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Border guard

"Border guard" Continued...

Issue: "Ready or not, here we go," March 28, 2009

Napolitano did prove tough when it came to another group: conservatives. The governor vigorously opposed a Republican-backed school voucher plan for students, though she later compromised. She also staunchly supported legalized abortion, vetoing two pro-life bills last year alone: One measure would have steepened requirements for minors seeking an abortion, and the other would have imposed state penalties against physicians performing partial-birth abortions.

Napolitano clashed with conservatives over fiscal issues too: Republicans supported spending cuts while Napolitano's proposed budget for this year would have added $200 million in spending. (Business Week ranked Arizona's budget woes as the worst in the country. The state, hit hard by the housing crisis, projects a $3 billion deficit next year.)

Still, Napolitano is proving she can push back on both parties in her new position: During her first testimony before Congress, she flatly told the committee her agency couldn't meet a 2012 deadline to screen 100 percent of all cargo coming into the country. Congress passed the mandate in 2007, despite warnings from the agency that the demand was unrealistic: Some 11.5 million containers enter the United States each year. Screening each one for radiological or nuclear material could logjam commerce at busy ports and would require the agency to send U.S. officials to more than 700 foreign ports to operate scanning equipment.

James Carafano of the Heritage Foundation says Napolitano's resistance is a good sign. The security expert says many of the problems in the department stem from trying to fulfill unreasonable congressional mandates. Congressional oversight of the agency includes more than 86 committees and sub-committees, pulling the agency in dozens of directions.

Carafano notes that the House hearings focused on the mistakes of the Bush administration and commissioned a safety study of all 400 million miles of interstate highways: "If you think you can safeguard 400 million miles, it's ridiculous."

Instead of focusing on the "danger du jour," Carafano says Homeland Security officials should concentrate on dismantling terrorist infrastructure. "Everybody worries about the last 1 percent of a terrorist attack," he says. "You should be focusing on the 99 percent of a terrorist attack that almost always looks the same." That includes organization, logistics, recruiting, fundraising, surveillance, and rehearsals.

It isn't clear how much freedom Napolitano might gain for crafting her department toward such aims under an administration that favors centralizing government functions. And it isn't clear what new initiatives the secretary might introduce: Napolitano has commissioned piles of studies, but hasn't offered concrete plans.

One thing is clear: There's plenty to worry about. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others accused of planning the 9/11 attacks offered a glimpse into the mind of the enemy earlier this month with a statement from their prison cells in Guantanamo Bay. They called the charges "badges of honor" and called themselves "terrorists to the bone."

They scoffed at prosecutors' conspiracy charges, asking: "Were you expecting us to inform you about our secret attack plans? Blame yourselves and your failed intelligence apparatus and hold them accountable, not us." They added: "As the prophet has stated: 'War is to deceive.'"

Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the national political beat and other topics as news editor for WORLD. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.

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