Aspen Opens a Dialogue on Homeland Security
U.S. businesses should be interested in flood recovery in Pakistan. The flooding that began there on July 22 caused tens of billions of dollars in infrastructure and crop damage, killed more than 1,500 people, and swept hundreds of thousands more from their homes. A month later, when the government and the international community had failed to provide vital resources and basic necessities to flood victims, it was clear that local militant groups were filling the gap. As
|"As we've seen with the BP oil spill, it's amazing the bucket loads of money people will spend on heroic recovery. Yet many won't spend the money up front to avoid or mitigate such disasters, although that usually costs only a tenth of the cost of heroic recovery," says Lynn Mattice, chairman of the Board of Advisors of the Security Executive Council and former VP & CSO of Boston Scientific.|
these groups, many of which may have ties to al Qaeda, distribute food and temporary housing to displaced and suffering Pakistanis, their strategic philanthropy is filling their coffers with an extremely valuable asset – loyalty.
The resulting potential for increased radicalization in Pakistan has the U.S. government and intelligence communities on guard. It could easily impact future conflict in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, but it could also eventually increase the threat here at home by enhancing recruitment in the homeland and abroad for attacks on the U.S.
That’s why this situation should pique the interest not only of our federal government but of state, local and municipal governments; not only of Fortune 500 companies with South Asian interests, but of companies that domestically provide product or services in critical infrastructure categories, as well as other types of small and medium U.S. businesses.
Decreasing Awareness, Growing Threat
Shortly after 9/11, it was fair to say that the overwhelming majority of U.S. citizens and businesses recognized that homeland security is everyone’s responsibility. But in recent years the nation fell into threat fatigue and then complacency, argues Clark Kent Ervin, director of the Homeland Security Program at the Aspen Institute. Ervin was the first Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security and is a member of DHS Secretary Napolitano’s Homeland Security Advisory Council.
“The country was beginning to go back to sleep to the continued threat of terrorism until last fall, when we had the (Najibullah) Zazi plot against mass transit stations in New York, followed by the Christmas day bombing attempt,” says Ervin. “And then this past May, there was Faisal Shahzad’s attempted bombing in Times Square. All of these incidents underscore the fact that terrorism remains a continuing and even an intensifying threat.”
At the recent Aspen Security Forum in Colorado, Michael Leiter, director of the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, supported Ervin’s assessment. He stated that while targeted military operations against al Qaeda have lowered the threat of large-scale organized attacks against the United States, there has been an intensification of smaller, less damaging but more frequent attacks, coinciding with an increase in homegrown extremism.
The 2010 National Security Strategy released by the White House in May was the first to address so-called homegrown terrorism, noting that “Our best defenses against [the threat posed by individuals radicalized at home] are well informed and equipped families, local communities, and institutions.” The first annual Aspen Security Forum at which Leiter spoke in June is one attempt to assist institutions and communities in staying informed and equipped to address the diversifying threats to homeland security.
Event Marked by Quality, Candor and Conversation
The Aspen Security Forum is the newest addition to the Aspen Institute’s roster of public events that are intended to bring together experts, media and the public to share ideas on critical topics. The most well-known of these is the Aspen Ideas Festival, which brings top figures and citizens together for one week each year to encourage conversation and propose solutions on a wide range of issues. Shortly after its inaugural event in 2004, the Aspen Ideas Festival began spawning shorter forums on narrower topics, including the Aspen Environment Forum and the Aspen Health Forum.
When Clark Ervin joined Aspen in 2005 to found the Institute’s Homeland Security Program, he already had ideas for launching a forum specific to security issues. Those came to fruition in June with the first annual Aspen Security Forum. Co-sponsored by GSN: Government Security Newsand The New York Times, the event drew a sold-out crowd of 800 people for its pre-opening address by Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, moderated by David Sanger of The New York Times.
The rest of the two-day agenda was packed with notable speakers from the national security and homeland security scene, including Leiter; Jane Holl Lute, deputy secretary of the DHS; Fran Townsend, former assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism; Richard Clarke, former special advisor to the President for Cybersecurity; Rod Beckstrom, former director of the DHS National Cybersecurity Center; and Michael Chertoff, former Secretary of the DHS.
