Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

February 23, 2012

Seeing Syria

Filed under: International HLS,Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on February 23, 2012

Screenshot of inteview with a reporter in Homs who has since been killed

Today both the New York Times and USA Today give above-the-fold attention to Syria:

Ghastly Images Flow From Shattered Syrian City (New York Times)

Activists ensure that the world sees Syria’s bloodbath (USA Today)

Each newspaper is also running related stories.

This week, for the first time, I perceive American media is beginning to give the situation in Syria the attention it deserves.  If and how this might influence American public opinion and policy is yet to be seen.

Beginning last May I have made regular references to Syria in this blog.  At first I was restrained.  This is a homeland security blog, after all. Since September I have been less and less restrained.  For the last few weeks I have been preachy and insistent.  Some have complained.

Last week Arnold Bogis asked the obvious question, “What would you have the U.S. do?” (See last two comments in the linked chain for his question and my answer.) A short version of my answer:  We should at least pay attention.  We dare not fail-to-notice the murder of thousands.

Finally our media has begun to notice.  As a result, I will again adopt a more restrained approach to referencing Syria at HLSWatch.

Arnold did not follow-up on my answer, but he could have — quite fairly — asked again, “But what would you have us do?”

I do not have an adequate response.  Some self-righteous bluster would, probably, make me feel better.   But that would help no one else, certainly not those being bombarded in Homs.

It is helpful that more will now see what is happening.  I hope wiser, perhaps braver men and women will find an effective way to really help.

February 21, 2012

Who are the Mujahideen e-Khalq?

Filed under: International HLS — by Christopher Bellavita on February 21, 2012

What do Tom Ridge, Andrew Card, Howard Dean, Alan Dershowitz, Louis J. Freeh, Rudolph Giuliani, Porter Goss, Michael B. Mukasey, Edward Rendell, and Hugh Shelton have in common?

In January 2012, they were among 21 senior US leaders who signed a letter to Secretary Clinton asking the State Department to rule that the Mujahideen e-Khalq (also known as MEK)

is not a terrorist organization and there is no rational factual or legal basis to maintain it on the FTO [Foreign Terrorist Organization list] —where it was placed in 1997 as a political accommodation to the regime in Iran, NOT because it ever engaged in any terrorist activity or had an intent to do so against the US.

A friend brought my attention to the Mujahideen e-Khalq’s situation, to a place in Iraq called Camp Ashraf where they are being held, and to another location in Iraq called Camp Liberty where they are supposed to be moved.

I had never heard of MEK or their plight. But I do know my friend is not prone to hyperbole.  He chooses his words and his political positions carefully.  I paid attention when he wrote me:

For more than a year, I [had some responsibilities associated with] this group [MEK]; a potential tragedy unfolding at the hands of the US.

So, what’s the story? Who are the Mujahideen e-Khalq, and is there any reason why the homeland security community should care about them?

——————–

Global Security describes the MEK this way:

Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK) is the largest and most militant group opposed to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Also known as the People’s Mujahedeen Organization of Iran, MEK is led by husband and wife Massoud and Maryam Rajavi. MEK was added to the U.S. State Department’s list of foreign terrorist groups in 1997.

MEK was founded in the 1960s by a group of college-educated Iranian leftists opposed to the country’s pro-Western ruler, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Although the group took part in the 1979 Islamic revolution that replaced the shah with a Shiite Islamist regime, MEK’s ideology, a blend of Marxism and Islamism, put it at odds with the post-revolutionary government. In 1981, the group was driven from its bases on the Iran-Iraq border and resettled in Paris, where it began supporting Iraq in its eight-year war against Khomeini’s Iran. In 1986, MEK moved its headquarters to Iraq where it received its primary support to attack the regime in Iran. During the 2003 Iraq war, U.S. forces cracked down on MEK’s bases in Iraq, and in June 2003 French authorities raided an MEK compound outside Paris and arrested 160 people, including Maryam Rajavi.

Several years ago, the Council on Foreign Relations wrote this about MEK:

During the Iraq war, U.S. forces cracked down on the MEK. About 3,400 people were disarmed at Camp Ashraf, surrendering two thousand tanks, armored personnel carriers, and heavy artillery pieces, according to the 2006 report. Those living at Camp Ashraf are designated as “protected persons” under Article 27 of the Fourth Geneva Convention which prevents extradition or forced repatriation to Iran as long as the United States maintains a presence in Iraq. [emphasis added] The Unites States has no plans to charge and prosecute people living in this camp. The “protected persons” designation applies solely to those living at Camp Ashraf, not other members of the group, nor does it affect the MEK’s listing on the State Department terrorist list.

——————–

Not everyone is buying the idea that the MEK are the oppressed and forgotten little guys.  Last August, Christina Wilkie of the Huffington Post, wrote a detailed description of MEK and the lobbying effort of its supporters under the less-than-flattering headline: “Former U.S. Officials Make Millions Advocating For Terrorist Organization.”

One minor part of the article describes how former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell considered declining an invitation to speak at an MEK conference because “I don’t know hardly anything about this subject …[and] I don’t think I’m qualified to come.” He eventually decided to participate in the conference attended by other national leaders.  The outcome?

“It’s been a great learning experience for me,” he told the crowd [at the conference]. “As a result of what I’ve learned [from the MEK supporters], on Monday I will send a letter to President Obama and to Secretary Clinton telling them [first], that the United States is morally bound to do everything we can to ensure the safety of the residents of Camp Ashraf. And two, if Director Freeh and General Shelton and General Conway and Governor Dean and the rest of these great panelists say that MEK is a force for good and the best hope we have for a third option in Iran, then, good Lord, take them off the terrorist list! Take them off the terrorist list!”

As Rendell’s applause died down, he added that he had never heard of Camp Ashraf until the group invited him to speak.

A few days after Christina Wilkie’s article appeared, Allen Gerson criticized her analysis.

What is an organization deemed by the US State Department to be dedicated to terrorism… supposed to do when it believes the charge is spurious? Clearly, the consequences of such a determination are enormous …. So naturally, such an organization will try to do whatever it can to exercise its legitimate rights to correct the record, refute erroneous charges and seek de-listing.

This burden to act is especially acute if an organization placed on the FTO list happens to have thousands of its members situated in a foreign country where they stand to be forcibly removed to a truly terrorist regime where the fate of those “repatriated” will likely be death by firing squad or the hangman’s noose. And, where the US State Department FTO listing is manipulated as justification for random acts of violence against members of that particular organization coupled with continued threats of forced deportation, the compulsion to use all legitimate means to remove the unwarranted terrorist label is overwhelming.

This is precisely the situation the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) finds itself in today. The surprise is that it would be vilified for its efforts in a recent article in the Huffington Post by Christina Wilkie

Mr Gersen is described as “the Chairman of AG International Law in Washington D.C. He is presently involved with other attorneys in representing the PMOI/MEK in its efforts to be removed from the State Department List of Foreign Terrorist Organizations.”

It would be odious to describe this as a “she said, he said” argument, particulary with lives at stake.  How is one to decide what to think about this issue?

——————–

In January of this year, former Pennsylvania governor and DHS Secretary Tom Ridge, published an impassioned plea in favor of the MEK: (Although I have to say the writing style was very different from the way Governor Ridge sounded in his 2009 memoir, The Test of Our Times.)

The Obama administration should support the democratic aspirations of the people of Iran and their most effective opposition movement, the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK).

Regrettably, and without justification, the State Department continues to maintain that MEK … on its list of “Foreign Terrorist Organizations” even though it meets none of the criteria.

Secretary Ridge then reviews the history of the MEK’s designation as a Foreign Terrorist Organization since 1997, concluding

The unjust designation was maintained by subsequent administrations in an effort to persuade Iran to abandon their nuclear program.

Sadly, we now see the results of that failed policy: Iran is no closer to moderation, having recently plotted to assassinate, in full view of the world, the Saudi ambassador on U.S. soil; The IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] warns that Iran’s nuclear ambitions are actually closer to fulfillment, and the failure to de-list MEK, absent any legal or factual basis, continues to stymie prospects for democratic change in Iran.

This folly has given Iran and its proxies a license to kill thousands of MEK members, including a massacre on April 8 of last year that killed or wounded hundreds of unarmed members of the MEK living in Camp Ashraf, Iraq—each and every one of whom was given written guarantees of protection by the U.S. government.

Now that U.S. troops have left Iraq, Iran is determined to extend its influence in the region and has justified its brutality by categorizing them as “terrorists.”

Whatever way Tehran’s propagandists characterize MEK’s political prospects, culture, or history, it is clear to me that the defenseless Iranian dissidents at Camp Ashraf are committed to non-violent regime change and a democratic, nuclear-free Iranian future.

[On the other hand, on February 9, 2012, NBC News reported

Deadly attacks on Iranian nuclear scientists are being carried out by an Iranian dissident group that is financed, trained and armed by Israel’s secret service, U.S. officials tell NBC News, confirming charges leveled by Iran’s leaders.

