Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

September 30, 2011

Anwar al-Awlaki said to be dead

Filed under: Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on September 30, 2011

According to several news outlets, Anwar al-Awlaki, the New Mexico born evangelist of terrorism, was killed in an attack on his convoy traveling through the interior of Yemen.    This news is breaking between 0600 and 0800 (Eastern Time).  More here as more is known or claimed-to-be-known.

According to Al-Jazeera:

Yemen’s defence ministry has reported that Anwar al-Awlaki, a well-known and controversial imam with ties to al-Qaeda, was killed along with four others. A government statement released to the media on Friday said the dual US-Yemeni citizen was hunted down by Yemeni forces, but did not elaborate on the circumstances of his death. Awlaki was wanted by both the US and Yemen.”The terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki has been killed along with some of his companions,” said the statement sent by text message to journalists.

Tribal sources told the AFP news agency that Awlaki was killed early on Friday in an air strike that hit two vehicles travelling through an al-Qaeda stronghold in central Yemen. Government officials say he was targeted 8km from the town of Khashef in the province of al-Jawf, just 140km from Sanaa.

According to POLITICO:

Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born cleric and an alleged terror suspect with links to al Qaeda in Yemen, has been killed, a senior administration official confirmed to POLITICO…  The U.S. government has called al-Awlaki a “key leader” of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, an al Qaeda offshoot in Yemen. The U.S. has linked al-Awlaki to Nidal Malik Hasan, who is charged with killing 13 people in a shooting at a U.S. Army base at Fort Hood, Texas, in November 2009, and to a Nigerian student known as the “underwear bomber,” who tried to blow up a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day, 2009. Last year, the Obama administration put the U.S.-born al-Awlaki on a CIA “kill or capture” list.

According to The Telegraph:

Yemeni security forces said they had conducted an operation to target Awlaki and his bodyguards in Marib province. Western sources said a US drone strike had hit his convoy in a remote area and that local military commanders had confirmed his death.

President Barack Obama authorised the US military to target Awlaki last year, a controversial and legally fraught move in light of his US citizenship. Awlaki had inspired serval audacious attacks in recent years including the 2009 Christmas underwear bomber, an attack in Fort Hood military base by a US army major and the stabbing of Stephen Timms MP.

One tribal chief in the area of the attack said that the plane that carried out the strike was likely to be American, adding that US aircraft had been patrolling the skies over Marib for the past several days.“US planes have been flying overhead for days now,” said the tribal source would requested anonymity. “Then this morning, at about 9:30, what appeared to be a US aircraft fired on the two cars Awlaqi and his fellow operatives are believed to have been travelling in.”

Last week the Washington Post reported:

The Obama administration is assembling a constellation of secret drone bases for counterterrorism operations in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula as part of a newly aggressive campaign to attack al-Qaeda affiliates in Somalia and Yemen… The rapid expansion of the undeclared drone wars is a reflection of the growing alarm with which U.S. officials view the activities of al-Qaeda affiliates in Yemen and Somalia.

The use of drones in such targeted attacks was also a significant element in a recent speech by John Brennan, given attention in a previous Homeland Security Watch post.

Born of Yemeni parents in the United States, Mr. Awlaki has been a charismatic communicator of the Al Qaeda message.  He is (was?) among the most prominent of a new generation of terrorist leaders, with particular  influence among English-speaking converts to Al Qaeda’s cause.  Especially since the death of Osama bin-Laden many considered Awlaki — and the Yemen based Al Qaeda franchise — as the most serious emergent threat.  As noted above, Awlaki has been directly connected to several cases of domestic radicalization in the United States.  He is considered the founder and has been a regular contributor to Inspire, the English-language web-based terrorist magazine.

Awlaki’s death is not necessarily significant to ongoing insurgent operations by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).  But if Nasser al-Wahishi’s killing in late August is ultimately confirmed, losing these two leaders in such a short span of time suggests the intensity of the US effort in Yemen… even in the midst of the current civil unrest.

Writing in The Guardian, Jason Burke offers:

Awlaki’s primary role was that of an intermediary. He communicated the message and the ideology of extremist Islam. That message remains alive even if it has been rejected by the vast majority of Muslims. After a decade of polarising violent conflicts, its survival is now independent of the actions of individuals. The social movement of al-Qaida, the cult of violent extremism, the sub-culture of jihad, has sufficient momentum to continue to be effective. The educated Yemeni-American who himself straddled the cultural gaps between the Middle East and the west and who turned to extremism will now join the ranks of al-Qaida’s martyrs. He is thus likely to be an inspiration long after his death.

In an interesting coincidence, exactly one year ago today Homeland Security Watch posted: Killing a Fellow Citizen: Four frames on the present reality of Anwar al-Awlaki. This was one of several posts regarding Mr. Awlaki toward the end of September and beginning of October. Even while I hope the news of his death is accurate, the issues raised in the posts and comments from a year ago remain relevant.

The Washington Post is periodically updating its lead on Alwaki’s death.  According to the Post a second — unnamed — US citizen was also killed in the attack.

The New York Times is also adding to its coverage as additional information is available.  According to the Times the second individual killed is, “Samir Khan, an American citizen of Pakistani origin and the editor of Inspire, Al Qaeda’s English-language Internet magazine. Mr. Khan proclaimed in the magazine last yeasr that he was “pround (sic) to be a traitor to America.” (I don’t know if the sic is a NYT error or an Inspire error.)

Unless something especially interesting or odd emerges, I will let the mainstream media handle it from here.   Any of the links embedded above will take you to even more news and analysis.

Friday Evening Addition:

During a Friday late morning change-of-office ceremony for the new Chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff, the President commented on Alwaki’s killing:

The death of al-Awlaki marks another significant milestone in the broader effort to defeat al Qaeda and its affiliates. Furthermore, this success is a tribute to our intelligence community, and to the efforts of Yemen and its security forces, who have worked closely with the United States over the course of several years.

Awlaki and his organization have been directly responsible for the deaths of many Yemeni citizens. His hateful ideology — and targeting of innocent civilians — has been rejected by the vast majority of Muslims, and people of all faiths. And he has met his demise because the government and the people of Yemen have joined the international community in a common effort against Al Qaeda.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula remains a dangerous — though weakened — terrorist organization. And going forward, we will remain vigilant against any threats to the United States, or our allies and partners. But make no mistake: This is further proof that al Qaeda and its affiliates will find no safe haven anywhere in the world.

Working with Yemen and our other allies and partners, we will be determined, we will be deliberate, we will be relentless, we will be resolute in our commitment to destroy terrorist networks that aim to kill Americans, and to build a world in which people everywhere can live in greater peace, prosperity and security.

In the near term, Awlaki’s death is likely to increase interest in Inspire magazine, his online sermons, and other artifacts of his terrorist promotion.  But especially with the apparent demise of Samir Khan as well, there is no one on the Al Qaeda bench as proficient in mixing anger, aspiration, hate, and hope into such deadly temptation.

Happy new (fiscal) year!

Filed under: Budgets and Spending,General Homeland Security,Preparedness and Response — by Philip J. Palin on September 30, 2011

Today concludes the federal fiscal year.  The new year begins tomorrow.  The United States finishes the current year deep in debt. We do not yet have a budget for the new year.

The Senate has adopted a continuing resolution to provide funding through November 18. Late Thursday morning a small rump of the House adopted a CR to provide through October 4 by which time  the full House is expected to concur with the November 18 date.

Another CR will probably be required by November 18… and a bitter fight can be anticipated.

On November 23 the so-called super committee is scheduled to report out on how to slash $1.5 trillion over ten years.  This process was put in place in early August as a compromise to increase the debt ceiling and avert a government shut-down.  If the super committee cannot meet statutory debt reduction targets (and such agreement would be little short of miraculous) a series of triggers will “automatically” reduce expenditures beginning in January 2013.

The mandated reductions — or sequestrations — are designed as fundamentally unacceptable to practically everyone, essentially threatening to pull-the-trigger on a gun pointed at the head of every political clique’s favorite offspring.   Ancient enemies guaranteed peace by exchanging royal heirs as mutual hostages.  This is the modern version.

The original intent of this hostage taking was, I think (hope), to encourage compromise.   Because effective compromise is almost impossible in the current political climate, the actual consequence will be to cause nearly everyone to point toward the prospect of profound disaster. Along the way the 2012 budget is likely to join the hostages.

The triggers threaten national security, social security, medicare, and economic recovery among other fair-haired heirs of our various political interests. (Although in the reading of many budget experts, DHS would not be seriously impacted by pulling-the-triggers.)  The triggers justify an apocalyptic vision of what will happen if the other side wins in November 2012 (whichever other). Only a clear victory by the righteous (whichever righteous) can save the nation.  Winner takes all.

Yet total victory is unlikely, despite visions of political sugar-plums dancing in the heads of opposing partisans.  Further, given the context, total victory by any particular partisan perspective would only confirm the apocalyptic expectations of the other side, leading to even worse social and political confrontation. (If you haven’t, it is worth reading 1861 for breath-taking analogies to our current circumstance.)

Yesterday was the first day of the Jewish New Year. The ten days between Rosh Hashana (New Years) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) are sometimes called the Days of Awe.   It is a time set aside for introspection, repentance, and reconciliation.

One time Rebbe Yissachar Dov of Belz was asked to give an example of true remorse for one’s sins and errors. He explained with the following parable:

During a market day it was raining very hard. Many merchants had gathered at the market with their wares to sell, but as it continued to rain each one decided to pack up and go.

Only one merchant decided to stick it out offering his goods. Soon there were a lot of people around him since he was the only one selling anything. The value of his goods rose higher and higher, but he didn’t want to sell them as he wanted to wait until the price went higher still.

Even though the people were begging him to sell, and offering large amounts of money he still held his own and said he would wait until the price would get even higher.

Suddenly the rain stopped and the sun came out. In a short time all the other merchants came to the marketplace. Then the stubborn merchant saw the foolishness of his actions as the prices dropped precipitously in a few minutes. His heart was full of remorse for not selling his goods when he could have gotten for them a high price.

The Rebbe offered, “Remorse like that is what one should have in his heart when one wants to do repentance and return (t’shuva) regarding many sins.” (Teachings of the Rebbe of Belz)

When we seek to maximize our own interest without regard for the interests of others we undermine both ourselves and our whole community.  This is true whatever our interest: commercial, political, spiritual…  Remorse is appropriate, so is learning and reconciliation.

Some meaningful expressions of remorse, learning and reconciliation by next Friday (Yom Kippur) would be truly awe inspiring.

