Juliette N. Kayyem is Massachusetts’ undersecretary of public safety for homeland security, serving since the post’s creation in January of this year. She began her career in public service as a lawyer for the U.S. Justice Department and was later legal counsel to then-Attorney General Janet Reno. She served from 1999 through 2001 on the National Commission on Terrorism chaired by Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III. A graduate of Harvard University and Harvard Law School, Kayyem is a lecturer at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. She co-authored 2005’s Preserving Liberty in the Age of Terror and co-edited 2003’s First to Arrive: State and Local Response to Terrorism. Of Lebanese descent, Kayyem is the first Arab-American to serve as a state’s top homeland security official. (Her comments have been edited to accommodate space limitations. Read the full interview online.)
Q. What are your responsibilities? What’s a typical day or week like?
A. My position is new within the Secretariat of Public Safety, and it covers all the public-safety agencies: the state police, fire services, National Guard, and emergency management. I also serve as Gov. Deval Patrick’s homeland security advisor, and in the federal capacity as the state’s official designee to the Department of Homeland Security, and I oversee the homeland security functions of all state agencies and state homeland security funds. So I have a staff that includes grants and research and emergency management, fire services, National Guard, fusion center, things like that.
Q. How has your professional background helped you on the job?
A. I don’t pretend to be something I’m not. I’m not a cop; I’m not a firefighter. But I think the fact that I’ve been in policy and planning helps me advise the governor on initiatives that are important to him. Most of my experience has been on the federal level, so that has benefited me in terms of my capacity to deal with the federal government, whether it’s the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) or the Department of Defense, or certainly if it’s the Department of Justice (DOJ).
Q. How would you characterize the state’s relationship with the federal government?
A. It’s complicated. On the person-to-person level, it’s very good. I have a very good relationship with all the folks in the federal government focused on Massachusetts, whether it’s DHS or DOJ or the other federal bodies that are in the state. But the governor opposes the REAL ID Act, and he’s more liberal on immigration issues than the federal government. We had a massive immigration raid here a few months ago that sort of pitted the governor against (DHS Secretary Michael) Chertoff. So it’s a constant balance between the benefits that the homeland security apparatus obviously gives to the state and the duty of a governor to speak his mind.
Q. How do you feel about DHS’s risk-based approach to urban area security grants and Massachusetts’ 22 percent cut this year?
A. I describe it as expected disappointment. We all knew that was coming, and we are assessing how we want to spend the money wisely, such as toward a statewide interoperability plan, a mutual-aid plan, and a sheltering plan. And we need to conduct gap analysis to ensure that future money—especially if federal funding continues to go down—is spent on filling those gaps.
We actually did quite well in our port and mass transit security grants, I think in part because the state brought together stakeholders and said, we need a plan so we can get this money. The governor signed an interoperability agreement with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, so we got grant funding to establish full communications systems in the subway system, in light of what happened in London.
It’s an interesting time for homeland security, and I think cuts in state grants reflect that. It’s a time for states to assess where they are, to think about sustainability. We need priorities and planning to guide purchases, bearing in mind that police departments are dealing with crime, and fire services are dealing with fires, and the National Guard is dealing with deployments overseas.
Q. What major assets and risks does your office focus on?
A. Number one is the normal security risks that we have. We have a liquid natural gas (LNG) terminal in Everett just outside Boston, which is the major city in New England, so all of that obviously keeps me up at night.
And then there’s the counter to that, which we saw in the “Lite-Brite” incident in Boston last winter. (Suspicious, blinking electronic devices were discovered in two locations; the public response brought the city to a halt. The units were harmless and had been placed to promote a television cartoon show.) We have a security apparatus that is rightfully ready to launch itself when it needs to. The true challenge is managing that apparatus and having the right protocols in place to ensure that there’s an appropriate, measured response.
Q. Is the state engaging the private sector in its efforts?
A. The big thing with the private sector is communication protocols. The major employers in Boston simply want to know what are we doing, so we spend a lot of time on those communication protocols
Another issue is economic recovery. Major companies here have their own business continuity plans, but were something to happen, we need mechanisms in place to start the engines of commerce again on a broader scale. So we are launching the Massachusetts Recovery Alliance, bringing together the necessary players with our economic development folks to prepare.
For us, private sector outreach is twofold. There are always going to be vulnerabilities, but one of our jobs is to ensure that there aren’t greater vulnerabilities under our watch. The governor has come out against construction of a new LNG terminal by a subsidiary of Hess Corp. in Fall River.
Another issue is ensuring that the private sector is paying for the privilege of doing business in the state, such as having nuclear facilities giving more to communities. That’s the tough message.
Q. Has the state conducted any major drills recently, and if so, what did you learn?
A. The big one that just happened was the Port Security Exercise Training Program (PortSTEP), which was hosted by the Coast Guard. One of the things that came out of that port drill is the issue of managing who’s in charge and what assets are available.
We’re constantly training and exercising, and the exercises are all over the map, so we’re putting together a statewide exercise calendar to ensure that state entities, counties, and the localities know what’s happening and when.
Q.What are your office’s goals for the coming year?
A. I think a huge goal is to have policies and programs in place that can sustain homeland security, whether there’s another attack or not, through a dual-use, all-hazards approach, 10 or 20 years from now.
We also need to be better about empowering the public to help themselves. With the money drying up, our moral obligation is to ensure that the limited resources are spent on first responders, or on populations that may need more help, especially in light of what Hurricane Katrina taught us. We’ve launched a “Help Us Help You” campaign to bolster individual preparedness.
Our governor always talks about homeland security more in terms of hope than fear, and I think there is a role for states in affirming who we are as a society. I think that will be one of his legacies—I certainly hope it will for me as the first Arab-American homeland security advisor.
We should do everything that we can do to promote an atmosphere of inclusion, reaching out to communities of interest so the security apparatus doesn’t look as scary, and we should demand that privacy issues continue to have respect, at least on the state level, which I think can serve as a counter to what’s happening on the federal level.