The report claims the Iranian dissident group is the Mujahideen e-Khalq -- aka MEK]

Back to Governor Ridge’s essay:

Courts throughout the United Kingdom, the European Union and the United States have concluded that there is no legal justification [to] maintain MEK on the foreign terrorist list.

Every one of the residents of Camp Ashraf was interviewed by the FBI and by U.S. military services and there has never been a scintilla of evidence anyone in that camp was motivated by, interested in, or capable of conducting acts of terrorism against this country. Remember, they surrendered all means of self-defense in exchange for America’s promise to provide their safety and security.

[For more on this part of the issue, see the December 2011 talk Brigadier General David Phillips gave in February in support of MEK.  My friend said :

BG Phillips is no goober or anyone’s fool.  General Petreaus ... hand-picked him to be on his staff as part of the “Surge” campaign in Iraq and then called him back again to be on his staff in Afghanistan.]

Back to Governor Ridge’s essay:

Some 100 members of Congress, in a bipartisan initiative, have called for MEK to be de-listed. The unfounded MEK designation only serves as a license to kill for both the Iraqi forces and the kangaroo courts in Iran, who regularly arrest, torture, and kill people on the basis of MEK affiliation.

It shames the State Department designation process that has wrongly maintained the blacklist for misguided political reasons. Consider this: the MEK is on the list — the Taliban is not….

As an emboldened Iran moves ever-closer to nuclear breakout, MEK’s unfounded designation is a lynchpin in the critical test of wills between Iran and the West — a test the Obama administration can ill afford to fail….

Unshackling the MEK from an unjust blacklist and living up to U.S. guarantees to protect the Iranian opposition at Camp Ashraf will send the mullahs’ terrorist regime in Tehran exactly the message it needs to hear: The mullahs do not run foreign policy in the United States and America keeps its promises.

——————–
The former leaders of the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Burea of Investigation, The Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Central Intelligence Agency — among others — say a great injustice is being done to the Mujahideen e-Khalq.

In this issue I know nothing about I have to either decide these public servants are willing to rent their voices to a cause they do not believe in exchange for 20,000 dollar speaking fees, or they are correct about what is happening to the Mujahideen e-Khalq.

That is not a difficult decision for me to make.

——————–
I ask my friend whether he thinks this is a homeland security issue:

I think it does boil down to a HLS issue. They are most certainly a group of individuals that but for the FTO moniker, would already have been placed or accepted by countries anywhere around the world, i.e. the threat of harm for returning to their home Iran is so great they cannot be forced to go back. So presumably, the US is afraid to remove them from the FTO list or accept any of them b/c they pose a threat to our security.

Mix in the current situation with the Iranian regime and it really is a mess.

——————–
Add presidential politics to this.

Edward Luce predicts in Sunday’s Financial Times that during tomorrow’s Republican presidential candidates debate, there will be a commercial “calling on Mr. Obama to remove the MEK – the Mujahideen e-Khalq, the armed Iranian opposition group – from the US list of foreign terrorist organizations.”

 

February 18, 2012

Syria on Saturday

Filed under: International HLS,Radicalization,Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on February 18, 2012

Earlier today several thousand residents of Damascus participated in a funeral procession as an act of defiance aimed at the Assad regime. As of 0600 (Eastern) there are several breaking news stories of mourners being killed. According to the Associated Press:

Syrian troops have fired on mourners taking part in a massive funeral procession in the capital… Several people were wounded by gunfire in the Damascus neighborhood of Mazzeh. Tear gas was also fired on the Saturday procession mourning three people killed by security forces following protests in the area a day earlier. An eyewitness who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals said the procession numbered around 15,000.

Thursday the United Nations General Assembly voted to condemn human rights violations by Syrian authorities. The resolution was passed with 137 nations in favor, 12 against, and 17 abstentions.

According to a UN statement:

The Assembly called on Syria to abide by its obligations under international law, and demanded that the Government, in line with the 2 November 2011 Action Plan of the League of Arab States, and its decisions of 22 January and 12 February 2012, without delay, stop all violence and protect its people, release all those detained during the unrest, withdraw all armed forces from cities and towns, guarantee peaceful demonstrations and allow unhindered access for Arab League monitors and international media.

The language of the resolution closely mirrored that of a text vetoed by China and the Russian Federation in the Security Council two weeks earlier…

By other terms of the text adopted today, the Assembly expressed its full support for the Arab League’s decision to facilitate a Syrian-led political transition to a democratic, pluralistic political system, including through a “serious political dialogue between the [Syrian Government] and the whole spectrum of the Syrian opposition”. Reaffirming its strong commitment to Syria’s sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity, it further reaffirmed that all Member States “should refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State”.

Perhaps in response to the United Nations action, on Friday Syrian forces seemed to step up their action. According to The Daily Star (Lebanon):

Syrian troops intensively shelled rebel-held neighborhoods in the restive central city of Homs Friday and killed at least five people, activists said… Activist groups said tens of thousands of protesters poured into the streets after Friday prayers from Daraa in the south to Aleppo and Idlib in the north and Deir el-Zour in the east to areas around the capital Damascus. The Local Coordination Committees said security forces opened fire on some protests.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald (Australia), “Syria has become a magnet for foreign fighters, with al-Qaeda aligned jihadists streaming across the border from Iraq and rebel soldiers from the Libyan city of Misrata crossing in from Turkey…”

In testimony on Thursday to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, said, “We believe that Al Qaeda in Iraq is extending its reach into Syria.”

During a British-French summit held in Paris on Friday there was considerable nostalgia for the entente cordiale that contributed so much to toppling Qaddafi. But Prime Minister Cameron and President Sarkozy were also clear on preconditions to any military intervention in Syria. According to The Guardian, “Cameron said the situation in Syria was “appalling” and said the government was “butchering and murdering its own people”. He said that Syria was different to Libya in three ways: in Libya the west had a UN resolution, the Arab League was calling for action, and the opposition represented the whole country, he said.”

From The Telegraph’s report on the Paris summit:

They did not rule out joint military action in Syria but said the current circumstances were not right. “The main obstacles are not to do with such and such country’s attitude at the UN,” Mr Sarkozy said. “The fact is we cannot bring about a revolution without the Syrian people. We cannot bring this about if the Syrian opposition does not unite and organise to help us help them.”

There is increasing international discussion of a “protected zone” in Northwest Syria to incubate a more unified opposition. Many are pointing to Idlib province immediately adjacent to Turkey. The Free Syrian Army has had more freedom of movement in Idlib than in most other venues.

But Turkey — essential to the survival of any such enclave — has made it clear it prefers what it calls a “Mediterranean corridor.” According to the Sabah newspaper (Turkey):

Foreign Affairs Minister Davutolu has already relayed his concerns to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Ankara is in favor of a humanitarian aid corridor being established via the Mediterranean and suggests that instead of designating a route through Turkey, the British base in Cyprus be used for this purpose.

In this morning’s edition of Hurriyet (Turkey) Illan Tanir writes,

One of the biggest obstacles preventing the international community from giving a decisive outside push to overthrow Bashar al-Assad is its inability to see a viable, unified alternative for the post-Assad period… The U.S. in particular has played a significant role in attempting to unify the Syrian opposition, by conditioning their recognition of the SNC as the legitimate government of Syria on providing more assurances towards minority groups. The U.S. has been engaged in facilitating talks to unify the Syrian opposition since before the SNC’s formation, and it was the main organizer of the talks between the SNC and KNC last month. The U.S. appears to be the only power with interest in pulling this off in a non-sectarian manner, as especially Qatar and Saudi Arabia, in one way or another, have interests in supporting Sunni Islamist groups.

On February 24 Tunisia will host a meeting of the “Friends of Syria”. Much will depend on how effective these friends are in convincing the various Syrian enemies of Assad to be friends with each other.

February 13, 2012

Syria on Monday

Filed under: International HLS,Radicalization,Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on February 13, 2012

Earlier today the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights made a report to the General Assembly regarding the situation in Syria.  Below is a small bit from the start of the report.  Please access the link for her full comments.

The violent Government crackdown on peaceful protests demanding freedom, dignity and social justice in Syria has continued unabated for eleven months now. While no exact figures can be provided due to our lack of access to the country, credible reports indicate that Syrian security forces killed well above 5,400 people last year, including civilians as well as military personnel who refused to shoot civilians.

Due to extreme difficulties in substantiating the events on the ground, it has become almost impossible for my Office to update the death toll in the past two months. However, we are certain that the number of dead and injured continues to rise every day. Tens of thousands, including children, have been arrested, with more than 18,000 reportedly still arbitrarily held in detention. Thousands more are reported missing. 25,000 people are estimated to have sought refuge in neighbouring and other countries. And more than 70,000 are estimated to have been internally displaced.

