Portman Sounds Alarm About Security Threats to American Homeland

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.” 

Portman highlighted the ongoing crisis at the southern border and how this administration’s failed border policies have led to a historic surge of unlawful migrants, unaccompanied children, and deadly narcotics such as fentanyl coming into our country. 

In addition, Portman discussed the chaotic withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan which left Afghans who stood with our nation, and our allies, behind to suffer under Taliban rule, while paroling more than 36,000 Afghans who did not stand with us in battle into our country without proper screening and vetting. Portman stressed that despite three reports from two Inspectors General documenting the failures of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in vetting and paroling known or suspected terrorists into our communities, DHS continues to deny a problem.    

Portman also underscored threats posed by our adversaries, such as Russia, Iran, and China who rely on disinformation to weaken our democracy, and the importance of separating the imminent threats of violence from censoring speech of American citizens. Portman also outlined how cyberattacks are another significant issue facing our country as a force multiplier for our adversaries. 

A transcript of his opening remarks can be found below and a video can be found here.

“Well, thank you, Mr. Chairman, and just to respond to those comments, we appreciate the relationship we’ve had and the work we’ve gotten done. This Committee has done a lot on a bipartisan basis, and some of it doesn’t get any notice because it is noncontroversial by the time we finish our process. But in the process, I want to thank you and all the members of the Committee for working with us to pass dozens of bills that are making an important difference to our constituents. And to you and to David Weinberg of your staff, not Tom, but David, we want to thank you for your willingness to work with us. Again, we haven’t agreed on everything, but we’ve been able to find common ground where possible and move the country forward. So thank you very much for that.

“Today is my last hearing as Ranking Member, and it’s appropriate that it be this hearing because it is so important to the oversight responsibilities of this Committee and more importantly, important to our country right now. We have, unfortunately, a proliferation of threats facing the homeland. And I appreciate the fact that the right people are here today before us to be able to address those concerns and particularly to talk about what the administration is doing to counter those threats. So welcome to Secretary Mayorkas, Director Wray, and Director Abizaid. We look forward to hearing from you. 

“As the respective leaders of your agencies, you are responsible for overseeing thousands of career employees, men and women who wake up every day, at DHS, FBI, the National Counterterrorism Center, with a mission to safeguard our nation. On behalf of the entire Committee, I want to thank those employees who are patriots and are doing their best to further that mission. 

“Every fall since the terrorist attacks on 9/11 we’ve had this hearing. We’re a little late this year because of scheduling issues, but I think it’s really important that we hold it because it is a time to stand back a little bit and reflect on where we are and how we can work together to address these potential threats and active threats. I can think of no greater priority for this Committee. 

“I’m going to start with the crisis at the southern border, because, sadly, I’m leaving at a time when we really haven’t made the progress we should have made on a bipartisan basis. But again, we have to raise these issues and attempt to solve some of these very significant problems. The failed border policies from this administration have ensured that not only do our nation’s borders remain unsecured, but foreign adversaries, transnational criminal organizations, and other nefarious actors can too easily enter our country now and therefore threaten the safety and the security of our public. So this issue has not gotten better, it’s gotten worse. And in the past year, the Border Patrol apprehended more than 2 million total unlawful migrants. That’s up 143 percent since 2019. This chart behind me shows, in color, kind of the blue, green, and red of where we have been. FY 21 and FY 22 figures are on the right. We just got the final figures for fiscal year 2022, and unfortunately, it tells a very dramatic story of us failing to secure that southern border. 

“This does not include the number of ‘got-aways’ or individuals who are not detected. What we hear from the Border Patrol is that the number of ‘got-aways’ has increased significantly as well. These are criminals often who engage in human trafficking, criminals who involve themselves in the drug trade. And so this is about people, but it’s also about the fact that we have a record number of fentanyl shipments coming through the border, both the ports of entry and between the ports of entry now. We know this from anecdotal evidence, but also because there’s a record number of seizures of these deadly fentanyl shipments into our communities. And fentanyl, of course, is what’s causing the most number of overdose deaths at a time when we have a record number, sadly, of overdose deaths in our country. 

“In Ohio, we think it’s between two thirds and three quarters of the deaths are related to this one drug, deadly fentanyl, which is primarily coming across the Mexican border now. So this has been a tough couple of years, the worst two years of unlawful migration and the worst two years of drug seizures in our nation’s history. So I look forward to talking about that. We’ve got to figure out how to move forward again on a bipartisan basis. We’ve got to figure out how to fix what is clearly a broken system. 

