Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

July 18, 2013

Repeating history and writing the future

Filed under: Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on July 18, 2013

In the early 1990s genocidal attacks against the Muslim population of the former Yugoslavia proceeded with little Western interference while the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan resulted in Western action to arm a wide range of insurgents, including a nascent Al Qaeda.

Some of the tactics and techniques developed in Afghanistan were deployed in the former Yugoslavia, Chechnya, eventually in Yemen, Kenya, Tanzania, and lower Manhattan.  An echo of these days reverberated as recently as April 15.

Western hypocrisy and geopolitical competition fueled the emergence of a worldview, adversaries, and a preternatural expectation of cultures-in-conflict.

Today tens of thousands are killed in Syria and any mitigation — much less resolution — is stymied by Big Power geopolitical competition.  Across the Sahel Salafist fighters bomb and kill (Christian) teachers and school children.  In Somalia Ethiopian and Kenyan Christians are active in containing (Islamic) al Shabbab.  In Egypt a Western-funded military facilitates the overthrow of a popularly elected (conservative Islamic) President.

These are gross simplifications of very complex realities.  But this narrative sufficiently parallels reality that more complicated counter-arguments are seldom self-evidently compelling.

We have, perhaps, ten years to adjust the narrative. The analogy that comes to my mind is trying to write lyric poetry as Asiana Flight 214 hits the seawall at SFO. There is forward movement, there is a bit of time, you will probably survive to die another day, but the noise, destruction, fear, and pain do not lend themselves to much writing of any kind.

Yet if we cannot — in collaboration across religious, national, and tribal divides — craft a more mutually satisfactory narrative, we will suffer again and again explosions of self-righteous anger and revenge.

This week there was a modest effort, easily ignored and as easily dismissed, to at least conceive a different narrative.  Here’s a news release and here’s a 25-page report with recommendations.  Might be worth a glance between our show-trials, political melodramas, furloughs, and vacations.

We need better.  But we should start with what we’ve got.

July 17, 2013

Dear Malala in brotherly concern

Filed under: Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on July 17, 2013

Last Friday, on her 16th birthday, Malala Yousafzai addressed the United Nations Youth Assembly.  She has largely recovered from the October 2012 Taliban assassination attempt.  You can see/hear her address at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3rNhZu3ttIU

While I admire Ms. Yousafzai’s courage and her arguments, I will admit to being even more interested in the response (below) authored by Taliban leader Adnan Rasheed.  His letter is — no matter how misguided, distasteful, or manipulative — an interesting window into a worldview that motivates violent extremism.

I found Mr. Rasheed’s original Open Letter at the UK’s Channel 4 News website.  I have added punctuation and corrected spelling to assist your reading but otherwise provide largely as written and in full.

–+–

IN THE NAME OF ALLAH THE MOST MERCIFUL AND BENEFICENT

From Adnan Rasheed to Malala Yousafzai

Peace to those who follow the guidance

Miss Malala Yousafzai

I am writing to you in my personal capacity, this may not be the opinion or policy of Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan or other jihadi faction or group.

I heard about you through BBC Urdu service for the first time, when I was in Bannu prison. At that time I wanted to write to you, to advise you to refrain from anti-Taliban activities you were involved in. But I could not find your address and I was thinking how to approach you with real or pseudo name, my all emotions were brotherly for you because we belong to same Yousafzai tribe.

Meanwhile the prison break happened and I was supposed to be in hiding. When you were attacked it was shocking for me. I wished it would never happened and I had advised you before Taliban attacked you. Was it Islamically correct or wrong, did you deserve to be killed or not, I will not go in this argument now, let’s we leave it to Allah All mighty, He is the best judge. Here I want to advise you as I am already late, I wish I would have advised you in my prison time and this accident would never happened.

First of all please mind that Taliban never attacked you because of going to school or you were education lover, also please mind that Taliban or Mujahideen are not against the education of any men or women or girl. Taliban believe that you were intentionally writing against them and running a smear campaign to malign their efforts to establish Islamic system in Swat and your
writings were provocative.

You have said in your speech yesterday that the pen is mightier than sword, so they attacked you for your sword not for your books or school. There were thousands of girls who were going to school and college before and after the Taliban insurgency in Swat, would you explain why were only you on their hit list???

Now to explain you the second point, why Taliban are blowing up schools? The answer to this question is that not only Taliban in KPK or FATA are blowing up the schools but Pakistan Army and Frontier Constabulary is equally involved in this issue. The reason for this action is common between them, that is turning of schools into hide outs and transit camps once it comesunder control of either party Pakistan Army or Taliban.

In 2004 I was in Swat, I was researching on the causes of failure of the first revolution attempt by Sufi Muhammad. I came to know that FC (Frontier Corps) was stationed in the schools of Swat in Tehsil Matta and FC was using schools as their transit camps and hide outs. Now tell me who to blame???  Dozens of schools and colleges are being used by Pakistan Army and FC as their barracks in FATA, you can find out easily if you like. So when something sacred is turned lethal it needs to be eliminated. This is the policy of Taliban.

Blowing up schools when they are not being used strategically is not the Taliban’s job. Some black sheep of local administration may be involved to extract more and more funds in the name of schools to fill their bank accounts.

Now I come to the main point that is EDUCATION, it is amazing that you are Shouting for education, you and the UNO (United Nations) is pretending that as you were shot due to education, although this is not the reason.  Be honest, not the education but your propaganda was the issue and what you are doing now, you are using your tongue on the behest of the others and you must know that if  the pen is mightier than the sword then the tongue is sharper and the injury of sword can be hailed but the injury of the tongue never hails and in the wars tongue is more destructive than any  weapon.

I would like to share with you that Indian sub-continent was highly educated and almost every citizen was able to read or write before the British invasion. Locals used to teach British officers Arabic, Hindi, Urdu and Persian. Almost every mosque was acting as school too and Muslim emperors used to spend a huge sum of money on education. Muslim India was rich in farming, silk, and jute and from textile industry to ship building. No poverty, no crises and no clashes of civilization or religion. Because the education system was based on noble thoughts and noble
curriculum.

