- - Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s recent comments regarding the Islamic State penetrating the porous U.S. southern border should give pause to the ongoing border-security debate. The simple fact is we do not know who and what are crossing the border.

None of the proposed solutions thus far will reduce the threats to our nation’s borders without first understanding and identifying the threat, leading both at home and abroad, and committing all necessary resources. Terrorist and criminal organizations continue to evolve and become ever more complex. The threat to the U.S. border is distinct and unlike any we have faced before in that it is multidimensional. While the administration continues its policy of delayed leadership, the complexities continue to mount.

The traditional tactical response of building fences, increasing the size of the U.S. Border Patrol and deploying National Guard troops along the border to supplement law enforcement activities have not slowed the strategic problem. These transnational actors, often called transnational criminal organizations, have always found ways to bypass our traditional security measures. They bypass our security measures by land, sea and air, and this multifront attack on our borders adds to the complexity of the situation and, therefore, the complexity of our needed response. Criminal intent, resources and creativity have shown to be three steps ahead of our government’s historic approach to border security.

Extreme profit motivates an ongoing and increasing level of penetration across national and international law enforcement barriers, whether physical or jurisdictional. Criminals, terrorists and non-state actors are not constrained by boundaries, borders or politics and, in fact, they are very capable at exploiting those things.

The U.S. government can and must do more to disrupt illicit activities before they reach the U.S. border. This starts with defining the threat and then leading to defend against it. Leading the effort to protect and secure the United States needs to be conducted in a two-pronged strategy at home and abroad with President Obama at the helm as the implementation leader. At home, we need to develop a comprehensive strategy to identify and coordinate resources and success metrics, and then direct all relevant government agencies in concert to implement the strategy.

Overseas, the government needs to engage with our partners in the hemisphere and beyond to deal with threats prior to their reaching American soil. However, it is not just threats that the United States needs to deal with abroad, it is also the underlying economic situation that often leads to participation in transnational illegal activity. Conditions must be created in the source nations where it is economically more advantageous for their citizens to remain there than to risk the journey to the United States. Without this two-pronged approach, we will never see true border security.

Accomplishing a long-term border security construct will also require leadership from Congress. Through the congressional Foreign Affairs, Homeland Security and Appropriations committees, Congress needs to authorize resources for this plan. At the forefront, this includes funding for the Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development to develop the necessary economic-development programs in the source nations. Congress must also improve resources for our intelligence and security agencies to more quickly and adequately deal with identifying and thwarting threats prior to reaching the United States border.

Finally, the strategy will need to be implemented with the full commitment of the U.S. government. This means that the White House and Congress need to support each other’s role in the strategic solution to securing our nation’s borders. Without this unity, even the best strategy will fail. The ancient Chinese strategist Sun Tzu once said, “Strategy without tactics is the slow road to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” What we’re hearing right now from both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue is a whole bunch of noise.

Tom Leonard is a retired Army officer. Joshua Katz is former Army Ranger and CIA operations officer. Both served as senior policy advisers to the chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security.