DOJ NatSec Leader: Lessons Learned from International Terrorism Can Guide Fight Against Escalating Domestic Terror


Assistant Legal professional Common Matthew G. Olsen shipped this keynote tackle at George Washington University’s System on Extremism Symposium in Washington on June 15, 2022:

Good afternoon. For those of you who really do not know me, I am Matt Olsen, the Assistant Attorney Normal for Countrywide Safety at the Department of Justice. I have been in this posture given that November of final yr, but I initially came to NSD at its inception in 2006 as the senior career formal overseeing the Department’s intelligence operate.

NSD was the initial new Division designed at DOJ in practically a 50 % century. Its founding vision was to consolidate the countrywide stability elements of DOJ into a solitary crew to carry out the Department’s mission of combatting terrorism, espionage and other threats to national security.

In the wake of 9/11, NSD fostered collaboration and unity of reason throughout DOJ as well as with the intelligence local community. As a Division, NSD unites prosecutors with lawyers throughout the intelligence community to make sure that we method nationwide protection threats utilizing each tool and useful resource out there to the federal govt. So that founding eyesight continues to manual us currently, even as the business and the scope of its do the job has grown around the decades.

Over the earlier 10 years, NSD has developed significantly in size and in the vary of its get the job done. In addition to combatting international and domestic terrorism, the Division handles matters addressing country condition cyber threats, sanctions evasion and other threats to our national security.

The function of NSD lawyers may differ from representing the governing administration in federal district and circuit courts, such as the International Intelligence Surveillance Courtroom vetting for nationwide stability fears with sensitive likely international investments in the United States taking part in plan and legislative initiatives addressing the most pressing nationwide safety difficulties of the working day and aiding American victims of abroad terrorism.

NSD’s evolution displays the advancement and variations in the threats we encounter. Nonetheless from working day a person, counterterrorism has been at the main of our mission. That continues to be real these days.

When I was initially at NSD, we predominantly targeted on combating intercontinental terrorism by teams like al-Qaida. All those threats have not gone absent, and we proceed to encounter the menace of terrorist assaults on the homeland by foreign terrorist groups, specially ISIS. DOJ performs each individual day with our companions at the FBI and across the intelligence group to establish and disrupt foreign terrorist plots and to bring to justice individuals who would do us damage.

Around the final handful of a long time, our place has witnessed the threat posed by domestic terrorism and detest crimes increase – it is an alarming trend that we will have to confront. Communities throughout the United States have noticed initially-hand the awful charges inflicted by terrorism and violent extremism.

Very last month, in Buffalo, New York, a gunman killed 10 folks at a grocery shop. We have claimed that Office is investigating that matter as a dislike crime and an act of racially-determined violent extremism. This early morning, Attorney Typical Garland introduced that the Division has filed a criminal complaint charging the perpetrator with multiple counts of committing a hate crime resulting in dying, committing a despise crime involving an attempt to get rid of and for using a firearm to commit murder.

As the Lawyer Typical mentioned, these functions of violence not only terrorize the people today who are attacked, they hurt whole communities. And we will be relentless in combatting this sort of functions of violence.

We also see this mounting danger in the horrific attacks in Pittsburgh, El Paso, Charlottesville and in other places. Many other plots or threats have been disrupted. Just due to the fact the spring of 2020, the range of FBI investigations of suspected domestic violent extremists has additional than doubled.

As when I commenced at NSD in 2006, some of the most acute law enforcement troubles come up in combatting terrorism, only this time the danger is both equally global and domestic.

Now, the most significant terrorist menace to the United States is posed by lone actors or compact cells who typically radicalize on line and look to assault delicate targets using easily available weapons. We see these threats manifested in two teams of extremists, both of those of which contain actors centered in the United States: domestic violent extremists and homegrown violent extremists.

Domestic violent extremists, or DVEs, are individuals who look for to dedicate violent legal acts in furtherance of social or political goals stemming from domestic influences — this kind of as racial or ethnic bias, or anti-govt or anti-authority sentiments. By contrast, homegrown violent extremists, or HVEs, are folks who are impressed largely by foreign terrorist groups, but who are not acquiring distinct direction from people groups. That claimed, these men and women are generally enthusiastic and impressed by a blend of socio-political, ideological and particular grievances towards their targets.

No matter if they draw inspiration from foreign or domestic influences, as soon as these people today make a decision to dedicate functions of violence, they pose similar and important worries for legislation enforcement.

Since of the insular and frequently swift character of their radicalization and mobilization to violence – such as restricted discussion of designs with other people and the use of encrypted communications – there are less chances to detect and disrupt plots before they take place. These actors have obtain to effortlessly accessible, incredibly strong weapons. And we have to be very clear about this – the potential of violent extremists to purchase military services-quality weapons in this state contributes to their means to eliminate and inflict hurt on a mass scale. They normally select delicate targets these kinds of as properties of worship, retail spots and mass general public gatherings. Tragically, we know from encounter how these variables can be a lethal mixture.

