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Cyber threat investigator sees "major uptick in threats" against federal authorities since Mar-a-Lago FBI search

Federal officials face rising online threats
Federal authorities face rising online threats after Mar-a-Lago search 04:16

The threats to the Florida magistrate who signed off on the FBI search warrant for Mar-a-Lago were "almost immediate," according to the deputy director of the U.S. Marshals Service, in an exclusive interview for "CBS Mornings."

Roberto Robinson told CBS News senior investigative correspondent Catherine Herridge that Judge Bruce Reinhart's address was posted online —a tactic called doxing — and his teams are "on it."  

"Threats are real," Robinson said. "People really have intent to harm folks and they will carry it out."

Asked if there was a risk of real harm to Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanagh, after an alleged murder plot was disrupted earlier this year, Robinson said, "Without a shadow of a doubt. We're thankful that we were in a strategic location in which we were able to stop anything before it before it happened. But absolutely, there was a real threat, yes."

Investigators say credible online threats targeting federal authorities have surged since the FBI's search for sensitive government documents at former President Donald Trump's Florida residence last month.

"We're seeing a major uptick in threats," said a cyber threat investigator named Simon, who asked CBS News not to use his last name for security purposes. "Any public figure is a viable target for these people, and it knows no political affiliation."

U.S. Marshals say the number of online threats targeting authorities had already been consistently rising since last year, when they saw 4,500 reported threats against federal judges. And according to law enforcement, the January 6 Capitol riot in 2021 and the Supreme Court decision on abortion rights this year have also contributed to nationwide tensions. 

Simon said he believes the Mar-a-Lago search was a tipping point. 

"There's a very real risk of law enforcement officers being hurt or killed as a result of these threats," he said. 

He and his team at the Washington-based research group Memri produced a 90-page report tracking the online threats. Some of the threats refer to the FBI as scum, say officials will die for treason, and express the need for agencies to be "cleansed" and "eliminated."

"We're seeing threats like this on a daily or hourly basis," Simon said. 

Within days of the Mar-a-Lago search, 42-year-old Ricky Shiffer attempted to breach the FBI field office in Cincinnati, Ohio, wearing body armor and carrying an AR-15 style rifle, before being killed following an hours-long standoff with police.

Simon says the attempted breach could be a new normal. "I think it's moving in that direction," he said. 

Robinson, whose team protects more than 2,700 federal judges, said the U.S. Marshals Service is "doing the best we can with what we have now" to protect federal judges.

But he added, "We are pretty thin right now. We are trying to get academy classes through so we can bring on more deputy marshals. But we could definitely use more help, for sure."

Congress considered increasing funding to pay for more deputy marshals after the son of federal Judge Esther Salas was murdered at her New Jersey home in July of 2020, but the bill has not passed.

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