Wednesday, May 05, 2021

DOD Experts Say There's More Work to be Done to Counter Weapons of Mass Destruction

 May 5, 2021 | BY Terri Moon Cronk , DOD News

A critical mission of the Defense Department is to dissuade, deter and defeat actors who threaten to use weapons of mass destruction against the United States and its interests, four WMD experts told a House Armed Services Committee panel.

A Defense Threat Reduction Agency weapons of mass destruction crime scene operations course is shown.

Testifying before the HASC's subcommittee on intelligence and special operations were: Jennifer C. Walsh, who is performing the duties of undersecretary of defense for policy; Brandi C. Vann, acting assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical and biological defense programs; Navy Vice Adm. Timothy G. Szymanski, deputy commander of U.S. Special Operations Command; and Rhys M. Williams, acting director of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. The hearing addressed DOD's fiscal year 2022 budget request for counter-WMD, or CWMD, strategies, policies, priorities, programs and state of readiness.

"[DOD] continues to improve its ability to dissuade, deter and defeat these threats while maintaining the ability to respond to and mitigate the effects of WMD use," Walsh emphasized. "We are taking action to meet WMD challenges, and, as the nature of WMD threats is evolving, we know we have more work to do."

DOD has three lines of effort to organize its WMD work to counter such threats: prevent acquisition, contain and reduce threats, and respond to crises, she added.

"As the department increases its focus on competition among great powers, developing the capabilities necessary for us to fight and win in a cyber-contested environment in those theaters becomes critical," Walsh said.

"As administration officials direct and develop new national and departmental strategy reviews and guidance documents, DOD's CWMD stakeholders will be focused on addressing the dynamic CWMD threat and ensuring that it gets space in [strategy reviews and guidance documents], including posturing the department to mitigate biological threats more effectively and improving readiness for … challenges in Europe and Asia," she said.

Soldiers board a CH-47 Chinook helicopter.

Vann said the Nuclear Chemical and Biological Defense office, including the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, is responsible for ensuring the department maintains the capability and readiness to counter WMD across the threat landscape. She also said NCD is aligning to meet the direction given by the president's interim national security, strategic guidance, and the secretary's priorities. "Our efforts will enable us to close today's gaps rapidly, mitigate vulnerabilities, anticipate emerging threats, and strengthen our domestic and international partnerships," she said.

But the pace of technology continues to move faster and faster, Vann pointed out.

"As a result, the players on the world stage are shifting; the conflict landscape is changing and so are the hazards that we all face — making our jobs ever more complex," she told subcommittee members. "Overcoming these changes and the emergence and reemergence of unique [chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear] threats requires the department to first understand the emerging threats landscape and then develop adaptive capabilities to respond to these threats as they arise. In doing so, we can ensure that the joint force can fight and win in CBRN-contested environments, prepare for surprises from emerging threats, and reduce the risks that they pose."

Vann discussed modernizing the force, and she said fields such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, additive manufacturing and rapid medical countermeasure development provide an opportunity to adapt DOD's defense capabilities quickly and effectively. "We should embrace the technological revolution within the private sector and lead game-changing technology advancements to ensure our warfighters are best prepared for the future threat," she added.

"We will continue to remain behind the warfighter and ahead of the threat to ensure joint forces' ability to survive, operate and regenerate combat power in the future," Vann said.

National Guard members board a boat during an exercise.

"Clearly, WMD are complex transregional challenges that demand the application of specialized expertise and authorities across our government, as well as our foreign allies and partners," Szymanski testified. "The Department of Defense plays a unique and critical supporting role to our interagency colleagues, especially at the departments of Energy, State, Treasury and Commerce [and] our law enforcement entities to prevent and contain WMD threats, even as we prepare to respond to WMD crises."

The vice admiral said U.S. Special Operations strives to improve its methodology and ensure it provides timely, reliable, relevant and actionable information to support senior department decision-making. "Our aim is to better support senior leaders charged with employing our joint force today, developing and preparing for tomorrow and helping to design a military that is ready to fight and win against both current and future web threats," Szymanski said.

"There are few greater challenges to U.S. national security than those posed by WMD in emerging threats," Williams said. "As the globalized threat landscape evolves, DTRA's uniquely skilled workforce and robust, collaborative network of partners are ready to evolve with it, continuing to safeguard the lives and interests of the United States and our allies abroad."