While the protests have remained largely peaceful, reports of armed attacks by anti-government fighters against Syrian forces have increased, also with consequences on civilians. According to the Government, some 2000 military and security personnel have been killed.

I am particularly appalled by the ongoing onslaught on Homs. Since 3 February, in further escalation of its assault, the Government has used tanks, mortars, rockets and artillery to pummel the city of Homs. According to credible accounts, the Syrian army has shelled densely populated neighborhoods of Homs in what appears to be an indiscriminate attack on civilian areas. More than 300 people have reportedly been killed in the city since the start of this assault ten days ago. The majority of them were victims of the shelling.

The full report is available from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

–+–

Even as Syrian artillery continued to fire into residential areas of Homs and other cities, there was a noticeable lack of enthusiasm for the Arab League’s proposal to deploy UN peacekeepers.   Initial reactions by the United States, United Kingdom and Russia all noted that “peacekeepers” require peace as a precondition.

February 12, 2012

Syria on Sunday

Filed under: International HLS,Radicalization,Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on February 12, 2012

Emerging from consultations in Cairo on Sunday, the Arab League is calling for a joint Arab-UN peacekeeping mission to end the 11-month conflict in Syria.

In a resolution seen by the BBC but not yet officially released, the Arab League scrapped its observer team, suspended last month, and said it was ending all diplomatic co-operation with Syria.

Damascus “categorically rejected” the resolution, a Syrian envoy said.

The League’s moves come a week after a UN Security Council resolution on Syria was vetoed by Russia and China.

The BBC’s Jeremy Bowen in Cairo says the resolution contains the toughest language on Syria by the Arab League so far and makes it much more likely that the issue will return to the Security Council.

Continue reading the BBC story

UPDATE (1435 Eastern):

An English text of the resolution is available at the Arab League website, but the site is unstable and pages are not fully loading.  I expect this is due to significant demand.  Worth checking later this evening.

MONDAY UPDATE:

The English text has disappeared.  The original Arabic text is available at: http://arableagueonline.org/wps/wcm/connect/dbd065804a2433d984769c526698d42c/7446.pdf?MOD=AJPERES

Following is the best English language summary  I have found of the Arab League resolution:

At the conclusion of its meeting in Cairo, the Council issued Resolution No. 7446 on the “follow-up developments of the situation in Syria,” which  rejected and condemned the continued killings and violence in Syria and the continued retention of the military option, which is contrary to the obligations set forth in the resolutions of the Council of the League of Arab States and the Arab Plan of Action. (Palin note: The reference to the “military option”  is ambiguous and I don’t have the Arabic to confidently clarify.)

The Council of the League of Arab States calls on the United Nations Security Council for a resolution to form an Arab peace-keeping forces jointly with the UN to oversee the implementation of a ceasefire. It was also decided to stop all forms of cooperation with the diplomatic representatives of the Syrian regime in each member state and in international bodies and conferences.

The Ministers of Foreign Affairs agreed to end the monitoring mission of the Arab League, due to problems under the protocol signed between the Syrian government and the Secretariat of the League, and drew the call to the Secretary-General to name a special envoy to pursue the political process proposed in the framework of the Arab initiative.

The Council welcomed the offer of the Tunisian Republic to host the Conference of Friends of Syria to be held on 24.02.2012, and decided to open channels of communication with the Syrian opposition and provide all forms of political and material support to it. The Council also call on the Syrian opposition to unite and engage in serious dialogue to advance its coherence and effectiveness prior to the Tunis conference.

The resolution emphasized the validity of the economic boycott with the Syrian regime, except those directly affecting the Syrian citizens in accordance with the decisions of the Council of the League on this issue.

February 8, 2012

Real-time coverage of Syrian situation

Filed under: International HLS,Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on February 8, 2012

Map is reposted from BBC

Emboldened by Saturday’s non-decision by the United Nation’s Security Council some perceive the Syrian government is ready to do “whatever it takes” to shut-down further protests, especially in the hot-house of Homs.

The question now being asked in many world capitals is whether intervention is prudent or even possible if the Syrian government undertakes an all-out massacre.

Just in case you want to know more, both The Telegraph and The Guardian are blogging real time coverage.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/9064047/Syria-uprising-live.html

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/middle-east-live/2012/feb/08/syria-assad-siege-homs-live

THURSDAY MORNING UPDATE

The Telegraph’s Alex Spillius has spoken to a US State Department official who warns the international community may be forced to “militarise” the crisis. (The story is near the top of Thursday’s “Most Viewed.”)

He writes:

The official from the State Department told The Daily Telegraph that while the White House wants to exhaust all its diplomatic options, the debate in Washington has shifted away from diplomacy and towards more robust action since Russia and China blocked a United Nations resolution condemning Syria.

While I don’t know what Mr. Spillius was told in the hallway, here’s what the State Department spokesman said at Wednesday’s regular State Department briefing:

QUESTION: Are you able to tell us whether or not the Pentagon is part of this conversation on the U.S. side?

MS. NULAND: We often have asked the Pentagon to use its assets in certain circumstances, both consensual circumstances and more difficult circumstances, but I really don’t want to speculate on exactly how this might be moved. But as we’ve said repeatedly, we are not looking for military options, if that’s what you’re getting at, in Syria.

For further background on why military intervention is unlikely see a post by Scott Clement in The Cable:

Don’t Count on a Syria Intervention: In the end, Americans just aren’t interested in getting involved in promoting democracy overseas.”

January 13, 2012

Nigeria and Egypt: two flashpoints, two alternate paths, two prospects for the next decade and beyond

Filed under: International HLS,Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on January 13, 2012

Aftermath of Christmas Day attack on St. Theresa’s Church near Abuja, Nigeria

On December 25 an attack on a Christian church in Nigeria killed 37,  related attacks since have killed another thirty-four and potentially more. Credit has been claimed by Boko Haram, an organization calling for the expulsion of Christians and the expansion of Islamic sharia law in Northern Nigeria. (Boko Haram can be translated as “Western education is a sin.”)

On December 28 the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) released a statement including:

Having reviewed the pattern trend and frequency with which these terror crimes occur, it fits into the profile of Islamic Jihad over the years on the Christian community, which are properly contextualised. It is considered as a declaration of war on Christians and Nigeria as an entity.

The Christian community has found the responses of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs and other Islamic bodies on this matter to be unacceptable and an abdication of their responsibilities over their extremist members. It is on record that most religious, traditional and political leaders in the North have not come out openly to condemn the extremist activities of Boko Haram. We hold them responsible for what is happening, because they have not taken concrete steps to check the excesses of their members.

The Christian community is fast losing confidence in government’s ability to protect our rights to religious liberties and life. The consensus is that the Christian community nationwide would be left with no other option than to respond appropriately if there are any further attacks on our members, churches and properties.

Sectarian conflict is not new to Nigeria. In the past the Christian “response” has included attacks on Muslims. But Bako Haram has increased the stakes by launching what appears to be a sustained and organized anti-Christian campaign that also targets Muslims who reject  Boko Haram.

According to the BBC several Islamic leaders who have criticized previous attacks by Boko Haram have been assassinated.  Still, last week  Alhaji Muhammad Garba, a Muslim political leader from Northern Nigeria, said, “Boko Haram is not recognised by genuine Muslims… Why should such a group be asking Muslims to bomb churches and fight Christians? It is wrong for any group to wage war against other faith. Such people are not true believers of God.”

Boko Haram is seen by some as part of a much wider movement.  According to the Daily Telegraph, Boko Haram “is believed to be morphing into a new pan-African jihadist franchise, forging links with both al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb, which operates in the vast Sahara region north of Nigeria, and al-Shebab in Somalia.”

In September the General who leads U.S. Africa Command told the Associated Press that the three movements pose a “significant threat” not only in the areas in which they operate but also to the United States.

Those three organizations have very explicitly and publicly voiced an intent to target Westerners and the U.S. specifically,” Gen Carter Ham said. “I have questions about their ability to do so; I have no question about their intent to do so, and that to me is very worrying… So if left unaddressed, you could have a [terrorist] network that ranges from East Africa through the center” and into the Sahel, an area of north-central Africa south of the Sahara desert, Ham said. To varying degrees, these groups are affiliated with or inspired by al-Qaida’s central organization in Pakistan.

The Nigerian President has declared a State of Emergency in four northern States and mobilized military forces to take action against Boko Haram.  According to Radio France, “Hundreds of people fled their homes in Potsikum, north-east Nigeria, Saturday following all-night gun battles between Islamists and the security forces… Residents of the Dogo Tehbo and Dogo Nini areas fled their homes Saturday, telling reporters they feared that soldiers would attack their homes, as they have been accused of doing in Maidiguiri.”

–+–

An Egyptian woman joins other Muslims as “human shields” for celebration of Coptic Christmas mass

Christmas was welcomed on a different date — and with a different tone — in strife-torn Egypt.

