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DHS, DEA, FBI, State Provide Testimony in Open Session, Classified Briefing on Iran’s Growing “Axis of Resistance”

March 20, 2024

WASHINGTON, D.C. –– Today, the House Committee on Homeland Security, led by Chairman Mark E. Green, MD (R-TN), held a hearing to examine the persistent, malicious, and growing activity by Iranian-backed terrorist groups, such as Hamas, Hizballah, and the Houthis, and the near- and long-term implications for homeland security. In addition, the Committee examined other threats, such as recent plots against U.S. officials and transnational repression by the regime on U.S. soil. Due to the classified nature of much of the information discussed, the hearing was moved to a closed session following opening statements. Watch Chairman Green’s opening statement here.
Testimony was provided by the Hon. Elizabeth Richard, ambassador-at-large and coordinator for counterterrorism at the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Counterterrorism; Robert Wells, assistant director of the Counterterrorism Division at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); James Dunlap, deputy undersecretary for analysis at the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A); and Carrie Thompson, chief of intelligence at the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Read the witness testimony here.


In an opening statement submitted for the record, Wells wrote:
“The FBI believes Iran is capable of a variety of attack options against US targets, to include cyber operations intended to sabotage public and private infrastructure, and targeted assassinations of individuals who are deemed to be a threat to the regime or its stability. The FBI continues to use intelligence to identify threats related to Iran’s lethal capabilities targeting US persons. We work closely with other US Government agencies and foreign partners to address the threat to US interests from Iran and its proxies.”
“[I]t’s clear the Iranians are determined to carry out attacks in the United States, whether it be to avenge the death of Soleimani, to silence one of their critics, or to kill the Ambassador of an ally nation. The FBI’s mission is to work with our partners in the US and throughout the world to prevent attacks like this. In January 2024, fourteen foreign nationals were intercepted by a US military vessel during their alleged transportation of suspected Iranian-made weapon parts to Houthi rebel forces in Yemen. Four of these individuals were recently brought to the United States to face charges outlined in a criminal complaint unsealed in February. Tragically, two Navy SEALS lost their lives in the pursuit of this mission. The disruption of these individuals prevented Iranian-made weapon parts from getting into the hands of the Houthis, who could have used the weapons to target US forces.”
Dunlap wrote:
“Our Cyber Intelligence Center routinely works with the Department’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) to publish intelligence on the cyber threat from Iran, which continues to pose a threat to U.S. systems, networks, and information. Iranian government cyber actors employ a variety of tactics, techniques, and procedures—including social engineering, using easily accessible scanning and computer hacking tools, and exploiting publicly known software and hardware vulnerabilities—to conduct cyber espionage operations targeting the U.S. government and the defense industry, and to disrupt critical infrastructure.
“The Israel-HAMAS conflict shows how Iran uses cyber operations to respond to geopolitical events while attempting to maintain plausible deniability. For example, in November 2023, Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)-affiliated cyber actors—ostensibly posing as a criminal hacktivist group called the ‘Cyber Av3ngers’—defaced Israeli-manufactured operational technology devices in the United States, specifically devices in water and wastewater systems and other critical infrastructure sector entities (energy, food and beverage manufacturing, and healthcare). The IRGC-affiliated actors left a defacement image on the devices stating, ‘You have been hacked, down with Israel. Every equipment ‘made in Israel’ is CyberAv3ngers legal target.’ While the attacks did not result in disruption of services or impact public health, they are demonstrative of the Iranian regime’s and its proxies’ desires to target our citizens here in the United States.”
Thompson wrote:
“There is a clear connection between the drug trade and the financing of terrorist organizations and rogue state actors, including the Iranian regime. Members and affiliates of Hezbollah’s money laundering network have been known to collaborate with South American drug cartels, particularly in the tri-border area of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay, to facilitate the smuggling of drugs into Europe and the Middle East. The Taliban in Afghanistan has been heavily involved in the production and trafficking of opium and heroin, where they have used the profits to fund their insurgency and terrorist activities. The Assad regime in Syria has been associated with the production and trafficking of a synthetic drug called Captagon, known for its stimulant and euphoric effects.”
Ambassador Richard wrote:
“Iran has been designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism since 1984 and has long been directly involved in attack plotting against the U.S. homeland and U.S. personnel and activities, mainly but not exclusively via Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Quds Force. For decades, the Quds Force has engaged in many assassination attempts, terrorist plots, and other violence against those whom the Iranian regime views as enemies, including through ongoing plots against U.S. citizens and former United States government officials. In the past few years, we have seen a rise in plotting attacks against American citizens or on American soil, including a disrupted plot targeting a former U.S. National Security Advisor in 2022.  Iran also continues to support a range of proxies, who are engaged in terrorist plots and activities in the Middle East and beyond. Hamas would not have been able to carry out its devastating October 7 terrorist attack without Iran’s long-time assistance, funding, and training.”
“Our defense of the U.S. homeland does not stop at our own physical border. Recognizing that no country can face its terrorism challenges alone, the United States is committed to enhancing the counterterrorism capabilities of our allies and partners. Through training, joint exercises, and the provision of counterterrorism equipment, we help build the resilience of partner nations, enabling them to better prevent and respond to terrorist threats. This collaborative approach not only strengthens our collective security but also sends a clear message that we stand united against the forces of terror. For years, the Bureau of Counterterrorism has dedicated funding to counter Iran-backed terrorism. We have used this funding to bolster our partners’ ability to address the Iranian terrorist threat in the Middle East, Europe, South America and elsewhere.
“The Bureau of Counterterrorism is also working to improve border security abroad and counter terrorist travel by encouraging and assisting our foreign partners to employ effective threat-based security systems, expand information sharing on terrorist threats, and strengthen transportation and traveler screening procedures. By enhancing the U.S. government’s understanding of the terrorist threat and adding layers to our shared defenses against terrorism we are identifying and neutralizing terrorist threats before they reach our borders.”