Has Arizona Governor Doug Ducey finally begun to drain his own swamp? Embattled Director Charles Ryan resigned from the Arizona Department of Corrections on September 13, 2019. He stepped down approximately five months after media stories broke regarding broken cell doors and locks at Lewis prison complex near Phoenix, Arizona. He was allowed to retire rather than being fired by Arizona Governor Ducey. Now let’s be honest about this. As much as the Governor would like everyone to believe Ryan had his full support, the controversy surrounding Charles Ryan’s AZDOC administration was a political liability that probably created tremendous embarrassment for the Governor and Arizona state government.
Charles Ryan was like an anchor around Governor Ducey’s neck, pulling him into the abyss, therefore, a decision was most likely made to mitigate the problem. He was replaced by Director David Shinn, a former Federal Bureau of Prisons official, after a nationwide search was conducted for a replacement. AZDOC is at a crossroads. Arizona Governor Ducey, the Arizona State Legislature, and the current director, David Shinn must take decisive action to eliminate the corruption, mismanagement, and cronyism within that agency.
Crucial decisions must be made to either invest in the institution, and transform it into a viable, professional organization, or continue down the current path to its eventual failure and destruction. The department’s current strategy does not seem promising. It appears the agency wants to transform into a department staffed with a cheap labor force (e.g. decreasing the hiring standards, and lowering the minimum age requirement to 18 years of age), hell-bent on a never-ending battle of attrition, while defending its position that it is a stepping stone to other careers. That game plan will not bode well for its future or the safety of its staff, inmates, and the citizens of Arizona.
Two Arizona Department of Corrections whistle-blowers (Sergeant Gabriela Contreras and Associate Deputy Warden Shaun Holland) came forward after filing separate whistle-blower disclosures with the Arizona governor’s office. Sergeant Contreras filed a whistle-blower complaint in May 2019. She alleged corrections officers were repeatedly being attacked by inmates at the Lewis prison complex near Phoenix, AZ because of faulty cell door locks that allowed inmates to leave their cells. Ms. Contreras also leaked AZDOC video surveillance footage of some of the assaults to back up her allegations. AZDOC retaliated against her with economic sanctions and threats of criminal prosecution. The department later rescinded her discipline and ceased their threats with no apology.
Associate Deputy Warden Shaun Holland filed a whistle-blower complaint with the governor’s office in early December 2019, alleging that faulty cell doors at the Lewis state prison complex were not getting repaired despite repeated requests. He stated in the whistle-blower disclosure, “Instead of identifying and repairing the doors, the prison administration is hiding the problems by ‘closing out’ hundreds of repair orders without completing any repairs.” ADW Holland also provided video footage to the media to corroborate his allegations.
During a press conference that ADW Holland attended, he said that AZDOC investigators had questioned him regarding his whistle-blower complaint. They assured him he was not in trouble but he clearly felt that he was the focus of their investigation. Mr. Holland said they previously had all of his information, and he questioned why they were not interviewing others [that had pertinent information] instead of him. He felt they were attempting to disprove his allegations, rather than conducting an unbiased investigation.
Five top department executives have resigned, including former Director Charles Ryan since the local news media reporting revelations. Two retired Arizona Supreme Court chief justices, Rebecca Berch and Ruth McGregor were tasked by Arizona Governor Doug Ducey in April, 2019 to investigate the AZDOC regarding the broken cell door locks at Lewis state prison complex, and to determine if the problem was systemic.The former justices concluded their investigation, and released their report within days after Arizona Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan announced he would retire on September 13, 2019. The report had several recommendations for improvements within the department, including increased budgeting for infrastructure upgrades, improved training, and strengthening staff and management relationships.
