Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

July 31, 2014

The government we deserve?

Filed under: Border Security,Congress and HLS,Immigration — by Philip J. Palin on July 31, 2014

UPDATE: Friday Morning:  According to The Hill: “Senate Republicans blocked a $2.7 billion border spending bill Thursday in a 50-44 vote. The Senate voted against waiving a budget point of order on the measure, which would have provided funding for authorities to handle a wave of child immigrants crossing the border.” MORE.

Later today the House is expected to try again to pass a narrower package.  According to Roll Call: “It could happen as early as Friday morning — the GOP will gather at 9 a.m. to discuss new policy proposals to accompany a $659 million appropriations bill they abruptly yanked from consideration Thursday. Republicans departing from an emergency conference meeting Thursday afternoon told reporters they felt confident that, through a process of educating colleagues and agreeing to make some changes to existing legislative language, they could muster enough votes to pass the new measure. MORE.

But with Senators already leaving town for a five-week recess, whatever the House does will be symbolic rather than substantive.  The House will blame the Senate. Democrats will blame Republicans (and vice-versa).  Congress will have fulminated and flailed, but in the end the legislative branch failed to act.

UPDATE: 4:30 Eastern:  Republican leadership has announced the House will delay its recess until a vote is taken on border-related legislation.  MORE from The Hill.

I will be driving for a couple of hours.  Texting while driving is dangerous, blogging is worse.  This is about all from me today… and tomorrow will not be a good day for me to be online.  Blogging is not all I do.

As Bill Cumming mentioned, it’s been interesting to watch the “dance of legislation.”  Beautiful ballet it ain’t.

UPDATE 3:00 Eastern:  Several news outlets are reporting the House is unlikely to vote today on a border related supplemental.  The Hill is using the word “canceled” in regard to the vote.  Roll Call is using “postponed”, saying there is still a small chance of the vote being rescheduled.  Just moments ago Politico led their coverage with, “The House descended into chaos on Thursday, unable to plot a path forward on a bill to address the border crisis.”

I have received email and voicemail from those claiming to be inside the process on Capitol Hill.  Some I do not know.  One writes, “Every effort at responsible legislative action is being countered by those, some Democrats and some Republicans, who threaten the political equivalent of all out war.  This is not parliamentary maneuver or even political hard-ball, but hostage-taking and career-threatening extortion. It makes House of Cards look like Little House on the Prairie.”

It is my understanding that unless the House passes something, there will be nothing to reconcile with the Senate (presuming something emerges there) and legislative input to the oft-referenced “crisis” on the border will be null.

I’m told a meeting is just getting underway among Republican leaders to find some way through to more than null.  I’ve got other work, but will be back when I can be.

UPDATE 1:30 Eastern: The Hill reports that Democrats in the House will not vote for the so-called Granger supplemental.  This means divisions in the Republican caucus must be overcome for the legislation to pass in the House.  The House is expected to vote early this afternoon.  I will probably be offline when it happens… if it happens anytime close to schedule.

UPDATE Noon Eastern: Roll Call reports: “Just hours after shifting gears on a strategy to pass a $659 million appropriations bill to bolster resources at the U.S.-Mexico border, House Republicans are moving ahead, more confident they have the votes. Rank-and-file members emerged from a GOP Conference meeting at the Capitol Hill Club on Thursday morning with a sense that the gambit — giving conservatives a standalone vote to stop the expansion of President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program after they pass the border funding bill — would be enough to bring conservative holdouts on board. MORE.

At 11:17 AM Reuters reported:  ”The Congress on Thursday is set to debate “emergency” border security legislation that lawmakers acknowledge will not be enacted but will enable them to campaign for re-election by arguing they worked to address a humanitarian crisis. Republicans and Democrats have been sparring over President Barack Obama’s request for $3.7 billion to respond to the crisis in which tens of thousands of Central American children have tried to enter the United States illegally. With Congress on the verge of beginning its five-week summer recess, the votes in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and Democratic-held Senate on Thursday will mark a holding pattern.” MORE.

UPDATE 11:00 Eastern:  Statement by the White House Press Secretary: “It is extraordinary that the House of Representatives, after failing for more than a year to reform our broken immigration reform system, would vote to restrict a law enforcement tool that the Department of Homeland Security uses to focus resources on key enforcement priorities like public safety and border security, and provide temporary relief from deportation for people who are low priorities for removal.  In the face of Congressional inaction, the Administration’s use of Deferred Action for DREAMers in 2012, which has benefitted more than 500,000 young people who are Americans in every way except on paper, is the most significant progress we have made toward immigration reform in years.  By failing to act on an immigration reform bill that requires that people who are here illegally pay taxes, undergo background checks and get on the right side of the law, the House is instead driving an approach that is about rounding up and deporting 11 million people, separating families, and undermining DHS’ ability to secure the border.”

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ORIGINAL THURSDAY MORNING POST:

Yesterday (Wednesday) late morning the Senate voted 63-to-33 to end debate on the emergency supplemental.  (See Senate Appropriations Committee language.) This advanced the proposed appropriation toward floor amendments and an up-or-down vote.  According to Politico, “GOP senators who don’t support the Senate Democrats’ package – which also includes funding for wildfire aid and for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system – lent their votes for the procedural vote in hopes of amending the measure more to their liking.”

Later today (Thursday) the House is expected to vote on a $659 million package. (See House Appropriation Committee’s supplemental language and funding amounts.) According to Roll Call, “Two-thirds of the funding will be for border security, with $40 million going to prevention and $197 million going to humanitarian assistance, according to a GOP aide. It will run through Sept. 30.”

The Republican caucus is not wholly on board.  Last minute changes are possible.  There is even some talk of passing the stop-gap measure with bipartisan votes, rare on big bills.  According to The Hill, “House conservatives emerging from a late evening meeting in Cruz’s office said they would oppose the $659 million legislation and warned it might fail on the House floor, an embarrassing prospect for the new GOP leadership team.”

At 11PM Wednesday night, Roll Call reported:

In a bid to shore up votes for their border supplemental, Republican leaders plan to give conservatives a vote Thursday prohibiting President Barack Obama from granting deportation relief to more illegal immigrants. One vote will be on the $659 million appropriations bill aimed at curbing the flow of child migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, which includes policy riders that have alienated nearly all Democrats. On the condition of that bill passing, members would then be allowed to a vote on standalone language prohibiting the expansion of President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program granting deportation relief and work permits to children brought here illegally by their parents. Republicans charge DACA has acted as a magnet for unaccompanied children to come to the United States, although recent immigrants are not eligible.

Republican Senators McCain and Cornyn are rumored to be working on a version of the House bill that could pass the Senate, presumably as an in extremis measure. But Wednesday afternoon some White House staff threatened a Presidential veto if the House measure makes it through the Senate and to the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

As of Thursday dawn it does not appear likely that the House and Senate will reconcile their alternatives anytime soon.  The Hill reports, “…before the House and Senate are to adjourn for a five-week recess, there is little chance that legislation dealing with the wave of immigrants crossing the border will reach President Obama’s desk.”

Both chambers are expected to complete work tonight.  I will provide updates to this post throughout today as legislative action is taken.

Given the apparent division and indecision on Capitol Hill, it is interesting to see that a July 23-27 public opinion poll found significant public consensus related to the current border issue.  Here are the results for two of the questions asked of a statistically valid sample:

Which statement comes closest to your views about what the U.S. should do about
the children who are currently arriving from Central America without their parents. We should…

70 percent   Offer shelter and support while beginning a process to determine whether they should be deported or allowed to stay in the U.S.
26 percent   Deport them immediately back to their home countries
2 percent     None of these
2 percent    Don’t know/Refused
100 Total

Now I’m going to read you a few pairs of statements. For each pair, please tell me whether the FIRST statement or the SECOND statement comes closer to your own views — even if neither is exactly right. The first pair is…  Which statement comes closer to your own view?

38 percent    The families of children arriving from Central American are taking advantage of American good will and are really seeking a back door to immigrate to our country
56 percent    The families of children arriving from Central American are doing what they can to keep their children safe in very difficult circumstances
3 percent      Neither/Both (VOL.)
3 percent      Don’t know/Refused (VOL.)
100 Total

Joseph de Maistre wrote, “Every nation gets the government it deserves.”  The American nation is authentically divided on many important issues.  Our government reflects this division.  But in this particular case, a significant majority of the people-as-a-whole seem wiser, more merciful, more generous than a majority — or a stubborn minority? — of our legislators.

