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Securing Chertoff's Legacy

As George Bush's presidency winds down, his administration is working hard to establish a legacy. Not of economics or prosperity at home, but of security. The President himself spoke about it earlier in the week and the White House even issued a bluntly titled fact sheet: "President Bush Has Kept America Safe."

(AP)
Today, Homeland Security boss Michael Chertoff, gave one of his last speeches as DHS secretary and one that was heavy on history, continuing the point.

"My participation in this effort to protect the American people is the most important job and challenge I've ever undertaken in my life," said Chertoff. "I've been privileged to do it under the leadership of a president who has been unwavering in his commitment to live up to that statement he said after 9/11: Don't let this happen again."

In his remarks, the outgoing Secretary of Homeland security noted numerous accomplishments of the department that was born out of the tragedy. From security at the border, to the airports and shipping ports and the realm of cyber-security and travel documents, Chertoff ticked off numerous accomplishments and facts.

"Since 9/11, excluding Iraq and Afghanistan, terrorists have killed more than 20,000 men and women and wounded more than 43,000 around the world. That is a stunning figure. Not one of these deaths and not one of these woundings occurred in the United States after September 11. And that is also a stunning figure," he said.

In an interview with CBS News Justice Correspondent Bob Orr, Chertoff talked about what the US has done to prevent another attack. "It's a lot of things, its taking the battle to the enemy overseas, so the enemy is on the defensive instead of on the offensive, I think it's much better intelligence collection and integration. And I think it's, frankly a lot of our preparation here at home," he said. "It's tougher to get in with phony documents, it's tougher to get in between the ports of entry, we've got much better security systems at the border and at the interior and all of these things taken together create a network of defenses, that is far superior to anything that we ever had prior to 9/11," Chertoff told Orr.

But, he also made it clear that it was not without trying on the part of terrorist groups like Al Qaeda, who some say has reconstituted itself to levels of strength not seen since 9/11, meaning that the threat continues.

"If we look at what happened in Mumbai, we saw a terrorist group capable of managing a very successful and quite sophisticated assault that lasted over a long period of time. We know from the airline plot in 2006, that there was a plot comparable to 9/11… Unfortunately, there's no a one-size fits all solution, we have to be able to do all of these or deal with all of these threats at the same time," he said.

Chertoff also discussed the transition to the Obama Administration, specifically how the Bush Administration has been preparing scenario reports for the incoming team, detailing how to respond or deal with a variety of hypothetical incidents.

"I think the most important thing you want to consider, at least initially, is what is your immediate response in the wake of an attack: what do you do to figure out how to prevent any follow-on attack, what to do you to stabilize the situation in terms of medical issues or diffusing bombs," he said.

But Chertoff reminded Orr, that while the government's largest agency will undergo its first transition to a new administration, many senior and experienced officials are in career jobs and are not leaving at the end of the term.

"So the capability and the know-how, garnered over years, is ready to be deployed by the new leaders of my department and the other departments," said Chertoff, who stressed that as much as the Bush administration has accomplished, it would all go to waste if they did not do as much as possible to ensure the same success with the new president.

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