What is striking about the report is that the former justices deduced that AZDOC Director Charles Ryan was “surprisingly uninformed” of the severity and extent of the problems that existed with the security doors and locks. Their report indicated that Mr. Ryan was “misled into thinking the locks were fully functional” but they were being defeated by inmate tampering because corrections officers were not checking the cell door frames for obstructions, and securing them. Director Ryan was characterized as surrounding himself with “yes men” that were afraid to disagree with him, and would distort reports to meet his expectations, for fear of being disciplined or fired. The former director said he did not know the severity of the problem until he viewed the ABC15 news reports featuring the leaked corrections surveillance videos of inmates leaving their cells at will.
I am not questioning the retired chief justices’ integrity or credentials, however, I am puzzled that Governor Ducey tasked them with conducting the investigation into the AZDOC because the justices were former members of the judicial branch of Arizona government. Why did the governor choose to task investigators with ties to Arizona government rather than investigators from outside the state with no appearance of political ties or conflicts of interest? The latter option would have presumably lent more credence to investigatory conclusions reached regarding Ryan’s culpability for the well-publicized Arizona state prison security issues. While the justices did not absolve the former director of the prison security deficiencies, they did not definitively conclude he was fully aware of the severity and extent of the security problems.
According to an ABC15 report posted by Investigative Reporter Dave Biscobing on May 1, 2019, many current and retired AZDOC employees found Ryan’s supposed lack of full knowledge of the security deficiencies difficult to believe. There was ample documentation as well as internal investigations, and prison surveillance videos to confirm overwhelming and ongoing evidence that often reached the director’s office in regard to security issues inside Lewis state prison complex. In addition, the former director was known as having an autocratic management style that seemed to contradict a lack of awareness.
In the interest of transparency and holding the Arizona Department of Corrections accountable to the citizens of Arizona, Talking Guns has posted an AZDOC memorandum with this article. It was composed by Joe Profiri on November 30, 2015, who was the AZDOC Southern Region Operations Director at that time. He is currently the Deputy Director of the AZDOC, and formerly the interim director after Charles Ryan’s departure.
Most of the attention has been focused on the Lewis prison complex near Phoenix, Arizona. The posted memorandum, however, was regarding security issues at the Cimarron state prison in Tucson, Arizona. The document was forwarded to the Arizona Department of Corrections Deputy Director Jeff Hood (who was serving under Director Charles L. Ryan at that time), through AZDOC Division Director Carson McWilliams with Offender Operations. The document described a staff assault by several inmates on October 22, 2015 that led to an after-action review of security doors and locks within that unit.
The review revealed that many cell door security problems existed as a result of design flaws and inmate tampering with security devices. As a result of the cell door security issues, four inmates from three different cells were determined to have manipulated the locking devices on their assigned cell doors that allowed them to exit their cells. Those inmates joined six other inmates that were already out of their cells for various reasons, including, porter duties, showering, and meal services. Those ten inmates engaged in assaults on a staff member identified as Special Security Unit Sergeant Armando Salazar, as well as other staff members that responded to the location to render aid.
Sources told Talking Guns that Sergeant Salazar was unaware of the cell door locking system deficiencies prior to the attack on him. The department already knew about the inmates’ abilities to defeat the cell door locking systems, and placed him in a dangerous, preventable situation. Sergeant Salazar suffered grievous injuries from the assault (including a severe leg injury that necessitated a hip replacement, and a brain injury), and was incapable of returning to work. What was his reward from the Arizona Department of Corrections for putting his life on the line in service to the public and the department? It was the department’s position that it was not responsible for his injuries, and did not believe it could be held accountable for deliberate indifference regarding the safety of its employees. Sergeant Salazar is no longer employed by the department, and is currently social security disabled after receiving a small workers compensation sum. He will most likely be unable to achieve gainful employment because of his injuries.
The memorandum proceeded to detail who was involved in the incident, as well as how the security features on the doors were defeated. Portions of it were redacted, seemingly to preserve institutional security. Interestingly, the memo mentioned a particular method that the four inmates used to defeat their cell door locks and exit their cells. It indicated that those efforts predated 2011 and continued, as evidenced by a photograph of a portion of a security locking device on a cell door, included in the memorandum. The photo was redacted, but according to the memo, it was taken at the Cimarron Unit in housing unit number one on November 13, 2015, and depicted tampering that occurred to the device which would defeat the locking mechanism and allow the cell door to open.
