January 22, 2016
January 15, 2016
January 8, 2016
January 1, 2016
December 25, 2015
December 24, 2015
For some families it means listening for any noise suggesting homeland security raids have started, as Phil Palin posted earlier today:
The Department of Homeland Security has begun preparing for a series of raids that would target for deportation hundreds of families who have flocked to the United States since the start of last year, according to people familiar with the operation.
An emergingly ironic backdrop to the last of Jeff Kaliner’s three-part letters from Syria’s largest city, Aleppo
Dear Pen Pal:
The Russians have begun their air strikes. It’s not as easy as it used to be. Russian jets are faster, more accurate, and more deadly. My mother fled the country last week with my sister, they should be in Turkey but I haven’t heard anything back yet. Dad told me he has been in contact with them but won’t let me see any letters or talk to them.
Sleep and rest has become difficult as the regime is becoming more confident with Russian support. There isn’t much that can be done on our end. It doesn’t look like the U.S. is willing to increase their part in our liberation. Everyone says that we are winning the war. This war isn’t even close to over.
Dear Pen Pal,
Today was a sad day in my town. More protesters have gone “missing” in the last three days. I don’t get why the government must take them away when all they are doing is singing peacefully not causing any trouble. But on the bright side the rebels have beaten the extremists in yet another battle. My father and brother were fighting in that battle and I was so scared that they would not be returning. But luckily they did return with just bumps and bruises.
I hope this war will end soon and there will be peace in the land. I wish everything would return to normal and the children would never fear of their parents disappearing or a sniper shooting them.
No one should have to go through this whether they are young like me or old like my father. We should be living in peace and harmony with no dictatorship or Islamic extremists.
No one should fear walking through the streets knowing a bomb could go off at any second.
Dear Pen Pal –
Today in Aleppo we had many explosions nearby. This is normal for us now.
My family has lived here for my entire life however it has never been like this. My father worked every day at the local store. My mother stayed at home with us kids, my two brothers and I. We would always play in the street. Everything was normal.
Then the regime began making trouble. I wasn’t sure what it was. Our mother always told us that the explosions were just fireworks. Then one day we woke up to find the neighbor’s house decimated by an explosive. There were bodies in the street. There was blood everywhere.
After we saw this our mother told us what really was happening. She said to us we were being attacked. We asked why? We could see the blank stare. She didn’t know either. When our father walked in. He told us, “This is an attack by ISIS. They want to take control of our city’’.
Fortunately the explosions subsided. We could leave! But our father wanted to stay. We didn’t have anywhere to go. This was still our home. He said, “We must stay. We must fight. We can’t let these bullies take over our home.”
Now there is only my family and one other. Our life has changed. We will wait for the war to end, and everybody to return. We must survive.
Cory St. Pierre
Jeff Kaliner teaches a homeland security class at the Clark County Skills Center in Vancouver, WA. His students were asked to step into the shoes of a child living in Aleppo and write a letter to a pen pal, relative or friend in the United States. Specifically, Kaliner asked the students to describe what they saw, heard and felt. Thanks to his students for sharing how they look at the world.
December 18, 2015
December 15, 2015
224 years ago today, the Bill of Rights was ratified.
“On December 15, 1791, the United States adopted the Bill of Rights, enshrining in our Constitution the protection of our inalienable freedoms, from the right to speak our minds and worship as we please to the guarantee of equal justice under the law…. In adopting the first ten Amendments, our Founders put forth an ideal that continues to define our Nation — that we can have both liberty and security, that we need not sacrifice the rights of man for the rule of law.”
Jeff Kaliner and his students remind us of a lesson easily forgotten: as messy as our endless pursuit of a more perfect union may be, not everyone shares our blessing of liberty.
Kaliner teaches a homeland security class at the Clark County Skills Center in Vancouver, WA. His students were asked to step into the shoes of a child living in Aleppo and write a letter to a pen pal, relative or friend in the United States. Specifically, Kaliner asked the students to describe what they saw, heard and felt.
Dear Pen Pal,
My name is Mason. I am 17 years old and I am from Syria.
I have seen many terrible things. ISIS bombed my house last year and my mom and sister died. Even though I was very scared I wanted justice. So, soon after the bombing I began making weapons with my father.
