Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

November 17, 2015

Terrorism and the global war against indefinite pronouns

Filed under: International HLS,Radicalization,Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on November 17, 2015


The word-cloud was generated from a transcript of Saturday’s debate in Des Moines.

The “debate” was originally intended to focus on the economy. Given Friday night’s attack in Paris, the first twenty-five minutes were focused on the implications of that attack. The word-cloud pulled only from this initial portion. I also excised participant names and prepositions to highlight substance.

A contemporary political debate is not a graduate seminar.  It is not even a blog that can, if it decides, allow a couple of days for review, reflection, and revision.

But given the importance of this issue, with barely 24 hours elapsed between attacking and talking, the experience and aspirations of the three candidates, and the chance for an authentic exchange of views among them, Saturday night may be the best we get to assess how a large slice of the American political class frames the challenge.

What issue?  What challenge?  This remains unclear.

ISIS (not ISIL, btw) was the specific concern on Saturday.  Secretary Clinton said, “we have to look at ISIS as the leading threat of an international terror network.” Senator Sanders said, “Together, leading the world this country will rid our planet of… ISIS.”

Governor O’Malley did not disagree and emphasized, “ISIS, make no mistake about it, is an evil in this world.”   Mrs. Clinton was a bit more programmatic in her characterization, referring to “radical jihadist ideology.” Mr. Sanders offered, “I agree with much of what the secretary and the governor have said.”  He added (and then Mr. O’Malley piled on) that ISIS is the bastard child of the US invasion of Iraq.  Well, actually he said, “I don’t think any sensible person would disagree that the invasion of Iraq led to the massive level of instability we are seeing right now.”

I’m not sure that Mrs. Clinton disagrees, but she was keen to point to other contributing factors: “The Shia– Sunni split, the dictatorships that have suppressed people’s aspirations, the increasing globalization without any real safety valve for people to have a better life. We saw that in Egypt. We saw a dictator overthrown, we saw Muslim Brotherhood president installed and then we saw him ousted and the army back. So I think we’ve got to understand the complexity of the world that we are facing and no places more so than in the Middle East.”  There was even a point where the former Secretary of State may have been about to diagnose the origins of “jihadi extreme terrorism”, but I perceive she thought better of it and rather awkwardly turned another way.

This admittedly apophatic analysis is reinforced by a question the moderator, John Dickerson, posed to Mrs. Clinton a few minutes later: “You gave a speech at Georgetown University in which you said that it was important to show– quote– respect even for one’s enemy. Trying to understand and in so far as psychologically possible empathize with their perspective and point of view. Can you explain what that means in the context of this kind of barbarism?”

Given the context, I do not blame the candidate for choosing to emphasize, “… it’s very difficult when you deal with– ISIS and organizations like that whose–whose behavior is so barbaric and so vicious–that it doesn’t seem to have any purpose other than lust for killing and power.”  Indeed, given the context, I have some reluctant respect for her use of lawyerly qualifiers.


I could continue.  Linguistic analysis is a weird personal pleasure.  But if you did not inherit the gene, I recognize it soon becomes tedious. So some resulting judgments:

  • My initial impression of the Saturday performance was deep disappointment, almost disgust.
  • But careful sifting and reading exposed more coherence than a first hearing found.
  • In reading what was said it is possible to conceive — though seldom to confirm — presuppositions and predispositions that enlarge what was said.   In these between-the-line harmonies I encountered something much more complicated than the bombastic melody.
  • Nonetheless it remains a war march.  Whether the United States is leading or supporting and how differs with the specific composer.  But — as we see in the word-cloud — the consistent theme is: The World is at War with ISIS.
  • Moreover, this is — it seems to me — a rather old-fashioned composition:  Good versus Evil, us versus them, unconditional surrender, total victory, the score reaching a satisfying C major climax.  As Senator Sanders said, “they are a danger to modern society. And that this world with American leadership can and must come together to destroy them.”

I perceive this statement — which many other candidates Republican and Democrat echo — demonstrates a dangerous lack of understanding regarding the plural pronoun; something I have found treacherous in every language I have ever attempted. On Thursday I will try to make better sense of this indefinite.


