Napolitano’s remarks came during a panel discussion in Washington about the global role of DHS in fighting terrorist threats to the United States, including efforts to stop threats abroad before they arrive at U.S. airports or seaports.
CNSNews.com asked the secretary about the threat posed by individuals linked to terrorist groups in countries such as Somalia and Yemen who might enter the U.S. from Canada or Mexico and how the DHS is tracking that threat.
Napolitano said DHS is addressing that issue, “recognizing that there are many things that could transit these huge land borders that we have.
“With respect to Mexico, we’ve been working very closely with them – there’s a whole category called SIAs – Special Interest Aliens is what it stands for,” Napolitano said, adding that DHS watches that category “very carefully.”
Napolitano also said DHS is pursuing the Special Interest Aliens strategy in Central American countries.
Napolitano referred to an announcement the White House made in December 2011 about an agreement between Canada and the United States dubbed “Beyond the Border” that explains the Obama administration’s goal to prioritize “perimeter” security through cooperation between the two countries on a wide range of security and other issues.
Tuesday's discussion was held at the Woodrow Wilson Center in cooperation with The Aspen Institute Homeland Security Group. Other panelists included John McLaughlin, former deputy and acting director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and James Jones, former national security advisor.
In remarks leading up to the discussion, Napolitano emphasized the Obama administration's emphasis on identifying threats around the world, including having DHS personnel stationed in 75 countries -- making it the federal agency with the third largest presence abroad.
“It recognizes that in today’s world, domestic security and international security are inextricably intertwined,” Napolitano said. “A security decision made in one part of the globe can rapidly impact security half a world away.
“And that means that we have to look at our physical borders as our last line of defense and not as our first,” Napolitano said.
The complete transcript of the question and answer between CNSNews.com and Napolitano follows below:
CNSNEWS.COM: You’ve talked about air travel and efforts in that department and also of ports of entry, but I wondered if you can give us a sense of the threat at the border – Canada and Mexico – not just the regular illegal immigration that people talk about, but of people coming into this country from some of these areas we’ve talked about like Somalia and Yemen and other places where there’s a threat. Can you give us a sense of how DHS is tracking that?
NAPOLITANO: Yeah, actually, we’ve done quite a bit in that arena, recognizing that there are many things that could transit these huge land borders that we have. The president and Prime Minister Harper announced what’s called Beyond the Borders, which really creates for the first time a perimeter sense of security coming into North America. We’re trying to take some pressure off the airports and land ports along the northern border in that regard. And also enable up to follow travel patterns and the like better.
NAPOLITANO: With respect to Mexico, we’ve been working very closely with them – there’s a whole category called SIAs – Special Interest Aliens is what it stands for. But we watch that very carefully; work with the Mexicans on it. We have been working – not just with Mexico, but countries of Central America, in terms of following more closely people transiting the airports and the like. And so, again, our efforts there are to try to get as much info and too take as much pressure off the physical land border as we can.