Monday, September 15, 2014

September 11th Thoughts

Where were you on September 11, 2001?

My own story actually begins on September 6, 2001. That is the day when I hosted the first InfraGard meeting in Birmingham, Alabama. More than sixty security professionals came to Energen headquarters to hear a description of the InfraGard program and a presentation by Special Agent Mike Mauldin who described to us that when terrorist decide to attack our country, they may actually attack our critical infrastructures rather than a direct military vs. military attack.

Five days later I was in Carlsbad, California where I was supposed to be speaking to a Network Associates Customer Council meeting. I received the phone call early (Pacific time) from my wife who told me to turn on the television. I got up, got dressed, and went down to the bar where people were gathering to watch the big screen tv and try to decide what to do. Obviously, the meeting was canceled. Both planes had hit before my wife called me, but we watched together in horror as the building collapsed. I went back to my room, called my wife, and told her that I would be home as soon as possible, but that I was going to have to drive.

I had 40 hours alone in the car to think about what was going on. To think about what was important. To think about whether I was "making a difference" in what I did for a living. It was a life-changing event.

The 9-11 Memorial

Last year, my wife and I had the chance to visit the 9-11 Memorial in New York City. When we first exited the subway, we could see the new Freedom Tower.

The memorial consists of two very large squares at the location of the original Twin Towers, each has a waterfall heading into a bottomless pit. The names of the victims of the 9/11 attacks are engraved on the edges of the memorial.

The key shows that the names of First Responders are at the bottom left corner of the South Pool, which is the first place that those visiting the memorial will see. The names of those in each tower are on their respective towers, and the victims of the Pentagon and the "non twin tower" flights have also been recorded in the memorial.

While my wife and I were there as both Americans and as tourists, I had come to the memorial looking for one particular name. While there is an option to look up the names before you go to find their exact location, I told my wife that I would rather just walk around both memorials until I found the name I was looking for.

I was looking for the name John P. O'Neill. John was featured in a New Yorker story called "The Counter Terrorist" and has a page on PBS FrontLine: The Man Who Knew. John started working the FBI at age 18 as a tour guide, but after college returned as an agent and was sometimes mocked for his obsession with terrorism in general and Al Qaeda in particular. He was already investing "the Blind Sheikh" prior to the first World Trade Center bombing and his dedication to the investigation revealed the relationships between the various attacks the U.S. and its interests suffered around the world. His story is also detailed in the book The Man Who Warned America: The Life and Death of John O'Neill, the FBI's Embattled Counterterror Warrior.

I wore my Birmingham FBI shirt that day and had my wife take a picture of me standing by his name.

Many that day were victims and many were heroes. John O'Neill was the latter. People like him inspire me to do what I do in my own small way to try to protect our country.


Last week I was able to attend the National InfraGard Congress up in DC. I saw dozens of other American citizens who each represented their InfraGard chapter and some of the tens of thousands of InfraGard members who are each doing their part to make sure our country is as safe as they can make it. We heard from FBI Director James Comey, who presented awards to many of our members and the FBI InfraGard coordinators who work with us. We heard from FBI Assistant Director Joseph Demarest, the creator of the FBI's "New Cyber" program, and from FBI Section Chief, John Riggi, National Cyber Operations and Outreach Section, and from FBI Unit Chief, John Pi, a computer programmer turned medical doctor turned FBI Special Agent who now leads the FBI's National Industry Partnership Unit, which leads the InfraGard program from the FBI side of the partnership. Each of them stressed the same point. The FBI can't do this job alone. They need the partnership and support of the American public, and ESPECIALLY that portion of the public who is trained in security and cyber security. If your job is related to Critical Infrastructure protection, I hope you will consider joining InfraGard, because as a member of the security community, you know things about YOUR critical infrastructure that our friends in government do not know, or do not know at the same level of expertise as you.

The Birmingham InfraGard still meets on the Second Tuesday of the month, as we have every month since 9/11. If you are in the Birmingham area, we'd love for you to join us.

And if you don't work in Critical Infrastructure, I still hope you will consider, "What can I do in my role at work, at home, or in our educational system, to help educate the public about risks and threats and to help make our nation safer?"

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