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JANET NAPOLITANO, SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Well, thank you.
MADDOW: As a U.S. attorney in Arizona at the time, 15 years ago, I
know that you were part of the investigation into the Oklahoma City
bombing. You"ll be participating in the commemoration on Monday.
Do you feel like we approach the threat of domestic terrorism
differently now as a country than we did before that incident?
NAPOLITANO: Well, yes--in part because every time there is an
incident--and it"s hard to describe something as horrific as the bombing
of the Murrah Building as an incident, it was an outrageous criminal act.
But every time one of those things happens, we learn. We apply that in a
law enforcement way to the next set of events.
So, yes, experience does teach us some things. And, unfortunately,
the Murrah Building bombing taught us a lot.
MADDOW: And in terms of that--and I know that I"m raising a report
for which there was a lot of political heat. Your department got some heat
last year when you put out a report that said the current economic and
political climate has some similarities to the "90s when right-wing
extremism experienced a resurgence.
In terms of that report, in terms of your government"s advice and
support to local law enforcement, how do you advise them and how does the
country is dealing with the threat of domestic extremism now?
NAPOLITANO: Well, what we do is work with law enforcement to give
them information--information about threats that we are seeing,
information about trends that we are discerning, so that they are better
prepared to protect public safety on the ground. And we, in turn, receive
information back from local law enforcement.
And so, you know, we will provide information, for example--we had a
recent case where individuals were buying large amounts of hydrogen
peroxide to make explosives. It got into the news. And we advise local
law enforcement to watch for unusual purchases of hydrogen peroxide.
That"s the kind of direct tactical information we want to get into the
hands of law enforcement.
MADDOW: What were some of the things that law enforcement did with
some of the more extremist militia groups and other domestic terrorist
organizations, as you defined them in a report last year, what were some of
the things that law enforcement did right to essentially stem the growth of
those groups after Oklahoma City?
NAPOLITANO: Well, I think in a way, Oklahoma City was such an
outrageous criminal act that in and of itself, it had an effect on the
growth of militia movements, of armed violent militia movements. And so,
we did see almost an immediate drop-off after 1995.
And you know, we"ve had militia groups, armed militia groups, from
time to time throughout American history and indeed throughout the last
decades. They seem to kind of come in and come out as circumstances
But prior to 1995, the Murrah Building bombing, they were really a
rapidly growing phenomenon throughout the United States, particularly in
some areas of the states like Arizona, where I was the United States
attorney. Then they seemed to have dissipated. And now, of course,
recently, recent events show us that we have some groups starting up again.
MADDOW: Considering the threat of terror from abroad and Department
of Homeland Security"s role in international counterterrorism, I know that
you"re just back from Nigeria, the home country of the attempted Christmas
Day bomber. I know you were there to meet with leaders of a whole host of
African countries about boosting the international side of airline
What was accomplished there? What are leaders agreeing to to try to
fill some of those gaps?
NAPOLITANO: Really, it"s an amazing global response to the attempted
bombing on Christmas Day, where region by region around the world we are
forging a consensus about information collection, information-sharing,
passenger vetting, and improved security at airports. I think people
already will have seen some of the things going into place in airports in
the United States. It"s objectively better technology for discerning
someone who may be trying to bring explosives or other material on to an
But we"re seeing the same kind of response internationally, and it was
particularly encouraging to see it amongst the union of African nations
over this past weekend.
MADDOW: I was thinking about the--preparing for this interview,
this chance to talk to you today, and I was trying to narrow down all the
things that are in your purview as secretary of homeland security.
NAPOLITANO: Good luck with that.
MADDOW: Exactly. I mean, there"s something like 200,000 employees in
this agency, 22 agencies all brought under one, everything from FEMA and
airline security and H1N1 and drugs and immigration and all of these
different things--I don"t know that you can actually answer this and
still be politic, but does the Department of Homeland Security make sense
that it"s one thing? I"m not sure that--I"m not sure what the advantage
is that all of these things are in one agency now.
NAPOLITANO: Look. It was borne out of 9/11 and I think it does make
sense. But you have to kind of take all those 22 agencies and boil them
down into what are--what are the major missions that we are focused upon
so that we can really sculpt a vision for the entire department.
And so, when you do that, you know, we"re really focused on
counterterrorism. We"re focusing on securing our borders, be they land,
air or sea. We"re focused on immigration--immigration enforcement, even
as we advocate for reform of the immigration laws. We"re focused on
protection of cyberspace, and I think we"re the first U.S. department
that"s really singled that out as, you know, kind of the next wave of
things that needs our focus. And then finally, the ability to respond--
prepare for and respond to natural disasters.
And when you boil it down to those five major functions, then you
could really see how far the department and all of its various components
MADDOW: I could also see how if I had your job, I"d want to clone
myself five times so I could have one person in charge of each of those
things, plus a spare to rest.
MADDOW: On that issue of immigration, not in your Department of
Homeland Security purview because this is at the state level, but your home
state of Arizona this week has passed a very--a very, very strong anti-
immigration bill. I think of it as the "papers please" bill. It compels
police officers to demand papers from anyone they reasonably suspect of
being an illegal immigrant. It"s now a misdemeanor to not carry your
immigration paper work with you at all times in Arizona.
Didn"t you veto something like that when you were governor there?
NAPOLITANO: I think I vetoed things like that at least twice. And I
did because--first of all, immigration is primarily federal. Not
exclusively, but primarily federal. But secondly, it doesn"t allow law
enforcement to focus on where law enforcement needs to focus, and to
prioritize the way law enforcement needs the ability to prioritize for the
protection of the public safety.
There are other reasons as well, but it was no surprise to me when I
was governor of Arizona that, by in large, law enforcement, the men and
women who are charged with protecting public safety, oppose legislation
MADDOW: One last question for you, Madam Secretary, and I"m sure
you"re going to dodge it, but I"m going to ask it anyway. Are you ready?
NAPOLITANO: Go for it.
MADDOW: Wouldn"t being on--wouldn"t being on the Supreme Court be a
NAPOLITANO: Well, nice try, but I"m flattered to be asked. But I"m
focused on the job I have. And as you"ve already described, it"s a big
MADDOW: Secretary of homeland security, Janet Napolitano, a very,
very busy person by definition--thank you so much for joining us tonight.
I appreciate your time.
NAPOLITANO: Thank you for having me.
MADDOW: OK. So, remember the brilliant idea to bring back the old
south de facto literacy test for people to get their voting rights in
Virginia? That brilliant idea is being abandoned now. Happy Confederate
History Month! That"s next.
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