July 30, 2014

William Wilberforce

Filed under: Border Security,Congress and HLS,Immigration — by Philip J. Palin on July 30, 2014

On this day in 1833 William Wilberforce died.  On August 1, 1833 slavery became illegal in the British Empire. Passage of this law had been a decades-long goal of Wilberforce.

Wilberforce was a religious man and an effective politician.  Abolition of slavery was only one of his many parliamentary and social causes.  Most of which he practically advanced.

This week several steps are being taken to potentially amend the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (Wilberforce Act).  Several have pointed to this law as the cause of the surge of children presenting at the US border.   It is seldom so simple.

The life of Wilberforce demonstrates the potential of law — and law-makers — to advance the boundaries of human justice.  Ethical, economic, and political complications also challenged Wilberforce.  But his life in politics is a model for the practical, patient, persistent — courageous and insistent — application of legislative give-and-take.  He always tried to elicit the best from his allies and adversaries, saying, “Be happy, and your joyful work will prosper well.”

Given our current challenges at the border and elsewhere, another Wilberforce quote seems especially relevant: “You may choose to look the other way but you can never again say you did not know.”

July 28, 2014

This week the battle for the border will be on Capitol Hill (stand-off predicted)

Filed under: Border Security,Immigration — by Philip J. Palin on July 28, 2014

The onslaught of children at the southern border of the United States has several sources.

It appears that a law passed in late 2008 to deal with human trafficking — especially the trafficking of children — has had an almost opposite effect.

The law, which allows a wide class of children greater protection once they reach the US border, has been mis-characterized by criminal parties (especially in Central America) in order to motivate families to pay for their children to be smuggled through Mexico to the US border.

Over roughly the last year a rapid increase in children presenting themselves at the border has overwhelmed the existing immigration hearing system producing a defacto ability for children to remain in the United States for an extended period pending hearing.  This has reinforced the claims made by criminals.  It is also a problem that too many US officials tended to minimize until this last Spring.

Families are also motivated by a dangerous and deteriorating situation — especially in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador — where a confluence of economic turmoil, organized gangs, corrupt officials and other profound dysfunctions encourage taking significant risks in order to escape. The President of Honduras suggests many of these problems have their origin in the US demand for drugs.

The Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin, Texas recently released a report that highlights significant problems when children are repatriated.  These problems have been exacerbated by the surge in numbers.  Bloomberg’s BusinessWeek published a story last week on the range of challenges involved in repatriation.

On Sunday conservative commentator George Will told Chris Wallace, host of Fox News Sunday, “My view is that we have to say to these children, ‘Welcome to America. You’re going to go to school and get a job and become Americans’.”

To mitigate the current crisis Congress needs to act this week before it leaves for a long August break.  Unless additional funding and policy changes are legislated the Secretary of Homeland Security warns, “… we’re going to run out of money to deal with this. I’ve got my CFO working overtime this week working out how we are going to pay for this if Congress doesn’t act.”

Some suggested measures include:

Clarify the current legal situation with Central American families: This has been ongoing since at least March.  Some progress seems to have been achieved.  In June the number of children arriving at the border was reduced by about half compared to prior months.  The US government has increased official communications.  But unofficial information has potentially been even more influential.

Expedite the hearing process: Additional immigration judges, changes in law, and procedural adjustments could reduce the current log-jam and more quickly return children not found to qualify for some extended immigration status.  This would presumably reduce the motivation to make the risky and costly trip to the US border.

Amend the 2008 law, especially to facilitate prompt-return: Mexican and Canadian nationals can be returned without the hearing process currently afforded other children. But many are resisting this given the dangers facing Central American and other children. Under current law there is a prima facie right to hearings and the ethical implications of eliminating this right strike many as unacceptable.

Enhance security at Mexico’s southern border:  Reducing out-migration from Central America (more than a thousand-miles south of the US border) makes theoretical good sense.  There are, however, problems with corruption and lack of capacity related to Mexico’s National Institute of Migration. Still it is worth attention over the long-term.  It is more and more in Mexico’s self-interest as a stronger Mexican economy and comparative security also attracts immigrants.

Enhance US border security: Considerable progress has been made over the last ten-to-twelve years.  More on current House Republican proposals in this regard is available here.  Also see related prior post at HLSWatch

Allow application for refugee status in the country-of-origin: The idea being this would discourage the risky journey while responsibly addressing those most seriously threatened.

Increase country-of-origin efforts to encourage staying at home.  Both governmental and non-governmental programs exist to reduce severe want and fear.  Many would benefit from additional support.  Yesterday, George Will (see original reference above) argued, “Long term, the most effective legislation passed concerning immigration wasn’t an immigration bill at all. It was Bill Clinton’s greatest act, passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement that put North Americans on the path to prosperity. We need to do something similar for the countries in which these children are fleeing.”

What other near-term mitigation efforts or longer-term solutions do you have?

Most informed observers doubt that the House and Senate will take practical legislative steps before they are scheduled leave Capitol Hill late this week.  More on fast-breaking legislative prospects from:

The Hill

Roll Call

Politico

–+–

UPDATE:  Monday morning’s Diane Rehm Show, heard on many NPR stations, focused on efforts to address the “child migrant crisis”.   Joining Ms. Rehm and receiving call-in questions and comments were:

Laura Meckler, staff writer, The Wall Street Journal.
Carl Meacham, Americas program director at Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Mark Hugo Lopez, director, Hispanic trends, Pew Research Center
Marc Rosenblum, deputy director, U.S. immigration policy program, Migration Policy Institute

You can listen to the hour-long discussion at the following website by clicking on the “LISTEN” icon or word.

July 9, 2014

Border Musings

Filed under: Border Security — by Arnold Bogis on July 9, 2014

A couple of random thoughts about the border.

- – - – - – - – - -

What means “secure?” A lot of criticism directed towards the President over the current crisis at the border comes back around to either he has not “secured our border” or that before money should be directed toward HHS efforts at housing and caring for the immigrant children or to bolstering the judicial process they must be go through according to a 2008 law he must first “secure our border.”  

By what measure is it not secure? Or, to put it in the context of the present crisis, what border town is overrun with these Central American children?  To listen to the media, you would think these kids are spreading out from the border like those killer bee maps that once made the rounds.  Yet it seems that these children are getting up to the border and basically turning themselves in. Instead of providing the money the Administration says is necessary to deal with this issue, some Congressmen are calling for the National Guard to be deployed.  What are they going to do?  Shoot the kids as they approach the border?  

- – - – - – - – - -

Apparently if the President doesn’t show up at some border crossing or detention center during his current trip to Texas it will be his “Katrina moment.” Politico give some context to this charge:

Earlier this week, Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar, whose Texas district is situated along the U.S.-Mexico border, said he hoped Obama’s decision not to visit the border wouldn’t be his “Katrina moment.” The congressman was referring to then-President George W. Bush’s widely criticized response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Bush was famously photographed in the aftermath of the storm surveying the damage from above while aboard Air Force One, a photograph he called a “huge mistake” in 2010.

“In this case where there’s a crisis, a leader’s going to be defined on how he or she handles that crisis,” Cuellar said on CNN Wednesday morning. “You can send surrogates to the border, you can be 500 miles away like how he’s going to be in Dallas today, but he ought to go down there.”

I agree with the first part of that statement about crisis leadership.  I do not agree with the second.  Much sound and fury has been aired demanding that President Obama travel to “the border” (exactly where to see what is never specified).  Only if, ONLY IF he would, obviously the Administration’s entire response to this situation would change.

How?  I have no idea.  I can imagine a Presidential visit would boost the morale of the men and women working at the, uh, locations he visits.  Beyond that, it is unclear what positive impact a Presidential visit to one or two locations on a limited stretch of the border will have.  Will the amount of time he spends on the issue change?  Probably not.  Will the directions he gives his Cabinet secretaries gain added urgency?  Unlikely.  Will his critics find something new to complain about? Undoubtedly.

There is still much to learn and apply from the mistakes made in preparing for and responding to Hurricane Katrina.  Perhaps some can be applied to this situation at the border.  However, I hope people will refrain from throwing around simple comparisons for political scoring sake.  The men and women working their hardest to resolve this crises, at the border and throughout the country, deserve better than that.

July 3, 2014

Hope, fear, and prospect theory

CBP and 8 year old

Photograph by Jennifer Whitney  for the New York Times

Chris Bellavita hopes the QHSR  will advance homeland security.  I fear too few will engage the QHSR to produce a sufficient effect. (Chris, btw bases his hope on evidence from the first QHSR while I deploy mostly worry and cynicism.)

Parents in Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and elsewhere hope their children will find a better life in the United States. Others in Virginia’s Seventh Congressional District, Murietta, California, and elsewhere fear these children will unravel the rule of law.