According to the document, the locks on the cell doors at the Cimarron Unit became known as needing attention in August 2011 when the Tucson Complex submitted a project request for inoperative locks and shower doors. The reliability of the cell locks predated that project request, as most of the cell doors at the Cimarron Unit had already been pinned [using steel pins to secure the doors] externally before the request was made. The pinning of the doors indicated the doors required an additional fail safe locking mechanism beyond the standard or installed locks. On October 21, 2011, a site survey and assessment of the project work to be completed, was performed at the Cimarron Unit.
Recommendations were made to improve the existing security devices, and replace door control panel systems. In June 2012 a contract was awarded for control panel replacements for Cimarron housing units. During the control panel replacement process, it was determined that many of the locks had lost their functionality and compatibility with the control panels because of being operated manually with keys for years. In March 2013, new locks, switches, and magnets were purchased, and installed to rectify the functionality and compatibility issues between the cell doors and the new door control panel system. In September 2013, additional funding was provided to complete the door control panel project and replace additional locks.
The entire project was completed in May 2015. It took over four years to complete and cost an estimated $783,288.08. New control panels were installed in all of the control rooms, including main control. Approximately 50-60 new cell door locks were installed, and 26 cell doors were replaced. The memo states, “Having completed this extensive project in an effort to enhance security, it was determined that inmates were still able to defeat cell door locking mechanisms and exit their cells at will. As a result, all Cimarron cell doors had tamper plates welded upon them from June 22, 2015 through August 27, 2015, in an effort to thwart this inmate behavior.”
It further states, “Despite continuous efforts since 2011, to mitigate the ability of inmates at the Cimarron Unit to defeat their cell door locks, it is evident; based on available information and absent staff examining each cell door after ever [sic] turn-in/out to ensure the locking mechanism has not been tampered with, inmates remain able to manipulate cell door locking mechanisms in a manner that allows them the ability [to] open their cell doors.”
The most significant section of the memorandum relates to recommendations that were made as a result of the after-action security review of the Cimarron Unit in Tucson, Arizona. It recommended a complete statewide survey of all facilities to determine the existence of locking mechanisms that were susceptible or had a history of being defeated through inmate tampering and/or manipulation.
It recommended an evaluation to determine alternate locking mechanisms that were not susceptible to defeat, including updating physical plant standards to require the identified lock as department standard, and to begin systematic and scheduled replacement of locks identified as susceptible to defeat.
The review also recommended the establishment of interim countermeasures to mitigate tampering with identified locks, which included: 1. the installation of tamper resistant plates over locking devices on cell doors and/or frames 2. the removal of any item, including furniture within a cell, that could be used to defeat any tamper resistant plate through bending or other methods 3. the installation of external door pins as necessary
Remember, the memo was composed on November 30, 2015 by Joe Profiri, who is currently the second in command of the Arizona Department of Corrections. He indicated that door and lock security issues emerged at the Cimarron Unit in Tucson as far back as 2011. He made recommendations through his chain of command in the 2015 memo for a statewide survey of all facilities to determine the existence of locking mechanisms that were susceptible or had a history of being defeated by inmate tampering and/or manipulation. So why were the cell door lock security issues not identified and fixed at the Lewis prison complex near Phoenix, Arizona? Are we expected to believe that the second in command of the department, who composed the memorandum, did not communicate at any time to his boss, Director Ryan, that this situation existed? Are we also to accept that the memorandum did not make its way up through the chain of command to Mr. Ryan?
