Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

December 31, 2015

A Refugee Test of National Honor

Filed under: Refugee Crisis,Resilience,Risk Assessment — by Philip J. Palin on December 31, 2015

The Wednesday, December 30 Wall Street Journal included an Op-Ed by William A. Galston.  The entire piece is below.  Such wholesale appropriation is bad practice.  I have purposefully waited for one day to pass.  But in my judgment this is the best short analysis and argument I have read regarding the issue.  You should read it too.  I also encourage you to access the WSJ website to scan the over 250 comments that readers have offered.  There are some thoughtful disagreements, there are many more reflexive dismissals.  The few supportive comments are indirect.  

My wife and I have just returned from twelve days with extended family, mostly in Kentucky and Illinois.  On the refugee crisis we encountered a wide-range of opinion: From those opening their own homes to those in need to one individual who was so consumed with anti-immigrant anger that his wife had hidden the television and disconnected Internet, blaming the media for driving her husband crazy.

At a party after the Christmas Eve service an old friend with whom I once shared Latin class reminded me that argument originally had two forms: argutare, meaning to babble, prattle, chatter and arguere, meaning to brighten, clarify, prove.  “Too much tearing, not enough air” was his analysis.  Maybe you had to be there (and sharing the eggnog).  But fundamental to any meaningful homeland security — especially for this particular land — is an ability to communicate with each other: to brighten and clarify, not just babble and accuse.


The following is by William A. Galston:

Democracies are often better than their leaders, but they cannot be better than their peoples. As months of anger give way to a winter of fear, it is time for Americans to ask themselves some hard questions.

Despite hyperbolic claims to the contrary, we remain the land of the free. But are we still the home of the brave?

According to a CNN/ORC survey released on Monday, 45% of Americans are worried that they or their families will become victims of terrorism. With all due respect, my fellow citizens, this is absurd. During the past decade, seven times more Americans died from lightning strikes in the U.S. than at the hands of Islamist terrorists.

But America’s public culture, which shapes our society and our politics, is increasingly decoupled from facts. We prefer to take our bearings from our sentiments—often the least honorable ones.

Fear is a powerful motivator but a poor counselor. Driven by fear, democracies make mistakes. The World War II internment of Japanese-Americans is a blot on the nation’s history. That the action was demanded by California Attorney General Earl Warren,authorized by President Franklin Roosevelt and ratified by the Supreme Court makes it even worse.

Toward the end of his life, Warren said that he “deeply regretted the removal order and my own testimony advocating it, because it was not in keeping with our American concept of freedom.” Whenever he thought of the children torn from their homes and neighborhoods, he admitted, he was “conscience-stricken.” He had come to believe that “it was wrong to react so impulsively, without positive evidence of disloyalty.”

Warren had discovered what Greek tragedians knew: Wisdom usually comes too late. In 1988 President Reagan signed legislation authorizing financial restitution for surviving Japanese-Americans who had been forcibly relocated. “No payment can make up for those lost years,” Reagan said. “What is most important in this bill has less to do with property than with honor. For here we admit a wrong.”

Fear is the enemy of honor, because it induces us to act dishonorably. That was the effect seven decades ago, and it threatens to return today.

When the leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination recently called for a moratorium on the entrance of all Muslims into the U.S., 41% of his party agreed, according to a Quinnipiac survey in mid-December. Asked whether America should admit 10,000 Syrian refugees, only 28% of Americans endorsed humanitarian relief without regard to religion, according to a mid-November Bloomberg survey. Eleven percent said only Christians should be admitted, and a majority—53%—opposed admitting any Syrian refugees at all.

Granted, no public official can honestly say that accepting the refugees entails zero risk. But is that the right standard? Does a truly brave people do the right thing only when it is risk-free? Does a truly brave people exaggerate a minuscule danger into an existential threat? Is this the course of national honor?

The brave individual, Aristotle tells us, fears the right things for the right reasons, in the right way and at the right time. The fear so many Americans feel toward Syrian refugees does not meet that test.

Demagogues manipulate public passions; they don’t create them. These would-be leaders pander to what is worst in us in the service of their destructive agendas.

Real leaders tell the people what they need to hear. True friends of democracy don’t flatter the people. Demagogues assure the people that they are thoroughly virtuous and always right. That is the core falsehood of populism.

On Jan. 20, 1939, just two months after Kristallnacht was front-page news, Gallup’s American Institute of Public Opinion made public the results of a survey asking whether the U.S. government should permit 10,000 refugee children from Germany—most of them Jewish—to enter the country to be taken care of in American homes. Sixty-one percent of the people answered in the negative. The next month, a bill authorizing the admission of 20,000 German-Jewish children was allowed to die in a congressional committee.

That May, as the German liner St. Louis sailed within sight of Miami, President Roosevelt could have issued an executive order allowing nearly 1,000 German refugees, nearly all of them Jews, to enter the country. He did not. The ship returned to Europe, its passengers left to fate as Germany overran the Continent.

Since 2011 the U.S. government has done almost nothing to alter conditions on the ground in Syria. Nor have European governments. Now a flood of refugees threatens the stability of our closest allies. Thousands of refugees already have died at sea. And yet our leaders, backed by the American people, take no responsibility for the consequences of our collective inaction.

Even those who remember the past, it seems, are condemned to repeat it. Nothing changes except the names of the victims.


El Niño begins

Filed under: Disaster,Mitigation,Preparedness and Response,Resilience,Risk Assessment,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on December 31, 2015

According to Reuters:

With further rain looming, more families abandoned their homes on Sunday in Paraguay, the country hardest hit by the worst flooding in decades in the area bordering Uruguay and Argentina, which has already forced more than 100,000 people to evacuate.

The El Niño weather phenomenon has exacerbated summer rains, swelling rivers in the region. The River Paraguay, which flows by the country’s capital, Asuncion, has already reached 7.82 meters (25.66 feet), its highest level since 1992.

According to The Age (Sydney):

A massive firefighting effort continued on Monday to combat the [Otways] blaze. The resources included 397 staff (including 273 firefighters), 69 four-wheel drive vehicles with water tanks 11 fire tankers, bulldozers and six aircraft.

“This fire will be with us for a period of time. People need to be ready to respond to any messages from authorities, and need to have a plan for the possibility of this fire growing in size,” Mr Rourke said.

The fire has been burning since December 19, when it was sparked by a lightning strike. It has now burnt about 2300 hectares. It destroyed 116 houses in the communities of Wye River and Separation Creek.