Some Sunni Salafist fighters hope they are creating the foundations of a just and righteous society across what is now Northern Syria and Iraq, eventually the whole world.  Many Shia faithful and others fear they are numbered among the unrighteous to be converted or killed.

Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Twitter and many geeks still unknown, hope to bring the whole world into our hand-helds, opening exciting opportunities for meaningful relationships and untold riches.  Some of us fear our credit-scores — and more substantive identities — are being delivered into the hands of criminals, terrorists, con-artists, corporate voyeurs, NSA spooks and more.

The current Executive hopes to establish and consistently apply a rigorous set of principles and due process by which evil can be prevented and sacred values preserved (while sources and methods are protected).  Senators Paul and Wyden among others fear that any hidden act claimed as lawful is a hot-house of hubris where the very best intentions will be incrementally reversed.

They want to retire to the beauty of the shore or mountainside or river or forest or such.  The prospect of hurricane, flood, earthquake, and fire prompt some second-thoughts.

We are tempted — especially those of us in homeland security — to treat risk as something that might be measured as accurately as an average shoe-size… if only we can gather enough shoes.  Imelda where art thou?

But the risk that matters most may be imagined more than measured.  Big hirsute Hobbit feet may be the common heuristic, no matter how many ballerinas bounce about us.

Over thirty years ago Tversky and Kahneman showed us, “Decision making under risk can be viewed as a choice between prospects or gambles.”  It is how we frame our expectations that decide our perspective on risk and thereby determine what choices seem rational.

For most our frame-on-reality is decided by a reference point: typically an expectation of the status quo persisting.  If we are more-or-less satisfied (or psychologically risk-averse) we worry more over the prospect of losing than embrace an opportunity to gain.  This can apply even if we have little to lose.  We  tend  to over-weight the downside and under-estimate positive likelihood.

Unless we are risk-seeking. As is typical with criminals, terrorists, and teenage boys. By the early 1990s Tversky and Kahneman had found, “Risk-seeking choices are consistently observed in two classes of decision problems. First, people often prefer a small probability of winning a large prize over the expected value of that prospect. Second, risk seeking is prevalent when people must choose between a sure loss and a substantial probability of a larger loss.”

There are other variations of human rationality that do not square with “expected utility” (rationality according to economists).  But risk-seeking has particular relevance for homeland security.

When my great-grandfather returned to England from another colonial war and had the audacity to marry a Scots seamstress of another (Christian) faith, they faced the disdain of family and very constrained prospects. Perceiving only losses to lose, he and she set out for Philadelphia.  The risk was real, but seemed less to them than remaining in Newcastle.

Nineteenth century Newcastle had a murder-rate considerably less than today’s Tegucigalpa (10 per million versus 1690 per million).  Who says the parent of the eight-year-old in the picture above has not made a reasonable calculation?

Today I will purchase a lottery ticket with a small probability of winning a large prize.  Early this week a new Caliphate was proclaimed.  Was the self-styled Caliph’s reasoning all that different than mine?

There are too many whose reference point is a land-of-loss, especially loss of hope.  The risks they are willing to take — heroic or demonic depending on taste — are worth our notice, a touch of fear, and some courageous creativity.  If reduction of risk-seeking is a goal, our target is their prospective imagination.

June 12, 2014

Foxes, hedgehogs and homeland security

“The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”

                                                                                         Archilochous

PART I: COUNTERTERRORISM

On May 21 the Secretary of Homeland Security affirmed that counterterrorism is the primary mission of the Department.  But speaking to a large crowd of mostly state and local officials, Mr. Johnson evidently felt compelled to — or did not have the energy to do more than — review the many activities of the Department and, at least to my ears, focused particular attention on the challenge of illegal immigration (See Part II below).  The DHS website does not provide a transcript.  I wonder if whoever prepared the read-out was actually there.

On May 28 the President told West Point graduates:

For the foreseeable future, the most direct threat to America at home and abroad remains terrorism.  But a strategy that involves invading every country that harbors terrorist networks is naïve and unsustainable.  I believe we must shift our counterterrorism strategy…  So we have to develop a strategy that matches this diffuse threat — one that expands our reach without sending forces that stretch our military too thin, or stir up local resentments.  We need partners to fight terrorists alongside us.  And empowering partners is a large part of what we have done and what we are currently doing in Afghanistan. 

The domestic analog of this strategy also needs to empower its partners.  Our homeland security framework should be especially attentive to vulnerabilities and creative regarding strengths. This is certainly important in terms of counterterrorism, but applies across most other hazards as well… if we will take the opportunity to notice.

Neither this White House nor its predecessor has given anything close to the same quality of attention to partnering with the private sector or the states or other crucial domestic players that is given to collaborating with NATO or the G-7 or key individual allies. The diplomatic-military-intelligence triad enjoys an advantage of clout, connections, and intellectual capital that far exceeds what we call homeland security.  Counterterrorism and cybersecurity are just about the only aspects of HS that earn any sustained attention by policy elites.

And this is no longer the elite of yore: foxes ala Isaiah Berlin moving from investment banking to the OSS to the Herald-Tribune to an embassy or two and then decamping for a few years at the Ford Foundation.  More and more our modern masters are process managers, mathematicians, and other rather wonky hedgehogs “who know one big thing”.  And they are inclined to leave other big things — if any might emerge — to someone else.  They notice what they know.

Since mid-May I have had two separate conversations with recently retired senior counterterrorism guys.  One has been out for about a year.  The other just retired last month.  They sounded alot alike.  Most of what they said you already know.  What struck me was what they did not say — seemed unwilling to seriously address — even in an informal setting and with their official duties behind them.  (But then again, look what I am doing with the conversations.)

The potentially meaningful silence I observed related to terrorist motivation. Americans currently fighting in Syria were mentioned by both.  Domestic terrorist trends were discussed. Recent events in the Sahel were reviewed.  In each exchange there were similar references to “behavioral indicators” and “spatial analysis” and “antecedent conduct” and “heuristics” and “covariance” and “probability”.   There was considerable reluctance to engage any questions related to ideology, religion, tribal-identity, grievance, or social, economic, and political “co-indicators”.  When these questions were asked both experts bridged-back to statistics as quickly as possible.

Speaking of statistics, an N of 2 is seldom significant.  But still the similarity was striking.  Rather than discussing fleshy and potentially very bloody human beings, my conversation partners might have been describing Brownian physics: The random motion of particles suspended in flux.

PART II: IMMIGRATION

I considered Secretary Johnson’s May 21 remarks misaligned with his audience.  He had a crowd with rather specific priorities.  He gave a generic speech.  Lost opportunity.

The somewhat greater focus I heard him give immigration may have been more the result of narrative punch than proportion or intention.  The Secretary mentioned that on Mother’s Day his wife joined him to visit a hosting center in Texas for detained unaccompanied minors (UAMs in trade-talk).  I was not taking notes, but his brief description was sufficient to imagine the kind of purgatorial scenes widely reported this week.

Immigration Center

Holding area for unaccompanied minors in Nogales, Arizona (USAToday).  Please note portable toilets in the far ground. Those are cots in the fore ground.

Mr. Johnson shared being profoundly affected and having since taken several steps to mitigate the troubling situation. This was more than three weeks ago.  I have wondered how much the Secretary’s action might be cause of (or only coincident with) this week’s media blitz.  I also wonder if our attention to this issue will be any more long-lasting or effectual than that given the kidnapped Nigerian school girls.  The crucial difference may be that Secretary Johnson is paying attention and has the authority to ensure others notice and act as well.

In the case of both Nigeria and Nogales a “policy problem” has been personalized.  In each case the “others” — even the “its” — who are victims have reclaimed their humanity. Or more accurately many of us have acknowledged what was always the case, but we had neglected to notice.

We are usually as effective depersonalizing victims as we are dehumanizing terrorists.

III. (IN)ATTENTION, INTENTION, AND INFLUENCE

Behavioral indicators and other more objective analytic techniques have emerged, in part, to discourage unthinking, unhelpful, misleading, gross profiling of potential terrorists; such as most Muslims or at least those with beards… or Sikhs who wear beards and turbans (but are not Muslim and at least in the United States have only been the target — not the source — of terrorism).

I am in favor of science, social science and statistics. I very much depend on hedgehogs and have tried to be better at burrowing into a hedge myself.

But this need not — ought not — exclude the knowledgeable, mindful, insightful application of the humanities (e.g. languages, literature. art, philosophy, religion, history).  We should especially avoid excluding our humanity.

In dealing with homeland security problems we need to recognize cause and effect.  This can often be done with a decidedly disinterested stance.  But there are other contexts when subjective human insight can play an important role. There is a place for empathy even in counterterrorism.