Coptic Christians celebrated the birth of Jesus on January 7.  According to Al-Ahram:

Egypt’s majority Muslim population stuck to its word. What had been a promise of solidarity to the weary Coptic community, was honoured, when thousands of Muslims showed up at Coptic Christmas eve mass services in churches around the country and at candle light vigils held outside. (see photo gallery) From the well-known to the unknown, Muslims had offered their bodies as “human shields” for last night’s mass, making a pledge to collectively fight the threat of Islamic militants and towards an Egypt free from sectarian strife.

According to The Guardian:

At the start of the festive celebrations in Egypt, prominent figures from across the political spectrum, including leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood and members of the ruling military council, attended Friday night mass at Cairo’s main Coptic cathedral.

The Coptic pope, Shenouda III, commended their presence and appealed for national unity for “the sake of Egypt”.

He said: “For the first time in the history of the cathedral, it is packed with all types of Islamist leaders in Egypt. They all agree … on the stability of this country, and in loving it and working for it, and to work with the Copts as one hand for the sake of Egypt.”

The call for unity follows an escalation in violence against the Christian minority, an estimated 10% of Egypt’s 85 million people, over the past year.

In October at least 25 Christians were killed by Egyptian military and para-military forces. Violence against Christians in Egypt has escalated since the opening of the Arab Spring.

–+–

There are advocates of violence in Egypt.  There are many voices for reconciliation in Nigeria.  Which alternative will emerge stronger is not clear.  Some level of sectarian violence will persist.

In any case, near-term prospects for Muslim-Christian conflict in Nigeria and Egypt — and in much of northeast Africa, central Asia, southern Philippines, and in many pockets of urban Europe — are trending higher.  Dozens, likely hundreds, will be killed in an effort to preserve someone’s narcissistic sense of God. So-called Muslims will specifically target Christians.  So-called Christians will specifically target Muslims.

This is a different dynamic than has marked the last decade.

Al-Qaeda has mostly been trying to reform Islam.  AQ has used “Crusaders” as an anvil against which to sharpen its sword of intra-Islamic transformation.  The Taliban are mostly religiously motivated Pashtuns who are most concerned about preserving communal values.  Wahhabis are principally concerned about purity of Islamic practice.  The Shia clerical establishment can be preoccupied with differentiation from Sunnis, a mind-set mirrored by Wahhabis.

Monday in his remarks to the Vatican diplomatic corps Pope Benedict XVI specifically called out his concern for violence against Christians in Nigeria and elsewhere.  On January 2, Open Doors — “serving persecuted Christians worldwide” — announced, “Islamic-majority countries top 2o12 watch list.” There is increasing concern, clamor and sympathy for Christians under attack.

Accusations of Christian attacks on Muslims are as abundant.  Tuesday a Muslim mosque and school in mostly-Christian southern Nigeria was attacked.  At least five were killed.

–+–

I do not have a neatly packaged policy prescription.  I doubt anything the United States government can do will have more than glancing influence. Not adding fuel to the fire would be helpful. Containing or resolving the conflict depends mostly on those people of good will standing athwart the sectarian fault lines.

As important as US policy is probably the behavior of Americans who identify with those on one side or the other of the fault lines.

This is complicated enough that I feel justified drawing on another’s complicated diagnosis.   Here’s how Martin Buber describes our embrace of self and otherness and its implications.

The It-world hangs together in space and time.

The You-world does not hang together in space and time.

The individual You must become an It when the event of relation has run its course.

The individual It can become a You by entering into the event of relation.

These are the two basic privileges of the It-world. They induce man to consider the It-world as the world in which one has to live and also can live comfortably — and that even offers us all sorts of stimulations and excitements, activities and knowledge. In this firm and wholesome chronicle the You-moments appear as queer lyric-dramatic episodes. Their spell may be seductive, but they pull us dangerously to extremes, loosening the well-tried structure, leaving behind more doubt than satisfaction, shaking up our security — altogether uncanny, altogether indispensable. Since one must after all return into “the world,” why not stay in it in the first place? Why not call to order that which confronts us and send it home into objectivity? And when one cannot get around saying You, perhaps to one’s father, wife, companion — why not say You and mean It? After all, producing the sound “You” with one’s vocal cords does not by any means entail speaking the uncanny basic word. Even whispering an amorous You with one’s soul is hardly dangerous as long as in all seriousness one means nothing but experiencing and using.

One cannot live in the pure present: it would consume us if care were not taken that it is overcome quickly and thoroughly. But in pure past one can live; in fact, only there can a life be arranged. One only has to fill every moment with experiencing and using, and it ceases to burn.

And in all the seriousness of truth, listen: without It a human being cannot live. But whoever lives only with that is not human.

(Martin Buber, Ich und Du, as translated by Walter Thompson)

For anything resembling our current It-world to truly hold together, Christians and Muslims (and others as well) will need to more often relate as You’s rather than It’s.

There is also a simpler — and even less likely — solution.  Another Buber quote suggests the way: “The atheist staring from his attic window is often nearer to God than the believer caught up in his own false image of God.”

January 5, 2012

Defense strategy and homeland security

Earlier today the President signed out and the Secretary of Defense released new strategic guidance for the Department of Defense. Following are my quick-takes on those aspects of the document  most closely related to homeland security.

Page 1:

The demise of Osama bin Laden and the capturing or killing of many other senior al-Qa?’ida  leaders have rendered the group far less capable. However, al-Qa?’ida and its affiliates remain active in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and elsewhere. More broadly,violent extremists will continue to threaten U.S. interests, allies, partners, and the homeland.The primary loci of these threats are South Asia and the Middle East. With the diffusion of destructive technology, these extremists have the potential to pose catastrophic threats thatcould directly affect our security and prosperity. For the foreseeable future, the UnitedStates will continue to take an active approach to countering these threats by monitoring theactivities of non-state threats worldwide, working with allies and partners to establishcontrol over ungoverned territories, and directly striking the most dangerous groups and individuals when necessary.

Page 2:

In the Middle East, the Arab Awakening presents both strategic opportunities and challenges. Regime changes, as well as tensions within and among states under pressure toreform, introduce uncertainty for the future. But they also may result in governments that,over the long term, are more responsive to the legitimate aspirations of their people, and aremore stable and reliable partners of the United States.Our defense efforts in the Middle East will be aimed at countering violent extremists anddestabilizing threats, as well as upholding our commitment to allies and partner states.

Page 3:

To enable economic growth and commerce, America, working in conjunction with allies and partners around the world, will seek to protect freedom of access throughout the globalcommons ?– those areas beyond national jurisdiction that constitute the vital connective tissue of the international system. Global security and prosperity are increasingly dependent on the free flow of goods shipped by air or sea. State and non-state actors pose potential threats to access in the global commons, whether through opposition to existing norms orother anti-access approaches. Both state and non-state actors possess the capability and intent to conduct cyber espionage and, potentially, cyber attacks on the United States, with possible severe effects on both our military operations and our homeland. Growth in the number of space-faring nations is also leading to an increasingly congested and contested space environment, threatening safety and security. The United States will continue to lead global efforts with capable allies and partners to assure access to and use of the global commons, both by strengthening international norms of responsible behavior and by maintaining relevant and interoperable military capabilities.

Page 4:

Acting in concert with other means of national power, U.S. military forces must continue to hold al-Qa?’ida and its affiliates and adherents under constant pressure, wherever they may be. Achieving our core goal of disrupting, dismantling, and defeating al-Qa?’ida and preventing Afghanistan from everbeing a safe haven again will be central to this effort. As U.S. forces draw down in Afghanistan, our global counter terrorism efforts will become more widely distributedand will be characterized by a mix of direct action and security force assistance. Reflecting lessons learned of the past decade, we will continue to build and sustain tailored capabilities appropriate for counter terrorism and irregular warfare. We will also remain vigilant to threats posed by other designated terrorist organizations, such as Hezbollah.

Page 5:

Accordingly, DoD will continue to work with domestic and international allies and partners and invest in advanced capabilities to defend its networks, operational capability, and resiliency in cyberspace and space….

U.S. forces willcontinue to defend U.S. territory from direct attack by state and non-state actors. We willalso come to the assistance of domestic civil authorities in the event such defense fails or in case of natural disasters, potentially in response to a very significant or even catastrophic event. Homeland defense and support to civil authorities require strong,steady?–state force readiness, to include a robust missile defense capability. Threats to the homeland may be highest when U.S. forces are engaged in conflict with an adversary abroad.

Page 6:

The nation has frequently called upon its Armed Forces to respond to a range of situations that threaten the safety and well-being of its citizens and those of other countries. U.S. forces possess rapidly deployable capabilities, including airlift and sealift, surveillance, medical evacuation and care, and communications that can be invaluable in supplementing lead relief agencies, by extending aid to victims of natural or man-made disasters, both at home and abroad. DoD will continue to develop joint doctrine and military response options to prevent and, if necessary, respond to mass atrocities. U.S. forces will also remain capable of conducting non-combatant evacuation operations for American citizens overseas on an emergency basis.

