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‘Pen and Pad’ Session with the Secretary

This afternoon I had the opportunity to participate in a ‘Pen and Pad’ Session with Sec. Napolitano.   I joined the session via teleconference, and, like her in-person appearances before the Hill, the media and speaking venues, the Secretary came through loud and clear on her key points and messaging.

The same could not be said for the reporters whose voices and questions were either inaudible or incomprehensible via the teleconference bridge.  Whether they were in the room with her or dialing in like my fellow blogger, John Solomon of In Case of Emergency Blog and I did, it was a real challenge to make out the questions that were being asked to the Secretary.

Hopefully a transcript will appear at some point to help me fill in the blanks, but in the meantime, here is what I learned from the Secretary’s opening remarks and responses to the often unintelligible questions.

Upcoming Travel

The Secretary will be spending the next several weeks on the road with meetings in the UK, Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Kuwait meeting with her counterparts in those countries to discuss everything from information sharing; immigration; law enforcement operations; US Coast Guard operations; various agreements between the US and the respective nations she’s visiting; cargo screening/supply chain security; privacy protections and more.

Upcoming Focus – Counter Terrorism

Another focus of her trip and for the next 4-5 weeks will be focusing on the counter-terrorism mission that the US has here at home and with its international partners.  In her words, “There’s lots of work to be done.”

When she was questioned about why she and the Department are focusing on counter-terrorism over the next couple of weeks and whether the threat of something occurring had changed, Sec. Napolitano offered that “the threat is always with us” but that it was also “an ideal time to focus on this as to what’s going on around the world.”

She also shared that she is interested in learning more about the UK’s  deradicalization program that they have working on and what lessons could be learned from their efforts.

PASS-ID is good; “REAL-ID was unreal”
Upon her return to the US she will be focusing on the recently introduced PASS-ID and will fulfill recommendations of 9/11 Commission.  The Secretary described PASS-ID as a “common sense bill” with plenty of “bipartisan support” from the nation’s governors, Members of Congress, the National Sheriff’s Association and other law enforcement organizations.

It was also her view that this legislation would help the country in its “never ending quest to satisfy the mandates of the 9/11 Commission” and allow us to “go beyond them.”

She described the REAL-ID Act as “an unfunded mandate on the states” and as one of the most negatively received pieces of legislation that she had ever seen in her career.

“REAL-ID was unreal.  It wasn’t going to happen. It was dead.”

She seemed pretty clear on her preferences – don’t you think?

The UK and Terrorism

In response to a question about her travel to England, the Secretary observed that in terms of sheer number of incidents, the UK “has had more threats that have materialized and moved forward,” and “It’s important that we lash up with them.”

In terms of actual threats to the UK, the US and others, she shared that, “it’s Al Qaeda,” “copycats,” “wannabes” and others.

“My view is we have to stand in a constant state of readiness.”

She also observed that, “we can’t put the United States under a bubble.”

“How we share information is important”
and, “terrorism can occur in different ways as we have seen.”

Cyber Security
In response to a question about cyber security and the role of the Pentagon, its newly announced Cyber Command; the establishment of the White House Cyber Security Advisor and DHS’ role, Sec. Napolitano reinforced the fact that DOD will have the lead over the entire .mil Internet domain.  For its part, DHS would lead on the .gov (non-military side of government) as well as the private sector and the .org domains as well.

In offering her response, the Secretary also shared that Phil Reitinger who she tapped to be the Deputy Undersecretary of the Department’s National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD) was recruited into his post.  Reitinger was also recently named by the Secretary to lead the National Cybersecurity Center (NCSC) as part of her efforts to consolidate cyber programs within DHS.

As to the role of the newly created White House Cyber Security Advisor, this individual (when named/selected by the President) will play a “purely coordination” role and not be “operational” in any way.

“If there are policy issues to be resolved, [the White House Cyber Security Advisor] will be there to do that.”

Future leadership for DHS’ Information & Analysis Directorate
When questioned about when a new nominee would be named to replace Phillip Mudd who withdrew his name from consideration to be the Chief Intelligence Officer and Under Secretary for Information & Analysis Directorate she said she would give “no time estimate on Phil’s replacement,” but she and her team were “moving quickly to find someone for his position.”

Mexico and National Security
In response to a question regarding immigration and comments by New York’s senior US Senator, Chuck Schumer about wanting to improve “operational control” of the US border, Sec. Napolitano gently pushed back on the questioner stating that she didn’t know what he meant by “operational control” of the border.  In her mind and experience though, we (the US) did not have operational control over the border when over half a million illegal aliens were being captured by US Border Patrol and other law enforcement officers.  That situation has changed dramatically as there are not near the numbers of persons coming across the US border thanks to a number of improvements.  One of those improvements that she mentioned was the much-maligned Secure Border Initiative (SBI).  She explained that a number of the initial problems SBI had experienced have been worked out and that it was fully “operational in the areas it has been deployed.”

