Interview with Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano

Interview with Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano

By The Situation Room - April 20, 2011

CANDY CROWLEY: There is a new way to warn Americans about the threat from terrorists. The color-coded alerts put in place after 9/11 are being replaced with a new system unveiled today by Homeland Security Janet Napolitano.

I sat down with her just a little while ago.


CROWLEY,: Secretary Napolitano, thank you so much for joining us.

As I understand the new system, two levels, color codes all gone, no more five - five levels. One is for a credible threat, and one is for a specific credible threat. Is that --


There will be a new advisory alert that will go out any time there's a specific and credible threat. The difference is with respect to imminence. In other words, is it a threat that is something that is happening right now that people need to act immediately, or is it something that isn't quite so imminent.

So if it's not quite so imminent, it will just be known as elevated, and then if it's imminent of course, it's imminent.

CROWLEY: So, see I was just was always under the -- under the impression that we were always under a credible threat. Is that not so?

NAPOLITANO: Well, we've been, you know, what's happened in the United States is, slowly but surely, our base level of risk has gone up. And it's gone up because these sources and methods of terrorism have multiplied around the world, and indeed within the United States. And then what happened is, because we were kind of in this old color-code system, we were kind of trapped in those definitions and - and no information was actually flowing to the end user. The -- the consumer of the information.

The new system is designed to get facts to people about how to prepare, what to know, where to get more information.

CROWLEY: But under certain circumstances. In other words, when there's a credible threat, here's what you need to know, here's where you need to go, if anywhere, or just watch you are.

NAPOLITANO: Well, and it will be a threat over and above our normal levels. So, right now, for example, if you go to, which is where we will post this, you won't see anything. Why? We don't have anything that meets the criteria for an end task alert. But if we have something that arises that's specific, credible, as vetted by the intel community, recommended to me, that I would then have to personally approve, then you would see the new alert come out.

CROWLEY: So, there is no -- as far as you're concerned, there is no credible threat against the U.S. right now?

NAPOLITANO: There is nothing above the normal, you know, level of threat. I mean, we always have threats.


NAPOLITANO: But there's nothing specific, credible, imminent right now.

CROWLEY: I also read your handbook, and it says there will be times when you just notify a business or a type of business that's under threat, or you just notify law enforcement. In the past, that sort of thing actually hasn't worked. I can remember times where they've just told law enforcement it gets leaked to the media somehow and then it becomes sort of a bigger threat.

What is the idea behind -- let's say there's a threat against banks. Would you then just notify banks and not bank customers or people who park near the banks? Or how would that work?

NAPOLITANO: Well, it could happen a number of different of ways depending on the type of threat. It could be a classified briefing that we only give to the cleared security officers for the banks, for financial institutions, or it could be something that we put out for the public at large that says, this is a threat directed at those who may be going to a bank in the near time. So it will depend on the facts and circumstances of the kind of intelligence that we are getting.

CROWLEY: So, since no threat is like another, no one circumstance sort of fits this?

NAPOLITANO: That's right. And so we have to be able, on our side of things -- you know, we're analyzing reams of information every hour of every day. As much intel comes into the intel community now as there are books in the Library of Congress each day. And so we have to analyze all of that, look for patterns, trends, tactics, techniques, threats that may be corroborated, different kinds of ways, and then we will make determinations as to whether a new type of alert needs to be given to the public. That's the new alert system we're announcing.

CROWLEY: I wanted to ask you, the head of British Airways has been out and about again talking about the American system for screening passengers. He's calling for something called security light, which basically would stop the sort of thing where we see a 6- year-old being patted down, where Henry Kissinger is pulled over for extra screening, and that kind of thing.

When certain things in the past several months have come up, we've heard from the TSA, well, we're looking for ways that could be less intrusive but still is safe. What is that way? Will there be something new that isn't as intrusive as some of these sort of excesses we've seen?

NAPOLITANO: I think there are two points that we are working on. One is to expand what we call trusted traveler programs where we have pre-checked passengers against known biometric identification and cards. So we know that those passengers can probably be set aside. The second is to continue to work to improve the technology so the technology itself helps us solve this problem.

CROWLEY: So -- I'm sorry. You foresee a program that would say, OK, 6-year-old little girls, probably not so much, we can -- this is a safe passenger? Or is it a system that you foresee that people would sign up for and say, OK, check me out so that I can get through a Security Light?

NAPOLITANO: More the latter than the former. But in respect to all of these screening issues that have arise, we have also had issues with those who have, for example, colostomy bags who have problems with the pat-down, or the little girl the other day.

Proper protocol was followed. And recognize that every time we say we will not screen children, well, terrorists then recruit children or use children as their methodology, or their method for getting explosives on planes. So we have to be very careful here.

But we think there are some options that we can use that are more risk-based, that take better advantage of pre-identifying travelers. And, again, we're investing a lot in research right now to see if we can develop what I call the checkpoint of the future.

CROWLEY: Two quick questions since we're running out of time.

First, when would you expect sort of a new kind of system or a new way to screen safe passengers?

NAPOLITANO: We would hope that on some of these things, that we can announce at least some positive steps moving forward within the coming months. So, everybody at TSA shares the concern of the traveling public. We want people to be safe, but we also recognize that some of these things to the public at large may seem overboard. Well, let's move to what is a more risk-based strategy that helps us keep the traveling public safe?

CROWLEY: And I just need a yes or no. Are you in for a second term if you're asked?


NAPOLITANO: I don't answer those types of questions. I'm enjoying the work I'm doing.

CROWLEY: So a second term doesn't seem awful to you?

NAPOLITANO: I'm enjoying the work I'm doing.

CROWLEY: Thank you so much, Madam Secretary. Appreciate your time.


The Situation Room

Author Archive

Follow Real Clear Politics

Latest On Twitter