Counterterrorism Remains Homeland Security Focus, Secretary Says

During a symposium at the George Washington University, Jeh Johnson discussed department’s strategies in post-9/11 world.

Jeh Johnson
September 19, 2014
 
With al Qaeda affiliates like ISIS (or ISIL) capturing the world’s attention, the threat of terrorism is still a problem 13 years after 9/11. In response, counterterrorism strategies will remain the “cornerstone” of the Department of Homeland Security’s mission, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Thursday at the George Washington University.
 
Mr. Johnson gave keynote remarks at “Future of the DHS Enterprise,” an all-day symposium held at the GW Law School. The event was organized by the Homeland Security & Defense Business Council.
 
Mr. Johnson was appointed secretary of the government’s third largest department in December 2013. DHS is responsible for everything from immigration enforcement to protection of critical infrastructure. In the last several months, the department has ramped up its aviation security and worked to track suspicious individuals traveling abroad to address terrorist threats and conflicts taking place on the world stage, Mr. Johnson said.
 
Terrorists have expanded their reach through sophisticated uses of the Internet and propaganda. DHS also is collaborating with communities across the country to combat domestic terrorism and to be alert for “lone wolf” traits. In those cases, individuals in the U.S. become radicalized through literature or social media without ever traveling overseas or interfacing directly with extremist leaders. Mr. Johnson has personally participated in a number of outreach programs, most recently visiting a Syrian-American community in Chicago to discuss issues of homeland security, racial profiling and other matters.
 
“We need to deliver the message that groups like ISIL are not Islamic and are not a state. ISIL does not defend Muslims, ISIL kills,” he said. “More Muslims than any other religion have died as a result of ISIL’s violence.”
 
DHS is committed to detecting plots from overseas, Mr. Johnson continued, but the American public must be aware of “under the radar” threats at home. Just last week, DHS put out an advisory to retailers in the private sector warning them to be vigilant about customers who purchase large amounts of explosive material. He urged Americans to support the DHS mission by watching out for suspicious behavior. 
 
“ ‘If you see something, say something,’ has to be more than a slogan,” he said.
 
He also cited DHS efforts such as the risk-based TSA checkout, in which frequent travelers undergo a background check in order to get through airport lines quicker. This makes it easier for the DHS to focus on passengers for whom they have less information.
 
The DHS also has devoted an unprecedented amount of resources to border security this year, Mr. Johnson said, and the U.S. has more border patrols, technology and surveillance than ever before. 
 
Following an immigration crisis in which thousands of Central American children entered the United States, the DHS increased the number of deportation flights, built additional detention spaces and worked with governments to spread messages that illegal immigrants would be quickly processed and sent back to their countries. The number of illegal unaccompanied minors dropped from almost 10,000 in May to about 3,000 in August, Mr. Johnson said, adding that he will announce a Southern border campaign plan in October.
 
Mr. Johnson is pioneering efforts in cybersecurity and is working with the private sector to share best practices. Nonpartisan cybersecurity legislation has been proposed to allow the DHS to better receive and share information and enhance cyber talent.
 
When he’s addressing audiences, Mr. Johnson said he often tells people that he can build them a perfectly safe commercial flight, but getting on it would require going through a detailed and strenuous examination. Homeland security is a balancing act, he continued, and it’s critical to keep the world safe without making life more cumbersome for Americans. 
 
“We cannot do [our job] at the cost of sacrificing who we are as a nation of people who value freedom of movement, privacy, civil liberties and cherish diversity and heritage. Everyday I think about striking that right balance in homeland security,” he said.