Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

January 10, 2010

The Threat in 2010

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Christopher Bellavita on January 10, 2010

(The following column is adapted from a series of lectures by Mike Walker at the Center for Homeland Defense and Security at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. Mr. Walker is a former Under Secretary and Acting Secretary of the Army and a former Deputy Director of FEMA)


The foiled terrorist attack aboard flight 253 on Christmas Day was a stark reminder of just how real the terrorist threat is.

In some respects, the young man from Nigeria may have done us a favor and jolted us out of our complacency.

More than 8 years after 9-11, many analysts and members of the media had declared Al Qaeda to be irrelevant.

They pointed out that former Al Qaeda supporters had turned against the organization and that support for Bin Laden and support for suicide bombing were also declining.

As America’s favorability around the world substantially improved last year, it was easy for us to forget it only takes a handful of committed terrorists to do great harm.

It hasn’t gotten much attention but since 9-11, more than 700 people across the United States have been arrested for terror-related crimes.

In fact, it is believed that in the last 8 years we have foiled around 30 terror plots directed against the United States, a third of them last year alone.

So, what are the facts of the threat?

First, the threat is not a clash of civilizations. The terrorists want it to be. But, by far, the vast majority of Muslims around the world reject the violent ideology of Al Qaeda and its allies.

However, we are learning that a small, disaffected minority of people can be radicalized very quickly, sometimes over the internet in their own living rooms.

Today, Al Qaeda is not hunkered down and isolated along the Afghan-Pakistan border as many had hoped. It has become a franchise with tentacles throughout the world and, yes, even inside the United States

  • The arrest of Najibullah Zazi from Aurora, Colorado, and David Headley from Chicago, revealed that senior Al Qaeda leaders are making direct contact with ideological supporters in America
  • Last year, we also learned that a former Boy Scout from Long Island had become a member of Al Qaeda in Pakistan.
  • That a former nuclear engineering professor at Stanford University was coordinating an attack abroad with Al Qaeda in North Africa.
  • That at least two young Americans, one from Minneapolis and another from Seattle had become suicide bombers in Somalia, killing more than 50 people.
  • And a former college student from southern Alabama is now an Al Qaeda commander in Somalia
  • In May, a young man from Tennessee killed an Army recruiter in Little Rock, AR. His parents warned us then that he had been radicalized in Yemen.
  • In November, an Army major, who had been in communication over the internet with a radical cleric associated with Al Qaeda in Yemen, killed 13 people at Ft. Hood.
  • That cleric, by the way, is also an American citizen, born and educated in this country. He has played a prominent role in radicalizing terrorists in at least a dozen cases in Canada, the UK and here in the US, including the failed bomber on flight 253.
  • Last year, we also saw Al Qaeda affiliates in the Pacific region become resurgent with attacks against US interests in Indonesia and the Philippines.

So, the Al Qaeda of 9-11 may have been depleted. But it has morphed into a global ideology that is infecting a small, but dedicated – and violent – group of people.

What then does the future hold?

The truth is the terrorists have left their playbook lying open. Al Qaeda’s senior ideologue, Abu Musab al Suri published a 1600 page doctrine 5 years ago outlining a global insurgency. Al Suri is in jail now, but his playbook is being implemented.

In early November, Abu Basir, a Yemeni and the leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, wrote an article in an online magazine saying it was time to unleash homegrown terrorists in the US and Europe. He called on them:

  • To make bombs out of whatever they have.
  • To stab media figures and assassinate leaders.
  • And to attack trains and airports.

Notice he said airports, not airplanes, a clear indication of a new threat vector we have yet to see play out.

Before 9-11, Abu Basir was Bin Laden’s secretary. If we were to kill Bin Laden, Abu Basir would be one of the top contenders for the leadership of Al Qaeda. So, we need to take his threats very seriously.

Finally, while the threat from Al Qaeda is real and resurgent, we also must not lose site of other threats we face.

  • From low level threats from environmental and animal rights extremists.
  • From what appears to be a growing nexus between criminal gangs and terrorists.
  • From attacks on our cyber infrastructure.
  • And from what is believed to be a resurgent domestic white supremacist  threat.

So, this is no time to take our eye off the ball.

One final thought about the threat from Al Qaeda.

Clearly, we face a new dimension in that threat as more American citizens are being radicalized.

But some of us see something else at work. Al Qaeda is not forfeiting its grander aspirations.

Pakistan, for instance, faces a growing internal threat, led by Al Qaeda and its allies. Last June, Abu Yazid, Al Qaeda’s regional operations chief said, in an interview on Al Jazeera TV, that if Al Qaeda can get its hands on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, they will use those weapons against us.

