By Jim Garamone
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, Oct. 14, 2014 – Cooperation between the Army and the Department of Homeland Security must get closer to combat the threats to America, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said here today.
Speaking at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference, Johnson said there is “an overarching public mood that is anxious,” and that all branches of government must work together to assuage fears and put in place real defenses.
The Army and Homeland Security have “intersecting missions,” Johnson said.
“More and more,” he said, “these missions need to align.”
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the Ebola epidemic and other threats are making the American public anxious, the secretary said.
“I’ve been preaching to other public officials and the media in these times that we owe the public responsible dialogue,” he added. “We owe the public responsible messaging -- the facts, not speculation and rumor that will feed the flame of anxiety and fear.”
Third-largest federal agency
Johnson’s department stood up in response to the 9/11 attacks. It is the third-largest federal agency, with 240,000 employees in 22 different components, with a budget in excess of $60 billion. DHS is responsible for securing the nation’s borders, airports, cyberspace and critical infrastructure. It also is responsible for recovery operations in case of a natural disaster or an attack.
It’s a diverse set of organizations, Johnson said, but there is fresh energy as the department seeks to create unity of effort among all aspects of the agency.
With all the changes happening in the world, “counterterrorism needs to remain the cornerstone of our department’s mission,” Johnson said.
Terrorism, a threat that has evolved since DHS was founded in 2002, remains a danger to the United States, the secretary said.
“Core al-Qaida looks very different than it did in 2001. Many leaders of core al-Qaida are captured or killed,” Johnson said. “But we see the rise of al-Qaida affiliates, al-Qaida adherents -- and groups that al-Qaida has even denounced. ISIL is obviously the most prominent terrorist organization on the world stage right now, and we’re taking the fight to ISIL.”
Foreign fighters cause concern
Johnson said DHS officials are worried about the problem that foreign fighters pose. These are people who volunteer to fight for ISIL in Syria and Iraq and could return to their countries of origin, posing a security risk. Homeland Security takes these extremists seriously, the secretary said, and is looking for ways to identify potential terrorists.
“Another phenomenon we’re seeing among terrorist organizations is a very adept use of social media,” Johnson said, noting that their literature and propaganda are Western-tone. “You look at some of it and it is about as slick as I’ve ever seen in advertising [and] promotion,” he added.
The groups use social media to recruit and inspire people in their home countries to launch attacks, Johnson said, noting that these so-called “lone wolf” attackers are among the most difficult to detect and to defend against.
“They have the capacity to live within our communities, assemble the parts for a device of mass violence, and it is the threat I worry most about,” he said.
DoD and Homeland Security must work together, Johnson said, and they do. Johnson has regular meetings with the commander of U.S. Northern Command. His agency works hand-in-glove with the National Guard. The Army Corps of Engineers has a vital role to play in helping his department protect Americans, he said.
“Together, we have to meet a broad spectrum of challenges in the future,” Johnson said.