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Today's Realities in Homeland Security


The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, were acts of war against the United States and the principles of freedom, opportunity, and openness that define the American way of life. The severity and magnitude of the attacks were unprecedented, and that dark day became a watershed event in the Nation's approach to protecting and defending the lives and livelihoods of the American people.

Homeland Security Defined

Homeland Security is a concerted national effort to prevent terrorist attacks within the United States, reduce America's vulnerability to terrorism, and minimize the damage and recover from attacks that do occur.
Despite previous acts of terror on our Nation's soil – most notably the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center and the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City – homeland security before September 11 existed as a patchwork of efforts undertaken by disparate departments and agencies across all levels of government. While segments of our law enforcement and intelligence communities, along with our armed forces, assessed and prepared to act against terrorism and other significant threats to the United States, we lacked a unifying vision, a cohesive strategic approach, and the necessary institutions within government to secure the Homeland against terrorism.

The shock of September 11 transformed our thinking. In the immediate aftermath of history's deadliest international terrorist attack, we developed a homeland security strategy based on a concerted national effort to prevent terrorist attacks within the United States, reduce America's vulnerability to terrorism, and minimize the damage and recover from attacks that do occur. In order to help implement that strategy, we enhanced our homeland security and counterterrorism architecture at the Federal, State, local, Tribal, and community levels.

Our understanding of homeland security continued to evolve after September 11, adapting to new realities and threats. As we waged the War on Terror both at home and abroad, our Nation endured Hurricane Katrina, the most destructive natural disaster in U.S. history. The human suffering and staggering physical destruction caused by Katrina were a reminder that threats come not only from terrorism, but also from nature. Indeed, certain non-terrorist events that reach catastrophic levels can have significant implications for homeland security. The resulting national consequences and possible cascading effects from these events might present potential or perceived vulnerabilities that could be exploited, possibly eroding citizens' confidence in our Nation's government and ultimately increasing our vulnerability to attack. This Strategy therefore recognizes that effective preparation for catastrophic natural disasters and man-made disasters, while not homeland security per se, can nevertheless increase the security of the Homeland.


Throughout the evolution of our homeland security paradigm, one feature most essential to our success has endured: the notion that homeland security is a shared responsibility built upon a foundation of partnerships. Federal, State, local, and Tribal governments, the private and non-profit sectors, communities, and individual citizens all share common goals and responsibilities – as well as accountability – for protecting and defending the Homeland.

State and Local Governments

This Strategy defines "State" to mean any State of the United States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, or the trust territory of the Pacific Islands. This Strategy also defines "local government" as any county, city, village, town, district, or other political subdivision of any State, and includes any rural community or unincorporated town or village or any other public entity for which an application for assistance is made by a State or political subdivision thereof.
The Federal Government as a united whole – and not simply one or two departments or agencies – has a critical role in homeland security and leads in those areas where it has a constitutional mandate or where it possesses the unique capabilities to address the most catastrophic or consequential scenarios. Those areas include, for example, border security; intelligence missions; and detecting, tracking, and rendering safe weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The Federal Government also is responsible for developing national strategies as well as promulgating best practices, national standards for homeland security, and national plans, as appropriate. It also uses targeted funding based on a risk management approach to help ensure that homeland security partners are capable of working together effectively and efficiently – in a truly national effort.

America's constitutional foundations of federalism and limited government place significant trust and responsibility in the capabilities of State and local governments to help protect the American people. State, local, and Tribal governments, which best understand their communities and the unique requirements of their citizens, provide our first response to incidents through law enforcement, fire, public health, and emergency medical services. They will always play a prominent, frontline role in helping to prevent terrorist attacks as well as in preparing for and responding to a range of natural and man-made emergencies.

The private and non-profit sectors also must be full partners in homeland security. As the country's principal providers of goods and services, and the owners or operators of approximately 85 percent of the Nation's critical infrastructure, businesses have both an interest in and a responsibility for ensuring their own security. The private sector plays key roles in areas as diverse as supply chain security, critical infrastructure protection, and research and development in science, technology, and other innovations that will help secure the Homeland. The non-profit sector, including volunteer and relief groups and faith-based organizations, provides important support services for the Nation, including meals and shelter, counseling, and compassion and comfort to Americans, particularly in the aftermath of an incident.

In order to complete this truly national effort, we also must encourage and draw upon an informed and active citizenry. For instance, citizens should each understand what to do if they observe suspicious behavior in their community and what to do in the event of an attack or natural disaster – this will reduce the threat to lives and property as well as the burden on emergency managers and first responders.

Partnerships in homeland security also extend beyond our Nation's borders. International cooperation continues to be an enduring feature of our approach to terrorism and violent extremism, infectious diseases, and other threats that transcend jurisdictional and geographic boundaries. The United States will continue to develop and strengthen foreign partnerships and the homeland security capabilities of our friends and allies. Security at home ultimately is related to security abroad: as partners protect and defend their homelands, the security of our own Homeland increases.

