Talking with Authors: Janet Napolitano “How Safe Are We?”

    As the third full-time head of the Department of Homeland Security since its creation post September 11th, Secretary Napolitano is very well versed about the threats that the United States faces: foreign states acting against US interests, transnational terror organizations, and domestic groups wishing to disrupt the lives of the American public directly being among the many threats on the list.  But she says while people don’t often think of climate change and security in the same sentence, they ought to.

    In this wide-ranging interview, we’ll hear about how she approached dealing with these challenges during her 4 plus year stint in office during the Obama administration and how it compares to how things are being handled now during the Trump administration.  That and more from the former governor & cabinet secretary, and current President of the California University system and writer Janet Napolitano on this episode of “Talking with Authors” from HEC Media and HEC Books.

     

    Transcript

    Janet Napolitano:
    There were lots of red flags, but what was really note worthy was a failure of imagination.

    Paul Schankman:
    So much about our world changed on September 11th, 2001. As a reporter I was at ground zero within hours of the attack asking the big questions, how did this happen and how can we stop it from happening again? Today we are still asking those questions and former Homeland Security director, Janet Napolitano is answering them in her new book, How Safe Are We?

    Janet Napolitano:
    We pick up red flags better now than we did in the past, I’m not so sure we have the imagination part. That kind of forward thinking, holistic view of what it really takes to keep America safe.

    Paul Schankman:
    But are the threats to America’s homeland security all from forces outside the nation’s borders, and can they be controlled? Air travel, cybersecurity, climate change, how safe are we?

    Janet Napolitano:
    Oftentimes we can reverse engineer fairly rapidly after an event. But prevention, we still have a lot to do.

    Paul Schankman:
    What the former director of Homeland security sees as the biggest threats to our safety and what she thinks must be done to protect the nation in this edition of First Person, One on One with Janet Napolitano, sponsored by Left Bank Books and HEC Media.

    Paul Schankman:
    Secretary Napolitano, Thanks so much for joining us for our show today.

    Janet Napolitano:
    Oh, thanks for having me.

    Paul Schankman:
    You bet. I’m really tempted because the book is, How Safe Are We, to start by saying how safe are we? We’ll stick a pin in that question for a minute and come back to it because I really want to know why you chose now, you’ve been out of government service for awhile, to write this book?

    Janet Napolitano:
    Well, because I’ve been thinking a lot about Homeland security and what are the real risks that we face as a nation, as a country. And what are the real risks and what are, what I would like to think of as more theatrical risks, but are not really an impending danger to the American people. And I thought I had something to say about that.

    Paul Schankman:
    What would be an example of a theatrical risk?

    Janet Napolitano:
    Building a wall on the Southwest border is a good example of that. The Southwest border, it’s a zone, it’s the most frequently trafficked land border in the world. I was the governor of Arizona before I was the secretary of Homeland security. I grew up in New Mexico, I know that border very, very well. And the notion that you’re going to somehow seal it off with a wall… That is a symbol, it’s not a strategy. And the border itself is not in crisis.

    Paul Schankmano:
    Not at emergency?

    Janet Napolitano:
    Not an emergency, no, not at all.

    Paul Schankman:
    Was there a time you declared, as governor, an emergency at the border?

    Janet Napolitano:
    In the early 2000s, yes. At that point in time, the number of illegal migration crossings was at a multiple factor of what it is now. And because of actions that had been taken in San Diego and in El Paso, over half of the illegal migration traffic was coming right up through Arizona. So that border between Arizona Sonora was not secure at that point in time, but it certainly is now. Under President Obama we drove illegal crossings to 45 year lows and those numbers have stayed relatively static until just recently.

    Paul Schankman:
    So why is this such a thing suddenly? Is it just a wedge issue, it’s politics, or is there really something to be concerned about?

