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Napolitano, Chertoff and Ridge Mark DHS' Eighth Year

March 1, 2011 – Current Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and former secretaries Tom Ridge and Michael Chertoff told a Georgetown audience March 1 that the department created in 2002 continues to evolve as the types of terrorism change on a regular basis.

The roundtable discussion, sponsored by Georgetown and the Aspen Institute, marked the eighth anniversary of the department.

Chertoff, who was secretary from 2005 to 2009, said that Al-Qaeda was the biggest threat during his years in office, but that now concerns about terrorism are wider spread. Watch video of the event

Challenging Model

“I think there has been some evolution,” he said. “… What you see now is greater emphasis on recruiting Americans or residents in the U.S. to become operatives and that is challenging the model that we use for security.”

His successor, Napolitano, said that “part of what makes Homeland Security such a complex and challenging position is that it’s almost easier to say what you don’t worry about than what you do worry about.”

She also noted that terrorism in Mexico is an evolving threat that is a newer concern for the department.

Reflecting Changes

“This event gives us an opportunity to reflect on the changes in our world since Sept. 11, 2001 and the ways in which the United States government has responded to these changes,” Georgetown President John J. DeGioia said of the discussion, which was moderated by NBC News Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Andrea Mitchell.

The secretaries said some of the other challenges faced by the department include tapping into the most efficient ways of gathering information, monetary restraints and the department’s relationship with the media.

Improving Policies

The ability to resolve such challenges is in large part credited to the secretaries’ commitment to strengthening previous policies and procedures within the department, the panelists said. “All along the way … every secretary regardless of party has tried to improve upon and build [upon]” the policies and procedures of the department, Ridge explained.

Citizen Involvement

“It is important that the issue of homeland security, not just the department, but the issue as a whole, be a non-partisan issue,” said Chertoff. “There can be disagreement about strategies and tactics. But there should not be disagreement about the motivation of the people, which is dedicated to the U.S. and dedicated to defending the country.” Napolitano added that citizens are increasingly recognizing that homeland security is not solely the government’s responsibility.

“Everybody has a role,” she said.

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