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

Second Member Of "Boogaloo Bois" Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy to Provide Material Support to Hamas

 WASHINGTON – A Minnesota man pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to provide material support and resources, namely property, services and weapons, to what he believed was Hamas, a designated foreign terrorist organization, for use against Israeli and U.S. military personnel overseas.

According to court documents, Michael Solomon, 31, of New Brighton, Minn., was a member of the “Boogaloo Bois,” a group of individuals who espouse violent anti-government sentiments. In late May 2020, the FBI initiated an investigation into Solomon and co-defendant Benjamin Ryan Teeter, both members of the “Boogaloo Bois,” and a sub-group called the “Boojahideen.”

According to court documents, on June 10, 2020, Solomon and Teeter met with a confidential human source (CHS), whom the defendants believed to be a member of Hamas. During this meeting, Solomon and Teeter proposed assisting Hamas as a means of furthering the goals of the Boogaloo Bois. Throughout the course of the conspiracy, Solomon used encrypted messaging applications to communicate with Teeter and the CHS about various aspects of the conspiracy.

On June 28, 2020, Solomon, Teeter and the CHS met an undercover employee of the FBI (UCE) that Solomon believed was a member of Hamas. During this meeting, Solomon and Teeter proposed manufacturing suppressors, untraceable firearms and fully automatic firearms for Hamas.

On July 6, 2020, Solomon and Teeter purchased a drill press for the purpose of manufacturing suppressors for Hamas. Solomon admitted that he and Teeter had planned to use the drill press to also manufacture suppressors for members of the Boogaloo Bois. Solomon and Teeter brought the drill press to Solomon’s home and later used the drill press to manufacture five suppressors.

On July 30, 2020, Solomon and Teeter delivered the suppressors to the CHS and UCE believing those devices would be used by the militant wing of Hamas. During that meeting, the defendants agreed to manufacture additional suppressors for Hamas believing that the next batch of suppressors would be used against Israeli and U.S. military personnel overseas.

Solomon admitted that he and Teeter again met the UCE on Aug. 29, 2020. During this meeting, the defendants gave the UCE a 3-D printed “auto sear” believing that the auto sear would be used by Hamas to convert semi-automatic rifles into fully automatic rifles. At this time, Solomon and Teeter agreed to obtain, and did obtain, another order of auto sears for the CHS and the UCE.

Solomon pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization. Solomon faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Acting U.S. Attorney W. Anders Folk for the District of Minnesota; Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers for the Justice Department’s National Security Division; and Special Agent in Charge Michael Paul of the FBI’s Minneapolis Field Office made the announcement after Senior U.S. District Judge Michael J. Davis accepted the plea.

The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force is investigating the case, with assistance from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Trial Attorneys George Kraehe and Felice John Viti of the National Security Division's Counterterrorism Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew R. Winter of the District of Minnesota are prosecuting the case.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

DOD Identifies Army Casualty

 April 28, 2021


The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Inherent Resolve.

Staff Sgt. Christopher F. Pantos, 55, of Richmond, Virginia, died Apr. 26, 2021, at Ali Al Salem Air Base, Kuwait, as the result of a non-combat related incident. The incident is under investigation.

Pantos was assigned to 55th Sustainment Brigade, U.S. Army Reserve, Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

For more information about Staff Sgt. Christopher F. Pantos, members of the media may contact Capt. Matt Cline or Ms. Angele Ringo, 377th Theater Sustainment Command Public Affairs, at 910-771-8118, or by email at angele.p.ringo2.civ@mail.mil.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

DHS Announces New Guidance to Limit ICE and CBP Civil Enforcement Actions In or Near Courthouses

 Today, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas directed U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to place new limits on civil immigration enforcement actions in or near courthouses.  Acting Director of ICE Tae Johnson and Acting CBP Commissioner Troy Miller have issued a memorandum to ICE and CBP personnel pertaining to the limited circumstances in which civil immigration enforcement actions may be carried out in or near a courthouse. The interim guidance is intended to balance the importance of preserving access to courts in the fair administration of justice with legitimate civil immigration enforcement interests.  Additional guidance will be forthcoming following the release of updated immigration enforcement priorities.  This policy supersedes an ICE Directive issued in 2018 and marks the first time CBP has ever had formal policy guidance regarding civil immigration enforcement in or near courthouses.


