Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 1, 2015

Buhari elected in Nigeria

Filed under: International HLS — by Philip J. Palin on April 1, 2015

The election of the opposition candidate in Nigeria is a positive signal regarding prospects for democracy in Africa’s most populace nation.  The election of a retired army general with a predisposition to action promises to contrast sharply with the sometimes bizarre passivity of the current Nigerian president.  The election of a Muslim in a nation closely divided between Christians and Muslims,  plagued by Salafist violence, opens important opportunities for the entire region.

It is significant — and encouraging — that Buhari won in several states with a Christian majority.  (See map)

Less positive assessments could be offered of equal credence.  But as our friend Hegel has argued, “These do not contradict one another, one is as necessary as the other; and constitutes the life of the whole.”

Given the place of Africa in previous and prospective terrorist threats to the United States, the follow-on to this election is likely to have significant homeland security implications.

Lots of news coverage.  Vanguard, one of the leading Nigerian newspapers, is a reasonable place to start.  The Guardian is another respected outlet. Punch claims to have the most readers.

March 26, 2015

Yemen: Some fundamentals

Filed under: International HLS,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on March 26, 2015

This week the disintegration of Yemen appears nearly complete.

Long-time home of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Yemen has been an important area of operations for US, Saudi, and other counter-terrorist services.  Earlier this week both US and British military advisers were withdrawn in the face of escalating violence.

Many in the CT community consider AQAP the most direct threat to the US homeland. Since 9/11 AQAP has been implicated in several successful and unsuccessful attacks against the United States.

The collapse of the Yemeni central government, which has cooperated in operations against AQAP, will — at least in the near-term — likely enhance the terror group’s freedom of operation.  But AQAP may also be distracted by adversaries closer-at-home.

The current situation is fast-moving.  Following is some background information that may be helpful to your consideration of how the emerging outcomes could impact US homeland security.

Yemen_population_Chronicle

Yemen_religion_ethnicgroups

The maps above were developed by The Fanack Foundation of the Netherlands.  Other information on Yemen is available from the Fanack Chronicle.

March 11, 2015

Some reasonable thoughts on the Iranian nuclear negotiations

Filed under: International HLS,Radiological & Nuclear Threats,WMD — by Arnold Bogis on March 11, 2015

Reason has recently been a topic of discussion here at HLSWatch.  I lack the philosophical chops to get involved, so instead will go in an entirely unrelated direction and point to what I consider some well reasoned thoughts on the state of nuclear negotiations with Iran. This is generally considered a national and not homeland security issue, however the consequences of a nuclear armed Iran or military strikes intended to delay its nuclear program will surely be felt here in the U.S.

First up is Graham Allison, predicting in a Foreign Policy op-ed that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would present a “false dichotomy” in his speech to Congress last week (and he was right):

In nuclear negotiations with Iran, he will argue that the United States faces a choice between a “good deal” and a “bad deal.” He will urge Congress to stop President Barack Obama from accepting the latter which, he will say, “endangers the existence of the state of Israel.”

Buyer beware. Every serious analyst of this issue — including the prime minister — knows that this is a false dichotomy. In negotiations, a bad deal is by definition unacceptable. The same is true for one’s opponent: in an either-or world, a good deal for one would have to be a bad deal for the other. Thus, negotiated agreements require compromises, in which neither party achieves all of its demands.

In his speech on Tuesday, Netanyahu will caricature any compromise as capitulation. To the untutored, his arguments may sound persuasive. No nation, he will say, would tolerate its archenemy acquiring nuclear weapons. Therefore, Israel has to demand that any agreement eliminate every aspect of Iran’s capability to ever produce nuclear weapons. Anything short of this, according to Netanyahu’s construction, is a “bad deal.”

Yet, this argument ignores what has happened on the ground over the past decade as successive U.S. and Israeli administrations have held to this view. By insisting on maximalist demands and rejecting potential agreements, the first of which would have limited Iran to 164 centrifuges, we have seen Iran advance from 10 years away from producing a bomb to only months.

He goes on to speak uncomfortable truths:

The consequences of this failed strategy are two ugly but irreversible facts. First, Iran has advanced to the point that we now have to consider something called “breakout time,” the number of months it would take to produce a bomb’s-worth of enriched uranium. The second, even uglier, truth is that Iran has developed the capability to produce a nuclear weapon, and this capability cannot be erased.

The critical tipping point on this path occurred in 2008 when Iran mastered the technical know-how to build centrifuges and operate them to enrich uranium to levels required for the core of a nuclear bomb. As I wrote at that time, “Iran has crossed a threshold that is painful to acknowledge but impossible to ignore: it has lost its nuclear virginity.”

Going one more level down:

There is no way to erase from the minds of thousands of Iranian scientists and engineers the knowledge and skills to produce weapons-grade uranium. There is no way to eliminate Iran’s indigenous capacity to mine uranium, manufacture centrifuges, or operate them. Thus, there is no conceivable end to this story in which Iran will not retain the capability to build nuclear weapons.

This is a truth that many in Congress simply refuse to accept, since like the prime minister they have repeatedly declared this would never be allowed to happen.

Fareed Zakaria, in his most recent weekly Washington Post column, thinks Netanyahu is the boy who never grew up:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress was eloquent, moving and intelligent in identifying the problems with the potential nuclear deal with Iran. But when describing the alternative to it, Netanyahu entered never-never land, painting a scenario utterly divorced from reality. Congress joined him on his fantasy ride, rapturously applauding as he spun out one unattainable demand after another.

Netanyahu declared that Washington should reject the current deal, demand that Tehran dismantle almost its entire nuclear program and commit never to restart it. In the world according to Bibi, the Chinese, Russians and Europeans will cheer, tighten sanctions, and increase pressure — which would then lead Iran to capitulate. “Dreams do come true, if only we wish hard enough,” said Peter Pan.