You may see more.   The document includes considerable attention to WMD and cyber threats not excerpted above.

July 11, 2011

Brennan in Yemen (again)

Filed under: International HLS,Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on July 11, 2011

Sunday John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Counterterrorism and Homeland Security, was in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia seeing (still) President Saleh of Yemen who is recuperating from injuries suffered in an early June attack.  I don’t know when the trip was planned, but I expect a late Thursday speech by Saleh was somehow related.

In the speech, President Saleh said nothing about stepping down from office.  A White House statement on Brennan’s trip includes, “During the meeting, Mr. Brennan called upon President Salih to fulfill expeditiously his pledge to sign the GCC-brokered agreement for peaceful and Constitutional political transition in Yemen.” (You say Saleh, I say Salih.)  In other words, Saleh should resign the presidency and stay out of Yemen.

Tens of thousands — possibly hundreds of thousands — of Yemenis filled the streets in protest after Saleh’s speech was broadcast.

Today Brennan is in Yemen.  According to the Wall Street Journal:

Brennan met with Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi in a bid to revive a power-transfer deal proposed by Yemen’s neighbors. Mr. Hadi has headed the government since embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh left for neighboring Saudi Arabia to be treated for wounds he suffered in a June 3 attack on his compound in San’a, Yemen’s capital… Mr. Hadi briefed Mr. Brennan on his previous meeting with the opposition groups regarding the transition plan, which envisions presidential elections two months after the initial handover of power… Mr. Brennan’s visit also appeared to reflect Washington’s concerns about the growing strength of Islamic militants in Yemen, which is close to the Gulf’s vast oil fields and strategic shipping lanes in the Arabian and Red seas. U.S. officials say Washington has increased its security presence and operations in Yemen amid the turmoil.

I can’t keep up with Mr. Brennan.  On June 29 while I was offline for some personal obligations Mr. Brennan introduced the new National Strategy for Counterterrorism. Watch Brennan’s SAIS speech or read his prepared remarks on the new strategy.

More on the new Strategy coming up.

May 7, 2011

Pakistan: complicit or incompetent or byzantine or bungling?

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing,International HLS,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on May 7, 2011

Watching Pakistan I have often been reminded of the anecdotes of Procopius regarding the late Roman-early Byzantine court of Justinian.  To share these impressions would, however, be even more pedantic than yesterday’s endorsement of Immanuel Kant.

I am glad that someone closer to Islamabad seems to see a similar pattern.   Following is an essay published earlier today by Irfan Husain in DAWN.  I have only excerpted a bit of the beginning.  The whole essay is worth your reading: A History of Bungling.

–+–

The space between an admission of gross incompetence or of complicity in a major crime is full of humiliation and pain.

This is the place Pakistan`s ISI finds itself in the wake of Osama bin Laden`s killing in Abbottabad.

The country`s premier intelligence agency is being accused by many of knowing where the Al Qaeda chief has been hiding for the last five years. His extended presence in Abbottabad, close to the country`s elite military academy, has raised troubling questions.

But when faced with a choice between official bungling and thuggery, I`d go for ineptitude every time. While looking at a crime, the first thing an investigator asks is: ` Cui bono ?`, or `Who benefits?”

In the case of Bin Laden`s long residence in Pakistan, the country`s security establishment clearly had nothing to gain by concealing his presence.

In the past, several major foreign Muslim terrorists have been captured in Pakistan with the ISI`s cooperation. The names of Aimal Kansi, Yusef Ramzi, Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh come to mind. Lesser figures have been fingered for drone strikes, deportation to Guantanamo Bay, or for interrogation by the Americans elsewhere.

It has long been Pakistan`s tacit policy that it would crack down on foreign fighters and terrorists, while maintaining an ambivalent attitude towards jihadi groups who might be of use in Afghanistan at a later date.

Bin Laden was clearly a distraction and an embarrassment. He was of no possible strategic value to Pakistan, now or later; 9/11 had made him a toxic liability, and he was too much of a hate figure around the world for the ISI to risk sheltering him. In addition, with a $25m reward on Bin Laden`s head, do we really think our spooks are so high-minded that they would resist the temptation to turn him in?

So me, I`d go for the bungling option rather than for any of the conspiracy theories doing the rounds in Washington and around the world…

MORE

February 24, 2011

Dirty Bombs, Al Jazeera, A Legal Manual for the Apocalypse, Oh My…

Filed under: General Homeland Security,International HLS,Legal Issues,Radiological & Nuclear Threats — by Arnold Bogis on February 24, 2011

A mixed bag of relatively recent homeland security items that may have escaped attention.

Dirty Bombs

The Newshour on PBS recently aired a short segment on “How Tough is it to Build a Dirty Bomb.”  If you are interested in a dirty bomb primer, you could do a whole lot worse.  The video and transcript can be found here:

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/science/jan-june11/dirtybombs_02-08.html

The piece is a good, basic bit of reporting with an interesting interview with the man once referred to as the “Radioactive Boyscout.”  However, it would have been helpful if the reporter had pushed NYPD representatives to justify continued spending on the Securing the Cities effort instead of considering alternative means of dealing with the threat of dirty bombs.

Al Jazeera

During this tumultuous period in the Middle East, U.S. print and cable news services have scrambled to provide coverage in countries where they previously had little infrastructure.  In stark contrast, Al-Jazeera focuses its reporting on events in the region and was well positioned to respond to the string of fast breaking events.  However, very few U.S. cable companies carry the station and this led to a huge spike in traffic to Al Jazeera’s English website.

Some argue that the station is simply a platform for anti-U.S. and anti-Semitic views while others insist it is a serious news organization that allows distasteful commentators air time.  In a recent Boston Globe op-ed, former DHS Assistant Secretary Juliette Kayyem argues that the public should be allowed access to the vital reporting from that region Al Jazeera provides.  She acknowledges the less savory aspects of the station, but feels it should be left to the public to decide what and when to tune into any particular media.

This battle over cable access must be understood as a proxy for a broader lack of understanding between the United States and the region. Cable companies have no obligation to run programming, but their silence to the question “why no access’’ is a judgment, understood by the Arab world as a value-laden decision about America’s lack of desire to hear from the Arab world about the Arab world. In fact, the events in Tunisia and Egypt have been masterfully covered by the station, a news heavyweight in most of the world.

While US news corporations scrambled to get people and equipment to the region, AJE was already there, at the forefront of documenting the Egyptian government’s atrocities and demise, so much so that AJE’s offices in Egypt were raided and its journalists detained.

Could the existence of AJE on channel 203 or, if lucky, 114, upset American viewers? Yes. No doubt, if I watched long enough, I would find viewpoints expressed by commentators on Israel or the role of women that I find objectionable. But that basically describes my relationship with most cable news hosts, yet there they are, night after night.

James Zogby, in his book “Arab Voices,’’ highlights how American companies such as Cisco, Starbucks, and ExxonMobil have made important contributions to public diplomacy by shaping and promoting engagement in the Arab world. US cable companies ought to do the same by bringing a major player in the Arab world to American audiences.

Read the entire piece here: http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2011/02/14/let_us_see_al_jazeera/

Al Qaeda and Mideast Revolution

A question arising from Mideast turmoil for homeland security officials is the potential impact on Al Qaeda–both short and long term.  Paul Cruickshank addresses both the optimistic and pessimistic in a CNN.com opinion piece.

The short term:

Furthermore, the weakening of security services throughout the Arab world may allow jihadist groups like al Qaeda in the medium-term to rebuild capabilities, warns Noman Benotman, a former Libyan jihadist once personally acquainted with al Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri.

“This is a make or break moment for al Qaeda,” said Benotman, now a senior analyst at the Quilliam Foundation, a UK counter-extremist think tank.

In the short term, Benotman says, al Qaeda will need to navigate strong countervailing winds. The clamor by protesters from North Africa to the Gulf for more democracy is hardly change al Qaeda can believe in.

“What we see playing out now is completely against what al Qaeda is preaching,” Benotman said.

The long term:

Benotman says that with the weakening of security services in some Arab countries, the greatest future opportunities may lie for jihadist groups with a narrow regional agenda rather than those like al Qaeda focused on attacking the United States and its Western allies.

According to Benotman, one of the groups that may try to rebuild its activities in Egypt is Zawahiri’s very own group: Egyptian Islamic Jihad.

In the long term, a successful democratic transition in the Arab world would arguably make the United States significantly safer from al Qaeda terrorism. The threat of attack would remain because, as September 11 illustrated, even a small group of dedicated individuals can create terrible carnage, and al Qaeda today continues to enjoy safe havens in Pakistan and Yemen from where it can organize new attacks. But if al Qaeda’s recruiting efforts are significantly hampered, so will its campaign of global terrorism.

