By Bonnie Erbe, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
I share herewith part of an interview I conducted with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano for National Preparedness Month. The interview will appear on my PBS program, To the Contrary, on PBS stations this weekend. I have seen Secretary Napolitano say elsewhere that we are safer now than when 9/11 took place in 2001. I have not been able to find her saying al Qaeda is weaker than it was before. If you, dear readers, can find her saying that, please post a reference below.
JANET NAPOLITANO: We are certainly safer than we were prior to 9/11 and I say that with confidence. The Department of Homeland Security rose out of 9/11 and one of our, indeed our lead mission, is to work on making sure that we are safer. And we work with many throughout the federal system. We have the Department of Defense, the Dept of Justice, FBI, the national counter- terrorism center. All are organized and set up differently in a way to deal with terrorism than they were before 9/11.
BONNIE ERBE : What key thing would you say is different now that might allow you to say, if you would say that, a terrorist attack will not happen under this administration's watch?
JANET NAPOLITANO: I don't think any responsible leader can say it will not happen. What we can say, what I will say, is that we are doing everything we can think of to reduce the risk that it will happen and to prepare; to be resilient should something occur. So it really is a culture of preparedness, a culture of resiliency, knowing that we can't put the entire United States under some big dome and say a terrorist attack will never occur. That would be an inappropriate assurance.
BONNIE ERBE: Were there things that could have been done at the time by the Bush administration to have prevented 9/11?
JANET NAPOLITANO: I don't look at it that way. What I look at is what have we learned and what do we have in place, that would reduce, if not eliminate the risk of a 9/11 style attack. For example, we now have travel restrictions in place. You know that when you go to the airport. I know it's an inconvenience; we try to do it as smoothly as possible with TSA employees who are very dedicated to that mission. But it makes the air environment safer. We have data now, that we collect when people are coming into the country that we didn't collect before, and we certainly didn't organize it and weren't able to share it before. Now we can do that. Those two things alone, probably would have prevented over half of the 9/11 attackers from even entering the country much less being able to attack us.
BONNIE ERBE: There were independent agency reports some years after 9/11 saying that al Qaeda was stronger than before 9/11? How would you characterize it now?
JANET NAPOLITANO: I think that al Qaeda now is not as strong as it was. The measures we have taken have reduced it, confined it, in terms of where it can operate. Where its leaders can operate. It's always a changing environment that we're dealing with, a changing threat environment, and one of our jobs is to be changing as well. It's not a static world that we live in.
BONNIE ERBE: Are you trying to centralize not just terrorist, but criminal data as well with state and local governments? Is the Obama administration making a bigger push to do that than has been done in the past?
JANET NAPOLITANO: Well, we are making a bigger push for states to have fusion centers where you have federal, state and local officials co-located, along with their data bases, which is really key now because that is where real info sharing in the proper way, proper safeguards for civil liberties, and privacy can be respected. In that environment if info sharing can occur, and much more quickly, plus people know each other and its just human nature that if you know someone it is much easier to share info with them. If people want to know, where can I get some more information? The easiest thing to do is to go to ready.gov and that kind of information is there for them.