I want to draw your attention to an extract from the minute written by Sir T.B. Macaulay to British parliament dated 2nd February 1835 about what type of education system is required in Indian sub-continent to replace the Muslim education system. He stated “We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern, –a class of persons Indian in blood and color, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect.”

This was and this is the plan and mission of this so called education system for which you are ready to die, for which UNO takes you to their office to produce more and more Asians in blood but English in taste, to produce more and more Africans in color but English in opinion, to produce more and more non English people but English in morale. This so called education made Obama, the mass murderer, your ideal. isn’t it?

Why they want to make all human beings English? Because Englishmen are the staunch supporters and slaves of Jews. Do you know Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, the founder and symbol of English education in India was a Freemason?

You say a teacher, a pen and a book can change the world. Yes I agree. But which teacher which pen and which book? It is to be specified, Prophet Muhammad Peace be upon him said Iam sent as a teacher, and the book He sent to teach is Quran. So a noble and pious teacher with prophetic curriculum can change the world; not with a satanic or secular curriculum.

You have given the example that once a journalist asked a student why the Taliban was afraid of this education. He replied a Talib didn’t know what was in this book. The same I say to you and through you to whole world. That is why they are afraid of the book of Allah because they don’t know what is in it.  Taliban want to implement what is in the book of ALLAH and UNO want to implement what they have in man-made books. We want to connect the world to their creator through the book of  Allah and UNO want to enslave the world to a few evil creatures.

You have talked about justice and equality from the stage of an unjust institution, the place where you were standing uttering for justice and equality, all the nations are not equal there, only five wicked states have the veto power and rest of them are powerless. Dozens of time when all the world united against Israel only one veto was enough to press the throat of justice. The place you were speaking to the world is heading towards new world order. I want to know what is wrong the old world order? They want to establish global education, global economy, global army, global trade, global government and finally global religion. I want to know is there any space for the prophetic guidance in all above global plans? Is there any space for Islamic sharia or Islamic law to which UN call inhumane and barbaric?

You have talked about attacks on polio teams, would you explain why the then American foreign secretary of state Henry Kissinger, a Jew, said in 1973 to reduce the third world population by 80%. Why the sterilization and eugenics programs are running in different countries in one way  or another under the umbrella of UNO. More than 1 million Muslim women have been sterilized in Uzbekistan forcibly without their consent.

Bertrand Russell writes in his book the impact of science on society, “diet, injections and injunctions will combine, from a very early age, to produce the sort of character and sort of beliefs that the authorities consider desirable and any serious criticism of power that be will become psychologically impossible”. This is why we have reservations on the so called polio vaccination program.

You say Malala today is not your day, it is the day of every person who has raised voice for their rights. I ask you why such a day in not assigned to Rachel Corrie, only because the bulldozer was Israeli? Why such a day is not assigned to Affia Siddique because the buyers are Americans? Why such day is not assigned to Faizan and Faheem because the killer was Raymond Davis? Why such a day is not assigned to those 16 innocent afghan women and children who were shot dead by an American Robert Belas because he was not a Talib.

I ask you and be honest in reply, if you were shot by Americans in a drone attack, would the world have ever heard updates on your medical status? Would you be called ‘daughter of the nation?  Would the media make a fuss about you? Would General Kiyani have come to visit you and would the world media be constantly reporting on you? Would you were called to UN? Would a  Malala day be announced?

More than 300 innocent women and children have been killed in drones attacks but who cares because attackers are highly educated, non-violent, peaceful Americans.

I wish, the compassion you learnt from Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him should be learnt by Pakistan Army so they could stop shedding of Muslim blood in FATA and Baluchistan. I wish, the compassion you learnt from Prophet Jesus should be learnt by USA and NATO so they should stop shedding blood of innocent Muslims across the world and I wish the same for followers of Buddha to stop killing of innocent unarmed Muslims in Burma, and Sri Lanka and wish the same for Indian army to follow Gandhi jee and stop genocide in Kashmir.  And yes, the followers of Bacha Khan, the ANP has an example of non-violence in their five years regime inKPK province, for example Swat, where a single shot was not fired and we witnessed the followers of Bacha Khan implement the philosophy of nonviolence in its true soul, with support of jets, tanks and gunships.

At the end I advise you to come back home, adopt the Islamic and Pashtun culture, join any female Islamic madrassa near your home town, study and learn the book of Allah, use your pen for Islam and plight of Muslim ummah and reveal the conspiracy of tiny elite who want to enslave the whole humanity for their evil agendas in the name of new world order.

All praises to Allah the creator of the Universe.

15 July 2013

April 20, 2013

Why and/or how?

Filed under: Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on April 20, 2013

On Friday night the President articulated what many are thinking, “…why did young men who grew up and studied here, as part of our communities and our country, resort to such violence?  How did they plan and carry out these attacks, and did they receive any help?  The families of those killed so senselessly deserve answers.  The wounded, some of whom now have to learn how to stand and walk and live again, deserve answers.”

In the case of the Tsarnaev brothers we have already put together some answers that will be difficult to amend, such as:  Big bad brother recruits sweet little brother to join him in murderous outburst.

We are not quite sure — yet — what precisely motivated big brother.  An uncle says he is an angry loser, a boxing buddy claims he is an alienated outsider, there are vague suggestions of a long-time pattern of simmering violence, growing religious intolerance, a very thin skin. Each of us has our own spectral adversary which we tend to project.

My hypothesis tends toward mobility, modernity, and absent meaning.

The boys divorced parents are currently in Russia.  There’s an ashamed uncle in Maryland, a shocked aunt in Canada.  ”Close” friends discuss having most recently exchanged a text or some other digital communication in February.  On a social media site the younger brother identified his personal priorities as “career and making money.”  His twitter feed consists mostly of banal references to pop lyrics.

