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July 12th, 2013
07:17 PM ET

Napolitano leaving Obama cabinet

(CNN) - One of her first major tests came on her first Christmas in the job, heading the department created in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks when the failed underwear bomber Umar Abdulmutallab tried to destroy a northwest airlines plane full of passengers flying from Amsterdam to Detroit, thankfully prevented by the passengers and crew on the plane.

Abdulmutallab's presence on that plane with explosives was, as a Senate investigation would later conclude, an example of systemic intelligence failures and "failures of the systems and procedures in place to prevent suspected terrorists of entering the United States.”

But on the Sunday shows, two days later, Secretary Napolitano had a different focus.

“The system has worked really very, very smoothly over the course of the past several days,” she said on ABC’s “This Week” in December 2009. “Everybody reacted as they should. We trained for this. We planned for this. We exercised for this sort of event should it occur.”

But while the passengers and flight crew prevented the attack, questions remained whether the government acted as it was supposed to.

There have been a number of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil - Army Major Nidal Hasan killed 13 soldiers and civilians at fort hood on November 5, 2009 after emailing al Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.

In April of this year, the Tsarnaev brothers allegedly killed 4 and maimed dozens more in their Boston marathon bombings and subsequent attempt to escape.

The Republican Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee Michael McCaul said Friday, in a rather pointed statement Friday responded to news of Napolitano’s departure, that “It is crucial that the administration appoints someone who does not underestimate the threats against us.”

“It is crucial that its mission isn’t undermined by politics or political correctness. The border is not secure and the threat of terrorism is not diminishing..”

There have also, of course, been dozens of foiled plots. The White House Friday was unequivocal in its praise for Napolitano.

“There’s no question that we remain the target of threats against both the homeland and Americans abroad,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney. “And we have to be ever-vigilant so that was true before Secretary Napolitano took the job and President Obama came into office and it will be true after Obama and Secretary Napolitano’s successor leave office.”

Napolitano’s tenure started off stormy. House Republicans criticized Napolitano ever since April 2009 when a Homeland Security memo noted that the struggling economy “could create a fertile recruiting environment for right-wing extremists.”

Duke University Professor David Schanzer, director of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, says Napolitano’s legacy is strongest in the federal responses to natural disasters –wildfires in Colorado and Arizona; tornadoes in Joplin, Missouri and Moore, Oklahoma; Super storm Sandy; and in what he calls a smart approach to border security.

“Coming into office we had a very haphazard policy,” Schanzer continued. “We were deporting people who were really doing nothing but try to raise a living for their families and we moved to a system where we had more deportations, so stronger enforcement but were focused more on the people who could do harm in the United States.”

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