On Monday at Versailles President Hollande sang a song very similar to Senator Sanders’.  After which the French Parliamentarians also sang. A less than stirring chorus, to my ear.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

November 17, 2015 @ 8:07 am

What should be done?

First, President Obama should find the monies [seeking an emergency appropriation from the Congress if necessary] to launch 100,000 American citizens into a 3-5 year language program on Arabic, Pashto, Farsi {also Court Persian], Urdu and perhaps other languages of MENA. They can receive pay at levels of GS-5 to GS-9 unless qualified for higher pay.

Second, the US should support a request from France for an Article Five NATO declaration.

Third, the Inspector Generals of the various components of the federal Executive Branch should produce a report [unclassified] on the languages spoken by civil servants in their organizations and make that information available to the Congress.

Fourth, the President should review and announce publicly whether the fight against ISIS will be led by the Pentagon or some other organization.

Fifth, the current TSA efforts should be abandoned and converted to designing and implementing and operating an airport, train station, bus station security system which would remotely screen passengers and visitors away from the actual transport vehicles.

Sixth, the current organization and career system of the Pentagon and Department of State and FBI should be realigned into careers devoted to single nation states, parallel cultures, and languages with a 25 year career structure and abandonment of the of the FSO structure and military promotion system in return for country and area specific expertise.

Seventh, the US should fund the military operations of nation-states that are willing to and openly admit they are under the directions of the US. This would include up to division size units and special ops cadre.

Eight! The Department of Homeland Defense and the Department of Justice should be made permanent members of the statutory National Security Council and no more than 20% of the NSS [National Security Staff[ should be uniformed military.

Ninth! The federal government should fund centers of excellence in Universities and colleges concerning MENA studies.

Tenth! A new federal agency should be established focusing on both domestic and international demographics and the Census Bureau should be removed from the Department of Commerce and made a completely independent Executive Branch agency reporting to the President.

Eleventh! OMB should establish separate budget codes for HS and EM and allow DHS and FEMA to make expert analysis for each budget cycles on the portions of the budgets devoted to HS and EM in OFD’s [Other departments and agencies]!

Twelfth! The DOJ should be tasked with designing a program to federalize 10% of the police/law enforcement and fire service in a declared National Emergency involving their skill sets.


Comment by William R. Cumming

November 17, 2015 @ 8:15 am

Congress needs to immediately reorganize to create a new joint permanent committee on NATIONAL SECURITY recognizing that the current committee system, including the Intelligence Committees, the Armed Services Committees, and the Homeland Security Committees have extensive gaps in their expertise and oversight.

Detailees from the federal Executive Branch should be capped at some appropriate level.

The long term organization effort of the Congress would be to subsume certain other committees into the NATIONAL SECURITY COMMITTEE.

Each bill regardless of title and/or content that passes either branch of Congress should contain both a unclassified [and classified if necessary] national security analysis similar to the CBO’s analytic efforts.

Comment by William R. Cumming

November 17, 2015 @ 8:18 am

The increasing reliance of the federal government and Presidents on Special Operations forces and efforts, and evasion of chain of command requirements by detailing of uniformed military outside the chain of command to civilian agencies and organizations should be the subject of a Presidential Commission analysis recognizing the importance and consequences of this development.

Comment by William R. Cumming

November 17, 2015 @ 8:20 am

The confusion over intelligence gathering and criminal prosecutions has not ended and starting with the Deputy Attorney General Gorelick report a Presidential Commission should analyze developments since that memorandum and recommendations for change including possible Constitutional modifications.

Comment by William R. Cumming

November 17, 2015 @ 8:27 am

The Secretary DHS should prepare a report for the President [and subsequent transmittal to Congress] of the management time spent by senior management officials [including the Secretary] spent on programs, functions, and activities other than anti-terrorism, counter-terrorism and intelligence gathering, cyber-security, and border security and controls including customs.

A separate portion of the report should focus on criminal drug enforcement by the department and how drug-related intelligence gathering from anti-drug operations benefits anti-terror and counter-terror operations and policy formulations.

Comment by The Stunning Defeat in Paris - How Unfortunate....

