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

NAPOLITANO: Well, it was a situation where there were three interviews and in two of them it was very clear I was talking about after the fact. The third one I wasn't clear. And a lesson learned was in this job, one must always be clear. And that's just the way it is.

But you also can't sit and cry about it. There was work to be done -- work to be done to identify what happened here.

How did this man get on a plane with PETN and the capacity to possibly detonate it?

What do we need to do to prevent a successful attack of that sort?

How do we now raise the level of global aviation security and security awareness as a result of his failed attempt?

So, yes, it was definitely a lesson learned, but it also was a catalyst for one of the major initiatives now of this department, which is to participate in and help, perhaps, lead an entire global initiative to increase aviation security.

THOMAS: And what's been the response so far?

NAPOLITANO: Very good. Very strong. You know, I remind people that there were passengers from 17 nations, in addition to the United States, on Flight 253. This was an attack against the world. And remember, the aviation system is a world system. It's a global system. It has been an engine for economic progress for the last 50 years. It's an opportunity for families to get together, tourism and all sorts of other activities.

So if the global aviation system can't work, that impacts lots of lives. The global aviation system works, we can make it stronger and more secure. We need to work in a global fashion to do that.

Homegrown Terrorism

THOMAS: This week, you started the week in Oklahoma City. The homegrown threat -- how real does that remain and how concerned are you about that?

NAPOLITANO: It remains real. It remains something that seems to cycle in and cycle out or pendulum in and pendulum back over time. But we saw the militia taken down in Michigan just recently. And I remember, as the former U.S. Attorney for Arizona and then the attorney general of Arizona, we had quite a bit of militia activity there in the early '90s.

And so going to Oklahoma City was a key reminder and, yes, we do have concerns now.

THOMAS: How about the situation where, just starting with the health care debate for a moment, the rhetoric that we saw in terms of people talking about this being a socialist country, that freedoms were being sucked away. You saw pictures of the president with the Hitler mustache, dressed as The Joker. We saw people showing up at health care rallies with guns on their side. In terms of similarities to pre-Oklahoma City and now, do you have some concerns? And you oversee the Secret Service, for example.


THOMAS: That people should be careful about their rhetoric these days, because it can wash over to people who are unstable?

NAPOLITANO: Look, with live in a country that has had overheated rhetoric or a rhetoric of vociferous disagreement. It's part of our past, it's part of our history. It is protected First Amendment activity. So while I may not like it and I may not think it contributes to public knowledge about what the issues are, it is part and parcel of the tapestry that is the United States. And where I believe our department should be concerned is when rhetoric starts to spill over into actual planning of violence or violent acts.

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