U.S. Customs and Border Protection Acting Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan visits Pembina, N.D., on May 25, 2017. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection Photo by Jesse Lindemer)

SPEECH: House Homeland Chairman on the State of National Security

As delivered by House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) at George Washington University on Feb. 5, 2018:

I believe that America’s strength is a pillar of global peace upon which our allies and partners depend, and our enemies recoil.

As I reflect on my time as chairman, I saw the rise of ISIS, and then I saw the collapse of the caliphate. I’m disturbed, though, by the evil that emerged over the last decade under retreating American leadership.

But I’m encouraged by the progress we’re making in eradicating this evil that has entrenched itself around the globe. And as an eternal optimist, I’m confident our nation is finally headed in the right direction.

Moving forward, it’s critical that we continue to reclaim our sovereignty. This includes enhancing security along our southern border of the United States; addressing vulnerabilities in our current immigration system; encouraging the responsible use of cyberspace; improving aviation security; and defending against malicious ideology, intentions and actions of our enemies.

On the southern border, really for too long — and I come from the state of Texas. I was a federal prosecutor in charge — with the jurisdiction of the Texas/Mexico border. And I think for too long, it’s been an open door, which has had transnational criminal organizations like MS-13, dangerous opioids and drugs coming across, poisonous narcotics, traffick in women and children have poured into our country, destroying lives, shattering families and ravaging our communities.

Despite the noble efforts of law enforcement entities and advocacy groups and government agencies, human traffickers continue to exploit thousands of migrants making the arduous and dangerous journey into the United States.

Security along the southern border is critical. As we know, there are glaring vulnerabilities also in our immigration system; as the secretary calls — she calls them legal loopholes.

I was in the White House that sort of surreal moment at the table with both senators and congressmen, Democrat, Republican, as it was covered on live TV for almost an hour, discussing how to resolve this current situation that we find ourselves in. And we agreed to the four pillars: border security, fixing chain migration, the visa lottery system, and finally, fixing DACA so these children can stay in the country legally.

I would argue, though, our nation’s security has been weakened by chain migration and the visa lottery program, which is random. These two programs risk exploitation from those who do not share our values and actively work to undermine them.

Look no further than the two terror attacks that we saw in New York City, where these programs allowed terrorists to legally enter our country and wreak havoc on our way of life.

In 2010, the visa lottery program facilitated the entry of a 27-year-old, ISIS-influenced Uzbek immigrant into the United States. On Halloween, he mowed down, by vehicle, innocent Americans, Argentinians and a Belgian in New York City.

Then, in December, the Bangladeshi Salafist immigrant who entered the United States as a young adult through chain migration attempted to blow up a New York subway terminal in Times Square. I just happened to be in New York that morning, just a few blocks away. When the attack occurred, I was promoting my Congressional Childhood Cancer Caucus. And I remember being notified by NYPD about the attack. It reminded us that there’s still a serious threat.

Securing America’s Future Act is a bill that was introduced by the chairman of House Judiciary and myself to help secure our border and to close these legal loopholes. This legislation authorizes the construction of a border wall system to stem the flow of illegal immigration. It also provides, importantly, effective technology, infrastructure and manpower to defend our border: 5,000 additional Border Patrol agents, 5,000 Customs & Border Protection officers, including the authorization of the National Guard to provide air support to border security operations.

In addition, we demand the use of the mandatory entry/exit system at all points of entry to address visa overstays. Why is this one important? The hijackers — 9/11 hijackers came in legally and then overstayed their visas. The 9/11 Commission recommended in their report that we address entry/exit, a biometric way to determine when people come in and when they leave. Until we do that, we will never be secure. The statistics I have and the briefings are that 40 percent — up to 40 percent of the people here illegally are actually visa overstays.

We also call for an end to chain migration to protect the nuclear family, and the visa lottery program to defend against future exploitation to our homeland. We propose, rather, a merit-based immigration system to attract the best and brightest, not pulling a number out of a hat.

Finally, the Securing America’s Future Act allows DACA beneficiaries to receive a three-year renewable legal status, while ensuring that gang members, individuals that have criminal convictions or convictions in juvenile court for serious crimes are not eligible for this legal status.

With respect to jihad and the threats, our American way of life has been under attack well before 9/11.