November 17, 2015 @ 9:29 am

A NATO so unacceptably unprepared….westerners so obviously ignorant as to our own history and certainly in the history of Islam and Christianity and their clash now well documented for centuries each seeking to control Jerusalem where maybe East Jerusalem will fall to calamity, yet never Jerusalem.a city I know eell and love like so many and Jerusalem which is God’s city which can be shared by all peace loving Muslims, Christians, Hebrews, Armenians and so many others, yet a city which God will only sit on the throne and no one else….

Further, a US whose leadership disrespects our nation’s Judaic-Christian basis and a nation led by a White House who is hell bent, yes, hell bent on allowing refugees who the enemy has already stated quite clearly will infiltrate with far many more willingly pulling the chord of their bomb vests in our malls and in our schools and it will be We here on ‘Main Street USA” who will lose our beloved children –

Ms. Hillary Clinton who has shared emails w/every one of our adversaries and she has not been “House” arrested for suspicion in breach of faith, treason knowing full well that her servers were not government servers, com’on, I do not understand these loyalties to political party as a proud American, but we trust – really – a White House who releases Gitmo detainees on a Saturday when all the world’s attention is on Paris and we are all frightened by a segment of Islam which truly is committed to ridding our civilization….com’on – really – a Secretary of State who had her hands dirtied in all this along with and shoulder to shoulder w/Barry Obama at the “Benghazi Massacre” when the – call – did come in at night and who was there to answer and respond as our brave warriors were slaughtered at Benghazi looking to the skies to see help and none offered….

A White House who states to the world that his Joint Chiefs and his military advisors support his ongoing theme of little or no action and a policy where I clearly state that this individual, who are these Generals and flag staff officers as it is time we really hear from our defense officials for the intel folks I know and the flag officers I know, esteemed and dedicated Patriots like those at NSA who us and apologized to our enemies….an NSA who have had their hands tied by this tainted US administration who has embarrassed Barry Obama who sat in the pews of the Rev Wright for twenty (20) years and clearly heard as we all did from the illustrious Rev Wright – chants against the “Zionists” and that as long as the “Zionists” had WMD in hand, why not Tehran!

I don’t know about you, however if one of my Greek Orthodox priests said that once, I would not have left in the middle of such bias, such outright hatred towards the Hebrew, however I would have stood and challenged the Rev Wright on the spot, not listen to his sermons for 20 years….and as the lead point man in the White House, do all I can to shun the Israelis each and every time….

Refugees to come to the USA, com’on, really? They will each be vetted – really? Really? …from what data bases and with our borders still not closed even after all our shouting and both political parties obviously not giving a hoot about anything more than their own self-serving ways…We are expected to embrace even ten or twenty or 100 or more of these 10,000 folks and their bomb jackets in our malls to slaughter our youth, much like they did in France who has now quickly called such action War! War because it is War and time for the Islamic community and not its US President as Islam’s spokesperson and friend to Tehran who cannot even get the release of US citizens returned to the US but agrees to fund the largest terrorist state in the history of the world with billions of what, you betcha, taxpayer – US taxpayer monies….Really?

It is not funny, but a fact that all those I know who come to the USA come here after long waits who have properly filled out applications, certified healthy and stand for hours waiting for even two or three years to gain access to good ‘ol America!

Again, are we to trust Ms. Hillary and more importantly anything this White House says when we see DHS prisoners released last year, Gitmo exchange with the worst with some traitor and nothing less and again as in the past, when no one looking including the US Congress and Senate, supposed Republicans committed to the Constitution, allowing this tainted and biased White House to release prisoner from Gitmo to assure one more and one more until he checks off the list to close Gitmo as his campaign promise and his legacy, the legacy of the most dangerous US White House, at least from my perspective, subversive itself in every way along w/good ‘ol Ms. Hillary standing shoulder to shoulder and as Mrs. Bush said and most of us agree, We here on “Main Street USA” have had enough of the Clintons and their Clinton Foundation willing prostituting the USA for their own coffers and The Bush family…enough is enough!

