This Director’s Forum features the first major address by Secretary Jeh Johnson, who was sworn in on December 23, 2013 as the fourth Secretary of Homeland Security. The address is followed by a short question and answer session with Wilson Center President Jane Harman on the Secretary’s priorities for the Department.
I begin by thanking the Woodrow Wilson Center and the Aspen Homeland Security Group for inviting me to speak here today.
I also want to thank Jane Harman for your leadership, your continued service to our country, and your willingness to be a supporter, mentor and advisor to me and to numerous others around this town. When Jane Harman advises, I listen.
As many of you have heard me say before, September 11 is my birthday. On September 11, 2001, I was in the private practice of law in New York City. Like millions of others, I was an eyewitness to the events that day. I watched in shock as a beautiful, serene and ordinary work day was transformed in an instant to one of the worst days in American history, while thousands of people – and ultimately a nation – coped with a tragedy that theretofore was unimaginable.
It was out of that day that the Department of Homeland Security was born.
And, it was out of that day that my own personal commitment to the mission of homeland security was born.
For the next several minutes I would like to take the opportunity Jane has provided me to spell out my vision for the Department I am privileged to lead.
A cliché too often used is “we are in a time of transition.” The Department of Homeland Security must always be in a time of transition.
We must be agile and vigilant in continually adapting to evolving threats and hazards. We must stay one step ahead of the next terror attack, the next cyber attack, and the next natural disaster. The most important part of my day as Secretary is the morning intel brief, which ranges in scope from the latest terrorist plotting to a weather map.
We monitor world events real time and take action, when necessary, to confront and respond to these threats. In support of Russian authorities, we are keeping a close eye on the Sochi Olympics, which are beginning pretty much as I speak. Within the last 48 hours, we have, out of an abundance of caution, issued advisories to air carriers and others based on what we’ve learned, adjusted TSA security measures, and are continually evaluating whether more is necessary.
Also within the last 48 hours, in response to a very different type of hazard, FEMA has delivered 95 generators to the state of Pennsylvania, where several hundred thousand people are without power due to the snow and cold weather.
In the homeland security world, no news is good news, and no news is often the result of the hard work, vigilance, and dedication of people within our government who prevent bad things you never hear about, or at least help the public protect itself and recover from the storm we cannot prevent.
Our overall challenge within the Department of Homeland Security, and within the homeland security community of the federal, state and local governments of this Nation, is to learn from and adapt to the changing character of the evolving threats and hazards we face. 9/11; Hurricane Katrina in 2005; the underwear bomber in 2009; the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010; Hurricane Sandy in 2012; and the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013 illustrate these evolving threats and hazards.
The terrorist threat we face is increasingly decentralized, self-motivated, and may be harder to detect. The cyber threat we face is growing and poses a greater concern to a critical infrastructure that is becoming increasingly interdependent. Natural disasters are becoming more severe, causing significant economic losses, and with more variable consequences driven by climate change and aging infrastructure.
The basic missions of the Department of Homeland Security are, and should continue to be, preventing terrorism and enhancing security; securing and managing our borders; enforcing and administering our immigration laws; safeguarding cyberspace; safeguarding critical infrastructure; and preparing for and responding to disasters… MORE