I glance at these initial reports and a complicated theory of how good and evil reside in each of us is reinforced.  I hear or read second-hand reports from which I cherry-pick bits and pieces that conform with my expectations and — by the way — reconfirm my wisdom.

A friend dismisses “why” questions even as he is tenacious in asking and answering “how” questions.  For him asking why implies purpose and presumes purpose is deterministic.  He has decided purpose is mostly after-the-fact human justification, rationalization, and telling ourselves stories.

I hope there are plenty who agree with my friend involved with deciphering the Tsarnaevs’ history. But I will continue to ask why, even as I try to resist self-justifying answers.

How helps.  How can often be answered precisely.  Many, maybe even most, whys lack precise answers. But if my “why” is honest and open it compels me to listen to you much more carefully. If you ask me why and also stop to listen for my response we have moved into a shared relationship around the question.

For someone concerned about mobility, modernity, and absent meaning this shared relationship is itself a big part of the answer.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev arrested

Filed under: Investigation & Enforcement,Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on April 20, 2013

According to the Boston Globe between 7PM and 8:30PM on Friday night the following transpired:

Police found Dzhokhar ­Tsarnaev hiding on a boat stored in a backyard on ­Franklin Street. Police ­exchanged gunfire with him before capturing him alive. Spontaneous celebrations erupted across the region, from the ­Boston Common to the Back Bay streets near the bombing.

The boat’s owners, a couple, spent Friday hunkered down under the stay-at-home order. When it was lifted early in the evening, they ventured outside for some fresh air and the man noticed the tarp on his boat blowing in the wind, according to their his son, Robert Duffy.

The cords securing it had been cut and there was blood near the straps. Duffy’s father called police, who swarmed the yard and had the couple evacuated, Duffy said.

Residents, who had barricaded themselves in their homes for nearly 20 hours, were still deeply shaken. “I’m so happy they got these guys,” said Tom Sheridan, 35, an interior painter from Watertown, as he cheered police cruisers and ambulances as they drove by on Mount ­Auburn Street. “But I’m worried there are more people out there like that. It won’t be the same.”

Tsarnaev was wounded and taken to a hospital. In an interview late last night, Patrick said he is “hoping very deeply he survives those wounds, because I’ve got a lot of questions and I know investigators have a lot of questions for him.”

April 18, 2013

Expecting Evil

Filed under: Radicalization,Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on April 18, 2013

On Monday two “pressure cooker bombs” exploded in Boston killing three and injuring more than 180. Eighteen years ago Friday a 5000 pound bomb exploded in Oklahoma City killing 168 people and injuring 450.

On the same day as the Boston attack at least 50 people were killed and more than 200 wounded in a series of early-morning car bomb explosions in cities across Iraq.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights yesterday (April 17) at least 44 non-combatants and over 200 combatants were killed in that civil war. Among yesterday’s dead were four children, bringing the total number of children killed since March 2011 to over 5000.

We have been taught to view such attacks as self-conscious tactical choices endemic to certain kinds of violent political (or religious) conflict. The legal definition of terrorism usually involves the application of indiscriminate violence with the intention to influence political decisions. In this conceptualization we demonstrate some of the same preoccupation with self that characterizes the “terrorist”. It must be about us. Not always or even often.

April 15 is also the anniversary of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. John Wilkes Booth claimed political purposes. It was too late in the war to have any realistic hope of reversing confederate fortunes. But it was a ripe moment for a megalomaniacal if mediocre actor to make a very real claim on immortality as a latter day self-proclaimed Brutus.

On April 16, 2007 Seung-Hui Cho, a senior at Virginia Tech, shot and killed 32 people and wounded 17 others in two separate attacks. This year’s Boston Marathon was dedicated to the memory of those killed by Adam Lanza in Newtown, Connecticut. Saturday is the anniversary of Columbine.

Such attacks are not about the victims or those of us who survive or our political choices. Whoever constructed, delivered, and detonated the Boston bomb had no specific intention to kill Martin Richard, age 8, or injure Martin’s seven-year-old sister and mother. If a political manifesto is ever found or offered, give particular attention to how — if — the attack is explained as a change-agent. Is it even minimally persuasive? Usually not.

The justifications typically range between self-aggrandizing and deeply delusional. Timothy McVeigh characterized his bombing of the Murrah Building as, “borrowing a page from U.S. foreign policy, I decided to send a message to a government that was becoming increasingly hostile.”

These sort of attacks are an effort by the attacker to express power: to most-of-all convince himself (almost always a him) that he has power. Similar attacks by so-called “terrorist” groups also seek to reinforce and extend self-assertions of power. Victims are much more tools — totems of inadequacy overcome — than targets, in any traditional understanding of target.

Too often we inadvertently feed these delusions in how we magnify the risk and in this way inflate the ego of the attacker and those similarly predisposed. Most of these pathetic men (and a few women) are thrilled to be seen as a somehow existential threat to the most powerful nation on the planet.

On Tuesday President Obama spoke of how Boston is responding to the attack, he said, “if you want to know who we are, what America is, how we respond to evil — that’s it. Selflessly. Compassionately. Unafraid.”

Thirty-or-so years ago President Reagan unexpectedly involved me in a quick but intense discussion of the Holocaust. I had a difficult time keeping up with where the President was going and what he was trying to work out. But I very clearly remember one line: “Evil is powerless if the good are unafraid.”

We should do a great deal to prevent attacks. We are making an extraordinary effort to identify and hold accountable whoever is behind the Boston attack. But in this important work we will sometimes fail. Where we can be more certain of success is in engaging with courage and compassion those who have been abused as tools of another’s self-assertion.

Evil is persistent. Evil will recur. Fear feeds evil. Courage starves evil. Love confuses, confounds, and contains evil.

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.

February 6, 2013

“The Department assumes the rights afforded by the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause, as well as the Fourth Amendment, attach to a U.S. Citizen even while he is abroad.”

