U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Government Website

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Safely connect using HTTPS

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock () or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.


  1. Home
  2. About Us
  3. Site Links
  4. Archived
  5. News Archive
  6. Remarks By Secretary Of Homeland Security Jeh Charles Johnson On “The New Realities Of Homeland Security” As Part Of The Landon Lecture Series On Public Issues – As Prepared For Delivery

Archived Content

In an effort to keep DHS.gov current, the archive contains outdated information that may not reflect current policy or programs.

Remarks By Secretary Of Homeland Security Jeh Charles Johnson On “The New Realities Of Homeland Security” As Part Of The Landon Lecture Series On Public Issues – As Prepared For Delivery

Release Date: May 27, 2015

Manhattan, Kan.
Kansas State University
(As prepared for delivery)

Thank you for the invitation to speak here.

I am truly impressed with the list of those who have preceded me in this lecture series, which include Presidents Carter and Reagan, both Presidents Bush, Vice President Mondale, Tom Donilon, Nelson Rockefeller, my former boss Secretary of Defense Bob Gates, Colin Powell, Leslie Stahl, Bob Dole, Robert and Ted Kennedy, Pat Moynihan, Barry Goldwater, Shirley Temple and Alf Landon himself. It is an honor to join this list. I believe I am the first Secretary of Homeland Security to do so.

Formed by Congress in 2002 in the wake of 9/11, the Department of Homeland Security is the third largest department of the United States government. It has a total annual spending authority of about $60 billion, 225,000 personnel, and 22 components.

Our responsibilities include counterterrorism, border security, port security, aviation security, maritime security, cybersecurity, the administration and enforcement of our immigration laws, the detection of nuclear, chemical and biological threats to our homeland, the protection of our critical infrastructure, the protection of our national leaders, and the response to natural disasters such as floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, and earthquakes.

DHS includes within it: Customs and Border Protection; Immigration and Customs Enforcement; Citizenship and Immigration Services; TSA; FEMA; the Federal Protective Service; the Secret Service; the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center; and the Coast Guard.

In about two hours I will participate in the groundbreaking ceremony here for our new National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, which will help protect our Nation’s food supply and public health.

We have many missions. But, they all fall within our broader, overarching mission -- the protection of the homeland.

In my view, counterterrorism must remain the cornerstone of our Department's overall homeland security mission. It's the reason the Department was created by Congress in the wake of 9/11.

Also, I am a New Yorker and I was present in Manhattan on 9/11, which happens to be my birthday. I am therefore an eyewitness to an act of terrorism that can shatter a beautiful and ordinary day in an instant, and cause what was up until then unimaginable horror and tragedy.

Out of that day the Department of Homeland Security was born, and my personal commitment to the mission of homeland security was born.

Today, almost 14 years after 9/11, it is still a dangerous world. And there is a new reality in the global terrorist threat. I’d like to discuss that new reality today, and what we are doing about it.

Not that long ago, the terrorist threat to the United States from al Qaeda was trained and directed overseas, and exported to our homeland.

The 9/11 hijackers were acting on orders from al Qaeda's external operations chief, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was in turn carrying out the direction of Osama bin Laden.

Likewise, the attempted “Shoe Bomber” in December 2001, the attempted “Underwear Bomber” in December 2009, the attempted Times Square car bombing in May 2010, and the attempted “Package Bomb” plot in October 2010, were all efforts to export terrorism to the United States, and they all appear to have been directed by a terrorist organization overseas.

The response to these type of attacks and attempted attacks on our homeland was and is to take the fight directly to the terrorist organizations at locations overseas.

And, as a result of these operations, many of the leaders of al Qaeda are now dead or captured. Osama bin Laden is dead. Anwar al Awlaki, one of the leaders of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, is dead. Khalid Sheik Mohammed awaits trial before a military commission.

But, the new reality is that the global terrorist threat is more decentralized, more complex, and in many respects harder to detect.

The new reality involves the potential for smaller-scale attacks by those who are either homegrown or home-based, not exported, and who are inspired by, not necessarily directed by, a terrorist organization.

Today, it is no longer necessary for terrorist organizations to personally recruit, train and direct operatives overseas and in secret, and export them to the U.S. to commit a terrorist attack. Today, with new and skilled use of the internet, terrorist organizations may publicly recruit and inspire individuals to conduct attacks within their own homelands. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula no longer builds bombs in secret; it publicizes its instruction manual in its magazine, and publicly urges people to use it.

Today, we are also concerned about the so-called "foreign fighter" -- those who are answering public calls to leave their home countries in Europe and elsewhere to travel to Iraq and Syria and take up the extremists' fight there. Many of these individuals will seek to return to their home countries with that same extremist motive.