He also points out some inconvenient facts to those in what I guess we can now call the “Club of 47:”

The theory that Iran would buckle under continued pressure ignores certain basic facts. Iran is a proud, nationalistic country. It has survived 36 years of Western sanctions through low oil prices and high oil prices. It endured an eight-year war with Iraq in which it lost an estimated half a million fighters. The nuclear program is popular, even with leaders of the pro-democratic Green Movement.

Michael Cohen echos much of these same concerns in a Boston Globe piece:

SOMETIME IN the next three weeks, the United States and its allies in the international community could sign a nuclear agreement with Iran. If they do, the deal will be unsatisfying. Iran will still likely be able to maintain its nuclear infrastructure; a sunset clause of 10 to 15 years would make it possible for Iran to reignite its nuclear ambitions; the lever of international sanctions would be lifted; and the success of the agreement would depend on adherence to it by a country that has been caught lying about its nuclear aspirations in the past.

Welcome to the fun-filled world of international diplomacy, where the choices facing policy makers are almost never between the best or worst possible deal, but rather a set of least worst options. That’s the choice facing President Obama, and it’s a lesson that critics of his approach to Iran have consistently missed.

He identifies what many expect is the desired endgame by most of the critics of the current talks, and hints at why that might not be such a desirable outcome:

Others argue that military force should be used to destroy Iran’s program, but it’s hard to see how the unforeseen consequences of war (which may or may not be able to destroy Iran’s nuclear infrastructure) would be better than even an imperfect deal.

To me this all seems like straightforward risk management.  The P5+1 negotiators are presumably during their best to mitigate future risk considering the facts on the ground.  This is a concept often hailed as a foundation for homeland security.  We can’t eliminate all the risk so we should try to prevent what we can, mitigate against the impact of what we can’t, properly prepare and respond to events, and recover as a nation.  Unfortunately I believe we are straying far off that path.

Once upon a time, President Bush and many in his administration could unequivocally say that despite the government’s best efforts the U.S. will be hit by terrorists again.  Obviously he was and remains correct.  And at the time, no political party or other entities made much of that common sense statement (except some fringe elements). Fast forward to this President pointing out the obvious that terrorism does not represent an existential threat to our nation and he is painted as naive.  Both men were right, yet it seems the climate has shifted to a never never land where any terrorist attack is a sign of failure, where the inability to control events on the other side of the world in countries and cultures we don’t fully understand is a sign of weakness, and where all we have to do is point and shout loud enough and the rest of the world will come to see that our national interests and priorities and norms of behavior obviously should be theirs.

Here’s hoping that a little reason, and a lot of risk management principles, returns to our public discourse.

February 5, 2015

Immigration physics

Filed under: Border Security,Immigration,International HLS,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on February 5, 2015

The continuing resolution under which the Department of Homeland Security is being funded will end on February 27. The House has passed a new DHS appropriations bill. This week Senate Democrats have used procedural votes to block further progress by the House bill.

Riders on the House appropriations measure would constrain Presidential discretion on immigration enforcement.  Many Republicans perceive this is needed to deter illegal immigration and to reassert what they understand to be appropriate constitutional boundaries. The President is “making” rather than enforcing the law, they complain.  Many Democrats, including the President, perceive the House bill to be constitutionally myopic or naive, operationally impractical, and deeply inhumane.

The constitutional issues strike me as murky, but not entirely outside reasonable consideration. Deterrence is often inhumane, in a way that’s the point of many negative actions intended to deter. The core issue — ethically and politically — is mostly about what ought be done with an estimated eleven million unauthorized immigrants already in the United States.  We are divided between arguments of principle and pragmatism, accountability and mercy.  These divisions are sufficiently deep that, so far, we do little more than question the intentions of those with a different opinion. Progress on this core seems so unlikely that each side is tempted to various end-runs and special plays.

Caught in the middle of this skirmish is the DHS budget. In the last week there has been more and more talk of letting the CR expire and holding the Department hostage. Why talk about it when playing chicken is so much more fun?

Last week Politico reported,

Top Republicans are increasingly unworried about missing the Department of Homeland Security’s funding deadline… Lessening the urgency, in some minds, of passing a Homeland Security funding bill is the fact that DHS’s operations wouldn’t necessarily shut down if funding expires after Feb. 27. In the October 2013 federal government shutdown, roughly 85 percent of DHS employees continued to work because their jobs were considered essential. However, their paychecks were withheld until the shutdown was over.

“In other words, it’s not the end of the world if we get to that time because the national security functions will not stop — whether it’s border security or a lot of other issues,” Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) said, though he stressed that Congress shouldn’t ignore that deadline. “Having said so, I think we should always aspire to try to get it done.”

The Congressman’s first sentence, above, has gotten more attention than his second. This includes a White House website headline posted above remarks the President made on Monday at the Nebraska Avenue offices of the Department.

 If Republicans let Homeland Security funding expire, it’s the end to any new initiatives in the event that a new threat emerges. It’s the end of grants to states and cities that improve local law enforcement and keep our communities safe. The men and women of America’s homeland security apparatus do important work to protect us, and Republicans and Democrats in Congress should not be playing politics with that.

So, once again, the kids at each end of the country road are revving their engines and threatening to race down the tunnel of tall corn toward each other.

Homeland Security Watch typically works to avoid the starkly political.  In this case, I felt the need to at least acknowledge the current context, which seems to be hurtling toward collision.

In my judgment both Democrats and Republicans and both Legislative and Executive branches have trapped themselves in an analysis of symptoms.  The underlying condition is not unknown.  Last week Secretary Johnson mentioned it briefly,

Much of illegal migration is seasonal. The poverty and violence that are the “push factors” in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador still exist. The economy in this country – a “pull factor” — is getting better. There is still more we can and should do.

Push and pull are the essential elements of immigration physics. Presumably we do not want to reduce the pull.  That leaves dealing with push. How can we influence the force, reduce the speed, or change the direction of what’s pushing toward us?

Current approaches mostly wait to treat the issue until contact is made or imminent.  So we increase our investment in border protection and argue over deportation. Physics also allows action-at-a-distance.  Indeed in most cases, a small change in velocity introduced at a great distance has a much more profound effect than enormous force introduced at contact.

