Homeland Security Chief Goes Off “Going Dark” Script, Says He Can See Plenty

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson on Thursday acknowledged that the government's expanded surveillance capabilities are considerable.

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 14:  U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson testifies before the House Judiciary Committee about oversight of the department July 14, 2015 in Washington, DC. Johnson was repeatedly asked about the murder of Kate Steinle who was shot and killed in San Francisco alegedly by 45-year-old Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, an undocumented immigrant, a repeat felon who has been deported five times to Mexico.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

In a rare departure from the doom-and-gloom talk from federal law enforcers about how encryption threatens their ability to identify and monitor terror suspects, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson on Thursday acknowledged that the government’s expanded surveillance capabilities are considerable.

“I’ve been at this now for six and a half years, and we have since 9/11 I believe come a long way in the level of sophistication of our intelligence community and their ability to track and detect potential threats to our homeland from overseas,” Johnson said at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado.

FBI Director James Comey, who opened the annual Aspen conference on Wednesday night, warned that his agency is “going dark” because of the use of unbreakable end-to-end encryption. It’s an argument Comey has been making for months now.

Johnson’s comments were a reminder that authorities can see plenty.

“We have developed good capabilities to detect plotting, to detect efforts to do something bad in our homeland,” he said.

He then added that he wasn’t disputing Comey’s conclusion. “Um, we do have the problem of going dark that Jim talked about last night, very definitely.”

Johnson’s explanation for the disconnect between his statements — that our intelligence is good, but we’re still going dark — was that the “homegrown threat” is “harder to detect in many ways,” which he claims “is why … a number of us are so concerned about how this whole thing is developing.”

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