It may well be the case that Al Qaeda, by unleashing so-called leaderless jihadists, may be seeking to tie Western law enforcement down chasing leads while they continue their more sinister strategic planning

So, my appeal to policy makers and to American citizens alike: this is no time for complacency in America.

January 9, 2010

Nature’s lessons for adapting to the terrorist threat

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on January 9, 2010

Rafe Sagarin is one of a  handful of people who actually has a unique idea about homeland security.  And not just about Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s failed attempt to destroy a plane, but about the way we look at homeland security.

He points out that “Natural organisms have been dealing with lethal threats for 3.5 billion years, and evolution has produced millions of examples of how to survive in a dangerous, changing and unpredictable environment.”

Dr. Sagarin says homeland security professionals have much to learn from those “millions of examples.”

Reprinted below is an article that outlines his argument.  The article appeared in the McClatchy Newspapers on Friday, January 8th (and available here).

If you are intrigued by what you read, you might be interested in a lecture he gave for Google.  The lecture is called “Natural Security (A Darwinian Approach to a Dangerous World),” and is available (here) on Youtube.

But first, Dr. Sagarin’s article.  His perspective is — in a good way — substantially out of the box.


TUCSON, Ariz. — As we breathe a collective sigh of relief that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s recent alleged attempt to blow up an airliner failed, we also must come to grips with the critical fact that our enemies have been adapting to our security measures faster than we’re able to change them.

After 9/11, we increased body screening of passengers, so Richard Reid tried to blow up an airliner with a shoe bomb. After Reid, we started checking passengers’ shoes, so al Qaida devised plans to destroy an airliner with a liquid explosive. After we discovered the liquid explosive plot, we began banning most liquids, so Abdulmutallab is accused of trying to blow up an airliner using a powdered explosive.

Now we’ve announced to the world that passengers no longer will be able to cover themselves with blankets or books in the last interminable hour of a flight, a measure to which terrorists will adapt again. Whether it’s terrorists or cyber-hackers or insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, we appear to lack the adaptability that our enemies possess, and while almost every after-action report on the latest disaster urges our security agencies to adapt more quickly, we appear to be at a loss about how to do that.

It would help to get out into nature more. Natural organisms have been dealing with lethal threats for 3.5 billion years, and evolution has produced millions of examples of how to survive in a dangerous, changing and unpredictable environment.

These survivors are still around because they’re adaptable, and they’re adaptable because almost all of them are organized with limited central control and a lot of autonomy to individual parts that sense and respond to threats.

For example, an octopus’ skin is covered with countless color cells that change instantaneously — without much centralized deliberation — to match its surroundings, an adaptation that helps the octopus avoid predators and be a better predator itself.

By contrast, we humans continue to rely on small, centralized groups of experts in Washington to determine the latest security protocols, which then become orders that the rest of the population must follow, no matter how irrelevant to the local threat they may be.

Organisms in nature also adapt by reducing uncertainty for themselves and increasing it for their adversaries. Birds flock to increase the uncertainty for predators looking for weaklings. Cicadas emerge en masse after hiding underground for 13 or 17 years because prime number periods are much less predictable than yearly seasonal cycles.

Predators stalk from hidden vantages to increase the uncertainty of unsuspecting prey. Yet we do the opposite of what nature does, reducing the uncertainty of our enemies by telling them exactly what we’re searching for, and increasing our own uncertainty by providing a shrill and constant level of nearly meaningless color-coded warnings. Does anyone, for example, know what we should do differently if the Department of Homeland Security raises the threat level from orange (where it’s sat since 2006) to red?

Finally, organisms are adaptable because they employ diverse symbiotic partnerships to extend their capabilities beyond what their own bodies provide. Indeed, the one clear success in our security systems, beginning on 9/11, has been the adaptability shown by individual humans who’ve recognized the need to work with and for their fellow passengers.

Passengers on United Flight 93 gave their lives to bring their hijacking to a premature end in a Pennsylvania field. Reid — and allegedly Abdulmutallab — failed because passengers had adapted from the “play possum” mode, which had worked well with hijackers who only wanted to make political statements, to a “honeybee” defense. Having learned that today’s hijackers are a lethal threat to the hive, these individuals risked their own lives to save others.

Likewise, soldiers in Iraq, who come to sense threats like the skin of an octopus does, quickly learned that improvised explosive devices (IEDs) were the biggest threat and demanded help from the Department of Defense, to the point of publicly embarrassing former Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld.

