On October 9, DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen spoke before the Association of the United States Army (AUSA), offering an overview of the Department, the threats faced and the road ahead. Below is the full text of the Secretary’s remarks.
Good afternoon, everyone. I want to thank you for the invitation to speak at this year’s meeting of the Association of the United States Army.
In particular, I would like to thank AUSA President General Carter Ham and Lieutenant General Guy Swan for inviting me here today. I would also like to recognize Lieutenant General Jeff Buchanan, who has been a great partner for the Department.
And of course, thank you to each of you for your committed service to our country. I got the public service bug from my parents and uncles, who all served in the Army.
It is truly humbling to stand before the greatest Army on earth, its supporters—especially the families—and the industry partners who play a vital role in its successes. Thank you for your sacrifices, your dedication, and your faith in freedom. It is an honor to address you.
Today I first want to outline how the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is embracing a “Resilience Agenda” to adapt to a new age of threats.
And second, I want to touch on how the dynamic dangers we face require deep partnerships, especially between DHS and the military.
Two 9/11s—and a Legacy of Resilience
Let me begin on the topic of “resilience” and how the American experience is defined by it.
History will forever record that September 11th began as a beautiful day in New York. However, by 9 a.m. the morning calm was broken by the sound of explosions.
“I’d never heard such a noise,” one New Yorker recalled. It “seemed as if thunder wasn’t anything…it was enough to deafen [anybody].”
The attack site was “covered with flame” and the area was strewn with debris. While pedestrians fled for safety, first responders rushed into—and not away from—danger to care for hundreds of injured.
It was an act of war. And it would shape the course of American history forever.
The attack I’ve described was not the work of Osama bin Laden. It was Great Britain who was the perpetrator. And the date was September 11th, 1814, the day of the last confrontation in the War of 1812. The Battle of Plattsburgh.
That morning in upstate New York, U.S. troops and naval forces waged a furious struggle against the invading British, which resulted in several hundred casualties but effectively ended the war.
Ultimately, U.S. ships won the day, but the U.S. Army won the admiration of the American people. On land, our troops were outnumbered nearly 10-to-1. But thanks to clever strategic planning—including the employment of obstacles and dead-end traps—the U.S. Army forced the British into retreat, saving American lives and helping bring the war to a conclusion on our terms, and not those of a foreign power.
We came out of the war not weakened, but as a stronger, more focused nation. Throughout the centuries that followed, the United States Army continued to build an American legacy of resilience.
You marched into Gettysburg to keep the Union from falling apart…you stormed the beaches of Normandy to oppose the forces of tyranny…and you fought worldwide to keep communism from posing a mortal threat to our way of life.
Thankfully it would be almost 200 years after the Battle of Plattsburgh before another major foreign attack hit the U.S. mainland. And when it did on September 11, 2001, you responded with courage and resolve.
Many in this room deployed to faraway lands to take the fight to the enemy “over there” so the fight did not come “over here.”
Before I continue, I want to take a moment to thank you on behalf of the nation you have defended and the people you have inspired.
Adapting to a New Age of Threats
When we were attacked on September 11, 2001, in our darkest hour, we saw real heroism…we saw renewed hope…and we saw relentless resilience.
A time when our incredulity was replaced by defiance and our rallying cry was marked by unified determination: “United We Stand” was written in sidewalk chalk, on bumper stickers, and in the hearts of all Americans who pledged not to be intimidated by evil.
Born from that commitment was the Department of Homeland Security. And since our creation we have learned a lot from men and women in military uniform, especially the U.S. Army.
After all, let’s not forget the age gap between us…this year you celebrated your 243rd birthday—we celebrated our 15th. We still have much to learn.
In that short time, though, you have taught DHS a great deal about being “ready and resilient”- R2 is a strong and lasting strategy and one that I seek to imbed in all we do at DHS. Years after 9/11, we are still not prepared for everything- we can’t be.
But what we can do is instill and champion a “culture of resilience” in our everyday lives. Given the myriad of threats we face today in the homeland- that resilience must be relentless. Such a culture is not just about bouncing back; it’s about bouncing forward, adapting and innovating even while under attack, and coming back stronger to stare down the next challenge more decisively than before.
