Twenty five years ago I worked at the US Secret Service. I was in the Technical Development and Planning Division, now just part of the Technical Security Division. We were a group of 12 engineers that looked at and developed technology for the Secret Service's dual missions of fighting counterfeiting of US currency, and protecting the President, the Vice President (and their families), ex-President's, and foreign dignitaries when on US soil. We also did technical security advance trips, mostly bomb security, eavesdropping counter measures and really odd stuff - like elevator security and worrying about food poisoning or radiological hazards. We were not agents, we were not part of the protective details, we did not carry guns.
Twenty five years ago today I was in our office in Washington DC, where our secretary had a Motorola base station behind her desk so she could reach us if we were in any of the office cars that had radios in them. We also had a TV in our lunchroom, but in 1981 that was about the only real time communication beyond telephones that existed - we didn't have IM, email, etc. Even the TV only got the local broadcast channels - no CNN or any of the other 900 24 hour news channels we have today.
Our radio communications were on the channels we typically used, not the operational protection channels. The President, Ronald Reagan, was doing a local movement in DC - our office was not involved at the time. But that morning the secretary stuck her head in my office and said "hey, come listen to the base radio." I went to her desk and heard "We have Rawhide (Reagan's call sign at the time) at GWU hospital." Whoa!
It was the day Hinckley shot Reagan, and while I was in no way personally involved, it had long term implications for me.
After that, the focus of technology funding went way more towards ballistic armor and metal detectors - making up for deficiencies in fighting the last war. This is pretty standard organizational behavior in security, but in our office in USSS that meant I ended up getting completely consumed in flying around the world on bullet proof armor installations in every thing from Super Bowl sky boxes in Pontiac, MI to covered wagons in Hooper, UT. At first, kinda fun for a single 24 year old but really not where I had planned my career to go.
So, twenty five years ago that drove me to move from the USSS to GTE for a decade of building secure computer systems and it really, really made me realize how different physical security and information security are. It amazes me to see all the hype around "convergence" of those two areas when vendors or consultants talk about combined access cards or video surveillance systems over IP networks. That is no more convergence of physical security and information security than men's and women's bathrooms using the same plumbing is convergence of the sexes.
What is also amazing to remember is that at roughly the same time there was great angst coming from the intelligence community about Libyan hit squads that were being sent to the US to go after President Reagan and Vice President Bush. This caused all kinds of "homeland security" activity to take place that was never really made public. It was also about the same time that prior waves of airplane hijackings caused there to be metal detectors put in place at airports.
So, twenty five years ago we were thinking about terrorists and airplane hijackings - but still thinking about the last wave of attacks, fighting the last war against real, physical blood and death terrorism. I guess that is pretty much the signature of a free society - you have to react to threats and then overshoot on security at the expense of liberty, then back off. It ain't pretty, and it often feels like it doesn't work but over the long term it is inevitably the best approach compared to totalitarian central lockdown or individual anarchy.