On Wednesday, November 7, 2012 we will — almost certainly — need to talk with each other, listen to each other, respect each other, and adapt to each other if we are going to move forward together as a nation.  If we are unable to do this today, it will be even more difficult 403 days from now.

Increasingly homeland security gives priority to engaging the whole community in collaborative efforts to enhance resilience.  These broader issues are relevant to our work… and vice-versa.

September 28, 2011

Living Lively, Living Well

Filed under: Preparedness and Response — by Mark Chubb on September 28, 2011

Even in the relatively staid emergency management sector, which has become rather doctrinaire in recent years as we have attempted to consolidate the lessons of 9/11 and the investments in response capabilities made possible through federal grants, someone comes along from time-to-time that surprises me with their passion, insight and ability to integrate lessons from other disciplines. That happened to me again today at the Washington State Emergency Management Association‘s annual conference.

Shelby Edwards, a corporate business continuity professional with Seattle-based PEMCO Insurance, gave a presentation today that really challenges conventional thinking about what it takes to engage people with the work of improving their own resilience and that of the people around them. Her approach is positive, thoughtful and grounded in cutting-edge research on what makes people tick. It’s also informed by experience in combat zones as an Army Reserve major who serves as a civil-military affairs officer attached to special forces units. And the process she uses couldn’t be much simpler or more powerful.

In a nutshell, Edwards asks people to do little more than shake up their routines by varying their activities, becoming more action-oriented, really engaging others on a personal level and keeping the emphasis and focus of their actions positive. Her individual resilience checklist consists of 10 items, and displays some really savvy thinking and showcases her wry sense of humor:

  1. Do at least one new thing every day — EVERY DAY.
  2. Drive a different route to/from work.
  3. Get honest about those emergency kits.
  4. Park in a different spot every day.
  5. Get some exercise.
  6. Can you really walk in those shoes?
  7. When was the last time you talked to your insurance agent?
  8. Do you know where your IT guy lives?
  9. Where’s your kid? Right now, at this moment.
  10. Go to lunch.

Developing a sense of curiosity and reengaging our sense of wonder through experimentation is a great way to test our capacity to change. Even if we don’t choose particularly challenging adventures, the simple act of favoring variety over sameness gives us a greater sense of what’s possible and exposes us to new ways of doing things.

Varying our route of travel not only helps us expand options for getting from point A to B when things go wrong, it makes us more aware of our surroundings and less apt to operate on autopilot when we’re behind the wheel. Making our brain engage in this way makes us not only more aware of alternatives but more attentive to differences and how they relate to what we think we already know.

Even dedicated emergency managers with a deep-seated geek-streak take their preparedness for granted. How many of us have really looked hard at the provisions we’ve put aside in the event of an emergency? What’s more, who really wants to eat MREs or rehydrated spaghetti or Spam after struggling to get through the trauma of dealing with a natural disaster or even an extended power outage? The smell of this stuff alone is disheartening. Are the arrangements we’re making realistic? Do they reflect our needs as human beings to not only survive a disaster, but to revive ourselves so we can reengage the work required to advance our recovery?

Parking in a different spot, like driving a different route, has the advantage of mixing it up and keeping our senses engaged. But it also has the advantage of sharing the love with others. How many people where you work think they own a parking space even when none of them are reserved to individuals? Forcing them to modify their routines may not only prove irritating but also very worthwhile when they have to face bigger challenges to the status quo.

We all know about the benefits to our physical health that we can derive from exercise. This is equally if not more true though for our psychological health; our brains work better when we get regular, moderate exercise. So, why not have walking meetings? Nothing says you have to conduct every bit of business sitting down or in a conference room. Humans are well adapted to communicating while walking; in fact considerable evidence suggests this capacity helped us achieve a degree of evolutionary superiority well beyond that warranted by our relatively modest stature, speed and strength.

Many, if not most of us — and not just women it’s worth noting — wear totally impractical footwear to work. Imagine having to trudge home or any significant distance in the shoes you’re wearing right now. Image too how you would feel if you became stranded and separated from your loved ones simply because you couldn’t navigate one more step because you were wearing great-looking but totally impractical shoes.

Let’s face it, talking to our insurance agent is right up there with getting root canal surgery for most of us. As Edwards noted, many of us only to our agent only when we want to complain about the latest rate increase or we need help removing a Douglas fir from our living room after a windstorm. In either event, it’s probably too late. Most agents can help us manage our risk if they know our needs.

These days very few businesses and almost all individuals depend on information technology of some sort or another to do their jobs. When our computers and phones don’t work, we don’t work. How many of us know our IT guy well enough to help him help us when we really, really need back online. Right. Now. If you’re allergic to your insurance agent’s personality, you may need help with this one too.

Even if we don’t have kids ourselves, but especially if we do, their needs or those of others who depend on us in any way tend to weigh heavily on us in a crisis. If we don’t know they’re OK, then we’re not OK. People have difficulty doing their jobs when the are worried about others. Telling people to have a personal communication plan or picking a family assembly point is simply not as personal or as apt to get their attention and turn it into positive action as asking them how they would know or find the information they need to know at any given minute to give them peace of mind about their loves ones’ welfare.

We all need to eat. And what we eat can make a major difference in our mood and our capacity to make good decisions in a crisis. But sharing a meal with someone new or at least someone we haven’t connected with in awhile at least once a week can multiply these benefits many times over by fostering positive relationships with an ever-widening circle of friends and acquaintances.

None of these things alone will ensure we will live through a disaster. But together these simple actions can make living and living well both more likely and more lively.

September 27, 2011

Explaining the Absence of Nuclear Terrorism

Filed under: WMD — by Alan Wolfe on September 27, 2011

As we continue to discuss the possibility of WMD terrorism, there always seems to be those nuclear weapons analysts who just cannot fathom how our civilization has not seen a nuclear terrorist incident yet.

We’ve had nuclear weapons around for more than 60 years now, we’ve had too many stories about missing or unaccounted for nuclear material, and yet no “boom.”

Thomas Schelling, famed game theorist and defense analyst, wants to know why.

In 1982 I published an article that began, “Sometime in the 1980’s an organization that is not a national government may acquire a few nuclear weapons. If not in the 1980’s, then in the 1990’s.”

I hedged about the 80’s but sounded pretty firm about the 90’s. It’s now the 2010’s, twenty-nine years later, and there has been no nuclear terrorism nor any acquisition of such weapons by any terrorist organization that we know of; and I think we’d know by now. I don’t know of anyone—and I knew many colleagues knowledgeable on the subject—who thought my expectations outlandish. Something needs to be explained!

Yes, it’s only a question of when, not if – and yet, and yet… the “when” has never arrived.

I am of the firm belief that it isn’t a question of when, but rather if a terrorist group could ever obtain enough fissile material, construct a bomb, and successfully hold a government hostage to its demands. There are more than a few federal agencies in the U.S. government looking for signs of any sub-state group with ambitions of grandeur – that is to say, those groups who have successfully avoided being the target of Predator drones and CIA-paid turncoats.

The media and those journalist bloggers who report issues related to nuclear terrorism are not particularly helpful in understanding this phenomenon. They’d rather sensationalize stories like this GAO report that says the U.S. government is unable to fully account for U.S. nuclear material overseas that has been given to partner nations for peaceful civilian use. If there were no specific reports stipulated in the partner agreement, and there has been no voluntary release of any information, well, then, the nuclear material might be anywhere! For all we know, there are thousands of kilograms of plutonium in some evil group’s lair, as we speak!

Or these “unaccounted” amounts of nuclear material might be sitting in reactors in Germany, France, Japan, India, Norway, perfectly safe and secure. You just don’t know, which is what has Dr. Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear weapons analyst at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, so concerned.

“It’s amazing how completely cavalier the Department of Energy has been at tracking this. They’ve got nobody who worries about this on a day-to-day basis. … The old way of doing business was: You bought it. We have some rights, but it’s fundamentally not our problem.  Now, things are different.”

I’m thinking that they do in fact worry about this quite often. It’s not as if our government casually handed off nuclear material for other countries without any discussion, without any care as to what our partner nations did with it. Every country worries about nuclear terrorism. Every country with a nuclear reactor worries about a Fukushima incident. These are not casual issues. The only thing that is different today is the level of paranoia within the United States that something wicked this way comes, in the form of a terrorist-delivered nuclear weapon. So of course the solution has to be more control, more visibility over every shard of nuclear material out there. No one can be trusted to secure this material without our inspections and approval. If the U.S. government controls every aspect and can see everywhere on the globe with real-time intelligence, then we will be safe.

Except that no one can really afford that kind of omnipresence.

The Republicans in the Congress want to slash the Department of Energy’s nonproliferation funds, not increase it. They’d rather fund the intelligence agencies and US Special Operations Command with billions of dollars every year in an effort to monitor and interdict illegal movements of nuclear material. And that is one course of action, using military “hard power” instead of diplomatic “soft power.” You do what you can with the funds and authorities available. But in the end, as Dr. Schelling notes, there’s still no earth-shattering “kaboom” from a nuclear terrorist incident.

The media and journalist bloggers want to get your attention, they want gains in readership every month. They’re not interested, these days, in understanding exactly why Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) asked the GAO for this report.  Was he really worried about nuclear terrorism, or was he just trying to regain Department of Energy (DoE) funds that were slashed in earlier federal budgets? The GAO is not saying that fissile material is loose on the black market. All it is saying is that the Department of Energy could do a better job monitoring other nations’ holdings of U.S. nuclear materials. That’s all.

And, in fact, DoE, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the State Department all disagree with the report’s recommendations, stating (in short) that the situation is well in hand. That’s not uncommon. The tone of the Jeffrey Lewis blog post, in particular, wants you to believe that there could be “enough material to make dozens of nuclear weapons” out there. That kind of sensationalistic reporting isn’t uncommon, either. But we professionals who actually want to do something about homeland security have to see past this sloppy writing and understand what’s really going on, if we are to make the best use of limited resources against the most compelling threats out there.


September 26, 2011

Even the sun shines on a dog’s…

Filed under: Catastrophes,General Homeland Security,Strategy — by Arnold Bogis on September 26, 2011

…well, you probably know the rest.

This colorful turn of phrase was uttered within my earshot at a Boston bar following the Patriot’s loss to the Buffalo Bills.  Until this game the Bills had not beat the Pats for 15 straight games, a streak that began in 2003.  The Bills are not a bad team this year, in fact they had the same undefeated record as New England entering the game.  Instead, it was the expectation that the result this past Sunday would be the same as so many games before that added to the befuddlement of viewers across the region (in addition to Tom Brady throwing the same number of interceptions in one game–four–that he had thrown all last season). The same colorful, and upset, individual remarked that his “nephew had never known the Bills to beat the Patriots.”

