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Senator Collins Questions Top U.S. Intelligence Officials on Terrorism Threats and Illegal Drug Operations in Maine

Click HERE to watch Senator Collins’ Q&A with Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, and HERE to download.

Click HERE to watch Senator Collins’ Q&A with FBI Director Christopher Wray, and HERE to download.

Washington, D.C. – At the annual worldwide threats open hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, U.S. Senator Susan Collins questioned the top leaders of the U.S. intelligence agencies on pressing threats to U.S. national security, both at home and abroad. Senator Collins began by questioning the Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines on the threat posed by ISIS and Iranian-backed terrorist groups, such as Hamas and Hezbollah, toward our nation.

Senator Collins said:

“Since the way that our disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan unfolded, we've also seen a large increase in terrorist attacks conducted by ISIS. In fact, those number nearly 200, and have resulted in some 1,300 casualties. Are their threats of terrorist attacks – from ISIS toward Americans – a problem still? And how are you balancing the great power competition, with the threats from ISIS?

“In addition, I would like you to comment on whether or not terrorist groups backed by Iran, such as Hamas and Hezbollah, pose a threat to our homeland.”

DNI Haines said:

“So, in terms of the threat from ISIS – which, you're absolutely right, remains a significant counterterrorism concern for us – most of the attacks that you're talking about, globally, taken on by ISIS, have actually occurred by parts of ISIS that are outside of Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, there still remains an ISIS concern. It is one where, ironically, the Taliban is actually also concerned about it, because the ISIS group that is in Afghanistan is in fact, going after the Taliban. And so, this is a place where, actually, the Taliban has taken action against that group in ways that are consistent with our concerns and interests. So, that is one piece.

“In terms of the terrorist groups that are backed by Iran, absolutely, that is a major issue for us, and there are a number of them. Obviously, we often talk about Iranian-aligned militia groups that have been attacking US forces, and assets in Iraq and Syria in particular, but also in other parts of the region, attempting to. And there have been just dozens and dozens of attacks that we've been looking to manage, and it continues to be fueled by Iran. They provide weapons, they provide training, they provide money to those groups, and we still, obviously, see them as a destabilizing force in the region. We also see Iran's support of Hezbollah, as you noted, and of Hamas over the years, not to mention the Houthis is another example of this.”

Senator Collins went on to question FBI Director Christopher Wray about the recent phenomenon of Chinese nationals who are establishing illegal marijuana growing operations all over the state of Maine.

Senator Collins said:

“Director Wray, we know that China is the primary provider of the predecessor chemicals and the pill presses for fentanyl. And you've pointed out in your testimony, the extraordinary scope of the amount of fentanyl that has been produced. And indeed, 80% of the overdoses in Maine last year involved fentanyl. But what we're also seeing in Maine is a new phenomenon that was reported by some enterprising journalists. And that is that Chinese nationals are establishing illegal marijuana growing operations all over the state.

“One public report estimates there are more than 200 of them, primarily in rural Maine. They're unregulated, they're illicit, they're destroying homes because they're growing the marijuana inside and the marijuana is very potent. What is the FBI doing to support local, county, and state officials? And why do you think the Chinese have sent their citizens to rural America to establish these illegal growing operations?”

Director Wray said:

“We're observing the same phenomenon that you're describing. I know we've had a number of cases that have resulted in indictments of Chinese nationals involved with illegal marijuana grow operations here, and otherwise involved in different kinds of organized criminal activity. We are tackling that through working with our state and local law enforcement partners through a variety of task forces. We're trying to share intelligence with them, to help get ahead of the threat.

“You mentioned the precursors to fentanyl, the pill presses. This issue, I would just add to that yet another one, which is that an awful lot of the meth precursors to the labs in Mexico also come from China. So, it's fentanyl, it's also meth. And so, there is certainly a big degree to which problems that we are experiencing here in an acute way, source back to them.”