Homeland Security

Updated: February 19, 2021
In this Article

    On Sept. 11, 2001, 19 people associated with the terrorist group al Qaeda hijacked four airplanes and flew them as weapons against targets in New York City, the Pentagon, and a failed attempt which crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.

    History.com reports some 3,000 people were killed during the 9/11 terrorist attacks; American foreign policy and domestic security would never be the same.

    Just under two weeks after these attacks, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge became the first Director of the Office of Homeland Security (DHS). The agency would formulate policy and strategies to keep the country safe against terrorism.

    But it would not be until November 2002, when Congress passed the Homeland Security Act, that DHS would be formally and legally acknowledged as a separate cabinet-level department of the federal government. In March of 2003, this version of DHS was open for business.

    The Beginnings of the Department of Homeland Security

    After 9/11, it became clear that a federal agency would be needed to anticipate, prevent, or deal with future attacks. The 2002 proposal for the department includes recognizing this need in a variety of areas. From the proposal, we learn that President Bush wanted:

    • One department whose primary mission is to protect the American homeland
    • One department to secure our borders, transportation sector, ports, and critical infrastructure
    • One department to synthesize and analyze homeland security intelligence from multiple sources
    • One department to coordinate communications with state and local governments, private industry, and the American people about threats and preparedness
    • One department to coordinate our efforts to protect the American people against bioterrorism and other weapons of mass destruction
    • One department to help train and equip for first responders
    • One department to manage federal emergency response activities
    • More security officers in the field working to stop terrorists and fewer resources in Washington managing duplicative and redundant activities that drain critical homeland security resources

    Some of the requirements found in the list above already existed in the form of federal agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the United States Coast Guard. Did the United States really need another “alphabet soup agency” in the middle of the operations of entities like the Coast Guard?

    Instead of re-inventing these agencies, the then-new Department of Homeland Security would incorporate them into the new department. The Coast Guard is an excellent example; jurisdiction for Coast Guard operations moved from the Department of Defense to DHS, keeping the Guard’s mission and purpose intact but having it serve the mission of DHS instead of the DoD.

    How many agencies were included under the DHS umbrella? Prior to 9/11, the agencies below fell under other jurisdictions, but after the establishment of DHS, they moved under the auspices of the Department of Homeland Security:

    • The U.S. Customs Service
    • The Immigration and Naturalization Service
    • The Federal Protective Service
    • The Transportation Security Administration
    • Federal Law Enforcement Training Center
    • Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
    • Office for Domestic Preparedness
    • The Federal Emergency Management Agency
    • Nuclear Incident Response Team
    • CBRN Countermeasures Programs
    • Environmental Measurements Laboratory
    • National BW Defense Analysis Center
    • Plum Island Animal Disease Center
    • Federal Computer Incident Response Center
    • National Communications System
    • National Infrastructure Protection Center
    • Energy Security and Assurance Program
    • U.S. Coast Guard
    • U.S. Secret Service

    Some agencies weren’t so lucky–a handful were reorganized or abolished completely with their duties sent to other federal agencies. By 2005, the following entities no longer existed:

    • Border and Transportation Security
    • Emergency Preparedness and Response
    • Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection


    Formal Creation Of The Federal Agency

    Making a task force, oversight committee, or establishing some other means of investigating issues foreign or domestic isn’t the same as creating an entire federal agency. The Homeland Security Act was needed to formally establish the office and duties of DHS.

    The Act establishes DHS under Title V, United States Code, and defines the general mission of the department as follows, as found in the Act:

    (A) prevent terrorist attacks within the United States

    (B) reduce the vulnerability of the United States to terrorism

    (C) minimize the damage, and assist in the recovery, from terrorist attacks that do occur within the United States

    (D) carry out all functions of entities transferred to the Department, including by acting as a focal point regarding natural and manmade crises and emergency planning

    (E) ensure that the functions of the agencies and sub­ divisions within the Department that are not related directly to securing the homeland are not diminished or neglected except by a specific explicit Act of Congress

    (F) ensure that the overall economic security of the United States is not diminished by efforts, activities, and programs aimed at securing the homeland

    (G) monitor connections between illegal drug traf­ficking and terrorism, coordinate efforts to sever such connections, and otherwise contribute to efforts to interdict illegal drug trafficking.

    There is also a specific mission–investigating and prosecuting terrorism, defined as being under the authority of DHS but carried out by existing law enforcement entities; “investigating and prosecuting acts of terrorism shall be vested not in the Department, but rather in Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies with jurisdiction over the acts in question.”

    This provides DHS with the authority, but not a requirement to perform the actual enforcement operations needed to address the issues above.

    DHS Milestones

    In 2005, after Michael Chertoff became DHS Secretary, there was something DHS called a “Second Stage Review” of the department’s operations and policies. A major reorganization of DHS followed this review. In 2006, legislation called the Security Accountability for Every Port Act (AKA the SAFE Port Act of 2006) resulted in the creation of the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office.

    The Federal Emergency Management Agency was also reorganized with two additional duties–responsibility for the Radiological Preparedness Program and the Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program moved to FEMA during this time.

    Public Law 110-53, Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007 was passed, building on legislation called the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006.

    That law in part reorganized intelligence operations at the Department, creating an Under Secretary position that would require confirmation by the Senate to fill.

    In 2010, a transfer of the Federal Protective Service was initiated from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to the National Protection and Programs Directorate in a move designed to create more efficiency in the decision making process and raise the Office of Intergovernment Programs to a level directly reportable to the DHS Secretary. That agency would be redesignated as the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs.

    DHS is required to perform a quadrennial review every four years. That did not happen in 2018, according to the Homeland Security Digital Library (HSDL) official site.

    “In June 2014, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reported the second iteration of the ‘Quadrennial Homeland Security Review’ (QHSR) to Congress. DHS states that the QHSR is a ‘comprehensive examination of the homeland security strategy of the Nation, including recommendations regarding the long-term strategy and priorities of the Nation for homeland security.’ DHS never issued a statutorily required QHSR in 2018.”

    The QHSR is, according to the Homeland Security Digital Library, “…part of the constant reevaluation of the nation’s homeland security and part of the process by which the combined National and Homeland Security Staff develops the next iteration of the national security strategy.”

    For those interested in the state of homeland security in the absence of the 2018 review, looking back to the 2014 review reveals, “The terrorist threat is evolving and remains significant as attack planning and operations become more decentralized.”

    The United States, “particularly in the transportation sector, remain persistent targets” but from the days of the 2014 report we learn that the Internet is a major vulnerability according to the assessment. “Growing cyber threats are significantly increasing risk to critical infrastructure and to the greater U.S. economy.”

    Other concerns listed in 2014 will sound very familiar, and in some sectors it may be felt that the lack of a 2018 report could be a source of contention when you read the following warning from back in 2014 from that quadrennial review of DHS:

    “Biological concerns as a whole, including bioterrorism, pandemics, foreign animal diseases, and other agricultural concerns, endure as a top homeland security risk because of both potential likelihood and impacts.”

    About The AuthorJoe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News

    Written by Veteran.com Team