Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

November 5, 2015

The worst of all possible worlds

Filed under: Congress and HLS,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on November 5, 2015

Since June the majority staff of the House Homeland Security Committee has produced a monthly Terror Threat Snapshot.  The November edition, released on Monday, is ten pages long.

It is a pithy, fact-packed, well-linked overview of “the Islamist Terror Threat”.  Seven key takeaways are highlighted in this week’s product:

  • “ISIS is fueling an unprecedented tempo for law enforcement authorities combating the homegrown Islamist extremist threat.”
  • “ISIS’s global expansion has unleashed a wave of violence around the world – including against Western targets.”
  • “Al Qaeda and its affiliates are regenerating their terror networks and capitalizing on power vacuums.”
  • “Foreign fighters converging on the battlefields in Syria and Iraq pose a continuing threat to the United States and our allies.”
  • “The massive refugee flows out of Syria remain vulnerable to terrorists seeking to exploit the crisis to infiltrate the West.”
  • “Guantanamo Bay detainees transferred overseas continue to pose a threat to U.S. national security interests.”
  • “The world’s leading state sponsor of Islamist terror, Iran, continues to sow instability and is poised to gain additional resources in the coming months as a result of sanctions relief.”

I hope this gives you a fair sense of the document’s scope and tone.  If so, this is a comparatively quiet preface for what becomes a portentous cascade of approaching doom.

Earlier versions of the Snapshot have been sent to me.  I have, however, previously chosen not to reference here.  My reticence has been more aesthetic than anything else.  The information provided is credibly-sourced.  The cumulative effect can be powerful.

But I also feel manipulated.  There is a sense of complexity concealed, complicated networks converted to straight lines, some dots connected by erasing other dots, whole categories expectorated.

Given that this is a report of the “Majority (Republican) Staff” there are certainly partisan points being scored.  But most of us are now adept at filtering such obvious self-interest.

Much more troublesome, at least to me, is a pattern of facts being selected and framed (and excluded?) per a preexisting construct.  Dogmatics instead of discovery.

But so what, isn’t this always true of all of us? Some sort of intellectual scaffolding is needed just to organize otherwise exploding experience. We are required to exclude in order to minimally comprehend.

Perhaps the problem — and this Snapshot is only one minor example — is that we can surreally confuse our tools (frames, concepts, theories) for the ground of being the tools are meant to plow, seed, cultivate, and harvest.  We are as farmers so enamored of powerful high-tech tractors that we  now challenge others to noon-time races, rather than tend our fields dawn to dusk.

Rather than ask, we insist.  Rather than wonder, we disguise doubt. Rather than observe carefully, we argue loudly. I will confess, the sound of these engines roaring — the anger false or real, snide swipes, insistent self-righteous certainty —  is for me less and less tolerable.


From near the close of Candide:

“Let us work,” said Martin, “without disputing; it is the only way to render life tolerable.”

The whole little society entered into this laudable design, according to their different abilities. Their little plot of land produced plentiful crops. Cunegonde was, indeed, very ugly, but she became an excellent pastry cook; Paquette worked at embroidery; the old woman looked after the linen. They were all, not excepting Friar Giroflée, of some service or other; for he made a good joiner, and became a very honest man…

Out of context these lines are easy to misconstrue.  In  the very full context of Voltaire’s novel, to work together without disputing is to (at least) put aside intellectual preconceptions for honest observation and caring relationships, making our best effort to learn and do good on the basis of what we observe and with whom we are in relationship.

November 3, 2015

Election day

Filed under: Border Security,Climate Change,Cybersecurity,Immigration,Intelligence and Info-Sharing — by Philip J. Palin on November 3, 2015

In several jurisdictions this is election day, mostly for state and local officials.  It also begins the one-year countdown for the 2016 presidential election.

Following are links to the issue-sections of five currently prominent presidential contenders.  Each of these links connect to the candidate’s position on issues this blog treats as relevant to homeland security.

Ben Carson: Among the ten policy issues on Dr. Carson’s campaign website, his commitment to keeping Gitmo open is given top tier attention.  The Second Amendment is highlighted as providing “our citizens the right to protect themselves from threats foreign or domestic.”

Hillary Clinton: Under her National Security statement are several references to HS issues (cyber, counter-terrorism, pandemics, “Keeping our homeland secure”).  Elsewhere she gives attention to climate change and energy, criminal justice reform, gun violence prevention, and immigration reform.

Marco Rubio: The Senator from Florida gives particular attention to defeating ISIS and ties this to lone-wolf attacks in order to “protect the homeland”.  Mr. Rubio offers, “the Second Amendment is about the American Dream”.

Bernie Sanders: Under the rubric War and Peace, Senator Sanders outlines his approach to combating terrorism.  Elsewhere he also gives considerable attention to climate change and to immigration reform. In this quick review of campaign websites, the Senator from Vermont is the only currently leading contender to address intelligence-gathering, saying, “We must not trade away our constitutional rights and civil liberties for the illusion of security”.

Donald J. Trump: Immigration has been a signature issue for Mr. Trump.  His position on the Second Amendment almost certainly has HS implications.

In the 2008 presidential campaign Senator Obama gathered an explicit Homeland Security Advisory Council and Senator McCain had an identifiable HS sub-set within his more informal campaign policy structure.  I will be surprised to see homeland security — as an organizing principle — get anything close to equal attention in the current presidential campaign.

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