USC Price School of Public Policy

Michael Chertoff Lectures at CREATE Event

Former Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff Lectures at CREATE Event

By Matthew Kredell

Michael Chertoff Former U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff gave a lecture at USC to faculty, students and local law enforcement officials, as well as students from Israel’s International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, who participated via video conference.
Photo by Srdjan Simonovic                  Click here to watch full lecture »

The failed Al Qaeda attempt to blow up U.S.-bound cargo planes in October could be part of a terrorist strategy to move to more small-scale attacks, former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff said Sept. 4 as part of the Distinguished Speaker Series offered by USC’s National Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events (CREATE).

“Probably most analysts would have told you in 2001 and 2002 that Al Qaeda was really focused on the high-impact, big-visual attack,” said Chertoff, who was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2005 and co-authored the Patriot Act. “What I fear we’ve seen in the last two to three years, particularly after the Mumbai attack in 2008, is that they’ve finally begun to reconfigure their vision of success to accommodate much more low-level attacks, perhaps attacks not as visually exciting or significant in terms of casualty numbers, but that could have an enormous economic impact.”

Chertoff with SPPD students From left: CREATE Associate Director Erroll Southers, MPP student Alexander Mishkin, MPA student Grace Son, Michael Chertoff, MPP student Elba Garcia, and MPP student Tony Huynh

CREATE is the first university center of excellence funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Based at the USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development and the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, CREATE’s mission is to improve national security through the development and application of tools for calculating the dangers and effects of terrorism.

“The CREATE Distinguished Speakers Series featuring the Hon. Michael Chertoff continues to demonstrate our commitment to identifying interdisciplinary solutions to the transnational threat of terrorism,” said CREATE associate director Erroll Southers.

In addition to the faculty, students and local law enforcement and fire department officials attending the event at USC, students from the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya, Israel and their instructor Boaz Ganor tuned in live via video conferencing. They were projected on a screen in the auditorium and able to interact in real time with Chertoff and the attendees on the USC campus.

“The participation of Boaz Ganor and the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism in our event is proof-positive of our global relationships working to reduce the risk of this evolving threat,” Southers said.

With the U.S. strengthening national security after the attacks of 9/11, the strategy of terrorists is evolving. Responding to the focus on improving the security of passenger airlines, the terrorists turned to cargo planes. As safety measures are improved on cargo planes, the terrorists may move to something else.

Chertoff stressed that there is no cure-all. The threat of terrorism will be constant over the next several decades, and we will “come back to look at the Cold War as an odd moment of peace in our national history.”

He advised the faculty and students of CREATE that, in managing risk against this ever-evolving enemy, strategy cannot be developed only by looking back at what’s already happened. As the United States makes the old ways more difficult, terrorists will find new ways. This means that the days when security was primarily the responsibility of national governments are gone.

Threats operate across the entire spectrum, whether they are national, state or local. And, as seen in the cargo attempt where the bombs originated from UPS and Fed-Ex offices, corporations must be part of the national security process. Since finishing his duty as Secretary of Homeland Security early in 2009, Chertoff has advised private companies through his security consulting company, the Chertoff Group.

“There are too many places where the battle can take place,” Chertoff said. “The battlefield is now going to be in Times Square or a shopping mall or a jet cargo plane or on your computer. It’s going to be in assets and in locations where the government at every level is not present. The ability to manage that security is going to become a responsibility of every citizen and every institution. That is a huge change in the way we think about security.”

Although Chertoff painted a gloomy picture, he stressed that we are making progress. Failed attacks such as the cargo-plane attempt show that increased security measures are working and are forcing errors.

“I can’t believe I get to come to school and listen to speakers of that caliber,” said Robert Florkowski, an Army veteran who served in Iraq and is now a first-year MPA student at the USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development. “He has the most up-to-date information on all national security issues, and I was really fortunate to be a part of it.”

Chertoff was the second speaker in the CREATE Distinguished Speaker Series. The program hosts renowned counter-terrorism experts at USC every semester.

“I can’t think of anybody I would rather listen to more and could take more info away from than Michael Chertoff,” said CREATE director Stephen C. Hora. “I would say he’s at the top of the list of speakers we could possibly have. For our Distinguished Speaker Series, this is a real coup to have him here.”