Although the Pentagon’s deployment of more heavily armored vehicles was fraught with problems (they arrived after the IED threat in Iraq was on the decline, and they’re too big and heavy to use in Afghanistan), Army Gen. David Petraeus’ strategy of forging partnerships with local citizens to infiltrate the networks of bomb makers helped curb the threat.

Petraeus’ strategy demonstrates that by providing resources and basic rules of engagement, even large centralized bureaucracies can help largely autonomous and adaptable security systems flourish. To do so, however, the leaders of the agencies responsible for security need to lose their bunker mentality, venture out into nature and stare into the eye of an octopus.


Dr. Rafe Sagarin is a research scientist at the Institute of the Environment at the University of Arizona, in Tucson (www.environment.arizona.edu). He’s the editor, with Dr. Terence Taylor, of “Natural Security: A Darwinian Approach to a Dangerous World” (University of California Press, 2008) and the facilitator of an interdisciplinary working group that’s studying the lessons that nature and evolution hold for security in society.

January 8, 2010

The Week (Year?) in Aviation

Filed under: Aviation Security — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on January 8, 2010

If  on December 24th, one had asked the various consultants, academic/think-tank types, and security experts what the biggest homeland security issue would be in 2010, one could expect answers relating to border security, international security, and maybe, cybersecurity. Two weeks later and only a week into the new Year, 2010 is quickly turning into the “year of aviation security.”

The December 25th underwear bombing incident refocused attention  on the vulnerabilities to our aviation system.  In his speech yesterday, President Obama did not specifically identify aviation security as part of the systematic failure resulting in the incident – most of that attention was given to failures across intelligence agencies.  That said, he did, as part of his directive on corrective actions, state that the Department of Homeland Security should:

  • Aggressively pursue enhanced screening technology, protocols, and procedures, especially in regard to aviation and other transportation sectors, consistent with privacy rights and civil liberties; strengthen international partnerships and  coordination on aviation security issues.
  • Develop recommendations on long-term law enforcement requirements for aviation security in coordination with the Department of Justice.

While the Department bear the brunt of criticism for the underwear bomber, the same will likely not be the case for the incident at the Newark incident on Sunday.   In that incident, Newark Liberty International Airport was shut down for seven-hours after a passenger observed a man enter the airport’s “sterile area” without clearing security. Unable to find the man, the concourse had to be emptied and a multi-hour security sweep endured. The failures there have pointed to:

  • The TSA officer responsible for keeping people from entering through the exit area leaving his post for two minutes.  That officer has been put on administrative leave.
  • The failures of Port Authority of New York and New Jersey cameras (purchased with TSA money) to record the incident, as the recording function of the cameras had been turned off. It is unclear whether the proper functioning of the cameras, as well as recognizing the cameras were not working, falls to TSA or the Port Authority.

While the underwear bomber and the Newark incident gained a lot of national attention, we started to see, as expected from a press with aviation security on its mind, a few other stories the past two weeks on the aviation front.  For example, last week in Philadelphia, a local ABC station featured Congressman Robert Brady raising concerns regarding the de-certification of TSA bomb sniffing dogs at the Philadelphia airport, after the failed two tests.  The dogs, as far as I can tell from reports, remained on duty  (or maybe replaced with certified dogs?) USA Today also covered the incident and pointed to a few other locations where dogs either failed to identify or misidentified explosives. I would expect that we will see more aviation security stories in the coming weeks.

So what does all this renewed attention on aviation security mean?

Pundits say we can expect some changes in our screening processes – though it is unclear what those changes (putting aside technology) might be.

Expect an increase on the international diplomacy side.

On the technology side, we know already that in fulfillment of President Obama’s directive on screening, the U.S. government is using $25 million in stimulus money to buy and install 150 more whole body image scanners in airports this year. This is in addition to the 40 scanners already in use.   Indeed, if you are to believe Jim Cramer of Mad Money, homeland security/counterterrorism companies will be one of the top investments of 2010.   He predicts more spending and more attention for companies selling screening, biometrics, and air cargo (among other technologies) solutions.

“The intelligence was posted, but the right analyst never found it among the terabytes”

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing — by Christopher Bellavita on January 8, 2010

Excellent quote about the consequences of complexity at the end of  Karen DeYoung’s Washington Post story on January 7th:  After attempted airline bombing, effectiveness of intelligence reforms questioned

The 2005 quote is from Russell E. Travers, who is a deputy director of the National Counterterrorism Center:

“If an organization posts something to its webpage, it can claim to have shared information,” …. “Whether the right people know the information/analysis is there, and actually make use of it, is entirely another matter.