I fear for my life and my family’s lives every day and the only thing that makes me want to live is my dad and my little brother. I am teaching my brother about how to make bombs. I am also trying to give him an education so that he might have a future after this war.
I wish we could send my little brother out of the country. He needs a proper education and a better life.
Dear Pen Pal
I am writing to you from Syria.
Every day I patrol my area and look for anything that is out of the ordinary. The government has planted bombs.
In the morning I join my dad in the office to make bombs to use against the regime. Once I’m done with that my sister and I go and make sure the sheets are still hanging outside of our home so the snipers can’t shoot us.
On a daily basis I see war and I see people fighting for what they believe in. I also see my siblings suffering. We all felt it was best to stay and fight with my dad and I agree so that’s what we are going to do.
Even though I have lost friends who sided with the government, I know my help can make a difference.
I am constantly thinking about how I am going to die, I’m not really scared but I feel nervous as if when I die I won’t have contributed enough to the cause. I am feeling a bit of anxiety and stress due to my position but I am also feeling pride in the fact that I know fighting will change something.
Well I’m needed on the lines now so I have to go, bye.
Your Friend ~ Grady Baxter
Hello Pen Pal,
My name is Evelyn and I am 9 years old. I live with my family in a country named Syria in the town of Aleppo. Syria is where I was born and raised.
I believe my country would be better if we had peace. I feel as if I am terrorized for something that I have no part of. I love my family and we are at risk every day, knowing that anybody could die the next.
We are trying to make the best living here but it’s really, really hard. Bombs are always being thrown and destroying our property and our houses. I don’t think my family or any of us deserve this. We only want to be happy.
I see things that scare me and I know it’s not right. I see things like people’s heads being blown off and body parts laying around in the streets. It’s scary for me and all I can do is hope and pray every day and every night for a better tomorrow.
Peace to you,
December 11, 2015
December 10, 2015
Heavy rains and melting snow swelled rivers over their banks across Western Washington on Wednesday, as floodwaters endangered lives and homes in at least 11 counties while pouring over roadways, undermining hillsides and forcing widespread evacuations.
A mudslide closed all lanes of northbound Interstate 5 near Woodland, which straddles Clark and Cowlitz counties, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) said. And more rain is on the way — with high winds on the coast and north of Everett…
Methane has been leaking from a natural gas storage facility since October, sickening the residents of Porter Ranch, a Los Angeles suburb. The video above was commissioned by a law firm and taken with a specialized Optical Gas Imaging camera on December 7, 2015. It reveals a cloud of methane gas over the community. According to the Los Angeles City Attorney, the leak is releasing roughly 50,000 kilograms of methane per hour — a cumulative amount since October roughly equivalent to 200,000 cars running for a year.
Yesterday the FBI Director testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Most of the media reports have focused on the director’s oral comments related to the San Bernardino mass shooting. According to National Public Radio,”The husband-and-wife team who killed 14 people during a shooting rampage in San Bernardino, Calif., had been radicalized before they “started courting or dating each other online…” Comey said the couple had talked about jihad and martyrdom as early as the end of 2013.”
The FBI Director’s prepared testimony is much more comprehensive.
December 9, 2015
Jeff Kaliner teaches a homeland security class at the Clark County Skills Center in Vancouver, WA. His students wrote most of this post.
Letters From Aleppo
“I am constantly thinking about how I am going to die. I’m not really scared but I feel nervous as if when I die I won’t have contributed enough to the cause.”
These words were written by a student in my high school homeland security class. The assignment was to step into the shoes of a child living in Aleppo and write a letter to a pen pal, relative or friend in the United States. Specifically, I asked the students to describe what they saw, heard and felt.
After a few weeks of studying the conflict, I was curious how teenagers from southwest Washington State comprehend the events taking place in Aleppo. In other words, how might twenty young people living in the United States make sense of over 10,000 dead children in Syria?
A sampling of the responses appear below (and in subsequent posts).
Dear Kelsie and Becca,
How are you doing? I hear that fall has finally hit the states. Is it cold there now?
It’s getting rough over here in Aleppo. Yesterday a missile landed across the road from us. It didn’t go off right away, but when it did it destroyed most of the houses on that side plus part of our upstairs…where Kyle sleeps. Thank God he wasn’t there at the time. He was busy helping Dad deliver new ammunition to some of the other rebel fighters.
