Lieberman address at CSIS & GW eventWASHINGTON—Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., Wednesday delivered a final analysis of homeland security in the past and the future at an event hosted by George Washington University and the Center for Strategic and International Studies.  Before a diverse crowd of national and homeland security officials, diplomats, policy experts, and students, the Chairman recounted a decade of improvements to secure the homeland against emerging threats and assessed future challenges.  

To view the speech as delivered and following Q&A, click on this link:

A prepared text of his speech follows:

Remarks Prepared for Senator Joseph Lieberman: “Homeland Security: A Look Back and Ahead”

Thank you President Knapp for that introduction. 

I would like to thank George Washington University and its Homeland Security Policy Institute, and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) for inviting me to speak today.

Both centers are leaders in carrying out research and policy analysis on homeland security and counterterrorism. Their work has been extremely valuable over the years to our own work on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

My personal thanks to Frank Cilluffo [Director, GWU Homeland Security Policy Institute] and Rick “Ozzie” Nelson [director of CSIS Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Program] – the moderators for this morning’s program.

I have been asked to speak with you about “Homeland Security: A Look Back and Ahead,” and there two reasons why this is a timely topic.

The first is, as President Knapp said, that I will soon be leaving the Senate for the afterlife.

The second is that this past Sunday, November 25th, was the 10th anniversary of the signing by President Bush of the Homeland Security Act of 2002, establishing in law the Department of Homeland Security. 

So this is an appropriate time to reflect on the progress that the United States has made in the last decade and also examine the many challenges we still face. 

One of the clearest lessons I have drawn from my 24 years in the Senate is that, despite our best efforts, events will inevitably take us by surprise – the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, 9/11, and most recently, the Arab Spring are just some examples of events we didn’t anticipate and were not prepared for.

I want to illustrate this point by reading from two historic stories from “The New York Times.”

The first is a page-one story, published Sunday, December 7th, 1941. The dateline is Melbourne, Australia, Dec. 6, under the headline: “Joint Plans Laid to Thwart Japan.”

The story reads: “The Australian Government has completed preparations, in concert with Britain, the United States and the Netherlands Indies, for action in the event of a Pacific conflict. The four plan to match Japanese action, move by move.”

The story ends on a confident note, saying: “. . . In view of the presence of British naval strength at Singapore, and powerful American squadrons in the rear of any southward Japanese expedition, it is believed there is no immediate likelihood of a large-scale invasion or bombing.”

The “Times” didn’t make this up. They were just reporting the collective wisdom of the leaders of the democratic governments at the time.

But as we know, the bombs began falling on Pearl Harbor that same morning at 7:48 a.m. Hawaiian time. The invasion of the Philippines began a few hours later. And the British fleet off Singapore was devastated days later with the sinking of the battleship HMS “Prince of Wales” and the battle cruiser HMS “Repulse” by Japanese bombers.

Winston Churchill, reflecting on the disasters over those three days said: “In all the war, I never received a more direct shock… As I turned over and twisted in bed the full horror of the news sank in upon me. There were no British or American ships in the Indian Ocean or the Pacific except the American survivors of Pearl Harbor, who were hastening back to California. Over all this vast expanse of waters Japan was supreme, and we everywhere were weak and naked.”

Now I turn to a story from page 14 of the “Times” from September the 11th, 2001. The story is story datelined “Kabul, Afghanistan, Sept. 10,” and is headlined: “Reports Disagree on Fate of Anti-Taliban Rebel Chief.”

The story is about conflicting reports on whether the late Afghani anti-Taliban leader, Ahmed Shah Massoud had survived an assassination attempt by suicide bombers posing as journalists.

Near the end of the story the “Times” reported – almost as an afterthought – and I quote: “If the would-be assassins were indeed Arabs, as the United Front asserted, the fact would lend credibility to those who contend that foreigners, including Osama bin Laden, are playing an ever bigger decision-making role among the Taliban.”

Most Americans reading this story over a cup of coffee on the morning of September 11th – in the hours or minutes before the first plane hit the World Trade Center – could be forgiven for not realizing how immediate a threat Osama bin Laden and the Taliban were. Al Qaeda is not even mentioned in the story.

After Pearl Harbor, with the United States engaged in a two-front war, the time wasn’t right for major reform of the military or intelligence communities.

But following the report of the Congressional Pearl Harbor Commission in 1946, Congress did pass major defense and intelligence reforms in 1947 in response to the many military and intelligence failures that led to Pearl Harbor.

