Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

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.

April 8, 2010

First reports about a 20-something, nicotine-addicted, sandal-wearing, low-level diplomat are usually wrong

Filed under: Aviation Security,Border Security,General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on April 8, 2010

I was going to write about the future of homeland security today.  But the present got in the way.

—————————–

The story is still unfolding. But as I write this late on April 7th, here is the timeline of what the social network and other media were/are reporting.

Between 6 and 7 PM, Pacific Time

  • A passenger attempted to light an explosive device on board an aircraft from Washington to Denver, sources tell NBC News
  • Update: Air marshals subdued passenger on Denver-bound 757 jet. Plane is parked in remote area of airport – NBC News
  • Update: Passenger detained after ‘shoe bomb’ incident aboard Denver-bound plane is identified as Qatari diplomat – ABC News

Between 7 and 8 PM, Pacific Time

  • Update: Unclear if passenger tied to shoe incident aboard Denver-bound flight had explosives – NBC News

Between 8 and 9 PM, Pacific Time

  • Update: Qatar diplomat subdued on United flight may have been smoking in bathroom – NBC News

Between 9 and 10 PM, Pacific Time

From the Denver Post, reported by Felisa Cardona and Jeffrey Leib :

A United Airlines flight from Washington was escorted by fighter jets to Denver International Airport after a diplomat on board from Qatar may have tried to light his shoes on fire….

More than two hours after the incident, it still wasn’t clear whether the incident was an actual threat or a misunderstanding because al-Modadi attempted to smoke a cigarette on the plane, according to numerous law enforcement sources….

ABC News and other outlets reported that no explosives have been found on the plane, which was still being searched at 9:45 p.m…

Approximately 25 minutes outside of Denver the air marshal, who was not immediately identified, confronted al-Modadi after smelling smoke.

From NBC

…Federal officials told NBC News that a half hour before the jet landed, a flight attendant smelled smoke just as a passenger was coming out of a restroom and alerted an air marshal. The marshal confronted the man, and there were initial reports that the man said he was trying to light his shoe.

But NBC News reported that the man said he was putting out a cigarette, which he smoked in the restroom, on the sole of his shoe.

No explosives were found on the man, and a search of the plane with bomb-detecting dogs also turned up no explosives. And a federal official said the man was wearing sandals….

From the AP (by writers Eileen Sullivan, Matthew Lee, Matt Apuzzo, Joan Lowy, Pauline Jelinek and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington and Judith Kohler and David Zalubowski in Denver)

A Qatari diplomat trying to sneak a smoke in an airplane bathroom sparked a bomb scare Wednesday night on a flight from Washington to Denver, with fighter jets scrambled and law enforcement put on high alert, officials said.

No explosives were found on the man, and officials do not believe he was trying to harm anyone, according to a senior law enforcement officials who spoke on condition of anonymity…

An Arab diplomat briefed on the matter identified the diplomat as Mohammed Al-Madadi.

Two law enforcement officials said investigators were told the man was asked about the smell of smoke in the bathroom and he made a joke that he had been trying to light his shoes — an apparent reference to the 2001 so-called ”shoe bomber” Richard Reid…

A senior State Department official said the agency was aware of the tentative identification of the man as a Qatari diplomat and that there would be ”consequences, diplomatic and otherwise” if he had committed a crime.

The latest edition of department’s Diplomatic List, a registry of foreign diplomats working in the United States, identifies a man named Mohammed Yaaqob Y.M. Al-Madadi as the third secretary for the Qatari Embassy in Washington. Third secretary is a relatively low-ranking position at any diplomatic post and it was not immediately clear what his responsibilities would have been.

Foreign diplomats in the United States, like American diplomats posted abroad, have broad immunity from prosecution. The official said if the man’s identity as a Qatari diplomat was confirmed and if it was found that he may have committed a crime, U.S. authorities would have to decide whether to ask Qatar to waive his diplomatic immunity so he could be charged and tried. Qatar could decline, the official said, and the man would likely be expelled from the United States.

Qatar, about the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined, is an oil- and gas-rich monarchy and close U.S. ally of about 1.4 million people on the Arabian peninsula, surrounded by three sides by the Persian Gulf and to the south by Saudi Arabia…..

From the  innocuously uninformative TSA site

TSA Statement on United Flight 663
News & Happenings

On Wednesday, April 7 TSA responded to an incident on board United Airlines flight 663 from DCA to DEN after Federal Air Marshals responded to a passenger causing a disturbance on board the aircraft. The flight landed safely at Denver International Airport at approximately 8:50 p.m. EDT.

Law enforcement and TSA responded to the scene and the passenger is currently being interviewed by law enforcement. All steps are being taken to ensure the safety of the traveling public.