According to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology:

Australia’s weather is influenced by many climate drivers. El Niño and La Niña have perhaps the strongest influence on year-to-year climate variability in Australia…most major Australian droughts have been associated with El Niño.

According to The Guardian (Manchester)

From some of the worst floods ever known in Britain, to record-breaking temperatures over the Christmas holiday in the US and and forest fires in Australia, the link between the tumultuous weather events experienced around the world in the last few weeks is likely to be down to the natural phenomenon known as El Niño making the effects of man-made climate change worse, say atmospheric scientists…“What we are experiencing is typical of an early winter El Niño effect,” said Adam Scaife, the head of Met Office long-range forecasting.

According to the United Nations:

Some 2.3 million people in Central America will need food aid as the current El Niño weather pattern, one of the strongest on record, exacerbates a prolonged drought, the United Nations warned today in the latest alert on the impact of the phenomenon which causes floods in parts of the world and drought in others.

“Unfortunately, another dry spell in 2015, this time exacerbated by El Niño, has again caused significant losses during the first crop cycle, the Primera season,” UN World Food Programme (WFP) Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean Miguel Barreto said in Panama…

The WFP alert came just two days after UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director Anthony Lake warned that 11 million children are at risk from hunger, disease and lack of water due to El Niño in eastern and southern Africa alone.

Mr. Barreto said $75 million is needed in Central America, where the drought has already lasted two years in the Dry Corridor that stretches from Guatemala to Nicaragua, but resources are being depleted. 

 On Monday December 28, the Dallas Morning News headline read “TOTAL DEVASTATION” and reported:

Hundreds huddled in shelters Sunday while trying to add up the damage to their homes, churches and schools caused by deadly storms that blew through North Texas.

Eleven people, including an infant, were killed in Dallas and Collin counties, and as many as 11 tornadoes were reported to the National Weather Service.

According to USA Today:

Hardest hit Saturday was Garland, Texas, a city of 230,000 people 20 miles northeast of Dallas, where eight people died and 15 were injured, police Lt. Pedro Barineau said. Most of the fatalities occurred on highways as multiple cars became caught in the severe weather, and several vehicles plunged as far as 17 feet from a bridge, authorities said. Barineau said 600 homes and businesses were damaged…

The tornadoes that roared through Texas reached as high as EF-4, with winds reaching 175 mph, Oram said. This is the USA’s first EF-4 tornado to strike in December in 15 years. It is also the farthest west a tornado of that strength has formed in December, according to the tornado research site U.S. Tornadoes.

Until the holiday season outbreak, only 10 people had died in tornadoes across the nation this year, the fewest number on record. Wiley blamed the rare run of December tornadoes in part on a strong El Niño that has been pushing spring-like temperatures across much of the North and East. El Niño also can take some blame for the snowstorm — another trait of the system is colder than normal temperatures in parts of the South, Wiley said.

According to The Weather Channel:

Today the Mississippi River at St. Louis is expected to crest close to its second highest level on record, the April 28, 1973 flood crest (43.2 feet). This is still short of the record 1993 crest (49.6 feet)… The St. Louis crest will then combine with the rain-swollen Ohio River and move downstream into the Mid-South and Lower Mississippi Valleys later next week and into mid-January.

According to AccuWeather:

Since December and November have been so warm and so wet, the atmosphere and watershed are behaving more like the spring. Temperatures over much of the Mississippi Valley have averaged 8-12 degrees Fahrenheit above normal and featured highs in the 60s and 70s during December. During November and December, frequent storms loaded with abundant moisture have delivered rainfall well above average to much of the Mississippi Basin. The pattern is typical of an El Niño, but rainfall of this magnitude has crossed into uncharted territory for the region.

According to Scientific American:

The Amazon forests of Central and South America are at increased risk of fires in 2016 due to the ongoing El Niño, according to NASA scientists.

This El Niño, which has helped trigger more than 100,000 fires in Indonesia and spewed an estimated 1.75 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents into the atmosphere, will next threaten tropical forests in Southeast Asia and in southern Mexico, Guatemala and other countries in Central America, said James Randerson, an Earth system scientist at the University of California, Irvine.

The higher fire risk in the tropics is one of many of El Niño’s impacts that scientists are observing. In rain-starved California, models are projecting that the weather phenomenon, which is the strongest seen since 1997-98, will likely include heavy precipitation beginning in mid- to late December.

As previously reported by HLSWatch, since at least October FEMA and NOAA have encouraged Californians, in particular, to recognize the risk presented by this year’s El Nino.

December 25, 2015

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on December 25, 2015

William R. Cumming Forum

December 24, 2015

“What are things like in America?” – Letters from Aleppo (Part 3 of 3)

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on December 24, 2015


For some families it means listening for any noise suggesting homeland security raids have started, as Phil Palin posted earlier today:

The Department of Homeland Security has begun preparing for a series of raids that would target for deportation hundreds of families who have flocked to the United States since the start of last year, according to people familiar with the operation.

An emergingly ironic backdrop to the last of Jeff Kaliner’s three-part letters from Syria’s largest city, Aleppo



Dear Pen Pal:

The Russians have begun their air strikes. It’s not as easy as it used to be. Russian jets are faster, more accurate, and more deadly. My mother fled the country last week with my sister, they should be in Turkey but I haven’t heard anything back yet. Dad told me he has been in contact with them but won’t let me see any letters or talk to them.

Sleep and rest has become difficult as the regime is becoming more confident with Russian support. There isn’t much that can be done on our end. It doesn’t look like the U.S. is willing to increase their part in our liberation. Everyone says that we are winning the war. This war isn’t even close to over.


Mani Singh



Dear Pen Pal,

Today was a sad day in my town. More protesters have gone “missing” in the last three days. I don’t get why the government must take them away when all they are doing is singing peacefully not causing any trouble. But on the bright side the rebels have beaten the extremists in yet another battle. My father and brother were fighting in that battle and I was so scared that they would not be returning. But luckily they did return with just bumps and bruises.

I hope this war will end soon and there will be peace in the land. I wish everything would return to normal and the children would never fear of their parents disappearing or a sniper shooting them.

No one should have to go through this whether they are young like me or old like my father. We should be living in peace and harmony with no dictatorship or Islamic extremists.

No one should fear walking through the streets knowing a bomb could go off at any second.


Anali Ruiz



Dear Pen Pal –

Today in Aleppo we had many explosions nearby. This is normal for us now.

My family has lived here for my entire life however it has never been like this. My father worked every day at the local store. My mother stayed at home with us kids, my two brothers and I. We would always play in the street. Everything was normal.