Following 9/11, it was clear Congress needed to get to work immediately to improve our defenses against this new kind of asymmetrical terrorist attack where a handful of Islamist extremists could turn airliners into guided missiles.

And more broadly to reorganize our homeland defenses so we could predict a wide-range of possible attacks, including the kind we least expected.

A month after the attack I held one of the first hearings, as Chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, on the creation of a new Department of Homeland Security.

Along with my friend and colleague Sen. John McCain, I then sponsored legislation to create the 9/11 Commission, whose mission was to investigate and identify what went wrong that day and recommend how we could fix it.

Just over a year later, we passed “The Homeland Security Act of 2002,” which integrated more than 20 domestic security agencies under a strong Department of Homeland Security, by a vote of 90-9 in the Senate and 295-132 in the House.

When we were debating the Homeland Security Act in 2002 on the floor of the Senate, I had no illusions about the difficulties that would be involved in getting DHS up and running effectively. Management experts warned us of the challenges of such a complex merger. 

But, as I said at the time, “Building this Department will involve no shortage of problems, as any massive undertaking of this kind would – but we, after this initial act of creation, must be ready to improve, to support, and ultimately to protect the American people with this Department.  We have no choice.”

I stand by that remark today.

The 9/11 Commission issued its report in July 2004. It detailed, among other things, the failure of our intelligence community to share information that would have allowed us to “connect the dots” and thwart the 9/11 attack.

Using the Commission’s report as our guide, the Senate passed “The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act” (IRPTA) just four months later – the most significant reform of our Intelligence Community since the 1947 reforms I mentioned earlier – by a vote of 96-2.

The Intelligence Reform Act established the National Counterterrorism Center and the Director of National Intelligence in law.

Both these pieces of legislation were moments of pride for Congress. Members in both Houses and both parties had come together and worked for the good of the nation without regard to partisan gain. Compromises were made – some of which I did not prefer. But that’s necessary for effective legislating.

It cannot be all or it will be nothing.

As a result of these and other reforms – and thanks to the hard work by DHS and its many federal, state and local partners – we have seen tremendous progress over the past decade in the ways we defend our homeland.

Information sharing is now much more robust within the federal government and with state and local partners thanks to ODNI, the NCTC and the ever-maturing fusion centers found around the country today.

The U.S. government now has a well-developed and coordinated watch list system that helps secure our border and protect our aviation system. 

Our border agencies are now well integrated within U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and new layers in our border security system – such as fingerprinting of foreign travelers under US-VISIT and the ESTA advance screening system for travelers from Visa Waiver countries – have mitigated potential vulnerabilities in our border entry system. 

Our commercial aviation system is now significantly more secure than it was prior to 9/11, as a result of the investments made in new screening technology and in an increasingly well-trained TSA workforce.

The record on this is clear. Al Qaeda and its direct affiliates have been unable to carry out an attack resembling the attacks of 9/11/01 against the US homeland since September 11, 2001 – a record of success that I do not think anyone in this room would have predicted in the immediate weeks and months after the attacks. 

These and other reforms have helped make our country safer from man-made attacks.  But, we also acted to make us safer from natural disasters after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in August of 2005 exposed even more vulnerabilities in our nation’s defenses.

As Katrina showed – both to our surprise and frustration – we were not prepared for a natural disaster that had been tracked by satellite for a full week.

Shortly after Katrina, the HSGAC began a series of 22 public hearings that went on for eight months.

As part of this process we talked to more than 400 witnesses, reviewed more than 800,000 pages of documents and produced a 737-page report “Hurricane Katrina: A Nation Still Unprepared,” that detailed the failures by government agencies at all levels – federal, state, and local – with the notable exception of the Coast Guard.

The report led to the passage by Congress in 2006 of the Post Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act.

Reforms contained in the Act created a new and strengthened FEMA that was prepared to lead swift and effective responses to natural disasters since then, and will be ready to respond to an unnatural disaster – such as a mass transit attack, if necessary.

Now let me mention a couple of my biggest concerns about the future, which I hope the HSGAC – under its new leadership – Senators Carper and Coburn – will tackle.

One is cybersecurity. Cyber terrorists, criminal gangs, rogue hackers and rival nations are becoming ever more aggressive in probing and attacking the computer networks that control our critical physical infrastructure – water systems, electric utilities and pipelines – and our critical financial infrastructure.

Look at some of the most recent cyber invasions and you’ll see the urgency of passing legislation.

