Homeland Security head stops by SFO

June 11, 2009 10:09:41 PM PDT
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano dropped off a $15 million check at San Francisco International Airport Thursday afternoon.

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The money from the administration's stimulus program is going to pay for a new baggage handling system that will automatically screen for explosives. But Napolitano's visit was dominated by the rash of violent attacks by extremists here at home.

Napolitano's public appearance was set around a photo opportunity -- her handing a $15 million check to the airport's director.

But none of the questions from reporters was about the baggage screening system that the money will buy; instead, reporters asked about a written report produced by Homeland Security on the rise of domestic extremism.

"It was a report designed to advise law enforcement to be aware of it and the potential of increased violence," Napolitano said.

The report, which came out in April, was almost immediately withdrawn when it became the target of conservative criticism. The report cautioned that soldiers returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan might be targeted for recruiting into extremist groups.

"The report, I will say, was not well written but the point of the report is a well taken point," Napolitano said.

She said the rise in extremism could be a byproduct of a down economy and she did not want to think that Wednesday's killing at the Holocaust museum in Washington D.C. or the recent shooting of an abortion doctor in Wichita meant her department was right in issuing the report.

"You know, I don't think it appropriate to link the two, we don't use a tragedy to justify," Napolitano said.

But Thursday, the leader of the liberal group People for the American Way wrote a letter to Napolitano urging her to expedite approval of what the letter called the "Rightwing Extremism Report" and release the final version as soon as possible, calling it a crucial step in helping to contain the violence we are now experiencing. Napolitano side stepped saying when the report might be released.

"It has actually been withdrawn to be rewritten and that is happening now," Napolitano said.

Later, an aid to the secretary said she knew of no time frame for releasing the report or if it would ever be released.

Napolitano took no more questions as she briefly inspected a screening system for carryon bags inside the international terminal.

The system that will be paid for by the $15 million Napolitano delivered Thursday afternoon is expected to go on line in terminal two in a couple of years.

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