Then the regime began making trouble. I wasn’t sure what it was. Our mother always told us that the explosions were just fireworks. Then one day we woke up to find the neighbor’s house decimated by an explosive. There were bodies in the street. There was blood everywhere.

After we saw this our mother told us what really was happening. She said to us we were being attacked. We asked why? We could see the blank stare. She didn’t know either. When our father walked in. He told us, “This is an attack by ISIS. They want to take control of our city’’.

Fortunately the explosions subsided. We could leave! But our father wanted to stay. We didn’t have anywhere to go. This was still our home. He said, “We must stay. We must fight. We can’t let these bullies take over our home.”

Now there is only my family and one other. Our life has changed. We will wait for the war to end, and everybody to return. We must survive.
Cory St. Pierre


Jeff Kaliner teaches a homeland security class at the Clark County Skills Center in Vancouver, WA. His students were asked to step into the shoes of a child living in Aleppo and write a letter to a pen pal, relative or friend in the United States. Specifically, Kaliner asked the students to describe what they saw, heard and felt. Thanks to his students for sharing how they look at the world.

Take the young child, his mother and flee

Filed under: Border Security,Immigration — by Philip J. Palin on December 24, 2015

The Flight Into Egypt_BassanoAbove, Flight into Egypt by Jacopo Bassano (1545) Norton Simon Museum

According to the December 24, Washington Post:

The Department of Homeland Security has begun preparing for a series of raids that would target for deportation hundreds of families who have flocked to the United States since the start of last year, according to people familiar with the operation.

The nationwide campaign, to be carried out by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents as soon as early January, would be the first large-scale effort to deport families who have fled violence in Central America, those familiar with the plan said. More than 100,000 families with both adults and children have made the journey across the southwest border since last year, though this migration has largely been overshadowed by a related surge of unaccompanied minors…

DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson has been pushing for the moves, according to those with knowledge of the debate, in part because of a new spike in the number of illegal immigrants in recent months. Experts say that the violence that was a key factor in driving people to flee Central America last year has surged again, with the homicide rate in El Salvador reaching its highest level in a generation. A drought in the region has also prompted departures.

According to this morning’s Wall Street Journal:

“Jeh Johnson wants to send a message to Central Americans: don’t come north. But Washington hasn’t solved the underlying problem of massive violence in their home countries that is causing them to come north in the first place,” said Margaret Stock, an immigration attorney in Anchorage.

Though illegal entries overall have dropped sharply in recent years, the Obama administration has been bracing for a surge of unaccompanied children and families from Central America in coming months. In recent weeks, it had begun to add capacity to handle the increase, because migrants are housed at least temporarily in government facilities.

More than 12,000 individuals in so-called family units were apprehended at the border in October and November, compared with about 4,500 in the same months last year.

The number of unaccompanied minors caught during those two months topped 10,000, compared with about 5,000 in the same period last year.

According to the Council on Foreign Relations:

El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras consistently rank among the most violent countries in the world. Gang-related violence in El Salvador brought its homicide rate to ninety per hundred thousand in 2015, making it the most world’s most violent country not at war. All three countries have significantly higher homicide rates than neighboring Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Panama.

Extortion is also rampant. A July 2015 investigation by Honduran newspaper La Prensa found that Salvadorans and Hondurans pay an estimated $390 million and $200 million, respectively, in annual extortion fees to organized crime groups; meanwhile, Guatemalan authorities said in 2014 that citizens pay an estimated $61 million a year in extortion fees. Extortionists primarily target public transportation operators, small businesses, and residents of poor neighborhoods, according to the report, and attacks on people who do not pay contributes to the violence…

The nature of the violence is distinct in each country, but there are common threads: the proliferation of gangs, the region’s use as a transshipment point for U.S.-bound narcotics, and high rates of impunity are major factors contributing to insecurity in the region.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, during FY2015 (through September 30):

Overall, the Department apprehended 406,595 individuals nationwide and conducted a total of 462,463 removals and returns. The U.S. Border Patrol reported 337,117 apprehensions nationwide, compared to 486,651 in FY 2014. At the same time, ICE removed or returned 235,413 individuals in FY 2015, with 86 percent of these individuals considered a “top priority” (Priority One) – those considered border security or public safety threats. 

December 21, 2015

Trying to follow the money

Filed under: Budgets and Spending — by Philip J. Palin on December 21, 2015

Friday an omnibus appropriations bill funding the federal government through the end of September 2016 was signed by the President.  It is 2009 pages long.  I have not mastered it.  I welcome your corrections or additions to what is below

Following are a few homeland security related bits (drawn largely from the Senate Appropriations Committee minority summary and the Committee’s DHS summary.  The following is not complete.

$11.057 billion for Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which is responsible for securing our borders as well as regulating and facilitating international trade and immigration.  At this funding level, CBP will have the resources to hire and maintain 21,370 Border Patrol agents and 23,775 CBP Officers. (DHS)

$10.922 billion for the Coast Guard including $160 million for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO).  When OCO is excluded, the total amount is $933 million more than the fiscal year 2015 enacted level and $1.007 billion more than the request.  (DHS)

$4 .86 billion for the TSA. (DHS)

$5.832 billion for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  Within this total is $1.9 billion to support investigations in high-priority mission areas, including human trafficking and smuggling, child exploitation, commercial fraud and intellectual property rights enforcement, gangs, cybercrimes and terrorism. (DHS)

$1.63 billion for the National Protection and Programs Division including Infrastructure Protection, Cyber and Infrastructure Analysis, Federal Protective Service, and Biometric Identity Management. (DHS)

$1.5 billion, the same as fiscal year 2015 and $289 million more than the request, in funding to equip and train first responders and state, tribal and local officials for homeland security protection and response. (DHS)

Firefighter grants for equipment and staffing are funded at $690 million which is $10 million more than the fiscal year 2015 level and $20 million more than the request. (DHS)

$350 million is for the Emergency Management Performance Grants to ensure emergency management personnel and capacity is sustained nationwide. (DHS)

$100 million for the Predisaster Mitigation Program, quadrupling these funds from $25 million in fiscal year 2015, and $190 million for flood hazard mapping and risk analysis, almost doubling the program from $100 million last year. (DHS)

$7.4 billion for the Disaster Relief Fund. (DHS)

(Editorial note: We are willing to pay much more to clean up and try to repair Humpty Dumpty than to strengthen his shell, pad his falls, or stop him from sitting on walls.)