    Janet Napolitano:
    I have to say, I think it’s a wedge issue. It’s designed to divide and to mischaracterize the conditions at the border. The US/Mexico border is 1,940 miles, it’s a lot of different kinds of terrain. It’s public land, it’s private land, it’s sovereign Indian nations. You have cities on both sides of the border that bump right up to the border. In fact, some of the safest cities in the United States are actually on the Mexican border. One would think that wouldn’t be the case if it was truly a border in crisis.

    Paul Schankman:
    What still needs to be done though to secure it even more?

    Janet Napolitano:
    I think you need to think of the border between the ports of entry and at the ports of entry. So, between the ports you need manpower, you need technology, ground sensors, tunnel detectors, you need air cover and drones. And then at the ports of entry we need to strengthen the technology there so that with the thousands of cars and trucks that go through that port every single day, they can be quickly x-rayed as it were… It’s kind of an x-ray to see if there’s any suspicious compartments or something that looks untoward, and then a vehicle can be pulled over into secondary. But meanwhile the traffic keeps moving.

    Paul Schankman:
    Well, a lot of the undocumented people, I guess they’re not crossing the border, they’re flying in, and just stay.

    Janet Napolitano:
    Well, most of the people who are in the country who are undocumented actually came legally and they’ve overstayed their visas. They didn’t cross across the Southwest border.

    Paul Schankman:
    When I read the book, I assume that I’d open it up and chapter one would be terrorism, or cyber security, and so forth and so on. But the threat that you say is the biggest in the book is climate change. Tell me about that.

    Janet Napolitano:
    Right. So people don’t often think of climate and security in the same sentence, but they really ought to because when you think of security as the protection of people’s safety, and when you look at the number of people who have died due to extreme weather events, which are themselves traceable to climate change, that far outstrips any number of deaths due to terrorism. And we’re going to see more landfall hurricanes, more tornadoes of greater intensity, droughts out West, which lead to these catastrophic wildfires. We lost dozens of people’s lives this year in California, and this is all a function of the warming of the planet and we need to address it in two ways. One is, as a nation we need to join the community of nations and do our part to reduce the rate with which the planet is warming and rejoin, say the Paris Accords.

    Janet Napolitano:
    The second thing is we need to focus more on adaptation to the climate change that’s already happened. The rising sea levels, how we build our roads, where we put our bridges, our airport runways, the kinds of building materials that we use. If a community is destroyed by an extreme weather event, is it rebuilt in the same place or do we move it someplace else? Those are in some respects, real security issues and it’s a set of risks that we don’t talk about in that way, but we ought to.

    Paul Schankman:
    Well certainly is taxing the folks at FEMA, which is of course part of the Department of Homeland security, which a lot of people probably don’t realize because a lot of people, since it’s still a fairly new department, don’t really know what Homeland Security does. It’s a lot of things.

    Janet Napolitano:
    It’s a lot of things. It was a combined of 22 formerly separate agencies that came from different legacy departments, treasury, transportation, the Department of Justice, the Department of Commerce, and then some totally new directorates that were also established in the wake of 9/11. It was designed out of the hope to give the United States greater capability of connecting the dots in case there was a 9/11 style attack in the offing once again, but its mission is so much broader than just that.

    Paul Schankman:
    Are they better able to connect the dots now? Because there were warning signs going up to 9/11 that somehow or another got missed or ignored I guess.

    Janet Napolitano:
    Well, the 9/11 commission report in kind of reverse engineering how the 9/11 attack occurred said “Yeah, there were lots of red flags, but what was really noteworthy was a failure of imagination.” And so we pick up red flags better now than we did in the past. I’m not so sure we have the imagination part, that kind of forward thinking, holistic view of what it really takes to keep America safe.

    Paul Schankman:
    Well, and I think you said in the book that part of the reason that President Obama hired you was because he thought you had a dark imagination or capable of a dark imagination?