They shut school down a while ago. In a way I’m so glad they did, it was getting really difficult going there in peace. A lot of the teens there are children of regime fighters and since my dad (as you know) is a rebel fighter, they really don’t like me or my siblings. I would walk the halls in fear of my life!
Do you have to worry about that in the United States? I really wish we were there. But I am glad to being doing my part to help the rebel fighters. Kyle is fourteen now and he is very strong and has a good shot, so they asked him to help out. Mom was really hesitant about letting him go with the men. We worry that he is now a target for ISIS.
Jessica and Kendra are afraid to venture far from the house. I don’t think they will ever get used to the missiles and the guns firing constantly. I don’t know if I will. At night sometimes they will crawl into my bed. I used to send them back to their room. But now I let them stay with me. I tell them stories and try to help them remember the way things used to be. Jessica is only nine and Kendra is only seven, but the way they talk and the look they get in their eyes sometimes shows age beyond their years.
They rarely talk like they used to. So whenever Jessica brings up her love of chickens or a bird she found, or when Kendra talks about candy and The Hobbit movies, we rejoice inside and encourage them to keep talking.
The other day Jennesa and I took the girls outside to explore a bit and we found a kitten. You should’ve been there to hear their squeals of joy. They laughed and jumped up and down for ages. I had tears in my eyes, it made me so happy to see them happy. Surprisingly Mom let us keep it. I guess she missed having the cats and it helps occupy the girls when we are trapped inside.
Many a time I wish that we were far away from here. Away from the fighting, away from the dust and constant fear. But I am glad that we are here to help the people, to be doing our part. ISIS and Assad must fall. I dream, as I know we all do, of better days. Where the air will be clean of debris from the blown up buildings, where my siblings can play in the streets without fear of a sniper or a sudden attack. I have hope. That day will come soon. With much love
I wish I could be where you are, it’s getting really bad here.
It’s louder than usual, more bombs are going off now and more of the kids around town have gone missing. At first we started looking for them but many of us have given up.
Now our parents keep us in at night to avoid being taken or getting lost. That means we really don’t go out much anymore.
How are you? What are things like in America?
Greetings from Syria! I am a 19 year old girl who lives in Aleppo. I help my mother take care of the rest of my family which consists of an older brother and two little brothers. My father is fighting with revolutionaries against Assad’s Regime.
My town is constantly being hit with gunfire, rockets, and shelling. Being out on the streets is too dangerous so we stay inside most of the time. When there is a break in the fighting I take my little brothers to the balcony of our house where I teach them their alphabet and numbers. (They’re ages 5 and 3.)
My older brother helps my father with making bombs to use against Assad’s Regime.
When a family member leaves the house there is a possibility of them not returning. So we treat each day as though it might be our last. I am not afraid of losing my family for I know that when I do lose them I will see them again with God and that they will have died a martyr’s death.
What is it like over in America???
Is there any fighting where you live??
Will be awaiting your letter.
December 7, 2015
December 5, 2015
A still emerging major news story such as the bloodbath in San Bernardino is not well-suited for detailed attention by this blog, in my judgment. But clearly the event and our eventual judgments regarding it are likely to have important homeland security implications.
According to the Associated Press, “The Islamic State group’s official radio station has aired a statement saying the mass shooting in California was carried out by two “supporters” of the extremist group. While praising the attack, the group stopped short of claiming responsibility for it. The Al-Bayan report Saturday echoed a claim carried Friday by the IS-affiliated Aamaq news agency.”
The Los Angeles Times is giving significant and sustained attention to the continuing investigation. The reports are aggregated by The Times here.
The single best commentary I have so-far read on the implications of San Bernardino is by Jessica Stern, author of Terror in the Name of God and ISIS: The State of Terror. In the Sunday New York Times she offers an empirically informed and thoughtfully framed analysis.
December 4, 2015
December 3, 2015
Today three things converged in a way that is pushing a new — for me — perspective. This is mostly a personal post, so you are warned and welcomed to click away. It is also a new perspective that will, I expect, have an influence on how I contribute to Homeland Security Watch. I am wanting to be transparent.
I expect today’s “injects” had amplified influence given the context of the San Bernardino bloodbath. Then in recent weeks I have also been considerably involved in both Central American and Syrian refugee issues. The ongoing engagement with such extreme violence and its consequences has, undoubtedly, caused me to listen — to hear and to feel — differently than before.
