David M. Stone | 1952-2009

David M. Stone was appointed federal security officer at Los Angeles International Airport, the nation's third-busiest airport, in 2002. During 11 months on the job, he established security standards required by Congress as a result of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. His work represented one of the most ambitious security overhauls in the history of U.S. aviation. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Retired Rear Adm. David M. Stone, who once headed the Transportation Security Administration and was the first federal security director at Los Angeles International Airport in the critical months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, has died. He was 57.

Stone's untimely death occurred over the weekend, several days after attending an awards ceremony for TSA employees in Arlington, Va., agency officials said. He had traveled to the event from his home in Bangalore, India, where he worked for Cisco Systems Inc. as a senior executive in charge of safety and security.

The cause of death was not available Wednesday.

Shortly after retiring from the Navy in April 2002, Stone was appointed federal security officer at LAX, the nation's third-busiest airport. At the time, LAX had been identified by state and federal authorities as one of the nation's top potential targets for terrorists.

During 11 months on the job, Stone established the security standards required by Congress as a result of the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. His work represented one of the most ambitious security overhauls in the history of U.S. aviation.

"He was a great partner," said Kim Day, who worked with Stone as a deputy executive director at Los Angeles World Airports, which operates LAX. "When the TSA was first created, the agency hired lots of law enforcement people and military people. There were lots of disgruntled airports. He came out here and said, 'I don't know airports. Let's work together.' "

His tenure included the replacement of private contractors with 2,700 federal officers at passenger checkpoints and the development of an electronic system to screen all checked baggage -- the first to go into operation in the nation.

Stone also helped LAX secure part of $1 billion in federal money for security improvements and turned the airport into a test site for security measures that eventually would be duplicated in other parts of the country.

"Dave was the ideal person to launch the federal security effort at LAX. He struck just the right balance between the need to protect U.S. aviation from another attack while making it possible for the airlines to rebuild their passenger traffic," said Paul Haney, a deputy executive director of Los Angeles World Airports from 2001 to 2008.

Day, who is now the manager of aviation at Denver International Airport, said Stone took the same approach when he left the airport in 2003 to become the TSA's third director.

Congress created the agency after 9/11 to give the federal government control over the security of the nation's airports, pipelines, ports and railroads.

Stone left the TSA in June 2005, saying he wanted to look for work in the private sector after more than 30 years of military and government service. At the time, Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff was considering the restructuring of his entire department, including the TSA.

Stone was born in 1952 and raised in the small town of Algonquin, Ill., where he was president of his class at Irving Crown High School and was an all-state basketball player.

He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1974, and during the next 28 years rose through the ranks from ensign to rear admiral.

His first command at sea was the destroyer Hancock. He later headed Destroyer Squadron 50, based in Manama, Bahrain, and served as chief of staff for the commander of the 6th Fleet in Gaeta, Italy.

After his promotion to rear admiral, he led NATO's naval force in the Mediterranean during operations that supported the peacekeeping mission in Kosovo. After several tours at the Pentagon, his final assignment was command of the battle group for the aircraft carrier Nimitz.

During his naval career, he gained publicity as one of three officers who heard the case of Cmdr. Scott Waddle, the captain of a submarine that struck and sunk a Japanese fishing vessel off coast of Hawaii in 2001.

Stone's decorations include three Legions of Merit, five Meritorious Service medals, and three Navy Commendation medals.

He is survived by his wife, Faith, who has been traveling from India to northern Virginia since she learned of her husband's death. Funeral arrangements were pending.

dan.weikel@latimes.com