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Napolitano: ‘Heightened State of Alert’ Continues After Bin Laden’s Death

May 13, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
In a newsmaker interview with Judy Woodruff on Friday, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano discusses what impact the death of Osama bin Laden will have on security in the U.S.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We turn to the aftermath of the killing of Osama bin Laden and the impact on security here at home. Intelligence analysts are still combing through documents found at the compound where bin Laden lived. Among the details gleaned are reports that the al-Qaida leader wanted to kill President Obama and other U.S. officials.

For more on the threats still posed is U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

Madam Secretary, thank you for being with us.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Since the death of bin Laden, is the United States more secure or less secure?

JANET NAPOLITANO: Well, we certainly have removed a leader in — of al-Qaida. That is for certain.

But we also know that there are others out there, al-Qaida-related groups, that are international, homegrown terrorists that are right in our country. So, we still have to stay at a heightened state of alert.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, are you saying the situation is exactly the same as it was before?

JANET NAPOLITANO: Well, it’s not exactly the same. Of course, he was a leader, an iconic figure. And, as we now know, he was involved operationally.

But we have no reason to sit back and relax now. We still have to be leaning forward and thinking through what are some of the other threats our country faces.

JUDY WOODRUFF: One of the reasons I ask is that we have been hearing that there were disagreements between bin Laden, who wanted the focus to be on attacking the United States, and some of his other — the other leadership in al-Qaida, who felt that that was a mistake, that the attacks should be focused elsewhere. And, indeed, we had the report today, two suicide bombings in Pakistan.

So, one could look at that and say the threat to the U.S. is diminished with his death.

JANET NAPOLITANO: One could, but it would be a mistake to do so.

I think you have to look at the whole range of threats that face the United States, both international and domestic, the various forms they could take. And, again, we haven’t issued a specific advisory, a specific alert on any bit of intelligence we have gleaned, but we are constantly at a heightened level.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And let me ask you about that, because you did — it was said in the days after the raid that there was material found that led you to be concerned about rail traffic in the United States, as well as aviation.

Can you be any more specific about what was found and why that is a greater concern?

JANET NAPOLITANO: Well, without being overly specific, what I can say is that, much as we had thought before — it kind of confirmed what we were doing before — there was a focus on attacks that were transportation-sector specific, aviation and rail.

And so we sent information out to the entities that are involved and that part of our nation’s infrastructure, Amtrak, by way of example. But since we were already doing a number of things on the aviation side, there was nothing in that sense to add, except to say we — that we confirmed that what we were doing was the right thing to do.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Has anything else changed as a result of what was learned?

JANET NAPOLITANO: No, but I want to be very careful here.

I think what — what we did when we got rid of the color code set of alerts — which we did just — ironically, just very shortly before killing bin Laden — was, we said, look, we’re always at a heightened state of alert. That is our base level. We — we already assume into what we are doing a certain level of risks of certain kinds of attacks.

And if we receive specific or credible information on something that is imminent or something that could happen that people need to know how to protect themselves or their families, or we need them to help us look out for something, then we will raise the advisory level.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But — but it sounds as if you are saying that has not happened in the last two weeks.

JANET NAPOLITANO: That has not. That has not. We have made — we continue to assess 24/7. People are going through, not only that material, but other material we receive from other sources all the time.

And we have not yet been advised or have concluded that we need to raise the advisory level.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me can ask you, Madam Secretary, about another subject that’s under your purview. And that’s immigration.

President Obama made what he was calling — what he called a major speech this week. He went to Texas to talk about immigration. But even a number of his political allies are saying that he didn’t really propose anything new, that there’s not a program out there to reform immigration.

JANET NAPOLITANO: I would disagree.

I think the president has done a number of things during the course of his presidency, but specifically over the last 60 days, to say immigration remains a problem for our country. It’s a law enforcement issue. We have to do enforcement in a smart and effective way.

We believe the steps we have taken demonstrate that we are doing that. We have to have a secure border. We believe the massive amounts of resources we have deployed there demonstrate that. We also, however, need to look at the economic ramifications of immigration, and look at how we handle, for example, visas for agricultural workers, visas for high-tech workers.

We need to deal with the so-called DREAMers, the DREAM Act students. That’s going to require Congress.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, as long as you have this fundamental disagreement with many Republicans over whether the border is secure — the president was saying this week, the border is sufficiently secure, that the country should move on to reform immigration. Republicans are saying it’s not secure enough.

How do you bridge that in order to move forward?

JANET NAPOLITANO: Well, I think we bridge it by saying, this is — this is not a linear progression.

You have to do both, and you have to do both simultaneously, because not having immigration reform affects what is done at the border. These things are interrelated, so that, for example, if we are to conclude, as a nation, that more individuals should have visas, they come through our ports, we know who they are, we know where they’re going, how long they’re allowed to stay, that diminishes the pressure to cross illegally and to cross between those ports of entry. So, these things are all related to one another.

JUDY WOODRUFF: One of — a Democratic congressman — again, this is a friend of the president — Luis Gutierrez said this week, he said, the president is wrong to wait for Congress to act. He said, the president could do a number of specific things. Among other things, he said, he should say the country is not going to support the wives of U.S. soldiers.

JANET NAPOLITANO: Well, again, we — we deal with the wives of U.S. soldiers through the visa process.

Representative Gutierrez has a view that I think the president just doesn’t agree with and I don’t agree with. And that is that the president, by executive fiat, can do what the Congress has not yet been able to address.

And the president believes that that is not the appropriate use of executive branch power solely, that this must be done by the Congress. The president has laid out the principals of a bill. He has met, not only with congressmen of both parties repeatedly; he’s also met in the last few weeks with business leaders, with faith-based leaders, other groups around the country, all of whom have reached the same conclusion, which is that Congress needs to act.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Just finally, I saw there was an editorial in The Christian Science Monitor this week which said the president has been too overtly political about immigration. It said, he’s been seeking to appease Latinos, rather than uniting the country about an adequate method of enforcement.

JANET NAPOLITANO: I didn’t read that particular piece.

I think the president is motivated by the need to solve a problem. And this is a problem that’s not going to go away. I can say that. I’m a former border state governor. I myself supervised the prosecution of 6,000-plus immigration felonies. I know this system very, very well.

I can tell you, all the enforcement in the world — and I think the American people perhaps don’t appreciate how much has been done — will not substitute, however, for also combining it with effective immigration reform.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, we thank you for being with us.