Last Spring and early Summer we saw a huge push of very young people toward our Southern border.  The push originated largely in three Central American states.  The force of the push related — and will relate — to poverty and especially violence.

In 2012 the Council on Foreign Relations published a special report that found:

Violent crime in Central America—particularly in the “northern triangle” of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala—is reaching breathtaking levels. Murder rates in the region are among the highest in the world. To a certain extent, Central America’s predicament is one of geography—it is sandwiched between some of the world’s largest drug producers in South America and the world’s largest consumer of illegal drugs, the United States. The region is awash in weapons and gunmen, and high rates of poverty ensure substantial numbers of willing recruits for organized crime syndicates. Weak, underfunded, and sometimes corrupt governments struggle to keep up with the challenge. 

The CFR report goes on to recommend a series of steps designed to bend the velocity and reduce the force behind the push factor.  Many of its recommendations are reflected in the high level plan that Vice President Biden recently outlined.  The President’s budget references $1 billion to address “root causes” in Central America.

But reading between the lines, I’m not sure I see much there.  The what is thin and the how a mere mist quickly evaporating.

In late December Eric Olson and others at the Woodrow Wilson Center produced a detailed report on the situation in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador and recent US policy engagement with each.  It is a resource that should help all of us understand the complexity of the issues and why previous US policy engagement has not been successful.  They also outline several key recommendations to do better.  To summarize here would be a disservice to their careful analysis. Please read the original: Crime and Violence in Central America’s Northern Triangle.

Many ancient physicists, including Democritus and Epicurus, perceived reciprocal collisions to be the source of both creation and destruction.  Newton helped us understand the possibilities of mutual attraction and action-at-a-distance.  The collision that now seems likely on February 27 strikes me as mostly distracting from creative opportunities that could advance much more humane and effective security.

February 2, 2015

Which is harder to defeat – Ebola or ISIS?

Filed under: Biosecurity,International HLS,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Arnold Bogis on February 2, 2015

That is the question that Graham Allison, Director of Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, tackled in a short opinion piece for Time magazine. It was originally published last December when attention on Ebola was high due to the presence of a few cases cases inside the U.S. (in contrast to the thousands in West Africa), but Phil’s post this past Thursday on “Epidemiology of Violence” reminded me of Allison’s take on the same general concept.

His conclusion:

About Ebola, the world knows a lot and is doing relatively little. About ISIS, we know relatively little but are doing a lot.

But that doesn’t answer which is the harder to defeat.  His analysis:

Finally, we should acknowledge the fact that for the foreseeable future, there may be no permanent cure for Islamic extremism. Against Ebola, researchers are racing toward a vaccine that could decisively prevent future epidemics. But the past decade has taught us that despite our best efforts, if and when the ISIS outbreak is controlled, another strain of the virus is likely to emerge. In this sense, violent Islamic extremism may be more like the flu than Ebola: a virus for which we have no cure, but for which we can develop a coherent management strategy to minimize the number of annual infections and deaths.

Not to give too much more away from the article, but it is interesting that a political scientist looks at ISIS through the lens of public health:

Over recent centuries, medicine has made more progress than statecraft. It can be useful therefore to examine ISIS through a public-health lens. When confronting a disease, modern medicine begins by asking: What is the pathogen? How does it spread? Who is at risk? And, informed by this understanding, how can it be treated and possibly prevented?

About Ebola, we know the answers to each. But what about ISIS?

I haven’t given away all the good stuff here, so if you’re interested you can read the entire article at: http://time.com/3618049/viral-threats/

January 22, 2015

“Countering violent extremism”

Filed under: International HLS,Radicalization,State and Local HLS,Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on January 22, 2015

Wednesday the French Prime Minister and other ministers announced several “exceptional” counter-terrorism measures. (Complete remarks in French) (Summary in English) (Reporting by The Guardian)

  • Increased protective services, especially of Jewish and Muslim places of worship.
  • Increased staffing of intelligence functions and a new legal framework for domestic intelligence operations.
  • Increased investments to counter radicalization, especially in prisons, via the Internet and in the community.
  • Increased measures to target and track specific individuals convicted or “accused” of terrorism.
  • Increased efforts, in coordination with the European Union and its member states, to implement effective border controls for the Schengen area.

The summary of the ministerial briefing provided by the French embassy in Washington DC notes, “a file containing the names of all individuals convicted or accused of terrorist acts will be created. These individuals must provide proof of their address at regular intervals and provide notification of any change of address or trips abroad. Failure to comply with these provisions will constitute an offence.” Please note convicted or accused.

Also highlighted at the ministerial briefing — though not actually discussed in any detail — was a government report released on Monday: “Une école qui porte haut les valeurs de la République” (A school that promotes the values of the Republic).

This begins to suggest “soft power” tools the French government will attempt to strengthen to counter radicalization.  The “School of the Republic” concept goes back to the 1789 Revolution and is especially associated with the Third Republic (1870-1940).  The focus has always been on unifying France around core Republican values.

According to the report, included in the priorities for a school that “carries the banner” for the Republic are (my translation):

  • First, secularism with new content related to moral and civic education, but also lay teaching about religions; with a massive effort of continuing education for teachers and operational support to teams in difficulty.
  • Second, reducing educational inequalities: to strengthen the sense of belonging to the Republic by all students, this will require new measures in favor of diversity and social mobility.
  • Finally, the mobilization of all national education partners, and primarily the parents of students: measures to develop school democracy, learning a culture of commitment…

Neither the process nor the principles articulated in the report are exportable to the United States.  But it is interesting to see the explicit connection made between counter-terrorism  – or more accurately, anti-terrorism — and public education.

–+–

Related — at least in my fevered brain — is the rather extraordinary dust-up emerging over the “summit” to be hosted by the White House on February 18.  This is part of the ongoing Countering Violent Extremism effort by DHS, State, and “The Interagency”.