“Indeed, we’ll almost certainly be dealing with precisely this problem in the post mortems of our next intelligence failure [again, this was written in 2005]; the relevant intelligence will have been posted, but the right analysts never found it among the terabytes of available information.[my emphasis]

How much is a terabyte?

One Terabyte = 50,000 trees made into paper and printed

Ten Terabytes = Printed collection of the U. S. Library of Congress


January 7, 2010

White House Review of the December 25, 2009 Attempted Terrorist Attack

Filed under: Aviation Security,Intelligence and Info-Sharing — by Christopher Bellavita on January 7, 2010

[from the best librarian in homeland security]

The White house has released its summary of the review on the December 25, 2009 Attempted Terrorist Attack


and the related directive


The press release says:

“The review of our security and intelligence systems following the attempted terrorist attack on Christmas Day has been completed.  The President spoke two days ago about “the urgency of getting this right,” and the identification of failures in this review, along with the immediate ordering of reforms and corrective steps both today and in the days since this incident, are a recognition of that urgency.  This review is also a recognition that while there is no place for partisanship and the old Washington blame game in dealing with Al Qaeda and the threat they represent, keeping American safe depends on honest and direct accountability.”


And here is a link to the president’s remarks about “strengthening intelligence and aviation security.”

Borowitz: Full Body Scans to Double as Annual Checkups

Filed under: Humor — by Christopher Bellavita on January 7, 2010

From today’s Borowitz Report (at borowitzreport.com) — sometimes he’s even better that The Onion

Solution to Airport Security, Health Care Woes

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report) In what some in the White House are calling a “win/win” solution to the nation’s airport security and health care reform problems, starting next month U.S. airports will begin conducting full body scans that will double as annual physical checkups.

President Obama announced the breakthrough solution, telling reporters, “With this all-purpose exam, we will be able to find everything from a hidden weapon to a spot on your lung.”

After scanning a passenger, Mr. Obama said, “We will either give you a clean bill of health or wrestle you to the ground.”

The President added that instituting the body scan/checkup could ward off some terrorists right from the start, “because a lot of them will balk at the $25 co-pay.”

But according to Davis Logsdon, who studies terrorism and health care reform at the University of Minnesota, the body scans may attract more terrorists than they deter: “If there’s one complaint that terrorists have about al-Qaeda it’s that they have lousy benefits.”

An inconvenient truth about homeland security bandwidth

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Preparedness and Response,Strategy — by Christopher Bellavita on January 7, 2010

I don’t know about you, but my available homeland security bandwidth is quickly reaching its capacity.

By bandwidth (in this context) I mean “the amount of information that can be passed through a communications channel in a given amount of time.”

The communication channel in this instance is my brain — to included what comes in, how it’s processed, and what happens as a result.

The information is anything having to do with homeland security (stuffed most recently by the buffet of post Flight 253, post top-stories-of-the-year-in-homeland-security offerings).

The given amount of time is … well, I guess my life.

So the bandwidth needle is moving to red.  Which is not a good thing.

Now along comes Mark Chubb’s post yesterday on climate change.

I know nothing about climate change.  I know that some people (many people?) think it’s a big deal.  Another group (fewer people?) don’t think it is.  I know there are international reports that say the sky is falling, or at least melting.  And I vaguely recall seeing something about some hacked emails that may demonstrate people who should have known better may or may not have cooked the data to show there was more of a climate change problem than there actually is. Or something like that.

And that’s about the extent of my climate change knowledge.

Except that I avoided seeing  Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth because I heard it was mostly powerpoint, and I’d been in a meeting with Mr. Gore once when he was vice president and the memory of that experience, plus powerpoint, plus a dark room to watch the powerpoint presentation….

My point is one makes choices about how to use one’s cognitive bandwidth, and when it comes to homeland security, I try to reserve most of the space for terrorism, WMDs, catastrophes, pandemics, and other fairly traditional homeland security subjects.

It might be time for me to do some reconsidering.  I need to either get more bandwidth or reprioritize how I use my spectrum.

I made the “mistake” of clicking on the 4 links Mark provided yesterday.

CNA Analysis & Solutions

“Eleven retired three-star and four-star admirals and generals…” say the nation can’t wait around for perfect science to show up.  The potential consequence of even some of the climate change projections “poses a serious threat to America’s national security.”

These generals and admirals who have spent their careers defending the nation, and who probably have lots better to do than sing Kumbaya with tree huggers, say this climate change is serious stuff.  And we haven’t even talked yet about the disturbingly named “Abrupt Climate Change.”

