- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said Wednesday the Obama administration’s plan to thwart terrorist attacks begins with average Americans and has been bolstered by the president’s effort to connect with Arabs and Muslims.

“Beginning at his inauguration and continuing most recently at his historic speech in Cairo, President Obama has begun a different kind of dialogue with the Muslim and Arab worlds, recognized there is far, far more that unites than divides us,” she said at a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. “It starts with the American people, extends to local law enforcement and from there up to the federal government, then finally out beyond our shores.”

Ms. Napolitano gave the example of the 2006 incident in which a store clerk told authorities about men trying to duplicate extremist DVDs, which led to federal agents stopping a plot to kill U.S. soldiers at the Fort Dix army base in New Jersey.

“The challenge is not just using federal power to protect the country, but also enlisting a much broader societal response to the threats that terrorism poses,” she said.

The talk was billed as a major speech on the administration’s plan to refocus U.S. counterterrorism efforts, but Ms. Napolitano’s roughly 20-minute talk was largely general and broad in scope.

Ms. Napolitano, a two-term Arizona governor, in January took over the 225,000-employee agency, which includes U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Transportation Security Administration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and 19 other agencies.

The secretary called for a more layered and networked approach that puts Americans “in a constant state of preparedness and not a state of fear.”

In a speech that included several references to the Sept. 11 attacks just blocks away at the World Trade Center, which Ms. Napolitano visited after her speech, she told the audience the fatal attacks two weeks ago in Jarkata, Indonesia, proves terrorism is “persistent and evolving.”

She also said that attacks are becoming more sophisticated and far-reaching, so the United States must meet even greater challenges.

“If 9/11 happened in a Web 1.0 world, terrorists are certainly in a Web 2.0 world now,” she said. “And many of the technological tools that expedite communication today were in their infancy or didn’t even exist in 2001. We cannot forget that the 9/11 attackers conceived of their plans in the Philippines, planned in Malaysia and Germany, recruited from Yemen and Saudi Arabia, trained in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and carried them out in the United States.”

Ms. Napolitano said power grids are among the vulnerable targets in this new, networked world and the U.S. government has occasionally fallen short in its efforts to stop terrorism.

“I’m often asked if complacency is a threat in the United States, and I believe the short answer is yes,” she said. “But I think a better question is this: Has the United States government done everything it can to educate and engage the American people? The answer there is no. For too long we’ve treated the public as a liability to be protected rather than an asset in our nation’s collective security.”

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