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Lankford Questions National Security Officials on Recent Violence in the US, Election Security Threats

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WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today questioned national security officials in a Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing entitled “Threats to the Homeland,” an annual hearing that seeks to address some of the most pressing issues facing US national security and the ways in which the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) work together to thwart potential threats.

The hearing’s panel consisted of FBI Director Christopher Wray, NCTC Director Christopher Miller, and Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Deputy Secretary of DHS Kenneth Cuccinelli. Lankford’s questions focused on the outbreak of violence in our nation and the foreign threats to our elections, especially from China. Lankford has been very vocal about the national security threats we and our allies face from China. Lankford also briefly thanked the FBI for its work to help iron out some of the logistics in Oklahoma stemming from the Supreme Court’s decision in McGirt earlier this year.


On violence in the nation in the past several months

Lankford: Director Wray, I want to be able to ask you about some of the violence that’s happened across the country in the past several months. We’ve had hundreds and hundreds of peaceful protest on racial injustice around the country that we are grateful as a country that we have that option to be able to have peaceful protests and that people are allowed to be able to speak and point issues out. But some of them have turned very violent. And in some of your testimony in the House, it seemed that you were trending to try to connect some groups. Have you been able to identify groups or entities behind the scenes that seem to be organizing nationally to foment violence at some of these events or are you seeing these as spontaneous events or small groups that are unconnected with others?

Director Wray: So, Senator I appreciate the question, and I appreciate the opportunity to try to be as clear as I can because this is an important topic. I think the first thing, big picture is that as the Chairman referenced in his opening comments, when you look across the country, you’ve got three broad categories. You’ve got the peaceful protesters—that’s maybe the biggest number of people, then you’ve got, sort of a second category, which I would describe as criminal opportunists, engaging in looting, low-level vandalism, etc. But then you’ve got a third group, and while it might numerically be the smallest, it’s by far and away the most dangerous, the most serious, and the one that we might have to go after the most aggressively, which is the people who are clearly violating federal law—you know, IEDs, Molotov cocktails, specific targeting of law enforcement, arsons of government facilities, businesses, etc. Who those people are, that’s our priority; that’s our focus. It varies the motivation of what dives them from day to day, city to city. However, we have certainly seen a number of violent, anarchist extremists participating in that mix.

I’ve gotten a lot of questions from a lot of people about Antifa, for example, so let me try to be as clear as I can be about that. Antifa is a real thing. It is not a faction. Now, we have seen organized tactical activity at both the local and regional level. We have seen Antifa adherence to coalescing and working together in what I would describe as small groups and nodes…

On unique threats from China to our elections

Lankford: I do want to drill down on this issue about China and trying to malign influence for the election in particular. When [National Security Council] Director O’Brien made that comment, obviously we’re dealing with Russia and what they did in 2016. We’re all very aware of how they were trying to engage in our election, but his comment seemed to be that China is being even more aggressive behind the scenes this time than Russia was. We also know that Iran is trying to be able to influence our elections. I didn’t know if there was any clarity that any of you could bring to that. Obviously he’s [O’Bryan] not sitting at the table today, but if there were any other comments about that.

Secretary Cuccinelli: I would just note that the way China acts in that arena is different than Russia and Iran in part because they have so many more levers. Iran and Russia don’t have the trade with us that China has. They don’t have the relationships at every level of government that China has, and they don’t have the connections to our economy and so forth. So, they don’t have the levers that China has available to them. We’ve seen through this year, COVID was an excellent example as we roll into the election season, where they’ve got ambassadors in other countries, they’ve got their foreign minister. They’re taking on false narratives aimed at the United States very overtly and then spreading them through their media outlets in ways that our other opponents don’t have available to them. So it’s a very unique attack.