—————————–

By the time I wake up tomorrow, I’m guessing there will be a clearer picture of this currently bizarre incident.

Based on the evolving first reports, I go to sleep tonight thinking a 20-something, nicotine-addicted, sandal-wearing, low-level diplomat was smoking a cigarette in an airplane toilet-sink room.  He put out the smoke by grinding it into his shoe.  A flight attendant smelled smoke and notified a federal air marshal.  At that point, Mohammed Al-Madadi — if that is really his name — stopped enjoying what in the 1980s used to be called “the friendly skies.”

Airplane, shoes, smoke, Al-Madadi… the first reports write themselves.

—————————–

What ripples — if any — will this event stir in homeland security?

Do passengers with diplomatic immunity create another vulnerability in the US aviation security system?

Will cigarettes now have to go into checked baggage?

Is health care reform to blame?

Is this yet one more example of how America is turning socialist?

What will the story line be that places blame for this event on Secretary Napolitano?

—————————–

I wanted to write about the future of homeland security.  But the present is way too weird to be thinking about the future.

Maybe tomorrow.

—————————–

Update: 20 seconds after I posted the above:

BreakingNews

“Qatari diplomat who sparked bomb scare by trying to smoke aboard Denver-bound jet won’t face criminal charges, official tells AP”

Oh well, who knows whether that’s true or not.  First reports are almost always wrong.

January 25, 2010

Severe Threats

Last week, Congress held a series of hearings on the December 25th attempted bombing.  More hearings will follow this week.   While there have been countless analysis and assessments of the hearings, here is my 17 syllable assessment:

Intelligence Failed

Technology Will Save Us

Send More Money, Please

On Friday, the United Kingdom raised its threat level from “substantial” to “severe.”  The level, made by the U.K. government upon recommendations of the Joint Terrorism Analysis Center (JTAC), “means that a future terrorist attack is ‘highly likely,’ although not necessarily imminent.” The UK threat level had been at substantial since last July, when it had been lowered after two years at the “severe” level.  The level, previous to that, had shifted between severe and critical since the July 2005 attacks on the London Underground and on a Double Decker bus.  Interesting, U.K. officials were very quick to point out that its move was not related to the December 25th underwear bomber attack, though little information and lots of speculation as to the real reason has emerged.

Also on Friday, India raised its threat level, deploying air marshals and issuing a Civil Aviation Ministry security alert to airports and airlines for the “the stepping up of security arrangements at all concerned airports and airlines following inputs received from security agencies as well as the Ministry of Home Affairs.” The alert was issued just days before tomorrow’s celebration of Republic Day, which notes the country’s adoption of a constitution (following its independence form the U.K.).

Also, on Friday, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano met with members of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) in Geneva regarding aviation security standards.  IATA represents approximately 230 airlines and 90 percent of the world’s air traffic. IATA raised several issues with the Secretary including industry operational capacities, better mechanisms for sharing passenger information, more input from airlines into security measures, and better international coordination between governments imposing security on the aviation industry.

These announcements came before the weekend reporting of a new video recording from Osama bin Laden claiming responsibility for the Christmas Day attempted bombing AND reports of non-Arab female suicide bombers, carrying Western passports, possibly attacking the U.S.

Collectively, this past week of events and announcements provide insight into the various challenges faced by the U.S. and its global partners in their terrorist-fighting efforts, both here and abroad.

Here are some observations:

  • Congressional Hearings: The hearings made clear that eight and a half years after 9/11, intelligence sharing, culture, and assessments still are lacking -  Commissions, Administration reorganizations, and Congressional actions not withstanding.  Whether posed as failures or challenges, it is clear that some change is needed — what that change is remains the question. Or is it simply the case that intelligence challenges are unfixable and as a nation we need to reassess how we work around them?
  • International Efforts: Despite the “homeland” in homeland security, the actions in the U.K. and India remind us that terrorism is an international issue that links us all together.  Terrorism is not only a threat against the U.S., but one that has harmed a number of our allies.   Consequently, our efforts – both on the intelligence and counterterrorism fronts – have to be bigger than the U.S.  They also have to be bigger than the Inside-the-Beltway fighting over who “owns” terrorism as an issue within the political parties.
  • Private Sector as Partner: The IATA-Napolitano meeting demonstrates that security is not  a government-only function.  The government’s efforts affect the private sector, requiring the private sector to be a key partner in any security efforts.  Add the international angle, then this partnership becomes even more complicated and in need of constant communication.  While much of the attention relating to the December 25th bombings have focused on the airlines and aviation industry, it would behoove the government and DHS to reach out (or better publicize) its efforts with others affected by security measures.  After all, it was the traveling public that diverted the underwear bomber attack.
  • Terrorists Come in Different Sizes, Colors, and Genders: The threat of people who may not “look like Al Qaeda terrorists” is one that experts and Congress have raised on numerous occasions over the past several years.  In reality, none of us know what a terrorist looks like – we just know who has attacked us in the past.  That image is constantly evolving and changing as more attacks are thwarted and responsible individuals come to light.   What’s becoming clear is that we cannot and should not rely on “profiling,” as we will be left unprepared.
  • Bin Laden as Boogie Man: Interestingly, after Bin Laden took credit for the December 25th attack, a number of U.S. intelligence agencies stepped up to adamantly discredit the claims. Does it really matter if he was behind the attacks to the average American? Well, it may or may not but there are reasons for these strong assertions.  First, if Bin Laden wasn’t involved, then there is evidence of a continued splintering of Al Qaeda and its strength, though such splintering could arguably make our terrorist-fighting efforts even more difficult.   Second,  if Bin Laden was involved, it is just a reminder that he is still out there and has not been captured or brought to justice.  Third, Bin Laden epitomizes terrorism to many average Americans and his omnipresence in all episodes that are terrorism make him an even more iconic figure to those who would follow him.

