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A Smarter, Tougher National Security Policy

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On Veterans Day, I delivered a speech on national security at the Homeland Defense and Security in Transition Symposium in Colorado Springs. The speech focused on Colorado's vital military installations and defense programs, my vision for a path to energy security, and the many evolving threats to our country.

Mark Udall

Full text of speech:

Good afternoon.

I am glad to be out of Washington and here in Colorado Springs -- but most of all, to spend time with so many of you who are dedicated to the defense of our nation.

It is fitting that we gather here on Veterans Day. Today is not only a time to honor the fallen, but also to thank the veterans among us.

I did not serve in uniform, although my father did. He was part of that generation we now call "the greatest" - the generation of veterans who saved Europe -- and the world -- from Nazism and Fascism.

My Dad's generation of veterans was followed by others - those who served in Korea, Vietnam, the first Gulf War and today in Iraq and Afghanistan.

While historians and politicians may endlessly debate the causes or conduct of war, I think there can be little debate that anyone who is willing to lay down their life for the safety of their fellow citizens is a hero.

We have many Colorado heroes here today. Let us give them a hand.

I also want to recognize Don Addy, General Eberhart, and the other distinguished members of the NHDF board.

Colorado is a home to heroes. We are also home to many vital military installations and national defense programs that keep America safe.

From the soldiers of the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Carson to the airmen of Space Command at Schriever and Peterson Air Force Bases to the aviators patrolling our skies out of Buckley Air Force Base, it's difficult to find any place in the country that can boast a stronger commitment to the armed services.

These installations - and our Homeland Security system - are part of a defense structure that is more critical than ever.

That's because we face external threats from traditional nation-states like North Korea and Iran, and internal threats by non-state actors in the form of terrorist networks like Al Qaeda.

Much of our attention has been justifiably focused on Iraq and Afghanistan. Our troops have been serving as warriors, diplomats, engineers, community planners, mediators, and peacekeepers, often in the course of a single day. And they have done so with incredible skill, valor, and determination.

I visited Afghanistan and Pakistan earlier this year and had the chance to visit with our troops. I also had the chance to meet with various government officials, and it is clear that while we are making progress in the region, we have a hard road ahead of us.

As we await an announcement by the president on any changes to our strategy in Afghanistan, I have been meeting with national security experts, generals and others to deepen my understanding of our strategic options.

I am increasingly of the view that the debate between counterinsurgency and counter-terrorism is a false one. We need a strategy that combines both. And I am committed to doing my part as a Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee to ask the right questions and support a strategy that advances our national security.

While our troops find, fix, and destroy Al Qaeda and Taliban forces in the mountains of Afghanistan and work to provide security in Iraq, we face a quieter but no less deadly threat right here at home.

A few weeks ago, here in Colorado, FBI agents arrested a young man, Najibullah Zazi, charging him with conspiring to manufacture and detonate homemade bombs here in the United States. Zazi's arrest was the result of a carefully planned and well-executed operation that will likely remain highly classified.

Zazi's arrest is an uncomfortable reminder that we cannot be complacent eight years after 9/11. It is also a reminder that like our troops fighting overseas, the Department of Homeland Security and federal law enforcement officers are in the front lines against terrorism.

That includes the men and women in our immigration, customs and border enforcement agencies.

These people do not seek fame, and they will probably never march down Broadway in a homecoming parade, but their service and personal sacrifice cannot be overstated. They were able to develop informants, acquire actionable intelligence, analyze data, and make arrests without a shot being fired.

The Zazi case is a prime example of the work that our Homeland Security agents do every day, and it is vital that we continue to provide them with the resources they need.

The Senate may address some of these resources later this year through a reauthorization of expiring provisions of the PATRIOT Act. Now as some of you may know, I opposed the original PATRIOT Act because I believed it went too far in stretching the limits of the Bill of Rights. In 2005, Congress reauthorized the PATRIOT Act, but provided additional oversight measures and sunsets on some of the surveillance authorities that had the greatest potential for government abuse of constitutional rights and civil liberties. Three of these provisions are set to expire at the end of this year. The Senate Judiciary Committee has reported out bipartisan legislation on ‘roving' wiretaps, orders for business records and the ‘lone wolf' provision, and imposes a new four-year sunset on the use of national security letters. It also strengthens oversight and judicial review.

