ALBANY — State and federal agencies continue to track suspicious New Yorkers as cyber attacks and domestic terrorism remain a significant threat to national security, officials said during a joint legislative budget hearing Wednesday.
Multiple lawmakers, including Finance Committee Chair Sen. Liz Krueger, D-Manhattan, asked Homeland Security & Emergency Services Commissioner Patrick Murphy about the rise of white nationalism and domestic terrorism in the middle of the all-day hearing.
Security increased at the state Capitol, its 300-plus courthouses and other government buildings after thousands of angry supporters of President Donald Trump attempted a violent insurrection on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, leaving five dead.
Murphy declined to provide details about security measures or training efforts to identify white supremacists or evidence of terrorism within members of the state military, but assured legislators agencies regularly gather and analyze information about citizens.
“I’m not able to speak to what [Maj. Gen. Raymond Shields] would be working on with the National Guard at this point,” Murphy said. “If they’ve got a program that’s coming through the Department of Defense to do screening or other assessments, I’m not able to speak to that at this point. From our Homeland Security perspective, law enforcement partners continue to look at those that would cause us harm.”
State and federal intelligence and law enforcement agencies collaborate and track certain individuals with measures such as license plate readers or the See Something, Say Something initiative, Murphy said.
“Without going into specifics of how that’s done or who it is, I think the citizenry of New York should be fairly comfortable,” he added. “Those in New York should feel comfortable there’s a constant unwavering eye looking out for those who would harm us.”
Assembly and Senate fiscal committees continued with the ninth of 13 bicameral hearings Wednesday on the state’s proposed $192.9 billion 2021-22 spending plan with a focus on public protection, including the state courts and criminal justice systems and Homeland Security.
Wednesday’s hearing started at 9:30 a.m. and continued for nearly 11 hours.
About $4.97 billion is proposed for the state Division of Homeland Security & Emergency Services in the executive budget — a $3.4 billion increase from last year, including additional appropriation authority to administer federal aid to state agencies, local governments and eligible nonprofit organizations.
Multiple agencies, including IT and cyber teams, support the state’s security efforts in safeguarding against election fraud, Murphy said.
“The law enforcement agencies that we work with and we collaborate with were very swift into action where they had known targets and took action on those,” he said. “I feel fairly comfortable at this point where we are with the knowledge of those that cause us harm and the action taken.”
State Homeland Security does not specifically investigate organizations or people who hire others to attend a protest or act violently at demonstrations. Murphy referred Assemblyman Mike Lawler, R-Pearl River, who asked about the issue to the state police.
“Our New York partners that sit in the federal intel center do analysis on the flow of money that comes in support of a number of activities,” Murphy said. “That is a component of the activity that goes on. Behind closed doors, we could probably talk a little bit more about those activities as they relate to that.”
State Homeland Security officials routinely check and secure digital infrastructure as reports of hacking and data breaches increase for counties, school districts and other community organizations. Incidents have threatened national security and many U.S. states, including a case this week where one hacker attempted to poison a Florida city’s water supply.
Sen. Dianne Savino, D- Brooklyn, Staten Island; argued towns and villages purchase the cheapest security software because of financial hardships, and may not offer the strongest protection or technological services.
“We need to open up this conversation ... and not allow localities to handle this,” she said. “The risks are far too high.”
Murphy supports a partnership with the state Officer of General Services or other state agency to implement additional levels of statewide cyber security, he replied.
Leading state court officials remain in regular contact with the FBI, New York State Police and other law enforcement about potential threats, and have plans to use additional resources in case of a security emergency, said Justice Lawrence Marks, chief administrative judge of the state’s Unified Court System.