Remarks as prepared for delivery by
The Honorable Dan Coats
Director of National Intelligence
Protecting Our Homeland
Thursday, October 26, 2017, 11:00 AM
Homeland Security Week Conference
Good morning. Thank you, Dr. Brothers for that introduction. And thank you to everyone in the audience today for the work you do to keep our country safe.
We all recognize that our government’s most basic responsibility is to protect its citizens. But we don’t do it alone. We do it in partnership with the private sector, with academia, and with foreign governments. So I’m glad to see you all assembled for this week’s conference.
I want to talk to you this morning about the threats we face, and then offer some ideas about the partnerships we need to protect the homeland.
When I retired from the Senate last year, I looked forward to a much less strenuous lifestyle. I envisioned leisurely mornings reading the sports page over a cup of coffee. But it turned out retirement was a fleeting illusion.
And my morning routine as Director of National Intelligence is anything but restful. I start the day reading the latest intelligence reports and analysis from around the world. And generally what I read makes me want to reach for something a little stronger than coffee.
By mid-morning, I head down to the White House to discuss these threats with the President in the daily intelligence briefing. In these briefings, (a very small group of us) confronts a complex array of national security challenges:
Global powers like Russia and China challenging the U.S. standing in the world.
A provocative and assertive North Korea continuing to advance its weapons of mass destruction program.
Instability and uncertainty in warzones across Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan.
And we frequently discuss many of the topics you are exploring this week, including cyber attacks, terrorist plots, and WMD proliferation.
Our adversaries are capable and potent. They are constantly adapting and adding new tools to their arsenals.
After just a few months in my current position, it has become clear to me that the Intelligence Community cannot tackle these challenges on its own. The threats are too fluid, the technology evolving too rapidly, and the data too immense.
Nor can our counterparts in the military, law enforcement, and private sector succeed in isolation.
The multitude and diversity of threats requires that we expand and strengthen our partnerships.
In many cases, we know how this collaboration can and should work. I’ll give you a couple examples, related to terrorism and cyber.
First, terrorism. Some of you in the audience may have served on a Joint Terrorism Task Force. This model brings together representatives from the Intelligence Community and federal, state, and local law enforcement. In doing so, we can rapidly share terrorism-related information among the agencies that need it. With more than 180 of these units spread around the country, we have created a warning system that has prevented attacks and saved lives.
And second, consider the growing cyber threat. The private sector holds vast amounts of data with national security and economic implications. Increasingly, we are seeing our adversaries use cyber operations against private companies to access this data. As a government, we need to find ways to share cyber threat information with private industry. In return, we need information from the private sector about the activities they are detecting. Together, we can blend this information to improve cybersecurity in both the government and private sector.
It is my belief that this kind of public-partnership will be essential to keep up with the rapid advancements in technology and the barrage of threats to our national security.
Now, across these two examples of threats and partnerships, the common thread is information-sharing, which is absolutely critical to our effort to protect our homeland.
After September 11th, we developed a national-level information-sharing environment to disseminate terrorism-related information.
For instance, our 12 senior FBI agents in major cities around the country serve as my representatives. They convene their Intelligence Community colleagues, and when appropriate, state and local law enforcement and cleared private sector partners. This is a forum to pass along information, discuss threats, and ultimately foster greater collaboration.
We now need to expand this information-sharing mechanism to address the evolving threats to our homeland, like drugs, cyber, and transnational organized crime.
So I urge you to think about how we can strengthen our existing partnerships and build new ones. Think about how the Intelligence Community can support your mission. And think about we can best employ our collective data and wisdom to protect our citizens.
Whether you are at the Department of Homeland Security, a member of law enforcement, in the military, or with private industry…we have mechanisms for collaboration.
And with the threats we face, we can only keep pace through partnership.
Before I conclude my remarks this morning, I would like to take a moment to briefly comment on an issue which is just as critical to our success in preventing attacks on our homeland: Section 702 of the FISA law.
Section 702, which authorizes the government to conduct electronic surveillance on foreign targets operating outside the US, in order to acquire foreign intelligence is a key tool we use in the Intelligence Community to help us thwart foreign adversaries.
The Intelligence Community is working closely with Congress to reauthorize this provision, which – without reauthorization – expires at the end of the year. It is the IC’s top legislative priority, because foreign intel collected through 702 vitally protects this nation against international terrorism, cyber threats, and weapons proliferators to name a few.
But, beyond the intel value, it is worth noting that we have stringent protections and robust oversight to safeguard the privacy and civil liberties of all Americans. Section 702 is subject to rigorous oversight by all three branches of government, this is more extensive than any other IC authority.
And, over the past two years, we have made thousands of pages of documents publically available to help assure the American people that we take great care in how we use this authority.
The IC is committed to ensuring that our use of 702 is consistent with the laws and privacy protections in place …And as a U.S. citizen myself, I have (as we all do) a personal interest in this as well.
I bring up 702 this morning because without it we will lose the intelligence advantage we gained after 9/11 when our community made a purposeful effort to be more integrated.
We will lose our ability to see into terrorism plots against our homeland … or to warn some of our closest allies that we see plots building on their shores.
As homeland security professionals you should be extremely proud of how far we’ve come in sharing information and building partnerships – but the lesson we are all learning with the reauthorization of 702 is that we cannot afford to simply sit back and admire our progression … there is more work to be done.
We must work together to thwart our adversaries. And we must work together to help educate the American people that not just their security…but their privacy and civil liberties are of the utmost importance to us all. It can be very difficult to strike the balance between transparency and protecting our sources and methods, or even sharing amongst ourselves…but I am so impressed and grateful to work alongside such a dedicated group of public servants – who strive every day to do just that.
So, thank you for your contributions to our nation’s security, and I look forward to hearing the ideas that come out of this week’s discussions.
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