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Voices of Power: Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano


Worldwide Reporting LLP
Wednesday, September 9, 2009 3:39 PM

Chapter One: Preparedness

MS. ROMANO: Okay. Welcome, Janet Napolitano, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and former Governor of Arizona.

SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: Yes.

0:00:05 MS. ROMANO: Thanks for joining us today.

SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: Thank you.

MS. ROMANO: This week is the eighth anniversary of 9/11. Are we safe as a nation now?

SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: Yes. And what I mean by "safe" is, are we taking all the precautions we can think of to do against another attack? Yes. Are we safer than we were prior to 9/11? Absolutely.

Can there still be an attack that takes place on our soil through whatever means--and we can't put the United States under a big, glass dome. It doesn't work that way.

So, we do everything we can to reduce risk.

MS. ROMANO: How prepared are we as a citizenry for a catastrophe?

SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: Well, probably not as prepared as we could be, and that is why this month, which just happens to be National Preparedness Month, we are really sending out the message about shared responsibility for individuals, it's, have a plan; make a kit; get some of your training updated, or get some training if you haven't had any before; go to ready.gov, which is our website, which has some pretty straightforward things that individuals and families can do.

0:01:54 It doesn't take much for everybody just to take a deep breath and say, okay, what would I need to do to be prepared, to have on hand, if there were no electrical power, if there were a hurricane or other weather event or something cut me off from immediate contact with my family. How would I get reunified with them? How would I handle operating my home and my business for a few days?

0:02:21 MS. ROMANO: What are the four most important things you think somebody should have?

SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: Well, you should have food and water for at least three days. And on water, we say a gallon per person per day. You should have some extra medicines and medications and a list of the prescriptions that you have. You should have some battery-operated flashlights and a radio that is battery-operated in case the electrical power goes out.

And again, you should have a plan on how you would get reunified with your family if it were split up during an emergency.

MS. ROMANO: What keeps you up at night? When you are laying in bed, what are the things that worry you?

SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: Well, as I said earlier, you can't eliminate all risk, and so, try to think of ways that we can work even better, more efficiently--whatever--to reduce risk. It is something that--not just me but everybody in this Department is always thinking about.

0:03:28 I think another thing that concerns me is complacency, the fact that it has been eight years almost now since 9/11 and people just assume the government is going to take care of that.

Well, the government can do many things, and we are, but again, safety, security--a shared responsibility.

0:03:49 MS. ROMANO: If the American people could see what you see--I mean, if they were privy to intelligence reports and they saw the whole spectrum of what was out there, do you think they would have a different view of preparedness?

SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: Oh, yes, perhaps, but on the other hand, I think what is important for them to recognize is that we have hundreds of thousands of people working on this every day, not just in our geographic boundaries but as I said, internationally, but again, that there's a shared responsibility here.

MS. ROMANO: You will have the nation's attention, or the government will, on the anniversary. What do you think is the most important message that you can convey on that day?

SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: Well, I think, first of all, to say again and extend again our sympathies to the survivors. This may be eight years ago for most of the country, but for those family members, colleagues of those who died on 9/11, it is important once again to express our collective national sorrow.

The second thing is to recommit that we are going to do everything in our power to make sure this never again happens on American soil.

MS. ROMANO: You are now in the middle of a quadrennial Homeland Security Review, and it is the first, I gather?

MS. ROMANO: And it is due when?

SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: December.

MS. ROMANO: Okay. And what's it going to tell you?

SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: I think it will probably show that, for a young department, we have come a long way, but we have a ways to go. We have a ways to go in terms of information sharing, partnerships with state and local law enforcement--both of those are big priorities for us.

I think we have some things that we can do better in terms of explaining to the American people why some things are the way they are, particularly, for example, in the travel environment.

MS. ROMANO: Mm-hmm. Now, just on the state and local issue, one of the biggest holes in security is considered to be the lack of a viable system for response in communication coordination between state and local.

What are you doing on that front?

SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: Well, inter-operability is kind of the catchword for that.

