Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Matt Drudge is “just wrong” for dubbing her “Big Sis” on his Drudge Report website, and defended DHS’s efforts to respect people’s civil liberties while protecting against terrorist attacks.
“I don’t think he means it kindly,” Napolitano said, when asked about the nickname today during an event sponsored by Politico. “I think that what he means is that we are watching too much; kind of an Orwellian view. And he’s just wrong.”
Although Homeland Security does have a vast intelligence architecture at Customs and Border Protection, TSA, Immigration Customs Enforcement, the Coast Guard and Secret Service, Napolitano dismissed any privacy concerns.
“We’re always striking that balance,” between security and liberty, Napolitano said.
While programs such as US-VISIT collect biometric fingerprint information and pictures of certain international travelers and DHS runs airline passenger name and booking information (Passenger name Records) through watch lists and other databases, Napolitano said, “We don’t do anything without running it through our own civil rights and privacy office.”
Some DHS programs have been killed because they have been viewed as intrusive. During the Bush administration DHS proposed setting up the National Applications Office to provide DHS and civil, state and local emergency planners with imagery and data from satellites run by the National Reconnaissance Office and the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency. Napolitano decided to end the program after a lengthy review in June 2009.
“The concern that there is too much intelligence gathering … I think is overblown,” Napolitano said.
Describing the challenges of obtaining intelligence to identify potential threats Napolitano said, “The plain fact of the matter is that we live in a very complicated world where there are different sources of terrorism — of violent extremism, and we have to be cognizant of all of those sources of evolving threats and we have to constantly be changing what we do in order…to prevent a successful attack.”
Asked by Politico’s Mike Allen if she had a nickname for Drudge, Napolitano demurred saying, “I think we should keep our discussion at a high level.”
One area where the public does see and interact with DHS on a daily basis is passing through airline security. Passenger screening is the final layer of security after intelligence and data collection have run their course to detect possible threats. Napolitano said that eventually travelers will be able to keep their shoes on as screening methods improve.
“We are moving towards an intelligence and risk-based approach to how we screen,” she said. “I think one of the first things you will see over time is the ability to keep your shoes on. One of the last things is the reduction or limitation on liquids.”
A report released last week by the Bipartisan Policy Center’s National Security Preparedness Group and former members of the 9/11 Commission criticized the government for not moving forward or fast enough to develop suitable screening technologies.
“There’s going to be better technology,” Napolitano said. “We moved to magnetometers to a new AIT [Advanced Imagine Technology].”
Making reference to a joint DHS/ FBI bulletin that was distributed to law enforcement over the weekend on aviation threats Napolitano said, “The terrorists continue to focus on aviation…why? Because aviation succeeded in the past.”