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Departing Homeland Security chief hails marathon responders


By Matt Murphy

State House News Service

BOSTON — Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano reflected on the response and lessons learned from the April marathon bombings in Boston during farewell remarks Tuesday, calling the twin bombing a “despicable act of violence” while offering praise for the first responders of the city.

Napolitano, the fourth person to hold the title of homeland security secretary since the agency was created after 9/11, plans to leave the Obama administration on Sept. 6 to become the president of the University of California system. Her successor has not yet been announced.

“The Boston Marathon attack was a despicable act of violence directed at a symbolic, peaceful sporting event that each year draws athletes and fans from all over the world. In the perpetrators of that bombing, we saw the worst of humanity: cowardice, hatred, violence, and intolerance,” Napolitano said, according to prepared remarks, which she delivered at the National Press Club in Washington D.C.

The former Arizona governor also predicted the United States will eventually face a “major cyber event that will have a serious effect on our lives, our economy and the everyday functioning of our society,” and should be prepared for the “increasing likelihood” of severe weather-related events due to climate change.

Napolitano applauded the efforts of first responders and citizens for minimizing the human damage caused by the Boston attack, and highlighted efforts her agency has made over the years to train local law enforcement, improve information sharing and equip response teams.

The agency supported more than a dozen training exercises in Boston, including a mass-casualty event last November, according to Napolitano, and helped create the Medical Intelligence Center to enable information sharing across Boston hospitals.

“The well-time coordinated emergency response that immediately followed the marathon attack was not accidental. It was the product of years of planning, training, and investments in building state and local capacity,” she said.

Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis, a central figure in the post-bombing response and search for the suspects, has been rumored to be under consideration for Napolitano’s post.

In the aftermath of the attack, some have questioned whether local authorities were given enough information about the Tsarnaev brothers, who had been investigated by federal authorities for potential terrorist ties. The older brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed during a firefight with police in Watertown, while Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is in federal custody awaiting trial.

Davis told the House Committee on Homeland Security in May that his department had not been informed by the F.B.I. of Russian intelligence warnings about Tamerlan Tsarnaev or the agency’s questioning of Tsarnaev and his family, even though four of his deputies sit on the Boston Joint Terrorism Task Force.

“Without the selfless service of so many heroic individuals and first responders, the toll from the Boston attack could have been far greater, and this terrible tragedy could have been even worse,” Napolitano said at the National Press Club Tuesday.

“And so for me, the lesson is clear: For every attack we experience, every threat we face, and every piece of intelligence we come across, we learn. We assess our preparations and capabilities. We make changes. We become more flexible in the actions we take. And we get stronger and more nimble.”

During her speech, Napolitano also touched on other events such as the attempted Christmas Day bombing of an airliner bound for Detroit and Hurricane Sandy’s impact on the New York metropolitan area.

In what she called an “Open Letter” to her successor, Napolitano said the country will continue to confront the “evolving threat” of terrorism, natural disasters and a need for stronger border security and immigration enforcement.