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Michael Chertoff's book on Homeland Security

Elise Cooper for BLACKFIVE

Former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has written a book, Homeland Security: Assessing the First Five Years.  This book takes readers through a range of homeland security issues from complacency among Americans to preventing cyber attacks. was able to interview Secretary Chertoff about his thoughts and statements from the book.

Chertoff   points out that Americans feel safe today since no major attack has occurred since 9/11.  He states, “In certain circles, the view that the threat is exaggerated has rapidly gained currency.  It is precisely this attitude of complacency that led to the tragedy of September 11th.” received the same response from someone personally touched by 9/11, Debra Burlingame, whose brother was the pilot of the plane that flew into the Pentagon.  She concurred with Chertoff, stating that “At least on Sept. 10th the public was unaware of the nature of the threat.  Now we are awake and it is being ignored.”

Former Secretary Chertoff makes the reader try to understand the different threats to Americans’ safety. He noted that besides the Islamic extremists, there is the threat of groups such as MS13, whom he calls “transnational criminals.” Chertoff explained to that “the truth is terrorism is imbedded in the flow of criminality.  Currently, terrorism can be found through crime.”  

In his book he discusses “buying down risk”, and was asked if that applies to the debate over the closing of Guantanamo Bay.  For him, the issue comes down to making sure the terrorists are in a facility that is secure and segregated from the general jail population.  Chertoff explained that if Guantanamo closes, “a facility has to be built that locks them down individually and keeps them separated from each other so they can’t communicate with each other or the outside world.  Experience has shown that it is not impossible but it is a very difficult task.” asked him if there is a danger with the terrorists infiltrating American hospitals to get nuclear material used for patients and x-rays.  He responded by noting that about two years ago, a program was initiated by Homeland Security for the retrofitting of medical equipment “so it would be very, very hard to take it out of the machines.”  He went on to comment that eventually he wants a radioactive element to be used that “would not be particularly useful for a dirty bomb.”

A major challenge to America’s infrastructure is the possibility of a cyber attack.  In his book, he explained that “the challenge of cyber security is both significant and complex.  Achieving effective regulatory governance in this area calls for a comprehensive strategy that involves coordinated action by government, the private sector, and individual citizens.” He went on to state that “cyber attacks can be done by criminal elements, terrorists, as well as foreign countries”, and that “this is a kind of vulnerability we have to reduce”. Chertoff concluded that “we need to have a cyber security policy.  The Obama administration must continue to build this foundation that we started under President Bush.”

The War on Terror is a war that has never been fought before.  Chertoff points out that America is “fighting elusive and transnational enemies that do not respect the traditional conventions of warfare. Terrorists are unlike past enemies of the United States.”  Commander Joan McNamara, who heads the LAPD counter terrorism unit, concurs, and stated that “terrorism is a relatively new threat that we have to worry about.  We are still learning, progressing, and evolving. I want to understand them better because then you understand their next moves.”

Former Secretary Chertoff is very worried that Americans are moving in the wrong direction regarding its intelligence community.  In his book, he stated that “the greatest threat we face is a faltering of this resolve…”  In talking to, he relates this to the current situation with the intelligence community. He points out that the terrorists do not play by the rules.  He wants the Obama administration to understand that they “have to be careful to not tie our hands.  The more you tie the hands of the agents the more serious the consequences may be.” 

This book is very insightful regarding the future of protecting America.  Former Secretary Chertoff noted that “it is important for everybody to be involved in the full spectrum of preparation and preparedness for dealing with terrorism.” thinks this is a must read book for everybody concerned with homeland security.