At West Point the President also said, “We must not create more enemies than we take off the battlefield.”  We might begin by recognizing that many of our most precious values are disruptive to more traditional societies… as well as some neighbors down the street.  Being disruptive is often — even accurately — perceived as threatening.  Living our values with integrity while defusing the unintended threat to others is a task requiring both fox and hedgehog, as many as we can get with eyes and ears wide open to the unexpected.

In Philadelphia Secretary Johnson saw a thousand state and local leaders and he didn’t seem to fully recognize their potential.  In the particular moment he was unable to differentiate this crowd from other crowds. He only saw what he was prepared to see. But fortunately when Secretary Johnson saw a thousand illegal immigrants crowded into a detention center in McAllen, Texas he recognized: these are children.  Not just UAMs. His observations and  actions were informed by being a father as well as a cabinet secretary.  Solutions will remain elusive, but much more likely when the problem is engaged as a whole.

August 13, 2013

Crossing over into Canada

Filed under: Border Security — by Christopher Bellavita on August 13, 2013

Today’s post was written by someone who – other than being an American citizen — has nothing to do with homeland security.   She lives in the northwest US.

My 12 year old wanted to visit a foreign country this summer. We figured the easiest way to do it would be to visit Canada for the weekend. We would just dip our toes into the country by visiting Victoria for two days. A mere two-hour ferry ride from Anacortes, Washington to Sydney, British Columbia would put us in an entirely different country! But not that different really. After all it’s only Canada. It’s just up the road. You just get in the car and go. Right?

Nope.

We knew things had changed since 9/11. We could no longer cross the border to Canada by answering questions only slightly more rigorous than “do you have any fresh fruit or vegetables?” like they ask at the California border. We knew a passport was involved.

I had a passport, but my 12 year old did not. His expired when he was 5 and we had not renewed it.

We almost didn’t get to go because getting a passport for our 12 year old would take most of the rest of the summer. But then, joy! We read that children under the age of 16 could travel to Canada with only a birth certificate and it didn’t even have to be the original.  A copy would do. My son and I could take our trip after all.

We made reservations, battled our way through the Seattle traffic and arrived in Anacortes well before the ferry to Sydney was to depart. We got in line and inched along.

At last the ticket booth came into view. A man in a day-glo green vest asked us where we were headed. We told him.

Do you have a letter for the boy?” he asked.

“A letter? I have his birth certificate,” I replied.

“You need a letter from his dad saying it’s okay for you take your son to Canada,” he said. “If you don’t have it you might have trouble on the Canadian side.”

“What does the letter need to say? Is there a form? Are there guidelines that tell me what I must include in the letter?” I asked.

We were three cars away from the ticket agent who would be asking for the letter we didn’t have.

“You just need a note from your husband saying it’s okay.”

This letter – the one that would determine if we could visit Canada or not was sounding less official than the permission slips I sign for my son’s school field trips and more like an excuse I write to the teacher when he’s tardy. Apparently any old slip of paper would do.

Over in the passenger seat my 12 year old was freaking out.

“They aren’t going to let me into Canada!” “What will they do with me?” “Am I breaking the law?”

I suggested writing a letter on behalf of my husband and signing his name. I picked up a pen and piece of paper to begin.

“But that’s forgery!” my son yelled as he grabbed the pen from my hand. “You can’t do that! I won’t let you! It’s against the law! I respect my country and my government!”

He was really worked up.

“Even if Dad says it’s okay?” I asked.

“No! It’s breaking government laws and I won’t let you do that!” he replied.

Then he accused me: “Are you some sort of hippie? Are you going to paint the van all flowery and sit there and be like, ‘hey man, we don’t have to respect the system?’”

By now it was our turn to face the person who was going to demand the letter.

With great trepidation, but trying to maintain a cheerful attitude while my son was by now afraid to speak, we approached the agent. I gave her my passport and my son’s birth certificate.

“Do you have a letter from his dad saying it’s okay for you to take him to Canada?”

“No.”

“Well, I’ll let you go, but you might have trouble when you get to Canada. I really shouldn’t do this,” she said as she waved us on. I thanked her and drove on to the ferry.

Did we just get away with something? Were we breaking the law? Was she saying it was okay for us to do that? It was all very confusing to my law-abiding, bureaucratically naive son.

But we were on the ferry, on our way to Canada and we couldn’t turn back. Would the Canadians let us in the country without the letter? If they didn’t would they send us back to the US? Would they put us in some sort of holding cell? Would they put us in jail? Canadian jail? Border patrol jail? Were we doomed to ride back and forth on the ferry forever? We did not know. Our border crossing had taken a dark turn.

We arrived in Sydney and drove off the ferry to join the line of cars waiting to be granted entry into Canada. Ours was the last car off the boat.

We worried our way through the line of cars. By now my husband had texted me a letter. Would that do? We had no idea, but it was our turn. My son and I both tried to be cool.

The Canadian was extremely friendly. She was downright sunny as she asked us for our documents. She asked for the letter and I gave her the phone. It had a picture of the letter from my husband.

“Will this do?” I asked.

She smiled and said she knew how it was when you realized you needed something at the last minute. She asked me my address and how long we’d be in Canada. Then she turned to my son.

“Why are you traveling without your dad?” she asked him.

“He’s in California looking at colleges with my older brother,” was my son’s reply.

Polite talk about older brothers going off to college ensued.

“Enjoy your visit,” she said. She waved us on. We were in!

She was nice, my son and I commented to each other as our worries faded and we turned our attention to being in Canada.

Driving along at 90 km/h wondering how much a $1.41 liter of gas really cost we started taking pictures and texting them to the other half of our family. Then it dawned on me. Just what did that text about international data and roaming charges I got from AT&T while we were on the ferry mean?

Epilogue

After the ordeal the letter caused, you can bet upon returning to the United States we made sure we a paper copy in our hand.

But when it came time to cross the border, none of the 3 border patrol people we faced were in the least bit interested in seeing our letter. I handed it to the first US border patrol person and she literally gave it back to me saying, “I don’t need this.”

REALLY? But I worked so hard to make sure I had it! By now I was pretty darned proud of my letter. But no matter, she looked at our other documents and waved us on telling us to get in lane 8 to wait for the ferry.

Lane 8 was a holding pen.

We were surrounded by fence topped with barbed wire. On the other side of the fence people were freely going about their business boating and otherwise enjoying the sunny weather. Granted there was a gift shop in the holding pen, but it was clear if we wanted out, we’d have to talk to yet another authority and show our documents. It was starting to feel un-American.

We boarded the ferry, made one stop in Friday Harbor where passengers disembarked but did not board, then sailed on the Anacortes, Washington looking forward to being back in the United States of America. We drove off the boat and found ourselves in line once again. Are we going to have to talk to yet another official?

Yep.

The border official asked us for our “papers.” That sounded un-American as well. But he was dead serious and appeared to be wearing a bulletproof vest, so we were not about to quibble.

I gave him my passport, my son’s birth certificate and the letter.

You will not be surprised to learn that he did not want to see the letter either. He glanced at our other documents, and asked, “What were you doin’ in Canada?”

“Visiting Victoria,” I answered.

“How long were you there?” he asked.

“Three days,” I replied.

“Did you buy anything?” he asked.

I responded with the truth. “Some cereal and a purse. Do you want to see them?”

“No,” he said and waved us on.

My son and I thought my response was hilarious. Cereal and a purse! We giggled ourselves silly as we drove toward home.

But it wasn’t really that funny.

Crossing the border had made us nervous. And tense. Uneasy. And yes, even a little afraid.

But it was over now, so we felt free.

Free enough to laugh.

June 22, 2013

Doubling the Border Patrol? Not a Smart Idea

Filed under: Border Security,Budgets and Spending,Immigration — by Christian Beckner on June 22, 2013

Immigration reform legislation has been debated for the last couple of weeks on the floor of the Senate, and late last week a compromise emerged – in the form of an amendment from Sen. Corker and Sen. Hoeven – that appears to have secured enough votes for the bill to survive a cloture vote in the coming week and then move to final passage.  This New York Times story provides a good overview of the state of play.

One of the key provisions in the amendment (which is technically being wrapped into a larger substitute amendment) is $30 billion in funding over the next decade to add 19,200 new Border Patrol agents, nearly doubling the size of the Border Patrol from its current staffing level of 21,370 agents.

This proposal is a terrible idea – one that would be wasteful of taxpayers’ money and is not based on sound operational or technical analysis as to what investments are really needed to improve border security.

