New Mexico plans cyber unit to fight domestic terrorism

Jens Erik Gould
The Santa Fe New Mexican
Hector Balderas

SANTA FE – New Mexico's attorney general is moving forward with a proposal to create a cyber crime and counterterrorism unit that would help law enforcement agencies across the state to identify potential terrorist threats.

The office has requested $534,100 to create the new unit, which would have five permanent staff members, according to the attorney general's budget request obtained by The New Mexican.

The unit would train law enforcement officers and investigators throughout the state to identify potential threats to schools and other public gathering places, as well as investigate threats against elected and appointed officials including the governor of New Mexico, the request said.

Attorney General Hector Balderas said the unit was discussed at Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's domestic terrorism summit, which was held in August with the goal of preventing mass violence in New Mexico after the shooting at a Walmart in El Paso claimed 22 lives.

"A cyber crime and counter-terrorism unit is a targeted response to the rapidly increasing need to counter-survey threats to the safety of New Mexicans, to increase the sharing of intelligence and provide resources and training on terroristic threats and counter-surveillance to first responders," Balderas wrote in a letter addressed earlier this month to the Department of Finance and Administration.

House Speaker Brian Egolf had originally called for a special legislative session to discuss creating a counterterrorism unit. The governor decided against that plan in favor of waiting until the next session in January. Egolf said Friday the attorney general's request for the unit was "good news."

"I think we should have adequate resources to create that unit," said Egolf, D-Santa Fe. "It sounds very affordable to me, given our budget situation."

In order to set up the new unit, the office is asking for $400,600 in transfers from the state's general fund and $133,500 in "other transfers."

The Courts, Corrections and Justice interim committee has added extra days to its meetings scheduled for October and November to discuss ideas proposed during the domestic terrorism summit, Egolf said.

In addition to discussing the potential new unit, the committee will look at proposed statutory changes that would bring certain federal statutes into the state's criminal code.

One statutory change that will be discussed would make it a crime in New Mexico to stockpile weapons with the intent of using them to commit act of mass violence, Egolf said.

The committee will also examine potential changes that would make it easier for law enforcement agencies to share intelligence, he said.