In the White House statement on the upcoming session (almost the only detail available so far), it is explained:

Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) efforts rely heavily on well-informed and resilient local communities.  Boston, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis-St. Paul have taken the lead in building pilot frameworks integrating a range of social service providers, including education administrators, mental health professionals, and religious leaders, with law enforcement agencies to address violent extremism as part of the broader mandate of community safety and crime prevention.  The summit will highlight best practices and emerging efforts from these communities. At the same time, our partners around the world are actively implementing programs to prevent violent extremism and foreign terrorist fighter recruitment.  The summit will include representatives from a number of partner nations, focusing on the themes of community engagement, religious leader engagement, and the role of the private sector and tech community. 

The too often contorted  lingo — and bureaucratic behavior — around CVE has been a fair target from the beginning.  It was not surprising when Victor Davis Hanson at the National Review took aim at the summit.  Or when his NR colleague Rich Lowry did so in Politico’s magazine (I can’t quickly find an online link).  But in yesterday’s  New York Times, Thomas Friedman piled on big time.

Some of the critiques are constructive.  Failing to differentiate between nearer-term counter-terrorism and longer-term anti-terrorism is not constructive.  Both are needed.  Well-conceived, the measures of each are complementary.  But in conception and practice they are two very different undertakings.

October 22, 2014

Terror comes to Ottawa

Filed under: General Homeland Security,International HLS — by Arnold Bogis on October 22, 2014

The terrible tragedy that unfolded today in Canada’s capital has yet to be fully resolved.  The identified gunman, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, was killed at the scene, reportedly by the Sergeant-at-arms of the Canadian parliament Kevin Vickers. Preliminary reports suggested there were additional shooters, though by the close of the day the idea that it was only the one was gaining traction.

Most tragically, that one terrorist killed a Canadian Forces member on duty as an honor guard at the National War Memorial close to the parliament complex.  That member, Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, a reservist from Hamilton, Ontario was only 24 years old. He leaves behind a son.

This story is still developing.  It will take time to learn the motive and motivation for this attack, the existence of connections foreign or Canadian, and the impact on Canadian (and American) security policies. For the best coverage, I would suggest following Canadian news sources:

A few initial, and random, thoughts not directly related to the Canadian security situation:

  •  As I watched the initial news coverage, I was dismayed to listen to several anchors across different networks speculate that this attack was terrorism.  Of course it was – an armed attack on the symbols of a nation’s government.  My displeasure came from the overtly implied definition of terrorism – that it must involve a nexus with Islamic fundamentalism.  In this case assumed to be ISIS.  Indeed, by the end of the day that connection became a little more concrete.  However, at the start of events it was described as the act of a gunman or gunmen either crazy or motivated by unknown drivers OR it had a connection to ISIS/Al Qaeda/Islamic fundamentalism and such considered terrorism.  I genuinely fear that in the popular conception, terrorism is no longer an act used to achieve political ends (intimidate or terrorize a population or coerce government policy) but intrinsically tied to Islam. So all violent, criminal acts carried out by Muslims is terrorism (e.g. the recent beheading in Oklahoma) while any violent act that is directed toward government agencies by non-Muslims is just a criminal act (e.g. flying a small plane into an IRS station or ambushing state patrol officers).

 

  • During the first press conference of the various security agencies I found it interesting that the official advice to the population of Ottawa was something along the lines of (paraphrasing here): “if you are not already downtown, stay away; for those in downtown, listen to your building managers as to what to do.” There was no direct order to shelter-in-place.  Instead, a seeming trust in the actions and advice of civilian liaisons was assumed.  I’ve heard of a similar relationship in the City of London, where the police have a close relationship with the businesses that make up London’s financial district in which they are considered partners in security preparedness.  But I was a little surprised, and impressed, by the example shown in Ottawa this afternoon.

 

  • The founder of this blog (is it appropriate to refer to him as the Blog Father?), Christian Beckner, presciently posted last night at the Homeland Security Policy Institute Blog on “Fear Canada? Examining the Border-Counterterroism nexus.” While it did not directly address the events of today, it certainly reminded readers that terrorist threats have arisen before in Canada and can pose a threat to the United States.

 

  • Finally, the video posted below of the reaction of security forces inside Canada’s parliament to the first sounds of gunfire has been played countless times on cable news.  It still never ceases to amaze me how brave first responders all around the world run toward danger instead of away from it.

October 16, 2014

Adjusting our signal to noise ratio

I am currently involved in planning three different tabletop exercises.  Each are efforts to enhance “whole community” involvement.  My particular role is to enhance private sector involvement.  Currently the news media is not targeted for participation in any of these exercises.  In my several years of being involved with various homeland security training and exercises I can only recall two occasions when news media have been involved as participants.

There are several impediments to involving news media in these sort of activities, including:

  • Effective exercises are designed to expose gaps and shortcomings in order to improve preparedness.  News media are inclined to expose gaps and shortcomings in order to increase readership/listeners/viewers.
  • Many public sector participants tend to be “authoritative” or “officious” or “control-freaks”.  This is troublesome enough with other private sector participants.  With members of the media it can be explosive.
  • News media participation can discourage the involvement of other private sector parties due to fear of exposure (see first bullet).

But it seems to me increasingly clear we must find a way to involve news media in preparedness activities or continue — and deepen — the risk of serious mis-communication and public mistrust on the very worst days.  While major media are no longer the only or even primary sources of information, they are a significant source of amplification and confirmation.  Too often they are amplifying and confirming misleading information.  An ongoing example:

The media’s attention to symptoms can obscure attention to the source of problems.  I am astonished by the extraordinary attention given to a few instances of Ebola in the United States in contrast with lack of attention to sources of the problem in West Africa… despite clear and consistent and, at least to me, very reasonable analysis that until the source of the problem is better managed the risk to the United States will only grow.

On Tuesday afternoon the United Nations coordinator for Ebola response told the Security Council that the world basically has sixty days to contain the virus or face a serious risk of pandemic.  In much of the world, this was the Wednesday morning headline.  Not in the United States.

