Almost a year ago, as it looked to retool its mission after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Washington-based Business Executives for National Security picked retired Air Force Gen. Charles G. "Chuck" Boyd as its president and chief executive.

He was, at the time, one member of Washington's foreign policy elite who could very clearly say, "I told you so." Or, as BENS described Boyd in announcing his appointment, "one of the intellectual pioneers of homeland security."

Boyd, 64, earned that title as executive director of the U.S. Commission on National Security, a $10 million, congressionally chartered panel that put forth a blueprint for the creation of a government entity strikingly similar to the new federal Department of Homeland Security -- eight months before the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center towers in New York and the Pentagon.

But Boyd doesn't claim any great prescience in guiding the commission to the conclusion that the nation was extremely vulnerable to terrorist threats.

"We found out all kinds of amazing things that none of us really appreciated at the outset," he said in a recent interview. "One, we were a hell of a lot less popular than we thought we were around the world; and two, the proliferation of technologies was such that the potential for the possession of weapons of mass destruction was far greater than any of us really realized.

"You combine a broad-based resentment with a form of power that no small state or private organization had ever before in history been able to exercise against a great power, and now you've got the formula for something really volatile," he continued. "And once you start down that path, it becomes virtually a certainty that you're going to end up where we ended up: This country is vulnerable here, at home."

Heading the commission capped a larger-than-life military career.

Almost seven years spent in squalid North Vietnamese prisons, from 1966 to 1973, only delayed Boyd's upward trajectory to the top of the U.S. military and then, after his retirement in 1995, into the foreign policy world. He now is also the first Henry A. Kissinger Senior Fellow for National Security and European Affairs at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Boyd was shot down in April 1966 flying an F-105 out of Thailand over North Vietnam. His imprisonment was "the defining experience" of his life, he said. "I know pretty much who I am and what I am."

He went on to become director of plans on the Air Force staff, commander of the Air University at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama and deputy commander in chief of the U.S. European Command in Stuttgart, Germany.

"He actually forced the Air Force to look at its soul -- who we are, what do we bring to the nation, what do we think of ourselves," said Lt. Gen. Michael V. Hayden, director of the National Security Agency and a Boyd protege.

"He thought we were far too tribal, lined up with our air frames, and that no one -- no one at all -- was thinking about air power," Hayden said. "He was trying to make us think up to the level of operational art, up to the level of campaign, and out of thinking about tactics to optimize a particular weapons system."

Even Boyd's hobbies are a bit larger than life. An avid bicyclist and motorcyclist, Boyd just happened to be the guest of the Motorola cycling team in Europe back in 1993 on a day when, for the first time, an unknown American named Lance Armstrong won a leg of the famed Tour de France.

Their friendship grew close after Boyd's wife, Millicent, was afflicted with cancer shortly before Armstrong himself began battling the disease. Boyd's wife died in 1994, but Armstrong, who was diagnosed in 1996, overcame tumors throughout his body and, starting in 1999, went on to four consecutive Tour de France victories.

Boyd had signed up for a cross-country bicycle ride in 1998 when then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), an old friend, asked him to serve as executive director of the National Security Commission.

His work at the commission made him a natural choice for accelerating a move by Business Executives for National Security away from its exclusive focus on defense issues toward a broader purview that also includes homeland security and counterterrorism.

A nonpartisan organization funded primarily by defense contractors, BENS was established in 1982 as a mechanism for allowing executives from the private sector to influence national security policy, primarily through consulting reviews aimed at bringing best-business practices to the Pentagon's sclerotic bureaucracy.

But Boyd stays close to the foreign policy fray.

Last September, he and Jessica T. Mathews, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, proposed a system of "coercive inspections" in Iraq, with a multinational force led by the U.S. military on hand in Baghdad to ensure that United Nations weapons inspectors had access to anything they wanted to see.

Boyd thinks the U.N. Security Council missed an opportunity to include this military enforcement mechanism when it passed Resolution 1441 last fall, authorizing a new round of inspections. But even without that coercive power, Boyd would give the inspectors more time before going to war.

"What I said in my essay is, you should be able to accomplish the inspections process in two years," he said. "It's probably pretty hard for [Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein to be doing too much nasty stuff with inspectors running around his country. As long as that's true, I don't care if it takes two years. And I think 150,000 troops on Iraq's border is exactly the kind of pressure Saddam needs."

Boyd, a retired general, heads Business Executives for National Security. He presided over a panel that called for a homeland security bureau nearly a year before the 9/11 attacks.