ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Now, Janet Napolitano, the secretary of Homeland Security. Welcome to the program once again.
Secretary JANET NAPOLITANO (Department of Homeland Security): Thank you.
SIEGEL: Are you now confident that whatever bombs were sent out in this wave of attacks that they're all accounted for - just two that's it?
Sec. NAPOLITANO: Well, let me put it in another way. We are not ruling out that there might not be other devices. And we are acting to make sure that there are not, and moving with our allies and others. For example, we've put a ground halt on all cargo emanating out of Yemen until they can actually be physically inspected.
SIEGEL: We have heard about the Saudi intelligence tip about these bombs. Without forewarning, would airport inspections have turned up these packages?
Sec. NAPOLITANO: Well, we use a multi-layered system out of which intelligence sharing is the first layer. And over the course of the years since 9/11, over the course of the last several years, over the course of the months since last 12/25, those intel sharing arrangements have become evermore robust.
And so I don't kind of play the what-if or what if we hadn't had those warnings from the Saudis. The plain fact of the matter is we did, and that wasn't by accident. Those kinds of warnings and tips occur, and they do so because of our alliances and our friendships and our relationships.
SIEGEL: But when we hear that it took the authorities in Britain 20 hours to determine that indeed the parcel they had in possession had explosives in it, that suggests that the question here isn't whether we screen every parcel going on an airplane, but whether we can actually figure out what's inside these parcels, whether we can - whether we have the machinery to detect things.
Sec. NAPOLITANO: Well, I think different types of screening are done in different places, and obviously we're going to reverse engineer these packages and exactly who looked at what and how. And obviously, we're always changing the system. We change it in different ways, in different places so that predictability doesn't become a tool that our adversaries can use.
But each one of these incidences gives rise to more improvements that can be made in a system writ large.
SIEGEL: Though you say reverse engineer now. You're saying things we've learned...
Sec. NAPOLITANO: Go backwards.
SIEGEL: ...about these devices that you know. We wouldn't have to develop machines that would find them, is what you're saying.
Sec. NAPOLITANO: Well, no. It can also mean going backwards and tracing these packages from the person or persons who developed them, put them into the stream of commerce and how that was done, all the way through the system so we can identify with precision who has looked at what and with what kinds of technology or dogs or what have you. And if we need to tweak those systems or change them in any way, we can do that.
SIEGEL: But which is the more accurate statement, that these were, in some way, novel devices that might have slipped past screening because of that? Or these were familiar from the bomb that had gone up in Saudi Arabia and the attempted bombing on Christmas day?
Sec. NAPOLITANO: Well, I think it is fair to say that the material used as explosive material was familiar, in part because - was similar to that which was used on Christmas. And in terms of detonation methodologies, we're still waiting for the results of the forensic investigation on that.
SIEGEL: Do you consider Anwar al-Awlaki, the American radical imam in Yemen, do you consider him directly or indirectly responsible for this plot?
Sec. NAPOLITANO: Well, he's certainly been very active in recruitment, and this certainly bears the hallmarks of the kind of activity he has supported.
SIEGEL: Representative Ed Markey of Massachusetts, who wrote the 2007 law over screening cargo on passenger planes, proposes now screening all cargo on cargo planes. Do you support that? Is that a prudent move?
Sec. NAPOLITANO: Well, we - you know, it's hard to say in the abstract. And I wish I could just say, yeah, 100 percent screening of everything. That's the easiest way. That certainly, superficially, seems the best way. But you've got millions and millions of pounds of cargo that moves around the globe in - via cargo plane. And you always have to, in these situations, say, well, is that really the best way or is a combination of risk-based screening, with different types of technology, used in different types of places, with robust information sharing, intelligence sharing, is that really a better way to minimize this kind of an incident or attack? And when you're dealing in this world where the methodology of attack constantly changes, we constantly have to be changing as well.
SIEGEL: Secretary Napolitano, in all this talk about screening, who actually is responsible for screening packages. Is it the carrier? Is it the airport authority, the security service of the government? Who does it?
Sec. NAPOLITANO: It depends. Obviously, we don't do the screening abroad. That can be done by the government. But the carriers, certainly, have a major responsibility for cargo. And with respect to UPS and FedEx, they've been working very closely with us, not just in the wake of what happened at the end of last week, but before that as well.
SIEGEL: FedEx and UPS have at least - they assume a shared responsibility here for stopping things like this for getting into their planes?
Sec. NAPOLITANO: They certainly have a least a shared responsibility, that's correct.
SIEGEL: At least or - if not more, if not (unintelligible) responsibility.
Sec. NAPOLITANO: Yeah. Exactly. It depends on where in the world you were.
SIEGEL: Secretary Napolitano, thank you very much for talking with us.
Sec. NAPOLITANO: Thank you.
SIEGEL: That is Janet Napolitano, the secretary of Homeland Security.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.