Filed under: Legal Issues,Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on February 6, 2013

As you have probably already seen, Michael Isikoff at NBC News has obtained a Justice Department white paper that argues under what conditions it is lawful for the government to kill a US citizen.

You can download and read the entire document here:  020413_DOJ_White_Paper

The Department of Justice authors conclude, “that where certain conditions are met, a lethal operation against a U.S. citizen who is a senior operational leader of al-Qa’ida or its associated forces — a terrorist organization engaged in constant plotting against the United States — would not violate the Constitution.  The paper also includes an analysis concluding that such an operation would not violate certain criminal provisions prohibiting the killing of U.S. nationals outside the United States…”

The leaked document is only sixteen pages long.  It is thought to  summarize much more extensive legal briefs and studies.  It is worth your careful read before any of us begin our own analysis and commentary.

Here’s the original NBC News story:  Legal Case for Drone Strikes

Here’s a follow-on NBC News report on various reactions to the leaked report:  Legal Experts Fear Implications of Drone Memo

THURSDAY FEBRUARY 7 UPDATE:

According to the New York Times — an many other media — “The White House on Wednesday directed the Justice Department to release to the two Congressional Intelligence Committees classified documents discussing the legal justification for killing, by drone strikes and other means, American citizens abroad who are considered terrorists.”

“The White House announcement appears to refer to a long, detailed 2010 memo from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel justifying the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born cleric who had joined Al Qaeda in Yemen. He was killed in a C.I.A. drone strike in September 2011. Members of Congress have long demanded access to the legal memorandum.”

“The decision to release the legal memo to the Intelligence Committees came under pressure, two days after a bipartisan group of 11 senators joined a growing chorus asking for more information about the legal justification for targeted killings, especially of Americans.”

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 8 UPDATE:

Further attention — if not much more insight — is available from yesterday’s Senate confirmation hearing on the nomination of John Brennan.

Writing in TIME magazine Michael Crowley offers:

In one of the hearing’s most interesting exchanges, Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine drew back further, asking Brennan whether some basic assumptions about the fight against al Qaeda should be challenged. Noting that the terror group continues to spread, Collins asked, “If the cancer of al Qaeda is metastasizing, do we need a new treatment?” Collins noted that even an experienced military official like former General Stanley McChrystal have begun wondering aloud whether America has become too reliant on drones, at the expense of breeding resentment and backlash within the Muslim world. (You can read about that and related issues in TIME’s recent drones cover story.)

“We have to be very mindful” of local reactions to drone strikes, Brennan answered. But he insisted that people in al Qaeda-infested areas have “welcomed” American strikes on terrorist leaders. It was another cautious and not terribly revealing answer. But Brennan’s response may have been less significant than the concern expressed by a senior Senator—a Republican no less—about America’s drone war. The Brennan hearing may have shed little light on Obama’s likely next CIA director. But it might have been a sign that, when it comes to our long counter-terror campaign, a long-acquiescent Congress is finally getting restless.

Mr. Brennan’s opening statement, video of the hearing and more is available from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence website.

One brief excerpt from Mr. Brennan’s opening statement:

I have publicly acknowledged that our fight against al-Qa’ida and associated forces has sometimes involved the use of lethal force outside the “hot battlefield” of Afghanistan.  Accordingly, it is understandable there is great interest in the legal basis as well as the thresholds, criteria, processes, procedures, approvals, and reviews of these actions. I have strongly promoted such public discussion with the Congress and with the American people, as I believe that our system of government and our commitment to transparency demand nothing less.

Also available at the Committee website are Mr. Brennan’s answers to several pre-hearing questions.  On pages 24-30 there are several issues raised and responded to which relate to the government’s use of lethal force against US citizens suspected of threatening the United States.

In the February 21 edition of the New York Review of Books, David Cole sets-out thirteen questions for Mr. Brennan to answer.   Happily there are meaningful overlaps between the Cole questions and those posed by the Committee.

Major media is covering the give and take during the hearing, but a video of the entire hearing is also available at the Committee’s website.

Thoughtful people have critiqued Mr. Brennan’s answers to the Committee as demonstrating how to spend hours sounding responsive and say nothing.   To my ear the answers were careful, nuanced, sometimes Talmudic.   Mr. Brennan is especially keen to remind people that, “I am not a lawyer.”  But his answers can be lawyerly.  When the issues are as complex as those under consideration qualified responses are justified.

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.

October 14, 2012

Malala and the Mullahs

Filed under: Radicalization,Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on October 14, 2012

According to The Guardian, Reuters, and others, a video was released on Friday in which Ayman al-Zawahiri praises the attack on the Benghazi consulate, calls for more protests against US diplomatic facilities, and encourages, “free and distinguished zealots for Islam to continue their opposition to American crusader Zionist aggression against Islam and Muslims”.  Similar statements have been made by AQ-affiliates in North Africa and Yemen.

An Al-Qaeda affiliate in Pakistan Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the so-called ‘Pakistani Taliban’, has claimed credit for the assassination attempt on Malala Yousufzai (above), a 14-year old Pakistani girl who has campaigned to protect the right of girls to go to school.  The TTP justified its attack saying she was encouraging “Western thinking.”  Malala survived but is in critical condition.

It is in the self-interest of AQ, Salafists, and other religious extremists to characterize their struggle as combating an external threat presented by the United States and the West-in-general.   Westerners too often unwittingly play along and reinforce the message.  It is a false claim and a terrible trap.

The struggle that matters most is internal to Islam.

A teenaged classmate’s of Malala, interviewed on Pakistani television, said, “I am worried about Malala. The whole of Swat is worried about her. But every girl in Swat is Malala. We’ll educate ourselves. We will win. They can’t defeat us.”

In a Sunday column for Dawn, a Pakistani daily, Cyril Almeida is not as confident:

EVERYONE it seems has questions this week.

Some are of the stupid variety. What kind of human being would shoot a 14-year-old? Answer: a monstrous one. And there are a lot of monsters here.