What it says about my life that this episode inspired thoughts about homeland security I will consider in greater depth another time. Regardless, this animated man unintentionally uttered insightful homeland security ideas.

“My nephew has never known…” As a greater time elapses between events, the expectation that those events are possible generally decreases and the urgency to prepare dissipates.  Perhaps because the original attack on the World Trade Center did not achieve a catastrophic result, the nation was strategically unprepared for 9/11.  The same group not only carried out an attack in the U.S. mainland again (after several against various U.S. targets overseas), but they struck the same target. By strategically, I am not referring to the question of whether our intelligence services were properly aware of the threat or if our leaders were aggressive enough in their chosen courses of action.  Instead, as a nation we were seemingly shocked by the attacks as if the threat had never manifested before that terrible day.  Would the reaction to the attacks have been different if they occurred in 1994 or 1995 instead?

The “sun shining”: Sometimes your star player has a bad day and throws four interceptions.  Sometimes as a fan, you underestimate your opponent because they weren’t so hot the year before but you haven’t bothered to analyze whether they improved over the off season.  Sometimes, a plot will develop in a place intelligence services are not looking and by a group that has not appeared on anyone’s radar screen.  Sometimes a less-then-catastrophic storm will cause the failure of levees generally believed to have been built to stricter guidelines. Sometimes a system designed to prevent blow-outs fails.

My point: the unexpected will occur and we can’t count on preventing, deterring, or mitigating all the worst case scenarios.  Somehow in a time of fiscal and political constraint, room for catastrophic planning should be carved out of a system that rests on preparing for the expected. Following the next “unexpected” catastrophe, there will not be a chance for quick redemption on the following Sunday.

Ray Kelly: “I mean in an extreme situation, you would have some means to take down a plane.”

Filed under: Aviation Security,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Arnold Bogis on September 26, 2011

Is the NYPD equipped to shoot down airplanes?

That quote comes from yesterday’s “60 Minutes” interview with New York City’s Policy Commissioner Ray Kelly.  Here is a slightly expanded version:

Pelley: Are you satisfied that you’ve dealt with threats from aircraft, even light planes, model planes, that kind of thing?

Kelly: Well, it’s something that’s on our radar screen. I mean in an extreme situation, you would have some means to take down a plane.

Pelley: Do you mean to say that the NYPD has the means to take down an aircraft?

Kelly: Yes, I prefer not to get into the details but obviously this would be in a very extreme situation.

Pelley: You have the equipment and the training.

Kelly: Yes.

Obviously, this script and the actual footage have likely undergone some editing.

In addition, the phrase “take down” does have different meanings in this context.  Kelly could be suggesting that a local police force (albeit the largest in the nation and one leaning so forward in terms of counter-terrorism that if it had a nose it might be touching the ground) has the ability to shoot down an aircraft in flight.

Or he could be suggesting that if terrorists took the passengers of any particular airplane hostage, NYPD now has a dedicated force knowledgeable and practiced at assaulting the airplane while on the ground and rescuing the hostages.

The second option would be impressive, but not surprising.

The first would be shocking and not just a little worrisome.

Update: During a 7-hour drive today, I had a little time to think about this issue.  My first reaction upon reading the AP report was that a statement was taken out of context and used for a short, sensational news piece. I would guess the vast majority of knowledgeable people thought that Kelly was naturally speaking of “take down” in terms of a tactical SWAT operation. However, there may be a little bit more to this than that simple explanation.

Two assumptions: (1) While I did not watch the actual televised interview, I’m assuming both it and the transcript were not edited and this piece of the conversation took place exactly as publicized; and (2) that Ray Kelly is not just a professional but an incredibly smart and savvy  political player–and that is meant as a compliment in terms of a specific skill set.

I interpret the reporter’s question not to mean a threat from a plane sitting on a local tarmac, whether that means hostages or simply a known terrorist situation. Hence the inclusion of light and model planes–threats not usually thought of requiring a response from an armed team on the ground–unless, of course, the plot is discovered in advance. However, I would wager the reporter was speaking of 9/11 and lesser scenarios where the aircraft is in the air, and “take down” means knock it out of the air.

Kelly might have been confused by the question, though I doubt it (see assumption 2). Instead, I’m thinking he either might have understood but had no answer that did not include non-NYPD assistance (not the point of the interview) and resorted to speaking of a situation where a SWAT team could be utilized.  If later pushed for clarification, he could simply explain that he was not talking about shooting aircraft out of the sky but “taking down” in the tactical operational sense.

Or, with a dash more deviousness, he might have understood the reporter’s question to mean shooting down an aircraft in flight and made use of dual definition of “take down” to suggest NYPD had such a capability, knowing that if later pushed for clarification he could explain he meant a particular SWAT ability to storm a plane on a tarmac.  In this instance, however, instead of simply wishing to keep the focus of the interview on the NYPD he understood what the headline would be–“NYPD has the capability to take down aircraft”–and hoped that it would add to the efforts at deterring terrorists from striking New York City.  Regardless of the veracity of the statement, if some wannabe terrorists are thinking of using a light plane filled with explosives to strike a target in the City, perhaps there is a chance they would reconsider if they even thought for a moment that the NYPD had their own anti-aircraft capability.

A bit conspiratorial, but I did have a lot of time on my hands during the drive…

Update 2: Apparently while I was in the car, Noah Shachtman of Wired’s “Danger Room” blog not only addressed the deterrent effect of Kelly’s comments but also filled in the blank concerning NYPD’s capability in this regard: he may have been speaking of actually shooting down a plane (not just using SWAT vernacular regarding a ground assault) and it is by means of a .50 caliber rifle: http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2011/09/can-the-nypd-shoot-down-a-plane-kinda-sorta-not-exactly/

September 24, 2011

This is London: Jihad declared against extremism and terrorism

Filed under: Radicalization — by Philip J. Palin on September 24, 2011

Earlier today (Saturday) Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri founder of Minhaj-ul-Quran International (MQI), one of the largest Islamic movements, hosted a rally at Wembley Arena outside London.  According to the Press Association, Dr. Qadri “received a standing ovation from thousands of UK Muslims as he denounced terrorism and called for peace.”  The Pakistan-born scholar said,

In spite of statements and memorandum and condemnation of the terror, the voices of the 99% true, peace-loving Muslims have not been heard, they have been drowned out by the clamour and the noise of extremists. Islam has nothing to do with any act of terrorism. We reject every act of extremism and terrorism unconditionally.

Inviting Muslims and others around the world to join him in making a Declaration of Peace, Dr. Qadri also called for “jihad against extremism and terrorism”.

Late Saturday afternoon US Eastern Time news reports are still sparse, even in the British media.  Maybe more on Sunday morning.  Check back again for links.



The BBC reports: The conference launched a campaign to get one million people to sign an online declaration of peace by 2012.

The Associated Press reports:  The event in Wembley arena was led by Mohammad Tahirul Qadri of Pakistan, who gained recognition outside the Muslim world after he published a detailed fatwa against terrorism and suicide bombings last year. “I want to address those who are lost, who have a total misconception of jihad. I want to send them a message — come back to normal life. Whatever you’re doing is totally against Islam,” he told the audience, which included families with young children and students.  (As reported in DAWN, which also ran the AP photograph at the top of the post.)

It is worth noting that neither The Telegraph nor The Guardian (nor any large US media) seem to have — yet — given attention to the rally.   After scanning the British newspapers online front pages I searched for “Qadri”, “MQI”, and even “Wembley” and nothing specific to Saturday’s event popped-up.   Similar sparse results came from a Google news search.  I found the BBC report only because I made a specific search. (The suicide bombing of a Christian church in Indonesia is, at the same time, getting “top of the fold” attention in many English-speaking media.)

Minhaj-ul-Quran International, founded by Dr. Qadri, operates in 90 nations.  The number of followers is difficult to accurately project, but MQI is especially strong in Pakistan where it operates more than 1000 educational institutions with over 120,000 students.  The Wembley event was broadcast to Pakistan and more than a dozen other nations.

The text of the so-called London Declaration for Global Peace and Resistance Against Terrorism is available on the MQI website.

September 23, 2011

Syria: Now it is the children

Filed under: Futures — by Philip J. Palin on September 23, 2011

Over the years I have wondered what my response would have been if I had been alive when the rumors began of the Nazi regime’s mass murder of Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and others.

Official camp record photo of Samu Berkovics (inmate no. 59757), who arrived at Buchenwald Concentration Camp on a transport of Hungarian Jews from Auschwitz

I was several years younger than the four girls killed in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.  I have vague memories of incomprehension.  If I had been older, would have I been outraged? If so, would I have done anything with the outrage?

Four killed in the September 15, 1963 bombing in Birmingham

When I was twelve I read Cry, the Beloved Country and wept.  I inserted South Africa into a couple of courses I taught in the late 70s and early 80s. But I made no meaningful contribution to the struggle against apartheid.  Despite my personal disapproval, I was careful to explain South Africa’s internal situation within a broader historical and geopolitical context.

For more than six months hundreds of thousands of Syrians have engaged in largely peaceful protests against the Assad regime.  More than 3500 have been reported killed, including 217 children.

Children in Lebanon carrying pictures of 13-year-old Hamza al-Khatib, whose tortured and mutilated body turned him into a symbol of the Syrian uprising.

Today it is being reported by The Scotsman and others that, “Syrian children chanting for revolution marched in Damascus and in other parts of the country after school yesterday, only for some to be detained or beaten by security forces. Children as young as ten have been taking to the streets since the new term began on Sunday, according to witnesses, in what appears to be the first major involvement of schoolchildren in the six-month-old uprising against president Bashar al-Assad.”

Today it is being reported by Amnesty International that, “The mutilated body of 18-year-old Zainab al-Hosni of Homs, the first woman known to have died in custody during Syria’s recent unrest, was discovered by her family in horrific circumstances on 13 September. The family was visiting a morgue to identify the body of Zainab’s activist brother Mohammad, who was also arrested and apparently tortured and killed in detention. Zainab had been decapitated, her arms cut off, and skin removed.”

What should I do?

I can, of course, question the veracity of the reports and the credibility of sources.  I should certainly be aware that information is usually framed and targeted for a purpose.  This is especially the case  in a complicated context such as contemporary Syria. I can recognize the risk associated with any revolution.  I can be cautious.   I can give attention to serious problems closer to home.

But when a wide range of sources from the New York Times to Facebook all bring similar stories of courageous calls for freedom meeting brutal oppression week after week after week, what should I do?

When children choose — or are being used — to join the protests and are being beaten and killed, what should I do?

At the very least I should not avert my eyes.  At the very least I should acknowledge what I have seen.