Council on Foreign Relations

“National security extends well beyond protecting the homeland against armed attack by other states, and indeed, beyond threats from people who purposefully seek to damage or destroy states. Phenomena like … climate change, despite lacking human intentionality, can threaten national security. For example, the 2006 U.S. National Security Strategy (NSS) notes … that “environmental destruction, whether caused by human behavior or cataclysmic mega-disasters such as floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, or tsunamis … may overwhelm the capacity of local authorities to respond, and may even overtax national militaries, requiring a larger international response.” Like armed attacks, some of the effects of climate change could swiftly kill or endanger large numbers of people and cause such large-scale disruption that local public health, law enforcement, and emergency response units would not be able to contain the threat.”

Pew Center on Global Climate Change

” America faces a shifting strategic landscape in which rising demand for natural resources (e.g., fossil energy, water, food) increasingly drives national priorities and shapes international relationships. Since climate change affects the distribution and availability of critical natural resources, it can act as a “threat multiplier” by causing mass migrations and exacerbating conditions that can lead to social unrest and armed conflict. Today, drought, thirst, and hunger are exacerbating the conflicts and humanitarian disasters in Darfur and Somalia, and climate change portends more situations like these…. Climate change is likely to generate many more natural disasters, forcing the U.S. military and its civilian leadership to make ever more difficult strategic decisions….  As is the case today, America will not be able to help everyone.”

U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works

From the statement by James M. Inhofe, Republican senator from Oklahoma, at a July 30, 2009 hearing:

“Obviously, we differ about the credibility of the science used in your reports—and we differ about some of the report’s conclusions based on that science. But that’s not what my focus is today. Instead, I’m going to stipulate that the central finding in your reports—that climate change poses serious national security threats—is true. I’m even going to stipulate that all of the science informing your reports is true.”

To be fair to Senator Inhofe, I should also quote his January 4, 2005 senate speech on the same topic:

As I said on the Senate floor on July 28, 2003, “much of the debate over global warming is predicated on fear, rather than science.” I called the threat of catastrophic global warming the “greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people….”  I also pointed out, … that those same environmental extremists exploit the issue for fundraising purposes, …. For these groups, the issue of catastrophic global warming is not just a favored fundraising tool. In truth… [for the extremists] man-induced global warming is an article of religious faith. Therefore contending that its central tenets are flawed is, to them, heresy of the most despicable kind. Furthermore, scientists who challenge its tenets are attacked … for blindly ignoring the so-called “scientific consensus.” But that’s not all: because of their skeptical views, they are contemptuously dismissed for being “out of the mainstream.” This is, it seems to me, highly ironic: aren’t scientists supposed to be non-conforming and question consensus? Nevertheless, it’s not hard to read between the lines: “skeptic” and “out of the mainstream” are thinly veiled code phrases, meaning anyone who doubts alarmist orthodoxy is, in short, a quack.

Well, ok, but at least for the purposes of the hearing Inhofe, did “… stipulate that the central finding in your reports—that climate change poses serious national security threats—is true.”

So, if admirals and analysts, and senators and strategists say climate change is important to the security of the nation, perhaps I should reconsider how I’m allocating my homeland security bandwidth.

I think I’ll spend less time reading about how Flight 253 almost brought America to its knees and see if Netflix has any movies about inconvenient truths.

January 6, 2010

The Spies Who Came in from the Cold

Filed under: Congress and HLS,Intelligence and Info-Sharing — by Mark Chubb on January 6, 2010

Monday’s New York Times featured an article by William J. Broad on renewed collaboration between U.S. intelligence agencies and climate change scientists. Efforts to exchange arctic surveillance photos and other data for improved understanding of the national security impacts of climate change seem eminently sensible.  (See also the CIA press release on the opening of the Center for Climate Change and National Security.)

Why then do some overseers in Congress, like Wyoming Republican Sen. John Barrasso object to the idea? Well, for starters, they got their way on this question for the past eight years while President George W. Bush and former Wyoming Congressman, Halliburton CEO, and Vice President Dick Cheney were in office. The recently restarted program known as Medea – Measurements of Earth Data for Environmental Analysis – was suspended on their watch.

Economic, social, and political instability in oil-rich Muslim nations is among the biggest potential national security challenges presented by global climate change. At the same time, growing concern about the impacts of ice melt and habitat loss on northern climes and their fragile ecosystems has influenced the debate on drilling and exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other remote regions.

The circumstances attending such instability strike most of us as particularly bad news. But that is not the case for those with a vested interest in America’s energy addiction. Enabling instability suits them just fine. Driving up the price of energy makes exploration in previously unthinkable places more attractive and indeed competitive. Defense contractors benefit from our sense of insecurity and our desire to arm our enemies’ enemies.

