A strikingly thin man with a high-pitched voice, pointy ears and droopy eyelids, Chertoff speaks of “the critical points of triangulation” and calls for a “properly risk-managed approach to critical infrastructure.” He talks about the need for “total assets visibility” and favors “an integrated, sensible, systems-based approach.” He desires “better information about the constituents of the supply chain.” And instead of telling people that he’s protecting them, he says that his department has “done a lot to elevate the general baseline of security in this country.”
The author of the piece, Dana Milbank, uses these examples to suggest that Sec. Chertoff operates in some ethereal plane of wonkitude, and is out of touch with the on-the-ground realities of homeland security. Such a suggestion is perhaps amusing in the way Milbank presented it, but it’s unfair. (Full disclosure: I’ve been known to slip into wonkspeak from time to time myself). You know what? Homeland security is a complex business. There are a number of aspects of it that are difficult to explain in laymen’s terms. These quotes are taken from a speech at a think tank (the Heritage Foundation), not a speech at the local Rotary Club, where presumably the DHS speechwriters would take a different and less academic tone. Finally, he’s absolutely correct on the substance of each of these points.
And anyway, Chertoff got the last laugh at his speech this morning:
Now of course, chemistry is a little bit of a technical subject, and I read in The Washington Post this morning that I was being a little bit too technical in the words I was using when I spoke yesterday. This is a group that I think will understand big words. If members of the press need help in translation afterwards, I’ll be happy to do that.