While Americans are focused on protecting themselves from COVID-19, U.S. national security experts are working to keep the country safe from terrorists who see an opening to strike.
Extremists may try to “weaponize” the virus by deliberately trying to infect others, explains John Demers, assistant attorney general for national security at the Justice Department, or they may accelerate terrorist plans that were already in the pipeline.
Threats from overseas could ramp up, for example, in order to carry out a mission before airline travel possibly grinds to a complete halt or in case the partial U.S. border shutdown becomes a full-fledged closure.
Domestic terrorism is a concern, too, with Georgetown Law’s Joshua Geltzer fretting about the effect that social distancing could have on homegrown radicalization. Isolated people with free time to spare, he warns, could be sucked into disinformation circulated via the Internet.
Just this week, the FBI thwarted a plot to bomb a Missouri hospital where coronavirus patients are being treated. The suspect, Timothy Wilson — who died when authorities tried to take him in — had been planning the attack for months but stepped up his timeline and targeted the facility because of the pandemic.