By Mark Hosenball and Ted Hesson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is considering expanding efforts to monitor possible domestic terrorism threats through surveillance of travel patterns of individuals, it said on Wednesday.
"Domestic violent extremism poses the most lethal, persistent terrorism-related threat to our homeland today. DHS is committed to improving security and is reviewing options for enhancing screening and vetting protocols and travel pattern analyses, consistent with privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties," a DHS spokesperson told Reuters.
Precise details were unclear for how the DHS is going to step up screening of domestic travelers for possible extremist ties or intentions. The Biden administration has emphasized in recent weeks the threat that homegrown, violent individuals, including white supremacists, present to the country.
Department of Homeland Security chief Alejandro Mayorkas told lawmakers this month that domestic violent extremism is the "greatest threat" to the United States.
U.S. intelligence agencies also warned in a report https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/21_0301_odni_unclass-summary-of-dve-assessment-17_march-final_508.pdf that domestic violent extremists, or DVEs "motivated by a range of ideologies" pose an elevated threat in the United States in 2021, including "lone offenders," who pose significant challenges, "because of their capacity for independent radicalizationto violence, ability to mobilize discretely, and access to firearms."
Founded after the Sept. 11 attacks, the vast, 240,000 employee DHS is tasked with everything from immigration policy to airport security.
DHS's moves, first reported by Politico, are likely to attract skepticism from the FBI, which is principally responsible for tracking and investigating domestic terrorism threats and cases, and from members of Congress and civil libertarians concerned about government spying.
A spokesperson for the Justice Department referred requests for comment to the FBI, which declined to comment.
Two sources familiar with Congressional scrutiny of intelligence agencies said that key Congressional oversight officials had not been informed of DHS's plans to expand domestic counter-terrorism surveillance.
(Reporting By Mark Hosenball and Ted Hesson; Editing by Heather Timmons and David Gregorio)