“I feel very good about where things are going on the border.”

In terms of the on-going drug war that has been going on in Mexico, the Secretary shared that, “We have a historic opportunity to work with Mexico to go after the cartels….  From San Diego to Brownsville” [TX].

She was careful to point out that the cartels are just not confined to border areas.  “They have tentacles that reach far into communities around the US.”

She pledged that the Department would continue to work with the Mexican government, but it was also committed to working with the state and local law enforcement along the southwest border to keep everyone informed and working together.  She mentioned that there are regular calls with sheriffs and law enforcement personnel.  While she did not say she was part of those calls I got the distinct impression that she probably made it a personal practice of hers to participate in them in some shape or fashion.  It was obvious that the border issue is a personal one for her.

And Then We Got Cut Off

Whether it was the fact that the call was starting to run over its allotted 30 minute timeframe; the Secretary got fed up with the poor audio quality and feedback on the teleconference bridge or someone forgot to pay the DHS phone bill, the Pen and Pad session with the Secretary suddenly ended for John Solomon and me.  While John and I were still on the conference line (he being in NYC; me in my office in downtown DC), there all of sudden was no more Secretary Napolitano or inaudible, mumbling reporters on the other end of the phone.  That meant John and I were out of luck as to asking the Secretary our questions.  Oh well… That’s how the cookie crumbles as Mom would say, but it was still an informative session to absorb and I was grateful to be given the opportunity to participate.

As for the questions I was looking to ask if given the chance – I prepared five of them not knowing what the other participants might ask.  You always need a back-up/contingency plan in circumstances like these and they are offered at the end of this post for your review.

My takeaways from the Pen and Pad:
•    There is no doubt that the Secretary is in command of the DHS ship.  She knows her priorities, she’s focused on working them, and she’s prepared to plow ahead to get there.  Sec. Napolitano is also crystal clear in her direction and feelings on programs and issues.  Once she’s decided on what’s she wants done (after doing her homework), get out of the way.

•    The Secretary is also carrying with her the voices, experiences, hopes and frustrations of her former colleagues, the US governors and law enforcement communities in her new role.  She is keenly dedicated to making sure that whatever the Department does in any of its mission areas that it takes into consideration the prospective impacts (e.g. costs, operations) of the people out in the homeland who have taken on offices and responsibilities to serve their states and communities.

•    Reporters either in person or on the phone need to speak up and speak clearly in order to be heard.  The Secretary had to ask at least one reporter to speak up when he/she was questioning her.  Furthermore, it’s always been my experience that you can’t read lips on a teleconference nor are you understandable if you sound like one of the adults on a Charlie Brown ‘Peanuts’ television special.

Prospective questions for Sec. Napolitano

Immigration Reform
•    With the President meeting with a bipartisan assembly of Congressional Members today to discuss immigration reform and the lingering memories of the two recently failed efforts by Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform legislation, what is your counsel to him having dealt with immigration as a former governor and now as the chief executive officer of the Department vested with border security and immigration oversight responsibilities?

NAO
•    Given Tuesday’s official announcement of shutting the NAO down, what are the lessons learned that you and the Department are taking away from what has been a protracted battle with Members of Congress, civil liberties groups and others about the use of technologies and assets such as those that were to be used by the NAO?

Infrastructure Investments and Inclusion of Risk & Resilience
•    With the Administration’s extraordinary investments in rebuilding substantial portions of the country’s aging and worn infrastructures, can you describe what role if any that DHS has had in working with the Department of Transportation and other Federal mechanisms to see that all hazards risk and resilience concepts are incorporated into investment and construction decisions?

H1N1 Lessons Learned
•    While H1N1 remains classified by the WHO as Phase 6 Pandemic and concerns remain about a possible resurgence of outbreaks here in the US in the Fall, what are some of the lessons learned and shortcomings you saw in how the Department and country dealt with this situation?

Personnel

•    A number of key positions at DHS remain unfilled including the TSA Administrator, Assistant Secretary for Infrastructure Protection, Under Secretary for Customs & Border Protection.  Can you describe the challenge that you have had to fill these important positions?

United We Serve Campaign / CERT Teams and Community Preparedness Grants
•    You, along with a number of the DHS and other Administration leaders, have been quite actively promoting the President’s United We Serve Campaign.  With the admonitions that FEMA Administrator, Craig Fugate has made in some of his recent remarks about improving the engagement and education of the public in disaster planning and response and your own encouragement of families and citizens to make themselves better prepared, do you seen an increase in grant funding and other resources being made available to CERT Programs and other community preparedness initiatives so as to enhance state, local and tribal government resilience?

Rich Cooper blog primarily on emergency preparedness and response, management issues related to the Department of Homeland Security, and the private sector’s role in homeland security. Read More