    Janet Napolitano:
    Right. So when you’re the secretary of Homeland Security, you deal with the the day in, day out crisis that is occurring, but you also have to be able to think in what if scenarios. What if not just bombing one shopping center, but there were multiple shopping centers all bombed around the country during the holiday shopping period? What if not just a flu season, but a true pandemic? What if not just one landfall hurricane, but three right in a row, or a right at the same time as we saw in 2017? So you really have to be able to to say, “Okay, if such a thing were to occur, what would we do? What resources would we bring to bear? How would we communicate with the American people? How would we organize the resources of the federal government?” All those kinds of things that you need to put into your playbook.

    Paul Schankman:
    Yeah, I would imagine anybody at the cabinet level in any administration probably doesn’t sleep that great at night, but I would think particularly with that job, that must’ve been really stressful for you.

    Janet Napolitano:
    It is a very stressful job, but I’ve always been a good compartmentalizer. I don’t know what it is about my personality, but I also think the Secretary of Homeland Security has to be able to compartmentalize, otherwise you’ll go crazy.

    Paul Schankman:
    You were talking about red flags before, it always strikes me after one of these awful attacks, at a Christmas market or a truck going through people, what have you, it seems within an hour if not sooner, you hear on the news, they know exactly who did it. It’s somebody they’d been watching and so forth. If they’re watching all these folks, how is this happening?

    Janet Napolitano:
    Well, there’s a difference between perhaps knowing something about an individual versus having an individual under 24/7 surveillance. And we simply don’t have the capability to keep everybody about who we may have a little bit of so-called derogatory information under 24/7 surveillance. That puts a premium on good intelligence gathering. It puts a premium on effective partnerships with local police departments and community groups and others who are really paying attention. Oftentimes we can reverse engineer fairly rapidly after an event, but prevention, we still have a lot to do.

    Paul Schankman:
    Well the other side of that coin I suppose is that there are probably a lot of attacks that you may have known about that we didn’t know about that were prevented because of intelligence. Is there more than we even imagine?

    Janet Napolitano:
    There’s an awful lot that is prevented and it doesn’t become public, nor should it. That’s just part of the security landscape and we want to walk a careful line between keeping people informed versus scaring people, and scaring people unnecessarily.

    Paul Schankman:
    Well, I’ll tell you what scares me, maybe it’s unnecessary, but I doubt it, is cybersecurity. Particularly things like the electric grid, the banking system. It seems like somebody could shut us down.

    Janet Napolitano:
    I actually think… I put that right up there with climate change, is a major risk facing the United States. And it’s extraordinarily complicated, we live in a networked world and the networks don’t stop at national borders so there’s an international aspect to this. Our nation’s critical infrastructure, our banking, our telecommunications, our utilities, are by and large in private sector hands. And this is just something where in my book I call for kind of a pre 9/11 commission.

    Janet Napolitano:
    So after the 9/11 attacks, there was a commission assembled of really leading thinkers and people in public life to go back and identify how the 9/11 attack occurred. And that’s where they found the failure of imagination. All kinds of red flags, but a failure of imagination. We have so many red flags in the cyber world now, but I fear that we are still suffering from that failure of imagination. And we should actually have almost a pre 9/11 commission where cyber is concerned to really bring together both the public and the private sector to really drill down on how we can improve our security in the cyber area. And in my book I talk about 10 different questions that such a commission could address.

    Paul Schankman:
    Yeah. I mean, it’s pretty scary and sometimes you get the feeling that the private sector isn’t doing much with it. I mean, you look at all the credit card breaches and things like that that just keep happening.

    Janet Napolitano:
    Yeah. And I wonder whether it’s all about the bottom line, and return on investment for spending money on cybersecurity, and maybe a breach or a hack is just construed as a cost of doing business. But we can’t continue on in that way without being at our peril.

    Paul Schankman:
    Well, and now we’ve got these political implications too of other nations, particularly Russia I guess, at this moment, trying to meddle in things over here through our social media, trying to get into our head.

