Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

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.

June 27, 2009

“…that kind of debate among two Cabinet officers … will inevitably lead to better policy.”

Filed under: Border Security,General Homeland Security,Homeland Defense,State and Local HLS — by Christopher Bellavita on June 27, 2009

When is a “food fight” better described as using the dialect to develop policy?

Spencer Hsu’s “Pentagon, DHS Divided On Military’s Role at Border” outlines some legitimate policy differences between the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security over the military’s role in domestic security.

The debate goes to the heart of the military’s role, which has expanded since the 2001 terrorist attacks, with an increasing commitment of troops and resources to homeland defense, particularly to help state and local officials respond to a nuclear attack or other domestic catastrophe. The deployment of new troops to the [US - Mexican] border [to help counter narcotics efforts] would represent a mission the military has not traditionally embraced.

Bert B. Tussing, director of homeland defense and security issues at the U.S. Army War College’s Center for Strategic Leadership is quoted briefly in the article:

“What we’re seeing … here is a move toward reframing where defense begins and ends…. Traditionally the military looks outward, but looking outward has begun a lot closer to home, and it may involve looking just across the border.”

Last October, Bert wrote a substantive strategic analysis of this topic: “New Requirements for a New Challenge: The Military’s Role in Border Security.”  The article is available here, and is worth reading if this is a homeland security-related issue you follow.

From a process perspective, Hsu’s article provides an example of the role metaleadership plays (at least implicitly) in the way the Obama administration treats wicked problems:

A senior White House national security official said the president is comfortable with the disagreement and “wants to see the kind of creative tension and full-out debate that major policy decisions engender.”  The official added, “It’s the president’s view that . . . frankly, that kind of debate among two Cabinet officers like Secretary Gates and Secretary Napolitano, both of whom he holds in high regard, will inevitably lead to a better policy.”

Tossed the right way, food fights can nourish.

June 9, 2009

Homeland security: House Appropriations sub-committee mark-up

Filed under: Border Security,Budgets and Spending,Congress and HLS,State and Local HLS — by Philip J. Palin on June 9, 2009

Last evening the Homeland Security subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee completed its mark-up of the FY2010 DHS budget.

In his statement, Chairman Price explains, “Overall, the discretionary total in the bill for the Department of Homeland Security is $42.625 billion. This is $2.6 billion, or 6.5 percent, above the comparable fiscal year 2009 amount and about 1 percent below the Administration’s request when you exclude the cost of the Coast Guard overseas operations. This funding level reflects the hard decision Congress made in adopting this year’s budget resolution, which reduced overall funding levels by $10 billion. This Subcommittee had to take its share of that cut.”

In what may be the most significant difference from the administration’s budget request the sub-committee substantially increased funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement operations on the Southern Border. “The mark provides $97.8 million, or $27.8 million more than requested, for ICE programs that support the Southwest Border Initiative including: a $10 million expansion of ICE investigations of transnational gangs; an additional $10 million for ICE to improve investigations of cross-border weapons smuggling; $5 million more for ICE drug smuggling investigations; and an additional $2.8 million to expand human smuggling and trafficking investigations.”

In its latter years the Bush administration had, winking and nodding, discontinued many first responder grants. OMB knew that these would be restored by the Congress. This year the White House budget included these grants. “DHS requested $3.867 billion for grants to assist them with everything from planning to equipment. The Subcommittee strengthens that commitment to our State and local partners by providing $3.96 billion for comparable grant programs, including: $330 million for Emergency Management Performance Grants, our one true all-hazards grant program; $800 million for Firefighter Assistance Grants to equip our Fire Service and help stem the tide of layoffs that diminish public safety; $950 million for the State Homeland Security Grant Program; and $887 million for the Urban Area Security Initiative, which is security money targeted to the highest risks of terrorism.”

I always associate June mark-ups with my flower garden. The blossoms are beautiful. But the real story is deep in the soil. It is worth digging deeper into the details of both the mark-up and the eventual conference report.

A bit more — including the ever-popular summary table and earmark list – is available from the subcommittee’s website.

March 26, 2009

Meanwhile… on the Northern Border

Filed under: Border Security,General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on March 26, 2009

“It’s a real border, and we need to address it as a real border,”  Secretary Napolitano told a Brookings Institution audience yesterday.  The Toronto Globe and Mail reports, “Her goal seemed to be to throw a bucket of reality on anyone who hoped that the arrival of Barack Obama’s new administration would herald a loosening of new restrictions on cross-border traffic.”

