Michael Chertoff served as the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security from February 2005 until the inauguration of Barack Obama. Chertoff graduated magna cum laude both from Harvard College (1975) and Harvard Law School (1978). From 1979-1980 he served as a clerk to Supreme Court Justice William Brennan, Jr.
Chertoff spent more than a decade as a federal prosecutor, including service as an Assistant US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, First Assistant US Attorney for the District of New Jersey and US Attorney for the District of New Jersey. As a federal prosecutor, Chertoff investigated and prosecuted cases of political corruption, organized crime and corporate fraud. Among them was the “Mafia Commission” case involving leaders of La Cosa Nostra.
Chertoff was a partner in the law firm of Latham & Watkins. From 1995 to 1996, he served as Special Counsel for the US Senate Whitewater Committee investigating the business dealings of President Bill Clinton while he was governor of Arkansas. Chertoff then served as Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division at the Department of Justice (DOJ). There, he oversaw DOJ’s investigation of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He also formed the Enron Task Force that produced more than 20 convictions, including those of CEOs Jeffrey Skilling and Ken Lay.
Before taking over DHS, Chertoff served as a US Circuit Judge for the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.
A member of the right-wing Federalist Society, Chertoff has been criticized for his role in helping craft the Patriot Act, the Bush administration’s response to Katrina and its controversial immigration reform agenda, including the effort to use more law enforcement elements to detain undocumented migrants. Chertoff has also been a vocal proponent of the “war on terror.”
In a 2007 op-ed for the Washington Post, Chertoff echoed the rhetoric of neoconservatives and hardliners in comparing al-Qaida and Islamic radicals to Hitler and Stalin. “Today's extreme Islamist groups such as al-Qaida do not merely seek political revolution in their own countries,” wrote Chertoff. “They aspire to dominate all countries. Their goal is a totalitarian, theocratic empire to be achieved by waging perpetual war on soldiers and civilians alike.”