$50 million in new funding for the Secretary of Homeland Security to distribute as needed to state and local governments, universities, and non-profit organizations, to prepare for emergent threats from violent extremism and complex, coordinated terrorist attacks.  The bill also provides $3.1 million for the new Office of Community Partnerships, which will focus on countering violent extremism. (DHS)

$314 million in Department of Energy cybersecurity work, which is $10 million more than the fiscal year 2015 level, for cybersecurity activities. (DOE)

$21.3 million for the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to help ensure that federal laws and policies related to terrorism appropriately consider privacy and civil liberties.

$3.7 billion appropriated to Department of Justice, FBI, ATF and related agencies to help prevent radicalization in our communities and support our first responders and federal agents ensuring that if terror strikes, measures are in place to protect and save lives.  One of the biggest agencies in our fight to prevent terrorism within the CJS bill is the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).  The FBI’s counterterrorism and counterintelligence operations are funded at $3.4 billion to uncover, investigate and disrupt current and future threats to our national security.  The National Security Division (NSD), housed in the Justice Department, is funded at $95 million to coordinate efforts between federal prosecutors, law enforcement and the Intelligence Community to combat terrorism.  Other Justice Department agencies are funded as follows: the U.S. Attorneys Office at $51 million to prosecute terrorism cases; the Bureau of Prisons at $18 million to stop extremism and radicalization in federal prisons; the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) at $98 million to fight terrorism with a drug trafficking nexus; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) at $15 million to disrupt and prevent the use of firearms and explosives in terrorist acts; and U.S. Marshals Service at $13 million to handle threat investigations.  The National Institute of Justice is provided $4 million to provide community leaders with evidence-based practices for bolstering resilience and developing responses to prevent and mitigate threats posed by violent extremists. (DOJ)

$7.228 billion for the Centers for Disease Control, $278 million more than last year. (HHS)

$175 million for the Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund to support the Department of State efforts to strengthen the capacity of foreign law enforcement, and to facilitate a more integrated interagency effort to analyze threats and identify priorities for counterterrorism activities. (STATE)

$750 million to respond to the surge of unaccompanied children coming from Central America to the U.S.  The funds will be used to implement a U.S. strategy focused on border security and the reintegration of migrants as well as to address the causes of the migration, including programs to improve education and employment, support families, counter gangs and professionalize police forces in Central America.  Seventy-five percent of the funds for the central governments of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala is subject to certification that they have met certain requirements related to governance, corruption and human rights. (STATE) (Note: $695 million is provided within CBP and ICE to house, process and transport up to 58,000 unaccompanied children and families with children.)

$300 million in disaster relief to help rebuild communities devastated by floods in 2015.  This level of funding is expected to assist approximately 4,000 households composed of homeowners with flood damage and no flood insurance, and very low- to extremely low-income renters with flood damage.  This funding can also assist with rebuilding small businesses and more resilient infrastructure in impacted communities. (HUD)

The Department of Defense (DoD) Appropriations Act, 2016 provides $572.8 billion in base and Overseas Contingency Operation (OCO) funding, compared to $554.1 billion enacted in fiscal year 2015 and $577.9 billion in the President’s budget request.  The base budget appropriation is $514.1 billion with $58.6 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations of the Department of Defense, compared to $63.9 billion for DoD OCO enacted in fiscal year 2015. (DOD)

Intelligence agencies are separately funded.  According to the Director of National Intelligence the FY2016 budget for non-military intelligence operations is $53.9 billion. (DNI, 16 differentmilitary and non-military intelligence agencies)

The comparative proportions are informative, don’t you think?

December 20, 2015

Saturday night in New Hampshire

Filed under: Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on December 20, 2015

The three candidates for the Democratic Party presidential nomination met in New Hampshire on Saturday night, four days after a Republican debate in Las Vegas.  Both sessions focused significant attention on terrorism.  The Democrats shared a stage at Saint Anselm College.  The Republicans met at the Venetian Hotel and Casino.  The content for the two events was as differentiated as the venues.

Here’s a transcript from Saturday night.  More later.


A few excerpts from St. Anselm (added to this post early on Monday morning, December 21):

The former Senator and Secretary of State said:

I have a plan that I’ve put forward to go after ISIS. Not to contain them, but to defeat them. And it has three parts. First, to go after them and deprive them of the territory they occupy now in both Syria and Iraq.

Secondly, to go after and dismantle their global network of terrorism. And thirdly, to do more to keep us safe. Under each of those three parts of my plan, I have very specific recommendations about what to do.

Obviously, in the first, we do have to have a — an American-led air campaign, we have to have Arab and Kurdish troops on the ground. Secondly, we’ve got to go after everything from North Africa to South Asia and beyond.

And then, most importantly, here at home, I think there are three things that we have to get right. We have to do the best possible job of sharing intelligence and information. That now includes the internet, because we have seen that ISIS is a very effective recruiter, propagandist and inciter and celebrator of violence.

That means we have to work more closely with our great tech companies. They can’t see the government as an adversary, we can’t see them as obstructionists. We’ve got to figure out how we can do more to understand who is saying what and what they’re planning.

And we must work more closely with Muslim-American communities. Just like Martin, I met with a group of Muslim-Americans this past week to hear from them about what they’re doing to try to stop radicalization. They will be our early warning signal. That’s why we need to work with them, not demonize them, as the Republicans have been doing…

You know, I was a senator from New York after 9/11, and we spent countless hours trying to figure out how to protect the city and the state from perhaps additional attacks. One of the best things that was done, and George W. Bush did this and I give him credit, was to reach out to Muslim Americans and say, we’re in this together. You are not our adversary, you are our partner.

And we also need to make sure that the really discriminatory messages that Trump is sending around the world don’t fall on receptive ears. He is becoming ISIS’s best recruiter. They are going to people showing videos of Donald Trump insulting Islam and Muslims in order to recruit more radical jihadists. So I want to explain why this is not in America’s interest to react with this kind of fear and respond to this sort of bigotry.

The Senator from Vermont said:

Number one, our goal is to crush and destroy ISIS. What is the best way to do it? Well, I think there are some differences of opinion here, perhaps between the secretary and myself. I voted against the war in Iraq because I thought unilateral military action would not produce the results that were necessary and would lead to the kind of unraveling and instability that we saw in the Middle East.

I do not believe in unilateral American action. I believe in action in which we put together a strong coalition of forces, major powers and the Muslim nations. I think one of the heroes in a real quagmire out there, in a dangerous and difficult world, one of the heroes who we should recognize in the Middle East is King Abdullah II of Jordan. This small country has welcomed in many refugees.

