Understandably, much of the public and congressional scrutiny of the government’s response to 9/11 has focused on the performance of our cabinet secretaries and other officials who had the responsibility to explain to the public what the government was doing to prevent other attacks. To the extent that aides have received attention for their activities, it is almost always negative – DOJ lawyer John Yoo comes to mind. However, there are many who served well and ably.
I was reminded of the skill of one such individual when I attended the change of command and retirement ceremony for U.S. Coast Guard Vice Admiral Brian Peterman who was responsible for the Atlantic Command of the Coast Guard until last Thursday. His record of service over three decades at the Coast Guard itself is worthy of high praise. However, it is his two years at the White House Homeland Security Council as Special Assistant to the President for Border and Transportation Security during the creation of DHS that deserves special attention.
Admiral Peterman was the day-to-day lead in the White House as the executive branch tried to build a new series of border security programs and agencies to look for the needles in the haystack of legitimate and necessary commerce and travel.
Problems which had festered for years – such as the failure to build a biometric entry system later known as US-VISIT – required intense interagency deliberation and difficult tradeoffs between current and next generation technologies.
Refereeing between the FBI and the new DHS was no easy task especially as the immigration and customs agencies were scrambled into CBP, ICE, and CIS.
The creation of the Transportation Security Administration, with all of its privacy and economic impacts, came under Admiral Peterman’s watch.
And the development of a layered maritime security strategy led by the Coast Guard and CBP was overseen by Peterman and his staff.
In short, a terrorist operative hoping to use the flow of international commerce against us found his job all the more difficult because of the security programs which Admiral Peterman oversaw and directed.
I don’t know if there will be a New York Times best seller about Admiral Peterman’s work. But for those of us who were lucky enough to serve with him – many of whom journeyed to Portsmouth last week to pay tribute – the border security record of the past six years is proof enough.