    Janet Napolitano:
    Yes. And if there’s one thing that’s clear from the Mueller Report and the indictments that have issued out of the Mueller Investigation is that the Russians were all over our 2016 presidential election. They were hacking the Clinton campaign, they were releasing emails, they were planting false and misleading stories on social media all to advantage of Donald Trump and to disadvantage Hillary Clinton. I want to know what we’re doing as a country to strengthen our protections in this regard, so to give us greater confidence that this isn’t happening or cannot happen in 2020.

    Paul Schankman:
    Yeah. I mean, it’s sort of seen as a partisan issue now because the assumption was that they were trying to get Donald Trump into office, but it could happen to either side, whoever they decide as a candidate that would be too some advantage to them.

    Janet Napolitano:
    Right. And I think if a foreign adversary is intervening directly in our democracy, that to me is an act of a cyber warfare and we should be talking about greater sanctions on Russia, among other things.

    Paul Schankman:
    Well, and we have freedom of speech in this country, but these social media platforms are not owned by the government. People always think freedom of speech means you can say whatever you want, wherever you want, do whatever you want, but it’s freedom of speech, protection from the government. These private companies, Facebook, Twitter and so forth and so on, what responsibility do you think that you have to come up with some sort of a way to temper this?

    Janet Napolitano:
    I think they have a lot of responsibility and not only in electoral interference but on things like the rise of white nationalism and right wing extremism. I mean, I think one of the good things we saw was that Facebook actually announced that it was going to take offline any white nationalists material, and if people were using those search terms they were going to be a referenced over to anti hate groups. I thought that was a good step in the right direction.

    Paul Schankman:
    You make the point in the book that sometimes we’re our own worst enemies, meaning individually as far as protecting our own privacy, we need to do more.

    Janet Napolitano:
    Yeah indeed. And there are techniques people can use to protect their passwords and protect their websites, and all that sort of thing. And they’re pretty straightforward, but it’s amazing how few people go to that trouble.

    Paul Schankman:
    Domestic terrorism, I suppose you can frame lots of different things as domestic terrorism, but we certainly have our share of mass shootings, more than our share of mass shootings. And I imagine more people die in these mass shootings than ever die in these terrorist attacks that always seemed to grab the headlines. Why don’t we seem to be compelled to try to do more about it? Or is it just throw up your hands and go, “There’s nothing we can do about it.”

    Janet Napolitano:
    We need to do much more by way of really studying these individuals and what are the true red flags that we should be paying attention to, so that we have a true intervention strategy that we deploy. And then I actually think we need better gun safety laws in this country.

    Paul Schankman:
    Well we’ve got the bump stocks eliminated now, is that going to be one of those situations where “Okay, we eliminated the bump stocks, we’ve done some gun control, you happy?” Or can this proceed?

    Janet Napolitano:
    I think we should do more. And I think we only need to look at what happened in New Zealand to know that there’s more that can and should be done. And look, we’re a second amendment country, we believe in the right to bear arms, a well-ordered militia, et cetera. But I’m not sure the founding fathers were thinking of the kinds of weapons that are being used these days.

    Paul Schankman:
    There was the thing with the threat levels, the different colors, I guess that’s kind of gone away, but you mentioned in the book that you are seeing sort of a terrorism 1.0 terrorism 2.0 terrorism 3.0 what are those various levels, in your opinion?

    Janet Napolitano:
    So terrorism 1.0 is Al-Qaeda. It’s the 9/11 style, big conspiracy directed by a foreign entity. Terrorism 2.0 is the development of homegrown terrorist groups from within the United States and 3.0 is the growth of the lone wolves who are acting on their own, radicalized on their own. And again, a difficult issue to solve. Why? Because there’s no conspiracy to interrupt, there are no communications to intercept. So you have to have a better way to find these people out.

    Paul Schankman:
    The book is pretty harsh on the current administration. I think at one point you’ve accused them of some sort of security malpractice. Talk about that for a little bit. What is concerning you right now?

