New group to address 'disconnect' in security market

A "tremendous disconnect" exists between federal, state and local government agencies and small- and medium-sized businesses looking to enter the counterterrorism market, the founders of a new homeland security organization said on Friday.

"We sort of sit between the government, industry and the small-business community so we can become a repository of information and ... disseminate that information back out," Preston McGee, a board member of the not-for-profit Homeland Security Leadership Alliance (HSLA), said during an introductory meeting.

So far, the four-week-old organization has more than 70 members from 17 states and five countries, according to Sean Spence, the alliance's executive director. The diverse membership includes homeland security officials from all levels of government, executives from multibillion-dollar corporations and "little companies that hardly even have revenues yet," Spence said.

The alliance is open to individuals whose jobs relate to security, companies that provide security products or services, and any government, media, academic or nonprofit organizations that address the issue.

"There has not been a central place that brings together all those disparate parts," Spence said. "We tried to find someone who was already doing this, and it was not happening."

Spence said the alliance's tax status allows it to lobby the government, but as the organization began to take shape, its leaders decided to omit lobbying from its mission, in part because federal, state and local laws prohibit government officials from joining organizations that engage in lobbying activities.

"We don't want to be a political advocacy organization. It's just not the path we want to take," Spence said. "We're providing a central place for information, and we're providing a central place for connections. That's it."

Those types of connections can help fuel private investment in security technologies, according to Michael Steed, an HSLA board member who serves as managing director of the Washington-based Paladin Capital Group.

"Business, we believe, has to take a leadership role in investing in those companies that have immediate solutions," Steed said. "While the government may pour $30 billion or $40 billion into homeland security in various forms ... we think business will do three times that."

Steed said HSLA also would help companies of all sizes to protect their own assets from terrorist threats. "They have to take a leadership role in making sure that their own enterprise can take a blow and cope with that blow and recover from that blow, should there be a direct attack," Steed said. "If business can't recover after an attack, then you see the kind of economic turmoil that we now have in the airline industry."

The alliance's leaders said they are looking for ways to ensure that as companies, government agencies, think tanks and other entities connect through HSLA, they do not inadvertently give terrorists access to valuable and sensitive information.

"A terrorist would want to attack my company if I have a technology that could stop their weapon of mass destruction," said McGee, who serves as chairman and CEO of the Bio-Defense Research Group.

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