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Opinion | John Kelly

A race against those who seek our destruction

A man in Nogales, Ariz., talks to his daughter and her mother who are standing on the other side of the border fence in Nogales, Mexico. Rodrigo Abd/AP

Yesterday marked the 121st running of the Boston Marathon in my home city. The marathon is a testament to preparation, perseverance, and training.

Of course, four years ago the Boston Marathon also became a stark reminder of the very real threats we face every day.

Like yesterday’s marathoners, the women and men of the Department of Homeland Security are also in a race — a race against those who seek our destruction. And we have to not just win our race — we must also lead each step. America is under attack every single day from people who hate our country, our freedoms, our laws, and our values.

I’d like to address three of the most pressing threats we face — transnational criminal organizations, or TCOs, terrorism, and cyberattacks — and what DHS is doing to confront them.


I believe transnational criminal organizations — which include criminal gangs and drug cartels — are one of the greatest threats facing our nation. These organizations have developed multiple ways to traffic humans and move illegal goods into our country.

TCOs smuggle nearly four tons of heroin, cocaine, meth, and other illegal drugs across our border each day. In 2015, 52,404 people died from drug overdoses. It was the highest number of drug-related deaths our country has ever seen.

But smuggling has potential terrorist connections too — a nuclear, chemical, or dirty bomb could be among the illegal cargo.

There is no better argument for secure borders than TCOs, and since I was sworn in as the secretary of DHS three months ago, we’ve increased our efforts to actively secure our borders and enforce our immigration laws.

Our resolve has led to a dramatic reduction in attempted illegal migration across the southwest border. March apprehensions were 64 percent lower than the same time last year.

We’re also pushing the border out — to stop threats before they get here. This includes Coast Guard drug interdictions at sea, sharing information about suspected terrorists or criminals with our international allies, and developing technology that detects threats before they arrive at our


Terrorism remains as big a threat as ever. The FBI has open terrorism investigations in all 50 states, and since 2013, there have been 37 ISIS-linked plots to attack our country. The FBI is currently investigating more than 300 people — who initially came to the United States as refugees — for potential terrorism-related activities.

We are a prime target for exported violence from thousands of radicalized Europeans who have fought in Syria and Iraq, many of whom desire to use their battlefield experience and tactics to attack innocents in America.

As we learn about the latest tactics terrorists are using, we update our operations to ensure that we address today’s threat — not just yesterday’s.

For example, we recently banned electronics bigger than a cell phone on some commercial flights. This was a controversial call in some circles. But intelligence drove the decision, and we’ll continue to do what we need to do to keep Americans safe.

Beyond the threat of bombs and guns, we are also fighting sophisticated adversaries hell-bent on crippling our government networks and critical infrastructure systems. These networks and systems are being attacked hourly — networks that manage sensitive personal and financial information for millions of Americans, and systems that control our transportation systems and our electric grid.

Defending these networks and systems is a top priority. We’re partnering with industry to ensure we’re deploying cutting-edge tools across government networks, while bringing to bear the unique capabilities of the federal government to reduce systemic risks facing our nation’s most critical sectors.


Our success will be rooted in extensive training and preparation. It will be rooted in persistence and perseverance. It will be rooted in exercises and tests that simulate “race day” conditions. And it will depend on us staying ahead of our opponents.

No matter how dangerous the job or how fast the pace, our people continue to meet the challenge. Every day, the men and women of DHS are making our country more secure, serving as a first and last line of defense and standing guard against the forces that seek to destroy us. In return, we ask for your support and partnership in this vital mission. Together, we will keep America strong, secure, and free.

John Kelly is secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.