“We are a Nation under attack. . . . And we are under attack every single day. The threats are relentless.” On Tuesday, Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly delivered remarks at George Washington University’s Center for Cyber and Homeland Security. Here are the highlights from Kelly’s sober message to the world.


The tone of Secretary Kelly’s remarks puts the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on the defensive against attacks. But not defense against attacks from terrorists, drug smugglers, illegal immigrants, or the like. While describing the incredibly broad and more and more complex mission the Department of Homeland Security performs every day—from rescuing distressed fishermen to capturing child predators and every threat to the homeland in between—Secretary Kelly described DHS as an agency under attack from the likes of media; from ill-informed federal, state, and local representatives; from what Kelly described as lethargic Americans too busy surfing Facebook or watching Netflix to really under the significant threats they face on the drive home from work, or the significant work DHS is doing on their behalf.

According to Kelly, DHS itself is under attack by the very population it serves: “a population the vast majority of whom will never know they are protected by such dedicated and well trained public servants.” Like Kelly’s colleague CIA Director Mike Pompeo declared at the end of his remarks on April 13 (in response to attacks by hostile intelligence services and others who “demean and distort the work and achievements of CIA and of the broader Intelligence Community”), Kelly declared at the conclusion of his own remarks that the assault on the moral of DHS employees ended January 20, inauguration day.


Secretary Kelly was blunt in challenging enemies of DHS and defending the DHS workforce. DHS employees are, according to Kelly (and, again, very much like beleaguered employees at the CIA), demoralized, “ridiculed and insulted by public officials, and frequently convicted in the court of public opinion on unfounded allegations testified to by street lawyers and spokespersons.” He said, “If lawmakers do not like the laws they’ve passed and we are charged to enforce—then they should have the courage and skill to change the laws. Otherwise they should shut up and support the men and women on the front lines.”

Clearly, Secretary Kelly intends to begin to boost morale of his DHS workforce by making clear on whose side he is on—their side. “My people,” Kelly said, “have been discouraged from doing their jobs for nearly a decade, disabled by pointless bureaucracy and political meddling, and suffered disrespect and contempt by public officials who have no idea what it means to serve.”


Unlike CIA Director Pompeo, who recognizes that the CIA sometimes makes mistakes in performing its mission even as he defends the overarching integrity of the CIA effort, Secretary Kelly conceded no  ground, promising never to apologize in the last lines of his remarks: “We will never apologize for enforcing and upholding the law. We will never apologize for carrying out our mission. We will never apologize for making our country more secure.”

When I started reading Kelly’s remarks, remarks of an old Marine, I expected not too much humor. I wasn’t disappointed. The question is whether traditional Marine rhetoric and declarations will snap formations of DHS employees and the agency’s assaulting Army of critics into ship shape.

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Ed Ledford enjoys the most challenging, complex, and high stakes communications requirements. His portfolio includes everything from policy and strategy to poetry. A native of Asheville, N.C., and retired Army Aviator, Ed’s currently writing speeches in D.C. and working other writing projects from his office in Rockville, MD. He loves baseball and enjoys hiking, camping, and exploring anything. Follow Ed on Twitter @ECLedford.