I will read this legislation carefully before it comes to the full Senate floor for consideration. We must find practical ways to ensure that our Constitutional rights are protected while taking the steps necessary to defend our country against 21st century threats.

Last week's attack at Fort Hood, Texas is another tragic reminder that our nation faces threats from within. My Armed Services Committee colleagues and I have received detailed briefings from Army officials about the shooting. I am confident that the CID and FBI investigators will determine exactly what happened and what led to this horrific act of violence.

We do not yet know all the facts behind what happened at Fort Hood. Was it an act of domestic terrorism based in religious extremism? Was it an isolated case of violence by a terribly disturbed human being? Was the shooter a jihadist or a jihadist wannabe? When the facts are in we may find that all of these elements are true.

Whatever the case, it appears that important warning signs were missed. We must answer the victims and their families at Fort Hood with a full investigation. Most important, this investigation should be about facts and not politics. Lessons from Fort Hood will hopefully guide us to a more effective strategy in apprehending dangerous people and preventing attacks in the future.

On a global scale, the United States continues to face threats and challenges from other nations and organizations not directly affiliated with foreign governments. Radical Islamic jihadists continue to spread their violence.

American Special Forces operators recently destroyed a terrorist training site and killed senior Al Qaeda leaders in Somalia, a country in name only without any semblance of a functional central government. The lawlessness that allows warlords to maintain control over large portions of the country also creates conditions that are ripe for the recruitment and indoctrination of potential terrorists.

Similar conditions exist throughout parts of Indonesia, Pakistan, Western Africa, and Southwest Asia. Part of securing our homeland includes breaking the cycle of hopelessness, despair, and ignorance that makes young men vulnerable to the influence of radicals who would use them as human bombs.

In New York, Washington, Tanzania, Saudi Arabia, Bali, and Kenya, we have been made all too aware that a small contingent of determined terrorists can inflict terrible casualties and rattle our sense of security to the core. Without a determined effort to disrupt the conditions that create terrorists, we cannot hope to prevail with military superiority alone.

Against this challenge, a number of traditional nation states have also declared their hostile intent toward us and our allies. Iran and North Korea are working to develop nuclear weapons and delivery systems capable of reaching Europe and North America.

With regard to Iran, there are no easy answers. We've seen Tehran making significant advancements in its civilian nuclear program, which could lead to the production of highly enriched uranium. We are still waiting for Tehran's official reaction to an IAEA proposal to have Iran export its low-enriched uranium for processing, which could ease global fears over its nuclear program.

U.S. officials have suggested Iran doesn't have much more time to consider this deal before the international community launches a renewed push for sanctions. In the last few weeks, committees in both the Senate and the House have passed sanctions legislation that would punish foreign companies that sell refined gasoline to Iran and would ban most trade between the two countries.

While our options in Iran are limited, I think the Obama Administration has been right in organizing international pressure. We are going to need deep resolve to convince Iran that it cannot continue on a path of belligerence.

Our military strength, our diplomatic skill and our strategy in the region beyond Iran's borders are all part of this difficult, but necessary, puzzle.

We also know there is a significant cyber threat that threatens the security of our nation's vital information infrastructure. Our intelligence community has warned that some nations have the technical capability to target our information systems for intelligence collection - and potentially degrade or destroy information systems that are critical to our commercial and national security.

As Secretary Gates noted when he approved the creation of US Cyber Command in June, 2009, "Our increasing dependency on cyberspace, alongside a growing array of cyber threats and vulnerabilities, adds a new element of risk to our national security." I share his belief that we must take immediate and forceful steps to ensure that our cyber infrastructure is protected from attack from internal and external threats.

That US Cyber Command is led by a 4-star general demonstrates that network infrastructure is understood to be as important to national security as the protection of our borders, our airspace, and our interests overseas. We have already seen from recent denial of service attacks on American and South Korea government sites that our cyber security must be viewed as a national priority.

We rely on our networks for communications, data storage, and information management, and attacks on those resources should be viewed in the same light as kinetic attacks against our vital interests. Although we have come to rely heavily on network-based assets for so many civilian and military applications, that technology is still relatively new and will require a concerted effort to develop security measures that can keep pace with the fantastic rate of technological advancement and corresponding reliance on network-based systems that we have seen over the past decade.

