Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly speaks during a forum “Home & Away: Threats to America and the Department of Homeland Security response,” April 18, 2017, at George Washington University in Washington. (AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
(ANALYSIS) — As an agency that responds only to the executive branch of the government, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is tasked with the stated chore of looking after the country’s public security. This involves several fronts, placing the department in charge of anti-terrorism programs, border security, cybersecurity, immigration, and others. And as a government body, its sole goal — whether the agency clearly states it or not — is to remain relevant (after all, if governments had to compete in the open market, they would never survive).
Under President Donald Trump, DHS Secretary John Kelly holds his agency’s most important position as the leader of a multi-layered organization that thrives in an environment of constant conflict. And on Tuesday, speaking at George Washington University, he laid out what The Hill called a “dark vision” of the global threats facing America.
“Make no mistake,” the retired U.S. Marine Corps general said, echoing former President Barack Obama. “We are a nation under attack.”
During Kelly’s first major public speech since becoming head of DHS, he told attendees at George Washington University that America is “under attack from people who hate us, hate our freedoms, hate our laws, hate our values, hate the way we simply live our lives. And we are under attack every single day,” he firmly stated. “The threats are relentless.”
But some of the threats Kelly listed include instances that have deep roots, and unfortunately, the former general is in no position to exploit them. Perhaps because he’s genuinely unaware of these roots, or, perhaps, because he knows that once he or someone in his position starts talking about the roots of terrorism in the Middle East, the fear-mongering rhetoric will sound like wishful thinking — on their part, of course, since nobody anywhere “hates us for our freedoms.” They just hate us for our bombs.
“We will never apologize for enforcing and upholding the law. We will never apologize for carrying out our mission. We will never apologize for making our country more secure.” — Secretary Kelly speaking at GWU this week
Discussing the threat of “radicalization” Americans now face, Kelly invoked Dante’s journey to hell, offering a vivid picture of evil men throwing innocent people from buildings, “rape victims being stoned to death,” and headless bodies scattered around.
Claiming the threat of terror in America is as high as it was after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Kelly added that the proliferation of encrypted communications technologies is making the job of folks like him difficult. He asserted systems that allow people to communicate freely and anonymously are giving terrorists the weapons they need to spread their messages far and wide.
But despite Kelly’s most dramatic portrayals of the so-called threats the country faces, the tools and weapons terrorist organizations have been relying on to expand and bring more and more people under their wings have all been deployed by men and women like Kelly, himself. After all, the United States has been in an ongoing campaign to radicalize members of certain groups in the Middle East since the 1980s.
Ever since the U.S. first started arming and training mujahideen in Afghanistan — albeit somewhat indirectly — its own involvement with so-called rebels has helped fuel local conflicts, prop up terrorist organizations, and spread these organizations’ messages across the entire region. Those currently fighting in Syria to bring down Bashar al-Assad aren’t all Syrians fighting for sovereignty. A great deal of them are foreign militants directly associated with al-Qaeda — the terrorist organization founded by Osama bin Laden, whose main feat was the deadly attack on the Twin Towers in New York City.
By pulling the strings to help foment “popular” uprisings abroad, America has chosen to play with other nations’ destinies without knowing what these steps will provoke in the long run.
When these actions lead to unintended reactions, like widespread terrorism, these organizations aren’t going to stop because they are afraid of America’s military might — quite the contrary. The more the United States attacks, the more material for propaganda these power-hungry monsters will have in their hands.
Kelly also added that Congress should “change the laws” if they are not happy with the ones his agency is so passionately upholding. But what he failed to note is that agencies like his and others enjoy the protection of the executive branch and are often beyond reproach due to the incredible power bestowed on the office of the president. Like the Department of Justice (DOJ), the DHS often bends the rules of what is constitutional — or even morally acceptable — because the executive branch has grown so staggeringly powerful in the past decades.
Because of Congress’ own doing, the power that has been invested in the executive branch has become nearly unmatched, making it impossible for agencies like DHS or DOJ to be held accountable for their own wrongdoings — after all, if you’re the most powerful watcher in the land, who’s going to watch you?
Perhaps Kelly is sincere in his concerns, and therefore, he’s also sincere when he tells us we should live in fear. But perhaps he’s just another subject tasked with only one chore: To keep his agency as relevant and as necessary as ever.
So next time Kelly mentions incredible visions of death and destruction to justify embracing anti-privacy measures, more surveillance, and less freedom, remember that what he wants us to be afraid of is the messes people like him created decades ago and are now trying to handle by doing what they have always done well — fomenting more crisis, at home and abroad.
Watch the full speech below:
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