Chertoff warns successor of special interests
By Roxana Tiron
The Hill (Washington, DC), December 3, 3008
Outgoing Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff warned his successor, Janet Napolitano, that she will have to stave off powerful special interests in order to protect the country.
'The biggest challenge to my successor is the willingness to take on very deeply embedded special interests that tend to have very specific views on particular issues,' Chertoff told reporters at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast Wednesday. 'Every time you put a security measure in place you are goring somebody's ox.'
For example, businesses usually complain about inconveniences, while border towns complain about security measures that may end up unfriendly for tourism, Chertoff said.
'And the problem is … those are great arguments until the attack occurs and then all of a sudden we have failure to secure identification; we have failure to check general aviation,' he said.
Chertoff explained that all the measures the Department of Homeland Security is arguing for, including the introduction of secure documentation under the Western Hemisphere Travel initiative, are a way of 'avoiding or minimizing very foreseeable risks.'
'If these do not get done because individual industries or powerful politicians or lobbyists can stymie them, then at some point when something happens there will be a conversation of why we did not take on what we absolutely foretold is a risk,' he said.
Chertoff, the second and longest-serving secretary of Homeland Security, defended the way his agency and the Bush administration have handled the war on terror and the controversial issues that have emerged in that arena.
'For all those who are benefiting from the protection biting the hand that protects you is similar to biting the hand that feeds you,' Chertoff said.
'You must live with the responsibility of knowing that if you fail to prevent something you are going to have to look in the eyes of the people whose loved ones have been lost, explain to them that you have done everything reasonably possible to prevent something, and if you are not prepared to do that then you are not doing enough,' he added.
He admitted that there have been certain areas in which the government has been slow to adjust in particular, adjudicating those detained on terrorism allegations.
'It's taken a long time and has hurt the credibility of the government,' Chertoff said. He added that a lot of infighting and finger-pointing has also contributed to a lack of change in the right direction.
Sept. 11 'was an epiphany for me because it taught me that whatever differences of opinion we have about policy, the enemy is in a cave somewhere,' he said. 'I am hopeful [that with] the new president, that everybody stands down on the nastiness and extreme rhetoric … and tr[ies] to figure out what the right answer is.'