on the hill

FBI’s Wray warns that Iran ‘has become more aggressive, more brazen, more dangerous’

The FBI director highlighted an increase in Iranian plots on U.S. soil in the past 18 months

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FBI Director Christopher Wray (R) testifies with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas before the House Homeland Security Committee in the Cannon House Office Building on Capitol Hill on November 15, 2022, in Washington, D.C.

FBI Director Christopher Wray warned lawmakers on Tuesday of increasing threats to Americans from Iran, suggesting that “the Iranian regime across multiple vectors has become more aggressive, more brazen and more dangerous” over the last 18 months.

In testimony before the House Homeland Security Committee, Wray cited Iran’s attempted cyberattack on the Boston Children’s Hospital, plot to assassinate former National Security Advisor John Bolton and plans to kidnap journalist and dissident Masih Alinejad in Brooklyn.

“If that’s not enough to convince us that the regime is a threat, I don’t know what is,” Wray said.

Christine Abizaid, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, echoed Wray’s warnings, telling committee members that the regime “raises significant concerns from a security perspective” both at home and in the Middle East.

Abizaid noted that Iran and its affiliates seek to retaliate for the U.S. killing of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander Qasem Soleimani, “raising the threat both at home and abroad for those that Iran deems responsible.”

Wray’s comments came in response to a question from Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) about a member of the Iranian parliament — which recently urged stronger penalties on those protesting within the Islamic republic — who is visiting the United Nations in New York. 

“Do we need more resources? Or should we reconsider who we allow to come to the United States?” Swalwell asked. “After [they] voted for such an atrocity, it really concerns me that people could be enjoying themselves in New York.” 

In the past, the U.S. has moved on a bipartisan basis to restrict Iran’s choice of envoys to the U.N., with Congress passing a bill in 2014 aimed at giving the president the ability to bar Iran’s expected choice of U.N. ambassador from receiving a visa. 

Earlier this year, lawmakers — a group largely comprised of Republicans, with a handful of Democrats — urged the administration to block Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi from attending the U.N. General Assembly. The administration did not do so.

Later in the hearing, Wray warned that Iran and other U.S. adversaries have “capitalized on the… toxic, politically charged violence that occurs in this country these days to try to pit us against each other to sow divisiveness, to amplify tensions that are already there and make it worse.”

Wray and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas also spoke on the administration’s efforts to combat antisemitism.

The Jewish community “deserves and desperately needs our support because it’s getting hit from all sides,” Wray said. He explained that the administration is working to combat hate crimes through a variety of programs, including creating a new domestic terrorism hate crimes unit, which he said had prevented a planned synagogue attack in Colorado in 2019.

He also noted that the bureau has stepped up its outreach efforts in the Jewish community, including distributing Yiddish- and Hebrew-language materials detailing how to spot potential threats.

Mayorkas, who is Jewish, reiterated his support for increasing Nonprofit Security Grant Program funding to $360 million. The program, which provides grants to nonprofits and religious institutions to improve their security, fulfilled just over half of the applications it received in 2022 with $250 million in funding.

Mayorkas was repeatedly questioned on whether he had discussed or considered resigning from his position amid strident criticism from Republicans over the administration’s border security policy. He said he had not.

“I hope for the sake of the safety of the American people that that conversation [about your resignation] happens very soon,” Rep. Jake LaTurner (R-KS) told Mayorkas. Republicans have floated impeaching Mayorkas should they retake the House.