The recent wave of terrorist attacks and attempted attacks here and in Europe reflect the new reality. The Boston Marathon bombing in April 2013, the attack on the war memorial and the parliament building in Ottawa in October 2014, the attack on the Charlie Hebdo headquarters in Paris in January 2015, and the attempted terrorist attack in Garland City, Texas in May 2015: What do this recent wave of attacks and attempted attacks have in common? They were all conducted by homegrown or home-based actors, and they all appear to have been inspired, but not directed by, al Qaeda or ISIL.

So, what are we doing about it?

First, we continue to take the fight to terrorist organizations overseas.

ISIL is the terrorist organization most prominent on the world stage. Since last September, our air strikes and special operations have in fact led to the death of a number of ISIL's leaders. As President Obama indicated the other day, though there are tactical setbacks from time to time, we know that through sustained, continued support of the Iraqi government and its security forces, and with the international coalition, we will degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.

We also continue counterterrorism operations against al Qaeda targets in Yemen and elsewhere. We will continue to hunt for and take the fight directly to the terrorist organizations who threaten the United States – at the places where they hide, where they plan, and where they train.

Our intelligence community, particularly since 9/11, will continue to detect terrorist plots overseas, at their earliest stages.

Much of the terrorist threat continues to evolve around airport security. We continuously evaluate, modify, and enhance our aviation security measures to stay one step ahead of what we believe the bad guys may be plotting. Last summer, for example, I directed enhanced screening at select overseas airports with direct flights to the United States. Weeks later, we added other airports. The United Kingdom and other countries followed suit with similar enhancements. In January, TSA also increased random searches of passengers and carry-on luggage at U.S. airports.

Last month I directed enhancements to close certain vulnerabilities in airport security around the Nation.

We are building more preclearance operations at foreign airports with direct flights into the United States. This means deploying our Customs officials overseas, to screen passengers bound for the U.S., at the front end of the flight, before they arrive in the U.S. We now have 15 preclearance operations overseas, and we are building more.

The most recent preclearance operation was set up early last year in Abu Dhabi. Since that time, in Abu Dhabi alone, we have already screened more than 500,000 passengers and crew bound for the United States, and have denied boarding to 785 individuals, including a number who were found in the terrorist screening database.

Since 9/11, the Department of Homeland Security has become much more sophisticated at identifying individuals of suspicion who seek to travel to the United States. We continue to strengthen these systems, with our own law enforcement and intelligence community, and with our friends and allies overseas.

At present, there are 38 countries for which we do not require a visa from its tourist travelers who seek to come to the United States. Our Visa Waiver Program is a valuable tool for international commerce and travel; it must continue to operate in a secure manner.

Thus, we have determined that there are security enhancements that can be made to the program. Last year DHS added more data fields to the Electronic System for Travel Authorization -- or "ESTA" -- to learn more key biographic information about travelers from visa waiver countries, before they board an aircraft bound for the United States. Already, we have seen that these changes are providing added benefits to our security.

We have identified a number of other security enhancements that can be made to the Visa Waiver Program, which I expect to announce soon. The goal is to know more about those who travel to the United States, and to conduct even more effective security screening.

We are encouraging countries in the Visa Waiver Program to engage in more effective security and law enforcement cooperation with the United States.

DHS is sharing our aviation screening expertise with our allies to help them identify illicit travel while also protecting the privacy and civil liberties of all travelers.

Two days from now I will represent the United States at an unprecedented session of the United Nations Security Council, along with my foreign counterparts represented on the Security Council, to discuss the problem of foreign fighters. We will track progress since the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 2178 on foreign fighters last September, and, in general, discuss how we can do a better job, individually and collectively, to track and prevent foreign fighters.

The FBI continues to identify, investigate, interdict and help the Department of Justice prosecute attempted terrorist plots to the homeland. With the help of DHS, the FBI has also made a number of arrests of those who attempt to become foreign fighters, before they can get on an airplane and leave the country.

In reaction to terrorist groups’ public calls for attacks on government installations in the West, and following the attack last fall in Ottawa, I directed that our Federal Protective Service enhance its security and presence at federal office buildings around the country. This enhanced security remains in place.

In reaction to terrorists' public calls for attacks on U.S. military installations and personnel, the Department of Defense has enhanced its security at bases in the U.S.

Given the new reality of the global terrorist threat -- which involves the potential for small-scale homegrown attacks by those who could strike with little or no notice, we are working in closer collaboration with state and local law enforcement. Given the nature of the evolving threat, the local cop on the beat may actually be the first to detect a terrorist attack on the homeland.

So, as often as several times a week, the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI share terrorist threat information and intelligence with Joint Terrorism Task Forces, state fusion centers, and local police chiefs and sheriffs.

Several weeks ago FBI Director Comey and I personally participated in a conference call with over 1000 officials of federal, state and local law enforcement to personally communicate what we were seeing.