We are at War and unless Congress and the US Senate and this obvious rift between the Pentagon and CIA and the intel community and the good folks at NSA do not get their differences straightened out (yesterday), the thumb print of Tehran on the sitting US President and the outrageous statements heard from Paris in front of the Parisians and the world, folks we are destined for far worse attacks and our losses will not be our precious youth on some distant shore, it will be at the local mall or at our schools or other….

I don’t give a hoot whether you have some loyalties ties to the Republicans or the Democrats, as one proud American here on “Main Street USA” Islamic terrorism – yes terrorism spawned by countries who demand Sharia law and willing commit atrocities against westerners, this is the reality of our landscape so wake up and tell your Governors and Senators and the world that we want our borders secured like every other nation and our laws enforced even among our elected officials and we want immigration laws adhered to as this White House will obviously bring more terrorists infiltrated among those it intends to bring in and we have no trust for anything this White House says whatsoever….let’s be clear….as Barry Obama seems to stand in paris and at the UN and in Cairo knowing more about Islam and defending Islam than Christianity or our beloved Republic apologizing for America and Christianity over and over — sorry, don’t buy it for a moment!

There should be an immediate “freeze” on any immigrants coming in to the country for the next six months – the next attack(s) are already being planned and the enemy has already announced that the Washington DC is very much in their target!

Wake up America! War is here and a much larger global conflagration promised in scripture unless we stand in obligation to the Constitution and our Judeo-Christian commitment to country and our own well being…our children who will be sprayed by AK-47 bullets riddled with fear just as our compassions run so high and our tears flow with the French and so many others globally who cannot even get on an airplane and are safe and blown out of the sky- 17 children in fact!

God help us — such travesty and outright cold murder – enough is enough!

The FBI right now, despite the incredible dedication from intel folks from local law enforcement to NSA and other cannot track everyone we have in this nation already seeking our demise so let it be known, Uncle Sam needs you, our youth to join the ranks of the FBI and to be trained to safeguard our beloved Republic!

We need more FBI agents now! Fellow Americans are the most charitable people in the world, however while they often think with their hearts, it is time to think and act with vigilance and to continue more and more to question and distrust a White House who releases felons from jail recently to walk among us as well as previous DHS convicted felons and now once again, when all eyes on Paris, another Gitmo detainee released on Saturday….let’s revisit watching the movie, 2012 D’Souza’a America!

Barry Obama has spewed his empty political rhetoric and especially this intentional – divisiveness – and as I have repeatedly stated, his pledge in oath to Hussein Obama and his Kenyan pals who were anti-Christian and anti-colonialists and considering these last seven years in factual portrayal when in fact the American populace failed blatantly at least from my perspective and a few others that in – vetting this candidate – are we truly to trust a WH proclaiming it will unquestionably vett immigrants whether from Syria, Palestine or other,at least I am one who shouts, foul!

Joe Citizen

Comment by Citizen Joe

November 17, 2015 @ 2:27 pm

Given that the FBI is so unacceptably understaffed and cannot even keep a watchful eye on some 1250+ individuals who may threaten our beloved Republic, how is it that this White House and any state in the union would willingly compromise the life of our cherished young as well as our law enforcement officers and enable add’l refugees into our country, the “majority” who cannot be vetted against known databases – how dare you?

I do not give a damn whether one is a Republican or a Democrat, enough of this partisanship and folks, no wonder the populous is truly thinking of casting its white majority vote – yes, white majority vote in this Judeo-Christian country which has borders open unlike any other nation and entrusted elected officials lawless themselves so entrenched in their serving agenda —

Why is it that law abiding immigrants must fill out an application, wait in lines for maybe two years, have documentation and certified medical records, but just as Barry Obama waited until this past saturday with all eyes on paris to release another enemy combatant from Gitmo when no one was looking….he has all intent on allowing 10,000+ refugees embedded as ISIS has promised —

Citizen Joe
How dare you?

Comment by Enrico Caruso

November 17, 2015 @ 2:34 pm

Mr. Palin:

Thanks for the provocative thoughts. I think you’re right, we are all singing from the same battle hymn, even though some other selections might be more appropriate. But frankly I had not noticed and was feeling pretty martial myself, until I read your piece.

