On June 12, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen M. Nielsen joined the Ministries of Defense, Foreign Affairs and Public Security and the Israeli Defense Forces for an operational briefing on security technology and operations.
Secretary Nielsen also delivered remarks at the inaugural International Homeland Security Forum. The purpose of the forum is to improve countries’ capabilities to face homeland and public security issues; deepen bilateral and multilateral cooperation; and share knowledge and best practices.
Secretary Nielsen’s International Homeland Security Forum remarks as delivered are below:
“The Second Phase of the Fight: Turning the Tide Against Terrorists”
Greetings ministers, ambassadors, colleagues, and partners. Thank you, Sharon, for that kind introduction. It is a privilege to join you here this evening.
I’d like to thank Minister Erdan for the opportunity to participate in this important summit and for this wonderful gala and for his gracious hospitality…thank Prime Minister Netanyahu for his steadfast leadership...and thank you all for being here.
When President Donald Trump visited Israel last year, he said, “I have come to this ancient land to reaffirm the enduring friendship between the United States and the State of Israel.”
Tonight, it is an honor to do the same.
Our alliance has been fortified through crises and strengthened by collaboration. Following the 9/11 attacks—the deadliest terror assault in modern world history—you were right there by our side.
We knew we could not win the coming fight alone. And we turned to you for guidance because the State of Israel has withstood decades of violence at the hands of fanatics—and has proudly defended freedom against relentless terrorist enemies.
The result has been clear to all of us: Courage has brought this nation prosperity. And resolve has rightfully earned it the admiration of the free world.
So it is fitting that you are hosting the inaugural International Homeland Security Forum. And I thank you for your commitment to security through partnership.
Tonight I’d like to set the tone for our dialogue over the next two days by discussing the threat we face, how we’ve entered a new phase of the fight, and what we can do to turn the tide against terrorists.
I will highlight how we are dealing with terrorism in America, and—most importantly—what we must do together globally to protect our people and prevail over this menace.
Minister Erdan, we did not pre-coordinate our remarks, but you will find that we are of one mind with regard to the threat and what must be done.
I do not need to convince anyone in this room that the threat is both real and grave.
From Ottawa to Berlin, our communities are now on the frontlines. All countries represented here have experienced this evil in one form or another, whether your nationals have been victims or your homelands have been hit directly.
But let me be clear: This isn’t petty crime. This isn’t a mere public safety problem. We are at war. And we must respond accordingly.
Victory in this struggle begins with moral clarity. If we lose sight of who we stand against or what we stand for, then we will certainly lose the fight.
So all of us in this room must remember we are engaged in a generational struggle against Islamist militants, the preeminent terror threat to our lives, our livelihoods, and our way of life.
This menace takes many forms. Whether it is global jihadist groups such as ISIS and al Qaeda and their legions of digital followers, or the proxies of rogue nation states such as Iran, our enemies have perverted a major religion to justify horrific violence and lust for power.
Their goal is to establish a totalitarian empire governed under a backwards and repressive worldview. And the danger they pose is at its highest point in decades.
Gone are the days when terrorists had to work patiently over many months or years to sneak an operative onto our shores. Now all they need is a smartphone and an internet connection.
They are franchising violence globally, crowd-sourcing attacks on social media, and using secure communications to plot in darkness.
This includes promoting do-it-yourself jihad. Fanatics have adopted a “bring your own device” policy encouraging use of whatever weapon they can get their hands on to cause destruction—be it guns, knives, vehicles, or axes.
The result is a historic level of terrorist activity. The numbers speak for themselves.
For instance, there have been more than 100 terrorist attacks in Western countries since the rise of ISIS in 2013, resulting in thousands of casualties.
The United States has been the victim of around 25 of those incidents. That means that three-fourths of all terrorist attacks in America since 9/11 have happened since the formation of ISIS.
Most were carried out by homegrown violent extremists inspired by the group’s heinous propaganda.
We saw a killing spree in California. A terrible shooting at a Florida nightclub. And bombings and vehicle assaults in New York.
We have uncovered plots to attack the United States Congress. Plans to strike military bases. Blueprints for killing pedestrians on public beaches and at large events. And today we have thousands of open terrorism investigations across all 50 of our states—many of which involve homegrown violent extremists radicalized online.
The good news is that we have put clear-eyed, focused pressure on terrorist groups around the world. We have obliterated the core safe havens of groups such as ISIS and taken tens of thousands of them off the battlefield.
And when it comes to nation-state threats, we are replacing complacency with consequences.
The United States is standing up to rogue regimes that bankroll terror and use proxies to advance their malign goals.
But in the overall war against terrorists, we are now in what I call the “second phase of the fight.”
This phase will be defined not by the shock and awe of kinetic action—but by the speed and depth of cross-border cooperation.
The threat has spider-webbed. Terrorists have fanned out across the globe. They are rapidly reconstituting in new physical safe havens. And they remain connected through potent virtual safe havens of hate, conspiracy, and violence.
The challenge now for us is systemic risk.
In other words, a terrorist in your land is very much a threat to mine.
And any country that doesn’t secure its borders—that doesn’t track and target terror suspects—becomes the weakest link, passing the risk onto all of us.
We must come together if we are going to win this second phase of the fight.
If I’ve learned anything in my years focusing on cyber security, it’s that the antidote to systemic risk is collective defense and resilience.
We need to apply the same concept to counterterrorism.
Our security depends on our ability to quickly swap threat information and simultaneously fix security flaws and to build redundant systems and resilient functions.