And Abdullah said something recently, very important. He said, “Yes, international terrorism is by definition an international issue, but it is primarily an issue of the Muslim nations who are fighting for the soul of Islam. We the Muslims should lead the effort on the ground.” And I believe he is absolutely right.

The former Mayor of Baltimore and Governor of Maryland said:

We have invested nowhere near what we should be investing in human intelligence on the ground. And what I’m talking about is not only the covert CIA intelligence, I’m also talking about diplomatic intelligence. I mean, we’ve seen time and time again, especially in this very troubled region of nation-state failures, and then we have no idea who the next generation of leaders are that are coming forward.

So what I would say is not only do we need to be thinking in military terms, but we do our military a disservice when we don’t greatly dial up the investment that we are making in diplomacy and human intelligence and when we fail to dial up properly, the role of sustainable development in all of this. As president, I would make the administrator of USAID an actual cabinet member. We have to act in a much more whole of government approach, as General Dempsey said.

And I do believe, and I would disagree somewhat with one of my colleagues, this is a genocidal threat. They have now created a safe haven in the vacuum that we allowed to be partly and because of our blunders, to be created to be created in the areas of Syria and Iraq. We cannot allow safe havens, and as a leader of moral nations around this Earth, we need to come up with new alliances and new ways to prepare for these new sorts of threats, because Martha, this will not be the last region where nation-states fail.

And you’ve seen a little bit of this emerging in the — in the African Union and the things that they have done to better stabilize Somalia. We need to pay attention here in Central America as well. So this is the new type of threats that we’re facing and we need to lead as a nation in confronting it and putting together new alliances and new coalitions.

Lot’s more in the transcript.  Substantive discussion and distinctions, mostly coherent consideration of real issues and a couple of worthwhile positions well-outside conventional wisdom.

December 18, 2015

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on December 18, 2015

William R. Cumming Forum

Probability assessments

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Resilience,Risk Assessment,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on December 18, 2015

After Paris and before San Bernardino a Washington-Post ABC News poll found that 83 percent of registered voters perceive “a terrorist attack in the United States resulting in large casualties is likely in the near future.”

In a more recent poll seventy-seven percent of Americans express significant skepticism that  it is possible to stop terrorist attacks carried out by individuals, so-called “lone wolfs” or those inspired but not directed by ISIS, al-Qaeda, and similar organizations.  There is much more confidence that larger-scale coordinated attacks can be preempted.  But even here a majority of poll respondents doubt all such attacks can be stopped.

The media reports on these polls (linked above) tend to perceive increasing anxiety or fear and focus on political consequences.

But the more recent poll, conducted between December 10 – 13, also asked the question, “How worried are you that you or someone in your family will become a victim of terrorism?” Despite (because of?) the proximity of the Paris and San Bernardino attacks the percentage responding as “not too worried” or “not worried at all” increased from 49 percent in a June poll to 57 percent last week.

These survey results seem coherent with my own perceptions:

Continued terrorist attacks on the United States are likely. Variations of the Boston bombings or San Bernardino shootings are most likely.  An urban swarm attack, ala Mumbai or Paris, will — almost certainly — eventually be carried out.

We should be proactive and smart in taking reasonable and effective steps to reduce these probabilities. In the homeland security domain this ranges from a strategy of social solidarity to well-targeted intelligence operations.  But at some time and place all of our best efforts will fail.

In any case, these terrorist operations are unlikely to directly threaten me or my family directly.  They do not — or at least, need not — present an existential threat to the nation.

Given the polls reported above, other recent polls, and my own conversations with a wide range of Americans, it would seem that more than sixty percent share very similar views.  It is, it seems to me, a very realistic perspective on probabilities.

It is remarkable that political leadership seems unwilling or unable to build-on the realism of a significant majority of the population. It is even worse when some putative leaders are focused on stoking an unachievable fantasy of complete security on the part of a fearful minority.


UPDATE:  On December 16 the Department of Homeland Security released a National Terrorism Advisory System Bulletin, a new approach to providing public alert.  Rather than the old (bad) color codes, it attempts to provide some context.  The first alert opens with:

We are in a new phase in the global threat environment, which has implications on the homeland.  Particularly with the rise in use by terrorist groups of  the Internet to inspire and recruit, we are concerned about the “self-radicalized” actor(s) who could strike with little or no notice. Recent attacks and attempted attacks internationally and in the homeland warrant increased security, as well as increased public vigilance and awareness.

This is hardly new, but perhaps someone had been waiting for “official” notice.


December 17, 2015

Talking terrorism

Filed under: Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on December 17, 2015


Tuesday evening in Las Vegas the Republican presidential candidates all had something to say about terrorism… and immigration, refugees, cyber-war and whether or not we are already engaged in World War III. The following focuses on what I heard regarding terrorism.

Senator Paul said, “If we truly are sincere about defeating terrorism, we need to quit arming the allies of ISIS. If we want to defeat terrorism, the boots on the ground — the boots on the ground need to be Arab boots on the ground.” He also said,”every terrorist attack we’ve had since 9/11 has been [the result of] legal immigration… I want more rules, more scrutiny, and to defend the country, you have to defend the border.”

Senator Cruz said, “If I am elected president, we will hunt down and kill the terrorists. We will utterly destroy ISIS. We will stop the terrorist attacks before they occur because we will not be prisoners to political correctness. Rather, we will speak the truth. Border security is national security and we will not be admitting jihadists as refugees. We will keep America safe.”

Mr. Bush said, “We need to destroy ISIS in the caliphate. That’s — that should be our objective. The refugee issue will be solved if we destroy ISIS there, which means we need to have a no-fly zone, safe zones there for refugees and to build a military force. We need to embed our forces — our troops inside the Iraqi military. We need to arm directly the Kurds. And all of that has to be done in concert with the Arab nations. And if we’re going to ban all Muslims, how are we going to get them to be part of a coalition to destroy ISIS?The Kurds are the greatest fighting force and our strongest allies. They’re Muslim.”

Governor Kasich said, “Then here at home, there are things called the Joint Terrorism Task Force, headed by the FBI, and made up of local law enforcement, including state police. They need the tools. And the tools involve encryption where we cannot hear what they’re even planning. And when we see red flags, a father, a mother, a neighbor who says we have got a problem here, then we have to give law enforcement the ability to listen so they can disrupt these terrorist attacks before they occur.” In regard to operations against ISIS, the Governor said, “This is not going to get done just by working with the Sunnis. And it is not going to get done if we just embed a few people. We have to go massively, like we did in the first Gulf War where we destroyed Saddam’s ability to take Kuwait. We need to have a coalition that will stand for nothing less than the total destruction of ISIS and we have to be the leader. We can’t wait for anybody else.”

