Yesterday, with the news of former TSA Administrator David Stone’s untimely death, two events compressed in my mind.
Seven years ago today, President Bush signed the Homeland Security Act of 2002 (Public Law 107-296) after initially resisting Congressional efforts to create a new, Cabinet-level agency to consolidate homeland security efforts into a single entity. Among the various agencies relocated to DHS was the nascent Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which had been created in the immediate aftermath of the 9-11 attacks as a component of the Department of Transportation.
One year ago tomorrow, terrorists stormed the city of Mumbai, India, and through a series of ten coordinated shooting and bombing attacks, struck at the heart of India’s corporate community. The attacks lasted three days, leaving over 170 people dead and over 300 wounded.
I had been with Admiral Stone in Mumbai less than two weeks ago. He was as cheerful and engaging as he had always been, talking about his new position with Cisco Systems and his travels throughout India, China and South Asia where he was building new relationships and getting a better sense of what global security really meant. Bangalore may have been his new home, but he still maintained close touch with friends and family back in the U.S., even coming back for the TSA Awards banquet just last week.
Even if you disagreed with him, David Stone was always willing to listen to your position. He helped set TSA on the path toward creating better relationships with private sector stakeholders and getting TSA to prioritize its spending based on risk analysis rather than vulnerability assessment. He understood all too well that the threats were real; the enemies were adaptive; the bureaucracy was maddening; and, the accolades were few and far between. Yet, he had the heart of a public servant, and it showed wherever he went.
It is that same willingness to “listen and learn” that I saw in the reactions of Mumbai officials we met with during the course of our stay. Almost all were quite candid in assessing their own performance following the November 26 attacks, pointing out the changes they had made following the attacks, their lack of adequate funding for training and the seeming inability to prevent another such incident without shutting down the economy of India’s financial cornerstone. They also talked freely about risk analysis and resiliency, not just vulnerabilities. Mumbai officials understand, just as David Stone understood, that getting private sector stakeholders involved before another incident occurs is the key to mitigating the effects of a very bad day (or series of days.)
While the hotels, cafes and train station where the Mumbai attacks occurred exhibited great resilience, recovering quickly by re-opening for business in a matter of days, there are still visible reminders everywhere in Mumbai that attest to its vulnerability to another attack. And Mumbai is not alone.
There remain serious vulnerabilities in this country, in the U.K., Spain and other parts of the world where terrorists have done their evil deeds (general U.S. public apathy about these threats notwithstanding). Perhaps better than most, Admiral Stone understood this and was continually striving to address these threats in a responsible manner, based on rigorous factual analysis and thorough planning.
As these and future anniversaries arise, it is my hope that we remember the “right” lessons from these tragic events; that we honor the public servants and private sector folks who work so diligently to make us safer and more secure, and that we are ever vigilant against those who would do us harm.
The example Admiral David Stone set throughout his life is a reminder to us all. We have much to be thankful for, yet we have much more preparation to do.