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Dinner with Sec. Michael Chertoff in Westfield By Steven Kasich March 31, 2010
Photos by Steve Kasich, -

A Night With Michael Chertoff

Specially Written for The Westfield Leader and The Times

Born in Elizabeth, N.J. and a former Westfield resident, Michael Chertoff returned to his Jersey roots last Wednesday night for dinner at Echo Lake Country Club, sponsored by Asm. Jon Bramnick. The former Secretary of Homeland Security (2005-2009) under the Bush Administration fielded a wide range of questions from the several dozen dignitaries in attendance about terrorism, disaster response, preparedness, the workings of government and international politics.
Mr. Chertoff noted that his family grew up and was educated here, and that the trip down Route 22 that evening to the dinner reminded him how he was still a “Jersey guy.” Mr. Chertoff now lives in the Washington D.C. area with his family and operates a consulting firm.

Westfield Mayor Andrew Skibitsky, Police Chief John Parizeau and Fire Chief Dan Kelly made Sec. Chertoff part of the local “first responders” team with presentations of honorary Westfield attire. He praised the work of the local security and emergency personnel and noted the critical role they play in our society during these perilous times.
Rich Bagger of Westfield, Chief of Staff to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, welcomed Secretary Chertoff back to town and extended his greetings from Trenton.

Mr. Chertoff said of the several things he learned, that it’s essential to have plans and personnel in place, to have ‘boots on the ground’ to provide real time information and to react quickly with overwhelming force and resources to deal with emergencies. He said it’s hard to make good policies happen (turn them into real action).

On the Katrina disaster, Mr. Chertoff was critical of the failure of the State of Louisiana as the responsible first party and that the federal government, by law and policy then, was held to a support role. Since 2005 though, he said several changes have been made to enable the federal government to seize the necessary authority to act more directly.

Judy Mullins of Madison, accompanied by former NJTransit head Jeffery Warsh, asked how our transportation system can be protected, noting her career as risk management for NJTransit. Mr. Chertoff agreed that protecting against all incidences of terrorism such as recently in the Moscow subways, might not be completely possible to stop. He said the larger facilities are heavily protected first, and that working the way down on priorities with available resources is what is required.

Quick response with substantial resources to incidences, should they occur, then must be part of it.
Mr. Chertoff told of the resources applied to Newark Airport security, then added that the private air travel industry needs to be looked at.

Michael Gennaro asked if China is to be considered an enemy. Mr. Chertoff said he believes China is to be thought of neither as an enemy nor a friend. They understandably pursue their national interests. The amount of money loaned to the U.S. is dangerous, he said.

Mr. Chertoff several times mentioned the dangers of cyber attacks. He also expressed concerns of biological terrorism attacks.

Preventive intelligence gathering is essential, he believes – to thwart attacks as much as possible, before they happen.

On whether being politically correct weakens our preparedness and ability to deal with threats, Mr. Chertoff noted that President Obama is trying with overtures to Iran and North Korea in this fashion, though he sees little progress being made.

Public perception that the country is prepared and doing everything reasonably possible is essential, said Mr. Chertoff. Sometimes, it may be necessary for government to risk overreacting during emergencies, seize the authority, rather than sit back and wait.

Asm. Bramnick, MC for the evening, quipped in conclusion, “Being secure? I bought a summer place in Pennsylvania right next to the Secretary!”


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