Top DHS Counterterrorism Official Talks About Pressing Threats
John Cohen of DHS explains domestic terrorism
By Lauren O'Malley, UNO MBA student
John Cohen, Homeland Security’s coordinator for counterterrorism and assistant secretary for counterterrorism and threat prevention, was NCITE's keynote speaker. With more than three decades of experience in law enforcement, counterintelligence, and homeland security, and even previous experience working for President Obama, his remarks were both informative and inspiring.
Cohen addressed how the threat environment has changed, the use of online platforms to spread narratives, and the role academic institutions and the private sector play in countering terrorism. First, the threat environment looks very different than it did 20 years ago, before 9/11, as the threats today are dynamic, complex, and rapidly evolving. He said how we approach these threats must keep up with how quickly they are changing. The use of online platforms to spread “toxic narratives intending to incite violence” is an example of the evolving threat. Cohen said understanding how they use the platforms, what narratives are being shared, and how likely they are to incite violence are all key elements DHS needs to evaluate threats. This provides an opportunity for academic institutions and the private sector to come in.
Cohen referenced DHS’s partnership with NCITE in analyzing the threat environment and providing the government with crucial data to determine how to build resilience. Cohen’s speech was a reminder of the value of partnership. There is a direct need for the research NCITE and other academic institutions can do and already are providing, he said. Cohen said he finds hope in students and the future DHS workforce, observing "the passion, the intelligence, the sense of wanting to do what’s right, wanting to change our society that exists in universities and colleges around the country."
"Knowing that those people are going to be the next generation of leaders gives me a lot of hope,” said Cohen, who has taught at Georgetown and Rutgers. “(Students) are the reason I get up every day because I am hopeful that they are going to not only make us better able to address the threats but they are also going to help change the society in the way that we need to change."
Additionally, he reminded attendees that they can be inspired by the current DHS workforce.
“While government gets a bad name, there are a lot of people in government today who wake up each day and who are absolutely committed to keeping our nation safe, keeping our communities safe, and they do so under very difficult conditions," he said. "The fact that they wake up each day and are committed to protecting our nation tells there are still people who are good out here.”
When asked where he wants to be one year from now, Cohen said he wanted to see better integration of the digital and physical worlds, expansion of the ability to give help to those who are in need in our communities, and less societal polarization.