By Dan Merica, CNN
With Syria in near meltdown and the threat of domestic terrorism still looming large, key players in the national security world are headed to Aspen, Colorado this week for the “Aspen Security Forum.” The event will feature panels ranging from the role of special operations to cybersecurity, with both former and current officials weighing in.
On Wednesday, the forum kicks off with Admiral William McRaven, the commander of U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), discussing the large role special operations is now playing in defending the nation. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer will moderate the McRaven discussion and will host “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer” live from Aspen starting on Wednesday.
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Michael Chertoff, the former secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, will be part of a Saturday panel that looks at the past, present and future of the almost 10-year old department. Is the department actually living up to its name? That will be the primary question put to the panel that includes Jane Holl Lute, the current deputy secretary.
Earlier this week, Chertoff told CNN Intelligence Correspondent Suzanne Kelly that the threat of biological attacks has in no way diminished in the past 10 years.
“We know terrorists scheme and that they have shown interest in using biological weapons,” Chertoff said. “There is no reason to believe people have lost interest in this.”
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has said the threat of cyber attacks is what worries him most and his top commander for cyber security, Gen. Keith Alexander will speak on Thursday about the nation's efforts to defend its online turf.
In the aftermath of September 11th and with the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, inter-agency communication has proven to be increasingly important in counterterrorism efforts. On Thursday, Dennis Blair and John Negroponte, both former directors of national intelligence, will discuss whether or not the overall communication body has made America safer.
But with the Obama administration facing continuing criticism of national security leaks, and Mitt Romney making it an election issue, both former directors ought to weigh in on how the intelligence community could better ensure that leaks don’t happen.
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The recent shooting at the Aurora, Colorado movie theater has underscored the concern of 'soft targets,' those public spaces like malls and theaters that are tough to defend. Shopping giant Target's head of assets protection, Brad Brekke, will speak with others about law enforcement and homeland security.
Pakistan may have opened its borders for NATO supplies, but the U.S. is still negotiating over the use of drones and Pakistan's counterterrorism efforts. Our Jill Dougherty will talk about the Afghanistan war and the fight against terrorism in the region with Pakistan's ambassador Sherry Rehman, Afghanistan's ambassador, Eklil Hakimi, and Gen. Douglas Lute, Special Assistant to President Obama for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Fact meets fiction on Thursday night, when CNN's Intelligence Correspondant Suzanne Kelly sits down with the creators of Showtime's Homeland and the former head of the New York Police Department's intelligence unit to talk about the series which looks at the world of espionage and terrorism.
The forum will close on Saturday with a discussion about the future of war and how the United States can combine the lessons of the past ten years with the rapid technological advances that are reshaping the military. Featuring Vice Admiral Michael LeFever, deputy director for strategic operational planning at the National Counterterrorism Center and Lieutenant General (Ret.) David Barno, the discussion looks to answer, “How should we reshape the military, given existing threats and emerging capabilities, and the downward pressure on defense budgets? What kind of military do we need now, and why?”
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