This is not enough, but it is the very least I can do.

Japan: Then, now and becoming

Filed under: Catastrophes — by Philip J. Palin on September 23, 2011

Rikuzentakata on March 13, 2011 (photo by Reuters/Toru Hanai)

Rikuzentakata on September 9, 2011 (photo by Reuters/Toru Hanai)

The tenth anniversary of 9/11 happened to coincide with the six-month mark for the 3/11 earthquake-and-tsunami in Japan.

The Wall Street Journal dedicated a special weekend section to Japanese recovery.  Brookings hosted a seminar.  The Japan Society sponsored a panel discussion organized around the theme Re-imagining Japan: The Quest for a Future that Works.

The Japan Society seminar was, in part, prompted by a new book based on a series of essays mostly completed before March 11.  The book was conceived as a call-to-action for the world’s third largest economy, still stalled two decades after the explosion of a  huge property bubble.

Otherwise I did not notice much attention in the United States. This is despite a continuing drag on the US economy caused by disruption of the global supply chain after one of the strongest earthquakes ever recorded.

No doubt 9/11 crowded out attention to 3/11. Too bad.

What might we learn from a formidable economic power that has evidently lost its ability to grow? What might we learn from a democratic political process that has lost the confidence of its citizens through unending factionalism?  What might the United States learn from a catastrophe that killed more than 22,000, displaced more than 300,000, left behind more than 24 million tons of debris, and spawned a long-lasting nuclear emergency?

The instrumental lessons-learned abound.  On this count, the best single source I have so far seen is an August special report by the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute.  A whole range of studies are being completed or are already under peer review.  By March 11, 2012 much of what we think we know about catastrophe preparedness may be revolutionized by an enhanced understanding of the Japanese experience.  If we choose to pay attention. (Recovery Diva gives close attention and should be regularly read.)

Regarding less instrumental but potentially important outcomes, it may be several more years before we can reach conclusions.

I will point to one phenomenon that is worth particular attention.  There is a Japanese term, shimin shakai, that is usually translated as “civil society” and often used to describe a range of semi-official Japanese voluntary organizations.  There is a deeper meaning.

What is the role of a “citizen” (shimin) in “society” (shakai)?  What do these terms mean in a post-modern culture that still draws heavily on pre-modern sensibilities?

In the early 1960s the notion of shimin became closely associated with a largely grass-roots movement opposing  the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan.  While no doubt mythologized over the decades, many remember the popular struggle against the treaty as giving birth to nothing less than a new kind of Japanese: spontaneous, autonomous, free-thinking, even while in meaningful relationship with others and collaborating on issues of common concern.

Simon Andrew Avenell has explained, “As an idea, shimin proposed a new relationship between individual and state; it made possible a progressive reimagination of the nation; it legitimized the defense of private interest against corporate and political interference; and, most important of all, it infused individual and social action with significance far beyond the specific issues at stake, linking them to an ideal — if protean — vision of a new civil society for a new Japan.”

The events and aftermath of March 11 have retrieved and reinvigorated this concept of shimin.  Depending on how the emerging sense-of-citizenship develops, this could be the most profound outcome of the crisis.


I found the pictures at the top in a collection put together by Alan Taylor at The Atlantic.  Please visit: Japan Earthquake: Six Months Later.

The pictures are of Rikuzentakata.  The Wall Street Journal has given sustained attention to this community, including some well-produced multimedia.

Rational analyses, complicated relationships, and risk management

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on September 23, 2011

On September 8 the Government Accountability Office released a comprehensive analysis entitled: Progress Made and Work Remaining in Implementing Homeland Security Missions 10 Years after 9/11.

As is almost always the case, the GAO has been diligent and deliberate.  Below I have excerpted three high-level conclusions. If you are involved in any aspect of homeland security it is worth your time to read the full thirty-one page document.

There is nothing in the GAO report with which I radically disagree.  But after my first skim I sighed and put it aside.  After my first quick read, I needed a nap.  When I finally gave the report the careful read it deserves, I finished with the sense of dark cloud descending about me.

The very rationality of GAO’s analysis left me dissatisfied and, in a low-grade sort of way, even frustrated.  This is not to suggest GAO should adjust their approach.  But the GAO analysis, any analysis — any breaking apart — is just one step in solving a problem.

David Brooks, the New York Times Op-Ed writer, commentator, etc. recently wrote a book called The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement.  Thomas Nagel gave it a rather mediocre review, but also did a fair job summarizing Brooks’ thesis:

We may think that what we believe and do is largely under our conscious control, and we may believe that we should try to increase this control by the conscious exercise of reasoning and will power, but Brooks says that this is all wrong. Nondeliberate emotion, perception and intuition are much more important in shaping our lives than reason and will. Knowledge of what makes us tick, Brooks argues, does not come primarily from introspection but must rely on systematic external observation, experiment and statistics. What is more, the Platonic ideal of putting the passions under the control of reason leads to policy mistakes, because rational incentives and arguments cannot change the most deep-seated sources of failure; only pervasive social influences that affect the unconscious operation of the mind can do that.

I am sure this is true.

This truth does not obviate the truth of what GAO found at DHS.  But to make real progress regarding real risks both rational and intuitive truths must be given their due.

Years ago Tom Foley, the former Speaker of the House, warned me that Washington is over-populated with medieval nominalists.  He went on to explain, “If they can only find the right combination of words for a speech, for legislation, for a regulation they are sure the world can be put right.”

Much more than words, it is our relationships that make reality. No magic incantation — no matter how wise, empirical, and proven — will achieve nearly as much as men and women thinking together, working together, and taking decisions together.


Excerpted from the GAO Executive Summary:

GAO’s work identified three themes at the foundation of DHS’s challenges.

Leading and coordinating the homeland security enterprise. DHS has made important strides in providing leadership and coordinating efforts among its stakeholders. However, DHS needs to take additional action to forge effective partnerships and strengthen the sharing and utilization of information, which has affected its ability to effectively satisfy its missions. For example, the expectations of private sector stakeholders have not been met by DHS and its federal partners in areas related to sharing information about cyber-based threats to critical infrastructure. In 2005, GAO designated information sharing for homeland security as high risk because the federal government faced challenges in analyzing and sharing information in a timely, accurate, and useful way.

Implementing and integrating management functions for results. DHS has enhanced its management functions, and has plans in place to further strengthen the management of the department for results. However, DHS has not always effectively executed or integrated these functions. In 2003, GAO designated the transformation of DHS as high risk because DHS had to transform 22 agencies into one department. DHS has demonstrated strong leadership commitment and begun to implement a strategy to address its management challenges. However, these challenges have contributed to schedule delays, cost increases, and performance problems in a number of programs aimed at delivering important mission capabilities, such as container security technologies. DHS also faced difficulties in deploying some technologies that meet defined requirements. Further, DHS does not yet have enough skilled personnel to carry out activities in various areas, such as acquisition management; and has not yet developed an integrated financial management system, impacting its ability to have ready access to reliable information for informed decision making.

Strategically managing risks and assessing homeland security efforts. Forming a new department while working to implement statutorily mandated and department-initiated programs and responding to evolving threats, was, and is, a significant challenge facing DHS. Key threats have impacted DHS’s approaches and investments. It is understandable that these threats had to be addressed immediately as they arose. However, limited strategic and program planning by DHS and limited assessment to inform approaches and investment decisions have contributed to programs not meeting strategic needs in an efficient manner.   Given DHS’s leadership responsibilities in homeland security, it is critical that its programs are operating as efficiently and effectively as possible, are sustainable, and continue to mature to address pressing security needs. Eight years after its creation and 10 years after September 11, 2001, DHS has indeed made significant strides in protecting the nation, but has yet to reach its full potential.

September 22, 2011

Authorizing Homeland Security…

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on September 22, 2011

Yesterday, for the first time since the creation of the Department of Homeland Security in 2003, the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee passed a homeland security authorization bill, S. 1546 (Department of Homeland Security Authorization Act of 2011).

The bill, which the Committee considered over two weeks, was limited in its reach, mostly due to the jurisdictional limits of the Committee.  The Committee focused only on those issues that would not trigger referrals to other Committees.

Much of the bill focused on making the Department a more efficient, whether it be in its acquisition practices or in its structure.  There were also a number of amendments that tackled -on both sides – the debate over radicalization and civil liberties issues.   More than 70 amendments were offered, many of which were agreed upon outside the Executive Meeting as part of a revised manager’s amendment.

Among the highlights:

  • The requirement of the development of  a long-term strategic human capital plan to build out DHS’ acquisition workforce.
  • The implementation of “open architecture approach to acquisitions.”  Specifically, this is intended to cover “the employment of business and technical practices that yield modular, interoperable systems that adhere to standards with open interfaces, with a goal of encouraging competitive proposals from multiple qualified sources and rapid incorporation of innovative technologies into systems.”
  • Elevating the Assistant Secretary of Policy to an Undersecretary position, an elevation that should have been made long ago given the responsibilities of that office.
  • Improving the Department’s efforts generally on preparedness, response and recovery.
  • The creation of an Office of International Travel Security & Screening, which would combine the efforts of US-VISIT, the Screening Coordination Office (currently residing in policy),  and the visa waiver program.


The passage of this bill is significant, especially as the House is working to take up its version of a homeland security authorization bill in the coming month or so.   We could very well see this Congress the first Homeland Security Authorization bill since the agency’s creation go to the President’s desk, which is ironic given that Congress is as a whole at a standstill and partisanship is standard course in D.C. these days.  Maybe it is because of the 9/11 anniversary or that truly is the case that homeland security is not a partisan issue — we’ll find out over the coming months.

September 21, 2011

From Principles to Progress

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Mark Chubb on September 21, 2011

A few months ago, frequent reader and self-professed recovery diva Claire Rubin challenged me, or perhaps more accurately encouraged me, to give some serious thought to how we might measure resilience and recovery rather than simply conceptualizing it. Although it has taken a few months, I finally got around to giving it a stab, at least in part. The treatment presented here is intended as a starting point for discussion; a hypothesis, if you will, rather than a theory much less a conclusion.

As I and others in this forum have described it, resilience reflects the capacities of individuals, groups, communities, and even whole societies to adapt to the changing circumstances emerging from the disruptive experience of crisis or disaster. As a corollary to recovery, resilience reflects the degree to which those experiencing a crisis or disaster manage to restore, repair, or replace damaged natural, material and economic resources and renew or renorm their human, social, and political routines to reflect new realities, and by doing so manage to reestablish patterns of activity that allow them to meet their own needs (hopefully sustainably).