1979 was the year that really changed everything. In 1979, the revolution in Iran brought the ayatollah to power, where he still remains. That same year, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan and the Mujahideen rose to power, allowing Osama bin Laden to become a force to be reckoned with.

Now, 39 years later, the threat landscape remains serious. My committee has been laser-focused on the threat of foreign fighters leaving the caliphate and identifying gaps in U.S. government information-sharing and vetting procedures.

I established two task force — forces to address this issue specifically, and we enacted, as Frank mentioned, over 20 bills to make America more secure. John Katko, here, led that task force. Mike Gallagher, who’s going to show up, I think, led it the second time. And we passed over 60 bills this Congress, many of which is (sic) just sitting in the Senate.

These two recent terror attacks last year in New York, I believe underscore the threat that we face from a determined enemy that does not sleep. Our homeland, our allies, our partners, our friends, are confronted with this stark reality and will be for many years to come.

Since 2013, we’ve had 150 homegrown jihadist terrorist cases in the United States and 179 ISIS-linked incidents in Europe. I would argue that Europe is in far more danger from the foreign fighter threat, from the refugees coming in and the homegrown jihadist threat.

These stats are really alarming when you look at them, and they’re a demonstration of why we must remain vigilant in our quest to expel violent Islamist extremism from the Earth by destroying the roots from which it came.

This threat manifests itself in the unstable ground upon which jihadist ideology spreads, whether it’s in the Middle East, and North and sub-Sahara Africa, the Philippines and elsewhere. We must deny these radicalized enemy combatants from achieving their jihadist glory.

And of course, the memories of September the 11th, and the images of the planes striking the Twin Towers are never far from our thoughts. And while we’re almost 17 years removed from this heart-wrenching morning, let me assure you, America’s aviation sector remains a crown jewel of ISIS and other terrorist groups targeting our homeland.

Late last year, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center testified before my committee that they are seeing a surge in terrorist activity against commercial airlines. Recently, we discovered that terrorists have the capability to create bombs from laptops, and we remember the AQAP printer bomb plot in 2010.

Unfortunately, TSA has struggled to deploy innovative security solutions that can be efficiently and effectively deployed at airports, such as computed tomography. This technology is like moving from a two-dimensional X-ray to a three-dimensional MRI. Fact is, you can see a lot more within an MRI than an X-ray, and it provides a much clearer picture for screeners to detect these threats.

I’ve seen these devices. They work. We have two pilot programs in the United States, and yet the request was cut in half by OMB to deploy 300 machines, is what the ask was. That was cut in half.

$150 million to do this. Now, that’s a lot of money, but in Washington, when we talk about billions of dollars, $150 million to protect Americans on inbound flights from some of those dangerous spots, last-point-of-departure airports; in my judgment, it’s worth every penny. And I’m not going to have that on my head. And we made our request to the department. I’ve talked to the appropriators to get the sufficient funding to fully protect Americans in aviation.

This has also been bogged down in bureaucratic delays. Each day we fail to effectively mitigate evolving threats to aviation security, we risk letting terrorists get ahead in their efforts to harm the traveling public.

Additionally, we’ve seen insider threats to aviation security grow ever more concerning in the wake of the 2015 Metrojet bombing at Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt. Despite DHS’ efforts to enhance security measures for flights to the United States at last-point-of-departure airports, they continue to be vulnerable.

In recognition of this glaring vulnerability, we enact (sic) legislation to enhance TSA’s security procedures to address inconsistencies across the aviation sector, particularly screening employees at secure access ports.

We must continue to close security capability gaps at these overseas airports, most critically Istanbul and Cairo. John Katko and I had many trips over there, and I can tell you, these are not secure airports. High volumes of American travelers come out of these airports and I’ve seen these vulnerabilities firsthand.

In addition, we must continue to enhance airport security at other high-risk airports in the Middle East and out of northern Africa. Doing so is critical to our national security, as these threats are only one flight away into the homeland.

But as we all know, the threats against our homeland our not restricted by physical boundaries. We have cyber, as Suzanne Spaulding knows so well, having worked at DHS.

I want to applaud you for your service to the department. You did such a great job.