Before discussing this in depth, let me be clear: I would like to see broad-based and balanced immigration reform legislation be enacted, and it is sensible for a component of that legislation to be focused on border security, as is the case with ‘Gang of 8′ base bill.  Many of the border provisions in the base legislation are reasonable, including proposed investments in technology and infrastructure (although strong oversight is needed on these, given the history of SBInet) and the proposal to increase the number of Customs and Border Protection Officers (CBPO’s, who are different from Border Patrol agents).

However, the proposal to double the number of Border Patrol agents is different, and is something that deserves careful scrutiny by people on all sides of this debate before moving forward.

I have three primary concerns about this provision:

First, adding “boots on the ground” may make for a good soundbite, but it’s a costly and inefficient way to improve border security.   CBP spends around $3.2 billion/year today on personnel costs for the Border Patrol – a figure that doesn’t include the cost to train and equip them.  This $3.2 billion is already a very large chunk of DHS’s budget – as a point of comparison, it’s about 3-4 times greater than what the Department spends overall each year in support of its cybersecurity mission.  A proposal to double the Border Patrol would increase that total to over $6 billion/year in current dollars – and this would be an annual investment for the long-term, because of the difficulties associated with reducing such a workforce once you’ve expanded it.

Second, this proposal is not based on any real analysis about operational needs on the border.  Has anyone assessed what are these additional 19,200 agents going to do, or where are they going to work, or what infrastructure is needed to support them?  Not that I’ve seen, and I doubt that any analysis along these lines has been done.  And if we’re going to be making technology and infrastructure investments (e.g. fixed towers, UAVs, better comms) using funds available elsewhere in the legislation to improve the operational efficiency of the current Border Patrol agents, then why it is logical that we would also need twice as many of them?  As it is, we are already at the point where in some parts of the country, we’re seeing the “diminishing marginal returns” in border security that Secretary Napolitano spoke of a few months ago, exemplified by media reports where Border Patrol agents are fighting constant boredom.   Given this, I think it’s very hard to justify this proposal on its operational merits.

Third, it would be unwise to be spending billions of dollars to double the size of the Border Patrol when many of the other parts of DHS (and other key security-focused agencies) are struggling under the weight of four years of flat and declining budgets, topped off in the last few months by the cuts of sequestration.  For example, the Coast Guard is cutting personnel and continues to be delayed in its acquisition of its next generation of maritime vessels due to budget constraints.  (And keep in mind that the Coast Guard’s maritime border security requirements in the Gulf of Mexico and southern California will likely increase as the southwest land border becomes more secure).  The FBI is expecting that it’s going to need to furlough agents next year because of sequestration.  Nearly every part of DHS has felt the impact of budget cuts by Congress in the last four years – in many cases trimming out needed fat, but now to the point where the cuts are having an operational impact.   But now, suddenly, the Senate is proposing to spend tens of billions of dollars to double the size of the Border Patrol without one iota of analysis.

Given these three factors, I would hope that members of Congress in both parties would rethink this fiscally and operationally unwise proposal, regardless of their position on the broader bill.   There are many better ways to accomplish the shared goal of improved border security.  Some of these are already integrated into the base bill, and others, such as increased resources to investigate overseas human trafficking and smuggling organizations, and increases to the intelligence offices at CBP and ICE, and increases to state and local law enforcement grants in border states, would cost much less but collectively deliver a greater overall benefit to border security.

The agents who currently serve in the Border Patrol are hard-working and patriotic, and deserve our support.  But doubling their ranks doesn’t make any sense, and would be a fiscally irresponsible and operationally uninformed decision by the Congress.

April 4, 2013

Industry Consolidation: Implications for deadly violence in the United States

Filed under: Border Security,Risk Assessment — by Philip J. Palin on April 4, 2013

Monday the Associated Press released an investigative piece on the role of Mexican drug cartels in the United states.   According to this report,

Mexican drug cartels whose operatives once rarely ventured beyond the U.S. border are dispatching some of their most trusted agents to live and work deep inside the United States — an emboldened presence that experts believe is meant to tighten their grip on the world’s most lucrative narcotics market and maximize profits.

If left unchecked, authorities say, the cartels’ move into the American interior could render the syndicates harder than ever to dislodge and pave the way for them to expand into other criminal enterprises such as prostitution, kidnapping-and-extortion rackets and money laundering…

“It’s probably the most serious threat the United States has faced from organized crime,” said Jack Riley, head of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Chicago office.  MORE

(For much more detail on the Mexican drug cartels please see a March report by the International Crisis Group: Peña Nieto’s Challenge: Criminal Cartels and Rule of Law in Mexico.)

One way to view Mexican drug operations in the United States is as an increasingly concentrated source of supply for a popular and high margin consumer product. In most major US cities — and increasingly in suburban and rural areas too — the Sinaloa Cartel is the primary source while a range of street/prison gangs handle wholesale and retail sales.

According to the 2011 FBI National Gang Threat Assessment,

There are approximately 1.4 million active street, prison, and Outlaw Motorcycle Gang (OMG) gang members comprising more than 33,000 gangs in the United States. Gang membership increased most significantly in the Northeast and Southeast regions, although the West and Great Lakes regions boast the highest number of gang members. Neighborhood-based gangs, hybrid gang members, and national-level gangs such as the Sureños are rapidly expanding in many jurisdictions. Many communities are also experiencing an increase in ethnic-based gangs such as African, Asian, Caribbean, and Eurasian gangs. Gangs are responsible for an average of 48 percent of violent crime in most jurisdictions and up to 90 percent in several others, according to NGIC analysis.

The financial returns of the drug trade — and increased concentration of supply — is reflected in a more streamlined retail network.  This rationalization of major US regional markets is, among other results, producing what can be seen as significant Merger & Acquisition activities across the retail environment.  According to the National Gang Threat Assessment:

Mexican Drug Trading Organizations (MDTOs) are among the most prominent Drug Trading Organizations (DTOs) largely because of their control over the production of most drugs consumed in the United States. They are known to regularly collaborate with US-based street and prison gang members and occasionally work with select OMG and White Supremacist groups, purely for financial gain… The prospect of financial gain is resulting in the suspension of traditional racial and ideological division among US prison gangs, providing MDTOs the means to further expand their influence over drug trafficking in the United States… Gangs’ increased collaboration with MDTOs has altered the dynamics of the drug trade at the wholesale level. US gangs, which traditionally served as the primary organized retail or mid-level distributor of drugs in most major US cities, are now purchasing drugs directly from the cartels, thereby eliminating the mid-level wholesale dealer. Furthermore, advanced technology, such as wireless Internet and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) capabilities, has made the recruitment, collaboration, and coordination of criminal activity more efficient and lucrative, and allows direct contact between the gangs and DTOs.

One outcome of this radical shift in the supply chain for illicit drugs is the emergence of ongoing collaboration between Mexican sources, long-time African-American regional wholesalers, and several white Aryan retail networks (with lots of others in the mix).  But some suggest intense local violence — such as that experienced over recent years in Chicago — can also be understood as competition over market share.

For the most radical White Supremacist organizations this collaboration with the “lesser races” is a case of the ends justifying the means.  Drug profits are a lucrative way to fund the coming revolution… as well as the current lifestyle.  In the annual estimate of the Texas gang threat released earlier this week, the state Department of Public Safety provides this quick overview of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas:

The Aryan Brotherhood of Texas (ABT) was formed as a prison gang and places its racist ideology secondary to its everyday criminal activities. ABT is not considered a significant threat to the border areas of Texas but is considered a prevailing gang that threatens Texas internally because of its involvement in violent crimes, the methamphetamine business, and frequent property crimes.

For what it’s worth, most of my personal contacts in Federal and Texas law enforcement do not believe the recent assassination of Kaufman County, Texas prosecutors will actually be traced to the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas — as frequently mentioned in recent days – much less the killing of the Colorado prisons director.  The assassination yesterday of a West Virginia sheriff has, however, spurred concerns related to copy-cat killings.

“While I don’t think they were involved this time, I’m sure,” said one long-time DEA official, “the drug-lords are watching very carefully how this all plays out. “

December 4, 2012

Chief Boatswain’s Mate Terrell Horne

Filed under: Border Security,Port and Maritime Security — by Christopher Bellavita on December 4, 2012

Horne tribute1 300x300

“Chief Boatswain’s Mate Terrell Horne, the Executive Petty Officer of CGC HALIBUT, … died early [Sunday] morning from injuries sustained while conducting maritime law enforcement operations off the California coast.”

