The event brought out both veteran and newly elected officials, including Senator-elect Bob Casey Jr., who gave the night's opening remarks; Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz; Congressman-elect Joe Sestak, Congressman-elect Patrick Murphy; and representatives from Congressmen Chaka Fattah's and Jim Gerlach's offices.
Two senior members of the House Homeland Security Committee — Congressman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Congressman Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) — gave the keynote addresses for the night, and spoke about bipartisan work in their committee.
Thompson and Lungren are working together to pass H.R. 4942, the Promoting Antiterrorism Capabilities Through International Cooperation Act, which passed in the House, but has stalled in the Senate.
The bill calls for the creation of the International Cooperative Programs Office within the Directorate of Science and Technology in the Department of Homeland Security, which will share technologies and strategies in counterterrorism among the United States and its allies.
Working on Cooperation
The Office of International Cooperation will work to build up "credibility and respect," and foster personal relationships between people in law enforcement and intelligence communities, and their foreign counterparts, said Lungren in an interview after the event.
The current efforts are "as good as any level of cooperation that we've ever had," he said, noting that cooperation is "far greater today than it was before 9/11."
"Sept. 11 underscored the importance of the United States tapping into the knowledge of our allies," said AIPAC spokesperson Jennifer Cannata.
With Israel's past and current experience dealing with terrorism, it's "a natural and ideal ally in this effort," she added.
Lungren noted that law enforcement called upon to deal with counterterrorism issues — such as the Capitol Police in Washington, D.C. — have had success in the training they received from Israeli forces, who have had more extensive experience in responding to terror threats on a regular basis.
In a statement, Thompson noted a particular example of Israeli training in action in the United States: Screeners at the Transportation Security Administration are being taught behavior recognition techniques by Israeli experts, giving them access to new information to determine whether a passenger needs to be examined more closely.
Thompson said the program has built-in protections against racial profiling and other civil-liberties violations.
"The 9/11 attack triggered a major paradigm shift in the way we view national security," he said. Sharing intelligence needs to cross borders, he added, "while ensuring the civil liberties of citizens around the world."
"AIPAC's expertise in policy is an invaluable resource," continued Thompson, "particularly in nuclear proliferation and in countering terrorism throughout the world."
While Israel has a great deal of experience in counterterrorism, affirmed Lungren, the United States has an advantage in research and development capital investment.
"We're still the big guy on the block on some of these things," he added, referring to the extensive U.S. research-and-development community.
"When you collaborate on these projects, you stretch yourself," said Lungren, stating that cooperation is not the only spur of growth — the intellectual rivalry also kicks in, advancing technology as partners do their best to try to top one another.
He described the balance of protecting civil liberties with security as "a continual challenge," adding that the Department of Homeland Security is continually searching for new strategies "that allow us to connect the dots while still respecting the written constitution that we have," he said.
Watching Their Backs
For both men, a key to keeping tabs on all this has registered with the House Homeland Security Committee.
"I think we have done pretty vigorous oversight," said Lungren, "but we need to do more."
He added that such oversight, when it existed, was not micromanaging the minutia, but "taking a hard look at performance."
Thompson also planned to stress not only bipartisan work on the committee, but bicameral work as well.
He has stated his aim to work with the members of the Senate to make sure that homeland-security measures make it though both houses of Congress.
"I have long said that homeland security is not a Republican or a Democratic issue," he said. "It is an American issue."