Speaker: Michael Chertoff, Secretary, U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Presider: David Westin, President, ABC News
January 14, 2009
Outgoing Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff began his address to an audience of CFR members by considering how governments respond to crises. Considering both the September 11 terrorist attack and the 2008 financial crisis, Chertoff noted similarities in the need for a swift, decisive response. Though hindsight may reveal errors in judgment, government officials should not shy from acting quickly in the face of an emergency.
Chertoff described weapons of mass destruction (WMD) as the greatest potential threat facing the U.S. homeland. While state and local officials have proven independently capable of responding to other terrorist threats, Chertoff suggested the federal government is essential in responding to the WMD threat. The federal response must include investments in both the prevention of and resiliency after WMD attacks; investments he believes will pay dividends in the future.
Taking stock of his tenure as Director of Homeland Security, Chertoff saw room for improvement in combating the long-term terrorist threat. Noting that terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas run social service agencies that improve their local standing, Chertoff suggested the United States attempt to receive similar allegiances through its own distribution of aid.
A former federal prosecutor, Chertoff described the issues surrounding detainees in the War on Terror as most difficult legal challenges he has seen. He suggests that efforts to combat terrorism often reside in a legal no-man's-land-somewhere between war and law enforcement-and that finding the appropriate legal framework is one of the greatest challenges facing the incoming Obama administration.
Special operations play a critical role in how the United States confronts irregular threats, but to have long-term strategic impact, the author argues, numerous shortfalls must be addressed.
The author analyzes the potentially serious consequences, both at home and abroad, of a lightly overseen drone program and makes recommendations for improving its governance.
Published by the Council on Foreign Relations since 1922
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