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Homeland Security Secretary Johnson shows his contempt

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Sept 10, 2014
By Lucy Komisar

I went to hear Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Charles Johnson at the Council on Foreign Relations today at a lunch speech positioned to precede the President’s TV address tonight to say what he is to do (beyond “don’t do something stupid”), to deal with the threat of ISIS.

Jeh Charles Johnson, Secretary of Homeland Security

Jeh Charles Johnson, Secretary of Homeland Security

Johnson’s speech included reference to the danger posed by Islamic militants inside the country. So at question time I asked,

“Taking up what you said about concern about homegrown terrorists and terrorists in the U.S., how do you deal with the fact that some budding terrorist can very easily go to some state where there are very few restrictions — none, really, enforced — get assault weapons, get handguns, walk around in the street with them, walk around even in an airport with them? Isn’t this a huge hole in your protection of people in this country when terrorists in this country can get lethal weapons right here and turn them on us?”

Johnson said,

“Without directly commenting on various gun control ideas out there — as you know, that’s obviously a hotly debated subject — I am concerned. You know, put handguns aside for the moment. Put assault weapons aside for the moment. I am concerned about how easy it is for somebody to buy in an open fashion materials, explosives, precursors to explosives, pressure cookers, that can be usedto cause mass destruction, mass violence. And we saw an example of that in Boston last year.”

[What! Put guns aside? But that was the question. Can you compare deaths by guns with deaths by pressure cookers?]

He went on, “And so we can’t and we shouldn’t prohibit the sale of a pressure cooker. We can sensitize retail businesses to be on guard for suspicious behavior by those who buy this kind of stuff. And so I — you know, one of the reasons I am concerned about domestic-based acts of mass violence is the ease with which somebody can assemble things that in and of themselves are not dangerous, but you put them all together.”

He said a few more things about the problem of people learning bad things on the internet, the need to reach out to community groups [administration boilerplate for any problem raised], etc. See full text at the end and link to the Council transcript.

After the meeting, I went up to him and said, “You didn’t answer my question about gun control.” He looked away. Another Council member came up to engage him, and he looked at that person and chatted. So I asked again. He pointed his nose snootily in the air and walked away.

That immediately shifted his credibility with me down to zero. There’s a way to deal with a difficult question (just say this is a political issue we are dealing with, for example), instead of replying with a shifty answer that appears absurd to everyone. And then to seal the deal in private (when nothing is recorded) by being contemptuous toward the questioner.

When as we left I chatted with Chris Dickey (formerly Newsweek, now The Beast), he commented that Johnson has to learn how to better deal with questions he doesn’t want to answer. Others came up to me to say “what a good question.” Johnson may think he got past it, but he showed himself a fool.

So if this is a key person of Obama’s team to protect the country from the Islamist militant threat, I wouldn’t take his speech tonight too seriously.

Oh, Johnson also talked about how the various intelligence agencies were working together to share information. Dickey and I had a laugh about that one.

text:

A Conversation with Jeh Charles Johnson, Secretary of Homeland Security; U.S. Department of Homeland Security, September 10, 2014

QUESTION: My name is Lucy Komisar. I am a journalist. Taking up what you said about concern about homegrown terrorists and terrorists in the U.S., how do you deal with the fact that some budding terrorist can very easily go to some state where there are very few restrictions — none, really, enforced — get assault weapons, get handguns, walk around in the street with them, walk around even in an airport with them? Isn’t this a huge hole in your protection of people in this country when terrorists in this country can get lethal weapons right here and turn them on us?

JOHNSON: Without directly commenting on various gun control ideas out there — as you know, that’s obviously a hotly debated subject — I am concerned. You know, put handguns aside for the moment. Put assault weapons aside for the moment. I am concerned about how easy it is for somebody to buy in an open fashion materials, explosives, precursors to explosives, pressure cookers, that can be usedto cause mass destruction, mass violence. And we saw an example of that in Boston last year.

And so we can’t and we shouldn’t prohibit the sale of a pressure cooker. We can sensitize retail businesses to be on guard for suspicious behavior by those who buy this kind of stuff. And so I — you know, one of the reasons I am concerned about domestic-based acts of mass violence is the ease with which somebody can assemble things that in and of themselves are not dangerous, but you put them all together.

And then you combine that with some of the learning on the Internet that various groups put out — and I’m not going to promote anything in particular — it, you know, combines for a serious concern and a serious homeland security concern.

And so I — as I mentioned in my remarks — have decided that we need to make as a large part of the homeland security mission countering violent extremism at home and outreach to community groups. I mentioned that I was with a Syrian-American community organization in Chicago, and I was impressed by the extent to which the people that I met in that room that day had, I think, a good sense of the pulse of their community there.

And so this is something that we — this is something that we have to address. And, you know, we see it in multiple forms and fashions repeatedly with different motives. But it’s obviously something we have to address.

Read full text

See the video   question at 38 minutes in.

 

 

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