A mixed bag of relatively recent homeland security items that may have escaped attention.
The Newshour on PBS recently aired a short segment on “How Tough is it to Build a Dirty Bomb.” If you are interested in a dirty bomb primer, you could do a whole lot worse. The video and transcript can be found here:
The piece is a good, basic bit of reporting with an interesting interview with the man once referred to as the “Radioactive Boyscout.” However, it would have been helpful if the reporter had pushed NYPD representatives to justify continued spending on the Securing the Cities effort instead of considering alternative means of dealing with the threat of dirty bombs.
During this tumultuous period in the Middle East, U.S. print and cable news services have scrambled to provide coverage in countries where they previously had little infrastructure. In stark contrast, Al-Jazeera focuses its reporting on events in the region and was well positioned to respond to the string of fast breaking events. However, very few U.S. cable companies carry the station and this led to a huge spike in traffic to Al Jazeera’s English website.
Some argue that the station is simply a platform for anti-U.S. and anti-Semitic views while others insist it is a serious news organization that allows distasteful commentators air time. In a recent Boston Globe op-ed, former DHS Assistant Secretary Juliette Kayyem argues that the public should be allowed access to the vital reporting from that region Al Jazeera provides. She acknowledges the less savory aspects of the station, but feels it should be left to the public to decide what and when to tune into any particular media.
This battle over cable access must be understood as a proxy for a broader lack of understanding between the United States and the region. Cable companies have no obligation to run programming, but their silence to the question “why no access’’ is a judgment, understood by the Arab world as a value-laden decision about America’s lack of desire to hear from the Arab world about the Arab world. In fact, the events in Tunisia and Egypt have been masterfully covered by the station, a news heavyweight in most of the world.
While US news corporations scrambled to get people and equipment to the region, AJE was already there, at the forefront of documenting the Egyptian government’s atrocities and demise, so much so that AJE’s offices in Egypt were raided and its journalists detained.
Could the existence of AJE on channel 203 or, if lucky, 114, upset American viewers? Yes. No doubt, if I watched long enough, I would find viewpoints expressed by commentators on Israel or the role of women that I find objectionable. But that basically describes my relationship with most cable news hosts, yet there they are, night after night.
James Zogby, in his book “Arab Voices,’’ highlights how American companies such as Cisco, Starbucks, and ExxonMobil have made important contributions to public diplomacy by shaping and promoting engagement in the Arab world. US cable companies ought to do the same by bringing a major player in the Arab world to American audiences.
Read the entire piece here: http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2011/02/14/let_us_see_al_jazeera/
Al Qaeda and Mideast Revolution
A question arising from Mideast turmoil for homeland security officials is the potential impact on Al Qaeda–both short and long term. Paul Cruickshank addresses both the optimistic and pessimistic in a CNN.com opinion piece.
The short term:
Furthermore, the weakening of security services throughout the Arab world may allow jihadist groups like al Qaeda in the medium-term to rebuild capabilities, warns Noman Benotman, a former Libyan jihadist once personally acquainted with al Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri.
“This is a make or break moment for al Qaeda,” said Benotman, now a senior analyst at the Quilliam Foundation, a UK counter-extremist think tank.
In the short term, Benotman says, al Qaeda will need to navigate strong countervailing winds. The clamor by protesters from North Africa to the Gulf for more democracy is hardly change al Qaeda can believe in.
“What we see playing out now is completely against what al Qaeda is preaching,” Benotman said.
The long term:
Benotman says that with the weakening of security services in some Arab countries, the greatest future opportunities may lie for jihadist groups with a narrow regional agenda rather than those like al Qaeda focused on attacking the United States and its Western allies.
According to Benotman, one of the groups that may try to rebuild its activities in Egypt is Zawahiri’s very own group: Egyptian Islamic Jihad.
In the long term, a successful democratic transition in the Arab world would arguably make the United States significantly safer from al Qaeda terrorism. The threat of attack would remain because, as September 11 illustrated, even a small group of dedicated individuals can create terrible carnage, and al Qaeda today continues to enjoy safe havens in Pakistan and Yemen from where it can organize new attacks. But if al Qaeda’s recruiting efforts are significantly hampered, so will its campaign of global terrorism.
Again, the whole thoughtful piece is worth reading: http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/meast/02/21/arab.unrest.alqaeda.analysis/index.html
Basically there are two schools of thought on the matter: the ”fewer grievances” school and the “more opportunities” school – represented in Cruickshank’s piece by Osama Rushdi and Noman Benothman respectively. The former argues that democratization will stem new recruitment to al-Qaida by removing a key grievance and undermining the message that only violence can bring change. The latter argues that the unrest provides jihadis with new operational opportunities and encourages spoiler activism.
Personally I lean toward the “more opportunities” school. I agree that the recent events are bad for al-Qaida in the long run, but I see the short and medium term effects as much less predictable. For a start, the removal of a grievance does not affect the motivation of the already mobilised (this, I admit, is the same argument used by those who say Palestine does not matter for al-Qaida). Second, the relationship between grievances and violence is not linear. Terrorism is a small-scale phenomenon and usually involves people who are outliers on the spectrum of political opinion. Osama Rushdi’s claim, in the CNN piece, that “the end of the Mubarak regime will prevent men like Zawahiri from again emerging in Egypt” strikes me as hopelessly naive. Finally, discontent with Arab regimes is not the only grievance motivating new al-Qaida recruits. Hostility to Western policies and solidarity with Muslims at war with non-Muslims are also prominent motivations, and these are largely unaffected by the events in Tunisia and Egypt. Among perpetrators of Islamist terrorist attacks in the West in recent years, you will not find many who say they acted out of hatred for the Egyptian or Saudi regimes.
Lawyers are an important part of the homeland security team
Not that you might have doubted that notion, but a recent New York Times article reinforces the idea. New York State lawyers have produced a compilation of relevant laws that can serve as a guide for legal professionals during and following a terrorist attack, disease outbreak, or natural disaster.
Quarantines. The closing of businesses. Mass evacuations. Warrantless searches of homes. The slaughter of infected animals and the seizing of property. When laws can be suspended and whether infectious people can be isolated against their will or subjected to mandatory treatment. It is all there, in dry legalese, in the manual, published by the state court system and the state bar association.
The most startling legal realities are handled with lawyerly understatement. It notes that the government has broad power to declare a state of emergency. “Once having done so,” it continues, “local authorities may establish curfews, quarantine wide areas, close businesses, restrict public assemblies and, under certain circumstances, suspend local ordinances.”
Ronald P. Younkins, the chief of operations for the state court system, said the book’s preparation was similar to other steps the New York courts had taken to plan for emergencies, including stockpiling respirators and latex gloves. Like such manuals in other states, Mr. Younkins said, it is intended to give judges and lawyers a place to turn in an emergency because the maze of state and federal laws — some decades or centuries old — can be difficult to decipher. For judges, the manual may well be their only refresher on the case of Mary Mallon, “Typhoid Mary,” who was isolated on an East River island from 1915 until her death in 1938.
“It is a very grim read,” Mr. Younkins said. “This is for potentially very grim situations in which difficult decisions have to be made.”
Published with the disarmingly bland title “New York State Public Health Legal Manual,” the doomsday book does not proclaim new law but, rather, describes existing law and gives lawyers and judges ways of analyzing any number of frightening situations.
For those interested, the full document can be found at: http://www.nycourts.gov/whatsnew/pdf/PublicHealthLegalManual.pdf