On Jan. 7, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott held a roundtable meeting of the Domestic Terrorism Task Force. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, and other state officials and representatives from federal agencies were in attendance.
The task force was created by the governor after a gunman targeting Hispanics in an El Paso Walmart killed 22 people this past summer.
Abbott held a press conference at the end of the meeting on Tuesday to inform the public about what was being discussed.
“We began our discussion today with a pressing terrorism-based issue,” said Abbott, “and that is potential cyber terrorism as a result and byproduct of the whole Iran situation.”
Last week, Iranian military leader Qassem Soleimani, who had killed hundreds of Americans, was killed in an airstrike under the direction of President Trump.
Abbott stated there was no “credible information about immediate threats,” except for information coming from the Texas Department of Information Resources (DIR) that there has been an “increase of attempted attacks from Iran on state agencies at the rate of about 10,000 per minute.”
As of the meeting, no state website had been compromised.
Referencing the cyber-attack on at least 23 Texas government entities earlier last year, Abbott said that local governments and private entities need to have “good cyber hygiene practices,” and directed people to the DIR’s website.
He also said that local governments that have detected cyber-attacks should call 877-347-2478.
“These attacks from Iran-based entities as well as other entities across the globe are going to continue,” said Abbott.
On subjects relating more directly to the initial purposes of the task force, the governor said that the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) had presented several reports in response to his executive orders from September.
He said that since the last meeting of the task force, DPS has focused on upgrading and maximizing the personnel of its fusion centers, which serve “as the state repository for homeland security information and incident reporting.”
“They’re now actively searching for internet-based threats that could lead to domestic terrorism or mass attacks,” said Abbott.
During the meeting, the task force discussed statutorily defining “domestic terrorism” and examined how other states have defined it.
“While it’s always helpful to be able to prosecute people who commit domestic terrorism, it’s even more effective … to be able to root out, identify, and prosecute potential domestic terrorism,” said Abbott. “We want to create a statute that will give prosecutors the tools to prosecute those who are plotting to commit domestic terrorism before acts of violence occur.”
Asked how incidents like the recent stabbing in Austin by a homeless man or the White Settlement attack by a gunman described as “transient” might be addressed by the focus on domestic terrorism, Abbott said that examples of attacks from homeless individuals “don’t fall neatly” into the category of “mass attacks or attacks of domestic terrorism.”
He noted that more details were still needed about the White Settlement church attack and that the task force did discuss some aspects of the incident, including how footage of it was shared on social media.
When asked about his remarks on social media condemning Austin’s homeless policy after the recent stabbing, Abbott defended his position, saying, “It is time for the city bosses to step up and start enforcing law, and putting the public safety of the people in Austin first so that nobody else is going to lose their life because of these modified rules that have been adopted by the city of Austin.”
Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. While recently finishing his degree in Political Science from Azusa Pacific University, he also interned in the U.S. Senate and co-authored a book on C. S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy. In his spare time, he might be reading up on Dostoevsky or attempting to write a novel.