Security Chief Urges 'Collective Fight' Against Terrorism

By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 29, 2009; 5:17 PM

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano urged Americans on Wednesday to join a "collective fight against terrorism" that combines the efforts of individuals, companies and local, state and foreign governments.

Answering critics who have accused the Obama administration of downplaying the risk of terrorist attacks, Napolitano said the threat has not abated and outlined an approach that emphasizes burden-sharing as federal spending and political support for post-Sept. 11 security measures wane.

"I am sometimes asked if I think complacency is a threat. I believe the short answer is 'yes,' " Napolitano said, speaking to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York before visiting the World Trade Center site destroyed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"But I think a better question is this: Has the U.S. government done everything it can to educate and engage the American people? The answer is 'no,' " she said.

In what aides called a major counter-terrorism policy address, Napolitano noted that American hotels were targeted in bombings this month in Jakarta, six Americans were among 164 people killed in a commando-style assault in Mumbai in November and three Americans were among 54 killed in a Marriott Hotel in Islamabad in September.

To confront a terrorism threat that "is even more decentralized, more networked and more adaptive," she said, counter-terrorism efforts also need to exploit the values of "networks." For example, the nation needs better technology, training and linkages to share information with 780,000 local law enforcement agents, Napolitano said, promising to strengthen 70 state-run intelligence "fusion centers" that began under the Bush administration.

James Jay Carafano, an analyst with the conservative Heritage Foundation, praised the speech as a nonpartisan, policy-oriented approach that reflects political and budget realities.

"The only fiscally responsible way they can keep levels of homeland security up is to stop doing stupid things that waste money and integrate efforts with other communities and have them work better," Carafano said. "The old answer, throwing more money at the problem, is not going to be the routine."

He also noted that Republicans accused Obama this winter of softening his stance by abandoning the phrase "war on terror" and faulted Napolitano for not mentioning the word "terrorism" in remarks prepared for her first appearance before the House. This time she used the word or its variants 23 times in a half-hour speech.

Still, Napolitano laid out few new programs, mostly signaling continuity with work begun under former President George W. Bush. But she faulted approaches that stoked public alarm while asking little from individuals to improve society's resilience against attacks.

"The consequences of living in a state of fear, rather than a state of preparedness, are enormous," Napolitano said. "For too long, we've treated the public as a liability to be protected rather than an asset in our nation's collective security."

She also singled out the need for greater cooperation from companies.

"More than dollars," Napolitano said, the nation needs "the active engagement of employers" who control most critical targets, such as power plants and communication systems to help identify them and plan how to secure them.

In a blunt warning, she added, "We may be better prepared as a nation than we were on 9/11. But we are nowhere near as prepared as we need to be."