“Ensuring that individuals have access to the courts advances the fair administration of justice, promotes safety for crime victims, and helps to guarantee equal protection under the law,” said Secretary Mayorkas. “The expansion of civil immigration arrests at courthouses during the prior administration had a chilling effect on individuals’ willingness to come to court or work cooperatively with law enforcement. Today’s guidance is the latest step in our efforts to focus our civil immigration enforcement resources on threats to homeland security and public safety.”

A civil immigration enforcement action may be taken in or near a courthouse only in certain limited instances, including the following: (1) it involves a national security matter, (2) there is an imminent risk of death, violence, or physical harm to any person,  (3) it involves hot pursuit of an individual who poses a threat to public safety, or (4) there is an imminent risk of destruction of evidence material to a criminal case. The interim guidance also makes clear that civil immigration enforcement is permitted against public safety threats in the absence of hot pursuit where necessary and with prior approval.

The memorandum directs supervisors to ensure that all employees are trained annually on this policy and that such training is documented and reviewed by agency counsel. ICE and CBP will each provide a monthly report to Secretary Mayorkas, and to the DHS Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties upon request, detailing all planned or executed civil immigration enforcement actions in or near courthouses, including the basis under this policy for each enforcement action.

DHS Announces Extension of REAL ID Full Enforcement Deadline

 WASHINGTON – Today, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas announced the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is extending the REAL ID full enforcement date by 19 months, from October 1, 2021 to May 3, 2023, due to circumstances resulting from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has significantly impacted states’ ability to issue REAL ID-compliant driver’s licenses and identification cards, with many driver’s licensing agencies still operating at limited capacity. DHS will publish an interim final rule in the coming days to effectuate this enforcement date change.

“Protecting the health, safety, and security of our communities is our top priority,” said Secretary Mayorkas. “As our country continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, extending the REAL ID full enforcement deadline will give states needed time to reopen their driver’s licensing operations and ensure their residents can obtain a REAL ID-compliant license or identification card.” 

Beginning May 3, 2023, every air traveler 18 years of age and older will need a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license or identification card, state-issued enhanced driver’s license, or another TSA-acceptable form of identification at airport security checkpoints for domestic air travel.  

All 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and four of five U.S. territories covered by the REAL ID Act and related regulations are now compliant with REAL ID security standards and are issuing REAL ID-compliant driver’s licenses and identification cards. However, many state licensing agencies have extended the deadline for renewing expiring licenses due to a widespread shift to appointment-only scheduling protocols during the pandemic that has significantly limited states’ capacity to issue REAL ID-compliant driver’s licenses and identification cards. As a result, only 43 percent of all state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards are currently REAL ID-compliant.  DHS and various states also need time to implement requirements mandated by the REAL ID Modernization Act, including changes that will streamline processing by allowing the electronic submission of certain documents.

DHS continues to work closely with all U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories to implement REAL ID Act requirements. For more information on REAL ID, visit www.dhs.gov/real-id.

Friday, April 23, 2021

Man Pleads Guilty to Attempting to Provide Material Support to Foreign Terrorist Organizations

 Defendant Planned to Travel to Syria to Wage Violent Jihad

WASHINGTON – A New York man pleaded guilty to attempting to provide material support and resources to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and the al-Nusrah Front, both designated by the U.S. Department of State as foreign terrorist organizations.

According to court documents, Elvis Redzepagic, 30, of Commack, New York, began communicating in early 2015 with an individual he believed to be both the commander of a battalion in Syria and a member of ISIS or the al-Nusrah Front, and made attempts to join that individual’s battalion to engage in violent jihad. In July 2015, Redzepagic traveled to Turkey and made multiple unsuccessful attempts to cross the border into Syria. Unable to enter Syria from Turkey, Redzepagic traveled to Jordan in August 2016, but was stopped and deported by Jordanian authorities. 

“Redzepagic has admitted to travelling overseas to try to join and provide material support to ISIS and the al-Nusrah Front, two foreign terrorist organizations that were engaged in fighting in Syria,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers for the Justice Department’s National Security Division.  “The threat from these terrorist organizations has not ended, and we will continue to work to stem the flow of fighters and bring to justice those who provide material support to these groups.”

“Redzepagic, a Long Island resident, admitted that he attempted to travel to Syria on several occasions to wage jihad on behalf of ISIS and other organizations dedicated to violence and mass destruction,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Mark Lesko for the Eastern District of New York. “This Office is committed to preventing the spread of terrorism by stopping individuals like the defendant in their tracks and prosecuting them before they are able to harm the United States and its allies.” Acting U.S. Attorney Lesko praised the outstanding efforts of the FBI’s New York Joint Terrorism Task Force, which consists of investigators and analysts from the FBI, the NYPD, and over 50 other federal, state, and local agencies. 

