IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Highlights from DHS Secretary Johnson's Rachel Maddow interview

Excerpts from Wednesday's interview with Jeh Johnson, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security
U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, on The Rachel Maddow Show, July 2, 2014.
U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, on The Rachel Maddow Show, July 2, 2014.

We continually evaluate the world situation and we not infrequently make changes to aviation security. We either step it up or we feel sometimes we're in a position to dial it back and so this is something that happens periodically and people should not overreact to it or over-speculate about what's going on. But there clearly are concerns centered around aviation security that we need to be vigilant about. There is a terrorist threat to this country that remains, and I believe that counter-terrorism needs to be the cornerstone of our mission, our vast mission … and aviation security is something that we still have a fair amount of concerns about.

Sec. Johnson on potential threats from ISIS in Syria and Iraq

We've been looking at Syria for a while. In a speech I gave in February, I said that Syria had become a matter of Homeland Security. And we in National Security are very concerned about the foreign fighter flow going into Syria, in particular from the United States, from European countries, other countries. And we're tracking that population. And we're very concerned about it because there are extremists within the borders of Syria that would like to indoctrinate these people and send them back to their own countries with a different purpose. And so we're having to spend a lot of time tracking these individuals and we spend a lot of time talking to our foreign allies about the same problem. They're concerned about it as well.

I've spent enough time now in South Texas actually talking directly to these kids, and I've spent time with unaccompanied children as young as eight-years-old, five-years-old, who've been on a 1000 mile journey to come to this country and you can see in their eyes vulnerability and fear that I recognize as a father. And so there's a humanitarian aspect to this situation that we simply have to grapple with and come to terms with, and so our response to this needs to reflect our laws and our values.…A child told me that ‘the gang was going to kill me and so my grandmother or my father told me they had no choice but to send me to the United States to be with the other parent.’ So first and foremost it's the conditions in these three countries, because we're seeing this migration occurring from these three countries. Second, they clearly know that the law requires that if we identify them as an unaccompanied child we give them to Health and Human Services and they place them in a situation that is in the best interest of the child, which very often is with the parent who is already in the United States.

Sec. Johnson on reports of abuse or overuse of force by the U.S. Border Patrol

I know from my Department of Defense experience that transparency goes a long way. An armed force, a law enforcement force, or a military force, that operates with a lack of transparency is a force that you threaten to undermine the entire mission if there's not accountability and transparency. And so I've been very pleased that CBP has taken certain steps toward transparency. We have made public … the Use of Force policy, we've made public the independent report on use of force. And the Border Patrol Commissioner Kerlikowske is making some changes in internal affairs within CBP. And so I think we're moving in a very positive direction. We re-wrote our Use of Force policies for the Border Patrol to more explicitly deal with the problem of rock throwing, and threats to Border Patrol agents by vehicles and I made clear to the Border Patrol leadership that I don’t want you to do anything that's going to undermine your agents’ ability to defend themselves in situations where it's warranted. But transparency can go a long way with the general population.And so I think with my encouragement Commissioner Kerlikowske has made a lot of really positive steps in this direction and we're going to continue that.Maddow: I would say, just speaking for myself as a member of the media, the fact that Customs and Border Patrol doesn't engage with the media at all. When they get asked about the shooting incident, there's not even a ‘no comment,’ there's nothing on background, there’s no official data to resort to at all. It doesn't feel like there are very many watchdogs on this issue and maybe that's because the population that’s most in contact with Border Patrol agents is a very powerless population. Just in terms of democracy it's –Sec. Johnson: Well again -- I think we're moving in the right direction.