The two retired Arizona Supreme Court chief justices, Ruth McGregor and Rebecca Berch, who conducted an investigation of the department’s cell door security issues at Lewis state prison complex, stated in their report, “The Lewis Complex was not included in the requests for funds for prison locking systems in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, or 2020. (See Attachment 4.) This is so even though, by at least 2017-18, assaults and deaths had resulted in part from the ability of inmates to “access their doors” and leave their cells without having the COs [correctional officers] open the doors for them, and AZDOC leadership had acknowledged being advised that inmates’ ability to get out of their cells had become an increasing problem.”
Let’s summarize this, shall we? The AZDOC brass knew about the cell door security issues as far back as at least 2011, as acknowledged by the aforementioned memorandum by current Deputy Director Joe Profiri. The problems he identified were at the Cimarron Unit in Tucson, Arizona, but he recommended a statewide survey of all facilities to determine the existence of security device problems involving locking mechanisms. The retired chief justices of the Arizona Supreme Court that conducted an internal investigation of the department indicated that the Lewis state prison complex was not included in the request for funds for prison locking systems in 2014 through 2020. I’ll let our readers draw their own conclusions from that information.
There is a call for the removal of those that worked most directly with Charles Ryan during his administration. We at Talking Guns are calling for the dismissals of not only executive staff that were under Ryan’s command, but also Wardens and Deputy Wardens that were complicit regarding the system-wide security failures, and their hazardous effects on public safety, staff, and inmates. It is not enough to simply replace a director and expect real results, and change to occur if you retain holdovers from a previous administration with credibility issues.
Inside sources spoke with Talking Guns and indicated that former Director Ryan knew about the serious security door issues within the Arizona state prison system, including Lewis state prison complex, and the recurring staff and inmate assaults that resulted from cell doors being opened by inmates. Sources said Wardens and Deputy Wardens were aware of the security issues, but when information was relayed to Director Ryan, he allegedly told them he didn’t want to hear about them, and they were instructed to keep the problems at the complex level. It appeared to sources that the former director attempted to insulate himself from a potential crisis situation by creating plausible deniability.
In addition to the potential civil actions that will most likely result from the many security failures of this agency, there is another element that needs to be addressed. Will there be a prosecutorial phase to this correctional saga? Will any AZDOC officials be held criminally culpable for their actions or inaction that led to the death of Inmate Andrew McCormick or others, and the many staff and inmate assaults that occurred as a result of those security door failures? Are the felony charges of criminally negligent homicide and reckless endangerment off the table? How about felony charges of falsification of government documents involving hundreds of falsified cell door repair orders? Homicide has no statute of limitations, and felonies have a statute of limitations of seven years in Arizona.
Is the public just supposed to look the other way and forget what happened? Are the victims, their family members, and friends going to see justice served, or just expected to pick up the pieces of their lives, move on, and forget about their physical and psychological trauma associated with assault or homicide? Do we just let everyone involved in these scandals walk away with their pensions without any criminal accountability?
The Arizona Attorney General and County Attorneys have tremendous prosecutorial discretion in these matters. But what kind of message does it send to the public and crime victims if people involved in these scandals are not held to account? Is the criminal justice system going to send a message that if you are wealthy, or in a powerful position, or politically connected, that you are not above the law, and the rule of law does apply to you? Will there ultimately be justice for any of the victims or is the State of Arizona hoping to just settle the matters in civil court, and that any criminal allegations will get lost and forgotten in the 24/7 news cycle? There are many questions, and I hope the criminal justice system has some answers. At this moment… all I hear…are crickets trilling.
On March 31, 2019, I arrived to work and grabbed all my paperwork for my overtime post in Pod 4. Before I go any further, let me just touch base on Pod 4 first. Pod 4 is what we call the Special Needs Pod, a.k.a. SNP. The people housed in this area are people who would not do well in a General Population unit. Aside for being on medications for mental health, (i.e. bipolar, schizophrenia, etc.) these people also have a higher potential of being taken advantage of by other inmates. So much like the maximum security units are used to keep people who don’t play well with others, separate. We use this pod to protect these individuals of that risk. So now that that’s out of the way let me continue with my day.
