A day later, she was much clearer in her wording.
"We want to go backward now and review our list processes," she said the next day. "They clearly need to be adjusted. We need to look at this individual specifically, and the screening technology that was deployed."
Napolitano says when she first made that initial remark, she was referring to security precautions put in place after the bomber was discovered.
"A lesson learned was in this job, one must always be clear. And, you know, that's just the way it is. But you also can't, you know, sit and cry about it," she says. "It was definitely a lesson learned, but it also was a catalyst for one of the major initiatives now of this department ... an entire global initiative to increase aviation security."
The incident was a close call in a job with enormous responsibility.
"It has many aspects to it and you just got to deal with it as a person," she says. "You've got to then organize and lead and make sure that everybody in this huge vast department -- which is the third largest department of the United States and it covers almost everything as you're seeing -- is leaning forward, taking every action that they can and really thinking thoughtfully about what needs to be done."
"You got to be willing to make decisions quickly that you know will be second-guessed by people who have a lot of time," she adds.
Back at headquarters there are still more briefings, this time at the super secure National Operations Center -- a communications hub where the government tracks crises, usually more than one at a time.
There, Don Treanor, acting head of National Operations Center briefs Napolitano.
"First, I want to give you an update on the volcanic ash," he says, showing her the latest satellite picture of the Icelandic volcano that grounded all flights to and from the United Kingdom and surrounding areas.
But the oil spill continues to dominate, and the Department is trying to use all the technology it has to monitor the situation.
"As you can see we have the live, remote feed from the [remote operated vehicle] -- and there is nothing coming out of wellhead. From remote the operated vehicle -- about 30 feet from the bottom," he says.
"That's from the ROV?" she inquires.
"How deep is this here?"
"This is about 4,500 feet below the surface."
"That is as up close and personal as you can get," Napolitano says, watching the feed.
Then it's off for more briefings, and to prepare for a congressional hearing -- and the next crisis.
ABC News' Kristina Wong and Lee Ferran contributed to this story.