DHS Sec: “very concerned” about independent terrorists in the US
Today on CNN’s State of the Union, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson joined Gloria Borger to comment on al-Shabaab’s recent terror threat, tension in Congress between immigration and the Department of Homeland Security’s funding, and Rudy Giuliani’s comments about President Obama.
On the nature of al-Shabaab’s recent terror threat: “We’re in an environment right now where I suspect these groups are competing for attention. ISIL has received a lot of attention through their very effective use of the Internet, social media. And we’re now seeing, for example, AQAP in its most recent addition of “Inspire”, a whole chapter on how to build a nonmetallic device, as well as this most recent public cotton buds. So, my concern is these groups were actually competing for attention and for fundraising and recruitment.”
On the safety of the Mall of America: “I would say that if anyone is planning to go to the Mall of America today, they’ve got to be particularly careful”
On appealing a federal judge’s decision to prohibit the processing of illegal immigrants: “We will appeal and we will seek a stay so that we can go back to implementation of our efforts to build accountability in the non-documented community.”
On Rudy Giuliani’s comments about Obama: “His comments were not helpful. And I’m sorry to see statements like that coming from the former mayor whose response to 9/11 in 2001 I admired very much. His response to me is a model for how government leaders should respond in times of crisis. I think his most recent statements are very regrettable.”
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GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: And with us this morning, we have the Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson. Thanks so much for being with us this morning. I have to get right to the news this morning, which is that an al Qaeda-linked terror group al Shabaab is publicly calling for attacks now on shopping malls in the United States, as well as overseas. They specifically targeted the Mall of America in Minnesota in a video they have released. What can you tell us about how operationally advanced this threat is, Mr. Secretary?
JEH JOHNSON, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Well, yes, this latest statement from al Shabaab reflects the new phase we’ve evolved to in the global terrorist threat, in that you have groups such as al Shabaab and ISIL publicly calling for independent actors in their homelands to carry out attacks. We’re beyond the phase now where these groups would send foreign operatives into countries after being trained some place.
We’re now at a stage where it is all the more important in our counterterrorism efforts that we have a hold of government approach. We have the military response to an international coalition, but there’s also law enforcement and homeland security, which is the summit we had this week on countering violent extremism in our communities is all the more important.
I’ve personally been to Minneapolis, to meet with Islamic community leaders there. And so, our law enforcement security engagements here at home, given how this terrorist threat has evolved, were becoming all the more important.
BORGER: But there were reports that ISIS is trying to recruit al Shabaab, and that that maybe part of the problem in Minneapolis. Is that your read of it?
JOHNSON: We’re in an environment right now where I suspect these groups are competing for attention. ISIL has received a lot of attention through their very effective use of the Internet, social media. And we’re now seeing, for example, AQAP in its most recent addition of “Inspire”, a whole chapter on how to build a nonmetallic device, as well as this most recent public cotton buds.
So, my concern is these groups were actually competing for attention and for fundraising and recruitment.
BORGER: And not only that, saying to their members: do it at home, you can do this at home and you don’t need —
JOHNSON: We’re in a new phase in that these groups are relying more and more on independent actors to become inspired, drawn to the cause —
BORGER: And the Internet, through the Internet.
JOHNSON: — carrying small scale attacks on their own, through their effective use of the Internet. And so, that’s why it’s critical that we work in the communities where these groups might be able to recruit, to help develop the counter-narrative, to build trust with law enforcement, with Homeland Security, with state and local law enforcement.
BORGER: So, how seriously are you taking the threat?
JOHNSON: I’m very concerned about the serious potential threat of independent actors here in the United States. We’ve seen this now in Europe. We’ve seen this in Canada.
BORGER: But specifically against the Mall of America.
JOHNSON: Anytime a terrorist organization calls for an attack on a specific place, we’ve got to take that seriously and so, through our intelligence bulletins, through working with state and local law enforcement, through working with the FBI, we take this kind of thing very seriously.
BORGER: And I just want to read you one more thing on this. This is a statement from the Mall of America today: “Mall of America is aware of the threatening video that was released, which included mention and images of the mall. We take any potential threat seriously and respond appropriately. We have implemented extra security precautions, some maybe noticeable to guests and others won’t.”
What are you telling Americans who might be planning a trip to the mall this Sunday?
JOHNSON: What we’re telling the public in general is you’ve got to be vigilant. We’ve just revamped our “If You See, Say Something” campaign at the Super Bowl last month. And so, public engagement, public awareness is critical. Americans should still feel that they are free to associate, they are free to go to public gatherings. But it’s critical that we have public awareness and public participation in our efforts.
BORGER: Are they safe in going to the Mall in America today — if you want to go take your kids to the Mall of America?
