MSNBC Interview With Secretary Of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano
Subject: Gun And Drug Trafficking On The Mexican Border Interviewer: Andrea Mitchell
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MS. MITCHELL: Let's hear now from the secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, on all of this.
You understand this better than anyone. You've been a prosecutor, an attorney general and of course the governor in Arizona. Here you are in charge of the whole country, and the biggest homeland issue other than international terrorism that we face is right on the border from your -- your past -- you know, your region. What can we do? And how can we respond to Mexico's legitimate concerns about guns that are going South?
SEC. NAPOLITANO: We can do a number of things. One is we can increase and are increasing our interdictions of guns and cash going south that are fueling this escalation in violence. We can increase our cooperation with and support of state and local law enforcement along that border area. And through the Merida Initiative, we can train more law enforcement on the Mexican side.
MS. MITCHELL: But what we're talking about now is combining Border Patrols, the customs officials. What about the National Guard? You've got officials in Arizona -- your own, you know, successor in Arizona -- and Texas, governors calling for the National Guard.
SEC. NAPOLITANO: Yeah, I'm very familiar with that issue. I called for the Guard at the border when I was the governor. And that's when Operation Jumpstart was sent there.
Right now, the Department of Defense, the president, the Department of Homeland Security -- myself -- we're evaluating those Guard issues and looking at that in the context of all the other law enforcement measures that need to be taken.
MS. MITCHELL: And it could be part of this whole package that we expect the White House might be announcing very soon. In fact, Hillary Clinton is going next week. We'll be traveling with her there.
You and Eric Holder are going the following week to Mexico. What are you going to try to do to, you know, work more closely with the Mexican government?
SEC. NAPOLITANO: Well, the attorney general and I are going specifically to meet on guns -- arms trafficking and money laundering, the kind of the fuel that fuels these big drug cartels.
These are not just small organizations. These are big transnational organizations that are bringing huge loads of illegal drugs into our country. And in exchange, they're getting millions and millions of dollars back.
They are fighting each other for turf. That's increasing violence. The kidnappings you referred to are partially a result of that. And then the president of Mexico has finally -- Calderon said we're going to break -- we're going to take you on; we're going to break you up. That's gone -- going as well.
MS. MITCHELL: Back in February, the attorney general, Eric Holder, talked about reinstituting the assault weapon ban that George W. Bush let lapse. Now there's no talk of that. Why not do something? Mexico wants us to do something about the assault weapon ban. These are the weapons that are going south.
SEC. NAPOLITANO: I think our focus is, what do we do to intercept the weapons that are going south right now? Because a possible law in the future or whatever won't make any difference right now. This is an urgent situation. These homicides are occurring right now.
MS. MITCHELL: But if it's urgent, is the Obama administration reluctant to take on the gun lobby? Is this one political fight too many?
SEC. NAPOLITANO: I'll tell you what, I'll tell you we can take on these drug cartels. And that's our number one issue.
MS. MITCHELL: But is the gun lobby preventing the administration -- politically preventing the administration from going after the assault weapons that many people believe are part of the -- a big part of the problem?
SEC. NAPOLITANO: No. No.
What I would say is, look, operationally, we have to do things right now. Homicides are occurring. Kidnapping are occurring. The Mexican government and ourselves are cooperating to beat up these cartels, break them up. And waiting for a legal change on the assault weapons ban is kind of not the point. The point is to interfere with these cartels right now.
MS. MITCHELL: The L.A. Times has an editorial. It says "it would be a mistake to militarize the border. This is a law enforcement issue that requires binational cooperation, and nothing raises the Mexican public's hackles more than talk of U.S. military on the border. What is needed is U.S. support for investigations, policing and technology to stop weapons trafficking and money laundering for drug lords in Mexico, as well as a policy to address drug consumption in the United States."
Now, part of that is exactly what you're talking about -- is stopping the illegal trafficking -- but is there a danger that if the White House announces a plan that includes the National Guard and more border police going south, that the Mexican officials will resent this and that it will impede cooperation rather than improving cooperation?
SEC. NAPOLITANO: Well, I think we have to be sensitive to that. We don't want to militarize the border.
Mexico is a friend of ours. We are assisting the president of Mexico in this battle that he is waging. On the other hand, we need to have a safe and secure border area. We have historically had National Guard and other military presence from time to time at the border. There are things that can be done in the right balance, in the right way. That's what we're striving for.
MS. MITCHELL: The director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, raised hackles down south -- south of the border when he talked about Mexico not having control over part of its territory -- clearly border areas, trafficking areas and the like. And that was interpreted and reported to mean Mexico was at risk of becoming a failed state. Deep resentment, huge outcry in Mexican newspapers, Mexican media. What is the American view -- the American intelligence view, the technical view in Homeland and elsewhere -- as to the way the Mexican government controls its territory and the fight against the cartels?
SEC. NAPOLITANO: You know, Mexico is not a failed state. You know, what is going on now is the state, in the form of the federal government of Mexico, is taking on these big cartels. And these cartels intersect with the U.S. because they're importing illegal drugs by the tonnage into our country. So we have an interest in that battle as well.
But far from being a failed state, it's because the state of Mexico is taking this on that we're seeing some of this violence increase.
MS. MITCHELL: Janet Napolitano, you probably have the toughest job in Washington, maybe aside from Tim Geithner and the president. Thank you very much.
SEC. NAPOLITANO: Thanks.
MS. MITCHELL: We appreciate your taking the time.
SEC. NAPOLITANO: You bet.