The U.S. government, on the other hand, gains very little from these exchanges. We face a world in which the effects of climate change drive up the costs of combating terrorism while fueling the cause of extremists seeking to recruit and convert new radicals.

But as Broad’s article makes clear, not all of the consequences of climate change, at least in the arctic region, should strike opponents of this renewed collaboration as negative. Barring international agreements or other new regulations, melting sea ice will facilitate navigation and open access to previously untapped fish stocks and mineral reserves.

According to sources quoted in the article, the fiscal impacts of this program are negligible. U.S. spy agencies maintain extensive sensor networks that produce a very detailed picture of conditions in the arctic region where the effects of climate change have already become quite apparent. The scientists with whom intelligence agencies work receive degraded imagery and must hold appropriate security clearances. In exchange, they aid the country in achieving a better understanding of the world in which we and our children will live.

For once, by bringing our spies in from the cold, it seems we might just be fighting the next war instead of the last one. The next question we must ask ourselves is what we will do with the new information produced by this partnership and the insights it yields.

More information on national security and climate change is available from these sources:

CNA Analysis & Solutions

Council on Foreign Relations

Pew Center on Global Climate Change

U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works

January 5, 2010

International Terrorism and Transnational Crime: Security Threats, U.S. Policy, and Considerations for Congress

Filed under: International HLS — by Christopher Bellavita on January 5, 2010

A new Congressional Research Service (CRS) report about international terrorism and transnational crime is available.  You can find a copy of the 50+ page report at the Open CRS website.

From the summary of the report:

This report provides a primer on the confluence of transnational terrorist and criminal groups and related activities abroad. It evaluates possible motivations and disincentives for cooperation between terrorist and criminal organizations, variations in the scope of crime-terrorism links, and the types of criminal activities—fundraising, material and logistics support, and exploitation of corruption and gaps in the rule of law—used by terrorist organizations to sustain operations. This report also discusses several international case studies to illustrate the range of crime-terrorism convergence and non-convergence, including Dawood Ibrahim’s D-Company; the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC); the 2004 Madrid bombers; the Taliban; Hezbollah; Al Qaeda; the 2005 London bombers; Al-Shabaab; as well as known or alleged crime-terrorism facilitators such as Viktor Bout, Monzer Al Kasser, and Abu Ghadiyah. Policy considerations discussed in this report include possible tensions between counterterrorism and anti-crime policy objectives, implications for U.S. foreign aid, gaps in human intelligence and analysis, the value of financial intelligence in combating the crime-terrorism nexus, impact of digital and physical safe havens and ungoverned spaces, implications for nuclear proliferation, and effects of crime-terrorism links in conflict and post-conflict zones. Unless otherwise noted, this report does not address potential crime-terrorism links in the domestic or border environment.

If you’re not familiar with the sometimes difficult to obtain CRS reports, they are worth checking out.  The research is conducted primarily for members of congress, so the analysis tends to be balanced.

The OpenCRS web site: “Congressional Research Reports for the People” (http://www.opencrs.com/) is one of just a few places to find CRS reports.

Unless you know someone in congress, of course.

Philip Bobbitt — “Nine imperatives for our post-9/11 world.”

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on January 5, 2010

Interesting day, Monday.

Former Secretary (of several agencies) Mike Walker posted an impassioned request that leaders “end the spin.”

Then, as if he wanted to demonstrate that Secretary Walker was not asking for enough, a retired Air Force general suggests that “If you are an 18 to 28-year-old Muslim man then you should be strip searched before you get on a plane.”  And “… if we don’t do that, there’s a very high probability we’re going to lose an airliner”  in the next few weeks.

I’m not making that up.  You can watch the 3 minute Fox News interview here.

By the way, if you know what a “Muslim man” looks like, or why the general shouldn’t also worry about “Muslim women” and “Muslim children” — whatever they look like — before they get on planes, please let us know.

(To start your search, you may want to use data from the Pew Forum map of Muslim populations by country . )


But the day ended with an email from a friend who passed along a column by Philip Bobbitt to be published  in the January 11 issue of Newsweek.

Philip Bobbitt is the author of the most intellectually challenging — and rewarding — homeland security related book I read last year: “Terror and Consent: The Wars of the 21st Century.”

Bobbitt cares about law.  As he says below (and at great length in the book), “…what we are fighting for in the wars on terror is … the rule of law.”

The column hints at the ideas Bobbitt develops at length in his (670 page) book.

