By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 4, 2008
The Nov. 26 terrorist attacks on Mumbai underscore the need for U.S. authorities to counter the security threat posed by small boats, strengthen the U.S. Coast Guard and keep the Federal Emergency Management Agency within the Department of Homeland Security, Secretary Michael Chertoff said yesterday.
A pending FBI and DHS analysis of last week's raid in which terrorists apparently approached the coastal Indian city in a stolen fishing boat and rubber dinghies before killing at least 171 people contains "no great revelations," the homeland security secretary said. That's because U.S. intelligence officials in 2007 identified dangers posed by the reemergence of terrorist safe havens in South Asia and have long fretted about the exploitation of increasingly sophisticated consumer technology such as Global Positioning System devices and cellular and satellite phones, he said.
The U.S. government claimed authority to prosecute suspects in the attacks, Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey said elsewhere in Washington, because the victims include six Americans.
In remarks to reporters that took on a valedictory tone, Chertoff said the Mumbai attacks emphatically confirm the need for high-quality intelligence and effective emergency response. The Bush administration's longest-serving secretary, Chertoff also credited the administration for the absence of a domestic terrorist attack since September 2001, and he took a final shot at critics.
"The bottom line is that in the last seven-plus years we have not had a successful attack" in the United States, Chertoff said. "I think that is a tribute to the president's leadership."
"For all those who have benefited from protection, biting the hand that protects you is similar to biting the hand that feeds you," he added.
But Chertoff -- a former assistant attorney general and federal appeals court judge -- departed from the usual script of administration officials, grudgingly conceding mistakes in government handling of terrorism suspects at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Asked whether Bush officials committed excesses in prosecuting the fight against al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups, he cited delays as long as seven years in bringing noncombatant detainees to trial.
"It's taken a very long time, and that's hurt, frankly, the credibility of the government and it's made it harder for everybody," Chertoff said, blaming Congress in part. "It would have been better had that been done earlier, and by the way, there was discussion about that."
Chertoff spoke before a private meeting with his Obama-designated successor, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano (D). Chertoff said he had "a very high opinion" of Napolitano and was confident she would be confirmed.
He said her biggest challenge would be taking on "very deeply embedded special interests" from industry, labor and elsewhere. "Every time you put a security measure in place, you're goring somebody's ox."
He expressly warned against pulling FEMA out of the department, a matter under consideration by the incoming Obama team, citing reports that Mumbai's fire, police and emergency managers were hindered by poor coordination.
"What we have done in terms of joint planning, incident management, integrated prevention and response is to my mind the best way to minimize the risk of a Mumbai-type attack," he said.