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  6. Remarks By Secretary Of Homeland Security Jeh C. Johnson On “Security Challenges Confronting The Homeland” At The Commonwealth Club Of California – As Delivered

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Remarks By Secretary Of Homeland Security Jeh C. Johnson On “Security Challenges Confronting The Homeland” At The Commonwealth Club Of California – As Delivered

Release Date: September 15, 2015

U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Press Release  
Sept. 15, 2015
Contact: DHS Press Office, (202) 282-8010
San Francisco
Commonwealth Club of California
Sept. 15, 2015
(As delivered)

Thank you very much. Thank you for the invitation to speak before this distinguished organization. It’s nice to be here in San Francisco. I thought I would just give a few minutes opening remarks and then look forward to your questions.

You’ve heard that the Department of Homeland Security includes 22 components; that is true. There are so many components that each time I talk about DHS in any comprehensive way, I need a path; I need a path to list all the different things that we are doing, all under the umbrella of homeland security.

Is Heather Fong here? Where is Heather Fong? I don’t see her, where are you Heather? One of the things I wanted to do to curry favor in this San Francisco audience is to give a shout out to my Assistant Secretary for Law Enforcement, Heather Fong, who is the former Police Chief of San Francisco. She’s been with us for about a year doing great work.

Let me pick up on something that you said. We’re in a period of relative calm. Every time I hear that I am reminded that, given the nature of homeland security, no news is good news. But no news is often because somebody, somewhere in homeland security or law enforcement or national security, did something to interdict a plot, to prevent somebody from getting on an airplane, to interdict a shipment somewhere that you don’t hear about or read about or you might if you got into page A16. And so, while we are in a period of relative calm, we are very busy maintaining relative calm.

We are 22 components and we are a Department at the cabinet level of 240,000 people, depending on how you count. We have a total spending authority of about sixty billion dollars. Our missions in the Department of Homeland Security include: counterterrorism; border security; aviation security; port security; maritime security; cybersecurity; detection of nuclear, chemical, and biological threats to the homeland; protection of our national leaders through the Secret Service; training of federal law enforcement officers; enforcement and administration of our immigration laws and policies; and responses to disasters, including national disasters.

We include among those 22 components: Customs and Border Protection, which itself is the largest federal law enforcement agency; Immigration and Customs Enforcement; Citizenship and Immigration Services; TSA; the Coast Guard; the Secret Service; and FEMA.

Now, before I get into the issues, let me first say that yesterday I paid a visit to our FEMA regional watch center in downtown Oakland to get an update on the situation with the wildfires a little bit north of here in Butte, and the Valley Fire. In the valley section, some 62,000 acres were destroyed in just 17 hours. As we speak, at least 4,000 firefighters are devoted to the Butte Fire and another 1,200 or so—and that number’s probably growing—to the Valley Fire. A number of people have been displaced, their homes destroyed.

Within the federal government, we have issued a Fire Management Assistance Grant Declaration for each of those fires, which means that the federal government, my Department, is matching the cost of firefighting and assistance at the 75 percent level for firefighters, for relief efforts, and so forth. What’s happening right now is a real tribute to the bravery and dedication of our firefighter community.

Counterterrorism, in my view as a New Yorker who was present in Manhattan on 9/11, should remain the cornerstone of the Department’s mission, and it has remained the cornerstone of our Department’s mission. We have, and I’ve been saying this now for a while, evolved to a new phase in the terrorist threat: from only terrorist-directed attacks from overseas where the operative is recruited, trained, equipped overseas, and exported to a place where they commit an act of terrorism; to terrorist-inspired threats, someone who can be home-born or homegrown, and is simply inspired, without ever having met a terrorist leader, to commit an act of violence because of something he read in social media or saw on the internet. Phase one, phase two.

Phase one includes obviously, probably the most prominent example, 9/11; the underwear bomber, December 25, 2009 is part of that phase one; the shoe bomber Richard Reid; the attempted package bomb plot emanating from Yemen; the attempted Times Square bombing. These are all terrorist-directed attacks by someone who was from another part of the world.

Now, in the current phase, we have in addition the terrorist-inspired attack, including: the Boston Marathon bombing; Ottawa, October 2014; Paris, Charlie Hebdo attack, January 2015; the Garland City attempted attack, Garland City, Texas, May 2015; Chattanooga, July 2015. This represents, in my judgment, a new reality of where we are in the global terrorist threat. It is, for the most part, smaller scale attacks, but in many respects harder to detect because it involves the so-called lone wolf who can strike with little or no notice here in the homeland.

