Napolitano promises more efficient, ‘information-driven’ national security

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano pledged Wednesday for a more efficient approach to protecting the nation’s security by expanding measures to allow the department to better collect and share important information.

The department would initiate a “drive toward a risk-based, information-driven approach to security,” Napolitano said, delivering her second annual “State of America’s Homeland Security” address at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

“The key to evaluating potential risk is information — by sharing and leveraging information we can make informed decisions about how to best mitigate risk,” she explained. 

Napolitano touted two airport security programs the administration plans to expand in 2012 and which she said would demonstrate that “security and efficiency are not mutually exclusive” — Global Entry and TSA PreCheck. The first is international and the latter domestic.

The programs provide “expedited screening for travelers who volunteer information about themselves prior to flying,” Napolitano explained. The carrot offered to travelers in exchange for information is “expedited screening, which could include no longer having to remove shoes, laptops, jackets, or belts.”

Napolitano compared the strategy to reducing the size of the search. 

“If we have to look for a needle in a haystack, it makes sense to use all of the information we have about the pieces of hay to make the haystack smaller,” she said. 

The secretary noted the strategy is different from that of profiling.

“Profiling is not effective law enforcement because it’s not necessarily intelligence driven,” she said. “For example, we may have information that leads us to believe that certain travel routes are problematic. We can see that from a person’s travel history. We may have information that we’re looking for, not for all people from a particular country, but for a person who has traveled here, here, and here, and from a particular age group.”

Napolitano said the department would move slowly toward a risk-based strategy in order to get the balance between efficiency and security right, and to prevent the opportunity for terrorists to abuse the pre-screening process.

“And what’s critical is that both of these initiatives strengthen security while expediting travel for those travelers we know the most about,” she said.

Napolitano spoke of the evolving development and international reach of the young department, which is entering its ninth year of existence. Her speech focused on reassurance that with each year that passes, the agency learns more that helps make the nation safer.

“Our experience over the past several years has made us smarter about the terrorist threats we face and how best to deal with them,” she said. She also touched on the agency’s increasing focus on cybersecurity, saying “cyberspace is an increasingly busy area for all of us.”

During the question-and-answer period, Napolitano denied that she “ranks” the greatest threats to the country as though they were basketball teams.

“We have to constantly be vigilant against a range of threats,” she said.

For the year ahead, she also pushed congressional lawmakers to take up immigration reform.

“While we continue to urge Congress to take up immigration reform, we have acted on clear and common sense priorities when it comes to immigration enforcement under the existing laws,” she said, touting an increase in border agents and decrease in attempts at illegal border crossings.

“The Obama administration has undertaken the most serious and sustained actions to secure our borders in our nation’s history. And it is clear from every measure we currently have that this approach is working,” she said.