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Following Attack on Pensacola Naval Station, Chairman Ernst Says: We must do more to protect our military personnel and ensure the security of our facilities

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA), a combat veteran and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities, led a subcommittee hearing today to review the Department of Defense’s vetting policies for international military students following the attack on Naval Air Station Pensacola last December.

In her opening statement, Chairman Ernst highlighted the benefits programs like International Military Training and Education (IMET) provide for our partners from around the world—giving them the opportunity to train and learn from the best here in the U.S. But she stated that while there are valuable benefits of these programs, the tragic events at Pensacola underscore the unacceptable shortfalls in our security standards and vetting procedures.

Ernst stated, “We must do more to protect our military personnel and ensure the security of our facilities.”

Click here or the image above to watch Senator Ernst’s opening statement.

During the hearing, Ernst questioned Mr. Garry Reid, Director for Defense Intelligence in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security, about the ability of foreign national military students to acquire weapons in the U.S. To watch Senator Ernst’s questioning, click here

Senator Ernst’s opening remarks are below:

“The Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities meets today to receive testimony on the Department of Defense review of the December 6, 2019 insider attack on Naval Air Station Pensacola, in which three U.S. service members tragically lost their lives and eight more suffered injuries.  It is critical that we learn from the attack, understand the threat, and take the necessary steps to ensure the protection of our service men and women going forward.

“I would like to welcome our witnesses: Mr. Garry Reid, who serves as the Director for Defense Intelligence in the office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, and Lieutenant General Charles Hooper, who serves as the Director of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency.  Thank you both for being with us today. We look forward to your testimonies.

“The National Defense Strategy (NDS) focuses on strengthening alliances and attracting new partners as a key component to more effectively compete with China and Russia while countering the continued threat posed by radical terrorist groups and rogue regimes.  The NDS states that by ‘working together with allies and partners we amass the greatest possible strength for the long-term advancement of our interests, maintaining favorable balances of power that deter aggression and support the stability that generates growth.’ I agree with the NDS.

“That is why I have long supported critical security cooperation programs such as International Military Training and Education, or IMET. These programs provide our partners from around the world an opportunity to train and learn from the best here in the U.S.  Ultimately, our partners return to their home countries with a greater appreciation of the U.S. and impart lessons learned on how to better organize and employ their own armed forces. These programs improve our interoperability with key partners and lay the foundation for enduring cooperation that will pay dividends for years to come.

“Over the past 20 years, more than 1 million international military students have trained in the United States. Currently, the United States hosts over 5,000 students from 153 countries. Many of the students who come to the U.S. are the same troops who have fought or will fight alongside Americans down range. Oftentimes, they rise through the ranks and become leaders in their own armed forces, with many becoming Chiefs of Defense, Ministers, or even Presidents.

“However, while the benefits of these programs are invaluable, the tragic events at Pensacola highlight unacceptable shortfalls in our security standards and vetting procedures. The attacker, Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, arrived in the United States in 2017 and harbored anti-U.S. sentiments, which he broadcasted on social media. All the while, he was able to purchase a firearm, access U.S. military installations, and ultimately carry out a deadly attack against Americans. We must do more to protect our military personnel and ensure the security of our facilities.

“Mr. Reid and General Hooper, we look forward to your testimonies explaining the results of the Department of Defense review and describing what corrective steps are being undertaken. Your findings are critical to our efforts to ensure the Department has the resources, support, and authorities it needs. Thank you again for joining us. I look forward to our discussion.

“Before I hand it over to Senator Peters for his opening remarks, I would like to remind everyone that later we will close the hearing in order to discuss sensitive matters of national security. At that point, we will ask for the public and members of the press to exit the room. We appreciate your cooperation and understanding.”

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