Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson visits CREATE

                              Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson and CREATE Director, Ali Abbas

by Matthew Kredell

U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson discussed transparency, his commitment to risk-based strategy and the current state of the global terrorist threat at a talk hosted by the National Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events at USC.

“The most important thing we can do for the strength of our nation is preserve our values and not be afraid," Johnson told the audience on Feb. 12. “Terrorism cannot succeed if you are not terrorized. Part of homeland security is preserving our values, encouraging our people to associate and embrace diversity, and not be afraid."

DHS is the third-largest department of the federal government with 240,000 staff members, a $60 billion budget and 22 components that include Customs and Border Protection, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Transportation Security Administration, Coast Guard and Secret Service.

CREATE, which is jointly housed within the USC Price School of Public Policy and the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, was established in 2004 as the nation’s first DHS Center of Excellence. CREATE evaluates the risks, costs and consequences of terrorism, providing analytical tools and guidance for its partner agencies.

“Secretary Johnson’s visit to CREATE is further demonstration of his commitment to the role that university centers of excellence may provide to the homeland security enterprise," said Ali Abbas, director of the CREATE center. “We were privileged to have him visit USC and speak at this critical time in our nation about his vision for ‘unity of effort’ within DHS. He shared several insightful comments about border security, cybersecurity, immigration reform and counterterrorism that will help us focus our efforts and priorities within CREATE."

Unity of effort

Johnson explained that he had a New Year’s resolution to improve the manner in which DHS delivered homeland security through his unity of effort initiative to bring more centralized decision-making to the many different components, along with a commitment to transparency.

He described a new phase in the global terrorist threat with a rise in so-called foreign fighters who leave their home country to go to places like Syria, take up the fight there and later try to return home with an extremist mission, as well as organizations such as ISIL effectively using the Internet and social media for recruiting purposes.

“The threat now is more complex, more decentralized and involves more of a potential threat in the homeland from people who may simply become inspired by things they see on the Internet to commit small-scale attacks," Johnson said. “That means a more comprehensive, whole-of-government approach to our counterterrorism efforts."

Striking a proper balance

These efforts include working with state and local law enforcement, and engaging community organizations that have the capacity to reach those who may be inclined to turn to violence. He has personally done such engagements to let people know that they too have a stake in homeland security and public safety in Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis and Columbus.

Wherever he goes, Johnson tries to explain that his job is to find an equilibrium between preserving liberties and providing security.

Cybersecurity is another priority of the department, he noted. Johnson said he is looking to pass legislation in Congress this year that would enhance criminal penalties for cybercrime, promote information sharing with the private sector, impose limits on civil and criminal liability for those in the private sector who provide cyber-threat-indicator information and require data breach notification in the private sector if there is a victim of cybercrime.

“It was quite an honor to have him visit and a great experience to hear him talk," said Christopher Fox, a master of public administration student at USC Price. “One thing that really struck me is he identified the balance that exists between personal freedom and safety, and how it’s difficult to achieve both."