Ms. Fiorina said, “Why did we miss the Tsarnaev brothers, why did we miss the San Bernardino couple? It wasn’t because we had stopped collected metadata it was because, I think, as someone who comes from the technology world, we were using the wrong algorithms.”

Senator Rubio said, “ISIS is a radical Sunni group. They cannot just be defeated through air strikes. Air strikes are a key component of defeating them, but they must be defeated on the ground by a ground force. And that ground force must be primarily made up of Sunni Arabs themselves, Sunni Arabs that reject them ideologically and confront them militarily. We will have to embed additional American special operators alongside them to help them with training, to help them conduct special missions, and to help improve the air strikes… And beyond that, I would say we must win the information war against ISIS. Every war we have ever been involved in has had a propaganda informational aspect to it. ISIS is winning the propaganda war. They are recruiting people, including Americans, to join them, with the promise that they are joining this great apocalyptic movement that is going to defeat the West. We have to show what life is really like in ISIS territory, and we have to show them why ISIS is not invincible, by going out and conducting these attacks and publicizing them to those who they recruit.”

Governor Christie said, “What we need to do… is restore those tools that have been taken away by the president and others, restore those tools to the NSA and to our entire surveillance and law enforcement community. We need a president who is going to understand what actionable intelligence looks like and act on it.” The Governor said or suggested much more, but mostly by criticizing what others have done or propose to do and promising he will be stronger.

Mr. Trump‘s comments were, at least to me, incoherent. Every quote I begin to cut and paste seems ridiculous.  I sort of know what he means, but only by finishing sentences for him.

Much more was said, the Washington Post provides an annotated transcript.

Hugh Hewitt, a conservative radio broadcaster, who CNN had asking questions initiated an exchange with Ben Carson regarding the role of healing violence. This is not the term used in Las Vegas by either man, but the work of surgeons, such as Dr. Carson, is sometimes described with this phrase. The pediatric neurosurgeon responded that in fighting terrorism he is prepared to practice extreme triage. Here’s one part of the exchange:

HEWITT: So you are OK with the deaths of thousands of innocent children and civilians? It’s like…

CARSON: You got it. You got it.

Dr. Carson and most of the other Republican candidates — many others as well — have situated the current terrorist threat as a particular thing in a particular place or places.  This diagnosis drives the treatment: complete eradication.

There is an abiding sense of terrorism as an external epidemic or an internal cancer — perhaps some weird hybrid of both — that will continue to threaten if it is not entirely exterminated.  Dr. Carson is not alone in deciding that the threat is self-evidently sufficient to justify the most heart-wrenching triage.

Is a chronic coronary condition the more accurate analogy? There is a significant weakness in our global circulatory system. Blockages tend to form, threatening various ruptures that could kill us. This sort of diagnosis would tend to drive wellness, reinforcing therapies, and less drastic surgical interventions. Triage is much less relevant to this diagnosis.

Earlier in the evening at the undercard debate Senator Graham said, “This is a religious war between radical Islam and the rest of the world. And there’s only one way you’re going to win this war. Help people in Islam who reject radical Islam to fight over there and destroy this ideology. Donald Trump has done the one single thing you cannot do: Declare war on Islam itself. ISIL would be dancing in the streets, they just don’t believe in dancing. This is a coup for them.  And to all of our Muslim friends throughout the world, like the King of Jordan and the President of Egypt: I am sorry. He does not represent us. If I am President, we will work together and with people of faith all over the world to destroy this radical ideology. Declaring war on the religion only helps ISIL.”

Senator Graham is still using the language of destruction. But what I hear him describing is much more a matter of building up the strength of a whole system, not just for some to survive but for everyone to thrive.


UPDATE:  Mid-day on Thursday the President visited the National Counterterrorism Center.  His remarks on the terrorist threat can be found here.

Even more issues

Filed under: Climate Change,Immigration,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on December 17, 2015

This has been an especially busy several days in homeland security.  The list of issues and events could be quite long.  The following strike me as requiring at least a reference here.

The decision to close the Los Angeles public schools after receiving an emailed terrorist threat was defended by the LA Times editorial board.  They wrote, “with the San Bernardino shootings still a vivid memory, and with a somewhat more detailed threat in hand, district officials believed they had little choice but to close the schools. Had anything happened to a student or teacher, the horror would have been unspeakable, a wound from which it would be hard to recover. It’s easy to understand why the district erred on the side of safety.”

New York received a very similar — even identical — threat but decided differently.

“We are born of immigrants.  That is who we are.  Immigration is our origin story.  And for more than two centuries, it’s remained at the core of our national character; it’s our oldest tradition.  It’s who we are.  It’s part of what makes us exceptional,” the President told new citizens who had just participated in a naturalization ceremony at the National Archives.  Given increasing public anxieity regarding immigrants, it was a powerful, even poignant event.

Writing in Politico Michael Hirsh  argues that the recent terrorist attacks and even more recent climate deal in Paris reflect the darkest and the brightest aspects of life on our planet. He writes, “The question is whether the political leaders who signed what is being called “L’accord de Paris” were more effective in their efforts to preserve this civilization than the terrorists were in theirs to destroy it. Granted, the climate pact has plenty of holes—the biggest of which is that it is fairly nonbinding—but it still represents the strongest global consensus in two decades on climate change, bringing in nearly every nation on earth…”

December 15, 2015

“What are things like in America?” – Letters from Aleppo (Part 2 of 3)

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on December 15, 2015

224 years ago today, the Bill of Rights was ratified.

“On December 15, 1791, the United States adopted the Bill of Rights, enshrining in our Constitution the protection of our inalienable freedoms, from the right to speak our minds and worship as we please to the guarantee of equal justice under the law…. In adopting the first ten Amendments, our Founders put forth an ideal that continues to define our Nation — that we can have both liberty and security, that we need not sacrifice the rights of man for the rule of law.”

Jeff Kaliner and his students remind us of a lesson easily forgotten:  as messy as our endless pursuit of a more perfect union may be, not everyone shares our blessing of liberty.

Kaliner teaches a homeland security class at the Clark County Skills Center in Vancouver, WA. His students were asked to step into the shoes of a child living in Aleppo and write a letter to a pen pal, relative or friend in the United States. Specifically, Kaliner asked the students to describe what they saw, heard and felt.