How can anyone call themselves a Muslim and do this? Answer: Because they believe they are the true Muslims, not the weak-kneed moral relativists who pretend to be Muslims. A true Muslim does what needs to be done for the glory of Islam.

What kind of society teaches people to kill little girls trying to get an education? Answer: a sick and troubled society. A society that is in denial of the sickness in its midst.

Other questions are asked with a sly innocence. These are the more malign ones.

Why can’t we condemn all violence, by drones and by guns? Haven’t we had enough of killing? Can’t we now find a more humane way of ending the violence? Why don’t we try and understand this mindset instead of trying to destroy it?

These are malign questions because they are asked with a specific purpose.

The purpose is not to end jihad and violence, but to enable it, to perpetuate it, to make Pakistan the custodian of Islam, to create the perfect Islamist state in an imperfect world.

The trick the men with the malign questions have perfected is to sound reasonable.

See, we’re here on TV, talking things out, making our case, condemning all violence, trying to do our bit to make Pakistan peaceful and calm.

We all live here, we’re all the same. Let’s learn to understand why this is happening to us. It’s the Americans. It’s the Jews. It’s the Indians. Get rid of their influence and the wayward souls here will return to the fold.

They’re right about one thing: we all do live here. But we’re not the same, we don’t want the same things, and the men with the innocently asked but malign questions are not on the side of those asking in fear why this is happening to us.

Denial, confusion and obfuscation have meant that the difference isn’t as obvious as it should be.

Surely, both sides are well-meaning, people will ask. Surely, we can figure out a way to all live alongside in peace and happiness, people will say.

Yes, we could. But not if the rules are set by the other side.

Denial, confusion and obfuscation have meant that Pakistanis are not clear there is a continuum from the religious right to violent Islamism. It is not a difference of kind, only of degree.

The religious right creates an enabling environment for violent Islamism to recruit and prosper. And violent Islamism makes state and society cower and in doing so enhances the space for the religious right. One feeds off the other and together they grow in strength.

Denial, confusion and obfuscation have meant that the continuum from Jamaat-i-Islami to Al Qaeda, from Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam to the Taliban is barely recognised, let alone understood.

If there is outrage at that statement, at conflating the two, that is a testament to the success and deep-rootedness of the denial, confusion and obfuscation.

The mullah of today is the same as the mullah of yesterday. What’s changed is that the mullah of today has his goal in sight and the means to achieve it. The means is the continuum from the religious right to violent Islamism — one feeding off the other and together edging closer to their goal.

For years now, the problem of Pakistan has been seen as a problem of the state. But perhaps what it really is is a problem of society. A decrepit and broken society whose decrepitude and brokenness the denial, confusion and obfuscation have masked.

There is surely a problem of the state too. A certain poverty of imagination and moral bankruptcy have fashioned a state that can no longer do what is right and necessary.

It’s not always about complicity and sympathy. Often it’s just about fear. In Balochistan, I have wondered why the state doesn’t just take out the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi killers. After all, there can’t be more than a few dozen of them.

I asked and asked until someone finally offered, “They’ll never forget. You take them on and eventually they’ll get you. Maybe while you’re serving, maybe when you’re retired, but they will get you and probably your family too.”

The same question I’ve asked in KP and Fata. Why can’t they wipe this out? This isn’t a foreign army operating; these aren’t alien areas; yes, it was always going to be a slow grind, but why are the results so obviously patchy? Ask and ask and eventually — after theories and philosophies of missing holistic strategies and drivers internal and external — an answer comes. “Because they don’t know. They don’t know if that’s what’s really wanted. And because they don’t know, they’d rather live to see another day, to go back to their families.”

The state is a broken project. The foot soldiers are fearful because the high command is locked in denial and the certainty of old ways.

But perhaps it is society that is broken too. A society that laments its misfortune but can’t see the cause. A society that sees evil in its midst but never its facilitators. A society so manipulated by denial, confusion and obfuscation that the grotesque can masquerade as salvation.

Mercifully, the violent Islamists aren’t very bright. The shoot a little girl, they flog a teenager, they do terrible things that make Pakistanis recoil in horror.

But perhaps they can afford to not be very bright. Because they have the men with the innocently asked but malign questions.

They have the mullah to deny, confuse and obfuscate and lull society into believing the problem is without when it really is within.

It’s not always about us.  We are usually no more than an excuse.  But too often we respond in a way that reinforces the excuse and encourages our adversaries.

September 22, 2012

One day: a range of reactions, not all bad

Filed under: Radicalization,Risk Assessment,Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on September 22, 2012

On the second Friday since four Americans were killed in the US Consulate at Benghazi,  two weeks since a  virulently vapid video produced in the United States caught the attention of millions of Muslims, and on the first Friday since Parisian cartoonists insisted on their right to be provocative there were a range of reactions.  Three caught my attention:

In Pakistan what the government had tried to orchestrate as peaceful protests spun out of control.  According to DAWN:

Friday which was designated by the government to demonstrate love of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) and condemn the anti-Islam video produced in the US by some extremists was hijacked by our home-grown extremists who turned it into a day of unbridled violence, killings, arson and robbery.

At least 23 people were killed and over 200 injured and violence in some places continued till late in the night.

The internal security system virtually collapsed, giving way to tens of thousands of violent protesters to rule the streets in several cities, from Peshawar and Islamabad to Lahore and Karachi, burn down shops, cinema houses and police vehicles, and ransack whatever else that came in the way. (MORE)

In Lebanon thousands peacefully protested. According to The Daily Star:

Peaceful demonstrations took place throughout Lebanon Friday in protest of an anti-Islam film and a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad, amid strict security measures across the country.

France closed its embassy and consulate Friday, and many French schools did not hold classes in anticipation of protests against the publishing of a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad by a French satirical magazine earlier this week.

This came days after an anti-Islam film produced in the U.S. outraged many Muslims, who took to the streets in countries across the world.

