Katko Opening Statement in Worldwide Threats Hearing
Ranking Member Katko’s Opening Statement (as prepared for delivery)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I am pleased that the Committee is holding this important hearing today, as our nation faces growing and continuously changing threats posed by foreign adversaries, criminal and terror organizations, and the crisis at the southwest border.
In the first two years of the Biden Administration, we have seen a disturbing trend become a catastrophic humanitarian crisis at the border. In 2020, CBP had 500,000 migrant encounters at the southwest border. In 2021, the first year of the Biden Administration, these migrant encounters tripled to well over 1.7 million, and in this last fiscal year, CBP reported a record-breaking 2.3 million migrants encounters.
While the vast majority of these migrants may be coming to find work or more prosperous opportunities, we cannot ignore the evident security threat that looms beneath the surface of this crisis. CBP reported over 29,000 illegal migrants who had known criminal records and 751 documented gang members, including 312 affiliated with the notorious MS-13 gang, were among those encountered at our southwest border.
Even more troubling is that these numbers only account for those that were located by law enforcement, not the 600,000 that are estimated to have evaded officers at the border in 2022. How many dangerous criminals and gang members entered undetected? How many were smuggling deadly drugs like Fentanyl into our communities? The truth is we have no way of knowing, but these reports demonstrate it is almost certainly an elevated and fast-growing number.
In addition, a still darker threat lies within the data. In 2020 CBP located three individuals who were on the Terrorist Screening Dataset or “watchlist” attempting to enter the U.S. along the southwest border between ports of entry. These were people deemed to be a potential threat to our homeland, including Known or Suspected Terrorists or their affiliates. In 2021, the number grew to 15. In the latest reporting for 2022, 98 potential terrorists or affiliates were discovered between our ports of entry in attempting to evade law enforcement and enter the country.
Sadly, the increased risk to our nation’s security is not the only consequence of this crisis, the migrants attempting passage are also experiencing brutal conditions including child exploitation, rape, and death. The UN International Organization for Migration has labeled the southwest border as the “deadliest land crossing in the world” and migrant deaths for 2022 are reported to be over 850, breaking the grim record for deaths set just last year. We are reminded of these tragedies almost daily with reports of families drowning in the Rio Grande River or dying of heat exhaustion crossing the inhospitable desert, often abandoned by smugglers who care only about profits.
I would like to recognize the brave men and women who stand guard at our nation’s borders, constantly under siege by drug cartels, human smugglers, and this ever-increasing humanitarian crisis. These honorable Americans work day and night, holidays and weekends, in some of the most unforgiving environments. They routinely face danger and even death, all while being villainized by some for fulfilling their duties to protect our homeland from those that wish us harm. In this difficult position, it is tragic but unsurprising, that many of them bear scars both mental and physical from the burden that they shoulder. My heart goes out to the families of the heroic men and women that given all protecting our country as well as to those that suffer the mental toll of prolonged exposure to this crisis.
Another threat to our country, illuminated by Inspector General reporting this year, was the vetting shortfall experienced during the evacuation and resettlement of more than 79,000 Afghans as part of Operation Allies Refuge and Operation Allies Welcome. It is now becoming ever clearer that the Biden Administration facilitated the transfer and relocation into the U.S. of many Afghans that were known at the time to have potentially significant security concerns. Both the DHS and DoD IGs found that information used to vet evacuees was not complete, reliable, or always accurate.
We must also not lose sight of the challenges to our virtual borders. State-sponsored cyber actors continue to utilize the cyber environment to penetrate computer networks for espionage, suppression campaigns, the spread of disinformation, and to steal intellectual property and technology to bolster their own defenses at the expense of industry, government, and everyday Americans. We must remain vigilant to the efforts of China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea, who seek advantage and tactical capabilities in the virtual environment that bring risk to our security.
In addition to state-sponsored adversaries, organized criminal cyber thieves devise formidable attacks and fraud schemes. Ransomware attacks were up 188% in 2021 costing U.S. businesses over $1.2 billion dollars and were focused on schools and healthcare organizations. I look forward to the collective insight of our witnesses today on how we can further address the most prevalent and concerning cyber threats impacting both our communities and national security.
Additionally, along with many Americans, I am concerned by reporting that an FBI agent, Timothy Thibalt, may have suppressed derogatory information relevant to ongoing investigations related to Hunter Biden, and has a long history of partisanship. As a career law enforcement professional, I know I found these revelations to be deeply troubling, as did many others in law enforcement. Similarly, you have publicly acknowledged that you were troubled by the allegations at a recent Senate Judiciary hearing. Director Wray, while today’s hearing is focused primarily on threats to homeland security, I have to I am concerned about the overall state of the Bureau and the increasingly partisan perception of the agency.
Mr. Chairman, in all likelihood, this will be the last Full Committee hearing of the Congress and, for me, as Ranking Member. Serving alongside you and all of our colleagues has been the honor of my career, and I am forever grateful to the service and dedication to our national security by you and members of this Committee on both sides of the aisle. While we may often disagree—even strongly disagree—I believe this Committee has demonstrated that our passion for securing the country is bipartisan and steadfast. I also want to thank my Committee staff, who have spent countless hours developing oversight, legislation, and policy to secure the United States from all manner of threats. I’m incredibly grateful for their service and dedication to the mission.
And with that, Mr. Chairman, I yield back.