Homeland Security and the United States

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The idea of homeland security in the United States is a new take on the old concept of domestic security. Born after the events of September 11th, 2001, the concept of homeland security began enshrined with the creation of the Department of Homeland Security in 2003.As an idea dedicated to the prevention of future terrorist attacks in the United States, it is an idea specific to the United States. Homeland security is defined as the broad series of efforts by the United States to prevent future terrorist attacks against its citizens and possessions. Initially grouped under the broad umbrella term of national security, homeland security has, since September 11th, taken on a life of its own in terms of its importance as a realm of security apart from traditional national defense interests.

Though the issue of terrorism had always been prevalent, it was not until the events of September 11th, 2001, that the matter of homeland security became a dominant theme in American political discourse. Kemp (2012) argues that September 11th heralded the start of the “initiation and implementation” of completely new national defense measures aimed at preventing future terrorist attacks (p. 28). The attacks of that day killed nearly 3,000 American and foreign citizens and forever changed of American defense policy; after 9/11, the issue of terrorism from domestic and foreign sources was catapulted to the front of the national consciousness. Zakheim (2011) maintains that homeland security in the form seen in the United States is completely unique, as only the United States has experienced such a radical shift in domestic and foreign policy as a result of terrorist attacks.

Homeland security in the United States, then, marks the reorientation of a supremely powerful traditional military trained to fight against a conventional foe to a smaller, more streamlined military and national intelligence service aimed at finding and eradicating terrorist cells. Only in the United States has such a dedicated response to terrorism ever developed, and it bears mentioning that the American idea of homeland security is one where terrorism is elevated to the level of a distinct and separate threat, apart from conventional militarized enemy states. In other words, the establishment of homeland security as a dedicated facet of American defense policy makes the idea of a strong response to terrorist threats a uniquely American concept.

Homeland security is a broad umbrella term that refers to the collective efforts of American defense organizations to prevent future terrorist attacks against the United States. Specifically, the Department of Homeland Security, established officially in 2002, assumes a leadership role in all efforts at maintaining domestic security efforts against terrorist attacks. Homeland security responds to terrorism, which is a form of attack against a sovereign state that breaks with “traditional threats to security” (Agus-Yusoff, 2012, p. 244). Thus, homeland security can be defined as the policy efforts, organizations, and overall unified response to the direct threat of terrorism.

Furthermore, the Department of Homeland Security acts as the official embodiment of the concept of protection against different types of terrorism. The DHS itself states that the “vision of homeland security is to ensure a homeland that is safe, secure, and resilient against terrorism and other hazards” (Our Mission, 2013). As a conglomeration of previous haphazard attempts at formulating a solid national security policy towards terrorism, the DHS is the agency tasked with ensuring terrorist attacks against the United States remain a relic of the past. The DHS defines the idea of homeland security as the three-part effort to “protect, respond, and recover” from terrorist activity. In addition, the DHS takes the issue of immigration seriously, and has significant weight in determining federal immigration policy.

The concept of homeland security has evolved from one of minor importance to what is perhaps the single greatest focus of national security efforts for the entire country. Initially, terrorism in the United States was approached as a function of non-dedicated federal law enforcement agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation and National Security Agency. The FBI, for example, would approach matters of domestic terrorism under its jurisdiction through the use of the Counterterrorism Division (CTD). However, despite the presence of some dedicated divisions within larger national organizations that were focused on counterterrorism efforts, there was no single entity charged with the terrorism defense of the entire country as a whole (Kemp, 2012). The NSA, moreover, would find itself tasked with collecting intelligence and performing counterintelligence operations more than preventing actual attacks of terrorists. The FBI, then, would provide the manpower and resources necessary to act on the information the NSA gathered. In addition, the NSA would be forbidden by law to gather intelligence of United States citizens and is intended as a national intelligence effort aimed at creating databases and profiles of information useful to law enforcement.

The attacks of 9/11, however, catapulted counterterrorism to the forefront of American security discussions. President George W. Bush created the Department of Homeland Security in the aftermath of the attacks and integrated many distinct federal agencies into a single cohesive entity. Much of the reasoning for the creation of this new entity was that the United States suffered from a lack of organization and centralization of counterterrorism activities, and that the inability to communicate information easily and clearly was due to the structural difficulties of organization (Kemp, 2012). In contemporary American politics, the Department of Homeland Security is the principal federal agency dedicated to prevent, address, and recover from acts of terrorism against the United States. This marks the first time in American history that a completely independent and separate federal agency has been tasked with counterterrorism duties; prior to this, counterterrorism was the responsibility of under-funded and ill-equipped federal agencies, such as the CTD of the FBI.

Homeland security differs from national security in the sense that homeland security is expressly aimed at preventing terrorist attacks against the United States and does so independently of other organizations. Prior to the development of the modern DHS, counterterrorism operations were largely subsets of other, broader national defense goals. The FBI, for example, would focus on domestic crimes in the United States, and would address homeland security as a mere subset of its larger duties. The birth of the DHS, then, is remarkable in the sense that it is the first national effort to address the problem of terrorism, and also that it defines for the first time a truly united effort at presenting homeland security as an independent and, most significantly, equally important as other, conventional national defense goals. Instead of homeland security being a responsibility of the military or civilian agencies tasked with other goals, it is now an aspect of national defense as integral to the wellbeing of the nation as the traditional military. Thus, homeland security breaks the idea of national security in the sense that homeland security is now institutionalized as a counterterrorist operation, whereas prior to 9/11, it would be considered a subset of other, larger efforts.

In conclusion, the concept of homeland security is a distinctly American one, born out of ashes of the attacks of September 11th, 2001. For the first time in history, there exists a federal agency whose sole purpose is to eliminate potential terrorist attacks and act to preserve American lives and infrastructure against non-conventional enemies. The modern face of homeland security, which is the federal government’s Department of Homeland Security, embodies these values in their purest form, and attempts to integrate various national efforts at counterterrorism into a single, cohesive unit. Though the concept of homeland security has taken on a new sense of importance after the attacks of September 11th, 2001, it is clear that the development of this vitally important aspect of national defense will continue to evolve.


Agus-Yusoff, M., & Soltani, F. (2012). Negative-positive Security and the United States. Asian Social Science, 8(15), 244-249.

Kemp, R. L. (2012). Homeland Security in America Past, Present, and Future. World Future Review (World Future Society), 4(1), 28-33.

Zakheim, D. S. (2011). What 9/11 Has Wrought. Middle East Quarterly, 18(4), 3-13.