I did a head-count in the unit and appeared to be accurate with my paperwork. “As soon as count clears, we can start some out-time and then later close up shop and start my regular graveyard shift.”
At approximately 1930 Hours, the head-count in the facility was cleared and it was time to begin out-time. Prior to opening all the doors, I give my usual announcement over the intercom, briefly explaining my expectations and rules. A minute later, the doors are opened using the computer at my desk.
Inmates speed walk to the tablets, some to get front row to the TV area, some for access to the showers and others begin to make a line in front of the deputy station. All familiar to me as it’s seen almost on a daily. What was NOT familiar was THAT guy. As everyone is doing what appears to be the norm to me, he walked in front of my desk with his hands behind his back. Without breaking eye contact he stared at me until he was past my desk and continued on. It’s not uncommon in here to see people off in their own world. Mental health issues are a reality people often mistake for something else.
I quickly shook that off and continued on with the people in front of my desk. One of the first rules I learned (if not all, then most people in a correctional setting) is “keep your head on a swivel.” Second, “Never sit down when you have inmates out.” Well… I eventually broke that one.
I finished helping the last person near my desk and took a look around the pod. Some were playing chess while others shuffling cards. People were sitting near the TV area watching a movie, and others doing laps outside in the rec area. But THIS guy. This guy walked in front of my desk again and would not break eye contact. So I greeted him. “What’s up man? How’s it goin’?” And he replied with… nothing. He continued to stare until he walked past my desk and continued on. Something was not right.
As I watched him slowly walk away from the desk to start another lap inside the day room, someone approached and asked if I could look up their next court date. So as I log in, I pull out the chair from the desk and sit down. This process only takes, if anything, 10 seconds to do. So the court date was given and that person left. As I turn around to stand up, I had another inmate approach me from the outside rec area and ask if I could do the same for him. I had the inmate come around the desk and the results were given. Here, at this moment, is where things began to go a different direction.
The inmate asked me a question about his charges. And after that question was answered, he asked another. And then another…. and then another. In the process of answering these questions, I noticed someone in orange standing off to my left. At a distance, not yet close enough to the yellow and black line around my desk. I did not address it or pay TOO much attention to it because I was under the impression that it was just another inmate wanting to have access to his room. To put his shower shoes away or lock up their ramen noodles so no one steals it. Either way, through my peripheral vision, I knew someone was there.
I continued answering these questions and realized TWO things. First thing, I haven’t seen ol’ boy in a minute. So I do a quick glance in front of my desk, towards the TV area and he was not in sight. So I looked up at a mirror that hangs on the pillar in front of my desk. I turn my head and realize that the person who I saw in my peripheral, was actually the guy who had been staring at me since the beginning of out-time. Second thing, I realized had been sitting down for longer than I had wanted.
I immediately stopped answering questions for the other inmate and addressed this guy. “Did you need something?” Silence was the response. “Do you have any questions?” This inmate looks down at his feet, and slightly rocking his body back and forth. He then looks at me again without saying a word. “I need you to keep walking. I don’t need you standing behind me. Come around the desk if you have any questions.”
Right after this is when he charged at me the first time. When he charged at me, I was still trying to figure out if he was rocking forward and was waiting on the “back” part. I then realized there would be no “back” at that point. I pushed off the desk and he landed in front of me. I pushed off him and stood up at the same time. I covered my head and tried to move away from my desk into an open area. He continued swinging and as I side stepped away, he tripped and fell to the ground. Here is the space I needed. I reach behind me and press my duress pager, signaling for backup to my location. I begin to move away from my desk into an area that’s open and away from keyboards and monitors. I move to this area knowing there are no inmates there or any that can sneak up behind me without me being aware. The inmate stands up and charges at me for a second time. I swing and he ends up on the ground. The perfect opportunity to go in and handcuff… and we can call it a day! But, no, I can’t… I have 55 inmates out and about. Going to the ground is not the smartest thing to do. I back away towards the entrance of the pod. That’s where my back up is coming through. Oh snap! He’s charging at me again!