This philosophy is now central to the Department’s approach for securing the homeland. Our “Relentless Resilience Agenda” is about…
- Leaning in against today’s threats while zooming out to prepare for those on the horizon;
- Being adaptive to keep pace with our adversaries;
- Identifying and confronting systemic risk;
- Preparing at the citizen level;
- Building redundancy into everything;
- And raising the baseline of our security across the board—and across the world.
We cannot afford a policy of strategic patience, not when our enemies and adversaries are working day and night to undermine us. Instead, we are reasserting U.S. leadership. And we are building the toughest homeland security enterprise America has ever seen.
What keeps me up at night – a question I am often asked- is this: emerging threats are now outpacing our defense.
Whether it is sophisticated malware, weaponized drones, or do-it-yourself chemical and biological weapons, the dangers of tomorrow are coming right at us today.
We need to adapt to this tectonic shift in the threat landscape—before it’s too late.
Dynamic Dangers, Deeper Partnerships
In today’s world, where threat actors are crowd-sourcing chaos, we MUST crowd-source our response.
This is only possible through deep public, private, and international cooperation. Partnerships used to be a “nice to have.” But now they are a lifeline for America’s survival.
That is why DHS is deepening its ties across the military.
We are coordinating our activities with DOD to better combat emerging threats, secure our borders, and respond to natural disasters.
Nowhere are the dangers of emerging threats more evident right now than in cyberspace.
The DHS cybersecurity arm—NPPD—collaborates closely with DOD, recognizing the importance of syncing DOD actions to defend cyberspace with our domestic network defense activities.
I am proud to say that the partnership is now wider, deeper, and more impactful than it has ever been before.
Our cyber efforts also include our joint efforts to protect our democratic institutions against foreign interference.
DOD and the military services have teamed up with DHS in both “seen and unseen” ways to keep our adversaries from threatening our election infrastructure and from meddling in our domestic affairs.
We are also working together to defend the homeland against drone threats. The danger is real. Terrorists, transnational criminals, and other nefarious actors are using drones around the world to spy, to smuggle illicit goads, and to kill.
And they have our homeland in the crosshairs.
Today, I can announce that we are preparing to turn the tide. On Friday the President signed into law new authorities that will allow DHS to identify, track, and take down dangerous drones that might pose a threat to major national events, sensitive facilities, DHS operations, and more.
Our new authorities are fashioned after existing DOD authorities. And we will be working closely together to apply lessons-learned to our new counter-drone mission in the homeland.
A few weeks ago, I visited NORTHCOM and had the opportunity to discuss these plans with General O’Shaughnessy, and we are on a good path.
The same applies to our work to counter terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. DHS works hand-in-hand with DOD and our armed forces to disrupt terror suspects overseas, to stop terrorist travel, and to detect chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear dangers.
For example, in the past year, we have undertaken new efforts to forward-deploy our people to dangerous parts of the world to help DOD identify terrorists who might threaten the United States.
And we have partnered in the wake of Russia’s chemical attacks in the UK to make sure we are better prepared to guard against dangerous WMD agents.
But perhaps even more fundamental to our nation’s security is the work happening at our borders.
Let me be clear: border security is national security. There is no more basic or essential responsibility of a country than to protect and assert its borders.
And we are grateful that we have had the military’s support in safeguarding our territory.
Human smuggling, trafficking, violence, and criminal activity has reached alarming levels. So in April, President Trump directed the Department of Defense to expand its existing support to CBP to help us gain operational control of our borders.
This is known as Operation Guardian Support.
More than 1,600 dedicated National Guardsmen are in the field supporting our CBP personnel in securing our southern border, and I thank them for their efforts.
Working together, this operation has allowed us to stop known criminals and dangerous drugs from getting into our country.
And the collaboration goes well beyond our immediate borders.
DHS and the military have pioneered extraordinary interagency efforts to dismantle transnational criminal organizations abroad to keep their violence and illicit goods from ever reaching America in the first place.
The Joint Interagency Task Force (JIATF) model is the perfect example. At JIATF-South in Key West, Florida, our personnel sit side-by-side with many of yours to track bad guys transiting the hemisphere trying to reach our shores.
Seamless information sharing allows us to stop these criminals in their tracks…and to bring them to justice.
I asked the President to visit JIATF-South earlier this year, and he was blown away by what he saw.
We will be doing much, much more in the next year to build on this type of model to go after transnational criminals…so stay tuned.
