This mission requires DHS to prevent dangerous persons or goods from entering the United States and to protect U.S. civilian infrastructure networks and other specialized networks that connect Americans to each other and to the world. To conduct this mission, DHS must share information, technology,4 and equipment with foreign entities to develop antiterror technology for use in the United States and abroad, both to enhance our domestic systems and to strengthen the global networks upon which each nation’s communications, transportation, and commerce depend.

Accomplishing these goals often requires the export of technology and equipment. Because some of this technology and related equipment is of a “sensitive” nature,5 these exports may be subject to controls. The current export control system that governs the transfer of sensitive hardware, software, or technical data and equipment is managed primarily by two export control licensing agencies, one at the State Department and the other at the Commerce Department.6 The Defense Department also plays a critical advisory role to both licensing regimes. The Department of Homeland Security is not currently fully integrated into this system even though many of the department’s international activities are subject to export control regulations.

Regarding their export control responsibilities, the State and Defense Departments have traditionally focused on preventing militarily critical technology and equipment from leaving the United States so that it cannot fall into the hands of enemies. The Commerce Department has a national security responsibility to monitor the export of commercial items and technology that could have military applications (so-called dual-use items). The State Department and Commerce Department have the additional focus on preventing certain kinds of exports from falling into the hands of those states, groups, or individuals considered undesirable from a human rights or regional stability standpoint, or for other foreign policy reasons.

Because the Department of Homeland Security focuses its efforts on preventing terrorists and lethal materials that could cause mass casualties from entering the United States, the implementation of DHS’s mission on export controls is fundamentally different from these departments in two ways:

  1. Major elements of the DHS mission—including equipment, technologies, and services, as well as concepts of operations—need to be widely shared in global civil networks (e.g., civil aviation; ocean shipping; information; and space, air, cable, and terrestrial communications). The Defense Department, in contrast, usually only provides equipment, technology, and related services to foreign entities with a shared defense mission.


4In this report, the term technology is broadly defined as “know-how”—the software components and related hardware and the technical data that constitute a manufactured item. The term export refers to the transfer of goods and technology beyond U.S. borders, and to the transfer of sensitive technical data to foreign persons who are in the United States. In this instance, the word information refers to nontechnical data, such as information about terror suspects.

5“Sensitive, but unclassified information is information the disclosure, loss, misuse, alteration or destruction of which could adversely affect national security or other Federal Government interests. National security interests are those unclassified matters that relate to the national defense or the foreign relations of the U.S. Government.” Last accessed February 23, 2011.

6 For discussion of the licensing regimes at the Departments of State and Commerce, see pages 35-38 in this report.

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