The Homeland Security Project focuses on resiliency, border security, and the Department of Homeland Security’s efforts to address strategic questions regarding a massive and diverse policy enterprise that touches the life of every American.

For More Information:

Stacy Hannell, Faculty Assistant to Professor Juliette Kayyem
Phone: 617-496-1477
Email: stacy_hannell@hks.harvard.edu

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These policy papers, written for the Homeland Security Project, tackle a range of issues focused on improving homeland security for the United States and beyond. 


2022

A file photo stating an alert from the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

Internet Superpowers
Steve Johnson, November 2022

As inventions go, the Internet stacks up with the best of them: the lightbulb, automobile, maybe even fire. However, it’s time for policymakers to look carefully at how its swift transformation of society has affected freedom. Today’s disconcerting answer is that it breaks some essential tools for a civilized society. Furthermore, it equips people with “superpowers” that further rob individuals of their agency. Regulation focused on data privacy and misinformation misses this larger societal threat; public authorities must attend to civilizing the Web. The United States needs an agency devoted to empowering citizens to self-govern in cyberspace for generations to come. This call will reinforce U.S. strategic defenses against cyberattacks (for example, by the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the recent Cyberspace Solarium Commission). As this essay explains, bolstering the civility and transparency of our cyber lives also promises to reduce our vulnerability to such attacks.  Read the full paper (PDF).


This photo taken from night video provided by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection shows a smuggler dropping children from the top of border barrier in Santa Teresa, N.M.

Dismantling Migrant Smuggling Networks in the Americas
Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, June 27, 2022

The journey to the United States of economic migrants and asylum seekers from developing countries or countries at war is invariably perilous. At the same time, current migration trends
and organized mass irregular migrations pose substantial homeland security risks. This paper proposes the dismantling of migrant smuggling networks through intelligence and targeted actions as important elements both of border security and enforcement and humanitarian migration management. In addition to these policies, the U.S. government should collaborate closely with other governments to cooperatively redesign asylum systems. Read the full paper (PDF).


Trucks drive through floodwaters at the U.S.-Canada border crossing in Sumas, Washington.

Toward an Integrated North American Emergency Response System
Juliette Kayyem, June 23, 2022

To meet these challenges, North America must progress beyond the historic approach to cross-border emergency management, which has consisted primarily of sharing information, to a more systemic and operational cooperation. Establishing a North American approach is a key component to more comprehensive and effective emergency management structured to meet current and emerging threats. This paper briefly examines the history of emergency response coordination among the United States, Mexico, and Canada, highlighting some of the major bilateral, regional and non-governmental agreements. It analyzes the challenges in emergency response and the resulting shortfalls of existing agreements, as well as considering lessons from COVID-19 pandemic. These historic and current deficiencies support the creation of a more robust tri-lateral agreement to deal with the pressing nature of evolving emergency response threats in the future. The paper concludes with recommendations on how to adapt the current emergency response systems to function as a North American Emergency Response Compact. Read the full paper (PDF).


Picture of the badge of U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Toward a Better Immigration System
Doris Meissner and Ruth Ellen Wasem, April 11, 2022

This paper examines questions of structure—as compared with leadership and policy—and proposes changes that would enable more effective and humane implementation of the nation’s immigration laws. It identifies four key organizational areas of concern—mission, institutional structures, funding priorities, and institutional culture—essential to the vitality and governance of the U.S. immigration system. We argue that immigration is a system that spans both intra-DHS and interagency organizational entities and processes, and that it must operate as a system to successfully carry out its duties. Managing immigration as a system calls for coordinated operational capabilities, decision-making structures, and resource allocations. The paper provides recommendations that can be accomplished within the current authority of the secretary of homeland security and the executive branch. In addition, it closes with select proposals for a longer-term change agenda that would require legislation. Read the full paper (PDF).


2021

A man uses his smartphone

Integration of Effort
Sean Atkins and Chappell Lawson, September 02, 2021

This paper proposes that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) take the lead in supplementing the traditional “criminal justice” approach to countering transnational crime with strategies that aim to disrupt it and insulate Americans from its harmful effects. We contend the “Disruption Model” outlined here,* if broadly implemented, could significantly complement the current conventional approach, and produce materially improved results in managing the challenges of transnational crime and protecting the homeland from its ravages. Read the full paper (PDF).