And we actually have an office within the Department that focuses solely on inter-operability--

SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: --and grant monies that have gone out to state and locals to assist with that. So, a lot of progress has been made on that score in the last few years.

And you know, it is kind of interesting. You say, of course everybody ought to be able to communicate on the same radio frequency. Trust me, I dealt with this issue as a Governor

and now I am dealing with it as a Secretary; it is a lot harder than it looks, but we are making significant progress.

MS. ROMANO: A recent GAO report showed that individuals could get into some federal buildings carrying bomb-making apparatus. What did you think when you heard that?

SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: Oh, I was appalled, as one should be, and I immediately put together a team led by one of my senior advisors to review the report, to go look at what we were doing, and to give me a short-, medium-, and long-term plan on how we fix this, and we are well into that right now.

MS. ROMANO: Another report that came out of Congress recently said--concluded that the world is at greater risk for a biological weapon for mass destruction than it is for nuclear; do you agree with that?

0:09:47 SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: I think you can't prioritize in that way.

MS. ROMANO: Okay.

SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: I think what you have to say is both are known risks and both are things that we need to defend against.

I think in terms of educating the public, we haven't done very much so far.

0:10:38 MS. ROMANO: And so, is that one of your priorities?

SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: I think so, under the theory that knowledge is preparation.

MS. ROMANO: Right, right.

SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: And preparation counters fear.

Chapter 2: Immigration Reform: Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security tells the Post's Lois Romano that she hasn't been loud enough talking about comprehensive reform.

MS. ROMANO: Let's turn to immigration reform.

Some of the advocacy groups are complaining and they are a little angry that reform hasn't been taken up yet, but even closer to home than that, they're saying that you're not including it as part of your message when you go out and talk about issues. Why?

SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: Well, I think I have been but not loudly enough. So, let me say where I'm at on this. We are enforcing the immigration law. That's what our agency is designed in part to do.

With in that, we've set new priorities and given some new guidance, which I think will give us smarter and more effective enforcement of that law.

At the same time, however, make no doubt or make no mistake that we are spending a lot of time looking at and working with the Congress on what an updated law would look like and how it would deal with a lot of the immigration issues that we have today.

MS. ROMANO: Do you believe we need comprehensive reform?

SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: Yes.

MS. ROMANO: Do you--you know, one of the complaints that you hear from, again--from the advocacy groups is that there is a lot of emphasis right now on enforcement but not enough on taking the pressure off of the immigrants, not enough talk about paths to citizenship or, you know, reunification with families.

SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: Well, that's something only the Congress can fix, because the law--for example, for those who are here illegally in the country doesn't provide for a path to citizenship. And so, that's why, looking at the overall immigration law is so very, very important, and the President has made it a priority. I've made it a priority. If you looked at my schedule over the past months, you would see a lot of time has been spent on that very, very topic. But again, Congress takes the lead.

MS. ROMANO: But does the Administration believe that the immigrant community should get some relief, that there should be paths to citizenship in an immigration reform bill?

0:15:24 Secretary Napolitano: That certainly is one of the--yes, one of the topics that should be taken up is, what do you do properly with those already in the country illegally. Also, how do you deal with future workflows, and also, how do you update some of the enforcement mechanisms in the current law.

We, for example, would like some better sanctions for employers who consistently and intentionally violate the law. We want to go after some things like stored value cards which have become mechanisms for moving money between the border and in that kind of--going through a loophole in the current law.

So, there's lots to be done in this area, and there's a lot of, if I might say--there's a lot of talk out there both from the advocates and from other, you know, non-advocates and what have you, but I think the vast majority of Americans understand that the current immigration law does not meet our current immigration needs. We are a nation of laws, we are a nation of immigrants, and that's what we need to get to as Congress revisits this topic.

MS. ROMANO: Senator Schumer said that part of the reason that one has to focus on enforcement first is that you have to build up some credibility in selling immigration reform before you can start doing other things. Do you agree with that?

SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: Well, I certainly think it's important that we enforce the law, yes. I also think the American people want to have some assurance that if we--if there is any law that is passed, that it will be enforced moving forward, in other words, that we won't be in this same situation 20 years from now.

MS. ROMANO: All right. This question is from Twitter. A Twitter follower says, what happens to the law abiding undocumented alien who gets raided before comprehensive immigration reform?

SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: We're--we are, unfortunately, in the current law--I don't know about the pejorative use of the word "raided," however. I think he's referring probably to worksite enforcement and--

MS. ROMANO: Probably 287(g). Is that what--

SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: Perhaps. And we have revised both the guidance for worksite enforcement and the 287(g) agreements which are now out in the field, and we are requesting everybody who has a 287(g) to sign their new agreement.

8 MS. ROMANO: And how is that agreement different from what the Bush policy was? How are you doing this--

SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: Well, it set some metrics. It has two distinct priorities. One is, 287(g)s that are carried out in jails and prisons, in other words, where you begin the immigration removal process while the sentence is being served and you train corrections officers on how to do that. And the second is the work on federal taskforces looking for fugitive and felony aliens that are in the community.

The current agreement, or the one that was started was a lot vaguer, it had no timelines, had--you know, it was just--it was clearly just a preliminary type of agreement. Now, we want to add some real meat to this and also some real oversight.

MS. ROMANO: Do you expect some pushback on immigration reform, as you're watching [what's going on with ] healthcare reform?

SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: Well, immigration--yeah, it is a big, complicated topic and it's easily reduced to bumper stickers, but I think, again, I've never walked into a room where I've said, "How many are in favor of illegal immigration," and no one will raise their hand, and I say, "Okay, now we have a consensus."

Now, we need to work through the issues, and when you work through the issues, there is a bigger consensus across the country than I think previously has been believed. And I am a very big believer in enforcing the law, but I'm also a big believer in making sure the law matches our current needs.

Chapter three: Cybersecurity: Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security tells the Post's Lois Romano that protecting the nation's power grids has been a DHS priority

MS. ROMANO: Okay. Let's turn to cybersecurity, a very complicated issue. 90 percent of the Nation's critical cyber infrastructures are privately owned: banking, agriculture, chemicals. Does DHS have enough authority to coordinate these entities and to ensure that these cyber entities are kept safe?

SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: We have taken the nation's critical infrastructure and divided it into 18 different sectors: utilities, communication, healthcare--we can give you the entire list--and we work with the private sector in each of those areas. Some of them are more susceptible to a cyber-intrusion or denial-of-service attack or others--than others. And so, we're working very closely with them. We've kind of streamlined how we're handling cyber within the Department of Homeland Security. It was spread out in a lot of different places.

We've hired some--really, some of the nation's experts to come into the Department to come and work in this area. And now that the President's review is done, our authorities are pretty clear. Our authority is to be the lead agency on the dot gov side of things, which is the civilian side of the federal government, and to be the lead kind of liaison with the dot org and the dot com side of things, and our particular emphasis is, as your question suggests--is with those who have critical infrastructure.

MS. ROMANO: And so, you have the authority to work with them, to compromise, to sort of be a middleman and to figure out what their holes are, what their weaknesses are?

0:21:34 SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: To work with them, yes.

MS. ROMANO: Okay.

SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: And also, to provide, when there has been an attack--to provide suggested patches or things that they can immediately install.

MS. ROMANO: Mm-hmm. What were your thoughts on the April reports that the Chinese and the Russians had infiltrated one of our grids, one of our electric grids?

SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: You know, there are a lot of reports out there, and I prefer not to comment on their veracity or lack of veracity, but I think it is fair to say that working with the power supply, with the grids, has been one of the focuses of our cyber efforts.

MS. ROMANO: Okay. So, internally, monitoring the federal government's cyber networks, you have a program now called Einstein that's doing that, but it seems to be working slowly.

Einstein 2, I gather, from reading stories, had only been deployed in 15 of 600 agencies by the end of last year.

SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: Mm-hmm.

MS. ROMANO: What's with that?

SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: Well, what's with that is speeding it up and getting more in and that's why--what--exactly what we're in the process of doing, not just with respect to Einstein but other things as well.

MS. ROMANO: So, how many agencies is it in, now? Is it more than 15 now or...

SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: I couldn't tell you.

MS. ROMANO: But it's slow. You are conceding it has been slow--

SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: It has been slow. I would say that there's been a heightened emphasis on cyber during the time that I've been the Secretary.

MS. ROMANO: And now, Einstein 3, you know, we're seeing some pushback on that. How do you plan to proceed on that when you have some privacy issues at stake and it seems to be a continuation of the Bush policy of using the NSA and...

SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: Well, I would disagree in the sense that the NSA is to provide technical assistance because of the assets that are there, but the leadership vis-à-vis the civilian side of government and the liaison with the private sector, that is at the Department of Homeland Security.

0:24:23 MS. ROMANO: Well, just to be clear what Einstein 3 is, it basically is a very advanced program where people--regular citizens who contact the federal government by e-mail or calling up the sites, they could be monitored. So, how do you protect their privacy?

0:24:39 SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: You know, if you--I would rather not discuss Einstein 3 in this format--or Einstein 3, quite frankly--because there are a lot of issues about them --some of them are secure and some of them are not. But if you want to do a separate interview with some of our cyber folks where they can walk you through some of the things that are happening, I'd sure be glad to set that up for you.

Chapter 4: Swine Flu: Department of Homeland Security Secretary tells the Post's Lois Romano why the government will not ban people from travelling who have the flu.

MS. ROMANO: o, swine flu. There seems to be a major information campaign going on now, or it also known as the H1N1 flu.

SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: What I'm saying is we can anticipate this is going to be a heavy flu season and lots of people are going to get this new strain of flu and that it is going to really hit our young population, because--and we can already see that with colleges starting and the like, and what we're working with the private sector on is making sure they've got plans in place for how they continue their operations if there is a high rate of absenteeism and then working, of course, within the government to do the same thing and helping spread the message about the flu.

It is the flu. Fortunately, it has not mutated into a more lethal form than it was last spring--while we wait for the vaccine to be developed and it is treated.

MS. ROMANO: Are we in a public health emergency right now or could we be approaching one?

SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: Well, I think, actually, for technical--that's a technical term of art.

And I think one has already been declared and was declared last spring, and that frees up HHS, the Department of Health and Human Services, to do some things.

So, the answer is, technically, yes, but does that mean we should all panic because there's a flu or a pandemic? No.

And I think one of the things we've been working on all summer is making sure our plans are in place, but also making sure that the public is aware of what this is and what this is not.

MS. ROMANO: Has the Administration considered making the vaccine mandatory?

SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: The initial view is, no, it should not be mandatory. It should be highly recommended, but not mandatory.

MS. ROMANO: And you had said you are going to leave it to the airlines to decide what to do about people flying with the flu. Why not prohibit it federally when you--you know, you have China saying that they are in a grave situation, you have France saying it's much greater than expected, you have 340 kids at KU who are now quarantined. Why not make it a mandate saying people with the swine flu shouldn't fly?

SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: Well, in part, because you don't know if they have the flu when they show up at the gate. You don't know whether somebody has a temperature or not. You don't know whether they have already come down and they're just not exhibiting any systems. So, this notion that you can actually do something like that is really illusory.

And besides, we rely on the scientists and the scientists--and when I say "scientists," I mean those at the CDC--that these kind of restrictions will not prevent the spread of this flu; it is too widespread.

MS. ROMANO: What are you doing personally to make sure you don't get it?

SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: Washing my hands regularly, making sure I cough properly, and when the time comes, and I won't be in the first waves or whatever--it is not my age group and I don't have any underlying illness, but when the time comes, I'll get my shot.

MS. ROMANO: Okay, great. Well, thank you very much.

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