DISINFORMATIONForeign Disinformation Effort Raises Fears of Violence in U.S.

By Jeff Seldin

Published 16 December 2021

Foreign intelligence services and global terrorist organizations are engaged in a broad effort to seed the United States with disinformation, and this effort appears to be working, raising new fears of a terrorist attack in the coming weeks, according to a senior DHS official.

Ongoing efforts by foreign intelligence services and global terrorist organizations to seed the United States with disinformation appear to be working, raising new fears of a terrorist attack in the coming weeks, according to a senior Homeland Security official.

The warning, while largely consistent with the department’s most recent anti-terrorism bulletin issued in November, comes as the country prepares for the Christmas holiday and New Year celebrations, along with the one-year anniversary of the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol.

“The threat is more volatile,” John Cohen, the senior most official at DHS’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis, told a virtual forum Wednesday.

“We’ve made progress. We’re continuing to make progress on a day-to-day basis,” Cohen added. “But we still have a ways to go.”

November’s anti-terrorism bulletin warned that the U.S. was facing “a significant threat” from domestic extremists for the remainder of 2021 and extending into early 2022.

But Cohen told the forum, hosted by the George Washington University Program on Extremism, the risks have become more unpredictable due to “a significant level of activity by foreign intelligence organizations,” many gaining traction with unrelenting disinformation campaigns that he described as both persistent and highly sophisticated.

“What makes the environment more volatile, from my perspective, is that the narratives that are being promoted by these threat actors are rapidly finding their way into the mainstream media ecosystem where they’re being amplified by public figures, in the media, in government,” he said.

“Their objective may be political or ratings-based,” Cohen said. “But in the current threat environment, the broader that these narratives are shared and spread, the higher the likelihood that they will be consumed by an individual who will use it as a justification for violence.”

Other Warnings
This is not the first time Cohen has warned about the dangers of disinformation from foreign intelligence services and terror groups. Nor is he alone in his concerns.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas warned Tuesday of “serious and significant” ramifications from the spread of disinformation.

“False narratives present a threat to our security,” Mayorkas said during the Bloomberg Technology Forum. “We need our leaders to step up and fight against it because the words of leaders, they matter quite a bit. They can be very influential in the public discourse.”