January 1, 2010

Homeland Security: What’s In and Out for 2010

Filed under: Border Security,DHS News,Events,General Homeland Security,International HLS — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on January 1, 2010

Happy New Year or Happy 20-10 if you prefer.  I would say welcome to a new decade but having read that there is a debate going on on whether the decade ended yesterday or a year from yesterday, I’ll leave that one alone.

It has been a busy year on the homeland security front, starting with a new President and Secretary of Homeland Security and ending with lots of politics surrounding a Christmas Day thwarted terrorism attack.   For a  quick view of the top stories of 2009 and what to expect in 2010, here is an overview of what we can expect to be in and out on the homeland security front for 2010.

OUT

IN

Across the Spectrum, Praise for DHS Nominee Napolitano

Republican Criticism of Secretary Napolitano

Subpoenas for White House Gatecrashers Salahis To Appear on January 20th in Congress

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab Prosecution in Federal Court

Privacy

Full-Body Scanners

System Failure (Again) of Intelligence Information Sharing

Connecting the Dots

Iraq

Afghanistan

Border Enforcement Only

Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity

H1N1

Next Pandemic?

Hold on Appointees at DHS

New TSA Administrator, Other Appointments

Homeland Security- Bipartisan Kinda?

The Blame Game

September 8, 2009

Fragments from September 10, 2001… Losing momentum with Mexico

Filed under: Border Security,Immigration,International HLS — by Philip J. Palin on September 8, 2009

This is the second in a series begun on Monday, September 7.

Late on Tuesday, September 4, 2001 the President of Mexico, Vicente Fox, arrived in Washington D.C.  for a state visit.  On Wednesday key members of the US and Mexican cabinets met together. 

Significant attention was given to developing a bilateral approach to immigration reform. President Bush cautioned, “This is a complex issue,” he said. “It’s going to take a while to bring all the different interests to the table. But we’ve made good progress so far.”

But — with White House blessing — the Mexican President pressed hard for quick action on immigration. “We must, and we can, reach an agreement on migration before the end of this very year, which will allow us before the end of our respective terms to make sure that there are no Mexicans who have not entered this country legally in the United States and that those Mexicans who have come into the country do so with the proper documents,” Fox said.  (See more from CNN.)

CNN also reported, “He and Bush also are expected to discuss anti-drug efforts and a shared border-control program.” 

On Thursday, September 6 President Fox addressed a joint session of Congress.  Included in his remarks:

Take for example our common struggle against the scourge of drugs. It should be clear by now that no government, however powerful, will be able to defeat on its own the forces of transnational organized crime that lie behind drug trafficking. Intense cooperation is required to confront this threat, and trust is certainly a prerequisite of cooperation. This is why, since I took office last year, Mexico has enhanced its cooperation with U.S. authorities. We have arrested key drug kingpins and have extradited drug traffickers wanted by the United States Justice. However, much more needs to be done. Trust will be crucial to enhance intelligence and information-sharing between both governments. We’re committed to becoming a full partner with the United States in the fight against drugs… 

That night Lou Dobbs was in the CNN anchor’s chair for Kelly Wallace’s report on the speech and related news:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I’m willing to consider ways to — for a guest worker to earn green card status. And yet I fully recognize there are a lot of people who’ve stood in line, who’ve said I’ll abide by the laws of the United States. And we’re trying to work through a formula that will not penalize the person who’s chosen the legal route and at the same time recognize the contribution the undocumented has made.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: Another big issue: conservative critics who believe President Fox’s plan would basically reward those immigrants who broke the law to enter the U.S. No one, Lou, really expecting a big agreement by the end of this year, but everyone believing President Fox’s visit has increased the urgency on an issue Congress and the president likely to focus on in the months ahead.