Dear Pen Pal,

My name is Mason. I am 17 years old and I am from Syria.

I have seen many terrible things. ISIS bombed my house last year and my mom and sister died. Even though I was very scared I wanted justice. So, soon after the bombing I began making weapons with my father.

I fear for my life and my family’s lives every day and the only thing that makes me want to live is my dad and my little brother. I am teaching my brother about how to make bombs. I am also trying to give him an education so that he might have a future after this war.

I wish we could send my little brother out of the country. He needs a proper education and a better life.

Mason Winstead



Dear Pen Pal

I am writing to you from Syria.

Every day I patrol my area and look for anything that is out of the ordinary. The government has planted bombs.

In the morning I join my dad in the office to make bombs to use against the regime. Once I’m done with that my sister and I go and make sure the sheets are still hanging outside of our home so the snipers can’t shoot us.

On a daily basis I see war and I see people fighting for what they believe in. I also see my siblings suffering. We all felt it was best to stay and fight with my dad and I agree so that’s what we are going to do.

Even though I have lost friends who sided with the government, I know my help can make a difference.

I am constantly thinking about how I am going to die, I’m not really scared but I feel nervous as if when I die I won’t have contributed enough to the cause. I am feeling a bit of anxiety and stress due to my position but I am also feeling pride in the fact that I know fighting will change something.

Well I’m needed on the lines now so I have to go, bye.

Your Friend ~ Grady Baxter



Hello Pen Pal,

My name is Evelyn and I am 9 years old. I live with my family in a country named Syria in the town of Aleppo.  Syria is where I was born and raised.

I believe my country would be better if we had peace. I feel as if I am terrorized for something that I have no part of. I love my family and we are at risk every day, knowing that anybody could die the next.

We are trying to make the best living here but it’s really, really hard. Bombs are always being thrown and destroying our property and our houses. I don’t think my family or any of us deserve this. We only want to be happy.

I see things that scare me and I know it’s not right. I see things like people’s heads being blown off and body parts laying around in the streets. It’s scary for me and all I can do is hope and pray every day and every night for a better tomorrow.

Peace to you,

E. N.





December 11, 2015

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on December 11, 2015

William R. Cumming Forum

December 10, 2015

Risk is a river

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on December 10, 2015

Natural Risk:

According to the Seattle Times:

Heavy rains and melting snow swelled rivers over their banks across Western Washington on Wednesday, as floodwaters endangered lives and homes in at least 11 counties while pouring over roadways, undermining hillsides and forcing widespread evacuations.

A mudslide closed all lanes of northbound Interstate 5 near Woodland, which straddles Clark and Cowlitz counties, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) said. And more rain is on the way — with high winds on the coast and north of Everett…

Accidental Risk:

Methane has been leaking from a natural gas storage facility since October, sickening the residents of Porter Ranch, a Los Angeles suburb.  The video above was commissioned by a law firm and taken with a  specialized Optical Gas Imaging camera on December 7, 2015. It reveals a cloud of methane gas over the community. According to the Los Angeles City Attorney, the leak is releasing roughly 50,000 kilograms of methane per hour — a cumulative amount since October roughly equivalent to 200,000 cars running for a year.

Intentional Risk:

Yesterday the FBI Director testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee.  Most of the media reports have focused on the director’s oral comments related to the San Bernardino mass shooting.  According to National Public Radio,”The husband-and-wife team who killed 14 people during a shooting rampage in San Bernardino, Calif., had been radicalized before they “started courting or dating each other online…” Comey said the couple had talked about jihad and martyrdom as early as the end of 2013.”

The FBI Director’s prepared testimony is much more comprehensive.

The enemy of peace and happiness

Filed under: Radicalization — by Philip J. Palin on December 10, 2015

I am a man in his sixties, mostly of Danish, Norman French, and English ancestry.  I enjoy a glass a wine.  I drink too much coffee.  I have a particular affection for the human form in art and otherwise. In many ways, I am a sensualist.

I am also an active member of the Jesus movement. I understand my spiritual tradition to be well-rooted in and watered by Judaism.  I recognize Islam as a closely-related tradition — in some ways the original protestants — who have preserved and extended a web of spiritual notions gradually excluded by the post-Constantinian Church.

I am especially taken by the Koran’s characterization of the relationship between Jesus and John the Baptist. For me it is entirely coherent with Gospel accounts… and much more extensive.

On Tuesday I sent and received several Rohatsu greetings, celebrating the anniversary of the Buddha’s enlightenment.

I understand Ultimate Reality — what I sometimes call God — to be radically open to constant flux.  Reality is predisposed to freedom and creativity. Randomness is one necessary aspect of this freedom. Chaos is how we may characterize our experience of reality.

I also perceive that deeply woven into our universal context are strange attractors quite adept at maintaining certain boundaries.  In most ways, the behavior of Ultimate Reality is precisely unpredictable, but in many other ways: discoverable, dependable, and  — while beyond proofs positive — potentially (and innately) self-restrained.  God is reasonable, Aquinas thought he had proven.

To some all of this makes me an infidel (and for others, dangerously religious).  I honor the material world.  I am religiously syncretic.  I perceive God to be self-restraining.  The God of Spinoza? Heretic.

To the extent that I actively quote Tanakh, Gospel, Talmud, Koran, Hadith, Sutra, Newton, Einstein, Heisenberg, and Bohr in arguing these perceptions, I am demonstrably Satanic.  A Tempter.  An Impediment. A Spiritual Rebel.

I am not being ironic.  I understand and — at a certain level — even empathize with the critique.

They crave certainty.  They perceive rather specific guarantees.  They preach and try to practice a strict formula that they are convinced can unfold into universal peace and happiness.  If only humanity would submit to this discipline, a holy justice, equality, and love would be experienced by all.

In my stubborn rebellion I not only condemn myself, but I endanger thousands of others. I am perpetuating the pain of sin and separation. Eliminating me would speed the reconciliation of humanity to its true calling.

Earlier this year ISIS was quite explicit in one of their English-language publications (Dabiq) regarding this separation of sheep from goats, wheat from chaff, good from evil.  They paraphrased Osama bin Laden (who drew on George W. Bush): “The world today is divided into two camps. Bush spoke the truth when he said, ‘either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.’ Meaning either you are with the crusade or you are with Islam.”

Today those associated with Raqqa perceive too many Muslims (the vast majority) reside in what they call a “grey zone”, a shadowland between the light of certain truth and the darkness of ambiguity that I personify.  Too many modern Muslims share some of my corrupt predilections. They must be motivated to turn from darkness and toward the light.

