Friday, November 29, 2013

My Crime Beat Column: Looking Beyond 9/11, Security Insights from ASIS Convention In Philadelphia

A Naval Criminal Investigative Service special agent once told me that we face a triple threat from crime, espionage and terrorism.

That statement is still true today, but of course the threat of terrorism has gone to the forefront since the horrific 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Despite the looming threat of terrorist attacks, we still face threats from spies (both traditional and industrial) and from what the British call the "ODC," the Ordinary Decent Criminal. The ODC, so named to contrast them from the politically motivated terrorists, will always be with us.

"Crime," Lawrence M. Friedman wrote in his book, Crime and Punishment in American History, "is perhaps the price we pay for a brash, self-loving, relatively free and open society."

In Philadelphia, a few city blocks from where our liberties were born, 17,650 security professionals gathered during the week of the one-year anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to discuss protecting those liberties from criminals, spies and terrorists.

I covered the American Society for Industrial Security (ASIS) 48th Annual Seminar & Exhibits, which was held September 10-13 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia.

ASIS claims the gathering was the largest U.S. exhibition of innovative technologies, products and services in the security industry. There were 725 exhibiting companies with 1,960 exhibit booths that spread across the 450,000 gross square feet of the convention center’s exhibit area.

ASIS also offered 150 timely educational sessions on a variety of security related issues ranging from terrorism to cyber crime. Retired Army General Barry McCaffrey, the former drug czar under President Clinton, was the keynote speaker.

"I’ve never seen such a gathering of the best and brightest of security professionals," McCaffrey remarked.

ASIS is a leading international organization for security professionals, with more than 32,000 members around the world. Founded in 1955, ASIS works to increase the effectiveness and productivity of security professionals by developing educational programs and materials. ASIS also advocates the role and value of the security management profession to business, the media, government and the public. I’ve written book reviews for ASIS’ fine magazine, Security Management.

In addition to numerous government and military officials in attendance, the ASIS convention was also something of a gathering of X-Men - as in ex-military, ex-government and ex-law enforcement. Being ex-Navy, I felt at home.

During the course of the week, I spoke to two former members of the Israeli security services, a former Israeli commando and two former U.S. Special Forces officers, a former U.S. Marine general, several retired police officers and many corporate security people. 

(You can read my Counterterrorism magazine piece on the Israeli perspective of counterterrorism via the below link:  

I also discussed security issues with active duty military, state department and CIA intelligence officers, FBI special agents and various members of the alphabet soup of American law enforcement. All were in general agreement that the terrorists would soon strike at the U.S. again. It was not a question of if, they all said, but only a question of when.

On the last day of the gathering, ASIS offered a distinguished panel of security experts to assess the future of security and the war on terrorism. Retired Brigadier General Robert Disney, a former Green Beret and currently the president and CEO of Sigma International Holdings, Inc, a security consulting and business intelligence service, served as the moderator for the two-hour panel.

The speakers included James Dunne, a senior state department intelligence research analyst, and Kenneth Alibek, an expert on biological weapons who defected from the Soviet Union in 1992.

Another speaker was Steven Emerson, a former CNN reporter and the author of American Jihad: The Terrorists Living Among Us.

Emerson, whose 1995 documentary film, Jihad in America warned Americans about militant Islamic terrorist groups in America, noted that in 1993, in a Philadelphia hotel not far from the convention center, the FBI secretly recorded a meeting of Islamic militant leaders.

His book and film documented a number of meetings and other indicators that pointed to a 9/11 type of attack. But he said law enforcement failed to "connect the dots."

"The war on terrorism, like WWII, is a fight for survival," Emerson warned.
Retired Vice Admiral Michael McConnell also took the stage to address the packed room of security specialists. McConnell, the former director of the National Security Agency, served as General Colin Powell’s intelligence officer during the dissolution of the Soviet Union and Operation DESERT STORM.
"History did not end with the fall of the Soviet Union and it did not start with 9/11," McConnell stated.

McConnell, currently a vice president for Booz-Allen, warned that private industry, and not the military, would be the primary terrorist target in the future. He encouraged corporate security professionals to take the lead in a private/public partnership. He called for a greater sharing of government intelligence with corporate security, which brought forth a huge hand of applause.

McConnell warned that CEOs could no longer delegate security and said security had to be built into the organization.

"Security, McConnell said, "is not a sunk cost."

Another one of the speakers, retired General Eugene E. Habiger, the former Department of Energy director of security and emergency operations, seemed to sum up the seminar by stating, "Like the war on crime, the war on terrorism may never end."

The security business is good, a security consultant once told me, when the times are bad.

So the never-ending wars on crime and terrorism will no doubt continue to offer new challenges for security professionals, and remain a major cause of concern for the American public.

Note: This column originally appeared in the Orchard Press Online Mystery Magazine in 2002.

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