Among the speakers were also business leaders (including Daniel Prieto, vice president of Public Sector Strategy & Innovation for IBM and Stephen Oswald, vice president and general manager of Intelligence and Security Systems for Boeing); industry leaders (James May, president and CEO of the Air Transport Association of America and William Millar, president of the American Public Transportation Association) and international figures including Pakistani Ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani. (To view videos of many of the presentations, visit www.aspeninstitute.org/events/2010/06/28/aspen-security-forum/agenda.)
End-of-day attendee surveys, as well as individual and media reviews post-event, showed an overwhelmingly positive response to the event. Many attendees stated that it was the best homeland security conference they’ve ever attended, offering a caliber of speakers and depth of discussion unavailable in other forums.
Ervin says these responses are exactly what he’d worked toward in planning and developing the Security Forum. “I purposely asked all the presenters not to do PowerPoints. These were intended to be conversations. And to facilitate that purpose, I had top-flight journalists as moderators who would engage their ideas in a dialogue.” This approach set the stage for much more candid presentations than attendees are accustomed to seeing, particularly from high-level government officials. Moderators were able to drill down to issues far deeper than those traditionally included in canned keynotes and speeches.
Another factor in the speakers’ candor was likely the location. Aspen’s campus in Colorado, where the forum was held, is designed to promote relaxed contemplation. It also seemed to encourage the presenters to stay at the event longer than is usually expected, according to Rich Cooper, former business liaison director for the DHS Private Sector Office, who blogged about the event on securitydebrief.adfero.com. “While the presented content was outstanding, the best part about the entire program was that the overwhelming majority of notable speakers and presenters made themselves available to engage with the attendees,” wrote Cooper. “All too often, speakers rush in, deliver their canned pitch, say thanks to the crowd and are whisked away by their aides to get back to the office, leaving actual human contact an afterthought. To have the many distinguished speakers stick around and engage in that lost art-form of conversation was an absolute pleasure.” This trend extended even to incumbent government officials, adds Ervin.
The opportunity to dialogue informally with experts and officials was one of the greatest boons of the event, and increasing such dialogue is critical to enhancing homeland security.
Awareness and Preparedness Remain Crucial in All Sectors
“Homeland security is not just a government issue or a federal government issue,” reiterates Ervin. “In order to counter the terrorist threat we need every level of government– federal, state and local– and we need the private sector, businesses, nonprofits, foundations, think tanks, academia, and we need the private citizen. If you’re a food company, if you’re an IT company, entertainment, whatever industry you’re in, homeland security affects you. Literally every institution, every American is threatened by terrorism and has a role to play in countering it. It’s important for all these sectors to let their voices be heard.”
The Aspen Security Forum was designed to help build this crucial dialogue, and every presentation on the agenda was intended to speak to and inform the full range of attendees, not government representatives alone.
Ervin remarks that one presentation of particular interest to businesses attending was a panel called “Innovation, Research & Development – New Technologies and Smart Investment Prospects for the Post- 9/11 Age.” It explored the state of the homeland security market and the “hot” technologies available, with a glimpse ahead to the future.
In the case of a terrorist attack on U.S. soil, municipal government and private business may well be our first line of defense. Increasing their awareness of the threats and preparing to counter them are not tasks that can be put aside for tomorrow or for next year. Unfortunately, that’s what happens all too often, says Lynn Mattice, chairman of the Board of Advisors of the Security Executive Council and former VP & CSO of Boston Scientific. “As we’ve seen with the BP oil spill, it’s amazing the bucket loads of money people will spend on heroic recovery. Yet many won’t spend the money up front to avoid or mitigate such disasters, although that usually costs only a tenth of the cost of heroic recovery,” Mattice says.
Mattice’s insights apply just as well to businesses’ overall security posture as to crisis management and emergency preparedness. While it’s clearly important to be prepared for the next disaster, it’s just as important to develop risk assessments and security plans that consider homeland security concerns and encourage positive strategic decisions on risk. Businesses large and small that haven’t recently assessed their potential to be impacted by terrorist attacks should inform themselves and build those assessments. They should also be willing to invest in the technology available to mitigate their risk, rather than focusing primarily on recovery.
“These are very tight budgetary times for government and private sector,” says Ervin, “and, that being so, it’s even more necessary that security investments be justified by a very strong business case. It’s incumbent upon the government to work with private industry to show that the threat remains and is intensifying, and as a consequence there is a direct economic interest for private industry in making homeland security-related investments. Contrary to what may appear to be the case, this is precisely the time to make these investments – before the next attack. It’s going to be cheaper to prepare than it will be to recover.”