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Nielsen Wants to ‘Crowd-Source’ Defending the Homeland: A ‘Whole of Society’ Approach

DHS will host the first-ever National Summit on Terrorism Prevention this year, aiming to “crowd-source” the department’s mission, Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in her State of Homeland Security Address Monday.

She said the summit, bringing together “tech companies, NGOs, community leaders, law enforcement, social service providers,” and others, was part of a new “whole of society” approach to defending the homeland, needed in the face of new threats evolving too quickly for a government-speed response.

“The threats we face are graver than at any time since 9/11,” Nielsen told an audience at Auburn University’s Center for Cyber and Homeland Security, “The ground beneath our feet has shifted.  Our enemies and adversaries have evolved.  And the arms of government are swinging too slowly to protect the American people.

“Let me be clear,” she continued, “We are more secure than ever against the dangers of the last decade. But we are less prepared than ever for those that will find us in the next.”

DHS, she recalled, had been created “to fight one primary, generation-defining struggle: The war on terror. But we now find ourselves defending against emerging threats on new battlegrounds.”

The U.S. was still facing threats from global jihadists, but was also facing “transnational criminals, faceless cyber thugs and hackers and resurgent nation-state rivals.”

Today, I am more worried about the ability of bad guys to hijack our networks than their ability to hijack our flights. And I am concerned about them holding our infrastructure hostage, stealing our money and secrets, exploiting children online and even hacking our democracy.”

She said one of the founding ideas of homeland security, the so-called “Whole of Government” approach, “is now an outdated concept. It’s not enough.”

Instead, she proposed “a ‘Whole of Society’ approach to overcome today’s threats.  Why? Because it’s not just U.S. troops and government agents on the frontlines anymore. It’s U.S. companies. It’s our schools and gathering places. It’s ordinary Americans.”

“America is not prepared for this,” she added. “Your average private citizen or company is no match against a nation-state such as China, Iran, North Korea, or Russia. It is not a fair fight.”

To turn the tide against the new threats, she proposed, that in 2019, “DHS will host the first-ever National Summit on Terrorism Prevention.  This two-day event will bring together tech companies, NGOs, community leaders, law enforcement, social service providers, and more in an effort to better ‘crowd-source’ our defenses against terror.”

Noting that President Donald Trump had made homeland security “his number-one priority,” Nielsen pledged she was “running with that mandate to obtain the resources, to secure the authorities, and to execute the changes we need to fully transform homeland security and give the American people the protection they deserve.”

“In the past 12 months, there has been more change at DHS than almost any single year in its history,” she boasted.

She concluded by pledging that within a month, the department would finally be moving into its brand new headquarters building on the grounds of the former mental hospital St Elizabeth’s.

Shaun Waterman
Shaun Waterman
Shaun is an award-winning journalist who has worked for the BBC and United Press International. In the past five years, Shaun has launched two of the best-respected and most widely read DC daily cybersecurity newsletters — POLITICO Pro's Morning Cybersecurity and Scoop News Group's CyberScoop. Shaun became UPI's Homeland and National Security Editor shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, covering the Department of Homeland Security from its standup in 2003. His reporting on DHS and counter-terrorism policy earned him two (2005, 2011) "Dateline Washington" awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, and a senior fellowship at the George Washington University Center for Cyber and Homeland Security. In 2009-10 Shaun produced a major report on cybersecurity for critical infrastructure at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a leading Washington think tank. From 2010-2013, he wrote about intelligence, foreign affairs and cybersecurity as a staff reporter for The Washington Times. Shaun, who is British, has a master’s degree in social and political sciences from King’s College, Cambridge. He is married and lives in Washington, DC with his wife and three American sons, Miles, Harry and Peter.

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