So, what are we doing about that? A number of different things. First, there is the continued military effort; we through direct action continue to take the fight to terrorist organizations overseas. We’ve obviously had some successes; the raid on the compound in Abbottabad, May 1st, 2011. I was General Counsel of the Department of Defense then, one of my best days as a public servant was the day we at the Pentagon were there to oversee what was happening. We’ve had other high-value target successes on terrorist leaders who have been killed or captured. Our law enforcement community, most notably the FBI, continues to detect and interdict and investigate those plots in the homeland. State and local law enforcement has a larger role in that.

Our Federal Protective Service has enhanced its presence at federal buildings, including federal buildings here in San Francisco. That is something that I directed beginning last fall.

We have enhanced aviation security at last-point-of-departure airports, with flights directly into the United States. That is something I directed a little over a year ago.

We are building what we call Pre-Clearance capability at overseas airports with direct flights to the United States, where instead of on the back end you will see customs officers on the front end of the flights to screen passengers on the front end. We have this capability in 15 airports overseas; we are building more. With this capability we have denied boarding to a number of individuals, including some in our terrorist screening database. So it’s an important capability and I want to do more. If we have the opportunity to defend the homeland—excuse the sports metaphor—from the fifty versus the one-yard-line, I want to take it.

In response to the IG’s report, my Inspector General’s report, that TSA flunked a number of tests and screening devices that was unfortunately leaked to the public earlier this summer, I directed a ten-point plan to address that specific problem. Our new TSA Administrator, Admiral Peter Neffenger, is doing a terrific job in my judgment and an aggressive job to address that ten-point plan and plug that hole.

It will include less managed inclusion, now what does that mean for you folks? TSA is the agency of government with which the American public deals with the most; 1.8 million people in a day are screened by TSA. One of the things we will do is less management, in other words [inaudible], very often you are sent to the shorter line, which is rapidly becoming the longer line. With the TSA Pre✓® passengers, less managed inclusion, so that we do more screening of more people who have not been pre-screened. I cannot tell you yet whether all this will mean longer wait times, but we are doing a number of things to enhance aviation security pursuant to that ten-point plan.

We are doing a better job of tracking the foreign fighter phenomenon; in other words one of the new threats that we are concerned about are people who leave their home countries, go to Iraq and Syria, to the hot spots, and then return to their homeland radicalized. We are very concerned about that.

There was a U.N. Security Council resolution passed about a year ago to address this. I just issued a directive that, with respect to the 38 countries in our Visa Waiver Program--in other words countries for which we do not require a visa to come here--we are asking for asking for greater security assurances like: greater use of the Interpol stolen passport database; greater use of what we refer to, in Washington we love acronyms, API and PNR, Advanced Passenger Information or Passenger Name Recognition data; we are asking our allies in the Visa Waiver Program to make more use of this as well as federal air marshals on flights to the United States.

We will carefully screen Syrian refugees. You heard last week or earlier this week that we have undertaken to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees in the next fiscal year. We will carefully screen those refugees. We will accomplish that with our existing resources and also have as a government provided over four billion dollars worth of aid and humanitarian assistance to refugees in that part of the world.

We are working closely in this new environment with state and local law enforcement. I was at a banquet last night with a whole lot of law enforcement and sheriffs in this area called the Urban Shield program. We are working closer in my Department with state and local law enforcement: intelligence sharing, grants and so forth.

A fundamental part of homeland security, in my view, in this new phase, is countering violent extremism here at home. We have a program called CVE; Countering Violent Extremism. I personally have gone out to places like Boston, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Houston, Northern Virginia, and Maryland talking to communities, and in particular Muslim communities, about helping us to deter those who may be headed in the direction of violence. We’ve seen some successes; in my judgment we need to take these efforts to the next level. To give the counter message a larger microphone is something we spend a lot of time on.

Just a moment, I could spend two hours on my mission, just a moment on cybersecurity. The greatest thing we need right now is help from the other branch of government to pass cyber legislation. My hope is that Congress, in particular the Senate, will take up cyber legislation in October. The House has already passed comprehensive cybersecurity legislation that greatly enhances my authorities, that greatly enhances information with the private sector; in my view that is the key.

As reflected in a statement released by the White House yesterday, or perhaps yesterday, we just completed some very frank discussions with senior Chinese officials who were visiting this country in advance of President Xi’s visit. On cybersecurity, on greater cooperation in cybersecurity, we had a frank dialogue. In fact, it was probably the most frank dialogue I’ve ever had in diplomacy. And I believe that it will lead to positive results at or before the president’s visit here in a couple of days, the President of China.

