Chertoff on DHS's First Five Years

We've been pretty hard on the Department of Homeland Security over the years. (See "Deconstructing DHS" from 2004, for starters.) The department has made a lot of mis-steps, and serious questions remain about civil liberties in this country in an age where being tough on terrorism is a necessary campaign tactic.

But it seems only fair, as the department celebrates its five-year anniversary, to look back on what it has accomplished. To that end, we offer you the six primary accomplishments that Secretary Michael Chertoff says DHS has made during its short life. Below, an excerpt from his speech this week to DHS staffers:

“Before September 11th, we did not have an effective system for identifying dangerous people arriving at our ports of entry.  We could not confirm their identities or check fingerprints in real time or run names against integrated watch lists.  That is no longer the case.  Today, through US-VISIT, we have checked the fingerprints of more than 113 million travelers; we can validate identities within seconds; and we have expanded watch list checks and information sharing across all levels of government.  This has created a formidable barrier against the entry of known -- and unknown -- terrorists and criminals. Before 9/11, our country did not have a sensible strategy for securing our vast land borders or enforcing the nation’s immigration laws.  That too has changed.  Through a mix of tools, technology and manpower, we have reinforced the land borders -- building hundreds of miles of fencing, doubling the size of the Border Patrol by the end of this year, and deploying new technology in the air and on the ground to prevent people and goods from illegally entering our country.  We have also strengthened enforcement in our interior -- arresting and deporting thousands of fugitives, criminals, and gang members who represent a threat to the American people. Before September 11th, we did not scan cargo entering our seaports for radiation and we did not require advance information about every shipment destined for the United States.  But today, we scan almost 100 percent of cargo for radiation at our seaports so that we can prevent dangerous weapons from entering the country.  We’ve also deployed our Customs and Border Protection officers overseas to work with their foreign counterparts so that we can inspect cargo before it leaves to come to the United States. Before September 11th, we did not have national chemical security standards to protect chemical plants from attacks or to make sure that dangerous chemicals did not fall into the wrong hands.  Today, with authority given to us by Congress, we have implemented tough new chemical security standards that will protect chemical facilities as well as chemicals in transit, while ensuring that the products safely reach their intended destinations. Before September 11th, we did not have an effective aviation security system to protect the 2 million domestic air travelers who rely on commercial aviation every single day.  Today, the traveling public benefits from 20 layers of screening -- from hardened cockpit doors to Federal Air Marshals to 100 percent screening of passengers and their bags by the dedicated men and women of the Transportation Security Administration. Finally, prior to 9/11, we did not have an effective emergency preparedness and response system capable of handling an unprecedented catastrophic disaster like Hurricane Katrina.  By integrating lessons painfully learned from that hurricane and countless other disasters, we have rebuilt and reinvigorated the Federal Emergency Management Agency, giving it capabilities it has never had before.  We have released a new National Response Framework that builds upon its predecessor plans and will further unify and strengthen federal, state and local emergency response.  And we have engaged the American people as never before in a nationwide effort to build a culture of preparedness for individuals, communities and businesses.”

 What do you think? Is there really that much to celebrate? More importantly, what should DHS do next?

-Sarah Scalet

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