese actors were engaged in “traditional espionage and economic espionage, foreign malign influence, election interference, and transnational repression – often working in tandem. They recruit human sources to target our businesses, using insiders to steal the same kinds of innovation and data their hackers are targeting. They’re engaging in corporate deception.”

He also highlighted examples of Russia as “a top cyber threat,” and the Russian government investing heavily in cyber operations, including “conducting reconnaissance on the U.S. energy sector.”

Iran also “shouldn’t be underestimated,” he said. “They too are very aggressive … and continue to engage in brazen behavior directed at us.”

Iran and North Korea are the only two countries to have conducted a destructive cyberattack inside the U.S., he said. In 2021, an Iranian-sponsored group cyber-attacked a children’s hospital in the United States.

In recent years, individuals associated with Iran plotted to assassinate at least two public American figures on U.S. soil, he said. One was a former U.S. National Security Advisor. The other was an American journalist who was targeted multiple times by Iranian intelligence officials, including most recently for assassination, on U.S. soil.

“Last year, we announced that the FBI and our partners had disrupted that assassination attempt, which Iran tried to carry out using an organized crime group,” he said. “I have no doubt Iran will also continue to try to evade international sanctions by stealing our military technology through cyber hacking and illegal technology transfers – and of course, it remains the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism.”

Terrorism, he said, remains the FBI’s “number one priority. I’ve been very public in saying that at a time when the terrorism threat was already elevated, the ongoing war in the Middle East has raised the threat of an attack against Americans inside the United States to a whole ‘nother level.”

Islamic terrorist organizations pose the biggest threat, he said. They include al-Qaida, Hamas, Hezbollah and ISIS, which have publicly called for attacks against Americans both before and after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack against Israel. Members of these groups have also renewed calls for attacks against Jewish communities in the U.S. and across the West, he said. “October 7 and the conflict that’s followed will feed a pipeline of radicalization and mobilization for years to come.”

While there may be infighting among the Islamic groups, he said, they are “now united in their calls for attacks on us. Given those calls for action, we cannot and do not discount the possibility that foreign terrorists may exploit the conflict to carry out an attack.

“America’s adversaries aren’t pulling any punches – they’re coming at us with everything they’ve got. So, this is not the time for us to hang up our gloves or take away the tools that help us punch back.”

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