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GAO highlights security threats to federal employees

Dept of Interior building (shutterstock)

Security threats against federal employees in the government's four land management agencies -- the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and Forest Service -- have escalated in recent years according to a Government Accountability Office report.

GAO noted that between 2013 and 2017, the FBI initiated almost 100 domestic terrorism investigations into threats federal employees had received during those four years, including a period during 2016 in which members loosely affiliated with an anti-government group occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon for 41 days. The threats, listed as 33 separate "undesired" incidents, ranged from adversarial use of unmanned aerial vehicles, interruption of service and hostile surveillance to assault, arson, automobile ramming and workplace violence.

At an Oct. 22 hearing of the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands, a GAO official testified that number of threats that federal lands employees received was likely much higher than the actual number reported.

"Some employees haven't reported [threats] because they informed us that in certain circumstances they consider it normal," said Anne-Marie Fennell, GAO's director of the Natural Resources and Environment team. "Some indicated it depends on the particular circumstances. What may appear to be a threat for one person isn't for another." She cited one instance in which the FBI reported one BLM employee received 500 threatening calls and death threats after the worker's personal information was posted on Twitter.

The Department of Homeland Security's Interagency Security Committee requires all land management agencies to complete facility security assessments, but three of the aforementioned agencies have not, according to the report. GAO recommended agencies complete their assessments and ensure they comply with ISC's standards. Though the Fish and Wildlife Service has completed its facility security assessment, BLM, the National Park Service and the Forest Service have not, according to GAO, because of a combination of lack of resources, expertise and training.

Subcommittee Chairwoman Rep. Debra Haaland (D-N.M.) said remarks and activities on the part of some current and retired officials were encouraging violence against public employees.

"These extremist ideologies did not develop in a vacuum," she said. "Anti-government rhetoric more frequently being touted by officials in positions of power are being weaponized against our public lands and the public servants who manage them. Attempts to push this ideology into the political mainstream has a very real impact on people's lives."

About the Author

Lia Russell is a former staff writer and associate editor at FCW.

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