Despite questions about whether major terrorist threats to the U.S. remain, the post-9-11 concept of homeland security will endure, requiring an increased private sector focus on cybersecurity and protection of intellectual property, top veterans of the war on terror said Wednesday.
This week’s annual Homeland Security Investor Conference in Washington, D.C., wrapped up with a panel discussion featuring Bob Stephan, assistant secretary of homeland security for infrastructure protection; John Brennan, former director of the National Counter Terrorism Center; and Kenneth Minihan, former director of the National Security Agency.
Earlier, former Deputy Homeland Security Secretary Michael Jackson cited growing public skepticism about terrorist threats. The three panelists said the country has succeeded in making it difficult for a network to pull off another 9-11-style attack.
But threats have evolved, not abated. Along with terrorism, natural disasters, and accidents, Stephan cited cyberthreats and growing foreign ownership of critical infrastructure as top protection concerns.
Minihan, now a managing director with Paladin Capital Group, credited government and the owner-operators of traditional bricks-and-mortar critical infrastructures with hardening assets against attack. But, he said, “We haven’t been nearly as elegant in understanding the threats to our intellectual property base.”
The concept of homeland security must shift from a notion of just protecting physical assets to “being assured you can conduct your business in an environment of terrorism, natural disasters, and unstructured threats.”
While during the 20th century the public and businesses ceded responsibility for their protection to the government, “homeland security is too important to be left to the government,” Minihan said, drawing laughter from the crowd. “We need to ‘recede’ these responsibilities back to industry as a whole.”
Stephan says his most critical task is getting corporate leadership to recognize threats so they will, in turn, address them. Brennan, president and CEO of The Analysis Corp., and Minihan, meanwhile called for strengthened public-private partnership in the effort.
“Everyone has to say ‘I’m a part of this, I’m a part of the solution,’ just like everyone did in the Cold War,” Minihan said.
Stephan said the first major task for the next president must be to maintain “unity of effort” among all the country’s critical infrastructure stakeholders, public and private. “But man," he said, "is it challenging just to keep the federal team together on a day-to-day basis.”