In Facebook messages from October 2015, Redzepagic explained that “jihad” is when “you fight for the sake of God” and “die for the sake of Allah.”  Redzepagic stated that he traveled to Turkey to “perform Jihad and join Jabhat Al-Nusra.” He predicted, “there will come a time where people will only know to say Allahu Akbar.”  In subsequent interviews with law enforcement, Redzepagic admitted that at the time he attempted to enter Syria, he was prepared to strap a bomb to himself.  

Redzepagic pleaded guilty to attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

The FBI’s New York Field Office is investigating the case.

Trial Attorney Stephanie Sweeten of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Saritha Komatireddy and Artie McConnell are prosecuting the case.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Man Sentenced to Life in Prison for ISIS-inspired Bombing in New York City Subway Station in 2017

 WASHINGTON – A New York man was sentenced today to life in prison for detonating a bomb in a New York City subway station. He admitted that he conducted the terrorist attack on behalf of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), a designated foreign terrorist organization.

Akayed Ullah, 31, of Brooklyn, New York, and a lawful permanent resident of Bangladesh, was convicted by a federal jury of offenses related to the detonation and attempted detonation of a bomb in a subway station near the New York Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City on Dec. 11, 2017. According to court documents, on Dec. 11, 2017, at approximately 7:20 a.m., Ullah detonated a pipe bomb strapped to his chest in a subway station near the Port Authority Bus Terminal in midtown Manhattan. Shortly after the blast, first responders located Ullah lying on the ground in the station where he had detonated the improvised explosive device, and he was taken into custody. Surveillance footage captured Ullah walking through the station immediately prior to the explosion and then detonating the bomb.

“Ullah constructed a pipe bomb and detonated it in a mass transit hub in the heart of New York City to harm and terrorize as many people as possible - and he admitted that he did it on behalf of ISIS,"  said Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers for the Justice Department’s National Security Division. “This case reminds us that the threat of ISIS-inspired terrorism remains real. This sentence holds Ullah accountable, as he will spend the rest of his life in federal prison for his crimes. I want to thank all of the agents, analysts, and prosecutors whose outstanding work made this result possible.”

“Akayed Ullah, previously convicted in a New York federal court of carrying out a lone-wolf bombing attack on behalf of ISIS at the Port Authority Bus Terminal, a bustling transit artery in New York City, admittedly intended to murder as many innocent Americans as possible,” said U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss for the Southern District of New York. “Ullah’s motive was clear and unambiguous: a deeply held ideological hatred for America. Ironically, Ullah’s actions resulted only in reaffirming the greatness of America by displaying the fairness and impartiality for which our justice system stands. Ullah received a speedy, fair, public trial, and was convicted by a jury of his peers. Akayed Ullah’s message of hatred clearly backfired; his just sentence of life in prison only exemplifies that cowardly acts of terrorism will be met with law enforcement’s unwavering resolve to protect our core values of freedom and democracy.”

“The defendant sought to attack innocent Americans who were going about their daily lives," said Acting Assistant Director Patrick Reddan for Counterterrorism at the FBI. “He will now spend the rest of his life in prison, where he will not be in a position to attempt another attack. While the terrorism threat continues to evolve in this country, groups like ISIS remain committed to attacking America, and the FBI will continue to work with our JTTF partners across the country in our commitment to track down and disrupt terrorists who seek to harm our homeland.”

According to court documents and the evidence presented at trial, Ullah began radicalizing in approximately 2014. Ullah disagreed with U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and began seeking out online materials promoting radical Islamic terrorist ideology. In particular, Ullah was inspired by ISIS propaganda, including a video in which ISIS instructed supporters to carry out attacks in their homelands if they were unable to travel overseas to join ISIS. Ullah began researching how to build a bomb about a year prior to his attack. He built his pipe bomb in the weeks leading up to the attack at his Brooklyn apartment.  