This formulation presumes that the experience of crisis or disaster is largely, if not exclusively, a social construct. Natural ecosystems display innate resilience even when individual features and species do not. Economies display similar self-corrective capacities at the macroeconomic level over the long run, albeit at the expense some individuals or activities.

The extent to which systems of material capital promote human welfare and display resilience is, however, largely a function of human capital, social organization and political will. In other words, the degree to which our material environment displays fungibility depends to a significant extent on individual and social capacity to imagine and innovate. How we allocate, employ and ultimately develop our material resources defines to a greater or lesser extent how well we manage the adaptive challenges following a devastating event.

This analysis suggests that the critical elements of resilience are the capacities of individuals to imagine new ways of employing their resources under conditions of constraint. These constraints may emerge from scarcity or complexity. The first, and most important step in this process of imagination and innovation, is the ability to see themselves as part of communities–that is groups of unrelated individuals acting together through systems of formal or informal agreement and organization for a common or shared purpose.

The figure above illustrates the relationships underlying the assessment of individual and community resilience from principles to progress. Principles describe the values that inform individual action. They are exhibited as virtues or vices. The extent to which virtues predominate over vices is our first measure of recovery.

Among the most important virtues exhibited by those experiencing disaster is the capacity of individuals to be physically and emotionally present in their experiences to themselves and others. Action or inaction motivated by past attachments or premature or excessive anticipation of future risks or rewards inhibits adaptive response to one’s emergent needs and those of others, which exhibits itself in the form of anxiety and maladaptive stress responses.

One of the easiest ways to assess presence is the frequency of distinctive contributions of perspective to a shared sense of loss. These days, this often takes the form of tweets, blogs or Facebook posts or photos posted to Flickr, Tumblr or other file sharing sites.

In any community, it should be expected that the proportion of those willing and able to participate in such activities will be limited. As such, the extent to which their contributions are acknowledged and shared with others who do not make contributions of their own gives some indication of the extent to which they accurately reflect a sort of shared experience.

The importance of this is reflected in the degree to which some shared experiences take on a heightened sense of salience. The more salient an experience, the more likely it will shape the recovery priorities that emerge in the form of a community’s post-disaster policy agenda.

In an adaptive environment, the number of priorities reflects a democratic consensus about what’s most important and occasionally what’s not. The viability of any set of priorities on the policy agenda is best indicated by the degree to which individuals partner with one another to influence them.

Since influence can be exerted to advance or impede a particular priority, the number and diversity of partnerships matters. The more atomized or polarized the partnerships are, the less progress a given community can expect to make over any period of time. This progress is reflected by the degree to which competing interests can be reconciled among participants in the form of plans that achieve widespread support.

As communities implement plans for their recovery, the cycle repeats itself. People either attend to the work of implementing the plan and contribute their time and talents to making it a reality or they don’t. The number of competing perspectives or interpretations of the plan’s intent that emerge during implementation influences the pace of progress.

If competing narratives of progress emerge during plan implementation, participation in the process of implementation will often wane or competition to alter policy priorities will emerge. Once again, partnerships will form among individuals to advance or impede the recovery agenda. The proportion of positive, supportive partnerships to opposition coalitions provides a strong indication of progress. Ideally, opponents will step aside or abandon their efforts as people realize rewards or perceived risks diminish.

Finally, since plans cannot readily anticipate and address all contingencies, the degree to which partners can agree to amend their plans while remaining committed to its purpose provides a clear indication of the extent to which communities will achieve the democratic equilibrium required to restore equity to resource allocations.

In the absence of specific performance metrics, some of you will probably wonder whether this proposal represents any real progress from principle to practice. I am prepared to accept that criticism, but also invite contributions from readers that advance our understanding of what it means for individuals and communities to embrace the adaptive work of recovery.

September 20, 2011

Maslow’s Hammer and the Double-Edged Sword of Security Cameras

Filed under: Private Sector,Technology for HLS — by Christopher Bellavita on September 20, 2011

Nick Catrantzos wrote today’s post.  Mr. Catrantzos is an adjunct professor of homeland security and emergency management for the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, and a recently retired security director who, post-9/11 oversaw a $30,000,000 capital investment in security technology, including surveillance cameras, for a large public institution.


Specialists see the world in terms of their specialty.

Every time an attorney specializing in litigation or a vendor specializing in camera sales opines about the relative merits or perils of security surveillance, their natural bias competes against respective areas of ignorance to limit the value of their attending pronouncements. Either may have colorful things to say. Both omit points important for a deeper understanding of the issue.

Beginning with the lawyerly lament about too many cameras not only impinging on individual privacy but potentially leading to profligate spending in a time of fiscal constraint, the useful analytical point submerged in this hackneyed observation needs only a little more digging to unearth. The unstated point is that any flawed implementation is likely to waste money and produce unintended consequences undermining its desired benefits. Too much of a good thing can kill, hence the double-edged sword of elemental boons like fire and water, which await only arson or storm surge to turn from life-savers to life-extinguishers.

So, yes, too many cameras multiply the potential for abuse, for someone using them to nefarious purposes, whether in adjusting fields of view to look not at the parking lot where assaults occur at night but at a nearby residence in whose yard a teenager is sunbathing immodestly during the day.

Waste is also likely, particularly if the absence of intelligent oversight means that a security camera vendor receives carte blanche to clear the warehouse of every high-end, pan-tilt-zoom, infrared, weatherized camera in an installation where three quarters of the cameras could have easily been fixed-position devices costing a fraction of the price and requiring significantly less maintenance. The vendor gets a bonus for exceeding sales targets, while the customer gets an impressive quantity of modern devices to demonstrate how serious the end user is about security. Win-win, or lose-lose? More on this soon.

As for Maslow’s hammer…

It comes from what the psychologist and founder of the hierarchy of needs once observed when noting that if one’s only tool is a hammer, one sees every problem as a nail. Rare is the special product vendor who can see or propose any solution other than his or her stock in trade. Thus, to the average security camera vendor, there is no security problem that cannot be solved without the addition of another surveillance camera. By comparison, an average purveyor of guard services tends to do precisely the same, only with services instead of products. Thus, to the latter, every security problem is just another guard assignment away from being solved. Each provider is selling only a hammer, therefore each sees the security problem only as a nail.

What is the real solution to this institutionalized myopia borne either of over specialization or limited range of implements in one’s tool chest?

The answer is the kind of infusion of mind into the swirl of events that requires a seasoned managerial or security perspective, and preferably both.

What do seasoned professionals do when facing security surveillance as a management issue? They begin with objectives, focus on the results their organizations need to achieve, and defend against scope creep or one-off distractions that enfeeble the chances of attaining identified objectives. This approach, incidentally, applies equally to technology implementations unrelated to security. Why? Because champions of new systems invariably oversell and continue to offer product and service extensions, often with little regard for whether their initial offerings have satisfied original criteria.

If your security camera implementation has done nothing to limit parking lot assaults, for example, the vendor may well propose adding more cameras to more places, including hidden cameras outside of reception areas and extra ones at entrances and exits. Similarly, if your guard force contractor has failed to deliver on advertised loss reductions, he or she may suggest more guard posts and patrols, and even using uniformed guards as lobby ambassadors in reception areas.

See more nails? Get more hammers.

Here is why this cycle of repetitive failures turns into a lose-lose situation.

Both provider and beneficiary have lost sight of original objectives and, quite often, neither had thought these objectives through in the first place.

What needs to happen instead?

Begin by deciding the larger objective.

Are the security cameras intended to prevent loss or to apprehend adversaries after the fact? A serious answer to this question guides the entire scope and investment of the surveillance camera implementation effort, and it is only a fool who will ask the hammer seller for a tool selection that also includes screwdrivers, pliers, and saws. Of course the vendor will offer to do it all. Turn on the blue light; the man wants a blue suit. But the reality is that attempts to do it all invariably end up diffusing effort, overextending systems, budgets, and schedules, and delivering flawed implementations, resulting in strained customer-provider relations. You can do one thing well or all things badly. What does your organization need?

Assume your organization is more interested in prevention than apprehension.

This is the private sector security model as contrasted with the public safety model. The latter has a societal objective of chasing down offenders to capture and punish them and, by doing so, demonstrate to society at large that crime does not pay.

[Incidentally, this public safety bias limits the ability of most police to operate surveillance cameras solely for prevention. Their invariable tendency is to use them more for investigation. Also, because they hired on to chase malefactors, watching cameras or defending assets are unattractive to cops in their prime.]

In the context of running a business or even a public institution, however, few organizations can afford the resources for this hunt. Instead, their security functions earn their keep by preventing losses – which cost significantly less in time and staffing than trying to shadow the responsibilities of a police force without the same powers of arrest or investigation.

How does this assumption affect security camera implementation?

First and foremost, if you are interested mainly in prevention, then you optimize your surveillance system for intrusion detection, period. This means that you place cameras along perimeters and entry points, and reduce to an absolute minimum the impulse to stockpile data unrelated to intrusion. This means you do not warehouse video images for months or years at a time because they may come in handy in some event reconstruction or one-off investigation into something at some point in time. Someone in the organization will always make the case that such capabilities are nice to have. But that someone will be an individual or department that has no idea of or responsibility for the burden of keeping such data, in terms of staff hours and capital investment. Absent a regulatory [or other] requirement that compels you to do otherwise, you must decide whether you are in the prevention business or in the monitoring-to-help-everyone-else-out business.

If in the first, you overwrite your video files at the first logical opportunity – perhaps a week or two – and keep only what you flag for retention – perhaps within a few days of a loss or suspicious incident. This protocol puts you squarely in the prevention business rather than in the internal snooping business. It limits the audit trails that institutionalized snooping occasionally seeks, however. This means that the supervisor too inept to monitor or discipline an underperforming employee will not be able to look to your surveillance system to say, “Aha, Harry isn’t showing up on time and is always leaving early on days when I have to go out of the office.”

What will such supervisors have to do if the surveillance system is unavailable to supply evidence to back disciplinary action? They will have to do the same thing they had to do in the days before such a system was around: supervise. Indeed, an employee relations manager told me that any time a supervisor wants to rely on security audit trails to catch an employee in some kind of routine performance deficiency, this proclivity signals a lack of supervision.

It is no surprise that specialists seeing the world in terms of their specialty offer up flawed solutions, without necessarily doing so in bad faith.

They have hammers, so they see nails.

The finesse in vaulting over this common hurdle, when it comes to security surveillance cameras, is in looking past the myopic vision of the hammer sellers to understand the bigger picture. Although it is rare to find this capacity in specialists, it is not entirely absent.

I have worked with the occasional security systems vendor – usually a seasoned one who is secure in tenure and sufficiently senior in the organization to be insulated from sales quotas – who can and will advise against more cameras than anyone can usefully monitor. Such advice benefits the client and serves the enlightened self-interest of the provider.