The Republic of Texas v. United States

Filed under: Border Security,Budgets and Spending,Homeland Defense — by Philip J. Palin on March 26, 2009

Secretary Napolitano has canceled today’s scheduled trip to Texas.  She was to have joined Governor Rick Perry in Port Arthur.  A bit before 10:00 pm (eastern) last evening the DHS press office announced the decision, “due to bad weather predictions for tomorrow. The inclement weather would prohibit Secretary Napolitano from being able to take her trip as planned to fully assess recovery and rebuilding efforts from hurricanes Ike and Gustav.”

Today’s weather forecast for Port Arthur reads, “Variable clouds with scattered showers and thunderstorms, mainly during the afternoon hours.  A few storms may be severe. High 78F, Winds SSE at 10 to 20 mph.  Chance of rain 40%.”

The storm warning of most concern may be more political than meterological.  While the trip was scheduled to examine hurricane recovery, whaddaya want to bet the border might  be brought up?

One month ago Governor Perry asked the Secretary for, “… an additional 1000 Title 32 National Guard positions… along with six OH-58 helicopters equipped with Forward Looking Infrared Radar for night operations.  These resources will be utilized only in Defense Support of Civilian Authorities (law enforcement).”  Perry’s letter and some contextual comments can be accessed on the Office of the Governor website. 

The request for sending 1,000 troops to the border, “is under active consideration in the Defense Department and will depend on several factors,”  Napolitano is quoted as saying in the Latin American Herald Tribune.   In a Wednesday interview the Secretary explained, “It’s a decision that must be made with much caution because, as President (Barack) Obama has already said, we don’t want to militarize the border. We want to lead (the anti-drug fight) with the civil authorities and that’s what we’re doing.”

In Texas and other border states, this issue is being played as an example of  federal restraint limiting local authority.  In yesterday’s  Dallas Morning News blogsite  there was a spirited discussion (or at least an exchange of views).  One of the blog contributors, signing in as True Texan, wrote, “I’ll side with a Texan versus a Washington insider EVERY TIME when it comes to the safety and protection of Texas. Obama doesn’t live here and doesn’t know what’s going on. He, like the other Ivory Tower dwellers, are insulated from reality, especially the reality of the Texas border.” 

I expect the Governor’s political operatives are not unhappy with True Texan’s characterization.

As is so often the case, reality can be complicated.  Notice that in his letter the Governor is requesting 1000 Title 32 National Guard positions.  This is a reference to the ever popular Title 32 of the United States Code.  The Governor already has authority to deploy any Texas Title 32 forces.  This is explicit in several sections of the Code (and the US Constitution), including Chapter 9, Section 907, “Nothing in this chapter shall be construed as a limitation on the authority of any unit of the National Guard of a State, when such unit is not in Federal service, to perform functions authorized to be performed by the National Guard by the laws of the State concerned.”

But if the Governor deploys on his own authority, he will need to pay for the deployment with state dollars.  What he is really requesting is not federal permission to use Texas troops, rather he is requesting federal funding for those troops.  To Governor Perry’s credit he has pressed the Texas state legislature to continue funding extraordinary costs associated with the State’s role in border security.  But 1000 troops and six helicopters can eat up millions more very quickly.

Related news coverage KFOX El Paso, Dallas Morning News (editorial),  the Daily Telegraph, and the American Forces Press Service.

(Last evening Mr. William R. Cumming, a regular contributor to HLSwatch, was kind enough to respond to my request for his read on the situation.  From 1979 to 1999 Mr. Cumming was on the staff of the FEMA General Counsel.  As Mr. Cumming wrote me, “… looks like (it’s) really all about money.”)

UPDATE: In her Wednesday meeting with the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, Secretary Napolitano demurred regarding additional funding focused on the Southern Border.

March 25, 2009

Napolitano Testimony

Filed under: Border Security,International HLS — by Philip J. Palin on March 25, 2009

In formal testimony filed this morning with the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, Secretary Napolitano highlighted the following:

The US should recognize that the border violence is the outcome of necessary actions being taken by the Mexican government against the drug cartels.

DHS and the federal government as a whole is being proactive in supporting the Mexican government and minimizing threats to the United States from an overflow of violence.

State and local law enforcement in the border states are essential to the effort and a focus of DHS support.

Supporting Mexican law enforcement is another crucial feature of DHS support.

Stopping arms smuggling across the border from the US to Mexico is a priority.

DHS is working with DOD and other federal agencies to be prepared for unlikely but worst case scenarios.

