Homeland Security secretary tells Wesley College students of global terror threat

DOVER — U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson visited Dover Wednesday and opined on border security, digital threats and the presidential line of succession to Wesley College students.

He was in town to speak to the class of law and justice studies professor Charlisa Edelin, as well as other interested people. More than 100 individuals gathered in the Schwartz Center as Mr. Johnson detailed his department, which employs about 225,000 people and oversees Immigration, Customs, the Coast Guard and the Secret Service.

Jeh Johnson

Jeh Johnson

Mr. Johnson became the fourth secretary of the government’s newest department in 2013. He had previously worked in private law practice and as general counsel for the Air Force and the Department of Defense.

Today, the challenges officials face in keeping the nation safe are greater than ever, Mr. Johnson said.

“Now, the global terrorist threat is more complicated, more decentralized, more diffuse. There are more groups out there,” he said, noting the Internet lets organizations like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State spread their messages to larger populations with greater ease.

As a result, a “lone wolf” — someone inspired to perform violent acts based on what he or she sees from terrorist groups — poses more of a threat than before. That necessitates cooperation between agencies at both the federal and local levels.

“Homeland security is becoming a matter of hometown security,” he said.

While the department succeeds most of the time, it needs to be correct 100 percent of the time, and there are imperfections, the secretary admitted. He cited the fact that Wednesday was the two-year anniversary of the Boston marathon bombing, where two individuals used homemade bombs to kill three people and injure more than 200 others.

Mr. Johnson also spent time discussing immigration, which he called more challenging and polarizing than anything he has dealt with, including drone strikes, Guantanamo Bay and the issue of homosexuals and lesbians in the military.

“It is black and white to a lot of people,” he said of immigration. “The world is flat, or the world is round.

“You’re arresting too many people, or you’re not arresting enough. You’re deporting too many people, or you’re not deporting enough. There is no middle ground anymore, which is really, really unfortunate. It’s impossible to have an intelligent discussion anymore in Washington about immigration reform.”

The secretary expressed confidence Homeland Security is doing a good job of keeping the borders secure, noting public perception and media portrayal do not help the matter.

The United States apprehended approximately 1.5 million people in 2000, but the 68,000 Central American children stopped last summer got more attention, he said, despite the fact the agency had already shifted its focus to greater concerns.

By the time the media picked up the issue of the illegal immigrant children, it was on the downswing.

During his speech, Mr. Johnson handed out several special Homeland Security coins to students who answered his questions. Several volunteers weighed in on who the Secret Service protects (the president, the vice president, family members, former officeholders, main candidates and foreign heads of state) and who follows the president (the vice president, speaker of the House, president pro tempore of the Senate, secretary of State and down the line of departments), and while a few took several guesses to get there, their answers drew laughs and earned congratulations from the secretary.

Afterward, junior Jared Geyer, who is in Professor Edelin’s introductory class, said he found the speech interesting and informative. Though he does not have a particular enthusiasm for Homeland Security, he hopes to work for the government as an accountant one day.

He expressed surprise over Mr. Johnson’s admission he was a poor student as a teenager, earning Cs and Ds in high school.

A personal connection helped Ms. Edelin land a major speaker — Mr. Johnson is a cousin of her husband.

“It was absolutely excellent for the students. They do a lot of reading and writing, but it’s always great when they can actually see our history and our laws in action,” she said.

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com. Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

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