Every customer appreciates a hammer seller with the nerve to refuse to sell you another mallet when you clearly need a screwdriver.


September 19, 2011

Homeland security at the local level

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on September 19, 2011

“What if a politician were to see his job as that of an organizer, as part teacher and part advocate, one who does not sell voters short but who educates them about the real choices before them?”

–President Barack Obama

A recent Andrew Sullivan blog post grabbed my attention and made me immediately consider the evolution of homeland security at the local level:

Brian Brown tracks the rise of localism in politics and the private sector:

Rather than the top-down hierarchical strategy of directed control, companies like [Starbucks] are developing organizational cultures manifested through smaller networks in which local knowledge matters…The organizations that have made these adjustments — or were founded based upon them, such as Apple, Amazon, and Google — are reporting higher job satisfaction, faster innovation, and greater profits than organizations still laboring under the old methods.

Unfortunately, the rest of the quoted article makes a weak case for too much emphasis on top-down planning and too little on bottom up development of policy solutions (truth be told a case to which I am very sympathetic, but the author mistakenly characterizes or simply misunderstands efforts originating from both ends of the  government spectrum). It did, however, remind me of the importance of this core issue.

Shortly after President Obama took office, I wrote a short opinion piece hoping that the rhetoric of the campaign, as well as the stated preferences of some of the President’s advisers, would result in a fundamental redistribution (does this make me a socialist?) of homeland security authority from the federal level through the states and out to the local cities, counties, and other local governing arrangements.

The shortcomings of homeland security efforts are well known. Among them the failure to instill a “culture of preparedness” in the public and accusations that guidance emanates from Washington without any consideration of local conditions. This stems from a federal point of view that considers homeland security an extension of national security dictated from inside the beltway. Change will require upending this perspective.

I am certainly not the first to write about the importance of a local focus on homeland security.  What, if anything, has changed in the power dynamic between various levels of government in regards to homeland security?

Perhaps because I am personally not in a position to witness it, I have my doubts that any real power/influence/decision making has been delegated to the non-federal level. Without a doubt, communication, information sharing, and even perhaps intelligence dissemination have improved.  A result of both the philosophies of those currently(and most recently) in positions of influence and recent events (such as the BP oil spill and Hurricane Irene), inter and intra-governmental communication and consultation are held in high regard.

What of actual power or influence?  Recently, some cities and states have rejected federal immigration enforcement guidelines due to what law enforcement officials in those jurisdictions judge is a negative safety cost/benefit analysis for their residents.  This is an assertion of local authority, not a re-conceptualization of the division of homeland security authority.

Has that happened?  Is it possible?  Have I missed a change in this story–whether positive or negative (entirely possible, as I have little insight into the daily interaction within government and between government and NGOs, private business, citizens, etc.)?

Aspen Homeland Security Group

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on September 19, 2011

The Aspen Institute has announced the formation of an “Aspen Homeland Security Group:”

Modeled on the longstanding Aspen Strategy Group, a bipartisan group of foreign policy experts, the Aspen Homeland Security Group is a bipartisan group of homeland security and counterterrorism experts whom the program periodically convenes in Washington, DC and at our Aspen campus to discuss issues in depth and make recommendations to policymakers. The Aspen Homeland Security Group is co- chaired by former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff and former Congresswoman Jane Harman.

The list of participants is very impressive, however two thoughts came to mind upon review: it is heavy on the “security” and light on the “homeland.”  The members predominately have focused on terrorism or other security issues in their distinguished careers, and even the ones with a mix of experience still lean toward the terrorism side of the risk ledger.

There is one member with a lifetime of experience at the local level, but even he comes out of a security-focused discipline.  Two businessmen made the group, but where are those with backgrounds in response, public health, emergency management, etc.?

The advice this group will provide is likely to have depth but lack breadth.

The list of members:

Madeleine Albright
Former Secretary
Department of State
Albright Stonebridge Group

Charlie Allen
Former Under Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis
Department of Homeland Security
The Chertoff Group

Zoe Baird
Former Member
Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board
Markle Foundation

Stewart Baker
Former Assistant Secretary for Policy
Department of Homeland Security
Steptoe & Johnson LLP

Richard Ben-Veniste
Former Commissioner
National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States
Mayer Brown LLP

Peter Bergen
Director, National Security Studies Program
New America Foundation
Terrorism Analyst

Samuel Berger
Former National Security Advisor
Chair, Albright Stonebridge Group

Dennis Blair
Former Director of National Intelligence

William Bratton
Former Commissioner
New York Police Department
Former Chief
Los Angeles Police Department

Michael Chertoff
Former Secretary
Department of Homeland Security
Chairman and Co-founder
The Chertoff Group

Richard Clarke
Former National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism
Former Special Advisor to the President for Cyber Security
Good Harbor Consulting

P.J. Crowley
Former Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs
Department of State
Former Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
General Omar N. Bradley Chair in Strategic Leadership
Dickinson School of Law, Penn State University

Jack Goldsmith
Former Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legal Counsel
Department of Justice
Henry L. Shattuck Professor of Law
Harvard Law School

Stephen Hadley
Former National Security Adviser
Rice Hadley Group LLC

Jane Harman
Former Representative
36th Congressional District of California
Director, President, & CEO
Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

Michael Hayden
Former Director
National Security Agency; Central Intelligence Agency
The Chertoff Group

Brian Jenkins
Former Adviser
National Commission on Terrorism
Senior Adviser
RAND Corporation

Michael Leiter
Former Director
National Counterterrorism Center

Stuart Levey
Former Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence
Department of the Treasury
Senior Fellow for National Security and Financial Integrity, Council on Foreign Relations

James Loy
Former Deputy and Acting Secretary of Homeland Security
Former Administrator
Transportation Security Administration
Former Commandant
Coast Guard
Senior Counselor
The Cohen Group

Paul McHale
Former Representative
15th Congressional District of Pennsylvania
Former Assistant Secretary for Homeland Defense
Department of Defense
President, Civil Support International, LLC

John McLaughlin
Former Deputy and Acting Director
Central Intelligence Agency
Distinguished Practitioner-in-Residence, Philip Merrill Center for Strategic Studies, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies

Jeanne Meserve
Former Homeland Security Correspondent
Senior Fellow
George Washington University Homeland Security Policy Institute

Philip Mudd
Former Deputy Director of National Security
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Former Deputy Director, Counterterrorist Center
Central Intelligence Agency
Senior Research Fellow, Counterterrorism Strategy Initiative
New America Foundation

Marc Nathanson
Homeland Security Advisory Council, Los Angeles County
The Aspen Institute
Mapleton Investments

Daniel Prieto
Former Professional Staff Member
Homeland Security Committee
House of Representatives
Vice President and Practice Lead
Public Sector Strategy & Innovation
IBM Global Business Services

Suzanne Spaulding
Former Assistant General Counsel
Central Intelligence Agency
Former Executive Director
National Commission on Terrorism
Former Executive Director
Commission to Assess the Organization of the Federal Government to Combat Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction
Bingham Consulting Group LLC

Marin Strmecki
Former Special Advisor on Afghanistan
Office of the Secretary of Defense
Former Staff Member
Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Senior Vice President, Director of Programs
Smith Richardson Foundation

Guy C. Swann III
Lieutenant General, US Army Commanding General
US Army North (Fifth Army)

Fran Townsend
Former Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism
Senior Vice President
Worldwide Government, Legal, and Business Affairs, MacAndrews & Forbes Holdings Inc.

Juan Zarate
Former Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Adviser for Combating Terrorism
Senior Adviser
Transnational Threats Project and Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies

Philip Zelikow
Former Executive Director
National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States
Director of Graduate Studies for the Department of History
University of Virginia

(h/t to Rich Cooper at “Security Debrief.”  However, I do disagree with his assertion that official federal homeland security advisory groups such be allowed to provide all their services hidden from public view.  These groups are not advising a private corporation but the government, an entity that serves all citizens and one that we support through our taxes and influence through our votes.  While sensitive information should be protected, citizens are entitled to know who is telling which departments what information that may impact our lives and liberties.)

September 18, 2011

Brennan: Counterterrorism and the Law

Filed under: Legal Issues,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on September 18, 2011

Friday evening John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, spoke to the Program on Law and Security at Harvard Law School.  Below is the full  transcript, with a few pleasantries taken off the top.


Now, I am not a lawyer, despite Dan’s best efforts.  I am the President’s senior advisor on counterterrorism and homeland security.  And in this capacity—and during more than thirty years working in intelligence and on behalf of our nation’s security—I’ve developed a profound appreciation for the role that our values, especially the rule of law, play in keeping our country safe.  It’s an appreciation of course, understood by President Obama, who, as you may know, once spent a little time here.  That’s what I want to talk about this evening—how we have strengthened, and continue to strengthen, our national security by adhering to our values and our laws.

Obviously, the death of Usama Bin Laden marked a strategic milestone in our effort to defeat al-Qa’ida.  Unfortunately, Bin Laden’s death, and the death and capture of many other al-Qa’ida leaders and operatives, does not mark the end of that terrorist organization or its efforts to attack the United States and other countries.  Indeed, al-Qa’ida, its affiliates and its adherents remain the preeminent security threat to our nation.

The core of al-Qa’ida—its leadership based in Pakistan—though severely crippled, still retains the intent and capability to attack the United States and our allies. Al-Qa’ida’s affiliates—in places like Pakistan, Yemen, and countries throughout Africa—carry out its murderous agenda. And al-Qa’ida adherents – individuals, sometimes with little or no contact with the group itself – have succumbed to its hateful ideology and work to facilitate or conduct attacks here in the United States, as we saw in the tragedy at Fort Hood.

Guiding principles

In the face of this ongoing and evolving threat, the Obama Administration has worked to establish a counterterrorism framework that has been effective in enhancing the security of our nation.  This framework is guided by several core principles.

First, our highest priority is – and always will be – the safety and security of the American people.  As President Obama has said, we have no greater responsibility as a government.

Second, we will use every lawful tool and authority at our disposal.  No single agency or department has sole responsibility for this fight because no single department or agency possesses all the capabilities needed for this fight.

Third, we are pragmatic, not rigid or ideological – making decisions not based on preconceived notions about which action seems “stronger,” but based on what will actually enhance the security of this country and the safety of the American people.  We address each threat and each circumstance in a way that best serves our national security interests, which includes building partnerships with countries around the world.

Fourth—and the principle that guides all our actions, foreign and domestic—we will uphold the core values that define us as Americans, and that includes adhering to the rule of law.  And when I say “all our actions,” that includes covert actions, which we undertake under the authorities provided to us by Congress.  President Obama has directed that all our actions—even when conducted out of public view—remain consistent with our laws and values.