Below are two screenshots.  The first is for the Google News US edition.  The second is for the UK edition.  According to Google, “articles are selected and ranked by computers that evaluate, among other things, how often and on what sites a story appears online.”  The source stories can be found in US media, but too often buried beneath the symptoms.

Google US edition

UK edition

In my judgment a similar symptom vs. source issue is endemic to most US media coverage of terrorism, urban wildfire, flooding, and many aspects of border security.  It even erupts in how longer-term electrical outages are reported.

I am not arguing against news coverage of symptoms.  The attention given to the series of false steps in Dallas has clearly facilitated enhanced readiness across the US health System. But these are tactical –symptomatic — issues, not strategic issues addressing the problem at its source.

When novel and especially deadly threats emerge, the failure to distinguish between symptom and source is at least distracting and too often misleading… in a manner that can undermine public health and safety and, certainly, competence.  Sources can be even more complicated to understand than symptoms, but this further underlines the need for insightful media coverage.

There are very few editors, producers, or reporters who can afford to specialize in any of the so-called “low-probability, high-consequence” risks that confront us.  That’s a problem for most of the private sector and across the public sector as well.  We all need help adjusting our standard-operating-procedures to these non-standard events.  We should start to do so in workshops and exercises before the symptoms explode.

Some possible discussion topics and exercise issues:

In dealing with “high-intensity-risk-environments” (HIRE), do not mistake ambiguity for inattention.  Recognizing ambiguity may be evidence of close attention.

In engaging a HIRE, do not confuse uncertainty with incompetence. The compulsion to sound certain in the midst of complexity is, in my opinion, a principal cause of incompetence.

In the midst of a HIRE, complexity and lack of control does not necessarily signal lack of organization or progress.  Efforts to control can escalate complexity and suppress resilient self-organization.

In a few months I should be able to let you know if I am successful in involving media in any of the exercises currently being planned.

–+–

And since I’m writing about attention to sources as well as symptoms, in regard to Ebola here are some potentially helpful sources on sources:

FrontPageAfrica – A Liberia based newspaper. (BTW, this is not the largest circulation Liberian newspaper, but some of its competitors have, in my opinion, their own serious noise-vs-signal problems.)

The Concord Times – A Sierra Leone based newspaper.

The Telegraph – A Sierra Leone based newspaper.

Doctors Without Borders Guinea News

Guinea (Conakry) Guinee Focus (French)

World Health Organization Africa Regional Office

US Department of Defense Africa Command

CDC Ebola Hub

Resources from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine here and here and here  (and it’s worth looking for more)

FRIDAY UPDATE:

Thursday evening NPR broadcast an interview with Dr. Lewis Rubinson.  An intensive care physician with the University of Maryland Medical Center, Dr. Rubinson spent three weeks in September serving Ebola patients in Sierra Leone.  The full interview (with transcript) is, I suggest, a good example of well-informed, realistic thinking about dealing with symptoms.  Following is an excerpt:

RUBINSON: There are nearly 6,000 hospitals in the U.S. It wouldn’t have made sense to me that every single facility would have the ability to be honestly prepared. It doesn’t mean that there doesn’t need to be an appropriate level of the ability to identify patients and provide early treatment and keep staff safe. I think that’s really on every institution because we can’t control where patients present. But I think out in West Africa, we got very, very good at being 100 percent all of the time. You had to. In the U.S. there’s no technological fix for this. We can’t buy a widget and just solve it and give it to the hospital and say, you’re prepared right now. Most of this is about diligence, it’s about discipline and it’s about 100 percent adherence. And I think, again, that’s very hard to imagine that every facility could do that. Not because they aren’t good facilities, it’s just there are other priorities that they need to be taking on at the same time. Again, every facility needs to be able to identify the patient, take care of the patient early, keep the staff safe, but I think it’s very hard to imagine that every facility would be good at managing a patient throughout their course of the disease, especially if they get very sick, like had happened in Dallas.

MORE

SECOND UPDATE:

In regard to sources rather than symptoms, here’s “top of the fold” attention being given British operations in West Africa.  According to Friday’s Telegraph,

Ebola is the “biggest health problem facing our world in a generation”, David Cameron has said, as he urged foreign leaders to “step forward” with more resources to fight the crisis.

The Prime Minister urged other leaders to “look to their responsibilities” to help tackle the Ebola epidemic ravaging parts of West Africa… 

He said: “Britain, in my view, has been leading the way. The action we are taking in Sierra Leone where we are committing well over £100 million, 750 troops, training 800 members of health staff, providing 700 beds; we are doing a huge amount.

“I think it is time for other countries to look at their responsibilities and their resources and act in a similar way to what Britain is doing in Sierra Leone, America is doing in Liberia, France is doing in Guinea.

“Other countries now need to step forward with resources and action because taking action at source in West Africa is the best way to protect all of us here in Europe.”

MORE

June 12, 2014

Foxes, hedgehogs and homeland security

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

                                                                                         Archilochous

PART I: COUNTERTERRORISM

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

On May 28 the President told West Point graduates:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PART II: IMMIGRATION

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

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

Immigration Center

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

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

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

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

III. (IN)ATTENTION, INTENTION, AND INFLUENCE

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 28, 2014

President Obama’s West Point Commencement Address

Filed under: General Homeland Security,International HLS,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Arnold Bogis on May 28, 2014

Earlier today President Obama gave the commencement address at West Point, describing his vision for U.S. foreign policy. Here are some of the homeland security-related points.

But the world is changing with accelerating speed. This presents opportunity, but also new dangers. We know all too well, after 9/11, just how technology and globalization has put power once reserved for states in the hands of individuals, raising the capacity of terrorists to do harm.

 

It is absolutely true that in the 21st century, American isolationism is not an option. We don’t have a choice to ignore what happens beyond our borders. If nuclear materials are not secure, that poses a danger to American citizens.

As the Syrian civil war spills across borders, the capacity of battle-hardened extremist groups to come after us only increases.

