• United States



In an Orange State of Mind

Oct 01, 20049 mins
Critical InfrastructureIT Leadership

Yeah, I know this column is supposed to be anonymous, but it’s important for you to know that I work in one of the terror capitals of the world, New York City, especially since this column is about how CSOs should be responding to terrorist alerts. It’s sort of like knowing that Batman works in Gotham City without knowing that the Bat Cave is under Bruce Wayne’s mansion.

In New York there are Orange days, and then there are really dazzlingly bright, all-you-can-see-or-read-about-in-the-news Orange days. That’s because the city has been under an orange or elevated warning level ever since Sept. 11, 2001. The Department of Homeland Security doesn’t want to lower it because that might be construed as being lax on terrorism. Yet they don’t want to raise it to red when they have warnings of an attack because that might be viewed as being too alarmist. In New York, being alarmist means you scare the markets, which means you make lots of rich people lose money, which makes them very unhappy, which means please, don’t do that anymore – or else. So, I chug along to work every day in a perpetually Orange city.

For this column, let’s depart from the standard “this is what you must do to guard against terrorism,” which I’m guessing you’ve already heard many times before. Instead, I’d like to examine the broader implications that a perpetually Orange state has had on people’s daily lives and on the body politic. What’s more, given those changes, what challenges does this present for security officers?

First, 9/11 and the Iraqi war have caused a definite change in attitudes toward the military. Historically, Americans have feared a large standing army. The founding fathers suffered under the abuses of the British occupation army, and as a result they wrote into the Bill of Rights provisions against the abuses of forced quartering (Third Amendment), unreasonable search and seizure (Fourth Amendment), and cruel and unusual punishment (Eighth Amendment).

Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution makes provisions for Congress to “raise and support armies” but to “provide and maintain a Navy”a subtle but important distinction. The thinking was that an army was something needed only in times of war or national crisis and that it was to be disbanded whenever that time passed. A large standing army was thought to be a threat to democracy because of the potential for establishing a military dictatorship. A navy, on the other hand, was assumed to always be needed to defend American shores from potential invasion. Because navies would be away at sea, they were presumably less of a threat to the democratically elected government.

Now however, Americans have lost that innate fear of the military. Today the major political parties and candidates fall all over themselves seeking to show who would be stronger in fighting terrorism or supporting the military. When I go to work in the morning, I see scores of soldiers with M16s and bomb-sniffing dogs. I see them in the train station, on the subways and patrolling the sidewalks outside of “high value target” financial services institutions like the one that employs me. They have become accepted as part of the everyday backdrop of life in New York City, just like the leaflet distributors, sidewalk vendors and the homeless sleeping on heating grates.

Don’t get me wrongI don’t hate the military. I served honorably for nine years in the Air Force and can well remember a difficult time just after the Vietnam War when the military wasn’t particularly cherished. I honor and respect the men and women who are now serving and who have served in the past defending our liberty. I’m guessing that a good number of CSOs reading this article are also ex-military, so please read carefully what I am about to write. Ask yourself honestly, if one of the founding fathers came back today and witnessed the large presence of armed military troops in our cities, would they be comforted or alarmed? My guess would be the latter.

A second change I have noticed has been the way in which people react to seemingly innocent events. Not long ago I was in the passenger area of Penn Station waiting for my commuter train to arrive. When the train was announced, I stood up to make my way to the boarding platform. Simultaneously, a loud thud reverberated from a floor above the waiting room. I don’t know what the noise wasit sounded like a heavy box hitting the floor or, more ominously, like a muffled explosion. That noise, combined with a simultaneous sudden movement to the train, provoked a near riot in the waiting area. A hundred or so people sprang to their feet and raced for the exits. There was momentary pandemonium until the crowd noticed that nothing else threatening had happened or was going to happen. It was only then that the members of the crowd relaxed, looked sheepishly at one another and laughed. Their actions spoke volumes about the collective state of mind of New Yorkers living in an orange alert.