JOHNSON: I would say that if anyone is planning to go to the Mall of America today, they’ve got to be particularly careful. And as the statement you read indicates, there will be enhanced security there that will be apparent to people who go there.
BORGER: Federal security as well?
JOHNSON: There will be enhanced security there. But public vigilance, public awareness and public caution in situation like this is particularly important. And it’s the environment we’re in, frankly.
And it’s all the more reason why I need a budget and I’m presuming you’re going to ask me about that.
BORGER: I will. I am going to ask you about that right now, because, of course, this comes down at a time when Republicans in Congress are threatening to shut down your department in a week over fight on immigration. If it were to shut down a week from now, what would that do to national security? How would that impact a discussion like the one we’ve just been having about al Shabaab and fighting terrorism in this country?
JOHNSON: In a bunch of ways. First of all, it’s absurd that we’re even having this conversation about Congress’s inability to fund Homeland Security in these challenging times. But if by the end of the week, Congress has funded the Department of Homeland Security, we will have to furlough some 30,000 people mostly at headquarters, people on the frontlines, aviation security, maritime security will be forced to come to work without a paycheck.
And so, for the working men and women of my department, to have to work without a paycheck is very significant and very serious. And Congress needs to appreciate that.
Our grant-making activities to state and local law enforcement, to commissioners, sheriffs, chiefs, grind to a halt.
FEMA, in the midst of this very harsh winter right now, will have to furlough something like 80 percent of its permanent appropriated workers.
BORGER: Are you talking to each other? Are you —
JOHNSON: I’m talking —
BORGER: They were off last week, right? So —
JOHNSON: They were off last week, but the week before and the week before that, I’ve been on the Hill constantly, talking to Republicans and Democrats about — on the House and Senate side — about the significance of funding the Department of Homeland Security right now.
And the thing that frankly is frustrating to me, when I go to the Senate, they say, “It’s not us. It’s the House. Go to the House side, talk to them.”
I go to the House and they say, “We passed our bill, it’s not us. It’s the Senate.”
So, they’re literally doing this right now. And we have I think four or five working days left to get this right. And so, I’ll be back on the Hill again, I’m sure. I’m hoping someone will exercise some leadership to get the public — for the good of public safety, a budget for the Department of Homeland Security.
BORGER: I have a couple other areas I just want to get to, and that is, you also have a problem on the legal front when it comes to immigration. A federal judge temporarily stopped your plan to start processing illegal immigrants. I’m assuming the administration plans an appeal to that. How soon will we see that?
JOHNSON: Yes, this is what appellate courts are for.
BORGER: And when will you do this appeal?
JOHNSON: We will be appealing and seeking an emergency stay probably on Monday, tomorrow. And I expect that we’ll prevail. You have to consider the position this injunction leaves us in, this judge’s decision in Texas leaves us in. The judge himself said in his opinion, he doesn’t call (ph) with the secretary’s ability to prioritize who remove, who we deport from this country.
And so, we’re focused on deporting convicted criminals, threats to public safety, threats to border security, and there’s a population of people who’ve been in this country for years, who are not priorities and will not be deported in any administration, Republican or Democrat.
And the effect of this decision is, we are not allowed to try to encourage —
JOHNSON: — to come out of the shadows. They have to remain in the shadows.
BORGER: So, you’re going to appeal and say, allow us to start doing this again.
JOHNSON: We will appeal and we will seek a stay so that we can go back to implementation of our efforts to build accountability in the non-documented community.
BORGER: And let me get to —
JOHNSON: From a law enforcement perspective, that is a very important thing to do, so that we know who these people are.
BORGER: And let me get to one more subject and it’s changing subjects on you a little bit. And it’s about Rudy Giuliani’s comments this week. I know you actually worked for Rudy Giuliani, or worked alongside Rudy —
JOHNSON: He hired me to be a federal prosecutor in 1988. That is correct.
BORGER: So, you know him pretty well?
JOHNSON: I know Mayor Giuliani well. We were together this past 9/11. We did the rounds together in New York. I’m a New Yorker, too. We did the rounds together at fire stations, police precincts in Lower Manhattan on 9/11.
And I’ll just say that in my judgment, Mayor Giuliani’s comments were not helpful, his comments about the president of the United States, particularly in these times —
BORGER: Not loving America.
JOHNSON: — are not helpful.
BORGER: What do you mean by not helpful?
JOHNSON: His comments were not helpful. And I’m sorry to see statements like that coming from the former mayor whose response to 9/11 in 2001 I admired very much. His response to me is a model for how government leaders should respond in times of crisis. I think his most recent statements are very regrettable.
BORGER: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary. Thanks for being with us this morning.
JOHNSON: Thank you, Gloria.