Highlights in the History of Homeland Security

Homeland Security

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has the mission of a safer and more secure America by preventing and responding to terrorist attacks, securing and safeguarding cyberspace,  analyzing and reducing threats and distributing warnings, enhancing security,  coordinating intelligence with state and local law enforcement agencies, facilitating legal immigration, enforcing and administering immigration laws, managing and patrolling our borders, using technology together with manpower and physical infrastructure to improve operational control, supporting legal employment by offering information and expanding the E-Verify program, providing coordinated responses to terrorist attacks as well as natural disasters and other large emergencies, securing critical infrastructure and information systems, responding to epidemics and other important duties.

Congress created the Department of Homeland Security in 2002 in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center. In November, 2002, President George W. Bush signed the Homeland Security Act. The new department combined 22 agencies from across the executive branch into one integrated and unified cabinet agency in order to improve efforts to safeguard the United States against terrorism, and DHS is one of the largest departments in the executive branch. DHS’ creation was the largest reorganization in the government since the days when President Harry Truman had to oversee the Department of Defense being a consolidation of the armed forces.

The framers explicitly stated in the Preamble of the Constitution that providing for the common defense was a crucial and basic government obligation. When George Washington became president in 1789, “common defense” meant primarily two things: defeating a foreign invasion and defending against Indians because settlers confronted Indians as the boundaries of the country pushed westward.  Military forces, including state militias, were raised to defend against England, Spain and France, with Britain considered the main enemy and the possibility of a second war invasion being the greatest threat. France, though a Revolution ally, had claimed ownership to a huge tract of land to the west, and that posed a potential threat to our interests. Spain held Florida and all the lands to the west not claimed by the French.

British and French naval ships preyed on American merchantmen. The Army and Navy were the homeland defense. Congress authorized the Army to strengthen or build harbor defenses and the Navy to build ships to defend America’s sea lanes.

Unfortunately, all the defenses were not successful. During the War of 1812, Fort Washington and the one that is now McNair could not stop the British from capturing and burning Washington. The forts were in place but did not have the manpower to adequately garrison them. Later in the war, the British wanted to burn Baltimore, but eyewitness Francis Scott Key was inspired to write “The Star-Spangled Banner” when Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor successfully withstood a British naval onslaught.

Defense has been the first priority since the founding of our country and Americans continue to call for more military involvement in homeland defense.  Sept. 11 changed the world as much as the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki did many years earlier. The threats to America have changed and evolved, and increased the demand for those with homeland security certification, but whatever happens, the Defense Department will play a major role in defending America.


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