 

The United States will use military force, unilaterally if necessary, when our core interests demand it — when our people are threatened; when our livelihoods are at stake; when the security of our allies is in danger.

In these circumstances, we still need to ask tough questions about whether our actions are proportional and effective and just. International opinion matters, but America should never ask permission to protect our people, our homeland or our way of life.

 

This leads to my second point. For the foreseeable future, the most direct threat to America, at home and abroad, remains terrorism, but a strategy that involves invading every country that harbors terrorist networks is naive and unsustainable. I believe we must shift our counterterrorism strategy, drawing on the successes and shortcomings of our experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, to more effectively partner with countries where terrorist networks seek a foothold.

And the need for a new strategy reflects the fact that today’s principal threat no longer comes from a centralized al-Qaida leadership. Instead it comes from decentralized al-Qaida affiliates and extremists, many with agendas focused in the countries where they operate. And this lessens the possibility of large-scale 9/11-style attacks against the homeland, but it heightens the danger of U.S. personnel overseas being attacked, as we saw in Benghazi. It heightens the danger to less defensible targets, as we saw in a shopping mall in Nairobi. So we have to develop a strategy that matches this diffuse threat, one that expands our reach without sending forces that stretch our military too thin or stir up local resentments.

We need partners to fight terrorists alongside us. And empowering partners is a large part of what we have done and what we are currently doing in Afghanistan. Together with our allies, America struck huge blows against al-Qaida core and pushed back against an insurgency that threatened to overrun the country.

But sustaining this progress depends on the ability of Afghans to do the job. And that’s why we trained hundreds of thousands of Afghan soldiers and police. Earlier this spring, those forces — those Afghan forces — secured an election in which Afghans voted for the first democratic transfer of power in their history. And at the end of this year, a new Afghan president will be in office, and America’s combat mission will be over.

Now that was an enormous achievement made because of America’s armed forces. But as we move to a train and advise mission in Afghanistan, our reduced presence there allows us to more effectively address emerging threats in the Middle East and North Africa. So earlier this year I asked my national security team to develop a plan for a network of partnerships from South Asia to the Sahel.

Today, as part of this effort, I am calling on Congress to support a new counterterrorism partnerships fund of up to $5 billion, which will allow us to train, build capacity and facilitate partner countries on the front lines. And these resources will give us flexibility to fulfill different missions, including training security forces in Yemen who’ve gone on the offensive against al-Qaida, supporting a multinational force to keep the peace in Somalia, working with European allies to train a functioning security force and border patrol in Libya and facilitating French operations in Mali.

A critical focus of this effort will be the ongoing crisis in Syria. As frustrating as it is, there are no easy answers there, no military solution that can eliminate the terrible suffering anytime soon. As president, I made a decision that we should not put American troops into the middle of this increasingly sectarian civil war, and I believe that is the right decision. But that does not mean we shouldn’t help the Syrian people stand up against a dictator who bombs and starves his own people. And in helping those who fight for the right of all Syrians to choose their own future, we are also pushing back against the growing number of extremists who find safe haven in the chaos.

So with the additional resources I’m announcing today, we will step up our efforts to support Syria’s neighbors — Jordan and Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq — as they contend with refugees and confront terrorists working across Syria’s borders. I will work with Congress to ramp up support for those in the Syrian opposition who offer the best alternative to terrorists and brutal dictators. And we will continue to coordinate with our friends and allies in Europe and the Arab World to push for a political resolution of this crisis and to make sure that those countries and not just the United States are contributing their fair share of support to the Syrian people.

Let me make one final point about our efforts against terrorism. The partnerships I’ve described do not eliminate the need to take direct action when necessary to protect ourselves. When we have actionable intelligence, that’s what we do, through capture operations, like the one that brought a terrorist involved in the plot to bomb our embassies in 1998 to face justice, or drone strikes, like those we’ve carried out in Yemen and Somalia.

 

Keep in mind, not all international norms relate directly to armed conflict. We have a serious problem with cyberattacks, which is why we’re working to shape and enforce rules of the road to secure our networks and our citizens. In the Asia Pacific, we’re supporting Southeast Asian nations as they negotiate a code of conduct with China on maritime disputes in the South China Sea, and we’re working to resolve these disputes through international law.

That spirit of cooperation needs to energize the global effort to combat climate change, a creeping national security crisis that will help shape your time in uniform, as we are called on to respond to refugee flows and natural disasters, and conflicts over water and food, which is why, next year, I intend to make sure America is out front in putting together a global framework to preserve our planet.

 

I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being. But what makes us exceptional is not our ability to flout international norms and the rule of law; it is our willingness to affirm them through our actions.

And that’s why I will continue to push to close Gitmo, because American values and legal traditions do not permit the indefinite detention of people beyond our borders. That’s why we’re putting in place new restrictions on how America collects and uses intelligence — because we will have fewer partners and be less effective if a perception takes hold that we’re conducting surveillance against ordinary citizens.

 

The full transcript of the speech can be found here.

The video of his remarks, courtesy of PBS NewsHour:

 

April 30, 2014

Renewed use of chemical weapons in Syria challenges inaction

Filed under: International HLS,Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on April 30, 2014

WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON UPDATE:  Today the U.S. Department of State submitted its annual Country Reports on Terrorism to Congress.  The Strategic Assessment includes:

Some of the thousands of fighters from around the world who are traveling to Syria to do battle against the Asad regime – particularly from the Middle East and North Africa, Central Asia, and Eastern and Western Europe – are joining violent extremist groups, including al-Nusrah Front and ISIL. A number of key partner governments are becoming increasingly concerned that individuals with violent extremist ties and battlefield experience will return to their home countries or elsewhere to commit terrorist acts. The scale of this problem has raised a concern about the creation of a new generation of globally-committed terrorists, similar to what resulted from the influx of violent extremists to Afghanistan in the 1980s.

– +–

ORIGINAL POST:

Late Tuesday evening Greenwich Mean Time, The Telegraph, a leading British newspaper, published an exclusive story claiming to prove Syria has continued to use chemical weapons.