On immigration, let me report a couple of things. First of all, I’m on a mission to state the facts about immigration, not the stereotypes, not the misimpressions about immigration.

There was a Pew Research survey done two years ago.

Question: do you think that more people are crossing our southern border illegally now than 10 years ago?

55 percent of survey respondents said there are more people crossing now than there were crossing ten years ago. And the exact opposite is true.

So I’m on a mission to put out the facts about migration and illegal migration. In fact, the high for apprehensions on our southern border was in Fiscal Year 2000: 1.6 million people—and this is an indicator of total attempts to cross the border—1.6 million people crossed our southern border and were apprehended in Fiscal Year 2000. With investments in border security, surveillance, personnel, more fence, that number has dramatically declined to the point where it’s down now per year to 400,000-450,000, some years less than 400,000.

Last year, total apprehensions along the southern border were 479,000. This year, this fiscal year, which will end in 15 days, the number will likely be around 330,000, which is a significant drop even from last year and only one time since 1972 has that number been lower.

That is because of the investments we have made, in large part, in border security. We built more fence. Pursuant to the Secure Fence Act of 2006, we went from 77 miles of fence to 700 miles of fence that we built in the places where it makes sense to build a fence. The southern border consists of the Rio Grande—the Rio Grande does this in south Texas. It’s a windy river. It’s one of the most winding rivers I’ve ever seen—remote desert and mountains. We built a fence where it makes sense to build a fence. We have not built a fence across the entire 1,900 mile southern border. Imagine if you built a fence on a 10,000 foot mountain. Someone said long ago that if a migrant is motivated enough to travel from Central America, through Mexico, climb a 10,000 foot mountain, do you really think they would deterred by a 10 foot fence? Or as my predecessor used to say, build a 15 foot fence, and I will show you a 16 foot ladder.

So what the border security experts say is we need more technology, more surveillance equipment, investing in a risk-based strategy towards border security and that’s what we would like to do and that’s what is reflected in this year’s budget submission for FY 2016.

Meanwhile, our enforcement policies for the interior mean that while there will be fewer deportations this year, a greater percentage of those deportations are focused on convicted criminals. So in this fiscal year, I fully expect that we will see fewer deportations than last year and the year before that, but a greater percentage of those will be convicted criminals.

A year ago as part of our executive actions, I issued a new directive for who we should be deporting: convicted criminals. I issued priorities: Priority One, Priority Two, Priority Three. Priority One are the felons, the gang members, the threats to national security. Priority Two are misdemeanors, those apprehended at the border, or those who entered the country after January 1, 2014. Those we apprehended at the border are also Priority One. Right now, of those in immigration detention, 96 percent, under our new policies, are in either Priority One or Priority Two. 76 percent are in Priority One and that’s the direction that we want to go. Enforce the immigration laws against convicted criminals.

The reality is that there are something like 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country, over half of which, I’m told have been here 10 years or more. They are not going away. We are not going to deport a population of people equivalent in size to New York City and Chicago combined. They are not going away. We should have interior enforcement against the criminals, but we’ve got to reckon with this population of people.

The President and I would like to offer what’s called deferred action to those within this population who are not criminals, who have lived here for a period of time, who have roots and ties to this country, like what we did for the kids in 2012. That’s in litigation right now in a court in Texas, and it’s on appeal in the 5th circuit. And for those who say that we do not have the legal authority to do this without changing the law, I say change the law. We’ve got to reckon with this population, who shouldn’t consistently live in the shadows. From a law enforcement point of view, I want to see them come out of the shadows so that we know who they are. Those who are encouraged to do so should come forward, get on the books, pay taxes, and receive a work authorization. They are not going away. Encourage them to report crime for example. So it’s a population that we must reckon with.

As part of our greater interior enforcement against the criminals, we did away last year, as part of our executive actions, with the controversial Secure Communities program. Secure Communities was a program, some of you may know, where we put detainers on undocumented immigrants in local jails and expected local law enforcement to hand them over to us for deportation. It’s a controversial program legally and politically. Fourteen thousand detainers last fiscal year, all undocumented, went un-responded to because of the controversy around Secure Communities. Hundreds of jurisdictions were passing laws, ordinances, enacting policies that limited or basically prohibited cooperation with our immigration and enforcement personnel because the Secure Communities program was becoming so controversial.

