HOOKSETT — In a conversation on growing threats to the American homeland, Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-NH, outlined a set of pressing national security concerns that she believes the Trump administration’s Department of Homeland Security is failing to adequately address.
Speaking on Tuesday to an assembly of Southern New Hampshire University students and staff about foreign terrorism, domestic terrorism and cyber security, the junior senator from New Hampshire expressed repeated frustration with a DHS that she says is absent of steady guidance from the upper echelons of the agency.
“I am extremely concerned about the leadership void at the topmost levels of the department right now,” said Hassan of DHS. “The turmoil and turnover we are seeing presents a direct risk to the department’s ability to effectively carry out its vital mission.”
Hassan’s comments came the week after President Trump announced the removal of U.S. Secret Service Director Randolph Alles, the latest in a series of high-level departures from DHS that included former DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.
Hassan applauded U.S.-led efforts by NATO to eliminate the last of the Islamic State’s stronghold’s in Syria, but said the administration needs to beef up the DHS Visa Security Program, which helps to perform security screenings of anyone applying for a visa.
She said Visa Security Teams need to be placed at every U.S. embassy and consulate in order to “ensure that ISIS foreign fighters returning to Europe and countries around the world can never reach American soil.”
On the subject of homegrown terrorism, Hassan lambasted the Trump Administration for disbanding a group of intelligence analysts within the DHS’ Office of Intelligence and Analysis who focused on domestic terrorism, a move that she says is at odds with what she characterized as resurgence in “violent white supremacists, including neo-Nazi groups at home and abroad.”
“I am concerned and have been asking DHS to explain why they have taken away what were really modest resources to help communities deal with extremism at home,” said Hassan in an interview with the Union Leader.
“Because we know that there are programs that have helped pull people out of violent extremist groups, we know that there are programs that can prevent recruitment into them and those efforts have now been defunded. So, it’s a line of questioning I’ve continued to pursue. I frankly haven’t gotten a good answer for it yet.”
When it comes to cyber security, Hassan cited cyber attacks by Russia, China and North Korea as evidence for why DHS should work more closely with stakeholders in high-value industries as well as state and local governments in order to share information that both prevents attacks and mitigates the damage from attacks that may occur.
She went on to point to a 2017 attack on the United Kingdom’s National Health Service and the subsequent disruption of vital healthcare services as evidence that vigilant cyber security defenses were vital to ensuring that the technological disruptions of digital attacks did not spill over into “actual physical harm” to the American people.