Chertoff looks back on homeland-security efforts
The secretary is candid about some shortcomings as the fifth anniversary of the Homeland Security Department approaches. But he also cites progress.
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Chertoff gave up a lifetime appointment as a judge on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals to become the second secretary of Homeland Security.Skip to next paragraph
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Other career way marks include service as US attorney for New Jersey, special counsel to the Senate Whitewater Committee, partner in the firm of Latham & Watkins, and assistant attorney general for the Criminal Division of the US Justice Department, a post he held on Sept. 11, 2001.
While he does note progress, virtually all Chertoff's public appearances also include a warning against complacency over future attacks on the homeland. "Complacency is the greatest enemy that we have and the greatest challenge we have," he told a Senate committee earlier this month.
At the breakfast, the secretary was asked about threats from Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. "Although clearly worse off than they were prior to 9/11," Chertoff said, "in the last year they have had somewhat more freedom of movement in the frontier areas of Pakistan, and that has given them more capability to plan and train and communicate." He added, "That is not a sign of an imminent threat, but it suggests something to be concerned about from a strategic standpoint."
One area where there has been considerable progress, Chertoff said, is in scanning shipping containers entering the US for radiation that would indicate the presence of a nuclear weapon. But he added this sobering note. "There is a little bit of a tendency in the media to treat [shipping containers] as if [they are] the only threat." He continued, "I think small boats are a potential threat; I think general aviation coming from overseas is a potential threat.... If you had a nuclear bomb, it might make more sense to bring it in with a private airplane than to stick it into a container. So the good news is that we are looking at these other things as well."
The government will expand its experiment with a virtual fence using radar, infrared sensors, and airborne drones to defend the border, Chertoff said. "We will expand the virtual fence contrary to what some have incorrectly reported," he said. "There are some things in it that we want to improve, and there are some things probably it turns out we don't really need. But I envision that we would use this design in other parts of the border but not in the entirety of the border."