A final change I’ve seen has been the shift in attitudes toward civil liberties. In the past, Americans, regardless of political stripe, would wholeheartedly support the truisms of our judicial systemtruisms such as “no person should be held indefinitely without charge,” a person is protected against “search and seizure without cause,” a person is “innocent until proven guilty,” or a person has a “right to a trial by a jury of their peers.” In the past a recitation of those statements would have elicited a collective nod from any listening Americans. Today however, you will more likely than not find many who are willing to compromise those tenets in the interest of fighting terrorism.

I fully understand the serious threat of terrorism to our society. I also realize that in wars past, individual liberties have temporarily been curtailed in the interest of defeating a common enemy. The difference between the current war on terrorism and previous wars, however, is that there will never be a definitive end. The curtailment of liberties in the Civil War and World War II, for instance, ended with the surrender at Appomattox and the treaty-signing ceremony on the battleship Missouri. The war on terrorism, on the other hand, will never end because the threat of terrorism has always existed and always will exist. Even before al-Qaida, this country has a long history of suffering from different types of terrorist attacks. Whether the attacks took the form of cavalry attacks on Indian villages, Indian scalpings, marauding bandits from Mexico, Confederate terrorists, or attacks from anarchists, Nazis, Klansmen or Communists, Americans suffered and persevered. Terrorism, like poverty, will always be with us. Thus, curtailing civil liberties in the interest of fighting terrorism essentially equates to giving up those rights forever. Are we, as a society, prepared to accept that? Benjamin Franklin once said that those who would give up their freedom for security deserve neither. He spoke those words over 225 years ago, but they ring just as true today.

So what does all this philosophical musing have to do with the average security officer? Lots. First, recognize that the attitude changes in our society will directly affect the security of your local organization. Will an employee population, already exposed to an increased security alert, be more or less willing to respond to more stringent security policies? At my organization we recently instituted bag checks for all guests coming into the organization. The employees felt it was justified given the recent warnings against possible terrorist action. Had we instituted this at another time, they might have found this an unjustified invasion of privacy and a hindrance to business. We also know that, based on the employees’ comfort level, there will come a time when we will go back to not checking all of the bags coming into our building. The lesson is that as a security officer, you should keep in mind the state of your employees before you implement, change or rescind a security policy.

Second, if the events I described are happening in New York, then chances are they will soon be coming to your city. Indeed, they may be happening there already. Would your company change its procedures if your area suddenly went to an orange or red alert level? Would you know how to handle the possible reaction of your employees if it did? Do you know how to interface with local law enforcement agencies in higher states of alert? For example, New York financial services companies have a strong liaison program with the Joint Terrorism Task Force, which includes representatives of the FBI and New York Police Department. Information about any protest activities, fire drills or other events in the city that could have potential risks for businesses is sent out via e-mail to all participants. If you don’t have a liaison program with your local law enforcement or haven’t already planned for high alert warnings, then it would be a very good idea for you to start.

Finally, think about what I have written and how it relates to your current position. Some readers will applaud; others will disagree vehemently; and still others will pause to reflect. All are good reactions. We live in a democracy, and I am certain that 100 percent of my reading audience wants to keep it that way. The question you must ask yourself iswhat type of democracy is it going to be? And what is your role, as a security officer, in helping to shape that democracy?

If you are asked to enforce the curtailment of certain rights, you should ask yourself, is it justified? If you don’t think that it is, what will your response be? If you think it is justified, how will you explain yourself to those whose rights are being curtailed? Do you have criteria in place for when this curtailment of rights will be eliminated? I’ve already made those decisions, and any thinking security officer should do the same.

The present times are almost a fulfillment of the ancient Chinese blessing/curse, “May you live in interesting times.” The present times are indeed interesting, and given the importance of security, we serve in a position that is perhaps the most interesting of them all. It is incumbent upon security professionals to keep informed about current events and understand their effect on their employees’ attitudes and their organization’s security policies. But even more important than that, they should examine their own beliefs about democracy and civil liberties and feel comfortable in the role they now play in shaping and supporting those very important concepts.