For when we uphold the rule of law, governments around the globe are more likely to provide us with intelligence we need to disrupt ongoing plots, they’re more likely to join us in taking swift and decisive action against terrorists, and they’re more likely to turn over suspected terrorists who are plotting to attack us, along with the evidence needed to prosecute them.

When we uphold the rule of law, our counterterrorism tools are more likely to withstand the scrutiny of our courts, our allies, and the American people.  And when we uphold the rule of law it provides a powerful alternative to the twisted worldview offered by al-Qa’ida.  Where terrorists offer injustice, disorder and destruction, the United States and its allies stand for freedom, fairness, equality, hope, and opportunity.

In short, we must not cut corners by setting aside our values and flouting our laws, treating them like luxuries we cannot afford.  Indeed, President Obama has made it clear—we must reject the false choice between our values and our security. We are constantly working to optimize both.  Over the past two and a half years, we have put in place an approach—both here at home and abroad—that will enable this Administration and its successors, in cooperation with key partners overseas, to deal with the threat from al-Qa’ida, its affiliates, and its adherents in a forceful, effective and lasting way.

In keeping with our guiding principles, the President’s approach has been pragmatic—neither a wholesale overhaul nor a wholesale retention of past practices.  Where the methods and tactics of the previous administration have proven effective and enhanced our security, we have maintained them.  Where they did not, we have taken concrete steps to get us back on course.

Unfortunately, much of the debate around our counterterrorism policies has tended to obscure the extraordinary progress of the past few years.  So with the time I have left, I want to touch on a few specific topics that illustrate how our adherence to the rule of law advances our national security.

Nature and geographic scope of the conflict

First, our definition of the conflict.  As the President has said many times, we are at war with al-Qa’ida. In an indisputable act of aggression, al-Qa’ida attacked our nation and killed nearly 3,000 innocent people.  And as we were reminded just last weekend, al-Qa’ida seeks to attack us again.  Our ongoing armed conflict with al-Qa’ida stems from our right—recognized under international law—to self defense.

An area in which there is some disagreement is the geographic scope of the conflict.  The United States does not view our authority to use military force against al-Qa’ida as being restricted solely to “hot” battlefields like Afghanistan.  Because we are engaged in an armed conflict with al-Qa’ida, the United States takes the legal position that —in accordance with international law—we have the authority to take action against al-Qa’ida and its associated forces without doing a separate self-defense analysis each time.  And as President Obama has stated on numerous occasions, we reserve the right to take unilateral action if or when other governments are unwilling or unable to take the necessary actions themselves.

That does not mean we can use military force whenever we want, wherever we want. International legal principles, including respect for a state’s sovereignty and the laws of war, impose important constraints on our ability to act unilaterally—and on the way in which we can use force—in foreign territories.

Others in the international community—including some of our closest allies and partners—take a different view of the geographic scope of the conflict, limiting it only to the “hot” battlefields.  As such, they argue that, outside of these two active theatres, the United States can only act in self-defense against al-Qa’ida when they are planning, engaging in, or threatening an armed attack against U.S. interests if it amounts to an “imminent” threat.

In practice, the U.S. approach to targeting in the conflict with al-Qa’ida is far more aligned with our allies’ approach than many assume.  This Administration’s counterterrorism efforts outside of Afghanistan and Iraq are focused on those individuals who are a threat to the United States, whose removal would cause a significant – even if only temporary – disruption of the plans and capabilities of al-Qa’ida and its associated forces.  Practically speaking, then, the question turns principally on how you define “imminence.”

We are finding increasing recognition in the international community that a more flexible understanding of “imminence” may be appropriate when dealing with terrorist groups, in part because threats posed by non-state actors do not present themselves in the ways that evidenced imminence in more traditional conflicts.  After all, al-Qa’ida does not follow a traditional command structure, wear uniforms, carry its arms openly, or mass its troops at the borders of the nations it attacks.  Nonetheless, it possesses the demonstrated capability to strike with little notice and cause significant civilian or military casualties.  Over time, an increasing number of our international counterterrorism partners have begun to recognize that the traditional conception of what constitutes an “imminent” attack should be broadened in light of the modern-day capabilities, techniques, and technological innovations of terrorist organizations.

The convergence of our legal views with those of our international partners matters.  The effectiveness of our counterterrorism activities depends on the assistance and cooperation of our allies—who, in ways public and private, take great risks to aid us in this fight.  But their participation must be consistent with their laws, including their interpretation of international law.  Again, we will never abdicate the security of the United States to a foreign country or refrain from taking action when appropriate.  But we cannot ignore the reality that cooperative counterterrorism activities are a key to our national defense.  The more our views and our allies’ views on these questions converge, without constraining our flexibility, the safer we will be as a country.

Privacy and transparency at home

We’ve also worked to uphold our values and the rule of law in a second area—our policies and practices here at home. As I said, we will use all lawful tools at our disposal, and that includes authorities under the renewed PATRIOT Act.  We firmly believe that our intelligence gathering tools must enable us to collect the information we need to protect the American people.  At the same time, these tools must be subject to appropriate oversight and rigorous checks and balances that protect the privacy of innocent individuals.

As such, we have ensured that investigative techniques in the United States are conducted in a manner that is consistent with our laws and subject to the supervision of our courts.  We have also taken administrative steps to institute additional checks and balances, above and beyond what is required by law, in order to better safeguard the privacy rights of innocent Americans.

Our democratic values also include—and our national security demands—open and transparent government.  Some information obviously needs to be protected.  And since his first days in office, President Obama has worked to strike the proper balance between the security the American people deserve and the openness our democratic society expects.

In one of his first acts, the President issued a new Executive Order on classified information that, among other things, reestablished the principle that all classified information will ultimately be declassified.  The President also issued a Freedom of Information Act Directive mandating that agencies adopt a presumption of disclosure when processing requests for information.

The President signed into law the first intelligence authorization act in over five years to ensure better oversight of intelligence activities.  Among other things, the legislation revised the process for reporting sensitive intelligence activities to Congress and created an Inspector General for the Intelligence Community.

For the first time, President Obama released the combined budget of the intelligence community, and reconstituted the Intelligence Oversight Board, an important check on the government’s intelligence activities.  The President declassified and released legal memos that authorized the use, in early times, of enhanced interrogation techniques.  Understanding that the reasons to keep those memos secret had evaporated, the President felt it was important for the American people to understand how those methods came to be authorized and used.

The President, through the Attorney General, instituted a new process to consider invocation of the so-called “state secrets privilege,” where the government can protect information in civil lawsuits.  This process ensures that this privilege is never used simply to hide embarrassing or unlawful government activities.  But, it also recognizes that its use is absolutely necessary in certain cases for the protection of national security.  I know there has been some criticism of the Administration on this.  But by applying a stricter internal review process, including a requirement of personal approval by the Attorney General, we are working to ensure that this extraordinary power is asserted only when there is a strong justification to do so.

Detention and interrogation

We’ve worked to uphold our values and the rule of law in a third area—the question of how to deal with terrorist suspects, including the significant challenge of how to handle suspected terrorists who were already in our custody when this Administration took office.  There are few places where the intersection of our counterterrorism efforts, our laws, and our values come together as starkly as it does at the prison at Guantánamo.  By the time President Obama took office, Guantánamo was viewed internationally as a symbol of a counterterrorism approach that flouted our laws and strayed from our values, undercutting the perceived legitimacy—and therefore the effectiveness—of our efforts.

Aside from the false promises of enhanced security, the purported legality of depriving detainees of their rights was soundly and repeatedly rejected by our courts.  It came as no surprise, then, that before 2009 few counterterrorism proposals generated as much bipartisan support as those to close Guantánamo.  It was widely recognized that the costs associated with Guantánamo ran high, and the promised benefits never materialized.

That was why—as Dan knows so well—on one of his first days in office, President Obama issued the executive order to close the prison at Guantánamo. Yet, almost immediately, political support for closure waned.  Over the last two years Congress has placed unprecedented restrictions on the discretion of our experienced counterterrorism professionals to prosecute and transfer individuals held at the prison.  These restrictions prevent these professionals—who have carefully studied all of the available information in a particular situation—from exercising their best judgment as to what the most appropriate disposition is for each individual held there.

The Obama Administration has made its views on this clear. The prison at Guantánamo Bay undermines our national security, and our nation will be more secure the day when that prison is finally and responsibly closed.  For all of the reasons mentioned above, we will not send more individuals to the prison at Guantánamo.  And we continue to urge Congress to repeal these restrictions and allow our experienced counterterrorism professionals to have the flexibility they need to make individualized, informed decisions about where to bring terrorists to justice and when and where to transfer those whom it is no longer in our interest to detain.

This Administration also undertook an unprecedented review of our detention and interrogation practices and their evolution since 2001, and we have confronted squarely the question of how we will deal with those we arrest or capture in the future, including those we take custody of overseas.  Nevertheless, some have suggested that we do not have a detention policy; that we prefer to kill suspected terrorists, rather than capture them.  This is absurd, and I want to take this opportunity to set the record straight.

As a former career intelligence professional, I have a profound appreciation for the value of intelligence.  Intelligence disrupts terrorist plots and thwarts attacks.  Intelligence saves lives.  And one of our greatest sources of intelligence about al-Qa’ida, its plans, and its intentions has been the members of its network who have been taken into custody by the United States and our partners overseas.

So I want to be very clear—whenever it is possible to capture a suspected terrorist, it is the unqualified preference of the Administration to take custody of that individual so we can obtain information that is vital to the safety and security of the American people.  This is how our soldiers and counterterrorism professionals have been trained.  It is reflected in our rules of engagement.  And it is the clear and unambiguous policy of this Administration.

Now, there has been a great deal of debate about the best way to interrogate individuals in our custody.  It’s been suggested that getting terrorists to talk can be accomplished simply by withholding Miranda warnings or subjecting prisoners to so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques.”  It’s also been suggested that prosecuting terrorists in our federal courts somehow impedes the collection of intelligence.  A long record of experience, however, proves otherwise.

Consistent with our laws and our values, the President unequivocally banned torture and other abusive interrogation techniques, rejecting the claim that these are effective means of interrogation.  Instead, we have focused on what works.  The President approved the creation of a High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group, or HIG, to bring together resources from across the government – experienced interrogators, subject matter experts, intelligence analysts, and linguists – to conduct or assist in the interrogation of those terrorists with the greatest intelligence value – both at home and overseas.  Through the HIG, we have brought together the capabilities that are essential to effective interrogation, and ensured they can be mobilized quickly and in a coordinated fashion.

