A New World of Threats
Michael Chertoff delivers annual Constitution Day address
by Christine Baksi
September 23, 2011
Prior to his lecture, Michael Chertoff met with members of the Dickinson community, including student Sherry Zhong '12.
Former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff refers to the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the death of Osama bin Laden as symbolic bookends of the last decade and says ensuring national security in today’s world requires a whole new way of thinking.
Chertoff’s lecture titled “Understanding Today’s Threat Environment” was delivered as part of Dickinson’s annual Constitution Day address on Thursday, Sept. 21. The former federal judge and prosecutor spoke before an audience of more than 250 in the Anita Tuvin Schlechter (ATS) Auditorium. In an insightful, insider’s presentation, he recounted terroristic events leading to 9/11 and discussed what he called a “new cadre” of terrorists who may be willing to experiment with different kinds of tactics.
Chertoff says security has historically been viewed and divided into two parts—war and crime—where war is waged oversees by a trained, uniformed military and crime is policed by communities. And, the appropriate state department, agency or authority would respond appropriately. But, he says that vision no longer reflects reality.
“The rise of globalization, the ability to travel and communicate and send money around the world and technology changed our conception of what security threats were. It was no longer that war could be waged only by a nation state. A global network could wage a war,” says Chertoff, who believes 9/11 manifested a change in security architecture. “We woke up,” he says.
Chertoff says homegrown terrorism, where U.S. citizens are recruited by international terrorists and turned into operatives, further complicates national security efforts.
“It is more efficient to recruit in the U.S,” he says. “We’ve had a number of instances where Americans have gone to Afghanistan and Pakistan and they wound up getting recruited and radicalized and trained and they come back. The thought being our defenses will be bypassed. They’ll be able to come back to the U.S. They won’t have criminal records. We won’t have intelligence on them. And then in the fullness of time, they will try to carry out attacks.” The Times Square bombing in 2010 is an example, Chertoff says, of homegrown terrorism.
He also cites the idea of ungoverned space, where countries operate under little or no leadership or territorial authority, as a continued threat. “When those areas fester and flourish, they become locations where you can build training camps. You can experiment in laboratories to come up with biological and chemical weapons.” Chertoff cited Yemen and parts of North Africa as areas that are fertile for development of terrorist groups with extremist ideologies.
The answers, he suggests, requires rethinking the appropriate role of various government agencies.
According to Chertoff, the act of cyber-terrorism is not only part of the new reality of security threats but part of war making with an estimated price tag of $1 trillion from the theft of intellectual property, which affects the global economy.
When asked about the impact of expanded intelligence on privacy, Chertoff maintains that the impact on civil liberties has been modest.
“While there is more information that’s collected, I would argue that much more invasion of privacy has occurred through the voluntary activities of people getting on Facebook and Google and unbelievably opening themselves up.”
The Constitution Day address is endowed through the generosity of Winfield C. Cook, former Dickinson Trustee. Each year, The Clarke Forum for Contemporary Issues invites a prominent public figure to campus to speak on a contemporary issue related to the Constitution.