    Janet Napolitano:
    Well, I thought the whole separation of children from their families at the border, that was security malpractice. It was bad policy. It was not a good reading of, or required by our laws. It was inconsistent with our values. And even if you were going to say that zero tolerance at the border was a good policy, i.e. that you got to actually criminally prosecute everyone caught coming over as opposed to putting them into civil deportation procedures. Even if you’re going to do that, you’d have to recognize that that would necessitate separating children from families. And that would mean that not only was the Department of Justice involved, but the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services. And once you have preferred having done some pre policy planning, in terms of how you were going to reunite children with their parents if they indeed had to be separated, none of that seems to have occurred.

    Paul Schankman:
    Let’s talk about the TSA. Are you amazed at the stuff that people try to sneak on planes and I assume they’re trying to sneak it on, that they’re not so stupid that they think they can still bring a gun on a plane, but [crosstalk 00:22:13] .

    Janet Napolitano:
    Oh, people do all the time. Yeah. Yeah. I don’t know what they’re thinking, but it’s why we need TSA agents. And fortunately air travel is safe and we can have confidence in the safety of air travel.

    Paul Schankman:
    You actually did a stint as a TSA operator.

    Janet Napolitano:
    On Thanksgiving, I went down to national airport in DC and worked the line for a couple of hours and I’ll tell you, that gave me a lot of respect for TSA agents. I’ve never seen so many kinds of shoes in my life.

    Paul Schankman:
    I guess some people probably recognized you and your portrait hanging in the [crosstalk 00:22:49] .

    Janet Napolitano:
    Oh my gosh, yeah, and they’re like, ‘What are you doing here?” And I’m like, “Well, you know I’m working the line.”

    Paul Schankman:
    Manpower shortage.

    Janet Napolitano:
    Exactly.

    Paul Schankman:
    Just curious, when you write a book like this, does it have to be vetted by the government?

    Janet Napolitano:
    Yes, we had to have it reviewed at the Department of Homeland Security to make sure I wasn’t divulging any super secret stuff.

    Paul Schankman:
    Did they make you take anything out?

    Janet Napolitano:
    A few edits, yes.

    Paul Schankman:
    I guess you won’t tell us what those are?

    Janet Napolitano:
    No, no, no.

    Paul Schankman:
    People probably don’t know what you’re doing today, let folks know where you’re at.

    Janet Napolitano:
    I’m the president of the University of California. I live in the Bay area in California and I run the nation’s largest public research university.

    Paul Schankman:
    And to that end, I’m wondering if you think curriculum in in various institutions need to perhaps reflect the realities of today and include some sort coursework, or maybe even a major or something, in some of these areas that need better and smarter people to try to figure these things out?

    Janet Napolitano:
    Well, we see that, in higher education around the country there’s a lot of growth in homeland security studies. Certainly a huge amount of growth in cybersecurity related work. So, higher education is definitely heavily involved here.

    Paul Schankman:
    One of the things that surprised me about the book, because it’s full of a lot of heavy, frightening topics is in places it’s really quite funny. Are you more amusing than we give you credit for because of the job that you had?

    Janet Napolitano:
    One would hope so.

    Paul Schankman:
    Yeah, I didn’t expect to find it like that. Did you enjoy writing the book?

    Janet Napolitano:
    I did enjoy writing it. I had a great coauthor, but I did a lot of the writing myself.

    Paul Schankman:
    So that brings us back to the beginning. How safe are we?

    Janet Napolitano:
    In some areas we’re much safer now than we were prior to 9/11, in other areas risks continue to evolve and we’re not as safe as we ought to be.

    Paul Schankman:
    But you’re still optimistic?

    Janet Napolitano:
    I’m an eternal optimist.

    Paul Schankman:
    Secretary Napolitano, thanks so much for spending time with us.

    Janet Napolitano:
    Thank you.

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