Mr. Cumming and Mr. Tingus, I understand the temptation to offer a solo of your favorite pieces. But before doing so you might at least acknowledge the guy who sang before you. Especially if you disagree, which I’m not sure if you do or not. Maybe you’re just riding piggy-back.

Comment by Vicki Campbell

November 17, 2015 @ 2:49 pm

The front post in this forum is so obscenely trivializing by the end of it that it really doesn’t deserve a response. But I am willing to say that it really isn’t supposed to be all about your love affair with your own literary or linguistic knowledge or prowess, Phil – or your constant obsession with the metaphorisation of everything, no matter how irrelevant or disparate – really its not. Would it be that it were merely “tedious….”

Comment by Vicki Campbell

November 17, 2015 @ 3:16 pm

Bill, to my surprise, I think I actually disagree with absolutely everything in your first 2 comments, although I am fairly amenable to the last 3, except for the last which I think needs reconceptualizing. But that may be because I misunderstand your intent, in which case I disagree with that post as well.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

November 17, 2015 @ 6:12 pm

Bill, Thanks for the policy line-up. Never let a crisis go to waste? Could you summarize your strategy behind these steps?

Joe, if there were 100 men, women, and children across the river from your town of 10,000, hungry, homeless, and hurting and you had it on credible authority (believable to you) that 99 were innocent victims of a ruthless regime and one was a dangerous agent of that regime, what would you do?

Vickie, it is always disappointing to disappoint. Even worse to be a self-indulgent,disgusting waste-of-time. I will try to re-start in a better direction tomorrow.

Enrico, thanks for the encouragement…

Comment by Citizen Joe

November 17, 2015 @ 9:38 pm

As a US citizen hearing the reprehensible comments by John Kerry today, I wish to be the first to call for him immediate resignation! How dare you? Haven’t we been embarrassed enough by Barry Obama the previous day before the Parisians and the world with such foolhardy, yet intentional comments!

An outraged Citizen Joe again shouting clearly, enough is enough!

(Chris)topher Tingus
“Main Street USA”
Harwich (Cape Cod), MA 02645

Comment by William R. Cumming

November 18, 2015 @ 4:07 am

In response to Phil’s request [he is prpbably correct that the basis of my recommendations not so obvious]:

First, President Obama should find the monies [seeking an emergency appropriation from the Congress if necessary] to launch 100,000 American citizens into a 3-5 year language program on Arabic, Pashto, Farsi {also Court Persian], Urdu and perhaps other languages of MENA. They can receive pay at levels of GS-5 to GS-9 unless qualified for higher pay.

The US in its efforts to develop a policy and strategy for FP in MENA continues to be plagued by ignorance of the languages and culture of that area which also includes for me Iran and S. Asia. Viewing ISIS as one of many to come political forces that will challenge a largely secular and Christian West we must do better in formulating FP and that can only come from increased knowledge.

Comment by William R. Cumming

November 18, 2015 @ 4:12 am

Second, the US should support a request from France for an Article Five NATO declaration.

Readers of my past comments should understand two things: First, the US should have withdrawn from NATO at the end of the Cold War. And if NATO was to be continued it should have included not excluded Russia.

But if NATO is to continue, and with each passing month it has less and less force projection capability it at the end is a military not political alliance. Thus, the attacks in Paris should in part trigger a military response although non-military actions may be more important to successful response to ISIS.

Comment by William R. Cumming

November 18, 2015 @ 4:16 am

Third, the Inspector Generals of the various components of the federal Executive Branch should produce a report [unclassified] on the languages spoken by civil servants in their organizations and make that information available to the Congress.

The largest block of skills that have potential for mobilizing federal capabilities in a hurry is the civil service cadres of the Executive Branch, This OIG survey would indicate potential availability and also give insights to baseline expertise in critical Executive Branch organizations.

Comment by William R. Cumming

November 18, 2015 @ 4:20 am

While I realize I have a basis in hopefully informed judgement and experience for each of my 12 recommendations perhaps more would be learned if for the other nine comments were directed to providing thinking of others as to why I made the recommendation and its value or not.

If for the other nine my reasoning remains hidden just so reuest and I will provide.

Other recommendations and recommendations of others are welcom.