As Suzanne knows, our adversaries, both nation state and non-state actors, threaten us around the clock in cyberspace. And whether it’s North Korea launching a global cyber attack crippling infrastructure, to China stealing our nation’s valuable intellectual property, to Russia conducting disinformation warfare campaigns to sow discord among the people, to Iran attacking our financial institutions, to terrorists spreading evil propaganda over the internet, or criminals taking our financial and personal information, we are all exposed to harm.

I was one of the millions of victims — and many of you are here in the room — of the OPM data breach by China in 2014 and 2015, which resulted in over 20 million stolen security records, including Social Security numbers and fingerprints.

To mitigate this threat, we must improve our cyber resiliency and protection. The House passed, and I authored, to elevate DHS’ National Protection and Programs Directorate to a director-level position and rename it the Directorate for the Cyber-Security and Infrastructure Security Agency. In other words, create a cyber-security agency within the Department of Homeland Security to elevate the priority and the mission.

I hope the Senate will pass this legislation soon.

Combating malicious cyber activity also has a strong diplomatic component. For that reason, the House just voted on legislation, introduced by Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce, proposing the creation of the Office of Cyber Issues at the State Department. This legislation will establish a high-level ambassador for cyber-security to lead the department’s diplomatic cyber efforts.

We must establish closer relationships with our allies and our partners, and enforce cyber commitments with other countries. And we must enforce our norms in cyberspace, because for right now, we don’t have any norms. There are no rules of the game and that is the problem. Not to mention what would happen if a NATO ally was attacked in cyberspace: Would Article V be invoked in that case?

We must eliminate the legal barriers our private sector confront from other countries’ cyber-security and national security laws, including the mandatory requirement to allow a foreign government to review a company’s source core — code. This puts us at a major disadvantage both competitively and from a security standpoint.

We must also build products that are secure. With the growth of the Internet of Things, we are more vulnerable now than ever. Consider the recent assessment by Intel, one of the largest chip-makers in the world, regarding its semiconductor vulnerabilities to Meltdown and Spectre, which pose serious risk to computer chips manufactured over the last two decades.

These threats are real and impact all of us, but I believe now more than ever that securing our nation at home requires protecting American strength abroad.

North Korea’s a good example. Across the globe, nation-state adversaries have expanded their influence at the expense of our own. In North Korea, Kim Jong-un has marched down a path of nuclearization absent American leadership. He is now on the cusp of obtaining the ability to conduct a successful nuclear ICBM strike anywhere in the world, including against the United States.

This is unacceptable.

That is why the president and his administration have begun to lead a maximum-pressure campaign against North Korea to compel him to retreat from his destabilizing nuclear ambitions. These efforts include working with our international partners to forge a diplomatic solution, to isolate the regime by increasing economic pressure on the North Korean economy through sanctions, and refusing to take the use of military force off the table unless Kim Jong-un reverses course.

Further, Chinese and Russian attempts to undermine international sanctions on North Korea at the expense of global security must not go unheeded. The United States and our partners in the international community must confront them head on. We must be clear and decisive in our actions.

Which takes me to the next country hotspot, Iran. As North Korea marches on with their destabilizing behavior, so does Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism.

Let me be clear: A nation that has repeatedly threatened America and Israel with absolute annihilation must not be allowed to ever have a nuclear weapon.

Unfortunately, as negotiated by the previous administration, the Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Conference of Plan of Action, injected the Iranian regime with billions of dollars in fresh funding for their expansionist and terrorist agenda.

From Yemen, through Iraq and Syria, all the way to Lebanon and the Mediterranean, Iran continues to solidify its influence in the region through what the president — what Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel calls the Shia Crescent. This land bridge connects Iran to its destabilizing proxies throughout the region, such as the Lebanese-based Hezbollah and Hamas in Palestine.

As our allies in the region understand, Iran’s actions are a direct threat to our regional stability. Worse yet, the regime funds its expansion with domestic financial resources siphoned away from the Iranian people. And while inflation soars in Tehran, the regime brutally suppresses any dissidents to its irresponsible policies.

But I believe there is light. Again we see Iranians pleading for freedom, protesting openly in the streets, and I believe that we, as Americans, have a duty to support them. We must stand with them.