Claims that Miranda warnings undermine intelligence collection ignore decades of experience to the contrary.  Yes, some terrorism suspects have refused to provide information in the criminal justice system, but so have many individuals held in military custody, from Afghanistan to Guantánamo, where Miranda warnings were not given.  What is undeniable is that many individuals in the criminal justice system have provided a great deal of information and intelligence—even after being given their Miranda warnings.  The real danger is failing to give a Miranda warning in those circumstances where it’s appropriate, which could well determine whether a terrorist is convicted and spends the rest of his life behind bars, or is set free.

Moreover, the Supreme Court has recognized a limited exception to Miranda, allowing statements to be admitted if the unwarned interrogation was “reasonably prompted by a concern for public safety.”  Applying this public safety exception to the more complex and diverse threat of international terrorism can be complicated, so our law enforcement officers require clarity.

Therefore, at the end of 2010, the FBI clarified its guidance to agents on use of the public safety exception toMiranda, explaining how it should apply to terrorism cases.  The FBI has acknowledged that this exception was utilized last year, including during the questioning of Faisal Shahzad, accused of attempting to detonate a car bomb in Times Square.  Just this week in a major terrorism case, a federal judge ruled that statements obtained under the public safety exception before the defendant was read his Miranda rights are, in fact, admissible at trial.

Some have argued that the United States should simply hold suspected terrorists in law of war detention indefinitely.  It is worth remembering, however, that, for a variety of reasons, reliance upon military detention for individuals apprehended outside of Afghanistan and Iraq actually began to decline precipitously years before the Obama Administration came into office.

In the years following the 9/11 attacks, our knowledge of the al-Qa’ida network increased and our tools with which to bring them to justice in federal courts or reformed military commissions were strengthened, thus reducing the need for long-term law of war detention.  In fact, from 2006 to the end of 2008, when the previous administration apprehended terrorists overseas and outside of Iraq and Afghanistan, it brought more of those individuals to the United States to be prosecuted  in our federal courts than it placed in long-term military detention at Guantánamo.

Article III courts & reformed military commissions

When we succeed in capturing suspected terrorists who pose a threat to the American people, our other critical national security objective is to maintain a viable authority to keep those individuals behind bars. The strong preference of this Administration is to accomplish that through prosecution, either in an Article III court or a reformed military commission.  Our decisions on which system to use in a given case must be guided by the factual and legal complexities of each case, and relative strengths and weaknesses of each system.  Otherwise, terrorists could be set free, intelligence lost, and lives put at risk.

That said, it is the firm position of the Obama Administration that suspected terrorists arrested inside the United States will—in keeping with long-standing tradition—be processed through our Article III courts.  As they should be.  Our military does not patrol our streets or enforce our laws—nor should it.

This is not a radical idea, nor is the idea of prosecuting terrorists captured overseas in our Article III courts.  Indeed, terrorists captured beyond our borders have been successfully prosecuted in our federal courts on many occasions. Our federal courts are time-tested, have unquestioned legitimacy, and, at least for the foreseeable future, are capable of producing a more predictable and sustainable result than military commissions. The previous administration, successfully prosecuted hundreds of suspected terrorists in our federal courts, gathering valuable intelligence from several of them that helped our counterterrorism professionals protect the American people.  In fact, every single suspected terrorist taken into custody on American soil—before and after the September 11th attacks—has first been taken into custody by law enforcement.

In the past two years alone, we have successfully interrogated several terrorism suspects who were taken into law enforcement custody and prosecuted, including Faisal Shahzad, Najibullah Zazi, David Headley, and many others.  In fact, faced with the firm but fair hand of the American justice system, some of the most hardened terrorists have agreed to cooperate with the FBI, providing valuable information about al-Qa’ida’s network, safe houses, recruitment methods, and even their plots and plans.  That is the outcome that all Americans should not only want, but demand from their government.

Similarly, when it comes to U.S. citizens involved in terrorist-related activity, whether they are captured overseas or at home, we will prosecute them in our criminal justice system.  There is bipartisan agreement that U.S. citizens should not be tried by military commission.  Since 2001, two U.S. citizens were held in military custody, and after years of controversy and extensive litigation, one was released; the other was prosecuted in federal court.  Even as the number of U.S. citizens arrested for terrorist-related activity has increased, our civilian courts have proven they are more than up to the job.

In short, our Article III courts are not only our single most effective tool for prosecuting, convicting, and sentencing suspected terrorists—they are a proven tool for gathering intelligence and preventing attacks.  For these reasons, credible experts from across the political spectrum continue to demand that our Article III courts remain an unrestrained tool in our counterterrorism toolbox.  And where our counterterrorism professionals believe prosecution in our federal courts would best protect the full range of U.S. security interests and the safety of the American people, we will not hesitate to use them.  The alternative—a wholesale refusal to utilize our federal courts—would undermine our values and our security.

At the same time, reformed military commissions also have their place in our counterterrorism arsenal.  Because of bipartisan efforts to ensure that military commissions provide all of the core protections that are necessary to ensure a fair trial, we have restored the credibility of that system and brought it into line with our principles and our values.  Where our counterterrorism professionals believe trying a suspected terrorist in our reformed military commissions would best protect the full range of U.S. security interests and the safety of the American people, we will not hesitate to utilize them to try such individuals.  In other words, rather than a rigid reliance on just one or the other, we will use both our federal courts and reformed military commissions as options for incapacitating terrorists.

As a result of recent reforms, there are indeed many similarities between the two systems, and at times, these reformed military commissions offer certain advantages.  But important differences remain—differences that can determine whether a prosecution is more likely to succeed or fail.

For example, after Ahmed Warsame—a member of al-Shabaab with close ties to al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula—was captured this year by U.S. military personnel, the President’s national security team unanimously agreed that the best option for prosecuting him was our federal courts, where, among other advantages, we could avoid significant risks associated with, and pursue additional charges not available in, a military commission.  And, if convicted of certain charges, he faces a mandatory life sentence.

In choosing between our federal courts and military commissions in any given case, this Administration will remain focused on one thing—the most effective way to keep that terrorist behind bars. The only way to do that is to let our experienced counterterrorism professionals determine, based on the facts and circumstances of each case, which system will best serve our national security interests.

In the end, the Obama Administration’s approach to detention, interrogation and trial is simple.  We have established a practical, flexible, results-driven approach that maximizes our intelligence collection and preserves our ability to prosecute dangerous individuals.  Anything less—particularly a rigid, inflexible approach—would be disastrous.  It would tie the hands of our counterterrorism professionals by eliminating tools and authorities that have been absolutely essential to their success.

Capacity building abroad

This brings me a final area where upholding the rule of law strengthens our security—our work with other nations.  As we have seen from Afghanistan in the 1990s to Yemen, Somalia and the tribal areas of Pakistan today, al-Qa’ida and its affiliates often thrive where there is disorder or where central governments lack the ability to effectively govern their own territory.

In contrast, helping such countries build a robust legal framework, coupled with effective institutions to enforce them and the transparency and fairness to sustain them, can serve as one of our most effective weapons against groups like al-Qa’ida by eliminating the very chaos that organization needs to survive.  That is why a key element of this Administration’s counterterrorism strategy is to help governments build their capacity, including a robust and balanced legal framework, to provide for their own security.

Though tailored to the unique circumstances of each country, we are working with countries in key locations to help them enact robust counterterrorism laws and establish the institutions and mechanisms to effectively enforce them.  The establishment of a functioning criminal justice system and institutions has played a key role in the security gains that have been achieved in Iraq.  We are working to achieve similar results in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Pakistan, and elsewhere.

These efforts are not a blank check.  As a condition of our funding, training, and cooperation, we require that our partners comply with certain legal and humanitarian standards.  At times, we have curtailed or suspended security assistance when these standards are not met.  We encourage these countries to build a more just, more transparent system that can gain the respect and support of their own people.

As we are seeing across the Middle East and North Africa today, courageous people will continue to demand one of the most basic universal rights—the right to live in a society that respects the rule of law.  Any security gains will be short-lived if these countries fail to provide just that. So where we see countries falling short of these basic standards, we will continue to support efforts of people to build institutions that both protect the rights of their own people and enhance our collective security.

Flexibility—critical to our success

In conclusion, I want to say again that the paramount responsibility of President Obama, and of those of us who serve with him, is to protect the American people.  To save lives.  Each of the tools I have discussed today, and the flexibility to apply them to the unique and complicated circumstances we face, are critical to our success.

This President’s counterterrorism framework provides a sustainable foundation upon which this Administration and its successors, in close cooperation with our allies and partners overseas, can effectively deal with the threat posed by al-Qa’ida and its affiliates and adherents.  It is, as I have said, a practical, flexible, result-driven approach to counterterrorism that is consistent with our laws, and in line with the very values upon which this nation was founded.  And the results we have been able to achieve under this approach are undeniable.  We divert from this path at own peril.

Yet, despite the successes that this approach has brought, some—including some legislative proposals in Congress—are demanding that we pursue a radically different strategy.  Under that approach, we would never be able to turn the page on Guantánamo.  Our counterterrorism professionals would be compelled to hold all captured terrorists in military custody, casting aside our most effective and time-tested tool for bringing suspected terrorists to justice—our federal courts.  Miranda warnings would be prohibited, even though they are at times essential to our ability to convict a terrorist and ensure that individual remains behind bars.  In sum, this approach would impose unprecedented restrictions on the ability of experienced professionals to combat terrorism, injecting legal and operational uncertainty into what is already enormously complicated work.

I am deeply concerned that the alternative approach to counterterrorism being advocated in some quarters would represent a drastic departure from our values and the body of laws and principles that have always made this country a force for positive change in the world.  Such a departure would not only risk rejection by our courts and the American public, it would undermine the international cooperation that has been critical to the national security gains we have made.

Doing so would not make us safer, and would do far more harm than good.  Simply put, it is not an approach we should pursue.  Not when we have al-Qa’ida on the ropes.  Our counterterrorism professionals—regardless of the administration in power—need the flexibility to make well-informed decisions about where to prosecute terrorist suspects.

To achieve and maintain the appropriate balance, Congress and the Executive Branch must continue to work together.  There have been and will continue to be many opportunities to do so in a way that strengthens our ability to defeat al-Qa’ida and its adherents.  As we do so, we must not tie the hands of our counterterrorism professionals by eliminating tools that are critical to their ability to keep our country safe.

As a people, as a nation, we cannot—and we must not—succumb to the temptation to set aside our laws and our values when we face threats to our security, including and especially from groups as depraved as al-Qa’ida.  We’re better than that.  We’re better than them.  We’re Americans.

Thank you all very much.

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