Fitzpatrick Questions New FBI Director, DHS Secretary
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-08) questioned new FBI Director Chris Wray and Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke Thursday on a number of issues, including counterterrorism efforts as well as the federal response to natural disasters, like hurricanes. The exchanges, part of the House Committee on Homeland Security hearing entitled ‘Worldwide Threats: Keeping America Secure in the New Age of Terror,’ focused on current threats to America including: international and domestic terrorism, cyberattacks, and preparation for and response to natural disasters.
Speaking to Director Wray, Fitzpatrick - a former FBI special agent - highlighted the importance of reauthorizing the Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (“FISA”), which is due to sunset at the end of this year. Section 702 is a critical tool that the Intelligence Community uses properly to target non-U.S. persons located outside the United States to acquire information vital to our national security. To protect privacy and civil liberties, this program has operated under strict rules and been carefully overseen by all three branches of the Government.
Dir. Wray expanded on the significance of issue, saying:
"There is a high volume of threats, and there are so few dots, in many cases to connect, in these smaller, more contained, more loosely organized situations. The premium on getting the right dots to connect - to understand which threats are real, which ones are more aspirational – that’s when the value of 702 kicks in. Right now under 702 we can query information – and I want to be sure everyone understands this: this is information that the FBI has already lawfully obtained and has in its possession; there is no court that disagrees with that. Right now, we can query that information and know that a tip from state or local law enforcement, or someone in the private sector, is one that really matters. It allows us to mobilize resources and get in front of the threat. If 702 is walked back we will be, in effect, be starting to rebuild the wall that existed before 9/11.”
Fitzpatrick continued by discussing his visit to Puerto Rico over the Thanksgiving holiday where he inspected response and recovery efforts in the wake of Hurricane Maria. He asked Acting Sec. Duke what the U.S. was doing for the island given the unique logistic and economic challenges it faces as it seeks to rebuild.
Secretary Duke agreed there were challenges for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and outlined Homeland Security and FEMA’s roles there, as opposed to mainland states damaged by storms:
"We have embedded FEMA people with the governor and are bolstering his vision, his recovery efforts, even more strongly. Additionally, we’re doing response and recovery simultaneously. We are continuing response; even though it’s tailed off, we’re still delivering water, we’re still delivering meals. But we’re actually doing recovery efforts in terms of rebuilding the infrastructure.”
Also testifying was Nicholas J. Rasmussen, Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, on their ongoing counterterrorism efforts.