Oral testimony of DHS Acting Secretary Elaine Duke for a Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing titled “Threats to the Homeland”

Release Date: 
September 27, 2017

342 Dirksen Senate Office Building

Chairman Johnson, Ranking Member McCaskill, and distinguished members of the Committee:

It is my honor to testify on behalf of the men and women of DHS, who shield our nation from threats every single day. 

In recent weeks, Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose, and Maria have placed the spotlight on natural disasters.  With FEMA’s leadership, our Department and the whole of the federal government have come together to respond to these crises, and I am impressed with the professionalism I have witnessed.

But the challenges in places like Puerto Rico are evidence that there is a long road ahead.  To those who have been caught up in the disasters let me say this:  I promise to do everything in my power to bring relief.  And we will stand with you—side-by-side—in the weeks, months, and years to come.

But natural disasters are not the only threats we face as a nation.  Right now the terror threat to our country equals, and in many ways exceeds, the period around 9/11. 

We are seeing a surge in terrorist activity because the fundamentals of terrorism have changed. 

Our enemies are crowd-sourcing their violence online and promoting a “do it yourself” approach that involves using any weapons their followers can get their hands on. 

The primary international terror threat facing our country is from global jihadist groups.  However, the Department is also focused on the threat of domestic terrorism.  Ideologically-motivated extremists here in the United States are a threat to our nation, our people, and our values.   

I condemn this hate and violence.  And my Department is focused on countering it.

DHS is not standing on the sidelines as these threats spread, and we will not allow pervasive terrorism to become the new normal. 

We are tackling the danger head-on in two ways. 

First, we are rethinking homeland security for a new age. 

There is no longer a “home game” and an “away game.”  The line is blurred, and the threats are connected across borders. 

That’s why DHS is moving towards a more integrated approach, bringing together intelligence, operations, interagency engagement, and international action like never before. 

Second, we are raising the baseline of our security posture—across the board. 

We’re looking at everything from traveler screening to information sharing.  Higher threat levels mean we need higher standards. 

For example, we are now requiring all foreign governments to share critical data with us on terrorists and criminals—and to help us confidently identify their nationals.

We must know who is coming into our country and make sure they do not pose a threat.  That is why I recommended—and the President approved—tough but tailored restrictions against countries who don’t cooperate with us on immigration screening and vetting.  This will protect America and hold foreign governments accountable. 

Similarly, we are elevating aviation security standards.  Our ongoing Global Aviation Security Plan, which we began this summer, is making U.S.-bound flights more secure, and it is raising the baseline of aviation security worldwide. 

We are also making historic moves to keep dangerous individuals and goods from entering America illegally.

That includes building a wall on the southwest border and cracking down on transnational criminal organizations that bring drugs, violence, and other threats across our borders. 

Within our borders, we are rededicating ourselves to terrorism prevention—to keep extremists from radicalizing our people.

As part of this effort, we are prioritizing education and community awareness, we are redoubling efforts to stop terrorist recruitment, and we are emphasizing the importance of early warning to make sure communities report suspicious activity before it is too late. 

Americans are also alarmed by the spike in cyber attacks.

Our adversaries continue to develop advanced capabilities online.  They seek to undermine our critical infrastructure, target our livelihoods, steal our secrets, and threaten our democracy. 

That is why DHS is working closely with Congress on legislation that would establish a new operating component dedicated to our cybersecurity mission. 

We take all threats—in both the physical and the digital world—seriously.  Our mission is critical.  But despite the dangers to our country, the American people will not be intimidated or coerced.  We will not live in fear. 

On behalf of the entire Department, I appreciate the critical role this committee plays in helping us execute our mission.  I also respectfully ask the committee to focus on reauthorizing our Department as quickly as possible.  I look forward to working with you and supporting the passage of this important legislation. 

Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today, and for your continued support of DHS.  I am committed to working with this Committee to forge a strong and productive relationship as we work together to secure our homeland.  

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