National Security

Fighting Terrorism in 2015 Means Engaging with the Local Community at Home

February 11, 2015

Above, watch the full conversation featuring US Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson

In the wake of Charlie Hebdo and the rise of ISIS and other extremist groups, the fight against terrorism has taken a new turn in 2015. Instead of terrorist groups recruiting and plotting from a centralized area or region, US Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson says that terrorism now includes “the so-called foreign fighter who leaves his home country, travels to another country to take up the fight there, links up with terrorist extremists, and may return home… with a terrorist extremist purpose.”

Speaking at the Wilson Center at an event co-presented by the Aspen Institute Homeland Security Program Johnson gave an overview of the security threats currently facing the nation along with the plans the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is implementing to keep citizens safe. With the changing terrorist threat, Johnson emphasized that in addition to bolstering safety through border and travel protection measures, America needs to strengthen its security through domestic and community engagement. In the video clip below, Johnson explains how the DHS is working with local communities and law enforcement to stop terrorist threats that appear domestically.

“We are sharing more information in training with state and local law enforcements in this country given the manner in which the terrorist threat is evolving,” Johnson said. “The cop on the beat must be as vigilant as the terrorist analyst.”

Unlike in the past, when terrorist groups plotted and built weapons in secret, “[Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] no longer builds bombs in secret,” Johnson said. “It has now publicized its instruction manual and has called people to use it.”

Given that anyone can now act on behalf of the terrorist mission, Johnson and the DHS have hosted over 70 roundtable talks with different community groups and institutions so that local law enforcement and citizens can become more vigilant in detecting a possible terrorist threat at home. These talks have taken place in 14 cities, including Chicago, Boston, and Los Angeles.

As Johnson works to improve US counterterrorism efforts, he also understands that these efforts can at times inadvertently lead to notions of discrimination felt by those in the Muslim community. From the roundtable talks he has attended, Johnson described some of what the Muslim community faces, including,“issues with airport profiling, how we administer our immigration laws. They tell me about some of the discrimination that they face, which always spikes after an attack overseas, some of the issues that their children face when they go to school. And I really feel for these people.” Below, watch Johnson explain how the DHS works to build relationships and open channels of communication with America’s Muslim communities.

To make sure that the US respects its Muslim citizens while also keeping all citizens safe from terrorism, Johnson has worked to make sure open and honest dialogue can occur between the Muslim community and local law enforcement.

“What I say back to the [Muslim community] is ‘I hear you and I know that there are things that we should work on in my department… it’s all of our homeland and it’s our public safety… and we all have invested interests in it so we want to see you build bridges with my department, with this sheriff, with this chief, this mayor, this member of the county legislature, so that if you see trouble in your community, you’ll think to contact one of us.”