Leaders’ mission: Stop terrorism

'Complacency' is world's worst enemy

By Anthony Bowe
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

The threat of terrorism plaguing the United States and nations of the world will not diminish, but the number of large-scale attacks can be curtailed if transnational collaboration continues to flourish, according to four terror experts who served as panelists at a forum at the Denver Performing Arts Center on July 7.

The Hon. Gary Hart, vice chair of U.S. Homeland Security Advisory Council, introduces the distinguished panel.
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Former U.S. Senator Gary Hart, moderator of the evening, greets attendees Barry Hirschfeld and Judi Wolf at the conclusion of the event.
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Roxane White, chief of staff for Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, Larry Mizel, founder of The CELL and homebuilder executive, and Aurora Mayor Ed Tauer.
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Melanie Pearlman, executive director of The CELL, Dave Cohen, attorney with Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schrek and former deputy director at AIPAC where he developed, initiated and directed their homeland security practice, and Jim Davis, Special Agent in Charge at the FBI.
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Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper and symposium sponsor Larry Mizel, founder of The Cell.
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Roxane White, Mayor Hickenlooper’s chief of staff, talks with attorney Steve Farber as former Mayor Wellington Webb looks on.
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U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, R-CD 6, CD 3 Republican congressional candidate Scott Tipton, U.S. Senate hopeful Ken Buck and CD 4 GOP congressional candidate Cory Gardner.
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Kip Cheroutes, former chief of staff for Rep. Pat Schroeder, Ginnie Kontnik, fomer chief of staff for Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, and Sean Conway, former chief of staff for Sen. Wayne Allard.
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Democrat Steve Farber, Republican Ken Buck and former Denver Democratic Mayor Wellington Webb socialize at a pre-event reception in front of the Seawell Ballroom at the DCPA.
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James Mejia, newly announced candidate for Denver Mayor, and attorney Frances Koncilja.
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Former Colorado U.S. Sen. Gary Hart, vice chair of U.S. Homeland Security Advisory Council, moderated the “Stopping Terrorism through Transnational Security Cooperation” forum in front of hundreds of interested citizens and Colorado leaders at the Seawell Ballroom in Denver. It was sponsored by Biennial of the Americas Denver 2010 and The CELL, the Counterterrorism Education Learning Lab.

The four panelists, whose experience in preventing terrorism ranged from diplomatic artistry, law enforcement and military strategy as well as public activism, were William Brownfield, U.S. Ambassador to Columbia since 2007; W. Ralph Basham, former Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection from 2006 to 2009; General Victor Renuart, who retired his post as commander of U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) only one week prior as an Air Force four-star general; and Oscar Morales, the youngest counselor to the UN’s One Young World and a Columbian native who successfully used social media to organize millions of protestors in Colombia and across the world against terrorism and the FARC — a Colombian terrorist organization — in 2008.

The message from all four panelists was predominately clear: complacency is the world’s worst enemy as national superpowers and small countries alike strive to extinguish terrorism.

“The challenge is that our consciousness as a nation is very finite. We tend to want to get past this immediate problem. We want to solve it right now and get on with life,” Renuart said. “And these kinds of threats, whether they’re local or transnational terrorists, don’t look at a watch. They take their time — they’re very deliberate.

“We have to develop a coalition that has patience. And that’s been one of the real challenges. The longer we’ve gone since Sept. 11, the more difficult it is to keep that coalition together,” Renuart added.

Morales echoed those comments. He said a quiet but frustrated public in Colombia allowed daily attacks and kidnappings by the FARC to continue for more than 40 years.

“All we did in the past is complain in front of the TV set. That’s all. We complain. We go into the super markets, we complain there. We go on the bus and we complain about how the government does nothing,” Morales said.

FARC, which uses a Spanish acronym that translates to English meaning “Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army, is a terrorist organization formed in 1964 that claims that it fights for the country’s poor and funds itself through criminal acts, like kidnapping ransoms.

Morales’ frustration with the FARC and his nation’s complacency blossomed into a movement still causing ripples throughout the world today. His idea for the One Million Voices Against FARC was hatched on Facebook where he tried to organize people who, like him, were infuriated by the violence. One Million Voices turned into millions more than expected as an estimated seven to 12 million Colombians took to the streets in protest on Feb. 4, 2008.

The majority is still taking action and support for the army is helping,” Morales said. “We’re telling terrorists, ‘we’re not going to take it anymore. We are fed up with violence. We are not going to allow this to happen for another 40 years. This has got to stop.’”

Ambassador Brownfield said the protests were extremely impactful in the 2008 release of 15 prisoners, including three Americans, held captive by the FARC for five and a half years. Brownfield said he was part of the crew to pick up the Americans only forty minutes after they were airlifted from the FARC camp to a safe zone.

