Just this past week it was reported a mass shooter in Texas called an FBI tipline just before his rampage. The FBI says he was rambling. The FBI has taken a lot of flak in recent years for allegedly missing red flags before terrorist attacks on U.S. soil— such as Islamic extremist bombings at the Boston Marathon and New in York, and shootings in San Bernardino, California and at an Orlando nightclub. Now, with an uptick in racially-motivated domestic terrorism, the FBI’s head of counterterrorism Mike McGaritty spoke about the challenges and some successes in an exclusive interview with Scott Thuman.
McGarrity: More people are affiliated with al-Qaeda now than in years past, absolutely.
Scott: What's that from?
McGarrity: That's just, they've been quiet. I think most people think they're back here. We have not taken our eyes off the target or our focus.
Scott: As a career FBI agent, Mike McGarity doesn’t do many interviews, this is his first on-camera conversation since he took over as head of the FBI's counterterrorism division more than a year and a half ago. How much of a threat does ISIS still pose?
McGarrity: I still think ISIS is the same threat it is today in the United States. As the physical caliphate has shrunk, it's like a balloon, you push it here, it's going to expand somewhere else. Those foreign fighters have to go somewhere, thousands of them.What was, here's the ideology, come to the physical caliphate, come over here and fight with us, is now go conduct an attack where you are.
Scott: International terror groups are just one part of the FBI's work. The threat of domestic attacks is growing. Like the shooting targeting Hispanics by a suspected white supremacist in El Paso, Texas, last month that killed 22; and another one in Dayton Ohio that left 9 dead by a man who reportedly supported the far-left Antifa or anti-fascist movement. You've got, right now give or take, 850 domestic terrorism cases?
Scott: Thirty to 40% rise since October.
McGarrity: A 30 to 40% increase in those racially motivated violent extremists who support the notion of white supremacy. That we've seen the increase from October through May of this year. Scott: Are you seeing more anti-government cases?
McGarrity: We have seen, just like we've seen on the racially motivated violent extremists, we have seen an increase in anti-government cases as well. Like that of Coast Guard lieutenant Chris Hasson, who the FBI arrested for allegedly stockpiling weapons with plans to kill prominent politicians in Washington DC.
Scott: You said that the flash to bang time has gotten shorter. What do you mean by that?
McGarrity: The radicalization can still take quite a bit of time but the mobilization of violence, what used to take years, now literally takes months. I'm talking in a matter of a couple of weeks. And then mobilized to violence quickly, again in a couple of weeks. So, we've opened cases and made arrests on international terrorism and domestic terrorism cases, all within a few week period.
Scott: When it comes to the current system, the current laws, right now, no domestic terrorism statute on the books and I think that would surprise a lot of people. Is it easier or harder for you to pursue a domestic terrorist versus an international one?
McGarrity: There's certainly more tools in the toolbox for an international terrorism subject for us to look at. if you're going to compare it to domestic terrorism, many of those subjects we arrest on non-federal terrorism charges. So, we will use whatever charge we have available. We want to stop the threat. So, if it means we're going to use a fraud charge, a gun charge, a weapons charge, an immigration charge, whatever it is, we're going to use those charges to take that person off before they attack.
Scott: Does Congress need to give you more power?
McGarrity: I don't think it's appropriate for me, Mike McGarrity, to tell you what Congress should do. I think Congress understands the threat and I know they're working with the Department of Justice. Scott: Senator Dick Durbin asked if the FBI wasn't tough enough on white nationalist crimes under this current administration.
McGarrity: I can tell you what the cases and the arrest numbers and what the men and women of the FBI are doing every day. When we look at terrorism, we don't differentiate between international terrorism and domestic terrorism. When that threat and when that case comes in, we work it hard.
Scott: After an attack, people typically say, "Well, look at the postings from this suspect. How did they not know. How did they not go after him ahead of time?"
McGarrity: The American people, I'm pretty sure, don't want us trolling the internet looking at their social postings. People can hate. People can have an ideology but when they're looking to conduct violence against the American people or some population of the American people, that's where we are interested and that's what we'll investigate and put our resources against those threats.
Scott: That's part of the free speech challenge though, for you, isn't it?
McGarrity: It is a challenge.
Scott: There have been wins: back in 2018, when Cesar Sayoc mailed explosive devices to prominent democrats, the FBI led the hunt--eventually identifying, then tracking him down within a week. And more recently, nabbing Conor Climo, a lLas Vegas man allegedly assembling a bomb & about to attack Jews and members of the LGBTQ community. The FBI gets a lot of criticism these days. Do you think it gets the credit it deserves?
McGarrity: Can we always do better? Do we make mistakes? We do. But in the Counterterrorism Division, we have a zero failure model.
Scott: What keeps you up at night?
McGarrity: The lone offender that we know, right? That we're looking at the who has the capacity to a weapon or multiple weapons and has an intent to conduct an attack. And we have those cases and we actively work them, but those are the ones, I feel comfortable are the ones... let me put it this way. They keep me up at night but I also know we have a very good team at what we do.
By way of successes, the FBI recently arrested an alleged sympathizer of the Islamic extremist terorist group ISIS— who was said to be planning a vicious knife and bomb attack in New York.