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Interview

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MSNBC Interview With Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano - U.S.-Mexico Border

Interviewer: Norah O'Donnell

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MS. O'DONNELL: Deadly fights along the border, the drug war spilling into the U.S. That's what behind today's announcement by the Obama administration to move federal agents, equipment and other resources to the border. It's the first part of the plan, setting the stage for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit to Mexico tomorrow and next week's visit by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

Earlier, I asked Secretary Napolitano about the new border plans just a short time ago.

SEC. NAPOLITANO: There will be at least 350 simply from the Department of Homeland Security alone, but the Department of Justice is sending people, the DEA, the ATF are sending people and we're adding that to significant resources that we're putting now into state and local law enforcement along the border, so they, too, can put more personnel on overtime, on the streets, in our neighborhoods and communities to make sure that those border areas remain safe.

MS. O'DONNELL: It's really scary when you think about it, more than 6,000 people killed last year by the Mexican drug cartels, 1,000 people in the first eight weeks of this year.

How concerned are you about spillover violence in the United States?

SEC. NAPOLITANO: We're concerned, but we also know that what's going on with these cartels is they are fighting between themselves for turf. As we crack down on their cartels both on the Mexican side of the border, our side of the border, they're fighting for turf, that's resulted in increased violence and some of that may hurt innocent people who kind of get hurt in the crossfire and then were watching for the kind of intentional assassination of law enforcement public officials coming into the United States that's been happening in northern Mexico.

MS. O'DONNELL: The drugs are going north. The guns are going south. Nine out of ten guns that are used in this fighting are American guns. What are we doing to stop that flow of guns to Mexico?

SEC. NAPOLITANO: Well, a number of things, first of all, the nine out of ten that's been thrown around, it may not be actually be the accurate number, but whatever the number is it's too much. So we're increasing southbound inspections for example and moving 100 Border Patrol agents more to the border to do southbound inspections.

MS. O'DONNELL: So you are now going to inspect cars going south?

SEC. NAPOLITANO: Yes, and we're moving scanners down to the border. Basically, they can scan a card to see if there's something that doesn't match up with the model number and year in terms of weight, appearance and the like that's being used to smuggle guns across the border.

We're doing more, when I say we're doing more on intelligence analysis, part of what we're doing is putting together patterns of where these guns are coming from within the United States, hoping to marshal cases, prosecutions against dealers who are intentionally funneling arms to these cartels.

MS. O'DONNELL: Why not send the National Guard? If it's that big of a problem, why not send the National Guard?

SEC. NAPOLITANO: Well, that decision hasn't been made yet, yes or no, and one of things that I'm going to be doing Thursday is I'll be seeing the Governor of Texas who has asked for 1,000 National Guard. I want to ask him some more details why 1,000 and what mission they would perform?

So that decision is, like I said, in play.

MS. O'DONNELL: You are the head of the Department of Homeland Security. Vice President Dick Cheney, the former vice president, said that the policies under Barack Obama are making America less safe and could lead to another 9/11-style attack.

Are we more vulnerable?

SEC. NAPOLITANO: No. I just reject the notion that you have to have a Guantanamo facility, which is actually -- has been used as a recruitment tool by al Qaeda and other terrorist groups around the world, that you have to have that in order to be safe.

MS. O'DONNELL: So why do you think the former vice president said that?

SEC. NAPOLITANO: I don't know. I can't read his mind. So I can't speculate. But let me tell you this. We focus everyday on the safety of the American people. We focus on the terrorism threat from abroad. We focus it on incidents that occur from within. We focus it on the numerous ways that violence could occur and our people could be hurt and we work with our state and local law enforcement to do it and we also deal with a changing threat environment, which is why we're doing this initiative with Mexico.

MS. O'DONNELL: During the Bush administration, they started this color-coded threat system. I understand that we're currently at yellow, which is an elevated level for risk. Will that color-coded system still exist? Are you going to change that as Secretary?

SEC. NAPOLITANO: You know, I haven't made any decision about the color-coded system.

MS. O'DONNELL: Do you think it's useful?

SEC. NAPOLITANO: You know, I think it has marginal utility, but here's the deal --

MS. O'DONNELL: I mean, I don't hear this administration talking about it that much.

SEC. NAPOLITANO: And that's because it's a marginal utility, I mean, what we really need to be talking about is the fact that every American has a role to play in our own safety and security. We need to be prepared. We need to do everything reasonable we can to prevent an incident from occurring and we need to be prepared to respond quickly and effectively if something does happen.

MS. O'DONNELL: So if it's marginally useful, you'll probably get red of it?

SEC. NAPOLITANO: I can't say. I really haven't spent any time think about it; I've got to tell you.

MS. O'DONNELL: All right. Secretary Napolitano, great to see you. Thanks so much for joining us. We appreciate it.

SEC. NAPOLITANO: You bet. Thank you.


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