Homeland Security – What Is It?

The Department of Homeland Security was created in 2002 after the ensuing chaos and paranoia that gripped the nation following the commercial airliner attacks that leveled the twin towers in New York City. Its mandate is to ensure a safer, more secure America, safe against threats of terrorism, both foreign and domestic. There are numerous departments within the organization, each of which is focused on a different aspect of security, from computer security, immigration, nuclear detection to Intelligence analysis, the Secret Service and transportation. Homeland security, unlike previous government organizations, has a broad range of abilities that may include the suspension of an individual’s civil rights under certain circumstances which include, but are not limited to, incarceration without being charged.

The Homeland Security website at dhs.gov provides links to various pages that offer information such as what to do if you become a victim of a cyber attack, how to get a green card for citizenship in the United States, as well as information about subjects such as the recovery of lost and stolen arts and antiquities, human trafficking, the Transportation Safety Administration, and many other topics. Also included on this website are contact links for both Homeland Security and alternate agencies that can investigate suspicious activity or handle terroristic threats.

Since 9/11, there have been many changes made in the way we are able to move around and conduct ourselves as citizens of the United States. That date has created so much of an uproar that it seems that the government looks at each and every person in this country as being a threat to our nation’s security. No longer do we have the same freedoms as we had before this terrible day. In essence, the terrorists won. They have created such a fervor and fear that we can no longer call ourselves free.

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While the government claims to be making our borders safer for all of us, the truth is that drug smuggling is at an all time high, illegal immigrants numbers are on the increase and the few incidences that have been deemed terroristic were once simply referred to as single tragic events. Rather than keeping us safe, it appears that all they seem to be doing is making life harder for the average American. We are the ones who, in essence, are being trapped in our own country, having to jump through hoops to do anything or go anywhere. No longer can we simply pack up the kids in the family car and hop across the border for a day trip to Canada or Mexico. We have to have the proper papers and have paid the proper fees, are subject to invasive searches of our persons and/or vehicles, and must prove ourselves innocent in the face of a presumptive guilty viewpoint.

Even when flying from state to state, we are subjected to searches and metal detectors such as those formally reserved for high security inmates at federal prisons. Searches, which, the government says, are to keep us safe. Cameras and other devices watch our every move, all in the name of supposed protection. There are few places where we can go privately anymore. It seems that someone is always watching; shades of Orson Welles ‘1984’ come to life.

In the sky above, are also the eyes of others. Satellites which are designed to watch over us have become so advanced that they can also see our every move. While this can be considered to be good protection against the criminals and their activities, it can also be seen as being a way for others to track us, spy on us and ultimately control us, as was done to the population of pre-war Germany by the Nazis.

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With the computer and other electronic devices becoming more and more powerful and advanced, the Department of Homeland Security’s cyber crime department is working on over load. Their job is to keep the government’s information that is stored on the millions of gigs of hard drives safe from hackers who would take this information and sell it to the highest bidder. Bidders who would see this country brought down or harmed, simply on the basis of a religious belief. These cyber task forces combat not only threats to the government, but also corporate and public threats such as Corporate Security Breaches, Spear Phishing, and Social Media Fraud.

They have developed programs which are designed to help inform citizens of ways that they can keep their computers, as well as the information that is stored on them, safe. The Stop.Think.Connect.™ Campaign helps the general public recognize cybersecurity challenges and become empowered to address them.

The Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities Program is a more recent addition to the Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Security Investigation’s (HSI) portfolio. It is their responsibility to investigate the loss and/or theft of art and cultural heritage from places around the world, help to recover these items and subsequently return them to their rightful owners.

Since 2007, special agents from Homeland Security Investigation have been participating in a special training program that teaches agents the latest techniques and trends for conducting criminal investigations of cultural property. As part of this program, the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum Conservation Institute provides agents with on-site training to teach them how to handle, store, photograph and authenticate cultural property and works of art.


by Michelle Hoffmann