Guest Column – Rep. Will Hurd: How to Stop Terrorists in their Tracks

The rise of ISIS has exposed the darkest side of humanity—at times manifesting their violent ideology at our very doorsteps.

The terrorist attacks in San Bernardino, Orlando, Brussels, and France demonstrate how individuals with the aim to do the most harm possible are taking advantage of security gaps and focusing on the most vulnerable of targets.

The most recent tragic attack in Nice on Thursday represents how it doesn’t take many people to wreak an enormous amount of damage and loss of life.

As a former undercover CIA officer, I’ve worked with my colleagues in the 114thCongress to approach the growing terrorist threat from a number of angles, including addressing the issue of terrorists’ ease of travel, combating terrorist recruitment strategies, and improving our own counterterrorism capabilities.

The first step in the battle against those seeking to do us harm is to prevent them from arriving here in the first place.

The House of Representatives has thoroughly examined this issue the past two years to determine what kind of legislation would effectively mitigate the threat of terrorist travel.

The Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015, introduced by Representative Candice Miller (R-MI), tightened the regulations surrounding individuals who qualify to enter our country without a visa under the Visa Waiver Program. It prevents individuals who have visited countries in which terrorist groups are known to operate from entering our country without undergoing the normal background check process to obtain a visa.

These terror attacks affect more than the country in which they are launched, they attach our way of life and shared values. Their victims are from all over the world, and as a world we mourn. I would be remiss if I did not include the names of the two Texans who were killed in Thursday’s attack in Nice: Sean and Brody Copeland—a father and a son who were on vacation in France.

Combating these kinds of terror attacks requires international cooperation. That is why this Congress has passed legislation aimed at assisting the international community in the effort to stop terrorists from enjoying ease of travel.

The Counterterrorism Screening and Assistance Act, introduced by Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), authorizes the Department of State to demonstrate the ways in which we are helping our foreign partners in their traveler screening capacity building efforts.

Similarly, the Enhancing Overseas Traveler Vetting Act, which I introduced this past February, authorizes the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of State to provide our foreign partners with software that we use at our borders to ensure those wishing to enter our nation do not pose a threat. The simple fact is that when our foreign partners are more secure, so are we.

Tracking foreign fighters is another key component of the battle against terrorist extremists. Both Rep. Frank LoBiondo’s (R-N.J.) Tracking Foreign Fighters in Terrorist Safe Havens Act and my Foreign Fighter Review Act of 2016 address this very issue. They contain language that calls for the stringent review of individuals known to have joined terrorist groups in conflict zones like Iraq and Syria and to cross check this list with our foreign partners and other terrorist watch lists. It is imperative that we keep close tabs on these individuals.

The House has also passed a number of bills aimed at combating terrorist recruitment. Chairman Michael McCaul’s (R-Texas) Countering Terrorist Radicalization Act authorized DHS develop training programs for local and state officials to better identify and respond to potential terrorist threats.

The Combating Terrorist Recruitment Act introduced by Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-N.Y.), authorizes DHS to use the testimonies of those who formerly participated in terrorist group activities as part of their countering violent extremism efforts and programs. These bills and a number of others demonstrate the ways Congress has carefully examined these issues and the specific actions we are taking to address them.

Most important, the 114th Congress has emphasized the importance of boosting our own intelligence-sharing capabilities at home so that law enforcement can have all the necessary tools and information to do their jobs. The Counterterrorism Advisory Board Act of 2016, introduced by Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.), actually establishes a board within DHS to coordinate its intelligence and counterterrorism activities.

The fight against terrorism will not be over tomorrow or next month, or even next year. The fight will endure for years to come, and as the threat changes, so too must we adapt to these transformations.

While we have successfully addressed vulnerabilities that terrorists would take advantage of if they could, there is more work to be done.

We will continue to pass effective legislation based on sound policies that stop in their tracks, those seeking to do us harm.

That is our promise. We will not let the American people down. 

A former undercover CIA officer, entrepreneur and cybersecurity expert, Will Hurd is the U.S. Representative for the 23rd Congressional District of Texas. In Washington, he serves as Vice Chair of the Maritime and Border Security Subcommittee on the Committee for Homeland Security, and as the Chairman of the Information Technology Subcommittee on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Follow him on Twitter, @HurdOnTheHill.