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Former Homeland Security chief analyzes nation’s security risks

The effects of climate change and cyberattacks from foreign countries are a greater threat to national security than illegal immigration, former Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano says.

Janet Napolitano

Janet Napolitano

Napolitano – who grew up in Albuquerque – says the debate about what’s going on at the southern border is a distraction from more important issues.

“I think building a border wall is a symbol, not a strategy,” Napolitano told the Journal. “There are other issues that should be demanding our attention.”

The Journal interviewed Napolitano about her New Mexico roots and her book “How Safe Are We? – Homeland Security Since 9/11,” which addresses national security issues.

“I think there are three chief risks that affect our homeland security,” she said. “We’ve got to address global warming and climate change. We’re already seeing a rise in extreme weather.”

When it comes to the issue of cyber security, Napolitano said, “We’ve already seen direct attacks on our elections, on our democracy.”

“What our true adversaries are doing silently and out of sight on our data networks is far more dangerous,” she writes in her book.

She said countries such as Russia, China, Iran and North Korea, as well as non-state actors, have established an “advanced, persistent threat” on critical U.S. and commercial networks.

The third threat, she said, “is the rise of mass gun violence.”

The mass shootings in Las Vegas, Nev., Orlando and Parkland, Fla., are addressed in her book.

“The homeland security challenge going forward is Terrorism 3.0 – combating threats originating from within our borders from a variety of ideologies, whether radical Islam, right wing or from mass murderers like the Las Vegas shooter or the Parkland high school shooter in Florida, who do not appear ideologically motivated at all.”

Napolitano does feel security issues along the border need to be addressed, but she disagrees with President Donald Trump on what needs to be done.

Napolitano – a lifelong Democrat who served as attorney general and governor of Arizona – believes resources might be better spent in countries such as Guatemala and Honduras, where there has been a rise of asylum seekers coming to the U.S., especially in places on the New Mexico border with Mexico.

“Their civil institutions need to be rebuilt,” she said. “Resources need to be devoted to reducing gang violence there.”

She said such measures could reduce the flow of asylum seekers.

Napolitano said the Trump administration has a model to follow. She said assistance from the U.S. helped turn things around in Colombia, “which was once known as a narco-state.”

“Now, it’s more known as a tourist destination,” Napolitano said.

She believes measures such as an increase in the number of immigration judges are needed to address the current flood of asylum seekers already at the border.

“We need to find a better way to streamline the process.”

Napolitano calls for a revamping of the visa system, saying she’d like to “see an increase, not a decrease” in visas being issued.

“We need to live up to the promise that we’re a nation of immigrants,” she said.

She writes in her book that the U.S. needs a “fact-based” visa policy that takes into account labor market needs and humanitarian obligations under international law.

Among the recommendations in her book is the calling for the creation of a “pre-9/11” commission to address potential threats.

She said the commission created after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, discovered “there were a lot of red flags” leading up to the attacks.

“We had international people here attending flight schools learning how to fly planes into buildings,” Napolitano said. “I think we have a lot of red flags now, and we don’t need to wait for another 9/11 attack to happen.”

Napolitano also recommends a revamping of policies to protect privacy and civil liberties in an era of smartphones and social media that didn’t exist when the original Patriot Act of 2001 was passed, which she said enabled U.S. government overreach.

Her book does give a nod to her childhood in Albuquerque, where she attended Comanche Elementary School, Madison Junior High and Sandia High School, where she played clarinet in the school orchestra, got involved in student government and worked on the school newspaper.

“I enjoyed growing up in Albuquerque,” Napolitano said. “I received a really good education in Albuquerque public schools.”

She said she returns to New Mexico every summer to attend the Santa Fe Opera.

Napolitano served as secretary of Homeland Security under President Barack Obama from 2009-13. She was governor of Arizona from 2003-09. She is currently the president of the University of California system.

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