Transcript: Behind-the-Scenes With Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano

Janet Napolitano at her desk.

ABC News' Pierre Thomas caught an exclusive interview with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, and a rare behind-the-scenes glimpse of her day.

The 52-year-old former Arizona attorney, attorney general and governor begins her day at 7:30 a.m. with a daily threat briefing, and after that, it's non-stop conference calls, meetings, ceremonies and more briefings, all in the name of preventing the next big disaster, or mitigating its damage.

On Al Qaeda

THOMAS: How do you describe their capabilities now and what are the trends regarding them that you are concerned about at the moment?

NAPOLITANO: Well, I think in some respects, we've been very successful at either confining or eliminating their leadership. But they still have leadership. And there are al Qaeda or al Qaeda-related groups in -- in several places.

And, unfortunately, one of the things we've seen over the last year is the phenomenon of U.S. citizens traveling to the [federally administered tribal areas], traveling to Yemen, to learn the tactics used by al Qaeda and then coming back. And I'm talking about the whole of government. This is not DHS per se, while the whole of government has made progress against al Qaeda, they remain and they remain an ever present threat.

One thing we know they are constantly focused on is the threat to aviation, which is why we've been working so hard to accelerate some of the security measures that we had put in motion, but we have now accelerated.

But there are other things, as well. Surface transportation. Subsurface, meaning subways, but also surface transportation, the movement of things across the border. That could be used by them. So they are ever present. And we just assume them to be now part of a -- an ever present or ever changing threat environment within the United States.

THOMAS: You know, I've covered the department since its beginning. And really since 9/11, we've had a number of sophisticated plots develop. But what struck me in the latter part of 2009 is between September and December you had two fairly sophisticated plots that were sort of in their final stages. You had the Zazi plot. We just had a guilty plea today.

NAPOLITANO: And Headley.

THOMAS: And Headley. I mean you had the Christmas Day plot, where al Qaeda had executed or tried to execute fairly sophisticated plans in their latter stages. That sort of struck me. Did it strike you, as well, that their capabilities were still that, I guess, robust and also that they were still trying that hard?

NAPOLITANO: Yes, both of those things. And, obviously, with Zazi and Headley, it goes right to what I was talking about, which are plots that are designed take place within the United States. They're very different than 9/11 style plots. I mean 9/11 involved a very elaborate conspiracy with lots of people in it and very sophisticated methodology to get to the point where you could fly a commercial airliner into the World Trade Center, where you could fly one into the Pentagon, where you could try to fly one into the Capitol. And we know what happened. It was Flight 93...

THOMAS: Right.

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