WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, outlined the threats to our nation at a hearing titled: “Threats to the Homeland: Evaluating the Landscape 20 Years After 9/11.”
Portman highlighted how the catastrophic withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan leaving the Taliban in charge, with United Nations blacklisted terrorists serving in its highest ranks, has increased the threat to the United States. Portman supports the resettlement of Afghans who stood in battle with us over the last 20 years and all Afghan evacuees who pass rigorous vetting. Portman repeated his request for a classified member briefing on the vetting and screening procedures for Afghan evacuees as soon as possible.
In addition, Portman discussed the ongoing crisis at the southern border due to the Biden administration’s decision to dismantle the previous administration’s border policies with no consideration of the consequences, which has resulted in a historic surge of unlawful migrants, unaccompanied children, and deadly narcotics like fentanyl coming into our country.
Finally, Portman detailed how the United States has experienced an increase of large-scale cyberattacks from nation-states criminals. Portman also outlined how China continues to pose a threat to our homeland as they continue to recruit U.S.-based scientists and researchers to transfer U.S. taxpayer-funded intellectual property for China’s military and economic gain.
A transcript of his opening remarks can be found below and a video can be found here.
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you for convening this incredibly important annual hearing on threats to the homeland, and thanks to our distinguished witnesses for attending. We look forward to the opportunity to hear from you today. There’s a lot to talk about.
“The theme of the hearing is 20 years after 9/11. So our focus today is the evolution of the threat landscape since the devastating attacks on that fateful day. In 2001, it was the Taliban who provided a safe haven for al Qaeda in Afghanistan. A safe haven to launch a devastating attack on our homeland, killing nearly 3,000 people. The United States responded. As our nation became all too aware, we needed to take the fight to the terrorists overseas so they could not bring their fight here ever again. We needed a new security architecture to keep us safe – which included the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and also, by the way, was the recreation of this Committee as the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
“To a large degree, you have to say we have been successful. We have not had a mass casualty foreign terrorist attack on American soil during those intervening 20 years. I don’t think any of us would have thought that was possible back on 9/11. The reason for that success is not because the terrorists have stopped trying. It is thanks to our armed forces, intelligence community, and law enforcement that we have succeeded in stopping those terrorists. This hearing is timely. A little more than 20 days ago, the last American troops withdrew hastily from Afghanistan and the Taliban, once again, took back the government of Afghanistan.
“The new Taliban looks very much like the old Taliban, with terrorists on the United Nations Security Council’s blacklist at its highest ranks. In fact, the leader of the Haqqani network, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization which maintains close ties to al Qaeda and cooperates with ISIS-K, was named the acting Interior Minister. This means the Taliban official in charge of combating terrorism is on the FBI’s most-wanted list.
“The CIA, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Defense Intelligence Agency, DIA, have already moved up the timeline of when terror groups operating in Afghanistan are likely to threaten the homeland from ‘possibly two years’ to within one to two years. The DIA noted that is a conservative estimate. The CIA has already seen potential movement of al Qaeda into Afghanistan.
“The catastrophic way the Biden administration withdrew from Afghanistan, surprising our NATO allies, and abandoning our Afghan allies, has left us without eyes and ears on the ground. It has also signaled to the world that the United States is an unreliable partner. The rushed and unplanned nature of the evacuation also resulted in too many left behind – actually some American citizens and green card holders – and many Afghans who had stood by us as drivers, interpreters, who worked for NATO or worked for the United Nations. And because of the chaos at the Karzai airport, it appears that many who did get evacuated and admitted to the United States do not have a record of working with the U.S. government or our partners, and yet, they are not being subject to normal security screening and vetting procedures.
“We have a moral responsibility to welcome the Afghan evacuees who have stood by us and who have had to flee their country because of the feckless actions of the Biden administration. I agree with that. We also, though, have a moral responsibility to do everything in our power to ensure the safety and security of American citizens in American communities by doing the proper vetting so we are not releasing terrorists or criminals into our ranks.
“I’m disappointed, as the administration knows, that despite my requests since September 1 – the day after the withdrawal, members of this Committee have yet to receive a classified briefing on vetting procedures, even as we are told that evacuees are being resettled in our states. We cannot do proper oversight without basic information. I realize that there was a classified staff briefing yesterday – a few weeks after the request. I was told by the staff that they did not learn anything in addition to what was presented in a non-classified setting. So I repeat my request today, that members of this Committee be provided a classified briefing as soon as possible.
“These recent events have put the heightened foreign terrorist threat top of mind. In fact, the Director of National Intelligence has stated that ‘terrorists remain interested in using chemical and biological agents in attacks against U.S. interests and possibly the U.S. homeland.’ The broader threat landscape, however, has evolved since 9/11. We face an elevated terrorist threat from domestic and homegrown violent extremists, including lone actors. We have experienced a slew of large-scale cyberattacks from both nation-states and criminals. And increasingly, the line between the two is blurred. Cybercriminals in countries like Russia frequently operate with the tacit blessing of the government, where, at a minimum, officials turn a blind eye to ongoing crimes.
“I would say that China continues to create an issue for our homeland by continuing to recruit U.S.-based scientists and researchers to transfer U.S. taxpayer-funded intellectual property for China’s economic and military gain.
“Further, we cannot ignore the ongoing crisis at the southern border. This also affects our homeland. The Biden administration’s decision to dismantle the previous administration’s border policies with no consideration of the consequences, and nothing in its place, has resulted in a historic surge of unlawful migrants, unaccompanied children, and deadly narcotics like fentanyl coming into our country. And make no mistake, the Mexican cartels are benefitting from this and gaining strength on both sides of the border. The trafficking of dangerous drugs across our border has helped fuel an addiction epidemic that has hit communities in my home state of Ohio particularly hard with overdose deaths increasing over the last year after we had made so much progress in saving lives over the few years before the pandemic. We must redouble our efforts to stop these drugs from flooding our communities. As far as I’m concerned, demand reduction remains the key, but the higher volume reduces the price of these drugs on the streets, expands the number of drugs available, and causes, therefore, more devastation.
“It is clear that the border is a public health and humanitarian crisis and has been for months, but particularly now. Just look at Del Rio, Texas where more than 10,000 migrants, mostly Haitians, who had been living in Latin America, some for years, have been living in squalor under a bridge. This is not new, by the way. It’s just a logical extension of what has been happening on the border since the Biden administration came to office and reversed the policies that were in place, again without putting in place policies to deal with what was totally predictable – a surge.
“It is also a national security threat. More than one in four migrants encountered at our border last month were not from Mexico or the three Central American countries, sometimes called the Northern Triangle. 25 percent were not from any of those countries. Nearly all of them avoided going to a port of entry and instead were apprehended by Border Patrol agents. The Border Patrol has now made more than one million apprehensions of unlawful migrants at our southern border since President Biden was inaugurated. And they will tell you, a lot of folks got away. So, we have a lot to talk about today. We certainly have the right people here to talk about all of these issues, and I appreciate you being here—in person—to provide answers to the tough questions I imagine you will get from both sides of the aisle, given all the crises that we face that I mentioned.
“I look forward, Mr. Chairman, to a productive conversation about the threats we face and the actions that are being taken to prevent them.”