So we ended that program and we have replaced it with a new program, which in my view is a common sense, balanced program, called the Priority Enforcement Program, which people like Dianne Feinstein, who I have a lot of respect for, has endorsed and encouraged jurisdictions within her state to work with. It was endorsed by the New York Times editorial page. And it basically is a program that does away with detainers and replaces that with requests for notification, a request that you notify me before you release a convicted criminal who is undocumented so that we can come and pick them up. So we do not ask, except for where there is probable cause, that the local jail detain that person longer than they would have otherwise done so, which was legally controversial.

So far we’ve had and we’re in discussions with a lot of jurisdictions about this. We’ve had something like 10 of the 25 biggest jurisdictions agree to work with us on this program; including Los Angeles County and I believe that we’re going to reach successful arrangements with some of the largest jurisdictions and cities.

As part of our executive actions we’re also promoting citizenship and naturalization. I just came from a naturalization ceremony this morning. Naturalization ceremonies are absolutely the best part of my job. Making people citizens, it’s a wonderful thing to do. We’re issuing a number of regulations and we’re about to issue regulations to promote employment of foreign students and high skilled workers in high skilled, high tech areas. We’ve identified a number of ways in which we can facilitate that employment within our existing legal authorities and we are doing so. That’s immigration.

The Secret Service next week at this time is going to have its hands full. We’re going to have the UN General Assembly with something like 170 world leaders all in one borough. Imagine 170 leaders in this city, all at once, the traffic. The Secret Service, the NYPD, the State Department handles that remarkably well. This year we’re going to have 170 some odd world leaders, plus the President of China, plus the Pope. The Pope is coming to New York, Washington, and Philadelphia. All happening at the same time and the Secret Service is going to support it all under the leadership of their new Director, Joe Clancy.

I believe that the Secret Service is on the right path. They are implementing the things that the independent panel I appointed a year ago has recommended for the Secret Service to put them on a sure footing. And I think that with Joe’s leadership they are on a sure footing.

Last thing I am going to say and then I will sit down and take questions is I cannot pay for and provide homeland security without help from Congress. Right now sequestration is due to come back at the beginning of next calendar year unless Congress repeals it. Sequestration was never intended to be smart budget policy. It was intended to be the hammer to get Congress to do the right thing. Well that didn’t happen and sequestration kicked in with the Murray-Ryan budget deal two years ago. Sequestration will come back unless Congress acts to repeal it. And if sequestration comes back then I have to decapitate my budget.

That is not smart budget policy. I cannot do the things for homeland security that the American public wants and needs. So homeland security is not free. Unfortunately, I cannot print money. I need a partner in Congress to do the things they want me to do. Congress screams at me about more this and more that and more this. Well you have to pay for it and repeal sequestration. So that’s a point I like to stress to public audiences.

Last thing I’ll say, I was at Shanksville, Pennsylvania last Friday on 9/11. I’d never been to Shanksville before. I’m a New Yorker. I usually spend 9/11, which happens to be my birthday, in New York or Washington. I was in New York in 2014. I’ve been to the Pentagon ceremony every year because I used to work there. I’d never been to Shanksville.

Shanksville is in a very remote part of Pennsylvania. It’s farmland. There’s no interstate near Shanksville. If you want to get to Shanksville, you go to Shanksville. You don’t just pass through Shanksville. And we honored the passengers and crew of United Flight 93. That was the only objective that was not reached that day by those who hijacked the planes. And the reason it didn’t reach its objective was because of the civilian passengers on board. Forty of them and I met all of their families out there and they allowed me to go with them out to the crash site, where there is still some debris out there, considered sacred ground. They open it up once a year.

So I was out there with the families, hearing the stories of their brothers, their daughters, everything they did on that plane that day. The most remarkable thing, when they realized that it was not a hijacking, that it was a suicide mission they had to figure out what to do and they did the most American thing, they took a vote on what to do. And they voted to take back the plane and as a result of their actions, which cost their lives, hundreds if not thousands of lives were saved on 9/11.

It was a remarkable act of heroism that I hope we continue to honor every year. So that is, as I said last night to a group of law enforcement officers, a group of first responders of the last resort. And all of us in homeland security, in public service, hope that kind of thing never happens. That’s what we work on your behalf to prevent every single day.

So no news is good news, but no news is the work of 240,000 in my department and in law enforcement and in our U.S. military and in our intelligence community. So next time you see somebody in national security, in the military, in law enforcement please thank them for their public service.
Thank you very much.

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Last Updated: 09/20/2018
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