ederal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Christopher Wray said Tuesday that social media continued to play a huge role in helping extremists not only organize but carry out their activities, including the attack on the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Wray made his comments in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee as part of wide-ranging testimony on domestic terrorism and the FBI’s role in intelligence gathering and sharing before the Jan. 6 attack by radical supporters of former President Donald Trump.
Under questioning by Sen. Chris Coon (Democrat), Wray said social media provided those involved in attacks with the ability to spread information quickly and efficiently through the day, allowing them to organize and participate more effectively.
“Terrorism today, and we saw it on [Jan.] 6th, moves at the speed of social media,” Wray said. “We’ve tried to meet with social media companies to get them to more aggressively use the tools they have to police their own platforms in terms of service, etc., and to cooperate with us, so we can bring justice against those who hijack these companies’ platforms.”
While acknowledging civil liberty and privacy issues, Wray said social media companies and law enforcement must come to an agreement on how to address encryption issues that prevent law enforcement from accessing certain information.
He said without some type of agreement between the two, “it’s not going to matter how bulletproof the legal process is, or how horrific the crime is or how heartbroken the victims are, we will not be able to get access to the content and the evidence we need to protect the American people.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (Republican), questioned Wray about how active the FBI has been in investigating violence and property damage that had emerged this summer during the Black Lives Matter protests.
Wray said the FBI made more arrests of extremists during last summer than “the previous three combined” and has regularly assisted state and local authorities in their investigations.
Wray was asked about an FBI report issued before the Jan. 6 attack, which detailed online calls for violence and urged radical Trump supporters to be “ready for war.”
He described the reports as “raw, unverified, uncorroborated information” but said they provided enough information to be distributed to authorities including at the command level, the local Joint Terrorism Task Force network and posted on a national electronic portal to be reviewed by law enforcement nationwide.
FAILURE OF INTELLIGENCE GATHERING
Former US Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund testified last week that a “lack of accurate and complete intelligence across several federal agencies” led to failures in keeping the rioters from storming the Capitol, an attack that caused five deaths.
Prior to Tuesday’s hearing, committee chairman Sen. Richard J. Durbin (Democrat), and other committee Democrats sent a letter to Wray asking that he provide information about the FBI’s handling of domestic violent extremists and racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists.
Wray, who was appointed by Trump, last appeared in Congress in September to deliver an annual threat assessment – during which he warned that radically motivated violent extremism is at the center of most domestic terror threats handled by the nation’s premier law enforcement agency.
Since that time, the FBI has more than doubled the number of cases it is pursuing to more than 2,000, Wray told the committee.
Merrick Garland, who as U.S. attorney general would be Wray’s superior, said at his confirmation hearing last week that prosecuting those responsible for the Capitol attack – including rioters, organizers and influencers – would be an early priority in his Justice Department.
Garland’s nomination was approved by the judiciary committee on Monday. He is expected to win full Senate confirmation in a floor vote this week.