Again, the whole thoughtful piece is worth reading: http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/meast/02/21/arab.unrest.alqaeda.analysis/index.html

Noted jihadist expert Thomas Hegghammer likes the article as well, but personally comes out on the pessimistic side of things at his blog “Jihadica:”

Basically there are two schools of thought on the matter: the ”fewer grievances” school and the “more opportunities” school – represented in Cruickshank’s piece by Osama Rushdi and Noman Benothman respectively. The former argues that democratization will stem new recruitment to al-Qaida by removing a key grievance and undermining the message that only violence can bring change. The latter argues that the unrest provides jihadis with new operational opportunities and encourages spoiler activism.

Personally I lean toward the “more opportunities” school. I agree that the recent events are bad for al-Qaida in the long run, but I see the short and medium term effects as much less predictable. For a start, the removal of a grievance does not affect the motivation of the already mobilised (this, I admit, is the same argument used by those who say Palestine does not matter for al-Qaida). Second, the relationship between grievances and violence is not linear. Terrorism is a small-scale phenomenon and usually involves people who are outliers on the spectrum of political opinion. Osama Rushdi’s claim, in the CNN piece, that “the end of the Mubarak regime will prevent men like Zawahiri from again emerging in Egypt” strikes me as hopelessly naive. Finally, discontent with Arab regimes is not the only grievance motivating new al-Qaida recruits. Hostility to Western policies and solidarity with Muslims at war with non-Muslims are also prominent motivations, and these are largely unaffected by the events in Tunisia and Egypt. Among perpetrators of Islamist terrorist attacks in the West in recent years, you will not find many who say they acted out of hatred for the Egyptian or Saudi regimes.

Lawyers are an important part of the homeland security team

Not that you might have doubted that notion, but a recent New York Times article reinforces the idea.  New York State lawyers have produced a compilation of relevant laws that can serve as a guide for legal professionals during and following a terrorist attack, disease outbreak, or natural disaster.

Quarantines. The closing of businesses. Mass evacuations. Warrantless searches of homes. The slaughter of infected animals and the seizing of property. When laws can be suspended and whether infectious people can be isolated against their will or subjected to mandatory treatment. It is all there, in dry legalese, in the manual, published by the state court system and the state bar association.

The most startling legal realities are handled with lawyerly understatement. It notes that the government has broad power to declare a state of emergency. “Once having done so,” it continues, “local authorities may establish curfews, quarantine wide areas, close businesses, restrict public assemblies and, under certain circumstances, suspend local ordinances.”

Ronald P. Younkins, the chief of operations for the state court system, said the book’s preparation was similar to other steps the New York courts had taken to plan for emergencies, including stockpiling respirators and latex gloves. Like such manuals in other states, Mr. Younkins said, it is intended to give judges and lawyers a place to turn in an emergency because the maze of state and federal laws — some decades or centuries old — can be difficult to decipher. For judges, the manual may well be their only refresher on the case of Mary Mallon, “Typhoid Mary,” who was isolated on an East River island from 1915 until her death in 1938.

“It is a very grim read,” Mr. Younkins said. “This is for potentially very grim situations in which difficult decisions have to be made.”

Published with the disarmingly bland title “New York State Public Health Legal Manual,” the doomsday book does not proclaim new law but, rather, describes existing law and gives lawyers and judges ways of analyzing any number of frightening situations.

For those interested, the full document can be found at: http://www.nycourts.gov/whatsnew/pdf/PublicHealthLegalManual.pdf

February 13, 2011

The Muslim Brotherhood: a less dire outlook

Filed under: General Homeland Security,International HLS,Radicalization — by Arnold Bogis on February 13, 2011

The amazing events in Egypt this past week  have, for the most part, been a feel good story. While the future of that country is unclear and will remain so for quite a while, that has not prevented various pundits, experts, talking heads, and journalists from stoking fears of an ascendant Muslim Brotherhood.

Since the vast majority of the commentary has been negative and not exactly nuanced, I thought it might be helpful to point out a few pieces that could inspire if not optimism at least such not dire pessimism.

The first comes from the New York Times that examines the past, present, and future prospects of the Brotherhood.  It also gives voice to the opinions of the mostly secular protesters who took to the streets:

The Muslim Brotherhood, a mainstream group that stands as the most venerable of the Arab world’s Islamic movements, is of course also a contender to lead a new Egypt. It has long been the most organized and credible opposition to Mr. Mubarak. But is also must prepare to enter the fray of an emerging democratic system, testing its staying power in a system ruled by elections and the law.

“This is not yesterday’s Egypt,” declared Amal Borham, a protester in Tahrir Square.

“It is their right to participate as much as it is mine, as much as it is anyone else’s in this country,” added Ms. Borham, who considers herself secular. “They are part of this society, and they have been made to stay in the shadows for a very long time.”

“The system made them work in the dark and that made them look bigger than they are,” said Ahmed Gowhary, a secular organizer of the protests. “Now it will be a real chance for them to show that they are more Egyptian than they have appeared.”

“Their real power,” he added, “will show.”

The reporter also describes the differences between the events in Iran and Egypt:

Unlike the Shiite Muslim clergy in Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood is neither led by clerics nor based on a clerical organization. In many ways, it represents a lay middle class. The very dynamics are different, too: cassette tapes of Ayatollah Khomeini’s speeches helped drive Iran’s revolution, whose zealots sought to export it. The Internet helped propel the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, the medium’s own diffusion helping carry it from the backwater town of Sidi Bouzid in Tunisia to Tahrir Square in Cairo.

Perhaps most importantly, the revolutions occurred a generation apart, a note echoed in the Brotherhood stronghold of Munira, along streets of graceful balustrades of the colonial era and the utilitarian architecture of Mr. Nasser and his successors.

“The people are aware this time,” said Essam Salem, a 50-year-old resident there. “They’re not going to let them seize power. People aren’t going to be deceived again. This is a popular revolution, a revolution of the youth, not an Islamic revolution.”

A scholar provides a dose of reality in regards to the Brotherhood’s ability to deliver results:

“The ability to present a mainstream national reform agenda and mobilize and galvanize Egyptians around this agenda, this is something the Muslim Brotherhood has failed to do,” said Emad Shaheen, a professor at the University of Notre Dame. “The youth have achieved in 18 days what the Brotherhood failed to achieve in 80 years.”

In a BCSIA Power & Policy blog post, “Religious actors can be democratizers,” Harvard professor Monica Toft provides additional (generally) optimistic analysis:

The evidence is mixed, but on balance I predict the MB will be a force for democratic change. What is my evidence? I have two sorts. The first regards the MB itself and the second is the role of religious actors in politics more generally.

Even were the MB to become more integral of the political process in Egypt, the numbers indicate that its influence is already quite limited; and although the MB continues to include extremist, more fundamentalist elements (however defined), these represent a small fraction within the organization itself, and an even smaller fraction of Egyptian society.

Time will tell whether the MB continues to adopt a representative and more democratic orientation. But, if the history of democratization and the trends over the last four decades are any guide, the chances are that it will represent the interests of Egyptian society more broadly. In other words, the MB is unlikely to dominate Egyptian politics moving forward, but even if it does play a major role, that role is likely to be more democratic and constructive than many who abjure religious political groups fear.

Both pieces are well worth reading in full.

February 2, 2011

A Resilient Revolution

Filed under: Events,International HLS — by Mark Chubb on February 2, 2011

In previous posts, I have referred to five metatrends that I think define resilience: local, simple, varied, connected and open. The events over the past few days in Egypt demonstrated once again the power and significance of these concepts. What we have witnessed in the streets of Cairo, Alexandria and other Egyptian cities as well as Egyptian and sympathetic Arab communities around the globe is a sort of resilient revolution.

Hosni Mubarek’s regime and his 30-year tenure as Egypt’s ruler have been defined by a commitment to stability both internally and externally. To be sure, this track record considered in light of current events should make clear to all the error of confusing longevity with resilience even in a place as volatile as the Middle East.

The U.S. — placing a premium on stability over resilience itself — backed Mubarek despite his decidedly undemocratic tendencies until it became evident such support was both largely irrelevant and ultimately unsustainable. Indeed, the real question now is whether we have harmed our national interest and the credibility of our commitment to human rights and the rule of law by not making it clear where we stood with respect to the protests raging throughout the country and elsewhere in the Middle East sooner than we did.

Putting that aside and returning to the five metatrends, each has played out in interesting ways in recent days despite Mr. Mubarek’s efforts to retain power and his allies’ reluctance to play their hands in public: The people have sensed their power lies in their own resilience as evidenced in the following ways:

Local — Despite efforts by the government of Egypt to interfere with communication and co-opt media for their own aims, spontaneous protests emerged across the country, organized by small groups that relied on decentralized and horizontally aligned allegiances among small groups united by a shared vision rather than a common leader or clear structure. The government’s vertically-oriented hierarchical model of control simply could not keep up with much less outmaneuver the protesters once they sensed an advantage and decided to act.