“BMC Horne and his fellow crew members of the USCG Cutter Halibut were engaged in an at-sea [counter-drug] interdiction when they came under threat by a small vessel that rammed their small boat. This tragedy reminds us of the dangers our men and women in uniform face every day, and the great risks they willingly take, as they protect our nation. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of BMC Horne and all of our Coast Guard personnel at this difficult time.”

Two men were apprehended and charged with killing an officer of the United States engaged in his official duties.

Chief Boatswain s Mate Terrell Horne

October 25, 2012

The Presidential Debates: Substantial agreement on homeland security

The word “homeland” was used once,  the term “homeland security” not at all  in the three presidential debates.  But a close-reading of the transcripts does expose HS-related discussion.

Below are direct excerpts from the debate transcripts.  I have purposefully not identified who said what.  Where the candidates seem to mostly agree, I have only quoted one of them.  Occasionally a candidate asserted a difference that — at least to me — seemed either non-substantive or illusory.  I have not included these assertions.  There are subtle distinctions.  I have chosen excerpts that I hope bring these forward.

To me the distinctions — on these issues —  often run counter to each candidate’s stereotype. President Obama comes off tougher than the other side wants to admit, Governor Romney more reasonable than he is portrayed.  Debate posturing?  Meaningful insight?  My own eccentric tendency to see what is shared more than what divides?

FIRST DEBATE: THE FUNDAMENTALS

The first role of the federal government is to keep the American people safe. That’s its most basic function…

The Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. The role of government is to promote and protect the principles of those documents. First, life and liberty. We have a responsibility to protect the lives and liberties of our people…

SECOND DEBATE: IMMIGRATION, DOMESTIC COUNTER-TERRORISM, AND RESILIENCE

Immigration

First of all, this is a nation of immigrants. We welcome people coming to this country as immigrants… I want our legal system to work better. I want it to be streamlined. I want it to be clearer. I don’t think you have to — shouldn’t have to hire a lawyer to figure out how to get into this country legally. I also think that we should give visas to people — green cards, rather — to  people who graduate with skills that we need. People around the world with accredited degrees in science and math get a green card stapled to their diploma, come to the U.S. of A. We should make sure our legal system works.

Number two, we’re going to have to stop illegal immigration. There are 4 million people who are waiting in line to get here legally. Those who’ve come here illegally take their place… What I will do is I’ll put in place an employment verification system and make sure that employers that hire people who have come here illegally are sanctioned for doing so. I won’t put in place magnets for people coming here illegally. The kids of those that came here illegally, those kids, I think, should have a pathway to become a permanent resident of the United States and military service, for instance, is one way they would have that kind of pathway to become a permanent resident…

If we’re going to go after folks who are here illegally, we should do it smartly and go after folks who are criminals, gang bangers, people who are hurting the community, not after students, not after folks who are here just because they’re trying to figure out how to feed their families. And that’s what we’ve done. And what I’ve also said is for young people who come here, brought here often times by their parents. Had gone to school here, pledged allegiance to the flag. Think of this as their country. Understand themselves as Americans in every way except having papers. And we should make sure that we give them a pathway to citizenship…

Domestic Counterterrorism (or Whole Community or gun control)

So my belief is that, (A), we have to enforce the laws we’ve already got, make sure that we’re keeping guns out of the hands of criminals, those who are mentally ill. We’ve done a much better job in terms of background checks, but we’ve got more to do when it comes to enforcement…

Weapons that were designed for soldiers in war theaters don’t belong on our streets. And so what I’m trying to do is to get a broader conversation about how do we reduce the violence generally… Part of it is also looking at other sources of the violence… And so what can we do to intervene, to make sure that young people have opportunity; that our schools are working; that if there’s violence on the streets, that working with faith groups and law enforcement, we can catch it before it gets out of control…

And so what I want is a — is a comprehensive strategy. Part of it is seeing if we can get automatic weapons that kill folks in amazing numbers out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill. But part of it is also going deeper and seeing if we can get into these communities and making sure we catch violent impulses before they occur.

Resilience (?)

I believe in self-reliance and individual initiative and risk takers being rewarded.

THIRD DEBATE: COUNTERTERRORISM, CYBER, AND DRONES

International Counterterrorism

But we can’t kill our way out of this mess. We’re going to have to put in place a very comprehensive and robust strategy to help the — the world of Islam and other parts of the world, reject this radical violent extremism, which is — it’s certainly not on the run. It’s certainly not hiding. This is a group that is now involved in 10 or 12 countries, and it presents an enormous threat to our friends, to the world, to America, long term, and we must have a comprehensive strategy to help reject this kind of extremism…

A group of Arab scholars came together, organized by the U.N., to look at how we can help the — the world reject these — these terrorists. And the answer they came up with was this: One, more economic development. We should key our foreign aid, our direct foreign investment, and that of our friends, we should coordinate it to make sure that we — we push back and give them more economic development. Number two, better education. Number three, gender equality. Number four, the rule of law. We have to help these nations create civil societies…

The other thing that we have to do is recognize that we can’t continue to do nation building in these regions. Part of American leadership is making sure that we’re doing nation building here at home. That will help us maintain the kind of American leadership that we need…

We make decisions today… that will confront challenges we can’t imagine. In the 2000 debates, there was no mention of terrorism, for instance. And a year later, 9/11 happened. So, we have to make decisions based upon uncertainty…

Cybersecurity

We need to be thinking about cyber security. We need to be talking about space…

International Counterterrorism (Again)

Pakistan is important to the region, to the world and to us, because Pakistan has 100 nuclear warheads and they’re rushing to build a lot more. They’ll have more than Great Britain sometime in the — in the relatively near future. They also have the Haqqani Network and the Taliban existent within their country. And so a Pakistan that falls apart, becomes a failed state, would be of extraordinary danger to Afghanistan and to us. And so we’re going to have to remain helpful in encouraging Pakistan to move towards a more stable government and rebuild the relationship with us. And that means that our aid that we provide to Pakistan is going to have to be conditioned upon certain benchmarks being met…

Drones

We should use any and all means necessary to take out people who pose a threat to us and our friends around the world.

International Counterterrorism (Again)

There’s no doubt that attitudes about Americans have changed. But there are always going to be elements in these countries that potentially threaten the United States. And we want to shrink those groups and those networks and we can do that.  But we’re always also going to have to maintain vigilance when it comes to terrorist activities. The truth, though, is that Al Qaeda is much weaker than it was…and they don’t have the same capacities to attack the U.S. homeland and our allies as they did four years ago.

I expect partisans of each candidate will complain I have obscured important differences.   In my judgment a narcissism of small differences is epidemic.   I have no interest in abetting the fever.  More interesting to me is — for good or bad — the considerable consensus that is articulated.

February 8, 2012

Supply chain testimony

Yesterday several DHS officials and others were on the Hill giving testimony related to the new National Strategy for Global Supply Chain Security.  Please see: http://homeland.house.gov/hearing/subcommittee-hearing-balancing-maritime-security-and-trade-facilitation-protecting-our-ports

Three quick impressions:

1. Constructive example of “stovepipes” being brought together around a supposedly stovepipe-busting strategy.

2. The tension between security and resilience is real, persistent, and difficult to effectively engage.   Security is tough enough.  Resilience requires even more creativity.

3. It is striking to have a hearing on this topic without hearing directly from the private sector as well.

This is an early step in rolling-out the new strategy.  Much more to come.

July 11, 2011

Mexican Standoff: Justice Announces New Gun Rules for Border States

Filed under: Border Security,Investigation & Enforcement — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on July 11, 2011

The Administration announced today that the Justice Department will require firearms dealers in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas to report to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), if an individual purchases -within 5 days – more than one semiautomatic rifle that takes a detachable magazine and uses ammunition greater than .22 caliber.  In a statement, Deputy Attorney General James Cole stated:

The international expansion and increased violence of transnational criminal networks pose a significant threat to the United States.  Federal, state and foreign law enforcement agencies have determined that certain types of semi-automatic rifles – greater than .22 caliber and with the ability to accept a detachable magazine – are highly sought after by dangerous drug trafficking organizations and frequently recovered at violent crime scenes near the Southwest Border.  This new reporting measure — tailored to focus only on multiple sales of these types of rifles to the same person within a five-day period — will improve the ability of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to detect and disrupt the illegal weapons trafficking networks responsible for diverting firearms from lawful commerce to criminals and criminal organizations.  These targeted information requests will occur in Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas to help confront the problem of illegal gun trafficking into Mexico and along the Southwest Border.

The proposal is not completely a surprise, as the Federal Register published the proposal in December and then in late April, requesting public comment. The announcement comes after Congress has been investigating ATF’s operation “Fast and Furious” in Arizona.  The operation has been criticized as ATF allegedly allowed almost 2000 guns bought by straw purchasers in the U.S. to be sent to Mexico, despite the monitoring of the sales by ATF.  It is believed that two of the weapons linked to the program played a role in the murder of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry last December.