One of the best ways to achieve this is for darkness to expel them. Again in Dabiq — published to be read by English-speaking Muslims — they wrote,

The Muslims in the West will quickly find themselves between one of two choices, they either apostatize and adopt the kufri [infidel] religion propagated by Bush, Obama, Blair, Cameron, Sarkozy, and Hollande in the name of Islam so as to live amongst the kuffar [infidels] without hardship, or they perform hijrah [emigrate] to the Islamic State and thereby escape persecution from the crusader governments and citizens… Muslims in the crusader countries will find themselves driven to abandon their homes for a place to live in the Khilafah, as the crusaders increase persecution against Muslims living in Western lands so as to force them into a tolerable sect of apostasy in the name of ‘Islam’ before forcing them into blatant Christianity and democracy.

The coordinated attack on Paris was well-timed, intentionally or not, to influence the French regional elections.  Sunday the first phase produced an outcome very satisfying to Raqqa.  The anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim National Front Party garnered more votes (28%) than the Socialists (23%) or conservative Les Republicains (27%).

In the US Republican Party nomination contest, Donald Trump is betting Iowa caucus goers and New Hampshire primary voters are ready to reject the grey zone. He is not alone.

The leaders of ISIS pray to a Power that they are certain can make Marine Le Pen and Donald Trump servants of His purpose: to eliminate the grey, clarify black from white, fulfill their vision of division and certainty.

This is a self-interested warping of reality.  In my experience the mixing of dark and light, night and day, is not grey.  At dawn and twilight what I most often see is pink to crimson, saffron to gold, and cerulean to ebony. This morning there was a crescent moon rising to meet the bright planet named for a once-upon goddess of love.

These places between light and darkness are beautiful. I welcome sharing them with anyone who is ready to look east in the morning or west in the evening.  I understand how this makes me the enemy of ISIS and others committed to certainty.  In this recognition, I am even more motivated to enjoy — and defend — these in-between places. Those who have been excluded or expelled are especially welcome.  Given your experience with extremists, your insight is especially needed.

December 9, 2015

“What are things like in America?” – Letters from Aleppo (Part 1 of 3)

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on December 9, 2015

Jeff Kaliner teaches a homeland security class at the Clark County Skills Center in Vancouver, WA.  His students wrote most of this post.

Letters From Aleppo

“I am constantly thinking about how I am going to die. I’m not really scared but I feel nervous as if when I die I won’t have contributed enough to the cause.”

These words were written by a student in my high school homeland security class. The assignment was to step into the shoes of a child living in Aleppo and write a letter to a pen pal, relative or friend in the United States. Specifically, I asked the students to describe what they saw, heard and felt.

After a few weeks of studying the conflict, I was curious how teenagers from southwest Washington State comprehend the events taking place in Aleppo. In other words, how might twenty young people living in the United States make sense of over 10,000 dead children in Syria?

A sampling of the responses appear below (and in subsequent posts).

Dear Kelsie and Becca,

How are you doing?  I hear that fall has finally hit the states. Is it cold there now?

It’s getting rough over here in Aleppo. Yesterday a missile landed across the road from us. It didn’t go off right away, but when it did it destroyed most of the houses on that side plus part of our upstairs…where Kyle sleeps. Thank God he wasn’t there at the time. He was busy helping Dad deliver new ammunition to some of the other rebel fighters.

They shut school down a while ago. In a way I’m so glad they did, it was getting really difficult going there in peace. A lot of the teens there are children of regime fighters and since my dad (as you know) is a rebel fighter, they really don’t like me or my siblings. I would walk the halls in fear of my life!

Do you have to worry about that in the United States? I really wish we were there. But I am glad to being doing my part to help the rebel fighters. Kyle is fourteen now and he is very strong and has a good shot, so they asked him to help out. Mom was really hesitant about letting him go with the men. We worry that he is now a target for ISIS.

Jessica and Kendra are afraid to venture far from the house. I don’t think they will ever get used to the missiles and the guns firing constantly. I don’t know if I will. At night sometimes they will crawl into my bed. I used to send them back to their room. But now I let them stay with me. I tell them stories and try to help them remember the way things used to be. Jessica is only nine and Kendra is only seven, but the way they talk and the look they get in their eyes sometimes shows age beyond their years.

They rarely talk like they used to. So whenever Jessica brings up her love of chickens or a bird she found, or when Kendra talks about candy and The Hobbit movies, we rejoice inside and encourage them to keep talking.

The other day Jennesa and I took the girls outside to explore a bit and we found a kitten. You should’ve been there to hear their squeals of joy. They laughed and jumped up and down for ages. I had tears in my eyes, it made me so happy to see them happy. Surprisingly Mom let us keep it. I guess she missed having the cats and it helps occupy the girls when we are trapped inside.

Many a time I wish that we were far away from here. Away from the fighting, away from the dust and constant fear. But I am glad that we are here to help the people, to be doing our part. ISIS and Assad must fall. I dream, as I know we all do, of better days. Where the air will be clean of debris from the blown up buildings, where my siblings can play in the streets without fear of a sniper or a sudden attack. I have hope. That day will come soon. With much love

Your cousin,

Kira Goodell



Dear Sara,

I wish I could be where you are, it’s getting really bad here.

It’s louder than usual, more bombs are going off now and more of the kids around town have gone missing. At first we started looking for them but many of us have given up.

Now our parents keep us in at night to avoid being taken or getting lost. That means we really don’t go out much anymore.

How are you? What are things like in America?

Talk soon.

Sidney Childers


Dear Pen-Pal,

Greetings from Syria!  I am a 19 year old girl who lives in Aleppo.   I help my mother take care of the rest of my family which consists of an older brother and two little brothers.  My father is fighting with revolutionaries against Assad’s Regime.

My town is constantly being hit with gunfire, rockets, and shelling.  Being out on the streets is too dangerous so we stay inside most of the time.   When there is a break in the fighting I take my little brothers to the balcony of our house where I teach them their alphabet and numbers. (They’re ages 5 and 3.)

My older brother helps my father with making bombs to use against Assad’s Regime.

When a family member leaves the house there is a possibility of them not returning.  So we treat each day as though it might be our last.  I am not afraid of losing my family for I know that when I do lose them I will see them again with God and that they will have died a martyr’s death.

What is it like over in America???

Is there any fighting where you live??

Will be awaiting your letter.


Tiffany Miller

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