With the FBI, DHS routinely prepares and releases written Joint Intelligence Bulletins -- or JIBs -- to inform state and local law enforcement about potential threats to the homeland. Prior to the attempted attack at Garland, we issued a JIB about the risk of an attack there given the nature of the exhibit. Fortunately, federal and local law enforcement were there, alert and prepared.

Last September, DHS released a guide to help retail businesses identify suspicious purchases of explosive precursors.

We are promoting mobile phone applications to support local law enforcement and first responders.

Our DHS office of Infrastructure Protection, together with the FBI and the National Counterterrorism Center, are engaged in a multi-city campaign with commercial businesses to review and enhance their security plans.

Next, given the evolving nature of the homegrown terrorist threat, I and other government officials have engaged in community outreach to counter violent extremism here at home. In my view, this is indispensable to our homeland security efforts. We must reach communities that themselves have the ability to reach those individuals who may succumb to the slick internet appeal of ISIL and turn to violence.

In 2014, DHS held over 70 meetings, roundtables and other events in 14 cities. I personally participate in these efforts. Since becoming Secretary I have met with community leaders in Chicago, Columbus, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Boston, New York, and Brooklyn. In a few weeks I will travel to Houston for this purpose.

The new reality is that our homeland security efforts must involve the public at large, too. In government, we are often afraid to ask the public for help.

But, we need your help.

At the Super Bowl earlier this year, we refashioned our "If You See Something, Say Something" campaign with a new look. This is more than slogan.

We also need the help of Congress. We need a partner in Congress.

Three months ago, it was both counterproductive and unnecessary for the Congress to bring the 225,000-person Department of Homeland Security to the brink of a government shutdown, while failing to enact a full-year appropriation for homeland security until five months in to the fiscal year.

It is regrettable that Congress has failed to act on the President's request for specific authorization to use military force against ISIL, months after that has effort has been underway.

It is alarming that, just four and a half days from now, the legal authorization for activities critical to national security, law enforcement and public safety will expire, and Congress has failed to enact anything in its place.

On May 13, the House passed the USA FREEDOM Act by a strong bipartisan margin of 338-88. The USA FREEDOM Act is a good bill. It strikes the right balance between civil liberties and national security. It prohibits the controversial practice of bulk data collection and maintains authorities for more targeted collection activities. But, the Senate has failed to pass this reasonable compromise or any other legislation in place of the authorities that are about to expire at midnight on Sunday. The Senate must act soon. Doing nothing is not a responsible option.

Finally, it is distressing that Congress has failed to repeal sequestration.

Four years ago, both Republicans and Democrats bet they could force compromise on taxes and spending, by threatening themselves with a Draconian, slash and burn $1.2 trillion spending cut that would automatically kick in over a decade if Congress failed to act.

Surprise. Congress failed to act. And sequestration became the budget law of the land in 2011. In 2013, the Murray-Ryan budget deal gave us a reprieve from sequestration for two years, but is it scheduled to return again at the end of this fiscal year unless Congress acts to repeal it.

Unless sequestration is repealed, homeland security funding will return to its lowest level (adjusted for inflation) in a decade.

Sequestration is not smart government budget-making. Sequestration was meant to be Draconian, and so ugly that Congress would do the right thing to prevent it.

The Department of Homeland Security’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2016 is $41.2 billion, which is $1.5 billion more than our current appropriation. This is a good budget request, which has been well received by members of Congress on both sides of the aisle.

Sequestration would cut the Department’s spending power by nearly $1.9 billion, and could force the Department to cut frontline personnel, technology, grants to state and local governments, and infrastructure investment.

Sequestration would mean halting our investment in new border security surveillance and equipment.

Sequestration could mean that the Secret Service will lose $236 million, or 12% of its budget, at a time when it needs to upgrade security at the White House, hire more agents, and protect the 2016 candidates for President.

Sequestration could mean that FEMA will see its pre-disaster mitigation grants reduced by $175 million – an 88% decrease to that program. This is money used to support faster recovery time from disasters and build and strengthen levies, boardwalks, hospitals and schools.

Plain and simple: sequestration weakens our homeland security, and it makes no sense. Like President Obama and many of our Democratic and Republican congressional leaders, I urge Congress to repeal sequestration.

One last point, which I repeat often:

We know that, in a free society, homeland security means striking a balance -- a balance between basic physical security and our values as a Nation of people who enjoy the freedom to travel and associate, cherish privacy, celebrate our diversity, and are not afraid. Terrorism cannot prevail if the people refuse to be terrorized. In the final analysis, these are the things that constitute our greatest strength as a Nation.

Thank you for listening.

# # #

Last Updated: 09/21/2018
Was this page helpful?
This page was not helpful because the content