July 16, 2012 | Quote

US Must Evolve Terror Defenses, Former Homeland Security Boss Says

The United States must continue to adapt its strategies and think broadly about where new threats may emerge from in the battle against terrorism, former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told an audience of hundreds in Denver on Thursday night.

Speaking at a celebration marking the opening of the new exhibit at the Counterterroism Education Learning Lab, Chertoff said al-Qaeda “has become a franchise operation,” with affiliated organizations emerging in new areas and capable of carrying out attacks independently.

At the same time, Chertoff said, the United States must guard against threats from state-sponsored terrorist groups and, most important, cyberattacks.

“It will be incumbent on us to evolve our tactics,” Chertoff said.

The counterterrorism center, known as the CELL, officially opened in 2009 as a place to educate the public about the causes of and solutions to terrorism. It has hosted speeches and panel discussions by several high-profile national-security experts, including current Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano.

The event Thursday night marked the opening of the center's new exhibit — which is open to the public and on display at its headquarters adjacent to the Denver Art Museum — that features a piece of steel removed from the rubble of the World Trade Center. The Denver Post was a sponsor of the event.

During his speech, Chertoff stressed the importance of community engagement in stopping terrorist attacks.

“Individual involvement is the cornerstone of our security,” he said.

Chertoff's speech was interrupted several times by protesters — the event was free and open to the public — including one who shouted, “Terrorism is not real,” as he was led out the door. Outside the event, several protesters questioned whether the U.S. government was involved in the Sept. 11 attacks and said they believe anti-terrorism efforts have been unnecessary and have eroded individual liberties.

“We have a right to travel and not be searched and seized,” said one protester, who would not give his name.

During a moderated discussion with Chertoff and Clifford May, the president of the conservative Foundation for Defense of Democracies, both men said the United States must be assertive in preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. But May and Chertoff said it is too early to tell whether military action against Iran is the only way to stop the nation from doing so.

“You cannot count on deterrence,” Chertoff said. “You cannot afford to let them have a weapon.”

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