In January, I introduced legislation backing the Iranian people as they demand reforms in their country. This legislation requires the president to determine whether senior members of the government of Iran are responsible for or complicit in human rights abuses, corruption or censorship. It also calls out the Iran — Iran regime’s practice of taking Americans and other foreign nationals hostage as a crime against humanity. Lastly, it outlines several steps the administration should take, in conjunction with our allies, to stop this practice, including imposing sanctions on Iranian officials responsible for unjust detentions.

And I — I think the Iranian people want, need and deserve better.

When it comes to Russia, Putin’s regime continues to hinder American efforts at peace on the Korean Peninsula by covertly supporting the Kim’s regime’s economy, which ultimately helps further their nuclear ambitions. Across Europe and the Americas, Putin continues to engage in hostile disinformation campaigns intended to sow discord among our people, divide Europe and drive a wedge between our NATO allies.

I was recently in Estonia and Ukraine. They are right on the border of Russia, and the cyber attacks are fierce and intense and the campaign disinformation warfare (sic) is real, and the kinetic threat in — in Ukraine and in Crimea is real. Europe and our allies, they’ve tried to drive a wedge between.

And in Syria, he is bolstering the brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad, making the likelihood of a political solution to end the bloodshed more difficult and more challenging.

In response to Russia’s aggressive foreign policy, Congress passed and the president signed the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, to impose an economic price on Russia’s meddling in our international interests. And we must remain vigilant in countering Russia’s attempts to meddle in our elections in the future.

I got the Gang of Eight briefing on the Russian meddling. I’ve been consistently strong from the beginning that it, indeed, happened, and that there need to be consequences to what they were doing. We need to call them out for what they did, and there needs to be a consequence to that.

When it comes to China, as Putin’s grip on power remains solidified, China, under President Xi, continues to consolidate its control over all facets of China — Chinese government, military, commercial and civilian life.

Last October, Xi was elevated into the People’s Republic of China’s constitution, on par with Mao Zedong, one of the most brutal dictators we’ve seen in the history of the world. We’ve seen Xi purge his competitors within his country, and compel its commercial sector to support destabilizing around the world.

The bottom line: China’s on the rise, and its influence is expanding globally at a rapid pace, and it is the Soviet Union, in my judgment, of our times.

China’s already rebuilding military bases around the world, as evidenced in Djibouti. This military expansion — where we have a base — is not peaceful. And we know what they’re doing in the cyberspace. And it will grow as the One Belt, One Road expands, strangling the developing and developed world, suffocating freedom until its dying breath.

To counter China’s immoral rise, we must support our allies, partners and friends, and expand our support to the international development efforts.

In closing, as we assess the threat landscape for 2018 and beyond, I urge us all to seek pragmatic solutions to address the challenges before us; these solutions that improve the livelihoods of people around the world, and protect those who cannot protect themselves. We must shield freedom-loving people from the radical ideology and exploitation that terrorists and repressive regimes are attempting to infect them with. We must protect those who are elected to serve by closing gaps that allow our enemies to infiltrate the homeland. We must enable the United States to thrive at home, so that we can continue to support our friends abroad.

I say “we,” because these threats are blind to party affiliation. I’ve always said that partisanship stops at our waters’ edge; the terrorists don’t check our party affiliation.

And it — it takes an effort that will require a holistic, bipartisan approach; one that includes collaboration with state and local stakeholders, private sector, federal law enforcement, intelligent (sic) community and our military; once — one that really requires us to work together with our foreign allies, partners and friends.

Upholding this bipartisan tradition, and maintaining American leadership on the world stage, is very personal to me. And my father was a bombardier in World War II, and participated in the D-Day air campaign on a B-17. He bombed the Nazis, and helped defeat the evil of his time. I was recently in Auschwitz, six months ago, and I saw the horrors of what the Nazis did, and the pure evil of the gas chambers and Dr. Mengele.

But my father and his band of brothers did not think about politics when they were drafted to serve. He actually volunteered to serve. They simply put our country first. And the example they set is one we should follow, because, as we know, freedom is never free, and we will always have to fight for it.

Ronald Reagan once told us that, quote, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We must pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected and handed on for them to do the same, or one day, we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States, where men were free.”

These are the challenges of our times. And just like my father’s generation, the Greatest Generation, we fought and defeated fascism that threatened civilization, and we also defeated communism, and I am confident in the current struggle that we will also prevail.

And so with that, thank you, and may God bless the United States of America

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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