As I continue to defend myself, I begin to bob and weave as best as I could while walking closer and closer to the entrance. I’m seeing more and more orange come closer to me. I have to end this or get out of this area. I reach for the inmates left arm and as I was about to pull him on the ground, I see another inmate start to swing, so I pushed. But I forgot to let off the arm I was holding on to and went to the ground anyway. I was now I top of two inmates and more than a handful of inmates were within arms’ reach.
My right knee is on top of one inmate, my left leg pushing off the ground putting constant pressure on both inmates. My right hand keeping the inmates hand away from my face. And my left hand reaching for the only tool I had available — my pepper spray. I began to yell at everyone to get back and cell in. I repeated it several times as people began to leave. Some were pulling on the inmate’s feet. My thoughts; Is he trying to pull him out? Prone him down and help? “GET BACK AND CELL IN!!”
I’m now clear from inmates, except this guy walking up… “Guzman, are you good? Do you need more help?”
I take a deep breath and reply “I’m good! You need to cell in right now!”
“Are you sure? I’m here if you need it…”
Again, I look at him and reply, “thank you but I need you to listen… my back up is coming through those doors any second. And you don’t want to be standing there when they come through. I need you to cell in.”
I now look down to see what I’m dealing with on the second inmate… oh… he has him in a choke hold. The second inmate looks at me and says, “I’m sorry deputy! I couldn’t just sit there and watch!”
I replied “You’re fine! Just. Don’t. Move!” I haven’t heard a single radio call since I hit my pager… where’s my back up?? Why have I not heard anything??? A brief moment later I realized my earpiece was not where it was supposed to be — in my ear. So I unplugged the earpiece and radioed for back up. “I need back up to pod 4… inmate fighting staff!” I hear the elevator doors. Someone is coming. *sigh* I look down and ask the guy why. His reply was, “You made me bleed my own blood!” Confused, I asked, “what did you think was going to happen?!” And he continued stating, “Because of you, I’ll never see my family again. Because of you, I’ll never see my kids. Because of you I’m in here!”
I thought to myself “I don’t even KNOW you!!” But then shook that off when I remembered what unit I was working. Today, for this moment, I was a part of his world. Back up arrived. The inmate that helped was moved away from the area. The other deputies and I rolled this inmate over and began to give instructions to give me his right arm. As I pulled his right arm out, I saw his hand was wrapped in medical gauze… and sticking out of in between his fingers was a wooden tongue depressor. Not sharpened but still, very present. I realized the only hit I took to the face, could have had a different outcome had my training been taken lightly or as a joke. Thankfully, this is never and won’t ever be the case with DTs (defensive tactics) or any other training I go through. I was then removed from the area by my Sergeant and was asked what had happened. About 40 minutes later, I found out that Davis was the last name of the guy who attacked me. I filed my report, dusted myself off and went on to continue my regular graveyard shift. I was told that if I wanted to go home and be with my family, I could. “I got one more day ‘til my weekend. I’m tired. But I don’t rest when I’m tired. I’ll rest when I’m done.” Sergeant nodded their head, told me I did a great job. And the rest of the night went on just like any other night.
A rare event occurred in our facility. Though dealing with “disruptives,” drunks, people that come in high or just plain pissed off, is a norm, attacks on staff in an open area like this in this facility is a rare thing. I come from a background of 8 years in loss prevention. This is my first law enforcement position ever. If I can give any advice to anyone new in the field, it’s these few things:
1. Keep your head on a swivel. Build that habit and it will always be second nature.
2. LISTEN when it is time to listen. Your training is crucial and important to everything you (your family in blue, or family in general) may encounter in your day-to-day life. Much like why policies are in place, someone, somewhere, went through a crappy situation and now became a training scenario. So take your training seriously.