Following the attack on Dec. 11, 2017, law enforcement located remnants of the pipe bomb on Ullah’s person and strewn across the attack site in the subway station. Law enforcement found, among other things: (i) a nine-volt battery inside Ullah’s pants pocket, which he used as the power source for triggering the bomb; (ii) wires connected to the battery and running underneath Ullah’s jacket; (iii) plastic zip ties underneath Ullah’s jacket, which he used to strap the bomb to his body; (iv) several fragments of a metal pipe, which Ullah had filled with an explosive substance that he made using sugar and match heads; (v) fragments of Christmas tree lightbulbs attached to wires, which Ullah used to ignite the explosion; and (vi) numerous metal screws. Ullah filled his pipe bomb with dozens of metal screws to function as shrapnel, for the purpose of causing maximum damage.

On the morning of the attack, shortly before detonating his bomb, Ullah posted a statement on Facebook referring to the then-President of the United States, stating: “Trump you failed to protect your nation.” Ullah also posted an ISIS slogan so that ISIS would know that he had carried out the attack on behalf of the foreign terrorist organization.

After Ullah was taken into custody following the attack, he waived his Miranda rights and spoke to law enforcement. Ullah was inspired by ISIS to carry out the Dec. 11 attack, and stated, among other things, “I did it for the Islamic State.” He also said that he chose a busy weekday morning for the attack in order to “terrorize as many people as possible.” One commuter who was inside the station when Ullah detonated the pipe bomb suffered a shrapnel wound to his leg, and two other victims partly lost their hearing as a result of the blast. Ullah’s attack caused the Port Authority subway station and bus terminal to shut down temporarily, disrupting the lives of commuters across the New York City area.

After the attack, law enforcement searched Ullah’s apartment pursuant to a search warrant. Agents recovered, among other things, Ullah’s passport, which contained the handwritten statement, “O AMERICA, DIE IN YOUR RAGE.” Less than two weeks before carrying out the attack, Ullah had watched and drawn inspiration from a particular ISIS propaganda video that proclaimed, “die in your rage, America,” with an image of the U.S. Capitol in the background.

Later in December 2017, while in custody at the Metropolitan Correctional Center on the charges in this case, Ullah began chanting “more is coming” at a correctional officer, and then told the officer: “You started this war, we will finish it. More is coming, you’ll see.”

Assistant Attorney General Demers and Acting U.S. Attorney Strauss praised the outstanding investigative efforts of the FBI, the New York Police Department (NYPD) and Port Authority Police Department (PAPD). Ullah’s conviction is the result of the close cooperative efforts of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, the Justice Department’s National Security Division, and the FBI’s New York Joint Terrorism Task Force, which consists of investigators and analysts from the FBI, the NYPD, and over 50 other federal, state, and local agencies.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Rebekah Donaleski and George D. Turner for the Southern District of New York prosecuted this case with assistance from Trial Attorneys Jason Denney and Felice Viti of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office

 WASHINGTON— To equip frontline operators with radiological detection equipment, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office (CWMD) awarded the Helium-3 Alternative Implementation Backpack Program (HAIBP) Phase Three Full Rate Production contract to Target Systemelektronik/FLIR Systems. The $6.5M production order will equip CWMD’s Mobile Detection Deployment Program (MDDP) and DHS Transportation Security Administration (TSA) with HAIBP backpacks to deliver advanced radiation detection capabilities.

Configured into the size of a standard backpack, this program is easily deployed to our frontline operators to efficiently detect potential threats during wide-area searches. HAIBP expands these wide-area search and detection capabilities to detect potential radiological threats and even identify the detected radioisotope. HAIBP includes data transfer capabilities that enable the new solution to perform both primary and secondary screening functions. This award will enhance the established capability with operational suitability, a data streaming capability, and system survivability.

“In an evolving threat landscape, it is our mission to rapidly equip frontline operators with the latest and most advanced detection equipment to protect our Nation from potential radiological threats,” said Karin Clarkson, CWMD’s HAIBP Program Manager. “We could not provide the latest capabilities to our operators if it were not for the relationship we have with industry partners.”

While many state and local law enforcement agencies maintain their own capabilities to counter radiological and nuclear (R/N) threats, CWMD supplements agencies in need of more extensive capabilities. CWMD’s MDDP deploys a mobile trailer package with additional specialized R/N detection capabilities. This capability assists law enforcement and other first responders to detect, interdict, and report WMD threats. The new suite of radiation detection backpacks does not rely on He-3 to detect potential threats.

CWMD serves as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s focal point for counter-WMD efforts. By supporting operational partners across federal, state, and local levels, CWMD coordinates and manages the detection effort for chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and health security threats. CWMD is committed to enhancing domestic law enforcement and first responder detection, interdiction, response, and reporting of these threats.