Internal DHS analysis warns of threats posed against 2024 Democratic National Convention in Chicago

ByChuck Goudie and Barb Markoff, Christine Tressel and Tom Jones WLS logo
Saturday, February 24, 2024
DHS analysis warns of threats against Democratic National Convention
As the DNC Chicago 2024 event approaches, a Department of Homeland Security analysis warns of threats against the Democratic National Convention.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A new warning from Homeland Security officials centers around a major event in Chicago this summer: the Democratic National Convention.

The party nominating convention will be wrapped up exactly six months from Friday, and there are deep concerns about how the city will weather the four-day event, and a gathering storm of threats that law enforcement is monitoring.

The Department of Homeland Security has spelled out the threats in Chicago and at the July Republican National Convention in Milwaukee in a new confidential DHS analysis obtained by ABC News.

The current political and social environment is a "tinderbox," according to one top Homeland Security administrator. While the specifics of the threats may not be known yet, the official shared an ominous warning, "We know it's coming."

Inside Chicago's United Center, the DNC 2024, which will be held Aug. 19 to 22, will be a National Special Security Event.

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During a recent speech, Chicago Police Department Superintendent Larry Snelling assured the public his department has been preparing from the moment the city was chosen for the event.

"Rest assured that we are working to make sure that this city is safe, and we have the best convention we can possibly have," Snelling said on Jan. 31 at the Economic Club of Chicago. "We had about a year to prepare. That's not a lot of time."

John Cohen, an ABC News Contributor and former Under Secretary of Intelligence for the DHS said the event comes at a unique and particularly dangerous time.

"The threat environment is the most complex, dynamic, and quite frankly, dangerous that I've seen, in the 40-plus years that I've been involved in law enforcement and Homeland Security," Cohen told the ABC7 I-Team.

Cohen explained that law enforcement on all fronts, local, state and federal, are preparing for all possibilities, including a "nightmare scenario."

"A scenario in which a physical attack would be conducted, and at the same time, you would see a cyber-attack potentially targeting the 911 center or the communications capability of area law enforcement, along with other activities that draw resources away from the point of the attack," Cohen explained.

The DHS bulletin, titled "Threats to National Political Party Conventions" states that, "Nation-state and non-state actors may view these events as an opportunity to influence or disrupt the U.S. political process using hostile or violent disruption tactics on a national media stage."

DHS officials said the major focuses are cyber threats, physical threats, critical infrastructure and foreign malign influence, including "messaging regarding U.S. elections," and "nation-state cyber threat actors' infrastructure used to conduct information operations" or disinformation campaigns.

The confidential bulletin warns law enforcement to watch out for "potential cyber threats" surrounding the conventions, including "violent extremist, foreign terrorist organization, nation-state or state-sponsored actors, or cybercriminals' attempts to disrupt or collect on the event," including through "social engineering" like phishing attempts.

Cyber techniques could also be used to "disrupt" communications and command and control infrastructure, the analysis said.

Cohen said it's critical that all law enforcement agencies work together against threats like these.

"While the threat environment is highly dangerous, you increase the potential that the conventions will go off without a major security incident when state and local authorities are well prepared," Cohen told the I-Team.

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The U.S. Secret Service is managing the DNC's security, with the manpower backbone being Chicago police.

Last October, the Chicago City Council approved a $50 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to aid CPD's efforts, city records show.

Some federal law enforcement sources told the I-Team their concerns surround the ongoing and worsening staffing shortage at CPD and just how thin the department will be stretched during the DNC.

Security plans for the DNC are scheduled to be publicly unveiled the first week of March.