Opinion | National Security

Building comprehensive Homeland Security efforts

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Taking down anti-American terrorist leaders, such as Qasem Soleimani and Abu Bakar al Baghdadi.

Stopping human traffickers and drug smugglers at the border.

Screening over 800 million airline passengers a year.

Responding to 54 major disaster declarations in 2019.

Created just over 18 years ago in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy of 9/11 the Department of Homeland Security addresses all those disparate challenges and today, continues to secure the nation's air, land and sea borders, while addressing new and evolving challenges including election security, cyber security, and mitigating the effects of climate change.

The U.S. National Security Strategy stresses the threats posed by rival superpowers like China and Russia. But the challenges are more wide-ranging: foreign and domestic terrorism, cyber intrusions, weapons of mass destruction, election interference, and strengthening U.S. borders. Developing and enhancing the tools of government to defend against such a range of challenges demands a unified effort across federal agencies; support from the legislative branch; continued efforts by partners at the state, local, tribal, and territorial levels; and a robust engagement from the private sector.

Moreover-success in all these endeavors requires building and maintaining significant, bipartisan public understanding and support.

Counterterrorism remains a top priority.

More than a year ago, the White House published the National Strategy for Counterterrorism. This document acknowledges the unsettling truth that some of our gravest threats come from within our own society and emphasizes the role of allies and partners at home and abroad in addressing these threats.

More recently DHS released its Strategic Framework for Countering Terrorism and Targeted Violence, further detailing the threat we increasingly face from foreign terrorist organizations and homegrown violent extremists.

While the Trump Administration is to be commended for the recent operations in Iraq and Syria that resulted in the deaths of two terrible terrorist leaders, keeping the pressure on international terror organizations is fundamental to the success of our counterterrorism goals.

However, our efforts must expand to confront the international influence on domestic white supremacist violent extremists as identified in the DHS framework. Many hate crimes recently perpetrated by individuals with racially-or ethnically motivated extremist ideologies were, in fact, reinforced through online forums such as 8chan, Gab, End Chan, and others. These movements extend beyond our own borders. They must be approached in the same way we deal with major international organizations - through deliberate partnerships and coalitions designed to counter their narratives, reduce their access to finances, and marginalize their effectiveness.

Furthermore, the Administration should consider re-elevating the vital role of the Counterterrorism and Homeland Security Advisor to be a co-equal with, or principle deputy to, the National Security Advisor.

Nation state and non-state actors operate frequently in the "gray zone" - just short of warfare, and just beyond the means of most traditional peacetime enforcement measures. Allow the traditional NSA position to focus on the international leveraging of America's instruments of power, but empower the homeland security advisor to ensure those instruments are available and to coordinate the efforts against gray zone actors within our borders. This would give our nation the best opportunity to succeed in this competition.

Finally, homeland security encompasses far more than counterterrorism. And although clearly anchored by a 240,000-person federal agency, homeland security relies on the Intelligence Community, the Departments of State, Justice, Defense and Treasury - and many other parts of the federal government, as well as every state, county, local, and tribal government in one way or another as well as informed citizens.

Today, The Homeland Security Experts Group - an independent, nonpartisan group of policy and counter-terrorism experts - is formally launching to offer policy makers and thought leaders access to our collective experience, as they weigh decisions for keeping the homeland safe.

This group of experts - co-chaired by former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff and former Congresswoman Jane Harman - will convene periodically to discuss issues in depth, share information and ideas with policymakers, increase awareness of the evolving risks facing our nation, and help make our country safer. HSEG's mission is to reinvigorate homeland security discussions and to be a voice for reason and fact, not rhetoric, in these discussions.

In a time of extreme partisanship, we believe it is critical to speak in a non-partisan, professional manner about what it means to maintain and improve an effective, efficient, balanced enterprise that protects our citizens' civil liberties while addressing all of our homeland security challenges.

Rob Walker, a retired United States Army officer, is the Executive Director of the Homeland Security Experts Group and an outreach manager for The MITRE Corporation. He holds a bachelor's degree in economics from West Point and a masters in international relations from Webster University. Follow him on Twitter @HomelandExperts

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