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Common Threat, Collective Response: Protecting Against Terrorist Attacks in a Networked World

Speaker: Janet Napolitano, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security
Presider: Paul E. Steiger, Editor in Chief, ProPublica
July 29, 2009

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U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano spoke at the New York office of the Council on Foreign Relations on July 29, outlining new challenges to protecting the country from a range of threats from domestic and international terrorism to the H1N1 virus. Secretary Napolitano said her department is trying to break down the legacy of not sharing information between federal intelligence and law enforcement agencies while working to educate citizens about how to be alert to potential threats in their communities.

Napolitano discussed the balancing act between investigating potential threats and protecting civil liberties. She emphasized that protecting the country would not stem solely from military power but from the engagement of four levels of society--the American people, local law enforcement agencies, federal agencies, and international partners.

Here are some of the points featured in her speech:

New approach to security. Napolitano said that terrorists increasingly target cyberspace and energy grids instead of physical locations. The Department of Homeland Security should work with the private sectors that are at risk of infiltration to ensure preparedness in the event of an attack. Since 85 percent of the nation's "critical infrastructure" is owned by the private sector, Napolitano said that coordinating technologies between the government and companies is imperative to securing the country.

Borders are not the only line of defense. The United States needs to strengthen its partnerships with allies to identify threats before attacks are carried out. Americans are victims in attacks around the globe from Mumbai to Jakarta so enhancing governmental cooperation is essential to keeping citizens safe at home and abroad. Napolitano said that developments in the deal with Europe on providing passenger information before international flights is just one example of how governments need to work together to fight terrorism.

Cooperation with Mexico. Illegal immigration poses a threat to national security, Napolitano says, as it highlights areas where the border is porous. The United States is increasing its ties with the Mexican government over how to contain drug cartel violence, in addition to immigrants, from crossing the border. Security lies with tackling these issues at their root causes, not just dealing with the entry points.

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