You may not agree with all of Bobbitt’s suggestions in the column (or the book).  I certainly don’t.  But the man makes me look at my assumptions.

January 11, 2010

The New Rules Of Engagement

Nine imperatives for our post-9/11 world.

By Philip Bobbitt

Critics of the administration on the right have been quick to cite the attempted bombing over Detroit on Christmas Day as proof that President Obama’s antiterror policies have put the country at greater risk. Those at the other end of the spectrum have criticized Obama for retaining too many of the previous administration’s counterterror programs by endorsing the use of military tribunals, suggesting that at least some prisoners held at Guantánamo ought to remain in custody even if they cannot be successfully prosecuted in ordinary criminal trials, trying to prevent the disclosure of photographs of torture and its victims, refusing to renounce renditions, and escalating targeted killings. Which critique is correct?

They actually have a lot in common. Earlier this year, former vice president Dick Cheney claimed that there “is a great dividing line in our current debate over national security. You can [conclude that the Bush] strategy has worked and therefore needs to be continued … Or you can [conclude that 9/11 was] not sufficient to justify a sustained wartime effort.” Many of Cheney’s most vociferous critics implicitly buy into the same dichotomy—they just think that Obama has, in fact, decided to continue the Bush strategy. The only alternative, they imply, is a wholesale rejection of the practices of the Bush administration and a return to the policies that characterized U.S. criminal and intelligence practices prior to 9/11.

Both sets of critics are missing the true flaws in the Bush administration’s approach—and the virtues of Obama’s. Bush and Cheney were not wrong to conclude after 9/11 that the existing statutory framework for dealing with terrorism was outmoded—it was. But rather than changing the laws, they refused to ask Congress for authorization to intercept communications linked to suspected terrorists without seeking warrants. They refused to seek statutory authority for preventive detentions (that was the point of going offshore to Guantánamo, where they thought a habeas-corpus-free zone could be created). They stripped military commissions of the protections recommended by a panel they had convened. In all these decisions, they kicked away the essential support of laws from their efforts and ended up being condemned by allies, handing terrorists a propaganda victory and having their policies repudiated by the American people. They carelessly invited the prosecution of loyal and earnest U.S. personnel whom they directed and refused to pardon for crimes.

And yet, in Talleyrand’s famous phrase, their actions were worse than crimes: they were mistakes. That is because what we are fighting for in the wars on terror is precisely the rule of law. Thus, as British Gen. Sir Rupert Smith observed, “to operate tactically outside the law is to attack one’s own war aim.”

It is often asked, “How can we win a war against terror? Who would surrender? How can we make war against an emotion (terror) or a guerrilla technique (terrorism), neither of which are enemy states?” These questions assume that victory in war is simply a matter of defeating the enemy. In fact, that may be the criterion for winning in football or chess, but not warfare. Victory in war is a matter of achieving the war aim. The war aim in a war against terror is not territory, or access to resources, or conversion to our political way of life. It is the protection of civilians within the rule of law. Not coincidentally, this is what General Petraeus realized was necessary in Iraq, and it is what General McChrystal has testified will be his goal in Afghanistan.

If the laws are inadequate, then they must be reformed to take account of the new strategic context rather than be ignored or twisted. Failing to do this traps us in the Cheney/ACLU world, in which we either act lawlessly to protect our people and thus turn every success into failure, or we await the next attack with the very practices and rules that invited the last one. When Obama promised in his speech at the National Archives to go to Congress for new statutory counterterror authorities, he made a decision as important strategically as it was constitutionally.

A short list of initiatives to accompany the successful reform of electronic surveillance laws passed by Congress earlier last year should include:

  • Statutory rules to authorize preventive detentions, which Obama recognizes we need and which our European allies already have, but which the administration has mistakenly backed away from under pressure.
  • A special Article III court to try terrorists, with the appropriate evidentiary rules and safeguards for defendants.
  • Regulations strengthening external oversight of data mining so that this valuable tool can be more usefully employed: if the government had taken the names it already had on its terrorist watch list and swept airline reservations, then cross-checked these with street addresses, telephone numbers, postal and immigration records, frequent-flier and credit-card numbers, all 19 of the hijackers would have been identified and seen to be flying together on 9/11.
  • Addressing the privacy concerns that have prevented the installation of millimeter-wave scanners and other body-scanning devices at U.S. and international airports.
  • A national ID card law that requires a template for all state driver’s licenses and sets rules for the inclusion of biometrics and safeguards for the use of personal information. (Can most policemen in New York really tell a proper Idaho driver’s license from a forgery?)
  • Adoption of the isolation-and-quarantine statute crafted by the Centers for Disease Control, which would provide federal legal authority and rationalize the hodgepodge of current state and local laws in order to prevent the potentially fatal confusion that would ensue if a significant biological attack or epidemic should strike.
  • Establish new laws to govern the use of federal troops in disasters and provide for disaster relief. Current laws—beyond the inexperience and incompetence of managers—bedeviled rescue operations during Hurricane Katrina.
  • Mandatory insurance for critical infrastructure, which is largely in private hands and is highly vulnerable to cyberattacks.
  • New rules governing the replacement of members of Congress, the Supreme Court, and the executive branch in case of mass attacks on these institutions: to take just a single example, the fourth plane on 9/11 would have hit the Capitol during a roll-call vote in the House, quite possibly requiring months before a quorum could be legitimately reestablished by elections and thus forcing the U.S. into an extended period of martial law.

