An Overview of National Security Policies in the United States
Although not exhaustive, this is an overview of U.S. policies that have informed contemporary security regimes.
1798 Sedition Act
This act criminalized the making of “false, scandalous, and malicious writing” intending to “stir up sedition” against the United States government.
1882 Chinese Exclusion Act
This act instituted a ten-year moratorium on Chinese labor migration.
1903 Alien Immigration Act (Anarchist Exclusion Act)
This act regulated immigration into the United States, creating four new inadmissible classes: anarchists, people with intellectual and psychiatric disabilities, “professional beggars,” and sex workers and traffickers.
1917 Espionage Act
As the United States entered World War I, this act prohibited protesting the war and criminalized the distribution of information to interfere with the U.S. war effort or aid U.S. enemies.
1917 Literacy Act
This act imposed the first restriction on immigration through a literacy test and excluded immigration from the “Asiatic Barred Zone.”
This act amended the Espionage Act to prohibit antigovernment political speech, including “disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of the Government of the United States.”
1918 Dillingham-Hardwick Act
This act excluded and expelled noncitizens who were members of anarchist and similar groups.
1921 Emergency Quota Act
This act instituted quotas to limit the number of immigrants from each sending country using the National Origins Formula.
1924 Johnson-Reed Act
This act recalibrated the National Origins Formula to further limit immigration and authorized the exclusion of any immigrant whose race or nationality rendered them ineligible for U.S. citizenship, like the Japanese.
1938–1944 House Un-American Activities Committee
This House of Representatives committee investigated the subversive and communist activities of private citizens.
1939 Hatch Act
This act limited the political activities of federal employees.
1940 Alien Registration Act
This act prohibited advocating the overthrow of the government, authorized the deportation of any noncitizen engaged in subversive activities, and required noncitizens to register and be fingerprinted.
1947 Taft-Hartley Act
By amending the National Labor Relations Act, this legislation restricted the organizing activities and power of labor unions.
1947 National Security Act
This act established the National Security Council and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
1950 McCarran Internal Security Act
To protect the United States from “un-American and subversive activities,” this act required community organizations to register with the U.S. Attorney General and authorized the investigation of persons suspected of engaging in subversive activities.
Since the 1950 Internal Security Act did not criminalize affiliation with the Communist Party, this legislation made membership to the Communist Party a criminal act. Although this act still exists, no administration has enforced it.
1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act
This act abolished the immigration quota system and sought to reunite families and attract skilled labor to the United States.
1969 Brandenburg v. Ohio
Appealing the conviction of Ku Klux Klan leader Clarence Brandenburg who called for revenge against people of color at a rally, this case decided that the United States cannot criminalize expressions of extremist ideology.
1972–1975 Operation Boulder
Following the 1972 Munich Olympic massacre, this Nixon-era program authorized the FBI to conduct special screenings of Arab visa applications.
1979 Iranian registry
Following the 1979 Iranian Hostage Crisis, the Carter administration mobilized the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to register the seventy-five thousand Iranian students studying in the United States.
1980 First Joint Terrorism Task Force
The FBI and NYPD initiated the first Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF).
1984 Comprehensive Crime Control Act
In addition to revising the U.S. Criminal Code, this act authorized the FBI to conduct investigations.
1987 Los Angeles Eight trial and the “Alien Terrorists and Undesirables: A Contingency Plan” memo
These court proceedings tried eight people speciously charged with providing financial support to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. This legal process revealed a DOJ “contingency plan” for the mass arrest of thousands of “alien activists” from Algeria, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Syria, and Tunisia. Once detained, the DOJ planned to incarcerate these individuals in remote internment camps in Louisiana.
1989 Terrorist Threat Warning System
The FBI developed this system to communicate with other law enforcement agencies about imminent terrorist threats.
Following the Lockerbie bombing, this act strengthened airport security and subjected airline personnel to stricter screening procedures.
1991 Special Registration Program
This program required the special registration of persons holding Iraqi and Kuwaiti passports and/or travel documents.
1995 FBI made lead agency
President Reagan designated the FBI as the lead agency in responding to terrorist threats and attacks.
1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act
Following the Oklahoma City bombing, this act criminalized providing material support to foreign (but not domestic) terrorist organizations, among other provisions.