Simple – The protesters’ amplified their power through the simplicity and directness of their demands: Mubarek must go. The absence of a single, identifiable opposition leader — notwithstanding the prominence of Mohamed elBaradei and his efforts to position himself in front of the mass movement for change — played in the protesters’ favor by making it clear that their objective was the nation’s welfare and therefore interest-based not personality-driven. It also made the movement very difficult to co-opt, control or reorient and will make it all but impossible for President Mubarek to remain in power until his term ends no matter how the next fews days go.

Varied — Decentralized control and local organization coupled with the simplicity of the messages and demands of protesters made it easy for people with very different agendas from every corner of Egyptian society, including marginalized groups that have been excluded from the nation’s social and political life for decades, to join the popular uprising without immediate fear of reprisals for their participation. Christians and other religious minorities have joined the ranks of Muslims just as crowds have seen men and women, young and old, educated and uneducated mixing freely and largely peacefully.

Connected — Even the disruption of Internet and other telecommunications services by the government did not significantly disrupt or interfere with the ability of protesters to organize or communicate their demands. When the army took to the streets at Mr. Mubarek’s direction, they had few good options. Their legitimacy, like his lack of the same quality, hinged on the desires of the people to see their country under democratic control, not simply control. The willingness of protesters to embrace the military and work alongside soldiers to maintain order, prevent looting, protect cultural institutions and suppress disruptive behavior and even violence prevented events from spinning hopelessly out of control.

Open — The willingness of the military and the protesters alike to play their cards face-up has prevented a dangerous situation from becoming truly chaotic. Violence and bloodshed have occurred, but seem to have been limited by the willingness of protest leaders and military leaders alike to make their intentions and expectation clear to all concerned. With the U.S. government’s arrival in the ranks of the openness parade, things have started to look like they might start resolving themselves in a fashion more rather than less consistent with our most fervent hopes for the emergence of peaceful, moderate and more democratic civil institutions in the Middle East. We have a long way to go, but this is looking better than almost anybody could have imagined even a short time ago.

It’s worth noting that this last principle — openness — may have played an unusually significant part in the process from the start. Some commentators have suggested that the events in Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan and elsewhere have been fueled by the release of once secret communications regarding the Middle East peace process and U.S. efforts to deal with states and their leaders, particularly to resolve the Palestinian crisis. This assessment suggests the importance of ensuring that our policies not only reflect our principles in their ends but also in the means by which we pursue them.

February 1, 2011

Egypt, the US, and the relationship paradox

Filed under: Events,International HLS — by Dan OConnor on February 1, 2011

As we’ve witnessed in real time, Egypt and revolution are now synonymous. Regionally relevant, Egypt every day slips away, from purported democracy to overthrow, to anarchy. With enough similarities to Iran in the late 70’s, another “ally” has fallen aside in a region that fuels the world.

We preach often and with interpretive translations or dramatic renditions about stability and maintaining it. We want financial stability. We want national stability and we want economic and social stability. But the “stability” we believe we had and embraced and embellished isn’t stability at all. My question is: is it repression or is it a necessary evil?

I ask as we see Tunisia fall — or begin to — and Jordan begin to wobble, while the Islamic Action Front, the political arm of the Jordanian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, increases its activity. And now Egypt. Why is Egypt so important? Fundamentally, their geography, their peace accord with Israel, the three million barrels of oil moving through the Suez canal daily, and Mubarek’s affinity to “help” us made them a necessary ally. Except for Jordan, Egypt is the only country in the region that attempts or manages to acquit themselves with maintaining a de facto peace and civil relationship with Israel.

But what of Egypt’s suppressed radicals? The basic ideology of political Islam finds its origin within Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood has a long history of assassinations (Sadat) and attempts (Nasser) creating radical and political leaders (Ayman Muhammad Rabaie al-Zawahiri and Sayyid Qutb) and influencing the world’s most wanted man (Usama Bib Laden) and terrorist group (Al Qaeda).

The current situation has its roots in post WWII, with Britain’s diminishing influence and the emerging Arab Israeli relations. Nasser’s rise to power and his rejection of the Muslim Brotherhood fueled growing animosity and hostility in Egypt. With Nasser’s rejection of pro Western government and Islamist rule, it left him as an ideal partner for the Russians, hence our need to maintain active vigilance and persuasion within the region.

Nasser’s rejection of an Islamic government was an affront to the Brotherhood and in particular Sayyid Qutb. Qutb was the leading Islamic theologian of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in the 1950s and 1960s. Qutb was an Egyptian author, educator, Islamist, poet, and catalyst of political and radical Islam. After a failed attempt to assassinate Nasser, Qutb and others believed to be involved were jailed, and tortured. Qutb was released and re-arrested and finally martyred. His writings, coupled with his education in the United States and his subsequent rejection of America were additional fuel for his radical thoughts and embrace of a more fundamental Islamic point of view, with some calling it a Salafist one.

All that said, the Martyring of Qutb and the success of the Brotherhood’s assination of Anwar Sadat (my father-in-law was in the reviewing stands several rows behing Sadat) was in direct conflict with the secularist roots of Egypts’ quasi Democracy.

Enter Mubarek. Vowing to only remain one term, Mubarek has remained “President” or better stated benevolent dictator since 1981, but as of late perhaps not so. Having been the ruler of Egypt for nearly 30 years, Mubarek has utilized Egypt’s Emergency Law for his entire tenure. He considers the country to be in a permanent state of emergency and under that guise has expanded his powers, exercised force and intimidation and diminished civil rights as a result. The Egyptian government routinely arrests and detains citizens for any number of reasons, with limited or no due process. Their record on human rights is also quite spotty and they are not considered to be a free society. But they are our ally.

So now the rub: should we not have been concerned with Egypt’s issues as long as they showed us favor? Much of the rhetoric trumpeted by radical Islam about the United States is its propping up of corrupt rulers and despots to ensure access to the middle east’s oil and maintain low prices. Is there any truth to their argument? Is there fundamentally a different argument that can be made about Iran and now Egypt? Certainly there are differences, but there are also similarities. I read recently that we have supported upwards of 25 dictators since WWII. Do we do this simply to maintain cheap oil? Clearly one could make a case for that. Our entire Newtonian or industrialized economy is built on hydrocarbons. The world’s economy is still based on an industrial age hydrocarbon economy. Is this the march of civilization? Is this repetitive activity, exploitation of one nation for the betterment of another, the expectation or status quo? Isn’t this the definition of hegemonic empire?

So are we willing to weigh the merits of our relationships with dictatorial leaders against our need to fuel our machines and maintain spheres of influence? Objectively and for purpose of debate, can we entertain the possibility that our activity and “needs” have created, to some extent, the environment that causes terrorist activity to occur? Do our desires and malleable stance toward human rights make us global hypocrites? Are we responsible for some of our pain? Should we be at all surprised that repression over an extended period of time creates environments and opportunities for inflamed and agitated populaces to revolt against their oppressors?

In order for the United States to flourish and reach its zenith as a nation, fuel was required; cheap energy to power an economy and industry. Cheap energy was required to create revenue to distribute as aid around the globe. Cheap energy was required to garner global influence and global force projection. Is this the march of civilization and is American Exceptionalism much different than British, Spanish, French, Roman, or Greek periods of power? I’d like to think we’ve been more humanistic in our hegomony. However, can we get past our hubris to entertain the possibility that our wealth, influence, and power were not abstract or arbitrary gains, but gained by exploiting other nations that had neither the might nor influence to stop us? And, are we all “good” with that because that’s how Nations grow and become influential? I believe one must ask the questions.

One must ask because in order to protect our way of life and defend the homeland — homeland security — one must have the historical context and not simply monkey grinder rhetoric. If we are to defend our Nation against all enemies, foreign and domestic and against existential threats, we must also be able to identify our hand in causation. Nothing happens in a vacuum; to believe it does is folly and dangerous.

If one believes in some sense of American Exceptionalism and also that same sense of International responsibility as I do, than one has to entertain all the facts, not those that simply fit our rationale. How else can one make and execute an effective homeland security plan and enterprise if we choose to ignore all the facts? As has been said before, we are all entitled to our own opinions informed or otherwise. We are however not entitled to our own facts.

The revolutionaries in Egypt are determined and growing more emboldened to bring down Mubarak’s regime. I wonder aloud if the leaders of the last 50 years of Egypt’s secular tyranny realized they spawned two enemies: the present revolutionaries and the theocratic absolutists. How much play the Muslim Brotherhood has remains to be seen and having reporters on 24/7 infotainment channels speculate or report that “leaders” pontificate about their role and/or are trying to separate Christians from Muslims is reckless and dangerous. But is it factual? I wonder if Egypt is more important than Sangin, Afghanistan where Marines engage in daily fire fights and die every day.

