Ray Kelly opens up on terrorism, cybersecurity concerns at ASIS 2015

Sept. 30, 2015
Former NYPD commissioner delivers keynote address at conference

There is perhaps no greater authority to speak to the threats our nation faces from terrorists than former New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. Having served two different stints as police commissioner from 1992 to 1994 and 2002 to 2013, Kelly is one of the most recognizable law enforcement officials in the country and was on the front lines in responding to both the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and later the 9/11 terror attacks.

And while the threat landscape may have radically changed since the aftermath of 9/11, Kelly, who delivered the keynote address at ASIS 2015 on Tuesday, said that security and public safety personnel today need to be as vigilant as ever. Vigilance in the face of what seems to be a never ending cycle of terror threats is something that Kelly is intimately familiar with. Shortly after 9/11, Kelly oversaw the creation of a counter-terror unit within the NYPD, which not only trains personnel how to respond in the event of an attack but also has operatives around the globe that gather intelligence about plots targeting the city.      

“We knew that we had to do something different,” said Kelly, adding that their intent was not to “supplant” what the government was doing but rather “supplement” it with additional resources. Kelly, who now serves as president of risk management services at Cushman & Wakefield, also discussed a variety of other topics at the conference on Tuesday, including cybersecurity, training and the evolution of ISIS and al-Qaida.  


With the fallout that has resulted from the numerous data breaches reported by organizations both large and small in recent years, cybersecurity is top of mind for not only security professionals, but also C-suite executives as it really has risen to the point of becoming a board-level risk. Kelly echoes that sentiment and said that it is the “big issue” in security today.

Although we have yet to experience a cyber terrorist attack, Kelly believes that one is “inevitable” as cyber vulnerabilities continue to grow in complexity. What’s more, Kelly said he gets the sense that lawmakers in Washington simply don’t grasp the scope of the problem and thinks that they should be doing more to help municipalities get a better handle on their vulnerabilities. Kelly also thinks that organizations would be better served having multi-disciplined teams in place that can respond to a variety of different security events, be it online or at physical locations.

He also thinks that colleges and universities should incorporate cybersecurity into some of their computer science programs to ensure there is an adequate amount of people in the workforce with the appropriate skill sets to fill these positions in the future. Of course, Kelly said that finding people with the right level of expertise is a difficult and expensive proposition for most companies. As an alternative, he believes that companies should look at the talent they have internally to determine who may be a good candidate for additional training.  

The crowd at Tuesday’s keynote also applauded Kelly’s stance on NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, whose leaks in 2013 revealed numerous details about the agency’s surveillance programs.

“I think Edward Snowden is a traitor and needs to be prosecuted,” said Kelly.


While there is a lot of talk among security professionals about the need to conduct regular exercises to prepare for different scenarios, Kelly said the fact is that most of these plans just sit on a shelf somewhere collecting dust. Kelly said some of these plans still contain the names and contact information of people who may have left the company years ago. To remedy this, Kelly said organizations should develop tabletop exercises that are more narrowly tailored to the functions of their particular company.     

Evolution of Terrorism

Despite the fact that many people now believe that ISIS has supplanted al-Qaida as the primary terror threat in the world, Kelly said that both are committed to taking American lives wherever they may be.

“I think it may be a distinction without a difference,” said Kelly referencing the difference between the two entities.

He did admit, however, that ISIS is going to be hard to root out given how it has become such a strong ideological movement.

Overall, Kelly believes that security professionals have answered the bell when it comes to addressing their risks to these aforementioned issues but he believes the threat, particularly with regards to terrorism, is only going to continue to persist moving forward.

“I think we’re doing well, but I don’t think the threat has diminished,” he said.  

About the Author

Joel Griffin | Editor-in-Chief, SecurityInfoWatch.com

Joel Griffin is the Editor-in-Chief of SecurityInfoWatch.com, a business-to-business news website published by Endeavor Business Media that covers all aspects of the physical security industry. Joel has covered the security industry since May 2008 when he first joined the site as assistant editor. Prior to SecurityInfoWatch, Joel worked as a staff reporter for two years at the Newton Citizen, a daily newspaper located in the suburban Atlanta city of Covington, Ga.