I just returned from a speech that Sec. Chertoff gave this morning at George Washington University, where he reviewed the Department of Homeland Security’s accomplishments for 2006 and its goals for the next two years. Overall, it was an impressive and very solid speech, one that demonstrated the extent to which he has become stronger in his role as Secretary, particularly over the last six months.
The first part of the speech centered around three “transformative experiences” in the first two years of his tenure at DHS: (1) the increased political spotlight on immigration issues (which led to his reassertion of the need for a temporary worker program); (2) the disrupted UK aviation plot in August 2006 (and TSA’s response); and (3) Hurricane Katrina, which he acknowledged showed that the nation was “not prepared for a major catastrophe.”
He then discussed the Department’s goals and priorities for the next two years, following nearly the same top-level framework outlined two months ago in remarks by DHS Asst. Secretary Al Martinez-Fonts and identifying the following five priorities:
1. Protecting the nation against dangerous people
2. Protecting the nation against dangerous “things”
3. Securing the nation’s critical assets
4. Strengthening response capabilities
5. Making DHS into a more integrated, unified department.
In his discussion of priority #1, he offered a vigorous rebuttal to the recent criticisms of the Automated Targeting System, describing it as an important security tool in the border entry system, noting that 500,000 people were denied entry in 2005 as a result of such border security screening (which I assume refers to visa denials as well as physical denials at Points-of-Entry). And he defended it as constitutional and privacy-protecting, and argued that it was consistent with the 9/11 Commission recommendations and Congressional mandates in the Aviation and Transportation Security Act of 2002. His description of it made it sound like a “link analysis” system, and not a “pattern analysis” system. This distinction is important; whereas the latter type has largely been discredited as a data mining tool for counterterrorism, the former type can be effective if used with well-verified threat data as a starting point.
The rest of the speech contained a handful of interesting factoids for those who follow homeland security issues:
â— DHS will be issuing a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for interim chemical security regulations “within a few weeks.”
â— DHS will release draft rail security regulations at an event tomorrow (Dec. 15th).
â— DHS has spent a total of $380 million on state/local intelligence fusion centers to date.
â— The Department is currently conducting a survey of 75 high-threat regions to identify interoperability gaps in their communications systems, and will work to close these gaps by the end of 2008, prioritizing homeland security grant funds for this task.
â— DHS will work in the next two years to develop a “joint path” for career development at DHS, one that facilitates the ability of employees to work across the respective agencies within the Department and be rewarded for such cross-agency career progression, in a manner similar to DOD’s drive toward “jointness” over the last twenty years.
Sec. Chertoff concluded his remarks by describing his “lessons learned” over the past two years. He talked about how he has consistently stressed the principles of risk management, cost-benefit analysis, and the need to make difficult choices and prioritize resources. He talked about the challenge of striking the right balance between doing too little and doing too much, criticizing the recently-aired notion that the terrorist threat is somehow “Overblown” and “rather limited.” And he concluded by professing his sense of personal responsibility for the job, describing how he understands that he will need to look into the eyes of victims’ relatives if another attack occurs, and tell them that DHS had done everything that it could.
Overall, a very good speech, and a solid agenda for the next two years. As always, the difficult challenges are in implementation, but a principled and consistent strategic perspective is a necessary starting point for implementing change.
Update (12/14): The AP wire story from the event.