1996 FBI Counterterrorism Center established
The FBI developed a Counterterrorism Center to combat both international and domestic terrorism.
1998 Center for Domestic Preparedness established
In 1998, the FBI Counterterrorism Center began training emergency responders.
2001 Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act (USA PATRIOT Act)
Passed after the September 11 attacks, this act authorized efforts to deter and punish terrorists and enhanced the investigatory tools of law enforcement, particularly through wiretapping and surveillance.
2001 Twenty-day hold on visa applications
The U.S. State Department issued a classified cable that imposed a twenty-day hold on all nonimmigrant visa applications submitted by men, aged eighteen to forty-five, from twenty-six countries.
2002 Alien Absconder Initiative
This INS initiative sought to find and deport six thousand noncitizen men from Middle Eastern countries with a pending deportation order.
2002 INS selective enforcement of section 265(a) of the Immigration and Naturalization Act
Section 265(a) of the Immigration and Naturalization Act requires people to register their address change within ten days of moving, which has been enforced selectively.
2002 Homeland Security Act
This act created the Department of Homeland Security and the Secretary of Homeland Security.
Passed after the September 11 attacks, this act made the INS/ICE database interoperable, required that federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies share data with INS/ICE and the State Department, and mandated that all travel documents include a biometric identifier.
2002–2016 National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS)
NSEERS facilitated the special registration of certain noncitizens within the United States as well as nonimmigrant men and boys from Arab and Muslim-majority countries. The process included being photographed, interviewed, and fingerprinted.
2006–present NYPD surveillance
In 2006, the NYPD formally began surveilling colleges, including Muslim Student Associations, in the name of national security.
2007–2009 FBI Operation Rhino
As an FBI counterterrorism project, Operation Rhino sought to disrupt al-Shabaab recruitment through counter-messaging, collaborations with local elders, and surveillance in the Twin Cities.
2008 Controlled Application Review and Resolution Program (CARRP)
CARRP is a covert operation that has given extra scrutiny to immigrants and noncitizens arriving in the United States from Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian countries. The extra scrutiny has caused long delays in the processing of applications.
2008–2014 Secure Communities Initiative
This ICE program facilitated data and biometric sharing and analysis between police departments and immigration agencies to enhance immigration enforcement and deportation.
2010 National launch of If You See Something, Say Something®
Initially a New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority initiative, this DHS project raised public awareness of the indicators of terrorism and encouraged the reporting of suspicious activities.
2010 National launch of the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative (NSI)
As a multiagency effort, the NSI has collected and shared “suspicious activity reports” with local, state, and federal law enforcement.
The Obama administration convened a three-day summit with local, state, federal, and global leaders to discuss CVE.
2015 DHS Office for Community Partnerships instituted
In 2015, DHS created the OCP to enhance its community partnerships to develop programs that counter violent extremism.
2016 CVE Task Force launched
According to DHS, the U.S. government formed this interagency task force to unify the domestic CVE effort by bringing together experts from DHS, DOJ, FBI, and NCTC.
2016 Bureau of Counterterrorism redesigned
In 2016, the Obama administration reorganized the Bureau of Counterterrorism, including rebranding it as the Bureau of Counterterrorism and Countering Violent Extremism.
2017 Executive Order 13769: Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States
This Trump administration executive order (EO) banned all travelers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen for at least 90 days, including U.S. permanent residents. It also suspended the United States Refugee Admissions Program and related refugee settlement for 120 days. A temporary restraining order rendered the EO moot.
2017 Executive Order 13780: Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States
Revising EO 13769, this EO banned the entry of travelers from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen for at least 90 days, excluding U.S. permanent residents. It also suspended the United States Refugee Admissions Program and related refugee settlement for 120 days. In March 2017, this order expired, after federal court rulings placed a nationwide block on its provisions.
2017 Presidential Proclamation 9645: Enhancing Vetting Capabilities and Processes for Detecting Attempted Entry into the United States by Terrorists or Other Public-Safety Threats
Colloquially known as “Muslim Ban 3.0,” this proclamation has banned the entry of travelers from Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, and Yemen until these countries improve their immigration screening and vetting procedures. In April 2018, the Trump administration lifted the restrictions on Chad. In June 2018, the Supreme Court upheld this proclamation.