“I was talking to three guys who got up that morning absolutely convinced that it was going to be another day and another five and a half years of them staying in the jungle,” Brownfield said. “The impact [of the One Million Voices demonstration] had actually reached them. They heard about it on the radios and they were watching their FARC jailers and they were reacting to what was happening.”

Morales continues to combat terrorism and advocate activism with his Alliance of Youth Movements — an annual summit to joining 20 different youth movements and organizations.

Addressing national complacency on terrorism is the goal of the prime sponsor of last week’s forum, The CELL — a Denver-based museum dedicated to terrorism awareness. Earlier in the same day, The CELL was awarded with the Community Outreach Award from the Colorado Department of Public Safety.

Museum founder Larry Mizel kicked off the event by thanking those in attendance and a long list of supporters.

“These are serious issues that affect each and every one of us,” Mizel said before thanking Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, who gave the evening’s introductory address, and U.S. Reps. Mike Coffman, Republican from CD 6, Democrat Ed Perlmutter, from Colorado’s CD 7, and former U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard, Republican, for their leadership against terrorism.

Hickenlooper said terrorism surveillance is integral for Denver which has become a “hotspot” for international events like the Biennial of the Americas — a cultural and arts festival taking place in Denver this July in celebration of the Western Hemisphere.

“We’ve taken considerable steps and measures here in Denver to cooperate with local state and national authorities to make sure that we keep our city and state safe. This endeavor requires cooperation at every level including the need for transnational security cooperation,” he said. “As you do international events, it becomes a greater responsibility to really be aware of threats to really enhance our capabilities to ensure our communities safety.”

Since Sept. 11, the U.S. has made major strides in information sharing between its military, law enforcement agencies and other countries, the panelists said.

“We share intelligence with Mexico and Canada and within the North American community in ways that on Sept. 10, 2001, we would never consider,” Renuart said. “We share across our law enforcement and military agencies today in ways that were not possible before Sept. 11.”

The panelist credited the increase in information sharing to the 2004 formation of the National Counter Terrorism Center, which analyzes intelligence from multiple U.S. law enforcement agencies like the FBI and CIA.

“In my 39 years in law enforcement I have never seen a time when there has been more cooperation, and sharing information within law enforcement and the military,” said Basham, who warned that nation’s effort in intelligence sharing could still be bolstered. “However, having said that, it remains extremely difficult to share that information. There are impediments to share information.

“Sharing information with state and local law enforcement is a very difficult process,” he continued. “Who can you give the information to? And we know, that quite frankly, state and local law enforcement do the bulk of work in this country when it comes to identifying potential threats. We got to figure out a way to share the kinds of information everyone collects.”

Brownfield concurred, saying the nation must continue to “eliminate the firewalls between U.S. government, state government and local government institutions in the United States of America.

“Let’s take that same concept and extend it overseas,” he said.

In the U.S.’s ongoing war against terrorism, the panel said Americans must be prepared for the long haul.

“[Terrorists are] going back, reengineering and they’re looking for ways to attack this country and they’re not going to stop,” Basham said.

Traditional war time victory, like in World War Two where there were defined winners and losers, cannot be expected, Brownfield said. Instead, diplomacy and an entrenched foreign embassy must be implemental in organizing peace, he said.

“Diplomacy is the arch, if you will, of using powers of persuasion, both public and private communication between governments to get different governments to coordinate and do the same thing. That’s what diplomats are supposed to be doing,” Brownfield said.

“From a diplomatic standpoint, achieving peace won’t be pretty. I believe, for example, at some point in time, the FARC in Columbia will be stripped down to the point where they will finally be ready for a serious peace process,” the U.S. Ambassador to Columbia predicted. “At that point we’re going to have to add the soft side of our diplomatic efforts to this.”

That means “making a terrorist thug who have been terrorizing communities for the last 45 years and satisfy them so that they can in fact disarm and have some role in the future in these communities.

“It will be dirty, it will be unpopular, but at the end of the day it will be absolutely necessary,” Brownfield said.

Hart, who has spent his post-senatorial as a member of the bipartisan National Commission on Terrorism during the Clinton administration and currently as a member of the Council for Foreign Relations, ended the forum in a cautionary tone.

“We did not defeat fascism by ourselves. We did not defeat communism by ourselves. We will not defeat terrorism by ourselves,” he said. “This is an international charge that affects a lot more people than just those of us in the United States. We are fortunate in this country to be as secure as we are. We are not as secure as we would like and probably never will be. We are all in this together and it is together that we will overcome this problem.”

Anthony@coloradostatesman.com