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U.S. Department of Homeland Security  

Chertoff: Sustainable Security Needs Risk-Based Approach

By John D. Banusiewcz
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 16, 2005 Risk management must guide decisions on preventing, responding to and recovering from terrorist attacks, the new homeland security secretary said here today.

Michael Chertoff spoke at George Washington University in his first major address since taking office Feb. 15.

“A nation as vital and thriving as ours cannot become hermetically sealed; even less can we afford to be overwhelmed by fear or paralyzed by the existence of threats,” he said. “That is why we need to adopt a risk- based approach in both our operations and our philosophy. Risk management is fundamental to managing the threat while retaining our quality of life and living in freedom.”

The secretary illustrated his point by noting people take risks every day. “The perfect way to avoid the risk of a car accident is never to leave your home in a car,” he said. “But very few people pursue this kind of perfect security, because we understand that it is self-defeating. … When we get into our cars, we take reasonable precautions, but we also go about our lives. We go to work, we drive our children to school, we visit friends. We are managing risk.” The same principle, he said, applies at the homeland security level.

“The most effective way, I believe, to apply this risk-based approach is by using the trio of threat, vulnerability and consequences as a general model for assessing risk and deciding on the protective measures we want to take,” Chertoff said. And he warned against focusing principally on the threat.

“A terrorist attack on the two-lane bridge down the street from my house would be bad, but would have a relatively low consequence compared to an attack on the Golden Gate Bridge. And at the other end of the spectrum, we know that even a remote threat to detonate a nuclear bomb is a high-level priority because of the catastrophic effect that would have even though it is a remote threat.

“So each threat must be weighed with the consequences and the vulnerabilities that are attached to it,” he continued. “As consequence increases, we have to respond according to the nature and credibility of the threat and any existing state of vulnerabilities.”

Chertoff said homeland security is one piece of a broader strategy President Bush has laid out. That strategy first involves taking the battle to the enemy, he said.

“To be blunt, we have forced terrorists to spend more time worrying about how to defend themselves against death and capture, leaving them less time to plot how to get by our own defenses,” he said. “That strategy pays enormous dividends in terms of diminishing the threat. First, the intelligence we gain is a major tool in disrupting the threat. And second, by taking the fight to our enemies, we keep them on the run (and) limit their abilities to plan, train and act.”

A “defense in depth” is another part of the strategy, the secretary noted. “That means even as we pursue terrorists overseas, we work here at home to prevent infiltration by those terrorists and their weapons to protect our people and our places if infiltration occurs and to respond and recover if an attack is carried out,” he said. “This is embodied in our strategy of building multiple barriers to terrorist attack.”

The secretary said his department and other federal agencies aren’t enough to protect the nation. “Homeland security does not simply rest upon the federal government. It requires collective national action,” he said. “When it comes to the protection of our people, our infrastructure, our companies, our communities, our country, we all have a role to play if we’re going to frustrate the enemy’s intentions.”

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Entire speech

Secretary: Michael Chertoff
Secretary: Michael Chertoff

On February 15, 2005, Judge Michael Chertoff was sworn in as the second Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. Chertoff formerly served as United States Circuit Judge for the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.

Secretary Chertoff was previously confirmed by the Senate to serve in the Bush Administration as Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division at the Department of Justice. As Assistant Attorney General, he helped trace the 9/11 terrorist attacks to the al-Qaida network, and worked to increase information sharing within the FBI and with state and local officials.

Before joining the Bush Administration, Chertoff was a Partner in the law firm of Latham & Watkins. From 1994 to 1996, he served as Special Counsel for the U.S. Senate Whitewater Committee.

Prior to that, Chertoff spent more than a decade as a federal prosecutor, including service as U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey, First Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey, and Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. As United States Attorney, Chertoff investigated and prosecuted several significant cases of political corruption, organized crime, and corporate fraud.

Chertoff graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College in 1975 and magna cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1978. From 1979-1980 he served as a clerk to Supreme Court Justice William Brennan, Jr.

Secretary Chertoff is married to Meryl Justin Chertoff and has two children.