Several thousand supporters of the Sidon-based Sheikh Ahmad Assir gathered in Beirut’s Martyrs Square to rally against the insults to the Prophet. (MORE)

In Benghazi tens-of-thousands of ordinary Libyans confronted and, for the time being, expelled a terrorist militia considered complicit in the consulate attack.  According to The Telegraph:

Cheering protesters in Benghazi have stormed a base occupied by a militant Islamist group accused of complicity in the killing of the US ambassador to Libya, saying they were ‘reclaiming it for the nation’.

The direct action against Ansar al-Sharia, a group whose members were seen at the consulate building where the ambassador, Chris Stevens, died last week, followed a “Rally to Save Benghazi” by activists angry that the government and security forces had failed to take on militant groups.

There had been a similar but smaller protest in the capital, Tripoli, earlier. The crowd in Benghazi numbered 30,000, leading to fears of violence as the heavily-armed Ansar al-Sharia, or “Supporters of Sharia”, staged a counter-protest.

However, the Islamists were overwhelmingly outnumbered, and the protesters moved first to evict Ansar from a hospital for which they had been providing security.

Later in the evening, chanting “Libya, Libya” they moved on the main base further from the city centre, taking it over without resistance and setting fire to cars found inside. Police and members of the official army parked outside did nothing to intervene. (MORE)

Some reports suggest at least ten Libyans were killed in clashes with Islamist militias before the evictions succeeded.

Elsewhere rallies and protests were comparatively small and peaceful.  In Cairo where several hundred had threatened violence last Friday, only “dozens” protested peacefully this Friday.   According to Reuters,

Condemning the publication of the cartoons in France as an act verging on incitement, Egypt’s Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa said it showed how polarized the West and the Muslim world had become.

Gomaa said Mohammad and his companions had endured “the worst insults from the non-believers of his time. Not only was his message routinely rejected, but he was often chased out of town, cursed and physically assaulted on numerous occasions.

“But his example was always to endure all personal insults and attacks without retaliation of any sort. There is no doubt that, since the Prophet is our greatest example in this life, this should also be the reaction of all Muslims.”

As a friend headlines in a still-to-be-published piece: Newsflash: All Revolutions Involve Chaos.   There will be many chaotic days ahead.  But yesterday’s very mixed results are worth our attention.   From this distance we too often hear and see only the worst.  Reality is more complicated.

September 15, 2012

Key questions and some early answers

Filed under: International HLS,Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on September 15, 2012

Friday morning just as mid-day prayer was beginning across the heart of the Muslim world Mike Hayden, retired Air Force General, former Director of the National Security Agency and former Director of the CIA, appeared on CBS This Morning.

At the top of the interview he set out a helpful framework for observing what would unfold.  Hayden offered,

“How many people demonstrate in how many cities?”

“How close to American installations are they allowed to get?”

“How violent are they?”

“What do these governments… do to protect Americans and American installations?”

“We are going to learn an awfully lot about how much power, how many legs this movement has.”

I might want to edit Mr. Hayden’s comment to reference “these movements have”, but otherwise let’s look at how his questions were answered.

How many people demonstrate in how many cities?

The  Friday demonstrations were quite wide-spread, ranging from Morocco to Indonesia.   There were related protests in Australia and elsewhere on Saturday morning.  Precise numbers are difficult.  But media reports most often estimated hundreds rather than thousands.  In Cairo Bloomberg News report “more than 1000 people” joined the protests. By Saturday morning Egyptian police out-numbered protesters in Tahrir Square.

How close to American installations are they allowed to get?

In Tunis and Khartoum the embassy perimeters were temporarily penetrated during clashes with security forces.   But even in these two cases host governments demonstrated considerable commitment to containing the demonstrations (more below).

How violent are they?

The “protests” ranged from signs and shouts, to throwing rocks, to petrol bombs, to looting a school, to a sustained attack by the Taliban on Camp Bastion in Southern Afghanistan.   Other than the Taliban attack and raids on Sinai peacekeepers, there was apparently no repeat of the para-military operations that seems to have characterized the capture of the US Consulate in Benghazi and the death of diplomats there. (I heard rumors of an organized after-sundown attack in Sana, but cannot find it confirmed.)

Below is a map developed by Max Fisher at The Atlantic.  He explains, “I’ve charted the violent protests in red and the protests that did not produce violence in yellow. It’s an imperfect distinction; I’ve counted the stone-throwers in Jerusalem as a violent protest but the flag-burners in Lahore as non-violent. But it gives you a somewhat more nuanced view into who is expressing anger and how they’re doing it…”

 

What did the (host) governments do?

Police and security forces were effectively deployed.  Attacks were condemned.  Arrests were made.   In Egypt — allegedly after a push by the White House — significant steps were successfully taken by both the government and the Muslim Brotherhood to dampen demonstrations.  Despite the domestic political risk from Salafists, the current Islamist government decided to deploy its political and religious legitimacy to fulfill international — and some would say, religious — obligations.  They have also been proactive in framing the issue by having State media highlight condemnations of the offending video by Secretary Clinton and others.

What did we learn?

Well… you tell me.

September 12, 2012

Four are killed in Libya: An epidemic of idiots, an etymology of idiocy

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

Sam Bacile is very sure of himself (and smart enough to use a pseudonym).  He is sure that the Prophet Mohammed was a fraud and worse.   Mr. Bacile is sure “Islam is a cancer” that threatens the world.  He has made a (bad) film to share his certainties.

Toward the scorners He is scornful, but to the humble He shows favor. (Hebrew Bible, Proverbs 3:34)

In recent days the film became available in an Arabic translation.  Some who have now seen the film’s trailer — or heard rumors of it — are sure the film reflects official American disdain for Islam.   In response they have protested, rioted, and murdered.