3. Treat others the way you want to be treated. A core value that the Washington County Sheriff’s Office lives by. Respect that is EARNED goes further than respect that is TAKEN. Not everyone in jail is bad. Treat everyone fairly, and maybe one day one of them will help you out when you really need it.
And last but not least… don’t ever break your own rules. Complacency is NOT your friend. I broke my own rule because I felt comfortable. And it almost cost me my life — if not my life, then at minimum my vision. The only hit I took was to my face, but his knuckle and the tongue depressor scratched about an inch below my eye.
I have gotten support from all over the nation — my family, friends and my extended family in blue… the deepest and most humbled thank you to all of you. I will not stop when I am tired. I will stop when I am done.
2014 was a year full of exploitations of gaps in security and growing threats that face the United States. Looking back at the crisis and incidents of 2014, it’s easy to make educated predictions about what security vulnerabilities are most likely on our enemies’ hit list in the year to come. 2014 saw a rapidly scaled back approach to fighting overseas war and a breakdown of proactive military planning. This weakened the already shaky U.S. Foreign Policy and National Security and set the precedence for 2015.
Likewise, border security also took an amazing hit in 2014 simply because politics trumped safety, preventing any real effective improvement. This lack of action enlarged the country’s most vulnerable avenues of approach that allows millions of unchecked people to cross into the U.S. every year. As ISIS emerged as the major player in international terrorism with billions of dollars at their disposal, a thirst for nuclear weapons, and a dialogue of direct threats to the U.S., a lack of border security has created 360 degrees of attack possibilities.
2014 saw the arrival of the Ebola virus that produced wide spread fear all across the U.S. even though there was relatively no threat. This was due in large part to the mishandled initial response of the first case of Ebola in the U.S., coupled with the terrible communications and management of the crisis by the CDC. As the saying goes perception is reality, and in the case of Ebola in 2014, the perception was chaotic at best.
This was also a year of multiple large-scale cyber hackings that compromised millions of bank accounts, personal information such as celebrity nude photos and emails. These types of hacks culminated with a dramatic year-end attack on Sony Entertainment that literally froze their ability to function.
2014 saw major failures in airport security with numerous intrusions into large airports across the country. Newark International Airport, for instance, was the location where an intoxicated intruder scaled a $100 million dollar security fence before reaching the passenger terminal. San Jose International Airport had three major intrusions including a 13 year old boy who breached a fenced area before boarding a plane inside the wheel well and flying to Hawaii.
If all that wasn’t enough, two of the most secured locations on the planet turned out to be not so secure. The Freedom Tower, located at the hallowed ground of the World Trade Center memorial in downtown New York City, had numerous intrusions past its security fence, including yet another teenager that made his way to the top of the tower before taking a selfie. These breaches of the supposedly hardened security boundaries around the Freedom Tower pale in comparison to the 10 fence jumpers at the White House in Washington D.C. Of those 10 fence jumpers, one individual actually made it all the way into the White House, which was completely unlocked.
These examples of exploitations of gaps in security and growing threats in 2014 have placed a spotlight on several enormous security vulnerabilities that will absolutely,100% cause and/or allow all of the major problems we will face in 2015.
So, as an expert in vulnerability mitigation, I give you the top 10 Security Vulnerabilities that will be exploited in 2015;
10.Thinking That You’re Safe Because You’re Wealthy And/Or Powerful – As Sony Entertainment has demonstrated, even the biggest companies are vulnerable to cyber attacks. In fact, cyber crime is a great equalizer of economic classes. Securing your computer system is like having a mansion with thousands of windows that may or may not be secured. The house is continuously expanding, but every time you build a new section, there are thousands of additional windows that need to be secured. Chances are most large companies and wealthy and famous individuals will eventually become a victim of a cyber attack.
9. Thinking No One Will Bother With You Because You’re Poor – See number 10. If you are broke, but you have a smart phone, computer, or credit card, you’re still building a virtual house of windows that could be compromised. What’s that? You don’t have anything for them to take? Not a problem, they will just convince the bank that you paid for something you didn’t and now it’s up to you to prove it wasn’t you. Yes, you can be broker than broke, and criminals will exploit cyber vulnerabilities in order to help you get there.