These are controversial proposals, and I have no illusions that they will effortlessly win support from Congress. What’s most important is that we debate them openly and not be intimidated by those, at both ends of the political spectrum, who wrongly assume that security and liberty are opposing objectives. It is not necessary to sacrifice our civil liberties to realize these reforms, unless you think constitutional rights are declared by editorial boards and pressure groups and not by the U.S. Supreme Court. Nor is it necessary to compromise the protection of our people unless you have lost sight of the war aim and how to achieve it.

It is too early to praise the Obama administration, which has yet to deliver on the important changes in approach promised by the president. But it is not too soon to encourage them. Indeed, as events of this week showed, it could easily have been too late.

Bobbitt, the author of Terror and Consent, is a professor at Columbia Law School, a fellow at the University of Texas School of Law, and serves on the Task Force on Law and Security at the Hoover Institution.

January 4, 2010

End the Spin

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Christopher Bellavita on January 4, 2010

[Today’s guest author is Mike Walker.  Mr. Walker served as Under Secretary and Acting Secretary of the Army, Under Secretary of Veterans Affairs and Deputy Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency during the Clinton Administration.  He also spent 25 years as a senior staffer on Capitol Hill.]

In the aftermath of the recent attempted terrorist attack on Christmas Day, both the Obama Administration and opposition Republicans have been shamelessly spinning the facts in an attempt to gain political points.

I am ashamed of both. The effort to use the threat of terrorism for political purposes is not only inappropriate, it is dangerous. And it must stop.

The security of this nation must always rise above politics. Sadly, security has the potential of becoming the wedge issue of the decade of 2010.

My entire career has been in politics and government service. I had great hope the Obama Administration would be able to forge a bipartisan national security policy and end the destructive squabbling of the last decade. But that has not happened.

Instead, the divide continues to grow. And the botched attack aboard NWA 253 threatens to further polarize American politics.

The current political spin will not result in a safer America. It will not give any political party an edge to defeat the other. The American people are too smart. And they are fed up with politicians using American’s security for political gain.

Our great nation is the loser in this destructive debate. Spinning homeland security serves only one entity – our terrorist enemies. For it demonstrates that politics in America is deemed to be more important than security itself.

I appeal to my friends on both sides of the political aisle to rise above the partisanship that is threatening our security as surely as the terrorists.

After two decades of studying the international terrorist threat, I am certain of one thing. Terrorists look for seams to use against us. The political seam between the White House and the opposition party over the politics of security is the greatest threat to America.

January 1, 2010

Homeland Security: What’s In and Out for 2010

Filed under: Border Security,DHS News,Events,General Homeland Security,International HLS — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on January 1, 2010

Happy New Year or Happy 20-10 if you prefer.  I would say welcome to a new decade but having read that there is a debate going on on whether the decade ended yesterday or a year from yesterday, I’ll leave that one alone.

It has been a busy year on the homeland security front, starting with a new President and Secretary of Homeland Security and ending with lots of politics surrounding a Christmas Day thwarted terrorism attack.   For a  quick view of the top stories of 2009 and what to expect in 2010, here is an overview of what we can expect to be in and out on the homeland security front for 2010.



Across the Spectrum, Praise for DHS Nominee Napolitano

Republican Criticism of Secretary Napolitano

Subpoenas for White House Gatecrashers Salahis To Appear on January 20th in Congress

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab Prosecution in Federal Court


Full-Body Scanners

System Failure (Again) of Intelligence Information Sharing

Connecting the Dots



Border Enforcement Only

Comprehensive Immigration Reform




Next Pandemic?

Hold on Appointees at DHS

New TSA Administrator, Other Appointments

Homeland Security- Bipartisan Kinda?

The Blame Game

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