I wonder if the revolutionaries trying desperately to maintain calm and suppress anarchy have given any thought to what will replace the current regime. In the three act play, we are still in act one. Could this be the last of a series of dominos as former American strongholds topple or is this beginning of the people’s revolt against tyranny? Do the Saudis worry or dismiss? Does this devolving situation change our homeland security posture and procedures? These are interesting times.

And what is the definition of Homeland Security… Complexity, here we come!

January 27, 2011

Unrest in the Middle East: implications for homeland security?

Filed under: International HLS — by Arnold Bogis on January 27, 2011

Trying to predict the outcome of all the protests rocking Middle Eastern countries is a mug’s game.  Will authoritarian regimes fall or will they crush the uprisings?  If political change occurs, will democracy (of any sort) necessarily be the result?

Middle East expert Marc Lynch of George Washington University addresses some of the underlying issues:

The end of the Tunisian story hasn’t yet been written. We don’t yet know whether the so-called Jasmine Revolution will produce fundamental change or a return to a cosmetically-modified status quo ante, democracy or a newly configured authoritarianism. But most of the policy community has long since moved on to ask whether the Tunisian protests will spread to other Arab countries — Egypt, of course, but also Jordan, Yemen, Algeria, Libya, and almost every place else. Most experts on each individual country can offer powerful, well-reasoned explanations as to why their country won’t be next. I’m skeptical too.

But I found it unsatisfying to settle for such skepticism as I watched the massive demonstrations unfold in Egypt on my Twitter feed while moderating a panel discussion on Tunisia yesterday (I plead guilty). As I’ve been arguing for the last month, something does seem to be happening at a regional level, exposing the crumbling foundations of Arab authoritarianism and empowering young populations who suddenly believe that change is possible. There are strong reasons to expect most of these regimes to survive, which we shouldn’t ignore in a moment of enthusiasm. But we also shouldn’t ignore this unmistakable new energy, the revelation of the crumbling foundations of Arab authoritarian regimes, or the continuing surprises which should keep all analysts humble about what might follow.

Harvard realist Stephen Walt does not believe we’ll see what happened in Tunisia occur in Egypt or elsewhere….maybe:

Do the large and angry demonstrations in Egypt mean that I was wrong to predict that the revolution in Tunisia wouldn’t spread? Not yet, but I will be watching events closely and developments there could eventually prove me wrong. (As Keynes famously retorted, “when the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do?”) But thus far, I’m sticking with my original forecast.

And Daniel Drezner of Tufts University asks a question that touches on a potential homeland security implication:

Which neoconservative impulse will win out — the embrace of democratic longing, or the fear of Islamic movements taking power?

Experts have pointed out that while there was little Islamic fundamentalist-based opposition to the Tunisian government, that is not true in Egypt.  While it appears the current protests are organic in nature and not organized by any particular group, the largest opposition group in Egypt is the Muslim Brotherhood.  Clearly spelling out the nature of the group is for others with a much deeper understanding of their beliefs and activities, but I would bet that many U.S. security officials would be nervous about them gaining power in the largest Arab state.  Many homeland security analysts are already wary of groups operating in the U.S. that are associated with the Brotherhood.

A larger issue is if regime change does come to some of these nations, will it have a net positive effect in terms of terrorist recruitment in the future? One of the reasons given by Bin Laden for attacking the U.S. is that we prop up these “apostate” regimes in the Arab world–regimes that people like Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri have been unable to topple themselves.  So they focused on the “far enemy” (the U.S.) so that we would retreat from the Middle East and they could then topple the “near enemy” (regimes in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, etc.).

So if there is regime change of any sort, will that decrease the terrorist threat to the U.S.?

As appealing as the prospect of democracy spreading across the Middle East is, it is not the primary national security interest in the region for the U.S.  That would be keeping the flow of oil unimpeded by ensuring that no one state dominates the area.  Could that clear interest come into conflict with a murky opportunity to perhaps decrease the long-term terrorist threat?     

January 11, 2011

A flood that covers Texas and Oklahoma

Filed under: International HLS — by Christopher Bellavita on January 11, 2011

Nick Earls is an Australian author, transplanted from Ireland. He wrote an essay in Sunday’s New York Times about another one of those apparently annual once-a-century events that visit our planet.

This one is the flood in Australia’s state of Queensland. The flood covers an area the size of Texas and Oklahoma. (That’s an area the size of France and Germany.)

This flood is a huge deal.

Nick Earls’ article reminded me of something I witnessed in Australia during the 2000 Olympic Games.

But first the homeland security resilience observation from Earls’ article:

Queensland faces a flood affecting an area the size of Texas and Oklahoma combined. The mines that supply one-third of the world’s coking coal are shut down. Crops have been destroyed and the soil that grew them has been carried away. Mercifully few lives have been lost so far, but the economic impact has been estimated at $5 billion. Some 200,000 people have been affected, many of them forced from their homes by water and mud.

Nevertheless, there is none of the clamor of disaster, none of the chaos one might expect. Crisis management plans have been activated. Townships, towns and cities are hard at work, not only as governments but as communities. Neighbors are helping neighbors, and then helping people they have never met. When the hard-hit coastal city of Rockhampton put a call out over the radio for people to fill sandbags, 70 volunteers turned up within minutes.

…. Even after the rain stops, we’re told, it will be weeks before all the water is gone. As the less-fortunate evacuees return home, they will find mud everywhere: in their filing cabinets, their kitchen cupboards, their photo albums. As I learned in the aftermath of the Brisbane flood of 1974, the smell will remain for years — a swampy stench that comes out of the walls and down from the ceiling on hot days.

Those people will need room for grief and anger. Most of them, though, when interviewed standing in the wreckage, talk about how life goes on.

Events like this flood not only show our stoicism, but create it. It’s important to Queenslanders, like all Australians, that we see ourselves as people who look adversity in the eye, stare it down and band together to overcome it.

Houses will be repaired, and new ones will be built. Businesses will get back to work. In ground that was baked dry but is now soaked deep, eggs will hatch, seeds will germinate and hidden species will reveal themselves and make the most of this change in their luck before the next drought sets in. Life will go on and, for farmers and those dependent on the land, the next crop should be a good one, if the weather holds.

Ten years ago I was sitting along with 80,000 other people in Sydney’s Olympic Stadium. An Australian athlete named Jane Saville was leading in the final stage of the 20 kilometer race walk event.

An Olympic athlete trains almost her entire life for a very slim chance to win a gold medal. The gold was 100 meters within Jane Saville’s reach.

She approached the Stadium filled with 80,000 cheering and excited mostly Australian spectators.

I’ve been to a number of Olympic Games. I had never seen anything to match the national unity created in Australia by the 2000 Olympic Games. You could hear roars travel like waves throughout Sydney whenever one of its athletes won a gold medal (Australia won 16 of the 186 gold medals awarded.)

Winning an Olympic gold medal is a huge deal.

Here’s the transcript from an Australian broadcast about what happened as Saville moved into the stadium:

Announcer: It’s Saville of Australia. You’ll hear the roar all round Australia when she walks into the stadium. I heard the boys say to her, “80,000 there”. Wang [the Chinese athlete] is chasing her. She’s not all that far behind her, but Saville is leading still as they’re about to go out of my vision. And we’ll go to the commentator… she’s got a red disc! she’s got a red disc!

She was just about to enter the stadium, and the leader, Jane Saville of Australia has been disqualified. Can you believe that?

Jane Saville, leading the 20 kilometre walk and about to enter the main stadium, receives a red disc and has been disqualified from the competition. And that leaves Lipang Wang of China in front.

Well, that is unbelievable. She was within the shadows of the stadium, and Jane Saville has been disqualified from the women’s 20 kilometre walk.

She has broken down. She’s burst into tears. The cameras are following her. They’re not worrying about Wang. And Jane Saville, when she was about to reach out and grab Olympic gold, has been disqualified.


————

I was close enough to Saville to see her tears, her face contorted by what must have been total devastation.

Ten seconds later — at most 20 seconds — I saw her take a very deep breath, draw herself together, and transform herself from devastation to something close to serenity.

I have no clue how she did it.

Saville (a few moments after she was disqualified): “[Disqualification] is always playing in the back of your mind because as a walker there are the rules and things like that can happen. I wasn’t confident ’til I crossed that line, but I didn’t think it’d happen. I thought it’d be absolutely outrageous for it to happen, you know, where I was. I can’t say anything. I don’t know, I don’t know. Back to the drawing board and try and work out what’s wrong with my technique.”

When I think of resilience, I think of Jane Saville. When I read what Nick Earls writes about the floods in Queensland, I think he is probably right about the resilience of the Australian people.

I have no clue how they do it.  I wonder how our nation can learn from Australia.

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