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Deputy Undersecretary McCament Addresses the Atlantic Council in Virtual Forum

Release Date: 
January 28, 2021

On January 28, 2021, Deputy Undersecretary for the DHS Office of Strategy, Policy, and Plans James McCament gave opening remarks at the Atlantic Council’s virtual workshop, entitled, "The Future of Homeland Security and Resilience in Today's Changing Threat Environment.” His prepared remarks are below:
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Good morning, everyone, and thank you all for participating in today’s very important and timely workshop.

The work that the Atlantic Council does, and the ideas its forums generate, have helped to shape countless effective strategies at home and abroad, fostering security, prosperity, and freedom to peoples all over the world.

It is a true honor to join such esteemed speakers and attendees at this event, including Ambassador Olofsdotter, whose critical partnership on behalf of Sweden has been integral in working together [besides our common heritage – referencing the establishment of New Sweden in 1638] to confront the many threats that face both of our countries.

On a personal note, it is wonderful to be here in the presence of two of my former bosses – Secretaries Chertoff and Napolitano– it is an honor to see you both and join you in this event.  

DHS has only been successful because of the strong work of all our leaders and teams as we together built DHS from its foundation onward.

Secretary Chertoff, your leadership created our environment of effective and convenient security measures to foster an American society comfortable with increased security-and not bound by fear.  Your focus, and that of founding Secretary Ridge, upon risk management and information sharing as tools for reducing America’s vulnerability to terrorism and natural disasters continue to resonate in the guiding principles of DHS.

Secretary Napolitano, your risk-based, intelligence-driven approach helped prevent the many evolving security threats of the time and into the present.

Your focus upon enhanced targeting, information sharing, and working beyond our borders to interdict dangerous actors, at the earliest point possible, kept this country safe.

Both of you were integral in cultivating and strengthening the Department into who we are today.

We continue to be shaped by your legacies and the Department, our nation, owe you both a debt of gratitude.  Thank you.

I am grateful for the opportunity to use this virtual forum to provide you all with a review of the Department’s challenges of today - and tomorrow – and highlight the team efforts of DHS’s Office of Strategy, Policy, and Plans to meet these challenges so that the nation’s largest law enforcement agency is fully equipped with the necessary tools and resources to keep us safe.

To say that 2020 was a difficult year for DHS would be quite the understatement.

As DHS led the federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we continued to confront the malign behavior of foreign actors, barring dangerous drugs from reaching our communities, disrupting transnational criminal organizations, enforcing the rule of law, and securing our borders in new and innovative ways while also ensuring the security for the 2020 election.

All the while, DHS undertook to do all possible to mitigate the risk of exposure to the pandemic for our employees, and the public with whom they interact, during execution of their essential missions.

DHS efforts in preparedness and readiness in response to the devastating and deadly pandemic have facilitated a speedy, whole-of-government response in confronting COVID-19, keeping Americans safe, and helping detect and slow the spread of the virus that reached every city, every community in the country.

In a historic effort, FEMA’s Project Airbridge brought crucial medical supplies and PPE to critical locations across the country in record time, delivering millions of masks, face shields, gloves, gowns and other badly needed material to the hospitals and communities where they were needed most.

In addition, the U.S. Government response included travel restrictions on foreign nationals coming from countries with elevated COVID-19 positivity rates. 

In partnership with our neighbors, the Department restricted non-essential travel across the U.S.-Canada-Mexico borders. In a matter of weeks, passenger volumes plummeted, while trade lanes remained open and commercial activities flowing. I understand Sweden has recently taken a similar approach in close partnership with its Norwegian neighbors.

Finally with ICE’s Operation Stolen Promise, we are targeting the worst, most pernicious type of fraud against the American people today fraudulent schemes that seize upon the fears of the COVID-19 pandemic. We are disrupting and dismantling criminal organizations selling fraudulent PPE, test kits, and other material that gravely endanger our public safety and stopping their goods dead in their tracks.

ICE has also launched Operation Stolen Promise 2.0 - disrupting the production, sale, and distribution of fraudulent treatments for the virus.

The dedicated DHS employees across our operational components provide us with information about the threats they see and combat every day in performing their missions.

DHS used that information gathered to create DHS’s first ever Homeland Threat Assessment, or HTA, released in October 2020 which synthesizes threat information from across DHS, from operators to intelligence components, into a document available to the public on DHS.gov.

Some key findings from the DHS HTA not mentioned in my subsequent remarks include:

  • Ideologically motivated lone offenders and small groups will pose the greatest terrorist threat to the Homeland, with domestic violent extremists presenting the most persistent and lethal threat;
  • Natural disasters will continue to pose a threat to the life and safety of Americans while also impacting local and national economies.

I want to note that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has incorporated the knowledge gained from previous disasters, FEMA created a 2018-2022 strategic plan that builds on existing best practices and identifies new initiatives geared toward achieving three overarching goals:

  • Build a Culture of Preparedness;
  • Ready the Nation for Catastrophic Disasters; and
  • Reduce the Complexity of FEMA

Broadly, we hope the Homeland Threat Assessment continues to serve as a call to action across the country to help the men and women of DHS to identify these threats, as well as the new and emerging threats across our broad mission, and to inform the American people.