Progress in Homeland Security and Beyond

We recognize that to the American people, progress should be measured not simply in terms of published plans or increased budgets; rather, it must be measured by the results that we achieve. Since September 11, we have made extraordinary progress, with most of our important successes in the War on Terror and in the full range of homeland security activities having been achieved through effective national and international partnerships. Our work, however, is far from over.

  • We have greatly increased worldwide counterterrorism efforts since September 11, which has constrained the ability of al-Qaida to attack the Homeland and has led terrorist groups to find that the Homeland is a harder target to strike. These measures have helped disrupt multiple potentially deadly plots against the United States since September 11.
  • We have instituted an active, multi-layered approach to securing the Homeland that integrates the capabilities of local, Tribal, State, and Federal governments, as well as those of the private and non-profit sectors, in order to secure the land, maritime, air, space, and cyber domains.
  • We have made our borders more secure and developed an effective system of layered defense by strengthening the screening of people and goods overseas and by tracking and disrupting the international travel of terrorists.
  • We have strengthened our ability to protect the American people by enhancing our homeland security and counterterrorism architecture through the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Homeland Security Council, the National Counterterrorism Center, and U.S. Northern Command, a Department of Defense combatant command focused on homeland defense and civil support.
  • The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) have made the prevention of terrorist attacks their highest priority, as evidenced by the creation of the FBI's new National Security Branch and DOJ's new National Security Division. We also have more effectively leveraged State, local, and Tribal law enforcement efforts as part of our national homeland security enterprise.
  • Through the targeted risk-based delivery of Federal grant funding and technical assistance, we have enhanced State, local, and Tribal homeland security training and equipment, emergency management capabilities, and the interoperability of communications.
  • We have taken a series of historic steps to address biological threats, both deliberate and natural. These steps include unprecedented efforts to develop and procure medical countermeasures against bioterrorism and pandemic threats, improve capabilities for the detection of and response to biological attacks, and support State, local, and Tribal preparedness efforts through funding and explicit guidance.
  • We have worked with the Congress to create, implement, and renew key legal reforms – such as the USA PATRIOT Act, the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, and the Protect America Act of 2007 – which promote security and help to implement both the 9/11 Commission and the WMD Commission recommendations while protecting our fundamental liberties. Furthermore, with the Military Commissions Act of 2006, the United States can prosecute captured terrorists for war crimes through full and fair trials.
  • Since September 11, the Administration has worked with the Congress to establish the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board as an integral part of the Executive Branch, and we have further established privacy officers in departments and agencies across the Federal Government – all to ensure that the rights of American citizens are considered and respected in our counterterrorism efforts.
  • We have created a full-scale, comprehensive National Exercise Program to increase our preparedness to respond to the consequences of terrorist attacks and natural disasters.
Challenges in Homeland Security and Beyond

While America is safer, we are not yet safe. Because of determined terrorist enemies and nature's unyielding power, significant challenges remain, including:

  • The War on Terror remains a generational struggle, and our entire Nation must be engaged and prepared to participate in this effort.
  • Terrorists have declared their intention to acquire and use weapons of mass destruction (WMD) to inflict catastrophic attacks against the United States and our allies, partners, and other interests.
  • Our vast land and maritime borders make it difficult to completely deny terrorists and their weapons access to the Homeland.
  • The United States is not immune to the emergence of homegrown radicalization and violent Islamic extremism.
  • We must counter potential waning in the sense of urgency and levels of international cooperation as September 11 becomes a more distant memory and perceptions of the terrorist threat diverge.
  • We must guard against complacency and balance the sense of optimism that is fundamental to the American character with the sober recognition that despite our best efforts, future catastrophes – natural and man-made – will occur, and thus we must always remain a prepared Nation.
  • Although we have substantially improved our cooperation and partnership among all levels of government, private and non-profit sectors, communities, and individual citizens, we must continue to strengthen efforts to achieve full unity of effort through a stronger and further integrated national approach to homeland security.
  • Although we have improved our ability to manage the risks that we face in the 21st century global security environment, we must enhance our ability to  measure risk in a consistent and commonly accepted fashion and allocate finite resources accordingly.
  • We must make additional reforms to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and ensure that the statute is permanently amended so that our intelligence professionals continue to have the legal tools they need to gather information about the intentions of our enemies while protecting the civil liberties of Americans.
  • While our information sharing capabilities have improved significantly, substantial obstacles remain. We must continue to break down information barriers among Federal, State, local, and Tribal partners and the private sector.
  • The Congress must better align its oversight and committee structure in order to reflect the need for streamlined and effective legislative action that supports a unified approach to securing the Nation.