Napolitano: U.S. Faces 'A Major Cyber Event' That Will Have 'Serious Effect' on Lives, Economy

August 28, 2013 - 8:11 AM


Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano delivers her farewell address at the National Press Club in Washington, Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

( - In a speech Tuesday at the National Press Club, outgoing Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano touted her accomplishments, discussed lessons learned, and warned her successor of "serious" challenges ahead, including a "serious" cyber attack and the effects of climate change.

"Many things still need tending, and my successor will most certainly have a full plate on his or her hands," Napolitano said in remarks directed at the person who will replace her but who has not yet been named by the president.

"Our country will, for example, at some point, face a major cyber event that will have a serious effect on our lives, our economy, and the everyday functioning of our society. While we have built systems, protections and a framework to identify attacks and intrusions, share information with the private sector and across government, and developed plans and capabilities to mitigate the damage, more must be done, and must be done quickly," she said.

"You will also have to prepare for the increasing likelihood of more weather-related events of a more severe nature as a result of climate change, and continue to build the capacity to respond to potential disasters in far-flung regions of the country that could occur at the same time."

Napolitano said her successor must lead DHS "into its next stage of development and operations, through challenging fiscal times, including the ongoing impact of the sequester. You will need a large bottle of Advil," she said, drawing laughs from the audience.

In what she described as an "open letter to my successor," Napolitano also mentioned the "evolving threat of terrorism" and the need for strong border security and immigration enforcement.

"You'll need to forge strong relationships with all of our partners, including Congress, to make sure DHS has the resources it needs to meet our responsibilities to the American people.

"You will need to continue our work to move to a more risk-based, intelligence-driven security system, as we've done at our airports with programs like TSA Pre Check and Global Entry, which expedite known travelers through security and Customs.

"You'll need to support science and technology research, building on the more than $2.2 billion we've invested over the past four-and-a-half years to strengthen chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear security measures.

"You will need to continue to recapitalize the Coast Guard so it can meet its ever-growing mission. You will need to continue to ensure the security of key government leaders and events of national significance. And you will face new challenges that we have begun to address but that need further attention."

Napolitano's speech included a review of threats she's dealt with over the past four-and-a-half years. She mentioned the H1N1 flu pandemic first, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill second, and then the threat of drug cartel violence along the Southwest border. 

"Terrorist plots and threats" came fourth on her list, although she did spend time later in the speech discussing the "serious and damaging terrorist attack" at the Boston Marathon. She also touted her department's policy of "prosecutorial discretion" in deciding which immigration cases to enforce, and she called for  "further changes to create a more flexible, fair and focused immigration system."

"Looking back over the past four-and-a-half years, I can say that if there's one takeaway, one object lesson and core operating principle that I've learned and embraced as secretary, it's this: In a world of evolving threats, the key to our success is the ability to be flexible and agile and adapt to changing circumstances on the ground, whether that's across the globe or here at home."

Being flexible and agile "means acknowledging that we may not be able to stop all threats all the time, but we can and must be prepared to address them quickly when they happen, minimize their consequences, draw pragmatic lessons and emerge stronger and better."