30 Jun 2009

Guantanamo, terror and protecting the US homeland

Foreign Affairs Correspondent

Obama came to power promising to close Guantanamo Bay. In June 2009, Channel 4 News talked to his top security official about the threat of al-Qaida and the controversial detention camp.

Guantanamo bay detention camp. (Reuters)

US Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano gave in in-depth interview to Channel 4 News about al-Qaida, the closing of the detention centre at Guantanamo and her fears of Somali Americans carrying out terrorist attacks inside the US.

She said that Somalia was an “area of concern” as a certain number of Americans could have travelled to the country to train in jihad.

Somalia: the new Pakistan for terror recruitment

“Right now we are talking about people going to Somalia, but anytime you have individuals who are being trained so if they were to return they would have operational skills necessary to carry out a (terrorist) attack – that is an area that we need to pay attention to,” she said.

“I think the United States is always at risk, as is the UK.” Janet Napolitano

Napolitano said that one of the criticisms after the September 11 attacks in 2001 was that there was a “failure of imagination – the contemplation that something on that scale could actually occur.”

“It is my job to make sure we do not have such a failure as that again”, she said.

While refusing to say how many terror attack plots had been foiled in the US in the last six months she added, “I think (the United States) is always at risk, as is the UK.”

Meeting Napolitano: Jonathan Rugman blogs
Perhaps the most interesting line in the US homeland security secretary's interview with me this morning concerns her fears over Somali Americans carrying out terrorist attacks inside the United States.

She concedes that a small number of Somalis have travelled from the US to Somalia to train in jihad.

"Right now we are talking about people going over there," she says, "but any time you have individuals who are being trained, if they want to return, would have the operational-type skills to carry out an attack.. That is an area you need to pay attention to."

Read Jonathan Rugman's World News Blog

Closing Guantanamo Bay

The security secretary said that she thought the controversy surrounding the Guantanamo prison had been used as a recruitment sergeant and “radicalisation tool box” for terrorists.

Napolitano said that she felt that the process of closing Guantanamo Bay was well on the way but that there were certainly difficulties ahead.

“The good to be served from Guantanamo, if there ever was, is now outweighed by the bad so it needs to be closed.” Janet Napolitano

“I prefer not to talk about particular populations except to say that we are operating under the assumption that we are going to be able to meet the president’s executive order that would get the prison side of Guantanamo closed by January.

“I am not underestimating the difficulties… it may be one of the most difficult problems that the president inherited from the prior administration.

“The good to be served from Guantanamo, if there ever was, is now outweighed by the bad so it needs to be closed and we are working on that assumption,” she said.

Inside Guantanamo

Shortly before Obama took office, John Sparks looked visited Guantanamo and interviewed military interrogators about the methods they use.

Camp closure: what should happen to the remaining detainees?

Shortly before Barack Obama took up office, Home Affairs Correspondent Simon Israel reported on the 250 people detained in the camp.

Battling al-Qaida

In response to questions regarding the current threat from al-Qaida, Napolitano said, “The challenge is to know that the threat is never at zero.

Napolitano acknowledged that threats from a “lone wolf” could pose a greater threat to the US than al-Qaida.

“It can change on a moments notice so what you have to have in place is the ability to collect information, to share information, analyse information and to take action accordingly and very, very, quickly.

“That is what we have been working to do and will continue to do.”


US Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano. (Reuters)

Profile: Janet Napolitano
Janet Ann Napolitano is the third United States secretary of homeland security and is the first woman to serve in that office.

An American politician from the Democratic Party, Napolitano was serving as governor of the state of Arizona when designated by then President-elect Barack Obama to be his secretary of homeland security.

She was confirmed by the Senate and sworn in one day after Obama's inauguration.
Prior to the governorship, she served as Arizona attorney-general from 1999 to 2002.

But the security secretary acknowledged that threats from a “lone wolf”, or individuals planning attacks with individual motives, could pose a greater threat to the US than al-Qaida itself.

“It is certainly true that the “lone wolf” – the person who acts independently – is very difficult and indeed we have seen several lone wolf attacks on the past months.

“From a law enforcement perspective it is just about the most difficult thing to stop,” she said.