Transcript: Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s remarks on the Boston Marathon bombing suspects before the Senate Judiciary Committee

Transcript of remarks by Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano on the Boston Marathon bombings before the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 23, 2013:

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano:
First, let me say a few words about the attack in Boston. Our thoughts and prayers remain with the victims, their families, and with the city of Boston. DHS continues to support the ongoing investigation, working closely with the FBI, our federal, and our state and local partners.

And I know all of us here are committed to finding out why this happened, what more we can do to prevent attacks like this in the future, and making sure those responsible for this unconscionable act of terror face justice. We will learn lessons from this attack, just as we have from past instances of terrorism and violent extremism. We will apply those. We will emerge even stronger.

In this case, law enforcement at all levels joined together to share knowledge, expertise, and resources. Many had been specifically trained in improvised explosive device threats and many had exercised for this very type of scenario. The response was swift, effective, and in many ways it will serve as a model for the future.

I thank the people of Boston and the greater Boston area who showed tremendous resilience over the past week and so did America.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.):
In the wake of the Boston bombings, Senators have raised concerns about the security screenings we have in place for those seeking asylum here in the United States. Now, I do not believe the Boston bombings are reasons to stop progress or consideration of this legislation. I trust our law enforcement people to be able to handle that case; our courts are the best in the world. I have no worry about that…There are several provisions to make our country safer. Can you tell us about the security screening that is currently in place for refugees and asylum seekers and does this legislation help or hinder that?

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano:
Well, if I might. Let me start with what the process is now and share with the committee that over the past 4 years we have increased both the number and the coverage of the vetting that goes on.

But if someone is seeking asylum, they first have a so-called “screening interview” to see whether they have presented any credible fear of persecution. That includes collection of biographic information and biometric information. That is all run against all law enforcement holdings and also the holdings of the NCTC [National Counter-Terrorism Center] and also virtually every DOD [Department of Defense] holding. At the second point in the process, they submit to a full-scale interview. And this could be several hours that’s usually accompanied by affidavits, other supporting documentations. One of the things we do there, by the way, is we re-fingerprint the individual to make sure it’s the same individual who originally presented. So we have identity verification. We again vet. We run through all the databases and so forth. After the presentation to the asylum officer, there is review by a supervisory officer as well to look at consistency. All the through, they’re looking at things like country conditions, other information that we gather. After a year, you can convert to LPR [lawful permanent resident] status – green card status. At that point, you’re vetted yet again – run against all the law enforcement databases, all the NCTC databases, and so forth. After 5 years, you can apply for naturalization. At that point, you’re vetted again and you’re re-interviewed again. And lastly, if you’re granted naturalization between then and the ceremony, right before the ceremony we re-vet everyone for a final time. That’s the current situation.

The existing bill builds on that. And one of the important things the existing bill does, quite frankly, from a law enforcement perspective is bringing all of the people out of the shadows who are currently in the shadow. That RPI [Registered Provisional Immigrant] process – very, very important.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa):
I thank you for starting out your statement in reference to the Boston situation so I feel comfortable asking this question: Several media outlets have reported that two individuals responsible for the tragic bombings were immigrants from Chechyna. Before the brothers became the focus of the investigation, authorities questioned a Saudi student who reportedly was on a terrorist watch list…With regard to the Saudi student, was he on a watch list and if so how did he obtain student visa?

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano:
He was not on a watch list. What happened is this student was in the – really, when you back it out, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was never a subject. He was never even really a person of interest.

Because he was being interviewed, he was at that point put on a watch list and then when it was quickly determined he had nothing to do with the bombing, the watch listing status was removed.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa):
In regard to the older brother of the two people, was your department aware of his travels to Russia and if you weren’t, the reason?

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano:
The travel in 2012 that you’re referring to. Yes, the system pinged when he was leaving the United States. By the time he returned, all investigations had been – the matter had been closed.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa):
Is it true that his identity document did not match his airline ticket? If so, why did TSA miss the discrepancy?

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano:
There was a mismatch there. By the way, the bill will help with this because it requires that passports be electronically readable as opposed to having to be manually input. It really does a good job of getting human error to the extent it exists out of the process.

But even with the misspelling, under our current system, there are redundancies and so the system did ping when he was leaving the United States.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.):
You said, I think, to Sen. [Chuck] Grassley that the older brother – the suspect who was killed – when he left to go back to Russia in 2012, the system picked up his departure but did not pick up him coming back, is that correct?

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano:
That’s my understanding. I can give you the detail in a classified setting. But I think the salient fact there, Senator, is that the FBI text alert on him at that point was more than a year old and had expired.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.):
Well, the point I’m trying to make is after having talked to the FBI they told me they had no knowledge of him leaving or coming back. The name was misspelled. So I would like to talk to you more about this case, how this man left and where he went. And when we say there’s no broader plot here, I just don’t know how in the world we know that at this early stage. And as to the person giving information – suspect 2, the 19-year-old – I would imagine he’s going to tell us that his brother was the bad guy, he was a bit player, and this wasn’t that big a deal. I would be shocked if that’s not the information received from the suspect. That’s why I want more time to interview him outside of a lawyer and investigate the case in a more thorough way.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano:
If I might, Senator, as you know, this is a very active ongoing investigation. All threads are being pulled. My understanding is there will be a classified briefing for the Senate.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.):
I’ll look forward to hearing it. Thank you.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.):
And finally, I just want to clarify – Sen. [Chuck] Grassley actually brought this up – again how we tighten up security. It’s clear that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was not – they had no record of him going to Russia or coming back because his name was misspelled by Aeroflot, where we don’t have regulations – it being a foreign airline. Under our bill, everything would have to be passport or machine read so that type of mistake could not occur. So if our bill were law, is it a pretty safe guess that the authorities would have known that Tsarnaev left to go to Russia and knew when he came back?

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano:
If I might, Senator, there are actually redundancies now in the system, so there was a ping on the outbound to customs. This is my understanding. This has been kind of a changing picture but even regardless of that, anything that make a requirement for machine-readable gets manual inputing out of the system improves security.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.):
…Those coming to the United States seeking asylum. I want to make it clear and for the record, there is nothing in this bill that weakens the authority nor the responsibility of your department and the agencies of our federal government to establish through rigorous biometric and biographic checks through law enforcement and intelligence checks, including the FBI, Department of Defense, and other agencies whether those seeking asylum would pose any threat to the United States.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano:
That’s right. And as I shared with Chairman [Patrick] Leahy at the beginning of the hearing, as you go through that asylum application process there are a number of times where individuals are re-checked, re-vetted against law enforcement and national security databases, re-interviewed, and then information is also gathered to help ascertain the credibility of the claim of persecution.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.):
And in terms of the impacts of the most recent incident in Boston, I know that you’ve addressed those in the course of your testimony already but I wonder if there is anything we can do to raise these issues so that they don’t become embroiled in the short-term misperceptions that may result?

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano:
Senator, what I would hope is – there’s a lot of misinformation out there as to the two brothers. And of course, this is an ongoing criminal investigation and so all threads are being followed. There’s going to be a classified briefing on Thursday for the Senate. What I would recommend we do is let’s have that briefing and let’s see what, if any questions, arise at that point that may have any relevance at all to immigration legislation.

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3 Comments on “Transcript: Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s remarks on the Boston Marathon bombing suspects before the Senate Judiciary Committee

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