The National Rifle Association has indicated that it plans to file suit against the government for the new rules.  The NRA claims that the Administration does not have the legal authority to enact the rules and that by doing so it is circumventing Congressional action.

What we have now is a Mexican standoff with neither side likely to budge on what it believes is needed to protect the border or protect gun owner rights, respectively.  A few observations:

The ongoing drug wars in Mexico are serious and guns are playing a significant role; that is true. Some population of those guns are originating from the U.S., though the exact percentage is unknown. Those for restricting gun sales have claimed it is up to 90 percent. Those against claim that number is an exaggeration, as not all the guns found in Mexico are sent back for tracing and that the actual number is in the teens.  Whatever the number, the ongoing violence is starting to seep over to the U.S. and all sides should not be quabbling over percentages but trying to find a solution to a problem that is not only in our backyard, but making its way through our backdoor.

That said, it is not clear how effective the new rules will be and whether they really address the larger problems associated with the escalating violence. As written, they only are enforceable for gun dealers within the border states.  Based on reports by GAO and others, while those states may have a higher percentage of guns sold that migrate to Mexico, they don’t represent 100% of guns traced back to the U.S.  Will putting this requirement in place only increase dubious sales at non-border states with “friendly” gun laws? Also, does ATF have the capacity to examine the increased reporting materials in a manner that will allow it to effectively identify which sales are linked to the drug wars and which are merely linked to individuals exercising their 2nd Amendment rights?  If the “Fast and Furious” project is any indication then the agency needs much improvement in this realm to ensure that the rules are an effective tool and not a burdensome requirement.

At the same time, as noted earlier, the violence in Mexico is worsening and seeping over into the U.S. and affecting border cities and U.S. citizens.  The NRA and others who support 2nd Amendment rights while protecting the rights they believe in should help the government come up with effective and systematic ways to keep guns out of the hands of those who would do harm to our citizens and our communities.

If we are truly going to address guns crossing the border- regardless of whether is 90 percent or 17 percent of the problem – we all need to work together.

May 8, 2011

Mexico City March

Filed under: Border Security,Immigration,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on May 8, 2011

On Sunday an estimated 20,000 marched in Mexico City calling for an end to violence by both the drug cartels and government. According to the New York Times at least 150,000 participated in some portion of the march which began on Wednesday. The mass rally was inspired by poet Javier Sicilia. His 24-year-old son and six friends were found dead near the resort town of Cuernavaca, a massacre that mirrored scores of others in Mexico’s brutal drug wars.

According to the Wall Street Journal:

Mr. Sicilia hopes to turn Sunday’s demonstration into a mass movement to fight not only the drug cartels but also the government’s heavy-handed tactics in pursuing them. The leftist academic is a vocal critic of Mr. Calderón’s conservative government, which he says is too corrupt to resolve the problem. Mr. Sicilia hasn’t offered alternatives.

Mexicans have tried before to create a popular movement against criminal violence. In 2004, just before Mr. Calderón began his crackdown against drug gangs, several hundred thousand people gathered in the capital for a “March Against Insecurity.” But momentum stalled.

Nearly 40,000 people have died in drug-related violence since then, with authorities saying Monday that another 13 were killed in a shootout between military and drug gangs at a lake on the border with Texas. Mr. Sicilia and his followers hope the mounting toll is enough to create a popular groundswell.

Following is my own rough translation of Mr. Sicilia’s poem Zazen, with apologies and appreciation.

–+–

I
Feeling, Love, is to look at the wall
the white wall, clean before I pray,
light reflected, a plaster desert
clearly closed, pure boundary.

Sitting at the light of day is hard,
hard time without end, an empty wholeness
when body shifts, heaviness departs
and absence is assuring.

I open my Love in this gap
where I’m alone in a white desert
clean spacious and stark,

dusty light, absence without pride.
Nothing left of me I’m open
clearly this is where you spy.

II
Stung by your light and without hope
my body is in ecstasy for the day
dust cleared in the light of noon,
stubble burnt by Your dedication;

in the soft evening light of this January
light my bread and cold, wet room,
my wife, the city and joy
of my soul burns in your hearth.

What can I expect, if the fire
fully consumes me each day
and leaves only its quiet depths?

Everything in life is light so dear,
only my body is straw, wood and blade
light consumed on earth, is nothing.

 

(Editorial Note: On Tuesday morning I inserted this as a Sunday evening post. I began the post on Sunday but did not complete the amateur translation until Tuesday. Please find the Spanish original at A Media Voz.

June 4, 2010

A Review: Skating on Stilts: Why We Aren’t Stopping Tomorrow’s Terrorism

In 2005, Stewart Baker joined the Department of Homeland Security as Assistant Secretary of Policy for the entire Department of Homeland Security under Secretary Michael Chertoff. The position, which evolved from the Assistant Secretary for Border and Transportation Security Policy and Planning position, has the following responsibilities, according to the DHS website:

  • Leads coordination of Department-wide policies, programs, and planning, which will ensure consistency and integration of missions throughout the entire Department.
  • Provides a central office to develop and communicate policies across multiple components of the homeland security network and strengthens the Department’s ability to maintain policy and operational readiness needed to protect the homeland.
  • Provides the foundation and direction for Department-wide strategic planning and budget priorities.
  • Bridges multiple headquarters’ components and operating agencies to improve communication among departmental entities, eliminate duplication of effort, and translate policies into timely action.
  • Creates a single point of contact for internal and external stakeholders that will allow for streamlined policy management across the Department.

Baker would hold the position for the next four years, tackling a variety of issues from border and travel to cybersecurity and the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) to bioterrorism.  In his upcoming book, Skating on Stilts: Why We Aren’t Stopping Tomorrow’s Terrorism, Baker offers an intriguing view of our homeland security posture that ties back to the central theme that technology is both our savior and our enemy as it empowers not only us but our foes.  Coming from Baker, who has been described by the Washington Post as “one of the most techno-literate lawyers around,” the analysis of homeland security technology from a policy/legal prism is refreshing.  This is not a Luddite’s view of why technology harms, but an expert’s finely woven story of “how the technologies we love eventually find new ways to kill us, and how to stop them from doing that.”

A subtheme throughout the book is that information sharing, or lack thereof, has hindered our nation’s efforts to fight terrorism, especially when “privacy” has played a role.  In setting up a discussion of what led to his time at DHS, Baker recounts some of the failures leading up to 9/11, including the information sharing wall put up at the Department of Justice between intelligence and law enforcement elements of the agency, as well as challenges at the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. His view is of someone who has spent time in the intelligence world as the General Counsel of the National Security Agency and as General Counsel of the Robb-Silberman Commission investigating intelligence failures before the Iraq War. The account dives into the intricacies of Justice and its overseers, as well as how bureaucracy and personalities can so easily define our government’s most sensitive policies.

The book then looks at his days at DHS and attempts to strengthen border and travel programs and policies for acronym-named programs, including Passenger Name Records (PNR), the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), Electronic System of Travel Authorization (ESTA), Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), and Computer Assisted Passenger Pre-Screening System II (CAPPS II),  among others.  If you have ever doubted Washington’s love of acronyms and initialisms, this read will certainly change your mind.

In evaluating efforts in the aviation space, Baker is critical of a number of groups that he deems to have stood in the way of the Department’s mission during his tenure, including the private sector, European governing bodies, bureaucrats, Congress, and privacy/civil liberties groups, all of whom he argues are all about the status quo and not open to change.  Some of his criticisms are valid while others seem to simplify the views of the various actors.  For example, in dismissing some of the tourism industry’s concerns related to travel policies, he argues that the industry did not want innovation in government security on the border. Having been in the trenches at the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee during many of these debates, I would argue that the balancing of the numerous parties’ interests and concerns was not always that simple or easy to discern, especially when assessing the right security path forward.  Some programs mentioned in the book, such as WHTI, succeeded, in part, because they were implemented once necessary infrastructure had been deployed.

His strongest concerns are reserved for privacy and civil rights advocates and the government policies they either tout or hate.  There is a great deal of skepticism for “hypothetical civil liberties” and “hypothetical privacy concerns,” without evidence of demonstrated abuses by the government. He cites numerous incidents, some of which certainly demonstrate the tension between privacy and security co-existing.  A few of the examples he uses have even been explored here at HLSWatch, including complaints about whole body imaging machines in airports.  See, e.g. The Right to Be Left Alone (October 27, 2009) and “Where are all the white guys?” (November 10, 2009). Reading the book, privacy and civil liberties supporters may find it hard to balance Baker’s call for imagination when tackling homeland security policy and decisionmaking without calling for a similar level of creative thinking when addressing how those policies and decisions will affect privacy and civil liberties.

