Gov. Abbott convenes domestic terrorism task force for second time

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AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Gov. Greg Abbott’s task force focusing on domestic terrorism in Texas convened for the second time on Tuesday.

The group was formed in the wake of the mass-shooting in El Paso, but Gov. Abbott said the task force has broader implications.

“One thing that was a catalyst for the creation of this organization, was the horrific shooting and terrorism that took place in El Paso” Abbott said Tuesday. “But we all need to understand that terrorism evolves.”

The main goals of the task force are to analyze current and emerging threats in the state, as well as finding ways to increase inter-agency cooperation.

While the task force focuses on terrorism at home, state leaders recognized those evolving threats could be born overseas. The Texas Department of Information Resources reported 10,000 attempted cyber attacks per minute in the last two days, which have been geographically traced to within Iran’s borders, according to the agency’s executive director.

“We have noticed that there has been some sort of increase in activity from that region,” Texas DIR Executive Director Amanda Crawford said, adding that none of those scans had been successful. Crawford explained the agency sees “literally billions of probes” from around the globe, but the spike in Middle Eastern activity garnered attention from agency leaders.

This comes amid intensifying tensions between the United States and Iran, though it’s unclear who is behind the probes of the state agency infrastructure.

“In light of events we have been making sure that we are extra vigilant on certain areas of the globe and that we just did notice that there was an increase,” Crawford said.

Col. Steven McCraw, head of the Texas Department of Public Safety, briefed the task force on two newly-published reports. One was a domestic terrorism threat assessment for the state, and another assesses the threat of mass attacks.

“Evaluating our state’s public safety vulnerabilities in today’s threat environment is critical to keeping Texas safe from the most unthinkable tragedies,” Director McCraw wrote in an emailed statement. “Texas is fortunate that the Governor and our state leaders place such a high focus on not only responding seamlessly to public safety threats but also doing everything possible to prevent them. These reports will assist law enforcement and the public in doing just that by providing increased information and awareness of mass attacks and domestic terrorism threats to our state.”

The reports indicate racially motivated attacks are the most violent types of domestic terrorism in Texas, and firearms are the primary weapons used. Agency leaders identified challenges prosecuting crimes involving domestic terrorism, stating, “the lack of a chargeable federal or state domestic terrorism statute makes it difficult for law enforcement to investigate, prosecute, and track overall domestic terrorism trends.”

According to Abbott, Lubbock County District Attorney Sunshine Stanek analyzed domestic terrorism statutes in all 50 states with a goal to lay the groundwork for Texas lawmakers to make changes to state law when the Legislature convenes in Jan. 2021.

“One of the focal points of this organization is to come up with a proposed statute that we would be looking to pass this next session that would for one define what domestic terrorism is,” Abbott said.

“We want to create a statute that will give prosecutors the tools to prosecute those who are plotting to commit domestic terrorism before the acts of violence occur,” he explained.

Participants of Tuesday’s task force at the Capitol included:

  • Governor Greg Abbott
  • Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick
  • Speaker Dennis Bonnen
  • Jeff Mateer, First Assistant Attorney General 
  • Col. Steve McCraw, Texas Department of Public Safety
  • Chief W. Nim Kidd, Texas Division of Emergency Management
  • Brigadier General Thomas Suelzer, Air National Guard
  • Amanda Crawford, Texas Department of Information Resources
  • Carter Smith, Texas Parks and Wildlife
  • Raul Ortiz, United States Customs and Border Protection 
  • Ashley Hoff, First Assistant United States Attorney
  • Paul Duran, United States Secret Service
  • David Konopczyk, United States Secret Service
  • Jeff Murray, United States Department of Homeland Security
  • Matthew DeSarno, Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • Sunshine Stanek, Criminal District Attorney of Lubbock County
  • Sheriff Eddie Guerra, Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office

Below are Abbott’s closing remarks from the meeting:

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