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Statement By Secretary Jeh C. Johnson On House Homeland Security Committee Task Force Report On Combating Terrorist And Foreign Fighter Travel

Release Date: 
September 30, 2015

For Immediate Release
DHS Press Office
Contact: 202-282-8010

I thank the House Homeland Security Committee, in particular Chairman McCaul and Ranking Member Thompson, for their work examining the critical issue of foreign terrorist fighters traveling to Syria and Iraq. The report published by the Committee’s bipartisan task force is an important assessment of how we in the U.S. government can enhance our efforts to counter the foreign terrorist fighter threat. As noted in the report, the Department of Homeland Security has undertaken much of what is recommended.

Over the past year I directed a series of actions to address the issue.

First, we prioritized enhancements to the security of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), which allows individuals from 38 selected countries to travel to the United States without a visa. In 2014, I directed the addition of new data elements to the VWP’s Electronic System for Travel Authorization application. And, in August of this year, I directed the introduction of new security criteria countries must meet to participate in the VWP. These combined measures help us to better and more quickly screen and identify foreign terrorist fighters. I appreciate the attention the Committee’s report paid to the security of the Visa Waiver Program and their support for the efforts taken by my Department.

Second, the Committee identified the need for us to “push the border outward” through initiatives like Preclearance, which stations DHS officers abroad to screen and make admissibility decisions about passengers and their baggage before they depart for the United States. We are already taking action. We are currently negotiating expansion of Preclearance operations to ten new foreign airports, located in nine different countries. This is an effective way to identify and stop foreign fighters before they can return to the United States after traveling to Iraq or Syria.

Third, the Department understands that information sharing among federal, state and local law enforcement is critical in preventing the travel of foreign terrorist fighters. Every day, DHS works in close collaboration with the FBI to share terrorist threat information and intelligence with Joint Terrorism Task Forces, state fusion centers, local police chiefs and sheriffs.

Finally, I agree completely that countering violent extremism (CVE) is an important tool in the mission to thwart foreign terrorist fighters. In this effort, we have built trusted partnerships with diverse communities to help empower them to reach individuals susceptible to the slick internet appeal of ISIL. In this past Fiscal Year DHS held close to 200 meetings and roundtables - many of which I personally participated – to work together with a diverse set of American communities. Building on our work, on Monday I announced a new DHS Office for Community Partnerships (OCP), which will be the Department’s central, permanent hub for countering the evolving global terrorist threat. This office will be led by George Selim, who most recently served as the Director for Community Partnerships on the National Security Council.

The threat of foreign terrorist fighters requires the comprehensive efforts of all our partner agencies and allied nations. We will continue to adapt to this evolving threat and take necessary action to protect the American public. As we move forward, my Department will maintain a close working relationship with Congress on this issue.

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Last Published Date: September 30, 2015
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