The View from Mudsock Heights: How J.K. Rowling Invented the Secretary of Homeland Security

By Dennis Powell | Posted at 4:31 PM

It is a good thing that there’s a new Harry Potter movie. I have no idea if “Harry Potter and the Beginning of the End” or “Voldemort Strikes Back” or whatever it is called is any good. The New York Times says it is, but it might be anyway. The Potter movies have been wonderful (well, except maybe for the last one).

The film’s release was accompanied by the usual run of docu-tisements broadcast in a transparent and probably effective attempt to market Potter-related merchandise. It was when tuning past one of these that I was truly startled.

There, on screen, dressed in pink and playing herself (though the name used for her character was Dolores Umbridge) was Janet Napolitano, who has reprised the role in her current job as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

I have seen “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” a couple of times, but it was not until now that I recognized the character. Perhaps you have not seen the movie, so I should tell you a little about Dolores Napolitano.

SOURCE: Transportation Security Administration

The good and wise folk of the Hogwarts School and some of their supporters are aware of a real and terrifying danger. The folk of the Ministry of Magic, frightened that their power is slipping away, send pink-suited Janet Umbridge to Hogwarts, where she is to teach a class called “Defense Against the Dark Arts” — how to fight off evil, supposedly. But it quickly becomes clear that her purpose is to do nothing to respond to the threat while doing a lot to disrupt the lives of everyone at Hogwarts. At one point she even notes that the purpose of education is not to impart knowledge and skill but to pass exams.

Of course, the threat turns out to be real. People are endangered; one is killed. Before the movie ends, Janet Dolores Napolitano Umbridge has been discredited. (That’s maybe why her name does not appear in the credits.)

Alas, the character does not appear in the Potter films that have followed. Instead, the character now has been transformed into real life, bringing the same kind of thinking to a cabinet department that affects us all.

Not long ago I was at the Columbus airport, awaiting the arrival of a friend. There a little early, I had the opportunity to watch the representatives of the Department of Homeland Security put their new full-body scanners through their paces. These devices, as you have no doubt heard, allow employees of the Transportation Safety Administration to see passengers as if naked. Not everyone passes through these machines; persons are chosen at random to be electronically stripped of their garments. What I noticed during my 20 minutes or so observing was that in every single case the persons selected for random screening were attractive women.

Unless I’ve missed a very big story, which I do not think I have, the supposed purpose of the Department of Homeland Security and its uniformed TSA voyeurs is to make our lives safer, particularly the lives of us who fly on commercial airliners. There has been no report I have seen of attractive women posing a threat. There have of course been threats, some of them actually carried out, but in what passes for reality at the Department of Homeland Security, the use of real evidence is called “profiling” and is strictly prohibited.

Inverse profiling, though, is allowed. Secretary Umbridge-Napolitano last week said that there will be “adjustments” made to accommodate the sensibilities of Muslim women who object to being viewed naked or, now, being felt up by government employees.

Felt up? Felt up?? Well, yes. Persons are now being physically examined, manually, by the gynecologists and urologists of the TSA. Persons who object are kept off the flight — or worse.

(One imagines that there’s a new crop of job applicants at TSA. Checking their backgrounds, if it is done, ought to be easy — they’re probably on court-ordered registries somewhere.)

A few weeks ago it was possible to suppose that there is no end to the indignities we would tolerate in the name of “security,” even when it was obvious to one and all that those indignities had nothing to do with and no effect upon the security of anyone who does not work for the Ministry of Homeland Security. Now we are learning that there is in fact a limit, and it has been exceeded. People are complaining, and more. Good.

In the movie, Secretary Napolitano had an annoying little musical theme that accompanied her wherever she went. It should be revived for use whenever she appears in public. Meantime, J.K. Rowling, the brilliant storyteller whose inventive mind gave us Harry Potter and Hogwarts, and whose prescience apparently resulted in Janet Napolitano, says she is reconsidering and may write additional Potter books.

I hope so. Harry Potter and the Department of Homeland Security is likely to be very satisfying.

Dennis E. Powell is crackpot-at-large to Open for Business. Powell was an award-winning reporter in New York and elsewhere before moving to Ohio and becoming a full-time crackpot. You can reach him at

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