Interview with DHS Secretary Napolitano

Interview with DHS Secretary Napolitano

By The Situation Room - July 21, 2011

WOLF BLITZER: And joining us now, the secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano.

Madam Secretary, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: And there are fresh concerns as we speak right now that terrorists or terrorist sympathizers may have infiltrated utility power plants here in the United States, including nuclear power plants.

Is that true?

NAPOLITANO: Well, I think what that report is based on is an information sharing report of the type that we -- we put out in the normal course of business, just reminding our private sector partners, utilities and the others, of things they need to be watchful for, watching out for. But we have nothing specific, credible or current. It's more by way of background information.

BLITZER: Well, we do know one individual was arrested and he's -- and he managed to infiltrate, what, five nuclear power stations in America?

NAPOLITANO: Indeed. That's why our utility operators need to be constantly vigilant, just as our other private sector partners need to be constantly vigilant. And there are lots of things that we need to be watchful for.

So we are required or asked by the -- the Congress, asked by the 9/11 Commission, to keep information flowing out to the private sector, out to the public. This was part of our information sharing responsibility.

BLITZER: I hope they intensify those background checks to make sure that terrorists don't infiltrate. That's the goal.


BLITZER: All right, let's talk a little bit about the 10th anniversary of 9/11 that's coming up. My sources are telling me that we should be deeply concerned because al Qaeda may be looking for revenge, retaliation for kill -- for the U.S. Killing bin Laden.

How concerned should the American public be right now, that in -- in or around 9/11 -- on or around 9/11, al Qaeda could retaliate in a major way.

NAPOLITANO: Look, you know, immediately after the death of bin Laden, there were lots of speculation about retaliatory attacks. But there was nothing specific or credible, so we didn't raise the nation's alert level at that time.

We continue to watch, to listen, to observe. If there's something specific or credible that comes in, we'll be able to raise an advisory and tell people what it is that we know.

BLITZER: Because they're very patient and they -- they look at this in terms of long-term, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the number two, now the number one of al Qaeda, at least I've been told by knowledgeable sources, he wants revenge in some way. I don't know what his capability is to engage in another 9/11. Does he have that capability?

NAPOLITANO: No. When you look at pre-9/11 and post-9/11 United States, you realize, you know, how far we have come both in terms of intelligence gathering, information sharing, passenger screening, vetting within the airports themselves, arming of airplanes themselves, the cockpit doors, the ability to exchange communications between military, air traffic control and the like. Much different now than we were prior to 9/11.

BLITZER: So, has there been a shift in their strategy going for less ambitious killings, if you will, smaller scale operations?

NAPOLITANO: Well, I think the kind of massive international plot that led to 9/11 would be very difficult to accomplish today. So, yes, what we see are smaller plots involving fewer people, more difficult to interrupt, but we've seen, you know, several. We've seen the attempt on flight 253 on Christmas Day of 2009.

We saw the attempted cargo bombings in October of this past year. So, different types of plots, constantly evolving. We have to constantly evolve, and we have to have multiple layers at the same time so that if one layer misses, there's another layer there to pick up.

BLITZER: And just to be precise on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, as of now, you're not planning on raising the threat level, are you?

NAPOLITANO: Right now, we have no specific credible intelligence that would suggest that we should.

BLITZER: Even out of an abundance of caution given the fact that the U.S. found information in Bin Laden's compound that he wanted to do something spectacular on the 10th anniversary?

NAPOLITANO: Look, aspiration versus ability and an actual plot are very different things, but should we evaluate in the whole picture and decide, yes. In the context of the entire picture, we should raise the alert level, we will do so.

BLITZER: If the U.S. had credible information where Ayman al- Zawahiri, the new al Qaeda, is hiding out presumably in Pakistan or someplace, would you, would the president authorize killing him like he did with Bin Laden?

NAPOLITANO: Well, the president has those options. They're very carefully circumscribed, but our whole goal is to make sure that the American people remain safe, not just from core al Qaeda but all the other al Qaeda groups, AQAP, for example.

BLITZER: Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

NAPOLITANO: Exactly right. AQIM, another, al Shabaab another one, and also, we now have the phenomenon of home-grown terrorism, and we have to be alert to that as well.

BLITZER: Like what they call these lone wolves?

NAPOLITANO: Lone wolves which are particularly difficult, because, by definition, they're not plotting with anybody, and therefore, there's no communication to intercept.

BLITZER: But they are inspired, if you will, by someone like Anwar al-Awlaki, the American born cleric in Yemen. You, meaning the United States government, you tried to kill him after Bin Laden, but narrowly missed, right?

NAPOLITANO: They are inspired. It is that ideology, and Awlaki has been a potential - you know, a very active propagandist as it were for al Qaeda and its ideology.

BLITZER: He's wanted dead or alive, right?

NAPOLITANO: He is wanted. Yes.

BLITZER: Dead or alive?


BLITZER: Even though he's an American citizen?

NAPOLITANO: This has been of concern, but yes, he is a very active member of al Qaeda.

BLITZER: Let met read to you from this new report that the Department of Homeland Security came out with today implementing 9/11 commission recommendations, one of your conclusions.

"While America is stronger and more resilient as a result of these efforts to strengthen the Homeland Security enterprise, threats from terrorism persist and continue to evolve. Today's threats do not come from any one individual or group, they may originate in distant lands or local neighborhoods. They may be as simple as a homemade bomb or as sophisticated as a biological threat or coordinated cyber attack."

And I know you're concerned about cyber-warfare right now. I didn't see in that conclusion concern about a nuclear, some sort of nuclear threat, a nuclear device being used against the United States. Is that unrealistic or realistic?

NAPOLITANO: You know, the conclusion is meant to suggest that we can't be focused just on one thing or one group. We have to focus on many different types of tactics, many different types of techniques, many different types of groups or individuals, and so, we do have concerns and work done in the nuclear realm, the biological realm, the chemical realm, all of the different tactics that could potentially be used by a terrorist.

BLITZER: Are these terrorists any closer to getting their hands on some sort of biological or nuclear device?

NAPOLITANO: You know, I think biological is somewhat of a greater concern, the nuclear in that particular sense, chemical as well, and, you know, different types of poisons, different kinds of things that could be used to attack an innocent citizenry. And so, there are different things that we have to be able to do. We have to be able to collect intelligence.

We have to be able to share intelligence, internationally, and share it in real time basis across the country. These are things, that ability to share, collect, share, spread across the country, receive intelligence back didn't exist prior to 9/11. We have it now.

BLITZER: Good luck.

NAPOLITANO: Thank you.

BLITZER: We're counting on you.

NAPOLITANO: Thank you.

BLITZER: Madam secretary, thanks for coming in.



The Situation Room

Author Archive

Follow Real Clear Politics

Latest On Twitter