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ALBUQUERQUE – Fighting Mexican drug cartels and associated violence plaguing U.S. border towns is a top priority for the Obama administration, said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano in a meeting at the University of New Mexico Friday.
Napolitano, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Director Gil Kerlikowske of the Office of National Drug Control Policy unveiled President Barack Obama’s strategy for attacking the crisis, which she said has killed 10,000 people since 2005.
Their audience included local law enforcement, elected officials and members of the public and also was streamed live to state and local intelligence fusion centers throughout the Southwest.
“Our international cooperation is very key,” Napolitano said. “Quite frankly as someone who has been working on border related matters for a number of years, we have an unprecedented opportunity now working with the federal government of Mexico to take the fight against these cartels from both directions. This is a window of opportunity we should not let go by.”
Holder stressed that the effort must be a national priority. “Of particular importance to me being from the Department of Justice is enhancing investigations and prosecutions,” he said.
Along with combating against drug cartels, Holder said the fight must include peripheral activities including cash smuggling, money laundering and arms smuggling.
Hundreds of agents have been added to the field, Napolitano said, and there’s an effort underway to increase scales, scanners and dog teams at the border.
Thirteen states and Puerto Rico are to share in $60 million slated for border security efforts. New Mexico is getting nearly $4 million.
As part of Friday’s meeting, Napolitano swore in 16 members of the Homeland Security Advisory Council (HSAC) during her first meeting with HSAC since her January appointment.
“I congratulate the members of the Homeland Security Advisory Council on their appointments,” she said. “As we work to fulfill the Department’s core mission of securing the country against the many threats it faces, the unique insights and expertise of this diverse council will be a valuable resource.”
Napolitano tapped experts from state, local and tribal governments, academia, emergency responders and the private sector to serve on the council.
Her appointments range from former U.S. Secret Service director John Magaw to Black Hat and DEFCON Computer Hacker Conferences founder and director Jeff Moss to Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley.
They are tasked with providing recommendations and advice directly to the homeland security secretary. Ten of the 16 members sworn in Friday are new to HSAC and six were re-appointed.
Former CIA and FBI Director Judge William Webster chairs HSAC and former Sen. Gary Hart, D-Colo., serves as his vice chair.
To access the full list of council members, visit www.dhs.gov/hsac.
Napolitano grew up in Albuquerque and her father served as dean of UNM’s Medical School. She spoke at the School of Medicine and Allied Health Program graduation ceremonies in May.
Napolitano was sworn in on Jan. 21 as the third Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. Prior to joining the Obama Administration, Napolitano was mid-way through her second term as governor of the state of Arizona.
Napolitano is the first woman to chair the National Governors Association, where she was instrumental in creating the Public Safety Task Force and the Homeland Security Advisors Council.She served as Arizona attorney general and U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona.
Her homeland security background is extensive. As U.S. Attorney, she helped lead the domestic terrorism investigation into the Oklahoma City Bombing. As Arizona’s attorney general, she helped write the law to break up human smuggling rings.
As governor, she implemented one of the first state homeland security strategies in the nation, opened the first state counter-terrorism center and spearheaded efforts to transform immigration enforcement.
Napolitano also is a pioneer in coordinating federal, state, local and bi-national homeland security efforts and she presided over large scale disaster relief efforts and readiness exercises to ensure well-crafted and functional emergency plans.
Napolitano graduated from Santa Clara University in 1979 and received her law degree in 1983 from the University of Virginia School of Law.