Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

March 22, 2009

Mexico City Blues

Filed under: Border Security — by Philip J. Palin on March 22, 2009

I know how and when to pull the trigger, Janet tells us.

Tom tells us there are entirely too many triggers.

But together we can triumph, Chad tells Texans.

Great God Almighty
   What’s to be done?
   O what’s to be done?
Sings the majestical keener
   and moaner
At the Mexican Funeral home -
And from a clap in the upclouds
Comes a clap of clouts,
All has been done.
As Theravada say “Nothing”

224th Chorus of Mexico City Blues by Jack Kerouac (1959)

More from the Houston Chronicle, El Paso Times, and the Washington Post.

March 11, 2009

Mexican Violence

Filed under: Border Security,Budgets and Spending — by Philip J. Palin on March 11, 2009

Yesterday’s House Appropriations Homeland Security subcommittee pushed hard on border security issues connected with Mexico’s drug violence. “This is a war with potentially devastating consequences for the United States,” said Hal Rogers, the ranking Republican. “We have our heads in the sand, I don’t see us taking it seriously.” (See the Reuters report)

Responding to especially intense subcommittee questions, Jayson Ahern, Acting Commissioner for Customs and Border Protection insisted the Secure Border Initiative is on track.  (More from Nextgov and Ahern’s prepared remarks)

“The reason you see the escalation in violence is because U.S. and Mexican law enforcement are winning,” Garrison Courtney, spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration, said Tuesday in a Mexico City interview with the Associated Press. “You are going to see the drug traffickers push back because we are breaking their back. It’s reasonable to assume they are going to try to fight to stay relevant.”

In a detailed Tuesday editorial, the Houston Chronicle seemed to agree with the DEA, “Mexico’s turmoil… is the effect of a government trying to face down the forces of anarchy — not the aftermath of succumbing to it. This is very different from what happens in a ‘failed state,’ where the government loses its legitimacy and power.”

The Chronicle editorial concludes with advice for President Obama, “He needs… to be fearless in articulating two unpopular truths about Mexico’s violence. Narco-crime is a complex, deeply rooted cancer that Mexicans allowed to grow — and that they themselves need to carve back, bloody as that process may be. But this narco-crime feeds on Americans’ drug demand and American gun sales to traffickers.  As the world’s most powerful nation, we need to confront these realities and find the will to change them for our own stability.”

The House Homeland Security Committee, Subcommittee on Border, Maritime, and Global Counterterrorism, will hold a related hearing on Thursday beginning at 10.  It will be webcast.

UPDATE: During the noon hour, eastern time, DHS announced weapons seizures as part of their effort to support Mexican authorities.  Reuters also has a story.

February 25, 2009

Napolitano Testifies

Filed under: Border Security,Congress and HLS,Immigration,Intelligence and Info-Sharing,State and Local HLS — by Philip J. Palin on February 25, 2009

If you missed the webcast, Secretary Napolitano testified this morning and into the early afternoon before the House Homeland Security Committee.

In a brief summation of her prepared remarks the Secretary highlighted three priorities for, as she said, “kicking the tires” at the Department of Homeland Security:
1. Immigration enforcement,
2. FEMA working with others, and
3. Sharing intelligence and analysis.

The committee’s follow-on questions did not give much attention to immigration policy, probably because this is mostly in the Judiciary Committee’s jurisdiction. But border security – and especially escalating violence in Mexico – was the focus of many members comments and questions. In response the Secretary noted the Mexican government is undertaking serious and much needed action against narco-terrorists. DHS is attempting to assist by reducing the southward flow of weapons and money. But the Secretary cautioned against militarizing the border, while promising a vigorous response if local authorities perceive the need for help with troubles boiling over the border.

(Shortly after the House hearing concluded Attorney-General Holder announced the arrest of over 750 individuals associated with Mexican drug cartels.  For more see an AP report and The Washington Times. )

When Congressman Mike Rogers (R-AL) asked whither-goest-FEMA, the Secretary noted,  “I have not yet had a conversation with the President,” and was clearly keeping all options on the table. Still neither the Secretary nor the Committee seemed enthusiastic about FEMA being decoupled from DHS. Several members of both parties expressed opposition to such a move.

On intelligence gathering and analysis the Secretary gave particular emphasis to the role of non-federal assets. She mentioned that state and local authorities have “more eyes and ears than the federal government will ever have.” In response to several questions she went out of her way to emphasize a leading role for state and local public safety in the national intelligence enterprise.

In response to a question regarding Mexican drugwar violence the Secretary mentioned, the “best intel is often available from the local sheriff.”  Congressman Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) commended the Secretary for her commitment to “bottom-up intelligence.”

This was the Secretary’s inaugural appearance before the Committee.  Some additional thoughts later tonight or early tomorrow.

(On Thursday morning the Secretary’s testimony was covered by the Washington Post, New York Times, and other media.)

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