Senator Lankford Questions Top Homeland Security and FBI Officials on Threats to the Homeland

CLICK HERE to view the video of Lankford’s Q&A.

WASHINGTON, DC –Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today questioned Department of Homeland Security Secretary (DHS) Kirstjen Nielsen and FBI Director Christopher Wray during a Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC) hearing entitled “Threats to the Homeland.” Lankford’s questions focused on protecting the US through supply chain management after a recent news report identified China placed microchips in motherboards to gain access to the US government communications, DHS’s work to secure the Northern Triangle of Central America, and acknowledged the continued efforts by DHS to ensure unaccompanied children at the border are well-cared-for.

In June, Lankford introduced the Federal Acquisition Supply Chain Security Act (FASCA) of 2018 following national security issues with the use of Kaspersky and ZTE products. The legislation would establish a council to equip the government with the policies and processes for sharing information and evaluating supply chain risks earlier in the IT purchasing cycle. In January, Lankford traveled to Mexico and Central America to meet with foreign leaders about security operations, counternarcotics operations, and drug trafficking.

Excerpts of Hearing Q&A

Lankford (0:11-0:43): Secretary Nielsen let me start with you. There are some questions that came up on a Bloomberg article just a few days ago about supply chains and the accusation that China as a government from the article itself was working with individuals with within manufacturing to put microchips into motherboards that would then get access to all parts of communication and all parts of the American government including national defense resources. Talk for a minute on DHS and what you’re doing on supply chain management and trying to be able to protect us from foreign threats?

Nielsen (0:45-1:40): So this is a particularly pernicious threat as you well know because it’s very difficult for the average citizen company or government entity to understand every component that was put into a part or piece of equipment or network they have purchased. At DHS we have created the National Risk Management Center. Under that center, we have an Information Communications Technology Task Force on supply chain. We are working very closely with the private sector to break down the supply chain and give them much more awareness on the types of companies they are purchasing from. We provide them with intelligence with respect to whether those companies could pose a threat and certainly within DHS, I have asked for a complete overhaul on the way in which we look at contracting to make sure that any vendor who works with DHS is complied with basic security. We also have used our binding operational directive when needed in the case of Kaspersky to make sure that is removed from all federal networks.

Lankford (1:41-2:00): At this point, is there a greater threat from manufacturing from China who is deliberately trying to gain access to information and the movement of information in the United States? Is there a greater threat from China than there has been historically? Is that a growing threat?

Nielsen (2:00-2:23): I would echo Director Wray’s description of China. They are bringing everything they have to bear. They are trying to influence us in every way possible, and we do see them very active in the cyberspace. We appropriately share it with the private sector to make sure they’re up to speed on the tactics. 

Lankford (3:22-5:18): Secretary Nielsen, you have a very difficult task that’s been interesting to be able to hear the dialogue around this dais today. When you have thousands and thousands of kids that are coming at you that you’re trying to be able to manage and care for, which foreign leaders have come to the United States to see how their kids are taken care of and have walked away impressed saying, “Okay – our kids are being well-cared-for.” They have an understanding from those governments that these individual kids or these families have crossed the border illegally, they’ve crossed thousands of miles, they’ve slept on the open ground in dirt and not had access to good food, have not had access to shelter, have been moved by human smugglers. Then they come to the United States and they’re treated with dignity, they’re put in a place, they’re provided with food, they’re provided shelter, they’re provided safety that they’ve not had in several weeks. It’s interesting for me to hear the note and the accusation to you that you detain children, when you’re actually trying to be able to manage and provide care to kids that have not had care, sometimes from their own parents, and sometimes at all from anyone for weeks at that point. I do appreciate what you’re doing. You’re putting a positive face forward for America to be able to help provide care for kids that are in a vulnerable moment, so I appreciate that. 

I also appreciate what you’re doing working with the Northern Triangle and with Mexico. Can you help me understand where that’s going, because I know there is a lot of dialogue with the Northern Triangle. This Congress has voted three years in a row to put over $600 million towards helping stabilize Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Three years in a row. $600 million each year, plus being able to fight corruption, provide judicial stability, help fight off drug interdictions and such to be able to help.

You’re also engaging at a different level. Help me understand that.

Nielsen (5:18-6:30): There’s quite a few components that go into it, as you know. Working directly with the three countries in the Northern Triangle, Mexico, Columbia, Costa Rica, other countries in the region, I have asked us to work on a regional approach to counter-smuggling. The smuggling epidemic is not a United States problem, it’s not a Mexican problem, and it’s not a Northern Triangle problem. We all have to work together to dismantle it, so that’s one part. Part two is making sure the countries from which they originate are as stable as possible, that they provide health, care, food in some cases, but employment opportunities. The more and more we have dug into this over the last year in conjunction with the United Nations, what we have found is the vast majority of those leaving the Northern Triangle leave for family reunification, leave for economic opportunity, and in some cases in some areas for a lack of food security.