Napolitano Under Fire AgainBy KEITH JOHNSON
Wall Street Journal
May 17, 2010
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and her agency are under fire again after the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the attempted bombing in Manhattan's Times Square.
While no one is calling for Ms. Napolitano's resignation, as happened after the failed Christmas Day bombing, her performance and that of the Department of Homeland Security are a key part of the political battleground over how to fight terrorism.
DHS has been thrust further into the spotlight due to the struggle to contain what could become one of the biggest oil spills in U.S. waters. The crisis is raising questions about the DHS's ability to respond quickly to large-scale disasters.
Ms. Napolitano will testify Monday on the federal government's response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, involving a BP PLC well, before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs.
"We have lots of questions about what happened," said Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I., Conn.), who is chairman of the committee. He added that Ms. Napolitano, who "has one of the toughest jobs in the country," has done a "really good job marshalling resources" after the spill.
Since the oil-rig explosion, "federal authorities, both military and civilian have been working onsite and around the clock bringing every available resource to bear to respond to and mitigate the impact of the resulting BP oil spill on public health, the environment and the economy," said Nick Shapiro, assistant press secretary at the White House.
The hearing comes less than a week after a House Homeland Security subcommittee meeting grilled DHS representatives over the agency's efforts to overhaul how it shares intelligence, a hot-button issue in the wake of the Times Square terror plot.
Rep. Jane Harman (D., Calif.), said the DHS appeared to be "pedaling backward" when it came to sharing intelligence among federal, state, and local law-enforcement officials. The International Association of Police Chiefs immediately sent Ms. Harman a letter saying that information-sharing had advanced more under Ms. Napolitano than at "any time since Sept. 11, 2001."
Critics contend that the DHS and, more broadly, the Obama administration, tend to downplay the threat posed by radical Islamic terrorists.
Much as her comment that "the system worked" in the wake of the failed Christmas Day airliner bombing led to an avalanche of criticism, opponents seized on
Ms. Napolitano's comment that the May 1 attempted bombing in Times Square was a "one-off" to launch a round of criticism charging that the DHS underestimates the threat of terrorism.
"Until they get hit over the head with it," the DHS and the Obama administration minimize and downplay the nature of the terrorist threat, said Rep. Peter King (R., N.Y.), the ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee and a longtime critic of Ms. Napolitano. He also described her as "conscientious and hard-working."
"Secretary Napolitano has articulated repeatedly since her earliest days at the department, the threat to this country from terrorism is real," said Sean Smith, DHS assistant secretary for public affairs.
Mr. Shapiro at the White House said: "Our approach is to level with the American people, provide the facts when we know them. In both of these cases we called them attempted acts of terrorism only hours after they happened. It would be inappropriate to describe a plot before we have the facts, which is what some are demanding that we do."
Mr. King locked horns with the DHS and the Obama administration last week over a decision to cut homeland-security grants for New York less than two weeks after the Times Square attack. White House officials say New York anti-terror funding has actually increased, due to extra money included in last year's stimulus package.
Other former DHS officials voiced support for Ms. Napolitano. "She gets it, she got it from the start. She understands the threat," said Stewart Baker, the former assistant secretary for policy at the DHS from 2005 to 2009.
Mr. Baker said the DHS has done a particularly good job of responding to a different kind of terrorist threat, such as that posed by low-profile individuals with few formal connections to al Qaeda who are much more difficult to track before an attack."It's hard to argue there are failures [in the Times Square case] when you catch the guy within two days," Mr. Baker said.The DHS "is knocking down a lot of passes in the end zone," he said.