According to The Telegraph’s report,”…soil samples from the scene of three recent attacks in the country were collected by trained individuals known to this news organisation and analysed by a chemical warfare expert. Our results show sizeable and unambiguous traces of chlorine and ammonia present at the site of all three attacks.”

Just last week President Obama said, “Eighty-seven percent of Syria’s chemical weapons have already been removed.”  The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has been working under an international agreement to relocate and destroy the Syrian stockpile.

The chlorine and ammonia assets allegedly used in recent weeks were not part of the chemical weapons inventory which the OPCW has been working to remove.  There is informed speculation that industrial chemicals have been crudely repurposed to replace the more sophisticated chemicals (including sarin and mustard) that have been removed.

Late last summer and into the autumn, the United States was dissuaded from military operations against Syrian chemical stockpiles when Russia brokered a “last-minute” deal to remove the weapons from Syria.  The decision by the US to not undertake military action disappointed the Saudis, surprised the French (who were prepared to join in the action), and precipitated a months-long reversal of progress achieved by the Syrian opposition.

As evidence accumulates of recent use of chemical weapons, there will be renewed pressure for US military intervention against the Assad regime.  For example, The Telegraph’s Defense Editor comments the new findings, “must serve as a wake up call to the West that it can no longer ignore a brutal conflict that has so far cost an estimated 150,000 lives.”

The Syrian Civil War is also a violent flash-point in Sunni-Shia antipathy, a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and a training ground for a new generation of international terrorists.

Whatever we do — or decide not to do — will have homeland security consequences.

March 20, 2014

Syria’s suffering as precursor

Filed under: International HLS,Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on March 20, 2014

Since 2011 at least 100,000 Syrians have been killed, probably closer to 150,000.  At least one-third have been non-combatants.

More than 2.5 million Syrians have sought refuge outside Syria.  The number of internal displacements is estimated at over 6 million.

The conflict between Sunni and non-Sunni has been amplified and often personalized, each side demonizing the other.

An already volatile region has been further destabilized.  Turkey — a NATO ally — Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq have been especially impacted.

Approximately 12 million Syrians who emigrated over the last century, and their first and second generation descendants, view the continuing slaughter with increasing frustration and despair.

The barbarity of the battle — barrel-bombing civilian neighborhoods, mass execution of men, women, and children, starvation used as a military tactic — has inured many participants to brutality.

Just this week a Sydney man killed in January fighting in Syria’s civil war was identified as a former Australian soldier who went absent without leave from the army in 2010.

On Monday a California National Guard enlistee was arrested at the Canadian border. Prosecutors claim he was on his way to fight in Syria. He has also been accused of planning to attack the Los Angeles mass transit system.

British security officials say at least 200 veterans of the civil war in Syria have returned to the United Kingdom.

Osama bin-Laden and many of his peers were, in part, radicalized by the mass murder of Muslims in the former Yugoslavia and Chechnya, horrified by how the world seemed ready to look-on and do nothing.

And again?

November 11, 2013

Yolanda hits hard (again)

Filed under: Catastrophes,International HLS — by Philip J. Palin on November 11, 2013

Yolanda track

Haiyan — called Yolanda in the Philippines — may have been the strongest tropical cyclone ever to make landfall.

We are now passing the 72 hour inflection point since the initial event.  The President of the Philippines Red Cross has described the situation in the hardest-hit central islands as “absolute bedlam”.

I know several readers are already engaged in helping or preparing to help the survivors.  Godspeed.

For the rest of us there are some potential implications for domestic preparedness and response in the United States:

Water, food, pharmaceuticals, and medical goods are all in short supply. The contamination of local water sources is creating an especially significant health risk.

A US State Department official has told me, “The most crucial need is local logistics. We can get what’s needed into the area. But we’re not able to effectively redistribute from the depots.”

The World Food Program told a CNN reporter, “The main challenges right now are related to logistics. Roads are blocked, airports are destroyed.”  Damaged — or entirely destroyed — port facilities mean freighters with resources can get close but are very slow to disperse cargo.

A national legislator from one hard-hit provincial capital told a Manila television station that fuel shortages are now further complicating the ongoing response and recovery.

Red Cross supplies that were being pre-positioned last week have not been able to secure passage from one island to another.

Power is not expected to be restored to many areas for months. Telecommunications networks are down.

A rather weird coincidence: In late October I participated in a regional exercise that included a CAT-5 Hurricane Yolanda hitting the metro Miami area with catastrophic consequences, reforming in the Gulf and then slamming into the Texas-Louisiana coast taking out several refineries.  Just the secondary and tertiary effects on mid-Atlantic supply chains were similar to what we are seeing now in the Philippines.

For most critical commodities there is significant strategic capacity and resilience in most (not all) supply chains.  As noted above, options exist to ensure sourcing sufficient for survivors.  Connecting this capacity to local tactical capability — especially fuel, trucking, and street-level distribution — becomes a very complex problem-to-be-solved.

In my judgment, our understanding of how to even begin to engage this problem in a catastrophic context is just barely beginning to emerge.

The Philippines rough equivalent to FEMA is providing REGULAR UPDATES HERE.

Yolanda population

Map showing proximity and density of population to hurricane path.  More detailed look available at ReliefWeb.

 

February 28, 2013

Connecting dots in Africa

Filed under: International HLS,Radicalization,Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on February 28, 2013

Last Friday the President informed Congress that:

Forty additional U.S. military personnel entered Niger with the consent of the Government of Niger. This deployment will provide support for intelligence collection and will also facilitate intelligence sharing with French forces conducting operations in Mali, and with other partners in the region. The total number of U.S. military personnel deployed to Niger is approximately 100. The recently deployed forces have deployed with weapons for the purpose of providing their own force protection and security.

The deployment is widely reported as supporting expanded operations from a US drone base near Niamey, Niger’s capital city.