One of the Department’s top priorities is to resolutely protect Americans from terrorism.

The rapidly evolving threat environment demands a proactive response by DHS to identify, detect, and prevent attacks against the United States.

To do so DHS is working to:

  • Bolster our vetting capabilities;
  • Develop and implement innovative new strategies;
  • Increase our prevention capabilities; and
  • Strengthen our collaboration with our partners, both public and private. 

In September 2019, DHS PLCY published the first Strategic Framework for Countering Terrorism and Targeted Violence, its Implementation Plan, and its Public Action Plan, outlining concrete actions and strategies to confront terrorist threats, secure cyberspace and soft targets.

A secure and safe border is of paramount interest to the United States but one which we seek to prevent becoming a state of emergency. 

For example, in 2019, Southwest Border enforcement actions reaching 132,887 in May 2019, [that’s about three enforcement actions a minute] eclipsing a 7-year high with no sign of abating.

We implemented several initiatives to reduce illegal border crossings by more than half, dropping from around 977,000 CBP encounters in FY19 to around 458,000 in FY20.

However, we must remain vigilant and ensure that we can facilitate legitimate travel and trade, and carry out our immigration laws in ways that are fair, just, and safe – for those who risk their lives to seek our protection, and also for our workforce.

It’s important to emphasize that safety and border security are not oppositional forces but are complements.

Cyberspace has become the most active threat domain in the world and the most dynamic threat to the Homeland. Increased connectivity of people and devices has created an ever-expanding attack surface that extends into almost every American home.

As many have said, the warning signs are all present for a potential “cyber 9/11” on the horizon.

Nation-states and their proxies, transnational criminal organizations, and cyber criminals use sophisticated and malicious tactics to undermine critical infrastructure, steal intellectual property and innovation, engage in espionage, and threaten our democratic institutions.

In response, DHS PLCY and its partners have consolidated and strengthened federal efforts to protect our nation’s digital networks.

In 2018 DHS PLCY published the Cybersecurity Strategy.  November 2018 also saw the establishment of the landmark Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, or CISA, at the frontline of the fight in cyberspace.

CISA, through its dedicated and tireless team of professionals, operates at the intersection of federal, state, and local governments, the private sector, international partners, law enforcement, and intelligence and defense communities to protect us from the vast array of current and future cyber threats and threats to our infrastructure.

DHS remains vigilant to tomorrow’s emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence. Last month, DHS PLCY released publicly its first ever strategic framework on the implementation and responsible integration of Artificial Intelligence in the domestic security apparatus.

America’s prosperity and economic security are integral to DHS’s homeland security operations.

Economic security is as much a part of DHS’s culture as its counterterrorism or border security responsibilities.

In fact, last year, DHS PLCY released publicly its first annual Economic Security Assessment.

One of our primary missions in this space lies in enforcing our trade laws in order to protect both American businesses and consumers, ensuring that we remain globally competitive.

Simply put, economic security is homeland security.

Just a few weeks ago, DHS PLCY publicly released our 2021 Strategic Approach for Arctic Homeland Security. 

The Arctic has taken center stage for regional competition and influence.

Receding icecaps and increased traffic will necessitate an expanded DHS footprint in a number of areas, including trade and travel facilitation and cyber and infrastructure security.

With this Strategic Approach, the Department is now increasingly prepared to anticipate and respond to these new challenges.

And as a fellow member of the Arctic Council, Sweden also places a great emphasis on climate-related research in the Arctic. 

Last November, Sweden released its own Arctic strategy. In the report, Sweden’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ann Linde, emphasized the importance of a “well-functioning international cooperation in the Arctic to deal with the challenges facing the region.”

In our report, we argued for a vision in the Arctic of working with like-minded allies and partners to bolster adherence to the rules-based order and responsible growth across the Arctic region. 

We look forward to working together with Sweden and our other allies in a thoughtfully planned approach to protect our shared interests in the Arctic while adapting to the changing regional conditions, while strengthening access, response, and resilience in the region.

As new challenges emerge and the homeland security mission continues to evolve, DHS looks forward to continuing our work together to bring government and industry together to deliver innovative solutions that will protect the American people.

Our most important resource is our people, the 240,000 plus employees of DHS who daily, but especially throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, put their own health and safety on the line every day to keep our country safe in the land, sea, air, and cyber space. 

Maintaining homeland security is a broad mission that requires broad partnerships and DHS is fundamentally a department of partnerships. To succeed, the Department must work with our partners in state, local, and tribal governments, industries, academia, and those in the many communities serve.

Dialogue and support from organizations like the Atlantic Council is crucial to maintaining and continuing the success DHS has seen, and ask that you all continue to find ways and opportunities to support our men and women on the frontlines.

I am confident that with your help and partnership, the employees of DHS will continue to meet our mission to, with honor and integrity, safeguard the American people, our homeland, and our values.    

Last Published Date: July 27, 2021
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