U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Disrupting Transnational Criminal Activity: A Law Enforcement Strategy for Homeland Security
Alan Bersin and Chappell Lawson, May 21, 2021

Because threats to critical infrastructure present a broad danger to society, there is a significant public interest in securing their continuity of operations against cyberattacks. However, because most critical infrastructure is owned by private firms, the government must engage with industry in order to secure them. Unfortunately, the current strategy of engagement is flawed, and the recommendations of the recent Cyber Solarium commission—though valuable—will not solve the problem. A new policy must deliver true integration of effort between the federal government and the relatively small number of systemically important firms. The specific form of this partnership must be tailored to the idiosyncrasies of critical infrastructure sectors. Read the full paper (PDF).


a screen displays an information privacy notice on an iPhone

Improving Big Data Integration and Building a Data Culture for U.S. Border Security
Stephen Coulthart and Ryan Riccucci, March 25, 2021

Significant barriers remain for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to leverage big data, such as information sharing barriers between operational components as well as safeguarding data from breaches. These barriers are caused by a variety of factors. Like much of the U.S. government, CBP has struggled to develop a data culture receptive to changes brought on by the information technology revolution and has significant issues with its data governance standards, technology acquisition, and human capital development processes. This article explores these issues and offers recommendations to address these and other barriers to unlock the potential of big data for U.S. border security. Read the full paper (PDF).


2020

A person holding their passport and a flight boarding pass accompanied with it.

Lessons Learned: Why the United States Needs a Counter-Pandemic Border Strategy
Robert Bonner and Gillian Horton, September 28, 2020

Because there is an important role for improved, robust border screening against pandemics, we propose a Counter-Pandemic Border Strategy (CPBS) that draws on successful strategies put in place at foreign and U.S. ports of entry in the wake of 9/11, the last time the U.S. government reacted to a truly devastating threat at its borders. Although no single measure can eliminate threats such as terrorism or a pandemic, there are many countermeasures that can be taken, and given what is at stake, there is every reason to put the eight core elements of the CPBS in place. Based on the behavior of COVID-19, as well as new viral threats that are most likely to generate future pandemics, a robust border strategy can play a key role in “flattening the curve”: reducing both lives lost and damage to the U.S. and global economies. Once the United States adopts the CPBS, it should be internationalized through a multinational “SAFE Framework to Counter Pandemics. Read the full paper (PDF).


A picture of virus

COVID-19 and the Preexisting Weaknesses and Tensions Within Our Emergency Management Regime
Timothy Perry, July 06, 2020

This article identifies and analyzes several of those weaknesses and tensions. Overall, it concludes that while emergencies may be “locally executed, state managed, and federally supported,”1 the federal government must play a central and catalytic role in harmonizing national policy across the federalist system, and ensuring that states cooperate rather than compete with one another. The article proposes policy changes that would improve the United States’ approach to all threats and hazards while better integrating emergency management into the larger homeland security enterprise. Read the full paper (PDF).


health volunteers take swab samples from testees

Closing Critical Gaps that Hinder Homeland Security Technology Innovation
Nate Bruggeman and Ben Rohrbaugh, April 23, 2020

Effectively countering these threats, including by developing and supporting private sector-generated new technological solutions, is a core government responsibility. DHS is the U.S. government’s primary civilian public safety agency and the main source of government funding for nonmilitary development of public safety technologies. Unfortunately, DHS has a poor record of developing new technological solutions to advance its mission and address emerging threats. This article assesses the current situation, identifies lines of research that are urgently needed, and makes recommendations on how DHS can more effectively partner with industry and how new technologies can be quickly seeded. Read the full paper (PDF).


