World Trade Center

A Crack in Time

Former Secretary of State Rice shares 9/11 experience, insights

As we all know, the events of Sept. 11 changed the security industry—and the world—forever. Ten years ago, there was no such thing as the Department of Homeland Security, and transportation security was unrecognizable from what it's become. Today, terrorism and security are consistently popular topics within government policy and in the media. Clearly, it was a day that reinforced the importance of security forever.

Few people know more about protecting the United States than Condoleezza Rice, former secretary of state and national security adviser. On Sept. 23, Rice delivered the keynote address at the annual ASIS tradeshow, which was held in Anaheim, Calif.

An Inside Look

During the amazing speech, Rice discussed foreign policy, revealed some of her greatest achievements and disappointments, and explained how important security professionals are in a post-9/11 world.

"What you're doing in helping the ordinary be more secure is actually a very major part of fighting effectively in the war on terror, and I want to thank you very much for what you do every day," she said.

Rice spoke for about 50 minutes, including a surprisingly substantive question-and- answer session at the end. As everyone knows, she's a phenomenal speaker, and not surprisingly the talk was funny, informative and, at times, very poignant.

Her discussion of 9/11 was especially fascinating.

"I think we can all agree that that day ... was a watershed moment in the history of the United States," she said. "It was like a crack in time. Nothing has ever been the same since Sept. 11."

Rice explained that the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center necessitated a major shift in the way people thought about safety and security in the United States. It was a change that led to the creation of a U.S. military command and the Department of Homeland Security. "Despite what you may think about the Department of Homeland Security," she said, the division, which is still relatively new, has already done wonders to unify disparate government factions and the private sector against outside threats.

Moving Into the Future

Rice then moved to discuss some of the dangers facing the United States in this post-9/11 environment. Today, failed states are the true threats, she said, because they breed resentment, hopelessness, violence and poverty. And in situations like Iraq and Afghanistan, international policing often gets complicated by international diplomacy, which adds to the difficulty of modern foreign relations. As Rice put it, diplomacy is much more in-the-trenches than it used to be.

"It's going out there and helping people solve their problems," she said, from enabling small farmers in Guatemala to become self-sustaining to training African soldiers.

Understandably, Rice avoided the Iraq War topic in particular. But she made sure to remind the listeners how important it is to keep the bigger picture in mind.

"Remember historical context," she stressed. "Today's headlines and history's judgments are rarely the same. And if you govern for today's headlines, you will not have history's judgments on your side."

Regardless of their political affiliation, it was clear that everyone in the audience was interesting to hear Rice's first-hand account of 9/11. Like many Americans, when the first plane hit the World Trade Center, she thought it was simply an accident. But with the second plane came the realization that she and the rest of the administration were dealing with an unprecedented situation.

"Throughout that day, we knew what it was like to be at war with something that we didn't fully understand," she said. Constant Vigilance Rice closed by again stressing the importance of the security industry—at all levels—in this new world. As 9/11 showed us, the rules have changed. "[The terrorists] took our effects of normal life and turned them into the worst attack on America's territory ever," she said.

Rice explained the scariest thing about the attacks was that they didn't come from a missile or a tank; instead, the terrorists used our own airplanes, loaded with American citizens and fuel. A similar attack could easily come in the form of a backpack or city bus—which is why constant vigilance is key.

"It's the daily, everyday stuff around us that's dangerous," she said. "... Security professionals need to worry about how to connect what might seem harmless or ordinary to terrorists who are getting smarter and smarter."

Cleary, security professionals serve a vital role in our new world. Here's hoping next year's keynote speakers will be as interesting and relevant to the industry as Rice. See you in Dallas for ASIS 2010!

This article originally appeared in the November 2009 issue of Security Today.

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