Q&A with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano

At a Sept. 17 Monitor lunch, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano discussed the response to the 9/11 attacks, securing the US southern border, and the current US threat level.

Michael Bonfigli/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
At a Sept. 17 Monitor Breakfast, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said she was "amused" by internet aggregator Matt Drudge's nickname for her "Big Sis."

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano heads a $56 billion department charged with protecting America's borders, controlling immigration, guarding the president, screening air travelers, and responding to disasters. She was the guest speaker at a Sept. 17 Monitor lunch in Washington, D.C. The US response to the 9/11 attacks and whether it was an overreaction:

"No.... The kind of threats and possible attack tactics we see now are different than 9/11. They are not large, complex conspiracies. They are smaller, they are more diverse. It is not just Al Qaeda. It is other related groups – new groups that have occurred since then that have been inspired perhaps by Al Qaeda...."

Specific threats to the US:

"It's IEDs [improvised explosive devices], it's small arms, it is hydrogen-peroxide-based explosives designed to be put in backpacks and left around smaller targets in the United States. So the nature of the attacks and the means by which they would be accomplished have changed."

Reaction to Internet news aggregator Matt Drudge calling her "Big Sis" when referring to airport passenger screening equipment:

"I am amused. You know, I've made it. Drudge has a nickname for me."

The press report alleging that US cybersecurity plans are lagging:

[The report is] "just wrong.... We do have plans.... We didn't share, for security or other reasons, all that is going on.... An immense effort has been and is under way on the cyber front.... We understand this is a key area of infrastructure protection for the United States."

Home-grown terrorists:

"That is a growing phenomenon ... US persons who have become radicalized to the point of violence.... The Internet is an accelerant of that. It's being used very skillfully [by those] who speak idiomatic English ... or can put messages into the persuasive form that a US person would perhaps appreciate."

Whether Al Qaeda is capable of another complicated 9/11-style attack:

"I don't think they've given up the idea, for example, of taking out a commercial airliner. That continues to be a target."

Calls from Texas officials for more troops along the southern border:

"This is a civilian border. The National Guard is not designed to be a substitute for civilian law enforcement. Civilian law enforcement is being plussed up at record rates ... all along the border."

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