At the ground level, it is clear that we must work to create more Homeland Security expertise, and we have seen a great deal of forward thinking right here in Colorado Springs. This fall, the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs began to offer graduate certificates in Homeland Defense, Security Intelligence, and Disaster Health.

The partnerships that Dr. Pamela Shockley-Zalabek has developed with US NORTHCOM, the Air Force Academy, and other federal agencies place UCCS in a unique position to serve as a center of excellence for modern security studies. UCCS is developing the next generation of homeland security experts. I can't think of another place in the country that provides comparable access to technology, leadership and expertise for graduate students, and I want to thank Pam, General Renuart, and the other military leaders for their foresight and dedication to this program.

Our military commands in Colorado have also established this region as the home of domestic defense. We are extremely proud of the essential work that is done by Air Force Space Command units stationed at Peterson, Buckley, and Shriever Air Force Bases. Their mission to "provide an integrated constellation of space and cyberspace capabilities at the speed of need" brilliantly captures the reality of on demand 21st century operations.

The Missile Defense Integration and Operations Center at Schriever AFB maintains uninterrupted surveillance of the world's skies and space to detect, track, and destroy missile threats from anywhere on earth. US NORTHCOM, headquartered at Peterson AFB, has successfully integrated military and civilian assets to protect the people of the United States, Canada, and Mexico from military and terrorist threats, natural disasters, and any number of other contingencies.

NORTHCOM and NORAD work quietly but constantly to secure our skies, our seas, and our communities.

Our national security is also deeply connected to our energy policies. We import most of our oil, and as has been noted by my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, many of the countries that provide oil imports don't like us very much.

Former CIA Director Jim Woolsey put it well when he said, "except for our own Civil War, this is the only war that we have fought where we are paying for both sides. We pay Saudi Arabia $160 billion for its oil, and $3 or $4 billion of that goes to the Wahhabis, who teach children to hate. We are paying for these terrorists with our SUVs."

I'm not opposed to SUV's by the way. I'd just like to see more of them run on natural gas.

My point is that we cannot fuel our economy or provide for our national defense without a different energy policy -- one that promotes natural gas, domestic sources and renewable sources like wind and solar power.

Some of the greatest and wisest advocates for sustainable energy are in the Pentagon and on military bases around the country.

Last month, I stood in support of the work being done by the members of Operation Free. This group of Iraq and Afghanistan vets is working to support energy independence. One of those supporters is General Gordon Sullivan, the former Chief of Staff of the Army. Regarding the threats posed by climate change, General Sullivan notes that "Military professionals are accustomed to making decisions during times of uncertainty...Even if you don't have complete information; you still need to take action. Waiting for 100 percent certainty during a crisis can be disastrous... The US has the responsibility to lead [on global climate change]. If we don't make changes, then others won't."

Our military has taken that message to heart and is implementing sweeping policies that will drastically reduce the consumption of fossil fuels. In Iraq, where over 50% of fuel consumption is expended to electrical generators, alternative energy systems will save lives by reducing the need for fuel convoys that are exposed to IEDs and ambushes. As we speak, engineers are installing sprayfoam insulation in tents and existing buildings to reduce the demand for air conditioning in the brutal desert heat.

At home, installations are building solar panels and wind turbines to cut their fossil fuel usage. It's not just Al Gore who is worried about the planet. Our very own Air Force Academy has committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2030.

As in so many cases where positive change has taken place, the military is leading the way.

We live in extraordinary times - filled not only with deep challenge, but also great opportunities. We are coming to understand, for example, that addressing our need for energy problems will not only help meet our national security challenge, it will also strengthen our economy. A stronger America obviously means tighter borders, travel security and maintaining the best equipped and trained military in the world, but it also means an economically prosperous nation with an educated and healthy workforce. It is about how we invest in the young minds of our children and how we treat each other in defense of our freedom.

In the spirit of bipartisan respect that I try hard to emulate in public life, let me close with one of my favorite Presidential quotes. Ronald Reagan said, "above all, we must realize that no arsenal, or no weapon in the arsenals of the world, is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women. It is a weapon our adversaries in today's world do not have."

Thank you.

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