Open Letter to Paul Ryan on MSD School Shooting:
Dear Mr. Speaker:
I’d like to talk to you about the recent school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas (MSD) High School and the critically important decisions Congress must lead our nation through in response these horrific repeated events.
You see, I know this town and I know these people. I also know about security and defense. I am an MSD graduate and a former Director at one of the largest Aerospace and Defense contractors in the United States.
I was part of the founding Freshman class at “Douglas” with over seven hundred students — some of the most talented individuals I have encountered in my fortyish plus years. The images and rallying voices of the Douglas students in the recent CNN Town Hall reminded me of my class of ’94. However, as an MSD student back then, I never worried for my safety. The only drills we faced were tornado drills and the ever-enthusiastic Drill Team at pep rallies. We had it good.
I know this town. This town is in my DNA.
Forty-five years ago my dad pulled my mother from her Boston roots and relocated down South to a little-known town called Coral Springs near the alligator infested swamps of the Everglades. He left behind oppressive winters for a warmer climate and mosquitoes, to chase the American Dream and provide his children with what he believed to be the best (and safest) schools in the country. After retirement, both of my parents would go on to become substitute teachers at Douglas for a combined 18 years.
I know this town. This town prepared me and thousands of others to be relentless and take action. The world is watching us.
At Douglas, we learned how to think critically and solve difficult problems. More importantly we learned about leadership, responsibility, and the power of education. Post Douglas, I had the privilege to study engineering at Georgia Tech. Later I would go on to become a Fellow in Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Leaders for Global Operations program, a haven for engineering leaders wanting to reinvigorate U.S. manufacturing capability and re-establish our leadership position in the world. I’ve worked at world-class companies such as NASA, Amazon, and The Boeing Company helping to strengthen our operational leadership and long-term competitiveness.
I know about security.
As a former Director of Cyber Security at Boeing, I was charged with protecting and securing one of the largest and most complex networks from attacks by nation-state hackers seeking to steal intellectual property and weaken our nation’s defenses.
One of the key principles of any good cyber defense program is what we call, “defense-in-depth.” If one part of the system fails you have to ensure multiple layers of defenses are in place. It is not enough to have a “firewall” that protects the perimeter of the network. It is not enough to conduct regular hacking and health checks of your internal systems and processes. It is not enough to restrict high risk individuals from accessing your network. It is not enough to share data and attacker techniques with business and government, and so forth. You have to do ALL of these things and more because mistakes will always happen. People and technology are never perfect and we should not pretend they are.
Our ability to protect our nation’s schools is far more complex than protecting a corporate IT structure. Like cyber defense, this school shooting incident had multiple potential and real failure points. Future prevention of these kinds of incidents will require an integrated multi-faceted approach and it will require leadership to drive change.
Unfortunately, it looks like our leaders are focused on blaming others versus coming up with the real-world solutions that we desperately need. Our Democratic leaders point to the NRA for buying our politicians. Our Republican leaders blame mental illness with the mantra that “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” NRA leadership blames the FBI and Broward County Police for failure to act. The police blame the NRA for putting guns in the hands of 18-year-olds. President Trump touts arming teachers as the panacea to our problems. The media blames President Trump. This blame game is paralyzing. We look like bullies on the playground, not leaders.
At Marjory Stoneman Douglas all of these stakeholders in American life would receive an “F” for their answers to how to protect our children and our future. Here’s what I have to say about the deaths of 17 MSD students: NRA, YOU are responsible. Republicans and Democrats, YOU are responsible. Media, YOU are responsible. FBI & police, YOU are responsible. As a business leader, I am responsible. We are not running a lemonade stand, we are running a Nation. Let’s start acting like it.
Let’s show our children how to critically think and use facts and data to make decisions. Let’s bring in experts in various fields. Let’s look at how other countries have already successfully solved these problems. There are no easy solutions. But the good news is that we have already solved issues like this one before. If we truly want to Make America Great Again, we need to come together, admit our mistakes and failures individually and collectively, and take action now. Nothing less than our democracy and our competitiveness as a nation depends on it.