When the suffering reached them from Us, why then did they not call Allah in humility? On the contrary, their hearts became hardened, and Satan made their sinful acts seem alluring to them. (Quran, Al-Anaam 6:42-43)

An idiot in Los Angeles shares his idiosyncratic notions.  Once only a few neighbors would have been annoyed.  Today his ravings or their echoes are heard 7000 miles away.  Most appropriately ignore the ignorance.  But some other idiots take offence and respond with violence.

On a day dedicated to the memory of murdered innocents,  my representatives — the representatives of my nation and my values — are killed.  I am offended.  I am angry.  I hunger for  retaliation (literally “return like for like”, especially evil for evil).  The President promises, “Make no mistake, justice will be done.”

But with each permutation this idiocy threatens to make idiots — violent idiots — of more and more.

For the ancient Greeks an idiot (idiotes) was — among other things — a man who neglected civic obligations to focus on private affairs.   The term could also be applied to those who were patently self-interested in how they engaged civic life.

Aristotle argued, “The citizen in an unqualified sense is defined by no other thing so much as by sharing in decision and office.” (Politics, Book III, 1275a22) An idiot does not know how to share. An idiot does not know how to ask an authentic question. An idiot does not know how to listen sympathetically to an answer with which s/he disagrees. An idiot does not know how to frame, shape, and make a decision that will be shared by others. The idiot is blinded by and bound to the limits of self.

Idiots are sure of themselves in a way that is possible only for those lost inside themselves.

Timothy McVeigh was an idiot.  Anders Breivik is an idiot.  Mohamed Atta was an idiot.  James Holmes is an idiot.   Last night a gang of idiots committed murder in Benghazi.  These are each extreme examples of a global epidemic of self-absorbed, self-justifying, self-referential, self-assertive idiocy.

I am not immune.  I too can be an idiot.  Too often I mistake my own belief as the Truth.   I am strongly inclined to assume my personal experience as universal.  I conflate and confuse private and public realities.   I am unable or unwilling to honestly engage the different reality of another… and for this failure I often blame the other.  Regular readers have seen me make all these mistakes.  In my obsession with etymology I am probably being an idiot here and now.

There is disagreement on effective therapy. But many agree the typical rhetoric of  policymaking, strategizing, and analyzing  feeds the disease with self-assertion (and talking points).  Especially in matters of life and death a purposeful stepping out of  our selves is an essential discipline.  Take a walk, get a coffee, bum a smoke, tell a joke…

I read poetry. Reading poetry requires a patience and attention outside-the-self. I am not advocating poetry instead of policy.  I’m advocating the poetic as a complement to the political, practical, and policy-oriented thinking that dominates our professional lives.   Intentionally step outside the box before you decide.

The situation of our time
Surrounds us like a baffling crime.
There lies the body half-undressed,
We all had reason to detest,
And all are suspects and involved
Until the mystery is solved
And under lock and key the cause
That makes a nonsense of our laws.
O Who is trying to shield Whom?
Who left a hairpin in the room?
Who was the distant figure seen
Behaving oddly on the green?

… Delayed in the democracies
By departmental vanities,
The rival sergeants run about
But more to squabble than to find out,
Yet where the Force has been cut down
To one inspector dressed in brown,
He makes the murderer whom he pleases
And all investigation ceases.
Yet our equipment all the time
Extends the area of the crime
Until the guilt is everywhere,
And more and more we are aware,
However miserable may be
Our parish of immediacy,
How small it is, how far beyond,
Ubiquitous within the bond,
Of one impoverishing sky,
Vast spiritual disorders lie.
Who thinking of the last ten years,
Does not hear howling in his ears…

There are two atlases: the one
The public space where acts are done,
In theory common to us all,
Where we are needed and feel small,
The agora of work and news
Where each one has the right to choose
His trade, his corner, and his way,
And can, again in theory, say
For whose protection he will pay,
And loyalty is help we give
The place where we prefer to live;
The other is the inner space
Of private ownership, the place
That each of us is forced to own
Like his own life from which it’s grown,
The landscape of his will and need
Where he is sovereign indeed,
The state created by his acts
Where he patrols the forest tracts
Planted in childhood, farms the belt
Of doings memorised and felt,
And even if he find it hell
May neither leave it nor rebel.
Two worlds describing their rewards,
That one in tangents, this in chords;
Each lives in one, all in the other,
Here all are kings, there each a brother…

Our news is seldom good: the heart,
As ZOLA said, must always start
The day by swallowing its toad
Of failure and disgust. Our road
Gets worse and we seem altogether
Lost as our theories, like the weather,
Veer round completely every day,
And all that we can always say
Is: true democracy begins
With free confession of our sins.

Excerpts from New Year Letter (January 1, 1940) by W.H. Auden

Auden dedicated this poem to Elizabeth Mayer.   I dedicate these thoughts to two men and a woman who I know did not sleep last night and may not sleep again this night.  To you and your colleagues, best wishes dealing with the idiots.

May 3, 2012

Reading over two terrorists shoulders

Filed under: Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on May 3, 2012

The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point has released 17 of the documents retrieved from the compound in Abbottabad where Osama bin Laden was killed.  In addition to English translations and the original Arabic versions  –  posted online today at 9:00 AM EST — the CTC has issued a short report contextualizing the documents.

See: Last Year at Abbottabad.

While you’re at the CTC site scan their other publications.  Good stuff.

Many HLSWatch readers will also be interested in a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs staff report on the radicalization of Zac Chesser.  Please access: A Case Study in Online Islamist Radicalization and Its Meaning for the Threat of Homegrown Terrorism.

In July 2010 I posted a piece entitled: Could you or I have talked Zac Chesser out of violent extremism? Arnold Bogis (not yet a fellow poster) and I had a quick exchange on the question.  In the Senate report there is  a tantalizing reference to Chesser almost being talked back from the edge.

Each set of resources offers fascinating insights into terrorist realities.

I recently discovered a cache of letters I had written (rough drafts) and received (in reply) from the early 1980s.  I came away wondering about the vagaries of memory and the often fluid nature of what purports to be real.

