VOICES: Evolving threats to American homeland security 20 years after 9/11

As we mark 20 years since 9/11, it’s important to note how the threats to our nation have evolved. In 2001, it was the Taliban who provided a safe haven for al Qaeda in Afghanistan to launch a devastating attack on our homeland, killing nearly 3,000 people. 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.

To a large degree, we have been successful. We have not had a mass casualty foreign terrorist attack on American soil during those intervening 20 years. 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. However, on August 31, 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 was on the FBI’s most-wanted list.

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) 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 to within one to two years. The DIA noted that is a conservative estimate.

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.

Due the chaos at the Karzai airport, many were left behind, including some American citizens and more afghans who helped us. But it is also true that many who did get evacuated do not have a record of working with the U.S. government or our partners, and yet, are not being subject to normal vetting procedures.

I believe 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 threats from the Taliban. We also have a moral responsibility to ensure the safety and security of American citizens by doing the proper vetting so we are not releasing the wrong people into our communities.

I am disappointed that the administration has not been transparent about their vetting procedures, even as we are told that evacuees are being resettled in our states. We cannot do proper oversight without basic information.

The broader threat landscape 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.

Meanwhile China continues to threaten our economy and security 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. President Biden’s decision to dismantle the previous administration’s policies with no consideration of the consequences, and putting 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 drug 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 like Dayton particularly hard with overdose deaths increasing over the last year after we had made so much progress in saving lives before the pandemic.

As the lead Republican on the Homeland Security Committee, I will continue to insist that the Biden administration takes the necessary steps to protect our homeland by confronting the many national security threats we face.

Rob Portman is a United States Senator from the state of Ohio.

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