Earlier this week the Strauss Center at the University of Texas published a research brief that concludes:

The analysis shows that the levels of violent Islamist activity in Africa have risen sharply in recent years, both in absolute and proportional terms. While much of this increase has been driven by the intensification of conflict in a small number of key countries,there is also evidence for the geographic spread of violent Islamist activity both south- and eastward on the continent. Differences within and across violent Islamist groups reveal differential objectives, strategies, and modalities of violence across Africa. With ongoing conflicts in Somalia, Nigeria, and Mali among the most violent in Africa – and evidence of the spread of violent Islamist activity across Africa – violent Islamist groups, their activities, and objectives are likely to remain extremely influential both nationally and internationally.

The research was finished prior to recent clashes with French and other forces in Mali.

On February 20, the same day that US Africa Command opened a major exercise with Cameroon’s military, Salafist fighters from neighboring Nigeria crossed the border and abducted a family of French tourists, now being held in an effort to influence the French intervention in Mali.  There are now 15 French hostages being held in North Africa.

The Hollande government has insisted it will not negotiate with the hostage takers.   In January a French hostage in Somalia was killed during an attempted rescue.

Yesterday the French Foreign Minister welcomed the new US Secretary of State by saying,

And it can be said that when France and the United States commit together, they can change things. It is the case in the Sahel, which we discussed, in Mali, where France committed and is determined to restore Mali’s integrity and stop the push of the terrorists. We benefitted from the full support of our American friends both politically and on the field. And I would like to thank the United States of America as well as John Kerry for the support granted to the intervention by France as well as the American forces against the terrorists.

Yesterday Nigeria completed its deployment of 1200 troops to Mali.    Tuesday the Wall Street Journal reported,

In vast West Africa, a new front-line region in the battle against al Qaeda, Nigeria is America’s strategic linchpin, its military one the U.S. counts on to help contain the spread of Islamic militancy. Yet Nigeria has rebuffed American attempts to train that military, whose history of shooting freely has U.S. officials concerned that soldiers here fuel the very militancy they are supposed to counter.

In the immediate aftermath of the hostage taking at the Algerian gas facility, Prime Minister David Cameron emphasized:

This is a stark reminder, once again, of the threat we face from terrorism the world over. We have had successes in recent years in reducing the threat from some parts of the world, but the threat has grown particularly in north Africa. This is a global threat and it will require a global response. It will require a response that is about years, even decades, rather than months.

December 11, 2012

Why are Americans so scared?

Filed under: International HLS — by Dan OConnor on December 11, 2012

Recently my wife and daughter went on a school/church trip to Kampala, Uganda.  They spent two weeks working in and around an AIDS orphanage and a small village.

The trip is part of a recurring program that has a variety of humanitarian, educational, and spiritual missions. It often shocks the team, typically a dozen or so 16-18 year olds, into stark awareness of how life is lived elsewhere, and what it looks like.

On this particular trip, they worked in a village than had never seen Caucasians, ever.  The kids on the team, almost all girls, were mauled — not in a malicious way, but purely a curious one as the children from the village wanted to touch their hair and pink cheeks.

One day the kids went to visit an older woman.

She was taken aback, thinking they were… well, ghostly.

 

It was after this visit that some real learning took place.

The woman had no income and lived by selling goat milk.  She was upset on the day of the visit because someone had stolen her goats.

Nevertheless, she felt compelled to give a gift to the visitors, as is their custom.

She did not want the kids to enter her home for a variety of reasons, but she returned from her shelter with a small sandwich style bag full of peanuts.  This was her food and she felt compelled to share it.

 

In Kampala, girls are relatively worthless.  Girls are considered trade bait and commodities.   A 12 year old girl has generally only two outcomes in Uganda: traded for a cow or sold for sex.   Mothers purposely distance themselves from affection because this is the course life takes.

The orphanage where my wife and daughter worked was overwhelmingly filled with girls who were discarded…no longer useful for trade or sex.  Imagine having no value at 13 years of age.

Towards the end of the second week, there was a question and answer panel set up by a seminary in Uganda.  The seminary students were African and had what I would call a binary understanding of the world and a qualified “if, then” thinking.

Here are some of the questions they asked the American visitors:

“Why did the Americans help Muslims in Yugoslavia and not Syria?”

“Why does your President say he is a Christian but allows Cops (Coptic Christians in Egypt) to be persecuted?

“You are a superpower, why do you pick and choose who you provide humanitarian aid to?”

“How can you be the richest nation in the world and have so much debt?”

“You are America, why are you so scared?”

My wife said they expected simply questions about America but not questions like this, in a place where electricity is on 4 hours a day and poverty and death are universal.

They did their best to answer the questions and while not contentious, the discussion did create tension.  The questions spurned a secondary discussion amongst the American kids.

They felt like there was a purposeful hypocrisy in our politics and felt like our affluence had less influence than our character.

Bright, wide eyed American kids, conducting foreign policy.  Perhaps this is our real responsibility in the world.  Not necessarily being so quick to drop money or food but being more consistent in our portrayal of character and consistency.

This being a homeland security blog, these people who live in mud huts and metal sheds, and who live simple, simple lives want to know why America does what it does.

Homeland security is monumentally bigger than money, policy, and security.  It is as much an idea as it is a function.  Our security and place in this world are directly affected by what we present, how we present it, and whether it’s authentic.

The world is full, literally and figuratively, of places like this that pose the question: why does America do what it does?

Perhaps if we were to become more attuned to our reputation and more consistent in our behavior, our kids and our citizens won’t struggle the next time they find themselves in a conversation that starts, “We love America and thank you, but why do you….”

 

 

October 25, 2012

The Presidential Debates: Substantial agreement on homeland security

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

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

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

FIRST DEBATE: THE FUNDAMENTALS

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

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

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

Immigration

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

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

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

Domestic Counterterrorism (or Whole Community or gun control)

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

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

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

Resilience (?)

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

THIRD DEBATE: COUNTERTERRORISM, CYBER, AND DRONES

International Counterterrorism

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

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

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

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

Cybersecurity

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

International Counterterrorism (Again)

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

Drones

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

International Counterterrorism (Again)

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

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

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