By Gregory Hale
It was 18 years ago on September 11 when the United States was hit by terrorist attacks that affected the U.S. forever. The World Trade Center buildings and the Pentagon fell victim as planes acting as bombs inflicted deadly results.
“There were so many barriers that allowed 9-11 to happen, but now those barriers are gone and it would make a 9-11 more difficult today,” said John Kelly, retired 4-Star General, former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, and former White House Chief of Staff under President Donald Trump during his Wednesday keynote address at the GSX 2019 conference in Chicago.
“Terrorism is with us. It is with the world, it is not going away. It is an ideology. If you were from the Middle Ages you might understand it, but surely modern men and women don’t understand it. It is about us as a people. The radicals just hate us. There were so many indicators that terrorists were there. They just didn’t get tied together. People were not talking to each other.”
While Kelly’s talk did not get into the manufacturing industry, they key element he kept hitting on was the art of communication and they more all departments communicate, the better the chances you have to ward off any kind of attack, whether it is coming against the country or a manufacturing enterprise.
“Those barriers that were with the lack of sharing in law enforcement, federal law enforcement, and others that protect the country that allowed in some respects 9-11 to happen are now gone.”
Home Team Advantage
Kelly went on to say DHS is filled with very talented people. He had worked on what he said was the away game fight protecting the country from overseas. After coming on board with DHS, he found out very quickly there is a home game involved and that is what DHS does very well.
“It is never advertised what didn’t happen,” he said. “The airliner that doesn’t hit the skyscraper because we did certain things and the airliner that didn’t blow up over the Atlantic. That is never made public because the information is classified, but it is remarkable.”
Kelly talked about “competitors” against the country and he mentioned four top countries.
“The first one I would mention is China. One of their biggest advantages they have is they are not a free country. They don’t have a free press. Leadership is not accountable to the citizens of the country. They have a very long view of things. Fifty years ago, they decided where they wanted to be in terms of economics, intelligence and military capabilities. They are right on schedule. In our country, our view tends to be two years – from election to election to election. You want to make a case for a long term, but it boils down to two years. That is a real handicap for us. The Chinese are not burdened by that. They are not accountable to the people.”
Another country mentioned is Russia.
“Russia is a bit more dangerous than China. China is very slow moving, calculating, they have a plan, and very disciplined about how they go about that. Russia is different. Mr. Putin wants to re-establish Russia as the world power it once was. Their economy is in rough shape and they are in social collapse.”
Another volatile country is North Korea, Kelly said.
“Everyone that lives in that country is in prison. The only thing that makes North Korea the least bit relevant is they have nuclear weapons. They can deliver them locally. He will never give up his weapons. He as a dictator is only relevant on the world stage if he has nuclear weapons. The Japanese and South Koreans live with that problem every day.”
The next country to watch is Iran, he said.
“They do not have a nuclear weapon. They do not have an ICBM, but they do have missiles that can reach various countries like Israel and Saudi Arabia. They are a dangerous country in the sense they have a number of more radical organizations like the intelligence services within the Iran government that are on their own. They are conducting attacks on their own. There is no chain of command. Iran is a country that has internal radical elements that can’t always be controlled by the government.”
After talking about the various country threats, Kelly got back into how the country’s security forces work today.
The cooperation between the U.S.’ law enforcement and foreign law enforcement and intelligence agencies around the world, even though they may not be our friends, is becoming stronger.
On one example he talked about the intelligence community hearing chatter coming from a cell in Syria. The cell talked about how they had success creating a bomb that could fit into a laptop. They were confident it would not be detected in an airport. They found if the bomb was in a passenger compartment it could bring the plane down, if it was in the baggage area it would not.
That is when Kelly thought he would have to ban laptops from planes.
Communication is King
The point is, Kelly said, the intelligence communities were now talking to one another. When we found out about the plan, TSA immediately went into their own labs and made a device based on what the intelligence people said. TSA came back to say the terrorists were right, they couldn’t detect the bomb.
“I went in to brief the president and they came in at the last minute and said they found a way to detect the bomb,” Kelly said.
That is where Customs and Boarder Protection came in.
“CBP has about 4,000 peopled deployed at airports around the world,” Kelly said. “We came up with new procedures. CBP deployed the procedures around the world. I never had to pull the trigger on not allowing laptops on planes. That wouldn’t have happened 18 years ago.”
“We have this tremendous collaboration between law enforcement, intelligence communities domestically and foreign, and we are connected into so many countries and their police and their databases, and I would never say never, but the threat against the United States is far better managed today than it was 18 years ago, and that was a terrible lesson we had to learn,” Kelly said.