Democratic members of the House Homeland Security Committee are calling on Federal domestic security agencies to provide them with more information on “racially- or ethnically-motivated violent” cyberattacks to the nation’s critical infrastructure.

Reps. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., and Seth Magaziner, D-R.I., sent a letter on Feb. 17 to agency leadership seeking information on recent attacks against the electric grid.

“We write to request that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) brief us on threats posed by domestic violent extremists to our Nation’s critical infrastructure, particularly the energy sector, and efforts by your respective agencies to defend against such attacks,” the representatives wrote.

The lawmakers noted in their letter a recent attempted attack against five electric facilities in Baltimore earlier this month.

“One of the conspirators is a founding member of a paramilitary neo-Nazi group, the Atomwaffen Division, which has been implicated in violence across the country. The other told a law enforcement source that the plot would ‘completely destroy’ the city, which is predominantly Black,” the letter states.

In 2022 alone, the House member said, direct physical attacks against U.S. electrical infrastructure rose by 77 percent, to an all-time high.

“The physical attacks last year affected more than half of U.S. states and around 90,000 customers, putting hospitals, businesses, local governments, and American citizens at risk,” they wrote.

The representatives also expressed concern in cyberattacks against the electric grid.

“The U.S. energy sector is also vulnerable to cyberattacks, as Russia and other foreign adversaries have demonstrated for many years,” they wrote.

DHS I&A is responsible for serving as a conduit for information sharing between the intelligence community and state, local, Tribal, and Territorial (SLTT) governments, the representatives noted. Through these relationships, I&A can share threat information critical to situational awareness for Federal and SLTT governments.

Similarly, CISA is tasked with coordinating Federal efforts to secure all 16 sectors of critical infrastructure in preparing for, responding to, and building resilience against elevated threats.

“To carry out this mission, CISA relies on I&A to provide actionable, timely threat intelligence that it can use to drive effective, informed communication and coordination with sector owners and operators,” the lawmakers wrote.

“Together, I&A and CISA have the tools, resources, intelligence, and expertise that can be brought to bear in protecting targeted energy infrastructure against domestic extremists,” they added. “Given the alarming rise of domestic violent extremism and in attacks against critical infrastructure generally, and the energy sector in particular, I&A and CISA have essential roles in ensuring SLTTs are informed and prepared to prevent attacks against electrical facilities.”

The representatives requested a briefing on how I&A and CISA are working together and with partners to keep critical infrastructure safe, assessments on potential threats to the energy sector, and the role of racially- or ethnically-motivated violent extremism in perpetuating the threat.

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Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.