Groundbreaking school holds 1st commencement

The graduates of the American College of the Building Arts bow their heads for the invocation Saturday during the opening of their commencement in Washington Park. The eight students are the first to graduate from the school. Seven earned bachelor's deg

The seventh annual Homeland Security Innovation Conference could not have been timed better.

Titled "Homeland Security -- 10 Years Later," the two-day meeting at the North Charleston Convention Center on Wednesday and Thursday comes in the aftermath of the killing of 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden on Sunday in Pakistan.

Keynote speaker for the ThinkTEC conference is Mike McConnell, former U.S. director of national intelligence and former director of the National Security Agency, each under three different presidents. A local resident, he now serves as executive vice president of consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton in North Charleston.

National security experts will discuss border, port and transportation security, preventing domestic- initiated attacks, responding to natural disasters and advancing cyber security.

Conference chairman Mark Smith, who works as national integration leader for Lockheed Martin Advanced Programs in North Charleston, said the meeting will focus on strong threads of cyber security.

"This goes straight to the theme we set up," Smith said in response to bin Laden's death. "The intelligence community plays a much larger role in Homeland Security than anybody believes it does. It's the fusion of that data, whether it's intelligence used in the theater to help fight or used at home to help the banking system help track down al-Qaida and drug lords in Mexico. We didn't have those kinds of things 10 years ago."

He said security has moved from developing technologies that can identify dangerous chemicals that would-be terrorists might try to carry on airplanes to the more specialized world of cyber security.

"It's gone from transferring local, state and federal data to all the agencies that need the data and ultimately making its way to the Department of Defense," he said.

Smith called the death of bin Laden a positive move, but his reaction is mixed on his killing.

"I'm a displaced New Yorker. I used to work in the Twin Towers. I'm glad this chapter is put to bed, but I'm aware with all the technology and solutions we have of how much longer a road we have to hoe," he said. "There are hundreds of thousands of people out there who need to be reined in."

The first morning of the conference will show how local law enforcement and the Coast Guard no longer operate as separate entities, Smith said.

"They are seamless," he said. "It shows the movement of data and how rapidly integrated you can do that. We had very little of that 10 years ago, and now we have high levels of integration."

The future focus will be how to bring that data into real time and get it out to the right people as quickly as possible, Smith said.

Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524.