Fred Burton is busy these days — and that’s not such a good thing. As one of the world’s foremost experts on security and terrorism, Burton wakes up just like the rest of us seeing horrible events around the globe on an almost regular basis now. Only unlike the rest of us, for him these events —from Nice, Dallas, Brussels, to Orlando — are a call to action.
Burton, you see, is chief security officer at the global intelligence firm Stratfor. Before that, Burton was deputy chief of counterterrorism at the Diplomatic Security Service, where he was in charge of preventing and investigating attacks against diplomats and embassies and consulates. So Burton knows terror all to well.
(Full disclosure: I went to high school with Burton in Montgomery County, Maryland, where he later worked as a police officer.)
Burton notes that the number of terror attacks has been increasing, and that the FBI can’t stop every one. “We’re living through troubled times, but our nation has been through this before,” he says.
Speaking to me of the attacks in Nice, Burton says: “These attacks can’t be stopped without human intelligence and I expect to see more due to the success.”
Burton, who is the author of a number of books including “Under Fire: The Untold Story of the Attack in Benghazi,” which he wrote with Samuel Katz, sees irony in the fact that several countries, including the Bahamas, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, have recently issued travel warnings to their citizens about visiting the United States. “Right, what’s wrong with that picture,” he asks? “The US is usually the one issuing the travel alert.”
Burton doesn’t paint a completely dark picture: “I think that in reality law enforcement in big cities like in New York, do a wonderful job,” he says. “[But] indiscriminate attacks and soft target attacks, is the frightening aspect like we saw at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. It’s a new normal.”
Businesses are concerned, he says: “There’s a lot of angst, there’s a lot of concern in the C-suite over terrorism and risk assessment — even at corporate offices.” Burton says that he leaves “the why” of terrorism “to the politicians and the academics.” And that, “we try to unpack ‘the how’ of terror attacks, because if you understand how, you can take steps to mitigate risk and do something about it.”
So for now, Burton remains very busy. We would all probably be in a better place if he were a little less so.