The Aspen Institute’s 2017 Homeland Security Recommendations

Michael Chertoff, Former Homeland Security Secretary and cochair of The Aspen Institute Homeland Security Group
Michael Chertoff, Former Homeland Security Secretary and cochair of The Aspen Institute Homeland Security Group

The Aspen Institute Homeland Security Group has recommended nine areas critical to the continued improvement of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) making further progress toward securing the homeland against ever evolving threats.

These initiatives were enacted under former Secretary Jeh Johnson’s tenure in the Department. Additionally, the Group formally recommends that the Trump Administration and Secretary John Kelly continue these initiatives.

Since its inception in 2010, Aspen Institute Homeland Security Group has enjoyed a close relationship with the Secretary of Homeland Security and the rest of the department’s senior leadership team.

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We commend former Secretary Johnson for his service to the nation and the progress the department made during his tenure. We congratulate Secretary Kelly on his nomination and confirmation, and look forward to working with him and his senior leadership team in the years ahead.

To ensure the Department makes further progress toward securing the homeland against ever evolving threats, we urge the new President, Secretary, and Congress to enact the following recommendations.

1. Enhance Cybersecurity

  • The importance of safeguarding cyberspace is now on par with, and may even surpass, air travel, maritime safety, and border security, and as such, similarly demands creation of an operational component for cyber and infrastructure protection.
  • We urge the Administration to work with Congress to formally establish such a component as a civilian agency of DHS, and to ratify a national vision for the roles and responsibilities of each department in the US cybersecurity operations team.
  • Furthermore, we recognize the efforts in the formal establishment of the National Cybersecurity and Communication Integration Center (NCCIC) as the federal government’s 24/7 hub for cybersecurity information sharing, technical assistance, and incident response.
  • The Trump administration should now see through the goal of having 100% of the federal civilian government networks protected by the EINSTEIN 3 Accelerated (E3A) and the Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation (CDM) sensors as quickly as possible.

2. Infrastructure Security Improvements

  • The Department has made continuing strides toward improving the security of critical infrastructure across all domains.
  • We recommend expanded collaboration with the Department of Defense, Department of Energy, and other public and private sector supporting partners to assess vulnerabilities and aid DHS in addressing identified security gaps.

3. Address Vulnerabilities in Voting Machines and Registration Databases

  • We recognize the vulnerabilities of our voting machines and registration databases to hacking and other malicious cyberactivity.
  • We concur that the recent designation of this system as a critical infrastructure subsector is not a federal takeover of state run elections but rather that more federal resources, including cybersecurity assistance, may be prioritized toward these systems, voluntarily and upon request, within the National Infrastructure Protection Plan.
  • It is imperative that the federal government prioritize resources to lend support to the states for updating the security of these machines, if not the full replacement.
  • Especially critical is the protection of voter registration databases and related information systems. Nothing would damage the strength of our democratic process more than to have our registration systems manipulated by nefarious cyber actors.
  • The Trump Administration and Congress should work with the states to lend support in the areas of funding, technical expertise, and intelligence as to cyber threats and vulnerabilities.

4. Cooperate with the European Union (EU) and Member States on Detecting and Preventing Foreign Terrorist Travel

  • We recommend leveraging relationships within the EU and individual Member States to improve information and intelligence sharing capabilities that will enable the early identification of known and suspected terrorists and their travel plans.
  • Preventing the travel of these individuals abroad provides greater security than allowing them initial entry to the US.

5. Make Disclosure of Travelers’ Social Media History Mandatory

  • Social media have exploded in importance and volume in the past decade but their value in screening for terrorists and other threats has not been fully realized.
  • We commend DHS for adding a section to the ESTA requesting information associated with the applicant’s online presence.
  • Making that section mandatory for travel from visa required countries should be strongly considered.
  • We recommend that those applications be considered incomplete, and therefore, entry denied until applicants provide information associated with their online presence.
  • Likewise, the provision of such information should be mandatory for those seeking admission to the US as a refugee or under an immigrant or non-immigrant visa.
  • Application of this recommendation to visa waiver countries requires further examination.

6. Continue Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) Efforts

  • Recently, the Department oversaw the allocation of $10 million in grants to organizations that support local CVE efforts.
  • This effort is an important first step in improving community-based efforts to mitigate the threat of violent extremism at the place most likely to make a difference: on the front lines.
  • We especially encourage Secretary Kelly to continue to call on and engage former Secretaries Johnson and Chertoff to support these efforts.

7. Encourage More Outreach to the Private Sector

  • The role of the private sector in supporting and advancing homeland security cannot be overstated.
  • Whether in protecting critical infrastructure, safeguarding cyberspace, or building national resilience, the private sector plays a critical role.
  • The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced several public-private partnerships with airlines to install “next generation” automated screening lanes and to test advancements in security screening technologies and procedures.
  • Such partnerships, properly managed, can reduce taxpayer costs and promote much needed research and development, while further securing the homeland.

8. Reduce and Simplify Congressional Oversight

  • The Administration and Congress should work quickly to implement the one 9/11 Commission recommendation yet to be enacted – reducing the number of Congressional committees with oversight and review of DHS and its Agencies.
  • We endorse House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul’s oversight reform proposal.
  • Fewer congressional overseers will enable the Department’s Unity of Effort in aligning the Department into a cohesive and responsible agency and will make the DHS more efficient and less susceptible to duplicative or conflicting mandates.

9. Budget Recommendations

  • In light of the Budget Control Act of 2012, we recommend the following priorities be adequately funded by the 115th Congress:
    • 1) Immigration detention facilities;
    • 2) TSA technology and workforce improvements; and
    • 3) Coast Guard Fleet Modernization.

The Group will convene again in July to review the progress of these initiatives immediately prior to the Aspen Security Forum July 19 – 22. More information may be found at: http://aspensecurityforum.org/ or on Twitter @AspenSecurity #AspenSecurity.

The Aspen Institute Homeland Security Group is a bipartisan group of homeland security and counterterrorism experts who convene periodically to discuss these issues and to make recommendations to policy makers.

The Aspen Institute

The group is co-chaired by former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and former Congresswoman Jane Harman. The full membership list is available at: https://www.aspeninstitute.org/programs/homeland-security-program/homeland-security-group/.

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C. Its mission is to foster leadership based on enduring values and to provide a nonpartisan venue for discussing and acting on critical issues.