8. Being Comfortable – Jonathan Gruber called the American people stupid when he spoke about sneaking Obamacare into law without anyone reading it. He was in fact wrong in calling the American people stupid. However, if he said the American people were so comfortable they could be easily exploited, he would have been a little closer to accurate. Comfort kills! It is the second greatest personal vulnerability each of us face.
7. Waiting For A Problem To Happen – Politicians, the airline industry, and executives are the worst violators of number 7. Sitting down and self-analyzing yourself and your surroundings is the beginning of a superior mindset and proper defenses. It is amazing how little this is done even by the federal government.
6. Throwing Money At The Problem – Ah yes, one of America’s favorite pastimes, wasting money on technology to solve problems. The common practice of throwing about 50 to 100 cameras around a facility with one guy to watch them all has become standard practice in security and it’s a great example of expensive useless security tactics. Throwing money into technology is a huge vulnerability that can easily be exploited by criminals and terrorists alike. For example, each year the retail industry loses billions of dollars to loss prevention despite the latest cameras and security tags. 2015 won’t be any different.
5. Choosing The Wrong Experts And Executives – This is probably the most common mistake made by large companies and federal agencies. A true security expert will be able to identify where the vulnerabilities are located and choose the right person to fix that particular compartment. Vulnerabilities are compartmentalized like the sections of a department store. An expert in menswear is not necessarily an expert in women’s shoes. Likewise, any security expert or senior executive that tries to convince you that they know it all, is a giant vulnerability themselves.
4. Lack Of Understanding Of Compartmentalized Vulnerabilities And Threats – Whether you’re the director of security or an individual trying to stay safe, understanding what areas are vulnerable and how they can be exploited will help you choose the right people and technology to mitigate the threat.
3. Lack Of Forward Thinking – Military units always forward think their plans because their mission success means life or death. This is not the same for political cabinets, federal executives, and business executives. Even though forward thinking is virtually free, it is one of the top vulnerabilities facing the U.S. daily. If you are prepared on paper, you will be more likely to have an effective plan in place before something happens. Remember, action always beats reaction.
2. Lack Of Effective Leadership – There are two great epidemics plaguing the U.S. in today’s world, a lack of educated effective leaders, and a lack of awareness by the American citizenry. Incompetent leaders pose the greatest vulnerability that groups like ISIS have exploited in order to move their fight closer to our own homeland. Incompetent leadership does not know race or sex, and it seems to be directly related to a person’s executive rank and the speed at which they rose to the top. This is definitely not improving in 2015.
1. Lack Of Awareness – And number one goes to an overall lack of awareness on the part of almost every American Citizen and leader. Awareness is key because no matter how much money you spend, how many meetings you have, how many guards you hire or cameras you install, nothing will ever be as effective at securing vulnerabilities as an aware human. Human awareness is the ultimate security technology and it’s the cheapest. Every American is a virtual security guard, and an expert in their surroundings, if they are aware. So far, 2015 looks like most of our citizen security guards will still be asleep on the job…
As a Navy SEAL and FBI Special Agent, I developed a deep understanding of unconventional warfare and the effectiveness of utilizing vulnerability exploitation for offensive attacks and defensive planning. Finding the gaps in security and awareness, leadership and understanding are how small units crush big forces. Vulnerability exploitation is how the Greeks entered the city of Troy with a gift of a wooden horse, and it’s how attackers, hackers, criminals and daredevils get in and do what they want in today’s modern world.
We are a nation of free people, and with that freedom comes great opportunity to relax as much as possible. However, the more relaxed we become, the further our guard falls. Procrastination, relaxed security procedures, and unchecked policies are vulnerabilities that grow when things are looking brighter. Never be comfortable with being completely comfortable. That is where trouble lurks and it is where our national security will continue to suffer in 2015.