“Another issue I want to address today is the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and what that means in terms of the United States. Afghans who stood with us and our allies were left behind to suffer under Taliban rule, and meanwhile, more than 36,000 Afghans with no record of ever having partnered with us, some of whom may have ties to terrorist groups, were paroled into our country without proper screening and vetting. And I appreciate the fact that, Director Wray, you’re here to talk about that in addition to Secretary Mayorkas, because this is one, again, where I think we made mistakes and we can correct those mistakes. We can go back, and I know you’re starting to do that from testimony we’ve had both publicly and privately, but you know, we had this unfortunate chaotic and precipitous withdrawal that caused a lot of issues, but one was paroling people into our country who weren’t properly screened. 

“There have been three reports now from two Inspectors General documenting the failures of DHS vetting and then paroling known or suspected terrorists into our communities, and yet we just don’t have acknowledgement of that problem from DHS. So President Biden requested and received an additional $15 million for the FBI to conduct counter-terror investigations of known or suspected terrorists among the Afghan evacuees released into our country by DHS. In other words, he asked for $15 million to give to the FBI to do this additional vetting, and yet the administration says it’s not a problem. Those two are inconsistent, of course. So perhaps we can talk about those divergent views on this panel this morning. 

“We all recognize the great threat posed by our adversaries, such as Russia, Iran, and China, who rely on disinformation tactics to weaken our democracy. I think there’s a consensus about that. But at home we’ve got to be much more careful around issues of domestic speech. We must respond to imminent threats of violence of course. I don’t think anybody in this Committee disagrees with that, but censoring constitutionally protected speech is an entirely different matter. To be precise, that should be a red line, and I hope we can all agree that the United States government should not censor the speech of our own citizens. Americans’ speech, differences of opinion, and political viewpoints are not a threat to democracy, but actually a bedrock of it. 

“We know now that DHS disbanded its disturbing Disinformation Governance Board after significant public outcry. But we also know that it has continued its efforts to curb speech under the guise of countering misinformation or disinformation. The entanglement of the FBI and DHS with social media platforms for the purpose of controlling narratives is something we need to talk about today. I think it’s a deep concern that all Americans have that we not cross that red line. 

“Recent reports allege that DHS is colluding with big tech to moderate content in a way that conforms with the Biden administration’s political views, including on the Afghanistan withdrawal and things like the origin of COVID. Our democracy is also under threat because Congress and the administration have been unwilling to confront the systemic threat of U.S. Intellectual Property by China that is undermining our national security and our economic security. 

“Secretary Wray has been outspoken on this. His quote is, ‘There is no country that poses a broader and more severe threat to our innovation, our ideas, and our economic security than China.’ I couldn’t agree more. But every day China reinforces the findings of our various investigations of this Committee showing the staggering extent of the Chinese government’s efforts to conduct influence and espionage operations in our country and to steal American technology, research, and information for their own military and economic benefit. So addressing what the Communist Party of China is doing is more urgent than ever. And yet the Safeguarding American Innovation Act, which is reported out of this Committee, has been blocked from becoming law because of the unwillingness of Congress to confront this issue. 

“Cyberattacks are another significant issue facing every sector of our country. We talked about this a moment ago with Senator Peters. We have made some progress here in this Committee, I appreciate that, but cyberattacks are growing, and they are a force multiplier for our adversaries. So we have to understand that this is an issue that they’re going to continue to use. Our economic insecurity is depending on technology, and we got to be sure that we’re not vulnerable here. Compounding that problem is the inherent difficulty of attributing cyberattacks to specific nation states or criminal groups. 

“Terrorism and targeted violence also remain a serious threat to our country. This year, an Islamic terrorist gained entry into the United States and attacked a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas. In a separate incident, an Ohio-based Islamic State operative plotted to assassinate former President Bush. So we’re not out of the woods in terms of the Islamic terrorist threat. I remain convinced that we can deal with these issues on a bipartisan basis as we have in the past. But I am concerned about the threat posed by foreign terrorist organizations, especially in the wake of our withdrawal from Afghanistan. Al Qaeda continues to pose a threat. The Islamic State continues to expand and mobilize. Iranian-sponsored Shi’a terrorist groups target key U.S. interests and government officials consistently. We must remain vigilant as these groups organize and organizations regroup and evolve. 

“We must restore confidence in the American public that we’re committed to protect our nation from terrorism, espionage, and other homeland security threats, and this should be a bipartisan effort. We all have the same goal, a safe, secure American homeland. 

“So with that said, I look forward to the testimony this morning, Mr. Chairman, most importantly, the responses to questions regarding the record of the administration addressing these threats, what we can do going forward together. I will note that only last week did we receive overdue answers to questions that we had from last year’s hearing - took over a year. I would hope that in this case we’ll get more prompt responses to Committee questions that are posed. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, I look forward to the testimony.” 

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