Homeland Security Chief Avoids Mention of 9/11, Terrorism in Remarks to Congress

February 25, 2009 - 7:11 AM
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Washington (AP) - As Janet Napolitano heads to Capitol Hill for the first time as homeland security secretary, she is leaving behind the tough terrorism talk of her predecessors.
 
She is the first security chief to leave out the words "terror" and "vulnerability" from remarks prepared for delivery to the House Homeland Security Committee, according to a copy obtained by The Associated Press.
 
Tom Ridge, who headed the agency when it was launched in 2003, mentioned terrorism 11 times in his prepared statement at his debut before the oversight committee. And in 2005 Michael Chertoff, the second secretary, mentioned terrorism seven times, according to an AP analysis of the prepared testimonies.
 
Homeland Security spokesman Sean Smith said the absence of the actual word "terrorism" from Napolitano's prepared testimony is not deliberate.
 
"Next time we'll send Cliffs Notes over with the testimony," Smith said. "Anyone who doesn't understand that she's talking about terrorism when she says her mission is to protect the American people from threats both foreign and domestic clearly needs a study guide."
 
Napolitano, a former Arizona governor, instead charts a course in very different terms than Chertoff, who used law enforcement and military jargon -- "intelligence," "analysis," "mission" -- to describe the agency's objectives.
 
In her prepared remarks, Napolitano mentions "technology," "border" and "protect" most often and talks about holding department employees accountable and spending taxpayer money wisely, although she makes clear that the department's responsibility is protecting the nation against terrorism.
 
She is the first secretary to use a Capitol Hill debut to talk about hurricanes and disasters, a sign of the department's evolving mission following Hurricane Katrina.
 
The department's top priorities are spelled out in legislation that created it after 9/11: preventing a terrorist attack in the U.S.; reducing vulnerability to an attack; and helping the country recover if there is an attack.
 
Napolitano is not alone in her departure from terror talk.
 
The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee doesn't mention terrorism or 9/11 in his prepared remarks for Wednesday's hearing. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., says the priorities are securing borders, responding to natural disasters, ensuring transportation safety, protecting infrastructure and administering grants.
 
The committee's top Republican said he was struck by Napolitano's prepared remarks.
 
"This can't be the evil we don't speak about," said Peter King of New York. "Any testimony on homeland security should be centered around the threat of terrorism and what we're doing to combat it."
 
Asked last month why she doesn't talk about terrorism specifically, Napolitano she is regularly briefed on "incidents around the world." She doesn't single out terrorism "because it's almost become part and parcel of what we do everyday."
 
The department's mission is straightforward, she says in her prepared testimony: "to protect the American people from threats both foreign and domestic, both natural and manmade -- to do all that we can to prevent threats from materializing, respond to them if they do and recover with resiliency."