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President Barack Obama has announced his intent to nominate Jeh Johnson to lead the Department of Homeland Security. If confirmed, Johnson would become the first African American to hold the post.

Johnson would succeed Janet Napolitano, who resigned in July to become president of The University of California.

Johnson, whose uncle was a member of the Tuskegee Airmen, was in New York during the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001.

“In Jeh Johnson, we have the right person to continue this important work,” Obama said at the White House.  “From the moment I took office, Jeh was an absolutely critical member of my national security team, and he demonstrated again and again the qualities that will make him a strong Secretary of Homeland Security.”

“Jeh has a deep understanding of the threats and challenges facing the United States,” the president said.  “As the Pentagon’s top lawyer, he helped design and implement many of the policies that have kept our country safe, including our success in dismantling the core of al Qaeda and the Fatah.”

Obama said Johnson has experience leading large complex organizations.  As a member of the Pentagon’s senior management team, first under Bob Gates and then under Leon Panetta, Johnson helped oversee the work of more than 3 million military and civilian personnel across the country and around the world.

The president said Johnson has also earned a reputation as a cool and calm leader.  Johnson appreciates that any organization’s greatest asset is its people, and at the Pentagon he guided the report explaining why allowing our men and women in uniform to serve their country openly would not weaken our military, Obama said.

“Jeh believes, in a deep and personal way, that keeping America safe requires us also upholding the values and civil liberties that make America great,” Obama said.

“Jeh tells the story of his uncle who was a member of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen during World War II,” Obama added.  “And he and his fellow airmen served with honor, even when their country didn’t treat them with the dignity and the respect that they deserved.  And it was a lesson that Jeh never forgot.  “We must adopt legal positions that comport with common sense,” Jeh says, “consistent with who we are as Americans.”

At DHS, Johnson would be overseeing an agency with 240,000 employees spread across 22 government agencies. The department’s mission covers counter-terrorism and cyber security, but it also oversees the government’s response to national disasters and border security.

“I am a New Yorker, and I was present in Manhattan on 9/11, which happens to be my birthday, when that bright and beautiful day was — a day something like this — was shattered by the largest terrorist attack on our homeland in history,” Johnson said at the White House.

“I wandered the streets of New York that day and wondered and asked, what can I do?  Since then, I have tried to devote myself to answering that question.  I love this country.  I care about the safety of our people.  I believe in public service.  And I remain loyal to you, Mr. President,” Johnson said.

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