FBI Weaknesses Left Openings for Homegrown Terrorists, DOJ Watchdog Says

March 9, 2020 Updated: March 9, 2020

The FBI has failed in its duties to identify and stop homegrown violent extremists in the United States, the Justice Department inspector general said in a report released last week.

Many individuals identified as so-called homegrown violent extremists, or HVEs, weren’t stopped because the FBI failed to conduct follow-up investigations into individuals who had been flagged as potential threats, Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz said in a 41-page report (pdf).

“The FBI has not taken a comprehensive approach to resolving deficiencies in its counterterrorism assessment process,” Horowitz wrote.

The report, which covered the time from November 2009 to January 2017, found shortcomings in the FBI’s efforts to prevent mass attacks by U.S. residents who were inspired by international terrorist groups such as ISIS and al-Qaida, which the agency says is its highest counterterrorism priority.

For example, the FBI closed the cases of at least six terrorists who killed 70 people in separate attacks between 2009 and 2017 after the bureau determined they weren’t national security threats, Horowitz said. The FBI’s shortcomings allowed multiple HVEs to go on and commit deadly attacks, including the perpetrators of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, foreign radical groups have been able to recruit and indoctrinate homegrown violent extremists who have killed more than 100 people in the United States, according to the New America Foundation. More than 20 attacks have been carried out by American jihadis since, Horowitz added.

“The FBI has acknowledged that various weaknesses related to its assessment process may have impacted its ability to fully investigate certain counterterrorism assessment subjects, who later committed terrorist acts in the United States,” Horowitz wrote in his report.

Horowitz said that although the FBI seemed to recognize its shortcomings, it had “not taken sufficient action” to fix the issues. He added that roughly 40 percent of the bureau’s counterterrorism assessments went unaddressed for 18 months, although officials were aware of lapses in their investigations.

The FBI “did not ensure that all field offices and headquarters implemented recommended improvements and subsequent policy requirements,” according to the report.

In response to the report, the FBI sent a letter to Horowitz’s office saying it had accepted seven separate recommendations for amending how it conducts its investigations, and planned to implement them nationwide.

Reuters contributed to this report.