A few weeks ago, in South Carolina, foreign hackers broke into the State’s Department of Revenue and stole the records of 3.8 million individual taxpayers and nearly three-quarters of a million businesses.

The breach affects everyone who filed an electronic tax return in South Carolina going back to 1998.

Gov. Nikki Haley said: “This is the new normal and the new normal requires new restrictions and new regulations and new things that are going to keep our people safe. And that is now a new leadership role for every governor in this country. “

On August 15th a computer virus called Shamoon erased the hard drives of 30,000 computers of Saudi Aramco – the world’s largest energy company – replacing those data files with images of burning American flags. 

Experts say it was the most destructive cyber attack against a private company ever, with the computers rendered useless and having to be replaced.

And many intelligence officials suspect Iran was behind the attacks.

In September, the consumer web banking sites of Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, PNC Bank and others came under the largest sustained denial of service attack in history. The attacks went on for weeks, knocking many of these sites off line or slowing them to a crawl.

Look at how much commerce is now conducted over the Internet and you see the danger here. These kinds of attacks could bring the banking system to its knees.

And again, some intelligence officials I’ve spoken with suspect Iran or its agents of launching these attacks.

If these real-world examples aren’t enough, six of our nation’s premier defense and intelligence experts – serving in both Democratic and Republican Administrations – wrote a letter the Majority and Minority Senate Leaders, pleading for action to strengthen our cyber defenses.

They wrote: “. . . We carry the burden of knowing that 9/11 might have been averted with the intelligence that existed at the time. We do not want to be in the same position again when ‘cyber 9/11’ hits – it is not a question of whether this will happen; it is a question of when.

But despite these ever escalating attacks and the pleas of these and other defense and intelligence officials, the Senate voted this month for the second time to kill bipartisan cybersecurity legislation sponsored by Senators Collins, Rockefeller, Feinstein, Carper and myself under pressure from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – itself the victim of Chinese espionage that went undetected  by the Chamber. It was discovered by the FBI.

What made this so frustrating is that we made a major concession that the Chamber and its Senate allies had asked for and changed our bill from mandatory to voluntary compliance.

But even that wasn’t enough.

Since the Congress has refused to act, I have urged President Obama to use his authority under existing law to issue an executive order that will establish cybersecurity standards for all eighteen critical infrastructure sectors.

A draft of just such an executive order is already being circulated.

An executive order leaves much to be desired.  But it is far preferable to inaction.

The next Congress must take up and pass legislation that establishes a robust public-private partnership, encourages private-sector owners of the nation’s most critical infrastructure to invest in cybersecurity, meets common sense standards to protect their systems, users and the public at large, and reduces legal barriers to sharing cybersecurity threat information by ensuring the real-time exchange of information in a manner that protects privacy and preserves civil liberties.

The threat of homegrown violent Islamist extremism should also be a priority for Senators Carper and Coburn as they become leaders of the HSGAC.

Over the past six years, Senator Collins and I have spent a significant amount of time asking: How and why do people become radicalized?

What is the role of the Internet and social media in promoting spreading or promoting this ideology?

And how can we put in place appropriate training for federal employees and local law enforcement to distinguish between the peaceful practice of Islam and radicalization that could lead to violent Islamist extremism.

The spike in homegrown terrorist plots and attacks in 2009 and 2010 – including the deadly terrorist attacks in 2009 by Nidal Hasan at Fort Hood and Carlos Bledsoe in Little Rock – has led federal agencies to develop new strategies and plans to better coordinate their efforts to counter violent Islamist extremism. 

But we need to remain vigilant against this threat.

I want to leave plenty of time for questions, so I will just say I hope that someone asks about how we can make sure that in these tight budget times, DHS gets the resources it needs and whether we can streamline Congressional oversight of DHS, which now answers to almost 100 committees and subcommittees.

In fact, streamlining the oversight process remains the only recommendation of the 9/11 Commission that has not been implemented.

As I leave the HSGAC chairmanship, one of my biggest concerns is that this past decade of relative success combating terrorism may have lulled the American people into a sense of complacency.

The ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu’s wrote in “The Art of War”:

“Engage people with what they expect. . . . It settles them into predictable patterns of response, occupying their minds while you wait for the extraordinary moment – that which they cannot anticipate.”

Then, “Emerge to their surprise.” 

I hope the new Chairman and Ranking Member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will keep our homeland security high on the Committee’s agenda so, to the best of their ability, America will not be surprised again as we were on 9/11/01.

Thank you and now I’m ready for some questions.