Napolitano on the Obama-ization of Homeland Security

In a speech today to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano outlined the department’s attempt to expand its security tactics to go along with President Obama’s broadened definition of terror threats. Stressing the need for a more “collective response,” Secretary Napolitano outlined a four-level approach to national security, beginning with increased participation from ordinary citizens, as the most effective counter-terrorist tactic.

In his introductory remarks, ProPublica editor in chief Peter Steiger referred to the notorious bureaucratic difficulties of the DHS, which is called a “bureaucratic zoo—by its friends.”

Napolitano’s speech stressed the importance of the agency.

“Make no mistake,” she said. “Americans continue to be targeted in terror attacks.”

As only the third secretary of the department, which was created by President Bush following the September 11th attacks, Napolitano said that the complexity and scope of national threats had increased dramatically since 2001.   “If 9/11 happened in a Web 1.0 world, terrorists are certainly in a Web 2.0 world now.”

Today’s “evolving and highly networked world,” Napolitano said, necessitates a more focused commitment to preparation against terrorist attacks that begins with the American public at large. “For too long, we’ve treated the public as a liability to be protected rather than an asset in our nation’s collective response.”

While also speaking about the need to re-center counter-terrorist efforts to align with American values, Napolitano focused on the importance of a public that is educated, prepared and attentive to terrorist threats. “Individual citizens, and with them, the private sector” are the country’s “greatest asset” in fighting terrorism, she said.

Citing recent examples of private citizens thwarting would-be terrorist attacks including a plot at the Fort Dix Army base and an attempt to carry a gun onto an airplane, Napolitano said that it is this type of private vigilance that is most needed to ensure protection in today’s networked world. 

When asked about the domestic surveillance program, Napolitano conceded that it was necessary to strike a balance between “responsibility and spying,” and said that “we have to be careful” about respecting civil liberties. 

In an attempt to clear up bureaucratic confusion and overlapping institutional responsibilities, Secretary Napolitano said, a top priority of the DHS is supporting a network of “Fusion Centers,” whereby local law officials would share intelligence information with F.B.I. agents, Immigration and Customs officials and other state and federal agents. She also said she was open to reforming the color-coded threat system currently in place.

In describing the role of the federal government, Napolitano painted the Department of Homeland Security as a type of communication-facilitator between the many different governmental organizations that play a role in protecting the nation against terror threats. 

“We’re not the F.B.I. or the C.I.A.,” Napolitano said , but “improving the sharing of timely information up and down the ladder is one of most critical responsibilities.”

Napolitano also stressed the chief importance of international relationships in thwarting terrorist threats. Citing Mexico as an example of the potential benefits of improved cooperation, she referred to efforts at the border to thwart illegal transportation of cash, arms and people. 

Outside the Council, about 40 people gathered to protest the lack of immigration reform. 

Napolitano on the Obama-ization of Homeland Security