It’s a tad intimidating to think how these posts and comments may be read thirty years from now.  If we’re lucky these bytes may prove even more fragile than the thin airmail paper I found in a long forgotten file.   Based on all three examples, humility ages more gracefully than its opposite.

March 22, 2012

Attribution error, actor-observer bias, correspondence bias, and counter-terrorism

Filed under: Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on March 22, 2012

Why did US Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales apparently massacre sixteen Afghan villagers, including nine children?

Why did 17 year-old T.J. Lane by all accounts kill three and wound three other Chandon High School classmates he may have barely known?

Why did someone, probably Mohammed Merah, dismount  from his scooter, chase an eight-year old girl into a  school courtyard, grab her hair, and shoot her point-blank in the face?  One of four he killed that day.

Why do I — perhaps you too — bring rather different predispositions to each of these events?

One Washington state neighbor said of Sergeant Bales,  ”A good guy got put in the wrong place at the wrong time.”  Financial troubles, family troubles, brain-injury and more have been offered as possible explanations.

“We are all shocked and horrified by the actions of T.J.,” his aunt, Heather Lane, said in an email posted online Tuesday by The News-Herald in Willoughby (OH).  ”We wish we could offer some answers concerning this horrific act. We have none.”

According to The Telegraph, Mohammed Merah “told police he was acting in revenge at Israel for killing Palestinian children and at France for having troops in Afghanistan.”

The more we self-identify with the perpetrator the more we are inclined to empathize —  even excuse — his actions.   If we recognize ourselves or something we value in the act or actor we are ready to consider context as a contributing factor.  We may speak softly of justice with mercy.

The more an accused murderer — or other miscreant — looks, sounds, or behaves unlike us the more we perceive purposeful evil emerging from the very otherness — racial, ethnic, religious, political, or whatever — that differentiates us from them.  We may speak gravely of avenging justice.

This differentiated  judgment depends on the proposition that I am good.

We may admit, “I make the occasional mistake.”  I have  unintentionally hurt others. I can be careless, distracted, sometimes self-absorbed.  I have been forced to make some tough choices.  But certainly none of this undoes my essential good-ness.  What I value…  the way I engage reality… my essential worldview is good and true and beautiful.

Someone with different values, understandings, or worldview is therefore bad, false, and ugly proportional to their deviation from me.

Whatever else happened with Bob, T.J. and Mohammed, this self-justifying logic had a role in the sub-strata of murderous motivation.  For an awful hour or more the “other” — man, woman, or child — became little more than a troubling antithesis to be removed to make way for more truth, more goodness, more beauty as defined by Bob, T.J., or Mohammed.

I feel this way more often than I like to admit, sometimes regarding comments to this blog.  When another’s take on an important aspect of reality (important to me) differs fundamentally from my own it is tempting to push the “trash” button conveniently placed beneath each comment.  It is especially tempting because I have a trash button and they (you) don’t.

Pulling the digital kill trigger may seem to pale in comparison to murder. But the ethical distance is not huge.  Either I recognize and honor the dignity of the other — especially the irritating, annoying, even frightening other — or I don’t.

In a highly mobile and digitally networked world we increasingly encounter otherness.  How we choose to engage the other calls for something far beyond the tourist’s easy tolerance.

Based on what little we know of Merah, it is tempting to dismiss him as heartlessly as he dispatched seven victims.  In doing so I reinforce my own differentiation, my own claim to being good.  Assuming Merah’s murders are confirmed, he deserves to be condemned.   Am I willing to hold myself equally accountable?

I am unlikely to commit murder.  But when I do not listen carefully or purposefully ignore or fail to notice — even worse, if I twist the other’s intention in a self-interested way — I propagate a virus of violation.

The proposition I am good is a deception.   Often I am not good.  Usually my understanding and actions are flawed.

I recognize myself in Bob Bales and T.J. Lane and Mohammed Merah.   We share the same narrow wire and are in relationship… whether we like it or not.

March 12, 2012

Holder v. New York Times on Due Process

Filed under: Legal Issues,Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on March 12, 2012

Last week HLSWatch reprinted Attorney General Eric Holder’s speech at Northwestern University’s School of Law.  In those remarks the Attorney General noted:

Some have argued that the President is required to get permission from a federal court before taking action against a United States citizen who is a senior operational leader of al Qaeda or associated forces.   This is simply not accurate.   “Due process” and “judicial process” are not one and the same, particularly when it comes to national security.   The Constitution guarantees due process, not judicial process.

The lead editorial in yesterday’s (Sunday’s) New York Times maintains that judicial review is essential to the executive’s purposeful use of lethal force against a citizen.

Mr. Holder argued in his speech that judicial process and due process guaranteed by the Constitution “are not one and the same.” This is a straw man. The judiciary has the power to say what the Constitution means and make sure the elected branches apply it properly. The executive acting in secret as the police, prosecutor, jury, judge and executioner is the antithesis of due process.

The administration should seek a court’s approval before killing an American citizen, except in the sort of “hot pursuit” that justifies the police shooting of an ordinary suspect…

The complete editorial is available at: The Power to Kill.

February 23, 2012

Jeh Johnson on the belligerent citizen

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

The DOD General Counsel spoke at Yale on Wednesday evening.   According to CNN:

The targeted killing of those suspected of engaging in terrorist activities against the United States, including American citizens, is justified and legal, according to the Defense Department’s chief lawyer.

Pentagon general counsel Jeh Johnson is the first government lawyer to officially weigh in on the legal justification for killing a U.S. citizen since American born Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki was killed by a CIA missile fired from an unmanned aerial vehicle last September.

In comments Wednesday night during a speech at Yale University, Johnson made no mention by name of al-Awlaki or the classified CIA drone program.

“Belligerents who also happen to be U.S. citizens do not enjoy immunity where non-citizen belligerents are valid military objectives,” Johnson said.

Benjamin Wittes at the Lawfare blog provides a transcript of Mr. Johnson’s prepared remarks.

 

« Previous PageNext Page »