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Senator Lankford Discusses Rising Domestic and National Security Threats During Intel Hearing

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WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today participated in an open Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Worldwide Threats. This is an annual hearing that the committee holds to examine America’s greatest national security threats from around the globe. Lankford used the opportunity to question US intelligence and national security leaders on the rising threat from Mexico and drug trafficking, cyber threats, and the recent arrest of Naif Abdulaziz Alfallaj in Weatherford, Oklahoma.

Last month, Lankford traveled to Mexico and Central America to meet with foreign leaders about security operations, counternarcotics operations, and drug trafficking.

The hearing witnesses included: FBI Director Chris Wray; Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats; CIA Director Michael Pompeo; Director of the National Security Agency Admiral Michael Rogers; Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency Lieutenant General Robert Ashley; and Director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency Robert Cardillo. 

Transcript: 

Senator Lankford: Director Coats, you and I talked last year about this issue that Senator King was bringing up about cyber doctrine and a point person on who that would be and defined person that would give options to the President and Congress to say if a response is needed and warranted, this is the person, this is the entity that would make those recommendations and allow the President to make decisions on what the proper response is. Has that been completed? Is there a point person to be able to give recommendations on a proper response to cyber-attack to the President? 

Director Coats: That has not yet been completed. Of course, your understanding of the standup of cyber command and new director that will be replacing Admiral Rogers, the decision relative to whether there would be separation between functions that are now NSA and cyber has yet to be made. General Mattis is contemplating what the next best step is. They have involved the intelligence community in terms of making decisions in that role, but we at this point cannot point to one sort of cyber czar but various agencies throughout the federal government are taking this very, very seriously, and there are individuals that we continue to meet on a regular basis. ODNI has something has something called CTIIC and that is a coordination effort for all of the cyber that comes in so that we don’t stovepipe like what we did before 9/11. Things are underway, but in terms of putting a finalized this is how we’re going to do it together is still in process. 

Director Pompeo: Senator Lankford, with respect to responses to that, these are Title X DOD activities, unless they are granted to some other authority, a Title L authorities. So, there is a person responsible. Secretary Mattis has that responsibility to advise the President on appropriateness of responses in all theaters of conflict with adversaries. 

Senator Lankford: Thank you. I want to bring up the issue of rising threat of what’s happening south of the border in Mexico. The Mexico homicide rate went up 27 percent last year; we had 64,000 Americans that died from overdose of drugs, preponderance came through or from Mexico. We have a very rapidly rising threat it appears to me. What I am interested in from you all on national security level and what you’re seeing, what are we facing? What’s changing now in Mexico versus ten years ago Mexico and our relationship and threats coming from there? 

Director Coats: I would defer to Director Wray relative to what his agency is doing. Clearly, we have a continuing problem and the Mexican government has a continuing problem relative to gangs and organizations. There are high profile arrests lately. We have taken down some labs. Mexico is cooperating and they themselves will admit it is almost overwhelming, their army has been participating, almost overwhelming to control the situation south of the border. We have our own issues on border protection as well as consumption in the United States. 

Director Wray: In many ways, what we’re seeing more of the same. One of the things that have changed, I think that was at the heart of your question, I think one of the things we are watching, in particular, is more black market fentanyl being shipped to trans-national criminal organizations in Mexico and then they’re taking advantage of pricing advantages and that’s being then delivered in large quantities to our streets. Certainly, the Mexico relationship is from law enforcement perspective and from domestic security perspective, one of the most important. The FBI lead that office and Mexico is the largest in the world, pretty sure about that, or pretty close to it if not. That’s a reflection of how much activity there is. 

Senator Lankford: Let me ask you specific Oklahoma question that is also a national question. There was an individual named Alfallaj that was picked up in Weatherford, Oklahoma just a couple of weeks ago by the FBI. His fingerprints were identified from a terror training camp in Afghanistan. He had been in the country for multiple years. And what I’m trying to be able to determine if the coordination of information to local law enforcement and from data that’s gathered from some of the work that’s happening overseas in Afghanistan and such, how are the two being married together that we can identify individuals that are a threat to our nation based on their participation in a terror training camp overseas, now coming to the American shores. 

Director Wray: Well, certainly we have become better at looking at biometric information from overseas and marrying it up with potential threat subjects here in the US as well as in some of our allies. The individual in question, of course, turned out to have his fingerprints on information from the Al Farouq camp. And it’s just a reminder to us that an awful lot of people went through those camps. While the civilized world, intelligence community, law enforcement, military, our allies around the world made a major dent on those people, we’re kidding ourselves if we think an awful lot of them aren’t still out there. It is a reminder to stay on the balls of our feet. 

Director Lieutenant General Ashley: Senator, if I could, one additional point. You asked what has changed in Mexico. What has also transpired last couple years, you had five principal cartels, you’ve alluded to a number of captures that have taken place over 100. Those five cartels have devolved into 20, and part of that outgrowth, you’ve seen an increase in the level of violence.  

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