This commentary originally appeared in Homeland Security Today, June 11, 2018.
For decades the U.S. has screened and vetted those who wish to enter the United States or apply to come to U.S. as visitors, immigrants or refugees. While technology and threats have changed, what has remained the same is the need for our officials on the front lines to have the most up-to- date and accurate information to decide who should or should not be allowed to enter our country.
To that end, earlier this year the National Vetting Center (NVC) was created to strengthen, simplify, and streamline the complex, ad hoc, and sometimes inefficient ways that intelligence is used to inform operational decisions related to screening and vetting. Despite the hype, I believe the NVC should not be viewed as part of the heated national debate on extreme vetting. Instead, the NVC should be viewed as the continuing improvement of effective security processes to improve the security of our travel, immigration and trade infrastructure. Specifically, I believe there are three added benefits to the government and to America’s overall national security posture with the launch of the NVC.
First, the practices and procedures that the U.S. government uses for screening and vetting must be dynamic and continually evolve in terms of throughput, redress, privacy, and accuracy. The NVC is a positive step in that direction. Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the U.S. created a system to better protect the homeland against potential terrorists. Lessons learned after each attempted terrorist plot since 9/11 caused the government to incrementally mature the system but never fully institutionalize these best practices in one organization.
While U.S. intelligence, law enforcement and security professionals continue to scour the globe for transnational criminals, spies, drug smugglers and weapons proliferators trying to enter the country illegally or with bad intent, the NVC can serve as a single place to analyze a broader set of applicable government information – with the right privacy regime to ensure that the right analysts have access to the proper information at the right time.
Second, I believe the NVC is a smarter use of the government’s existing knowledge, expertise, and money, as well as a realization of the post-9/11 mission to connect the dots of those transiting to the homeland for nefarious reasons.
Threats are not the only thing that have changed since the turn of the century. Technology has clearly evolved at a near exponential pace. Through the NVC, federal agencies will have the ability to use the NVC’s tools and analytic programs in a consolidated, efficient, and streamlined fashion with greater accuracy and speed than ever before. This approach would allow for secure information sharing at a volume and speed that was not possible just five years ago.
Through the creation of the NVC, the U.S. government will have an agile center that can evolve as the threats to the homeland evolve. The threat picture is ever-evolving and the government needs to move quicker to counter the tools that our adversaries are using. Today’s technology will allow agencies to maintain control of their data and permit it to be accessed securely and only by those with the right and proper authorities for the purpose of a specific, legally authorized screening mission.
Finally, the NCV will allow for better coordination and collaboration. Right now, agencies are screening and vetting people properly and with much success – the system is not broken. But we can do it better. And we can expand the work beyond the counterterrorism-only focus of the past 17 years. The NVC will allow for a “task-force” approach to these activities rather than the ad hoc mechanisms that currently exist. Co-locating vetting analysts from different agencies will allow these trained professionals to collaborate, share information where appropriate and access the expertise that resides within each agency to make better, more timely and more informed decisions – including redress decisions. And this scalable model will provide agencies the flexibility to meet the evolving threats we no doubt will face in the coming years as terrorists, criminals and others change their tactics in an attempt to evade the latest vetting protocols.
As the former Under Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis at Department of Homeland Security (DHS), I helped to tackle these same issues while serving in the last administration. I commend DHS for picking up where we left off. And it is my hope that they can build on our path to strengthen this capability with the right outcomes from the start.
It is important that the NVC is a government asset and does not belong to one department or component. It is also important that the NVC is a truly joint facility that allows assignees from across the interagency to collaborate, co-train, and fuse intelligence and experience within the art of screening and vetting. I wish the first director of the NVC my very best: This problem is not insignificant and yet the solution is ever-critical to the protection of our homeland.