This past Sunday, Jeh Johnson, former Secretary of Homeland Security during the Obama administration, spoke before an audience at Campbell Hall on issues relating to national security.
Johnson served under the Department of Homeland Security, the third-largest department in the U.S government, from Dec. 23, 2013 to Jan. 20, 2017.
After opening his talk with humorous anecdotes about not being recognized in public except when mistaken for former president Obama, Johnson touched on what he called the “three principle missions” he focused on during his work: counter terrorism, cyber security, and immigration.
“Counter terrorism is the reason I took the job,” Johnson said. “It was the thing that motivated me in protecting the homeland.”
According to Johnson, “the terrorist threat to our country has evolved significantly from terrorist directed attacks to what we now face, terrorist inspired attacks.”
Johnson used the September 11 attacks on the United States as an example of a terrorist directed attack. Such attacks involve a terrorist group infiltrating U.S. borders and carrying out a coordinated terrorist operation.
“Our government now does a much better job at detecting oversees plots in their earliest stages,” Johnson assured.
On the other hand, the Boston Marathon bombing, the 2015 San Bernardino attack, and the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting would fall under terrorist inspired attacks, stated Johnson.
These types of attacks, he explained, involve individuals who have no direct affiliation with terrorist groups but are inspired to carry out terrorist attacks because of something they saw on the internet or in the media.
“Terrorist inspired attacks are very hard to detect,” Johnson said, noting that the individuals who carry out these attacks often plot and carry them out by themselves.
Still, despite the difficulty in detecting these types of attacks, Johnson claims that they can be prevented through law enforcement investigation efforts and community vigilance.
Moving on to cyber security, Johnson warned “The cyber threat to our nation will unfortunately get worse before it gets better,” emphasizing that our cyber defenses need to be improved. Those on the offense in the cyber realm like China, Russia, and Iran are becoming better and more creative in their attacks, he stated.
Fake news and the publication of extremist views online were two particular cyber threats Johnson called out as especially harmful to the nation.
He warned that fake news and the spread of extremist views online were two avenues by which foreign actors, “seek to sow discord by influencing our democracy and elections.”
The principle defense Johnson provided against these threats were better self-regulation by internet providers whereby they would call out fake news and extremist views.
He also emphasized public scrutiny against fake news and extremist views as important in stamping out those threats.
The final topic Johnson touched on in relation to homeland security was immigration.
“Immigration in my time in office was the most difficult issue I wrestled with,” Johnson said.
Misinformation concerning immigration is a main reason Johnson believes the subject has become such a contentious issue.
He pointed out that, despite public perception, undocumented populations have actually decreased.
“Illegal immigration on our southern border is a fraction of what it used to be,” Johnson noted.
After citing this fact Johnson added that the demographics of undocumented individuals has also shifted from single adults from Mexico to women, children, and families from Central America.
In his speech, Johnson advocated for improving surveillance and border security, increasing the number of asylum judges to deal with current cases, and implementing comprehensive immigration reform to allow the current undocumented immigration population to step out of the shadows.
Johnson concluded his talk on a hopeful note asserting, “We are indeed a great nation and we will never stop being a great nation.”