Departing DHS secretary warns of 'serious' cyber-threat, devastating natural disaster

US Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano (AFP Photo / Saul Loeb)
The departing US Homeland Security Secretary used her farewell speech to warn the nation’s leaders of an impending “serious” cyber-attack as well as a natural disaster, the impact of which will dwarf Hurricane Sandy and other disasters in recent memory.

Janet Napolitano, after four years at the helm of the Department of Homeland Security, delivered her final speech Tuesday morning before she formally exits her position next week. 

Many things still need tending, and my successor will most certainly have a full plate on his or her hands,” she said, adding that she faced “many challenges” over the past four years, including Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill two years before that. 

Napolitano, whose Department of Homeland Security was created in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and is primarily responsible for immigration and airport security, said the agency launched a “historic” effort after the attempted “underwear bombing” in 2009. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) helped coordinate screening efforts against “nonmetallic devices” in 190 countries, she said. 

The lesson is clear: For every attack we experience, every threat we face and every piece of intelligence we come across, we learn,” she continued. “And we get stronger and more nimble.” 

On Christmas Day 2009 a bomber managed to board a plane from Amsterdam to Detroit, Michigan armed with an explosive. Napolitano did not mention how the bomber was able to subvert security or her much-maligned comment at the time asserting that “the system worked.” 

From that attempted attack, we learned that relevant information possessed by US Customs and Border Protection needed to be available overseas - at the point of departure for this US. We fixed that,” she said. “We learned that our adversaries were moving to non-metallic devices. We adapted our screening technology and tactics to counter that.” 

Napolitano, the former governor of Arizona, was rumored to be interested in replacing US Attorney General Eric Holder but, as he has shown no signs of leaving the office, she announced she would become the next president of the University of California system. 

Civil libertarians have frequently criticized Napolitano for what they perceive as invasive TSA practices. The agency, which is overseen by the Department of Homeland Security, has expanded over the past decade despite frequent allegations of misconduct and failed inspections. 

The outgoing DHS chief also had harsh words for her detractors in Congress. Despite the annual deportations being at their highest number in decades, congressional Republicans have criticized the Obama administration for failing to crackdown on immigration policies. Napolitano has championed the Dream Act, meant to ease the path to citizenship for immigrants. 

Congress had a chance to give these so-called dreamers a way to stay in our country through the Dream Act, but unfortunately, that legislation failed to garner the 60 votes needed for closure, falling just five votes short, despite strong bipartisan support,” she said. 

Napolitano went on to offer an open letter of advice to her successor. 

You will also have to prepare for the increasing likelihood of more weather-related events of a more severe nature as a result of climate change, and continue to build the capacity to respond to potential disasters in far-flung regions of the country occurring at the same time,” she said. “You will also need a large bottle of Advil.”