National security, born after 9/11, turns 20 years old, faces new challenges

WASHINGTON (AP) — The federal agency created after 9/11 to stop terrorists from entering the United States is changing to meet new challenges, the Homeland Security Secretary said as he marked its 20th anniversary during a ceremony Wednesday.

Alejandro Mayorkas highlighted emerging threats such as cyber security attacks and lone offenders radicalized online, but the Department of Homeland Security is perhaps most in the spotlight because of its role in the country’s immigration debate.

“We have adapted and built capabilities to address threats and challenges as they evolve,” Mayorkas told a crowd gathered at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “We were created 20 years ago during the largest restructuring of the federal government since World War II. We are now a critical part of people’s lives, interacting with the American people on a daily basis more than any other department or agency of the federal government.”

Hundreds of people from across the department — the third largest in the federal government with 260,000 employees — gathered to mark the occasion, including heads of some of the various agencies that make up DHS, including the Transportation Security Administration, the Department of Cybersecurity and Infrastructure. Security agencies and the Secret Service.

Former President George W. Bush appeared in a video message, as did the agency’s first head, former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge. President Joe Biden thanked DHS employees for their service, saying the country is safer and stronger because of them.

“We owe you,” he said.

The Department of Homeland Security was created after the 9/11 attacks. It was made up of 22 federal agencies or departments whose duties ranged from mounted Border Patrol agents to Federal Emergency Management Agency personnel inspecting damaged homes after hurricanes and Coast Guard personnel training boaters in marine safety.

In June 2002, Bush’s vision document for the agency called the creation of the agency nothing less than “the most significant transformation of the US government in more than half a century.” The goal, according to the report, was to create a single agency out of “the current tangled patchwork of government agencies” responsible for protecting the country from the threats it faced then and prepare for the challenges it will face in the future. Bush appointed Ridge as the first person to head the department.

At the time, the US was already at war in Afghanistan and months away from invading Iraq. Homeland security was primarily tasked with preventing terrorist attacks in the United States. The plan came as the administration faced questions about what it knew about terrorists before they struck on Sept. 11, 2001.

“Every member of this new department takes on the important mission of preventing another terrorist attack,” Bush told Cabinet members and federal workers involved in national defense in 2003 on the agency’s first day.

But other issues have taken center stage in recent years, including immigration, cybersecurity, the rise of domestic extremism and the coronavirus pandemic. Republicans, who intend to make immigration a key issue in the 2024 election, have portrayed the southern border as wide open to migrants and have targeted Majorca’s impeachment.


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