Specifically, I ask that we use this forum to deepen cooperation in three key areas:
The first is preventing and disrupting terror plots—and helping each other to do the same.
When we become aware of new intelligence or identify suspicious individuals, we’ve got to get that information to each other more quickly.
For the most part, this doesn’t require new organizations, new programs, or more people. It requires better leveraging the tools and organizations we already have—such as Interpol, Europol, and bilateral sharing platforms.
We also need to develop common approaches to quickly identify and mitigate emerging threats.
This includes chemical and biological weapons, armed drones, and other deadly tools used to strike soft targets and crowded places.
As we speak tonight, somewhere a terrorist is advancing plans to kill innocent civilians using one of these methods.
And it’s up to us to patch vulnerabilities that would make such an attack possible to carry out.
My Department is aggressively pursuing mitigations to these dangers. We’ve launched a new Office for Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction, we’re testing new detection platforms, we’re pursuing counter-drone systems and authorities, and we’ve recently released a major soft target security plan.
We have learned a great deal from our Israeli partners about soft target security—and how to maintain a society that is both open and secure.
I invite you to partner with us on these efforts. Let’s bring together our experts. Let’s share best practices. But more than that, let’s develop joint action plans to close security gaps and help others to do the same.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention aviation security.
We are tracking ongoing threat streams in this sector. And we are convinced that our enemies remain hellbent on taking down passenger aircraft.
So I call on all nations here tonight to help us raise the bar on aviation security globally.
The United States has put in place new “seen and unseen” security requirements for all flights into our territory.
These measures are guarding against concealed explosives, corrupted insiders, suspicious passengers, chemical weapons, and more.
I urge all nations here to expand these enhancements to your own domestic and international flights and to make it much harder for terrorists to put commercial passengers in danger.
Our second focus area should be on blocking terrorists from crossing our borders and infiltrating our open societies.
At the direction of President Trump, the U.S. government has taken sweeping action to secure our borders and prevent dangerous individuals from getting into America.
Border security is national security. Our Israeli partners know that better than anyone, and I was fortunate today to see the incredible work they are doing to keep their territory safe.
The United States has also put in place measures to dramatically improve screening and vetting of individuals traveling to our shores.
We have made applications more rigorous…intensified background checks…put in place new information sharing requirements…launched a new National Vetting Center to better leverage intelligence…and more.
The result is that we are identifying and stopping terror suspects who would otherwise have gone undetected. In fact, on average, my Department now blocks 10 known or suspected terrorists a day from traveling to or attempting to enter the United States.
But our efforts alone are not enough.
We need to stop terrorist travel together and urgently implement UN Security Council Resolution 2396.
The Resolution—signed by all of our nations—requires every country to collect biometric data, develop terrorist watchlists, and deploy suspicious traveler targeting capabilities.
I can’t emphasize this enough: These tools stop terrorist attacks. Period. So all governments must adopt them.
And we should use this Forum to discuss how we can build capability in countries that are currently unable to fulfill the requirements.
The United States has a vast array of tools and resources to help others do this. And we stand ready to talk about how we can help build capacity.
Your nations also have critical expertise that must be brought to the fight and shared. If we prepare individually, we will fail collectively.
Finally, we must come together to counter and defeat the evil ideology fueling terrorist movements worldwide.
Make no mistake—this is a war of ideas, not unlike the struggle against communism and fascism.
Terrorists are using a corrupted worldview to unify their ranks, recruit new followers, and incite violence.
So we must expose the poverty of their ideas, the naked hypocrisy of their actions, and the fallacy of their message.
Last week, I traveled to California for a summit hosted by the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism, a consortium of companies working to make the web less hospitable to terrorists.
Companies such as Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Twitter are working hard to delete terrorist accounts, take down violent content, and prevent propaganda from being uploaded in the first place.
It’s starting to work. Jihadists are having a tougher time reaching the masses and are unable to exploit platforms they once used with ease.
But as Minister Erdan said, there is still a long way to go. Terrorists can switch apps and accounts within seconds, so we must look beyond the tech giants.
The summit focused on engaging smaller and emerging companies, and I ask that all of you join us in helping them understand the threat and combat it.
That goes for nonprofits, too.
It will be the grassroots—not governments—that deal the decisive blow to terrorist ideologies through counter-messaging.
So we must empower startups and NGOs to fight back against extremist content and spread counter narratives.
My Department is already doing this through information sharing and capacity building programs.
And I hope to use this Forum here in Israel to discuss how we can partner on threat briefings, summits, and other efforts to arm those on the digital frontlines.
I want to close tonight by talking about what success looks like in this long war.
The continuous stream of terrorist attacks in our homelands is not a “new normal” we should come to accept. We cannot tolerate defeatism.
We will win this struggle, though it will not be marked by a single, victorious moment.
Success will be when terrorist groups are unable to project their violence globally and across borders…when they’ve lost their brand appeal…when they are reduced to a local problem…and when they are forced to cease most of their aggressive activity to focus on their own survival.
This will not come easy. But our path to victory begins with collective defense.
So to our allies, America’s message is that you should never question our willingness to partner and our commitment to confronting these threats together.
And to our enemies, the message from all of us is that you should never question our resolve. We cannot be intimidated or coerced. And in return for violence, we will deliver justice and protect our freedoms.
Thank you for being here. Thank you again to our Israeli hosts for bringing us together. And let me end with my deepest thanks to all of you for your partnership with the United States of America.