Since the failed Christmas Day terrorist attack, conservatives have been attacking the Obama administration for failing to “connect the dots,” with many calling specifically for the resignation of Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano. They have criticized her for initially telling CNN that “the system worked,” even though they dishonestly took her quote out of context to do so.
Appearing on Fox News Tuesday, RNC chairman Michael Steele said, “I agree with the Republican leadership that’s called for [Napolitano's] resignation.” Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, tweeted, “Secretary Janet Napolitano should resign, saying ‘the system worked,’ undermines the confidence of Americans.” And yesterday, a group of prominent conservative activists sent Napolitano a letter demanding her resignation.
But a former head of the Department of Homeland Security said much of this criticism is “misplaced.” Tom Ridge, who served under President Bush, defended Napolitano, explaining that blame for the incident does not rest solely on her shoulders:
RIDGE: [Neither the] Secretary of Homeland Security, nor can the department, act on anything until they get the information. … And the Department of Homeland Security could not have revoked the visa. The Department of Homeland Security could not have put this name on the National Counterterrorism Center. … So while there is obviously some criticism pointed in the department’s direction and at the Secretary, I think by and large it is misplaced.
Ridge certainly knows more about how DHS operates than many of Napolitano’s critics. A preliminary review suggested that a “systemic failure” is to blame for allowing suspected bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to board the plane with explosives, President Obama said last month. And White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said yesterday that a comprehensive review to be released later today will cite holes in airport security and problems sharing information between intelligence agencies — not a specific person or agency.
Last month, Ridge also defended Napolitano against the right-wing attacks on her initial statement, saying, “I don’t think any right-thinking person actually believed that Secretary Napolitano thought the system worked.” “I think what she was referring to was that after the incident occurred, there are certain procedures and protocols to put in place,” Ride said. “That worked smoothly.”
HOST: Now I want to ask Gov. Ridge before you we let you go, is Janet Napolitano, who currently holds the job that you did as Secertay of Homeland Security, is she — as I don’t have to tell you — is taking a lot of heat for her comment right after this happened that the system worked, she said the comment was taken out of context. Is she being treated fairly?
RIDGE: Well I would say I’m sure she regrets making the statement, but let me try to explain something and thank you for the question to your audience. Secretary of Homeland Security, nor can the department, act on anything until they get the information. They only consume information, they don’t generate intelligence. They have to act on intelligence. And the Department of Homeland Security could not have revoked the visa. The Department of Homeland Security could not have put this name on the National Counterterrorism Center. There Department of Homeland Security couldn’t have done anything with Maj. Hasan.
So while there is obviously some criticism pointed in the department’s direction and at the Secretary, I think by and large it is misplaced. It was a statement that a lot of people have difficulty with, and I’m sure she regrets. But the Department of Homeland Security consumes information and acts on information when it receives, if there’s a vacuum, if there’s no information it’s pretty difficult to act.