I want to emphasize that this is among the most demanding and complex menace landscapes that I have found in above 20 a long time functioning in counterterrorism. We know that countering the threat of violent extremism inside the United States will continue to need sustained notice and assets. And we want to increase to fulfill this growing risk, even though however sustaining our aim on terrorist businesses centered abroad.

Let me convert to how we respond. And here’s a bit of excellent news: our experience around the previous 20 several years supplies us tricky-gained lessons. We have constructed, over the several years, a lengthy and mostly successful history of combating global terrorism. As we confront the increasing danger of domestic terrorism, we need to bring to bear the insights we have obtained around the past two a long time.

I’ll highlight some of individuals key counterterrorism lessons and examine briefly how they tell and information our solution.

Initial, our operate should be driven by danger intelligence to be effective. This implies making certain that we carefully monitor facts and depend on skilled examination to refine our system, priorities and methods around time.

This function is currently well-underway at DOJ when it comes to domestic extremism. Early past yr, the Department issued new steering to the discipline on reporting and tracking investigations related to domestic terrorism. As the Deputy Attorney Normal famous earlier this week, we are taking a details-driven method to being familiar with the menace and to marshaling a coordinated, nation-broad response.

We are constantly doing work to learn far more not just about the scope of the problem, but also the nature of the threats and risk actors. For example, the Intelligence Neighborhood assess that racially or ethnically inspired violent extremists are the most most likely to carry out mass-casualty attacks from civilians.

We also know that white supremacist groups have the most persistent and relating to transnational connections. But they are not the only classification we are worried about. Though racially enthusiastic extremists had been the key source of lethal attacks by violent extremists in 2018 and 2019, a few of the 4 lethal DVE assaults in 2020 were being carried out by individuals the FBI categorizes as “Anti-Federal government or Anti-Authority” extremists.

This danger-pushed technique calls for that we preserve the operational overall flexibility to regulate to a threat landscape that can shift quickly. Our approach is created to boost the concentration, knowledge and sources demanded by the DT menace, although also making certain that all means keep on being available for the complete selection of counterterrorism desires.

Second, we ought to leverage the total selection of our lawful authorities to avert, investigate and prosecute all types of terrorism. In the global terrorism context, this normally means leveraging navy, law enforcement, intelligence and diplomatic capabilities. When it will come to domestic violent extremism, wherever regulation enforcement resources are paramount, we glance to deploy a assortment of legal and civil laws.

For illustration, functions of domestic terrorism might also constitute dislike crimes. A loathe crime — which is violence inspired by items like race, faith, gender or sexual orientation — could possibly also be made to coerce a civilian population or impact government policy, which is the domestic terrorism definition. When that comes about, we request: What is the very best and strongest device in DOJ’s arsenal we can use to answer?  How can we be as effective as feasible to keep all those who terrorize our communities accountable and to accomplish justice for the victims?

One factor we have identified is that when it arrives to racially enthusiastic domestic terrorism, these as white supremacist violence, frequently despise crimes statutes are the most productive equipment. The latest events in Buffalo are a excellent case in point of that – the Civil Legal rights Division is taking the direct and NSD is supporting them. Centered on those info, we truly feel that is the strongest feasible placement for the Department. At the end of the day, we’re just one crew working with each other to deliver justice.

Third, as with worldwide terrorism, domestic terrorism situations are of countrywide great importance and demand countrywide-degree coordination. NSD was made to deal with specifically these types of difficulties: to harmony equities, supply matter make a difference expertise and schooling, and make sure regularity in tactic and unity of function.

Now we, alongside with the FBI, are growing to satisfy the challenges of the present-day danger landscape. And critically this is an location in which coordination is essential to safeguard civil legal rights and civil liberties and to be certain that constitutionally safeguarded exercise is never seen by way of the lens of national stability threats.

We have figured out from IT how to strike the correct stability among headquarters and the area to make certain suitable management visibility, know-how and guidance are offered to terrorism issues – when recognizing that the frontline do the job is taking location in U.S. Attorneys’ Places of work and FBI Industry Offices all over the nation. This is not just a bureaucratic stage. All of us who have worked in or with federal legislation enforcement know how critical it is to get that stability right.

Fourth, we must bear in mind the value of partnerships to an efficient counterterrorism response. That involves partnerships throughout the federal authorities, with state and community regulation enforcement, and with worldwide authorities.