Lou, back to you.

DOBBS: Kelly, very comforting language used by the president, talking about guest workers, not referring to these people as illegal aliens, but rather undocumented workers. All of this, I presume, designed to soften some of the tension between the two men over the issue and also to, perhaps, assuage the Latino voting public.

WALLACE: Well, certainly — you certainly know, Lou, that right off the bat the administration was very concerned that it was sort of being accused of supporting blanket amnesty for Mexican immigrants living in the U.S. illegally. President Bush saying he is against the “A” word.

And so you do see him talking about a guest worker program; maybe finding some middle ground. Allowing more Mexicans to come to the U.S., part of this guest worker program, to work here and, of course, to have some benefits and send that money back to Mexico. It’s a way of some middle ground. Obviously a big political issue that — the fight is just ahead.

Lou, back to you.

Lou did not comment and moved on to the next story, a 200-point plunge in the Dow Jones.  But I wonder if this is when Lou Dobbs began to perceive the potential for exploiting the “A word”?

On September 10, 2001 we were actively engaged in seeking innovative bipartisan and bilateral solutions to immigration, drug enforcement, and border issues between the United States and Mexico.  Lou Dobbs was not yet pandering for viewers.

Should we repudiate such September 10 thinking? 

Almost eight years to the day after President Fox landed in Washington, his successor reported to the Mexican Congress on his intense struggle against murderous drug cartels. 

On September 2, 2009, CBS News reported, “‘The past year has been a different year,’ said President Felipe Calderón during his third state of the nation address Wednesday. Different must be a euphemism for horrible. This was bound to be a difficult year to summarize for Mexico’s beleaguered President. In the past year he has been battered with several challenges: the world economic recession, the influenza outbreak, diminishing oil resources, the worst drought the country has seen in years, escalating drug violence, topped by the world’s belief that Mexico is ungovernable.”

Instead of repudiating September 10 thinking, we might mourn the opportunities lost in the years since.

July 6, 2009

Mexico builds border fence

Filed under: Border Security,Humor — by Christopher Bellavita on July 6, 2009

Another point of view about border security, from the Onion News Network: “America’s Finest News Source.”

Mexico builds border wall

June 30, 2009

Border talks: Governors seek to exchange constitutional responsibility for cash

Filed under: Border Security,Homeland Defense — by Philip J. Palin on June 30, 2009

Late last night the Associated Press reported, “The Obama administration is developing plans to seek up to 1,500 National Guard volunteers to step up the military’s counter-drug efforts along the Mexican border…”

Chris Bellavita addressed this issue in a Saturday post.   Back in March I gave it some early attention.

The AP report continues, “The plan is a stopgap measure being worked out between the Defense Department and the Homeland Security Department, and comes despite Pentagon concerns about committing more troops to the border — a move some officials worry will be seen as militarizing the region.”

The good news here is that the Pentagon is reluctant.

“Senior administration officials said the Guard program will last no longer than a year and would build on an existing counter-drug operation,” according to the AP report.  ”They said the program, which would largely be federally funded, would draw on National Guard volunteers from the four border states.”

The key phrase here is, “which would largely be federally funded.”

The Governors can deploy their State militias on their own authority.  But when they do, it is also on their own dime.  While I haven’t read the words, there is an implication that border state Governors want the National Guard federalized under Title 10, so they don’t have to pay the costs.

During most of American history — the Civil War being the most dramatic exception — the federal military enterprise on American soil has been exceedingly small.  Until World War II our most significant military forces consisted of either naval bases or state militias or federal troops being prepared for overseas operations.

Since World War II the size of the federal military establishment has, of course, skyrocketed.  But throughout this period the focus of the military has been on far-flung foreign adversaries.  Unfortunately domestic tranquility and the common defense now encourage looking closer to home.

The Associated Press reports, “Defense Secretary Robert Gates has expressed concern that tapping the military for border control posts is a slippery slope and must not be overused.” 

A slippery slope to where?  He does not say (or at least the AP does not say).  But history tells again and again of the danger to free institutions when military power is focused on issues of domestic security.   

In the case of the United States this is certainly not a clear and present danger.   Our current slope is very slight and firmly rooted with a military ethos and a political culture that ensures civilian authority.  

But boots-on-the-ground tend to erode any slope, no matter how gradual or well-rooted.  We have invested a great deal in the technical and intellectual competence of our professional military.  As an institution and as individuals, they are great problem-solvers.

Out of respect for our ancestors sacrifice – and our grand-children’s hope –for freedom, we should be very cautious regarding which problems we ask the military to fix.

Next Page »