The book goes on to describe how the Department and Administration tackled (or failed to tackle) cybersecurity and biosecurity and the differences between the approaches. In both sections, privacy and information sharing are undercurrents, though we also see some interesting discussions of such topics as patent protections, self-regulation, and the evolution of security in each of these areas.  The discussions are intriguing and provide both a history and analysis of why we are where we are on those issues.   The cybersecurity and related CFIUS discussion brought back some memories to this self-proclaimed cybergeek, including some of my first interactions with Baker when he was in private practice and I was at the Justice Department.

One last observation: while the focus on the book is obviously on the time that Baker served at the Department under Secretary Chertoff, it leaves much to the imagination of what work Secretary Ridge and his team- from their early days in the White House after 9/11 until the changing of the guard to Secretary Chertoff – undertook and how that may have contributed to some of Secretary Chertoff’s and Baker’s successes, challenges, and mindset.  In addition, despite the focus on privacy and civil liberties, there is little mention of the other DHS offices, including the Privacy, Civil Liberties, and General Counsel’s offices, who may have been engaged in many of the battles noted by Baker. The book is not lacking in detail or intrigue because of these exclusions, though I wonder how they affected the decisions of Baker and his policy team. Perhaps these items are the subject of another book for another time.

Stewart Baker provides insight into a D.C. perspective of homeland security and the struggle of a Department to tackle technology, privacy, and information sharing. The book provides some valuable lessons for those who are on the frontlines of homeland security policy as they attempt to tackle future threats. For an observer of homeland security development, Skating on Stilts: Why We Aren’t Stopping Tomorrow’s Terrorism is a must-read. The book will be released on June 15th and is available for pre-order on Amazon.com.  In the meanwhile, excerpts from the book and other missives from Baker can be found at a blog with the same name, http://www.skatingonstilts.com/.

April 28, 2010

But Wait, There’s More!

Filed under: Border Security,General Homeland Security,Immigration,Strategy — by Mark Chubb on April 28, 2010

Like many other policy wonks, I like few things better than a powerful metaphor that describes the state of thinking on an important issue or question. One of the comments provided in response to Jessica Herrera-Flanagan’s post last week presented just such an opportunity. Defining the mission of the Department of Homeland Security — and possibly by extension all of homeland security — in terms of gatekeeping and coordination gave me just such food for thought.

The power of a metaphor is sometimes not what it describes, but what it does not. That was the case for me in this instance.

Having spent most of my career working in or near local government, I have acquired a different, more instrumental view of the role of government as a provider and protector. As such, I usually see the range of options as representing a broad continuum of overlapping alternatives rather than a simple choice between competing conceptions of the good or right. These alternatives almost invariably involve subtle distinctions about the level or nature of the engagement between government and other stakeholders required to achieve a particular set of outcomes.

This framing helps me attend to both the means and the ends, because both matter to constituents and citizens. This is important, because it is often difficult to discern which will matter more in any given circumstance until a particular situation arises.

So what does this continuum look like for homeland security? I equate gatekeeping with command/control interventions where the output (keep undocumented an undesirable immigrants from entering the country) substitutes for the intended outcome (protect individual citizens, the society, its culture, and the economy from the adverse effects of illegal immigration). Coordination equates with little more than avoiding or minimizing conflicts rather than sharing the process of making meaning through the definition and resolution of those conflicts that inevitably arise in any complex, interdependent relationship.

Gatekeeping, as a command/control strategy, does a good job of avoiding the trap of focusing on inputs or input-output relationship while leaving unexplored the larger question of whether or not the output and outcome (secure borders and unfettered liberty) are related much less the same. Coordination all too often falls into the same trap, by assuming too much about the nature of the ends/means dichotomy and the relationships of these parts and the stakeholders to them. Perhaps this explains why our current approach to homeland security, especially as it relates to immigration control, is such a dismal failure?

communication-inspiration-continuum-b-w1

What then are the alternatives? Before considering alternatives we need to distinguish between means and ends. When we focus on the means, especially when we assume the goals or outcomes are already well-understood and shared by all participants, we may find it both expedient and efficient to focus our energy through command strategies that require little inspiration (especially on the parts of others) and only one-way communication (from us to them).

When the ends are shared, but multiple paths lead to the same destination and there is some risk that participants left to choose their own way will select intersecting paths that create conflicts at key junctions, we may engage strategies that seek to avoid or minimize the potential for such conflicts. Again, these strategies require little inspiration on the part of others. On the other hand, decision-makers and leaders do need sufficient imagination to foresee potential conflicts, especially if you hope to communicate your understanding of the end-game in terms clear enough and compelling enough to gain the parties’ consent to take actions that get everyone to their destination without getting in the each other’s way.

When means are scarce or ends require you to mobilize the efforts of others (sound familiar), a cooperation strategy often makes sense. Such a strategy involves commitments, which require a more inspired view of what’s at stake or what’s to be gained by one or all participants. As the number of participants, the complexity of the processes involved, or the scope and scale of the products expected to result from the processes expand, so too does the need for communication among those involved.

Complex problems, especially those that defy straightforward solutions, usually require a more inspired approach, which often if not always, requires participants to share commitments to both the means and the ends. A true collaboration does not require anyone to sacrifice their identity, but it does require them to work together in ways that create shared objectives and meaning, both of which often take the form of sacrifices for the sake of success.

Each of these strategies builds on the other. Even in a large and complex collaboration, some elements of a shared program may depend upon simpler strategies that involve cooperation, coordination or even outright command approaches. What gives these tactics meaning is the shared commitment among participants to defining when, where, how and by whom these approaches are employed.

What does all of this have to do with homeland security? Well in the case of border control for just one issue, the nation remains deeply divided about the nature of the problem. With the possible exception of the people of First Nations, we share an immigrant past. Our economy today depends in no small way on the contributions of immigrants, many of whom arrived here legally and others who did not. Even those here without appropriate documentation or legal status often contribute not only their labor, but their wealth to support the state and its citizen even when they themselves can neither access nor enjoy many of these services such as health care, social security, workers’ compensation insurance, and unemployment benefits.

The threats posed by illegal immigrants often arise not from their status or their habits, but the criminalization of their status by the host society. When we make it impossible for immigrants to participate freely much less fully in our society, we leave them little choice but to fend for themselves or find another way. All too often, they find the only way open to them is to associate with elements who have no regard for either their welfare or ours.

Applying a different lens to a homeland security issue like immigration and border control allows us to see the folly of our current approach. Gatekeepers can never fully secure our borders. Even if they could, some legal immigrants would find compelling reasons to remain in the country beyond the limits imposed by their visas. Criminalizing their status makes it more difficult to resolve the issues their continued presence presents to both us and them.

When people are forced to choose between liberty and security, as we have seen time and again since 9/11, they will almost always choose security. What then would happen if we choose to coordinate, cooperate, or even collaborate to resolve the issues related to immigration and border control?

Working with immigrant communities, immigrants’ home countries, local employers, labor unions, and government officials at every level to provide legal paths to economic participation and citizenship serves everyone’s interests. Such an approach does not involve an open door policy, but neither does it mean closing the gate after the horse bolts.

A collaboration would require careful consideration of the needs that inspire immigration and provide a safe haven for undocumented immigrants once they arrive. Such an understanding requires two-way, if not multi-way, communication that creates a clear understanding of the labor markets and conditions among all participants so they can craft safe, secure pathways for participation that not only meet everyone’s needs. Doing so would help temper prospective immigrants’ expectations while affording those who play by the rules appropriate opportunities to climb the ladder toward acquiring citizenship or permanent residence.

Such a process would not eliminate the need to set immigration standards, control borders, or deport those who violate the laws. We would still need to apply command/control and coordination strategies, but their place in striking a balance between security and liberty would be better defined and tied to an understanding of the economic incentives that inspire immigration. Moving toward creating such as system would require us to abandon an approach that does little more than make de facto criminals of those who come here to make a contribution that arguably provides mutual benefits to both them and us.

If we want more security when it comes to immigration and border control, we need to acknowledge and accept the inspirational power of liberty, in both an economic and cultural sense.  If we take concrete steps to expand access to it among those willing to work with us to build the nation, we will not only expand prosperity but extend the legacy of diversity that immigration has granted us as well. Together these benefits will almost certainly promote more stable, just, and secure borders and border control arrangements in the process.

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