Finally, we continue to deepen our cooperation to prepare for and respond to natural disasters.
The past year has been unprecedented in terms of both the scale and scope of disasters impacting our country.
In rapid succession last year, Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria devastated the southern states and territories. And while we were still responding to those hurricanes, we began sending our resources westward, aiding those affected by the series of wildfires in California.
In total, more than 46.9 million Americans—nearly 15% of the U.S. population—were affected by these storms and wildfires. It was one of the costliest and most-damaging seasons for natural disasters in history, with the cumulative cost exceeding $300 billion.
And while forecasts for this hurricane season aren’t quite as severe as those last year, we have already witnessed the devastating impacts of Hurricane Lane in Hawaii and Hurricane Florence in the Carolinas and we are actively preparing for Hurricane Michael in the Gulf.
These types of disasters demand a response beyond what any one agency can handle. They require all hands on deck. And DOD has stepped up to the plate, working seamlessly with DHS to help state and local officials respond to catastrophic crises.
Throughout the responses to hurricanes over the past year, Combatant Commands leadership were among our closest partners. They assisted in providing key resources from USTRANSCOM, the Army Corps of Engineers, and other Title 10 forces that saved American lives and property.
This includes the assignment of heavy-lift aircraft, hospital ships, and high water vehicles, among others, so responders could deploy straight to the source. Our joint efforts are critical to a speedy and effective response—distributing commodities, clearing routes, providing equipment, conducting search and rescue – the list goes on.
I would like to thank Lieutenant General Buchanan—who is with us today—for being a vital partner in Puerto Rico and making extraordinary efforts to leverage unique DOD resources to help the community recover.
Please join me in giving him – and all those who have supported DHS and our state and local first responder partners- a round of applause. [Lead applause.]
Without the dedicated work from our partners throughout the Department of Defense, our emergency response missions following Hurricane Maria—and every other disaster—would not have been possible, so thank you.
Call to Action
Americans may not expect that cyber security, border security, and disaster response depend so heavily on DHS and DOD collaboration. But they do. And those partnerships—including through the leadership of the U.S. Army—have made our nation immeasurably safer and more secure.
I want to urge each of you to view partnership through a new lens.
You know all-too-well that America is the biggest target in the world. Criminals want to steal from us. Our enemies want to attack us. And foreign adversaries are working in real-time to undermine us. They are exploiting our open society and infiltrating our communities. And we can’t let it happen.
The task is daunting, especially because technology has given the bad guys so many new vectors through which to attack us.
But rather than throw in the towel, we need to throw down the gauntlet and put them on notice that America will rise to the challenge and deliver consequences for interference.
Think creatively about how we can partner…how we can share information…how we can combine our authorities to overcome the threats to our nation. Look outside of traditional boundaries and lines of effort. And knock down the silos wherever you see them.
I know the lawyers are having a heart attack right now. But if we do it the right way, we can protect our homeland like never before and have a competitive advantage over those that would dare threaten us.
In closing, I urge each of you to add to the American legacy of resilience that the Army has helped build through centuries of service.
Last week I was reminded of that great legacy when I had the privilege of witnessing President Trump award the Congressional Medal of Honor to Ronald Shurer.
Ron is a DHS employee in the U.S. Secret Service, where he is a special agent and a member of the agency’s counter-assault team.
Before that, though, he was a Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Army—a Special Forces medic who joined the military in response to 9/11.
In April 2008, his team came under heavy enemy attack on a mountainside in Afghanistan. Under withering fire from machines guns, snipers, and rocket-propelled grenades, Ron charged up and down the mountain to treat his fellow soldiers, to get them to safety, and to return to fight the enemy.
His actions were nothing short of extraordinary. And I cannot tell you how fortunate and proud we are to have him as part of the DHS team.
Ron exemplifies the U.S. Army’s spirit of resilience. And it is that same kind of relentless resilience that we need to guide us through hurricanes, network intrusions, or terror attacks—whatever the danger may be.
I am proud to say we have nearly 55,000 military veterans in the Department of Homeland Security. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t advertise to this audience that we are always ready to welcome more.
I want to thank you all for your service to our country and for the invitation to join you today.
I am inspired by your example. Humbled by your service. And deeply appreciative of your partnership.
On behalf of DHS and a grateful nation, thank you.
Remarks released by the Department of Homeland Security.