The complete prepared testimony is available from the DHS website.  I could not attend the hearing.  A friend had agreed to monitor the webcast, but this hearing evidently was not webcast.  Anyone who was there, please add your report using the comment function.

Looks like Eileen Sullivan may have filed her AP story from the hearing room.  In any case, it is the first coverage I can find.  Shortly before 3:00 pm CNN posted its coverage of the hearing.

Mexico moves to the front-burner

Filed under: Border Security,International HLS — by Philip J. Palin on March 25, 2009

Since at least December 2006 the Mexican government has been engaged in an intense struggle with criminal cartels that control shipping and distribution of drugs to US customers.  It is a furious and deadly fight.  This week Washington D.C. took serious notice.

This is not the first notice.  In September 2007 Colleen Cook at the Congressional Research Service prepared a very helpful primer on the, then, five major cartels.  A few years ago the New York Times started an online archive dedicated to Mexican drug trafficking.  The stories go back to 1990.  There are plenty of other examples of sober testimony, earnest effort, and even strategic engagement.

But this week Mexican border violence became a “numero uno” issue in a city accustomed to spinning many plates on long poles. 

Yesterday DHS and Justice announced a  range of new border security initiatives.   Punctuating the priority, senior officials from State, Justice, and DHS appeared together in the White House briefing room to meet with reporters. At 9:30 this morning the same trio will testify on the topic.  Today Secretary of State Clinton begins a two-day visit to Mexico.  Both Napolitano and Attorney-General Holder will be making trips to Mexico in the next two weeks.  The President will be in the Mexican capital on April 16-17.

Confirming the issue’s new front-burner status, yesterday morning the White House made explicit how it is going to be very much involved, “Because this effort has so many facets, the U.S.-Mexico relationship and our efforts to help address the increase in violence in Mexico are being coordinated at the White House through the NSC and HSC.” (See the complete White House statement.)

UPDATE: In its afternoon lead story the New York Times is reporting on Secretary Clinton’s remarks on arriving in Mexico City: Clinton Admits US Demand Feeds Mexico’s Drug Trade

March 24, 2009

Border Security: Setting the Stage

Filed under: Border Security — by Philip J. Palin on March 24, 2009

Late this morning (Tuesday) the Department of Homeland Security announced several actions focused on improving security along the Mexican border.  According to the DHS news release, these include:

  • Increasing ICE’s Border Enforcement Security Task Forces (BEST), from 95 to 190, at a cost of $5.7 million; triple the number of intelligence analysts working at the border, at a cost of $3.3 million; and increase ICE Attaché personnel, agents working in troubled areas in Mexico such as Ciudad Juarez and Hermosillo, by 50 percent, from 24 to 36 agents, at a cost of $650,000. 
  • ICE will add 50 agents and officers assigned to Criminal Alien Program Violent Criminal Alien Sections, located in the five Southwest border field offices, adding 50 agents and officers, at a cost of $2.3 million; as well as increase the number of agents designated as Border Liaison Officers, who work to create cooperative relationships between U.S. and Mexican law enforcement authorities, from 10 to 40.
  • DHS will also send new technology to the border, bolstering Secure Communities biometric identification deployment at locations at the highest risk for violence committed by criminal aliens, at a cost of $95 million, and implementing 100 percent southbound rail screening using non-intrusive inspection equipment to detect anomalies in rail cars.
  • CBP will enhance resources at ports of entry, moving more Z-Backscatter mobile X-ray units, used to help identify anomalies in passenger vehicles, to the Southwest border. CBP is deploying 100 Border Patrol agents to augment outbound inspections at ports of entry, where they will implement more high-tech screening devices, 12 new deployments of teams of “cross-trained” canines that can detect both weapons and currency, and eight additional Law Enforcement Tactical Centers—hubs of information sharing between CBP and local enforcers.
  • Upgraded License Plate Readers, which help identify suspected smugglers’ vehicles, will be installed on 52 out of 110 outbound lanes, at a cost of $13 million total. In addition, three Mobile Response Teams of 25 CBP Officers each will be deployed to the Southwest border. And up to $59 million in remaining fiscal years 2006-08 Operation Stonegarden funding will be made available to enhance state, local and tribal law enforcement operations and assets along the border. 

Secretary Napolitano is scheduled to testify tomorrow on Mexican border security before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.  Excellent related story available from Matthew Johnson at Congressional Quarterly.

The complete DHS news release is available from the Department’s website.

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