Last night, former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff visited the grand reopening of the CELL, the downtown terrorism prevention center, to discuss cyber security and impending concerns in the Middle East. In front of a packed house at the Denver Art Museum, Chertoff talked both Al-Qaeda and Hezbollah -- as well as Obama and Romney -- while prioritizing what he believes to be the country's greatest coming threats.
"Cyber (security) is at the top of my list of things that need to be addressed by this country," he said.
The CELL, which stands for Counterterrorism Education Learning Lab, is sponsored by wealthy benefactor Larry Mizel and first opened its doors in Denver in 2009 to educate national and global audiences about how to recognize and prevent terrorism. The most notable of these efforts is perhaps its severe video on "Recognizing the 8 Signs of Terrorism," narrated by Football Hall of Famer John Elway. Since it opened, the CELL has attracted more than 100 political dignitaries and a wealth of international support -- as well as some local disdain.
Last night, five protesters who hail from activist group We Are Change interrupted Chertoff's speech, shouting sentiments such as "Terrorism is not real!" and " Less people have been killed by terrorism than by bee stings!" before security escorted them away. However, they waited outside the event with sings reading "9/11 was an inside job." Chertoff, who served as the second Secretary of Homeland Security under the second President Bush, smoothed over the interruptions with aplomb and humor, remarking, "We're past the point of denying (Osama Bin Laden) was responsible for 9/11. I think we all also understand there was a landing on the moon."
In addition to celebrating the CELL's brief history and forthcoming programs, last night's gathering hailed the new additions to its rotating exhibits, which opened to the public today. Inside the museum, organizers have installed a two-ton hunk of steel removed from the World Trade Center. Last year, the piece traveled to the state for the Colorado Remembers 9/11 memorial, and it will serve inside the museum as a constant reminder of the event that launched its mission statement.
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Also inside the newly redesigned exhibit, the Elway-narrated prevention video is now backed by interactive education stations for each of the eight signs. Visitors to the CELL can quiz their understandings through iPad narratives that place them inside example scenarios before they continue on to exhibits focusing on terrorist financing and other subjects.
"In terms of capability and experience, international terrorists are ahead of domestic terrorists," Chertoff told the audience during an interview panel that also featured Clifford May, president of the conservative Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Looking toward the future, he urged national leaders to adopt a mindset of addressing possible terrorist threats before they are acted upon -- as opposed to the opposite, which he said is the country's current pattern.
"We are not exercising our imaginations the way our enemies are," May said, arguing that it's impossible to "make ourselves inoffensive to our enemies. Weakness is provocative."
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Overall, Chertoff supported an evolution in national tactics relating to terrorism, especially the online variety, and echoed the CELL's call for community support: "If you see something, say something."
"Individual involvement is the cornerstone of our security," Chertoff told the gathering.
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