2019

Members of the New York Police Department's counterterrorism squad stand outside Trump Tower and next to a Gucci store window

Beyond CVE: Evolving U.S. Countering Violent Extremism Policy to Prevent the Growing Threat of Domestic Terrorism
Alexander Guittard, December 01, 2019

U.S. counterterrorism agencies lack the authorities, funding, and political direction to meet the evolving terrorist threat to the United States. Efforts to expand the counterterrorism toolkit to include prevention of all types of terrorism, known under the Bush and Obama Administrations as “countering violent extremism,” or CVE, and under Trump as “terrorism prevention,” have struggled to take hold and the programs have been underfunded and politically unpopular. These efforts have also suffered from the perception that they were biased towards stopping al-Qaeda and ISIS-inspired terrorism and have ignored the threat posed by “right-wing” terrorists. The United States must accept that counterterrorism should evolve beyond relying on law enforcement and intelligence alone to prevent the growing threat of domestic terrorism. This evolution should include developing a bipartisan consensus for addressing all forms of terrorism; funding the types of CVE programs we deliver overseas at home; and updating our terrorism laws to incorporate preventative and restorative approaches that build on the best practices and lessons learned from tackling other forms of crime and targeted violence, such as hate crimes and gang violence. Read the full paper (PDF).


(Cartoon art) a hand holding a smartphone showing a GPS app

The City-Sized Hole in U.S. GPS Planning
Steven Polunsky, November 21, 2019

Our society has become highly dependent on constant, real-time information about position, navigation, and timing. We typically access this information through cell phones or other devices that receive global positioning system (GPS) signals. Cities are particularly vulnerable to GPS failures and will become more so as Smart City initiatives produce results. Yet, we are missing opportunities to protect localities from potential disaster. This paper recommends efforts at all levels of government that could improve local government resilience, coordinate efforts, involve the private sector, and integrate these initiatives with federal planning for the future. Read the full paper (PDF).


A picture showing a U.S. passport with a world map in the background

Visa Overstays Play Outsize Role in Unauthorized Migration
Blas Nunez-Neto, September 24, 2019

On April 22, 2019, President Trump signed a Presidential Memorandum directing the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security “to find effective ways to combat the rampant number of overstays.” The White House fact sheet released with this announcement notes that twenty countries have visa overstay rates above 10 percent, and that one action being considered could be to limit the issuance of visas to countries with high rates of visa overstays. This paper will tackle the following questions: How big is the visa overstay problem? How does it compare to other forms of unauthorized migration? And what policy options are available to policymakers? Read the full paper (PDF).


The border of the U.S. and Mexico

The New Reality of Migrant Flows at the U.S. Southwest Border
Alan Bersin and Nate Bruggeman, June 26, 2019

The United States Government made remarkable progress from the 1990s through the early 2010s (coupled with changing demographic and economic conditions in Mexico) in improving security and reducing illegal immigration at its border with Mexico. Beginning in 2014, however, the situation changed, and it has deteriorated substantially in the last year. A flood of asylum seekers from the Northern Triangle countries of Central American—Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala—have overwhelmed U.S. (and Mexican) border officials. Urgent attention is required to address a mounting crisis, requiring action across numerous policy fronts: from foreign affairs and international assistance through reform of the U.S. immigration system and asylum law to amelioration of the dismal security conditions extant in the Northern Triangle. This all amounts to a positive development: not only does the agreement take President Trump’s threatened tariffs on Mexico off the table (at least for now), these steps have the potential to modestly deter and disrupt the human smuggling networks fueling the current crisis. However, the agreement is not a comprehensive and permanent solution. It remains to be seen how the agreement is implemented, including whether Mexico has the capacity and infrastructure to deport tens of thousands of migrants let alone to care properly for an increase in Central Americans waiting in Mexico. Consistent with the original analysis of this paper and accompanying recommendations, the situation still requires urgent attention and a concerted response from the U.S. Congress and the Executive Branch. Read the full paper (PDF).


2018

A Honduran migrant and her daughter peer through the U.S. border wall

Reducing Transaction Costs at North America’s Borders
Nate Bruggeman and Ben Rohrbaugh, March 20, 2018

The North American market is a significant driver of U.S. economic activity and competitiveness. Mexico and Canada are the United States’ two biggest export markets, making up over a third of overall U.S. exports valued at more than $580 billion. Imports from both countries contain far higher proportions of American content than goods that are imported from Asia or Europe. Nonetheless, and even recognizing the new era of North American trade created by the North American Free Trade Agreement, there are still significant logistical constraints to commercial flows within North America, with the result that the United States, Mexico, and Canada are effectively leaving money on the table in terms of competitiveness and job growth. And many of these constraints are tied to the efficiency of the countries’ ports of entry. Read the full paper (PDF).