Before the former Arizona Governor began her testimony before the House Homeland Security Committee, Rep. Peter King, the panel's ranking Republican, noted to Napolitano that "the word 'terrorism' isn't used" in her preapared remarks. "I think it's important for people like us in positions of leadership to constantly remind people" about the threat of terrorism, the New York Republican said.
Napolitano's prepared testimony, obtained in advance by CBS News, did not include the T-word, but the Secretary inserted it in response to Rep. King's observation. As she described the Department of Homeland Security's mission as protecting the nation from threats "both natural and manmade", Napolitano added, "And terrorism, Mr. King, I believe falls into that category and is central to the category."
Not all of her congressional questioners objected to the apparent shift in focus. "I applaud the new tone of the department," said Rep. Jane Harman, chairman of the Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing and Terrorism Risk Assessment, adding that the role of the department "is to prepare, not scare."
From day one, Napolitano has assiduously avoided the nearly constant terror-talk of her two predecessors at DHS, a department created in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. At her first meeting with beat reporters at Homeland Security Headquarters on January 30, nine days after she was sworn-in, the new secretary's tendency to nix the T-word was evident as she spoke for more thirty minutes about the northern and southern borders, immigration, the ice storms in the midwest, hurricane preparations, and other issues without explicitly mentioning terrorism. In a one-on-one interview following the session, CBS Correspondent Bob Orr pressed the incoming secretary on the subject, asking her if terrorism would remain the top priority at DHS under her tenure. "It's a top priority," Napolitano answered.
Carter Yang is a CBS News producer based in Washington, D.C.