In Farewell Speech, DHS Secretary Napolitano Predicts Massive Cyber-Attack
“Our country will, 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,” she said Aug. 27 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
The comment about the inevitability of a massive cyber-attack came at the end of the 30-minute speech during a section she called an “open letter to my successor.” Napolitano is expected to leave her job the first week of September. The Obama administration has yet to nominate her replacement, who will have to be confirmed by the Senate.
“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 occurring at the same time,” she said.
As hurricane season continues, and with a massive cyber-attack coming some day, Napolitano is departing when key positions in the department are unfilled or being administered by unconfirmed, “acting” leaders. The current acting deputy secretary is Rand Beers. He will presumably take over when Napolitano departs.
The nominee for DHS deputy secretary Alejandro Mayorkas — currently the director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services — ran into a snag shortly before Congress recessed for the summer when Republicans put a hold on his confirmation. Napolitano is expected to step down Sept. 7, while Congress is not back from its recess until Sept. 9.
The secretary’s chief of staff, executive secretariat and general counsel are all listed as “acting” on the DHS website.
Other key positions in the department that remain vacant or are occupied by acting leaders, include: the under secretary of the National Protection and Programs Directorate; assistant secretary of the office of cybersecurity and communications; and the office of intelligence and analysis, all with large roles in the cyberdefense and terrorist-prevention realm.
Further, these positions are unfilled: the inspector general; assistant secretary of the office of legislative affairs; director of Domestic Nuclear Detection Office; chief medical officer; chief privacy officer; Customs and Border Protection commissioner; the director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement; and, if Mayorkas is confirmed, presumably the director of USCIS.
The first part of Napolitano’s farewell speech addressed the challenges she faced after being on the job for four and a half years, from the H1N1 flu outbreak shortly after she took office in 2009, to the Boston Marathon bombing this year. Hurricanes Irene and Sandy were also singled out as events during which DHS improved its responsiveness.
“Some have said that being DHS secretary is a thankless job in Washington. That’s not true. No doubt it is a very big and complex job,” she said.
The new secretary will also have to work with Congress to continue recapitalizing the Coast Guard’s ships and aircraft and invest in research and development for technologies that will prevent chemical, biological, and nuclear attacks, she said.
“You will need a big bottle of Advil,” she said, in the only departure from her prepared remarks.
Napolitano left without taking questions from the media.