Each individual U.S. Attorney’s Office environment coordinates a team of federal and point out and area officials in just about every district – we get in touch with it the Anti-Terrorism Advisory Council or ATAC, for limited. The ATACs work in close partnership with Joint Terrorism Process Forces in the FBI to encourage teaching and information-sharing among the our legislation enforcement associates, in both worldwide and domestic terrorism issues.

This training and data-sharing is significant provided that there are a lot of additional point out and local regulation enforcement officers on the floor than there are federal agents. They are most likely to be the to start with law enforcement officers to discover people planning terrorist acts in their communities. When it comes to blocking assaults before they can materialize, federal, point out and community partners function with each other to examine terrorist threats and figure out whether or not federal or point out intervention is possible to disrupt a plot and defend the community.

Fifth, our counterterrorism priority is avoidance. We realize that avoidance requires a broader reaction. We have to have to engage with civil society and draw on tools to fully grasp paths to radicalization, which includes giving assistance to neighborhood engagement, to initiatives to stop specific violence and to get the job done addressing mental wellness challenges that may well guide to violence.

At DOJ, we are offering technical aid and instruction to state and community legislation enforcement through a recently-developed Anti-Terrorism Training Software, developing assets for regional law enforcement agencies on terrorism avoidance and detest crimes, and conducting neighborhood engagements and providing avoidance resources through a specified web-site for teaching state and area officers.

Sixth, and I feel most importantly, we should adhere to our core values, no matter the magnitude of the risk or the worries it might pose. These values are our resource of nationwide strength – and they are the foundation for all our function. We will zealously protect the To start with Modification freedoms of speech, assembly and association. We should cherish all those elementary commitments, even when confronted with text and beliefs that are abhorrent and distressing to us and our fellow Americans.

Quite a few of the domestic violent extremists who have committed functions of terror in modern several years – in Charleston, in El Paso, in Charlottesville, in Buffalo – have been animated by the hateful ideology of racism, intolerance and white supremacy specially. We must not hesitate to say that these types of sights are improper and betray core American values. And we ought to be candid that such sights are aspect of an ideology that is significantly mobilizing people today to commit functions of violence.

But in the United States, detest alone is not a criminal offense. DOJ investigates and prosecutes violent extremists for their criminal acts and not for their beliefs or primarily based on their associations, and irrespective of ideology. We are fully commited to protecting the constitutional rights and civil liberties of all Us residents and to safeguarding the exercise of protected speech, tranquil protests and political action. The Section of Justice does not and will not open up investigations exclusively based mostly on Initially Amendment-guarded exercise.

We hold sacred the rights of men and women to peacefully workout those people freedoms. But when folks or groups attempt to endorse or impose an ideology by means of functions or threats of violence, those people functions can be amongst the most perilous crimes we confront as a modern society. When violent extremists seek to damage some others in the title of ideology – any ideology – we will use just about every tool we have to deter and disrupt these acts, to hold men and women harmless, and to provide perpetrators to justice.

I’ll conclusion by sharing a small bit about what we are executing to implement these classes to our endeavours combatting domestic violent extremism.

Earlier this calendar year I declared that we would be producing a Domestic Terrorism Unit within our counterterrorism section. Final thirty day period, we formally stood up that device pursuing consultations with the Department’s leadership, the Civil Legal rights Division, the FBI and other DOJ elements.

Drawing on knowledge throughout NSD and the Office more broadly, the DT Device has several features:  prosecuting and coordinating domestic terrorism conditions producing teaching and policies on domestic terrorism matters and supporting the do the job of the Department in applying a whole-of-govt tactic on countering domestic terrorism. The unit’s construction preserves overall flexibility and will allow us to much better guidance the FBI, which has focused groups for handling domestic terrorism and intercontinental terrorism issues.

We acknowledge that countering domestic terrorism should be a full-of-Division energy. We are fully commited to setting up a composition for Section of Justice components, like the Civil Legal rights Division and federal prosecutors around the nation, to get the job done collaboratively and convey to bear all available resources to hold violent extremists accountable.

With the DT Unit in put, we are at the moment creating inner DOJ procedures to assure that NSD’s involvement in major domestic terrorism matters will align with our prolonged-standing role in global terrorism cases. These variations will make certain a threat-driven, constant, country-broad approach to combating the threat.

Just as importantly, the DT Device can act as a significant safeguard to be certain that we tackle the threat in a way that is constant with our values. In this perform, as in all our of our work, we continue to be fully commited to shielding the constitutional legal rights and civil liberties of all Americans.

I’ll conclude by echoing what the Attorney General explained this early morning in Buffalo about the threats that violent extremism poses to the protection of the American men and women and American democracy. For the Justice Office, confronting these crimes is a legal obligation and a ethical obligation. No 1, when they go to the grocery keep or the office environment or their place of worship or anywhere else, need to have to are living in fear of violence.

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