As Secretary of Homeland Security,
were you constantly learning things
that made it hard to sleep at night?
I wouldn’t quite put it that way. The access
that I had to intelligence relating to terrorist threats against America and our interests was, I think, beyond the average person’s comprehension. I was asked that
question within a couple of months [of
assuming the post]. My answer was this: “I
don’t sleep much, but I sleep well.” I had the
inside knowledge that in spite of all these
threats—we’d get a threat matrix some
days a couple pages long, some days a couple dozen pages long, on just the terrorist
threat—that my country was responding
in a very impressive and aggressive way.
Do we have to give up any of our freedom or privacy to maintain a reasonable degree of safety?
I don’t mind being inconvenienced. I do
mind if you step on my privacy toes. I heard
this from good, decent Americans many
times during the Patriot Act debates: “I
don’t care if you’re listening in to my conversations, I’m not doing anything wrong.”
My hopefully respectful response was,
“Yeah, you do care. Nobody has a right
to listen in to your conversations unless
they have probable cause to do so.” I felt
that way then, I feel that way now. I would
draw a line in the sand and not erase it.
Do you think the threat of terrorism
is receding or expanding?
I think the threat of terrorism has grown.
I think that and cybersecurity are two
permanent conditions that the broader
world community is going to have to
deal with forever more.
We can’t be breathless about this. We
can’t be so concerned about the prospects
[of more attacks], as horrible as they are,
[that we become] preoccupied with elim-
inating all possibility that those ever hap-
pen again and just kind of surrender how
we live, what we do. The security mea-
sures we build into our communities
[can] begin to become a gradual infringe-
ment of that right of privacy.
It’s about managing the risk, and risk
management is not a mindset that is acceptable to a lot of people, even though day in
and day out in their own lives they manage
a lot of risks. They put an addition on the
house, they don’t increase their insurance.
They go down to the store, but it’s only a
mile away so they don’t bother putting on
their seat belt. We just have to accept the
reality that the terrorism threat is a global
scourge. We’ll deal with it. You get to the
point where you start infringing on my
rights, and that’s when the returns start to
diminish. That’s when we have to say: OK,
the risk is there, enough is enough.
You were on the short list for vice
Yeah, a couple of times. I’ve been a
Do you think John McCain could
have fared better with another VP
174 March/April2014 | BethesdaMagazine.com
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