Until this morning I had not heard what Donald Trump said yesterday, speaking to Fox and Friends. This is the video at the top. It is both what he said and how he said it that literally sickened me. It has long been clear that Mr. Trump is vulgar. Prior comments have confirmed his ignorance, bigotry, and predisposition to violence. In this Fox telephone interview he announces, “And the other thing is with the terrorists, you have to take out their families.” (The entire interview is disturbing, but it was about the 4:45 mark when I was physically repulsed.)
While on the train to Philadelphia I started getting emails from friends about Senator Lindsey Graham’s Thursday morning remarks to the Republican Jewish Coalition. The South Carolina Presidential candidate immediately followed Ted Cruz and had heard some of Donald Trump’s earlier remarks to the RJC. Mr. Graham was apparently inspired to depart from his planned text. Following is what my friends quoted to me (I have not fact-checked).
“ISIL loves Donald Trump” (responding to yesterday’s kill their families tactic). “He (Trump) knows how to empower their base.”
“Why we lose has nothing to do with not being hard ass enough on immigration.”
“Winning this election is about repairing the damage done by incredibly hateful rhetoric driving a wall between us and the fastest growing demographic in America,”
“I believe Donald Trump is destroying the Republican Party’s chance at winning an election we cannot afford to lose.”
Apparently Cruz was also hit hard on other issues. One of my friends commented, “Finally authenticity attached to a functioning brain.” What I took away from multiple reports is that Mr. Graham was arguing that fear, exclusion, and self-righteousness are traps used by tyrants and those who want to be tyrants. I still haven’t found a full version of the speech. But this seems to coincide with news coverage.
I was still considering the contrast between the murderous vulgarity of Mr. Trump and Senator Graham’s experiment in spontaneity as I walked to my hotel. That’s when the most important realization of the day hit me.
This morning, before catching the train, I was a panelist at a Washington DC policy discussion. A woman for whom I have enormous respect was one of the principal organizers. The speakers and other panelists were, like me, mostly the usual suspects: White House, DHS, FEMA, National Labs, academics, retired military, a few active, private sector. A very large room was crowded.
The panelist who was at the other end of the table from me spoke second. I was fourth. His rhetoric and content was clearly not typical of Massachusetts Avenue panelists. But I try to be atypical too. It soon became clear that he perceives a catastrophic event is an issue of when not if. He self-defined himself as a “prepper.” Especially because all of this is not-typical (for DC), I was rather pleased he had been given a seat at the table.
But then he shared having had prior experience with a leading US bank where “at least a third of the executives were of Middle Eastern descent.” This was in the context of preconditions that he was setting out for catastrophic risk. It quickly became clear that this is a man consumed by fear.
I was mostly embarrassed for my friend. I wondered who had recommended this guy.
But no one challenged him. In particular, I failed to challenge him. Just as no one on Fox and Friends challenged Donald Trump on his readiness to purposefully kill women and children and others not known to be specific risks.
Where and when I was raised there was a well-known cohort of those in some way crazy. Given that it was a very small town, in most cases the rest of us had an idea of what had driven them crazy. At some level — depending on the situation, more or less — we empathized. In this context I was taught (perhaps learned too-well) to not respond directly to crazy talk.
In the case of this morning’s racist accusation I did not explicitly consider the option of challenging the comment until nearly three hours later, probably thanks to the bad example of Donald Trump and the good example of Lindsey Graham. To notice the outrageous comment and not even consider responding is a complete ethical failure.
When and where I grew up public silence was combined with private engagement. This was a matter of dignity and diagnosis and social control. I’m sure it was sometimes abused. But in my experience it mostly worked back then, back there.
Washington DC in 2015 is a very different place.
This is a time and place when fear, exclusion, and self-righteousness are being very widely deployed. There is a need for courage and inclusion, without self-righteousness. I’m guessing the third characteristic could actually be the most challenging.
So here’s the deal: for at least five months I have been on the edge of walking away from Homeland Security Watch. I don’t really have the time. It is good discipline. But it’s been a very long time since I enjoyed it.
Maybe today’s epiphany gives me good cause to continue.
I have always thought the blog should be mostly about amplification, aggregation and a bit of analysis. I have mostly wanted to avoid specific advocacy. I am still not interested in partisan advocacy. But it seems as if courage and inclusion need more advocates, especially in the context of homeland security.