Comment by William R. Cumming

November 18, 2015 @ 11:14 am

Eight! The Department of Homeland Defense and the Department of Justice should be made permanent members of the statutory National Security Council and no more than 20% of the NSS [National Security Staff[ should be uniformed military.

I think Phil the basis for this recommendation should be obvious.

The design of the NSC was for a Presidential advisory body that by its charter was to integrate International Relations, Military, and domestic policy to protect the National Security of the United States. A poorly drafted statute in its inception, even with amendments, it has allowed the DEEP STATE to become a secret rule of American life. Career officers should not dominate its staff.

Before departing from the Senate [retiring] Senator Fritz Hollings of S.C. was able to bring the Attorney General of the US within one vote in the Senate to add the AG to the NSC by statute.

I think after 15 years it would be helpful and certainly needed for a study by some competent authority of the roles played by the NSC and DHS.

Please note that I have informally discussed in various grey literature forums including blogs FEMA’s role as an independent executive branch agency and the NSC before being almost completely stripped of its National Security roles when it became part of DHS on March 1st, 2003.

PKEMA 2006 did not restore the independent FEMA’s role in National Security.

Comment by William R. Cumming

November 18, 2015 @ 11:22 am

PKEMRA 2006 link:


I realize that other than stating this statute, largely unimplemented reformed almost nothing, was drafted, eanacted and signed into law by people with almost no understanding of HS or EM.

Now with a decade almost past this statute badly needs revisiting. CRS has conducted almost no study of its impacts and implementation, and GAO’s studies of it report NO SIGNIFICANT PROGRESS in its implementation.

Comment by William R. Cumming

November 18, 2015 @ 3:19 pm

Twelfth! The DOJ should be tasked with designing a program to federalize 10% of the police/law enforcement and fire service in a declared National Emergency involving their skill sets.

The crime of terrorism was largely federalized in the decades from the Nixon Administration to the present. The so-called federal criminal code is principally Title 18 of the United States Code. Aiding and abetting terrorist as a federal crime added if memory serves by the USA PATRIOT ACT.

Federal law enforcement and fire service assets are remarkably limited given the bulk of the FIRE SERVICE [approximately 2.3M volunteer and professional fire service personel] and 800-900K law enforcement paid and largely trained by the individual States and their local governments.

Yet the State and local government FIRE SERVICE and policing assets are relied upon in all federal emergency planning and preparedness and federal response.

The federal government could usefully be a standard setter and funding for these State and local assets in return for being federalized in certain contingencies. The Urban Search and Rescue Program housed in FEMA has a similar arrangement.

While I am a leading advocate of our federal system it is also true that in the fields of HS and EM HROs [high reliability organizations] are often needed. And note of the almost 100K local governments [some of which lack taxing authority or sue or be sued capacity] all complicate federal HS and EM.

Even now not sure how the 500 federally recognized native American tribes are served under federal disaster response and recovery.

Pingback by Homeland Security Watch » Naming the enemy

November 19, 2015 @ 5:42 am

[…] Tuesday I complained that our current threat had been reduced to an indefinite plural pronoun.  I have heard many insist that we must be explicit regarding the proper noun.  But most of the names offered have been those of a weaker progeny of a primordial power that the best men and women of our species — some would claim an authority even greater than this — have failed to destroy and seldom enough contained. […]

Comment by Vicki Campbell

November 22, 2015 @ 2:31 pm

Phil: point taken. Clever can be interesting and useful, but a clever jubilee conveys other things entirely, whether or not they’re intended or even true, depending on the juxtaposition. It’s just that I’m quite sure they will be scraping the flesh off the walls in Paris for quite awhile, and what little is left of my regard for the country I live in or many if not most of the people I share it with is circling the drain…. so…..

Actually I think it was the football strategy metaphor that sent me over the edge (it’s always the little things…).

Comment by Philip J. Palin

November 23, 2015 @ 8:48 am

Vicki: I worry you may especially dislike what I am working on for Tuesday, November 24. Raging, weeping, laughing are all options. I come from a family with a particular sense of the absurd, perhaps especially in the face of tragedy. It does not always translate as intended. Even my wife is sometimes offended. If I am going write, I need to be ready to hear your critique.

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