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Working Together to Confront Terrorism

Our priority and the founding principle of the Department of Homeland Security is preventing and disrupting terrorist attacks on America.  As President Obama makes clear in his recently announced National Security Strategy – the first since the creation of DHS to integrate homeland security and national security – our government has no greater priority than the safety and security of the American people.

National Security Strategy May 2010
Indeed, President Obama has emphasized the need to both build and integrate the capabilities upon which that security depends. Nowhere is that integration more essential than in our efforts to prevent and disrupt terrorist attacks. This mission is not ours alone – everyone has a role to play.

Every day, the men and women of DHS work directly with international, federal, state, local and tribal partners in a unified effort against the evolving threats we face. This kind of coordination is essential to meet the evolving challenges of the world in which we live – one in which the accelerated flow of ideas, goods, and people, while vital to supporting and advancing our interests, also creates security threats that are increasingly borderless and unconventional.

In my time as Secretary, I have also focused on the threats that take place here at home: domestic-based terrorism and violent extremism.  In the last few months, we have seen individuals in our country engaged in plots to kill Americans after interacting with radical individuals online or in terrorist training camps abroad.  The fact that a number of these individuals, like the Times Square bombing suspect Faisal Shahzad, are U.S. citizens makes this a uniquely dangerous challenge.

Some of these terrorists have ties to al Qaeda or other terror groups - like David Headley, who pled guilty for his role in the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, or Najibullah Zazi, who pled guilty to plotting to bomb the New York subway.  Other suspects have been online followers of Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen based in Yemen who is a self-proclaimed member of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and who supports the use of violence against America.

Domestic terrorists or extremists can be particularly difficult to detect because they often attempt to exploit the freedoms of our open society in order to plot and carry out acts of violence. That is why we are constantly working to find new ways to counter these threats.

Currently, DHS is working with federal, state, and local law enforcement, and with a range of community groups, to better combat the threats posed by domestic-based terrorism. We do this by ensuring that law enforcement at every level has access to information and intelligence about threats so they are fully equipped to confront them on the frontlines.

The Department of Homeland Security is also working directly with communities to help them combat violent extremists that target vulnerable individuals before they are radicalized.  Just last week, the Homeland Security Advisory Committee issued a series of recommendations on implementing successful community policing practices to confront this new challenge.

This process has been aided by the active involvement of many religious, ethnic and community organizations, including leaders from the Muslim, Arab, Sikh, and South Asian communities, who have played critical roles in thwarting violence, and underscoring the enormously positive roles that these communities play in enriching our national life.

As we work together to confront the terrorist challenge, we must acknowledge that keeping our country safe demands trust and cooperation.  Terrorism is a tactic designed not just to kill, but to undermine our freedom.  We must forge strong partnerships between communities and state, local and federal law enforcement, build resilience, and maintain vigilance at all times not only to prevent acts of terrorism, but also to protect the very freedoms that make this country great.

No nation—particularly a free and open society of 300 million Americans—can prevent every single threat to its citizens.  But we will continue to do everything in our power to guard against terrorism and we will remember that America is – and always will be–a strong and a resilient country.  We will never let a violent fringe take that away.

Janet Napolitano
Published by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Washington, D.C.
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