Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 9, 2014

Boston Marathon Bombing Roundup

With the Boston Marathon quickly approaching, along with the one year anniversary of the Marathon bombing, you can imagine there has been a surge of related events and releases.

Here are some of the more informative, in case you missed them.

Today, the House Committee on Homeland Security held a hearing “The Boston Marathon Bombings, One Year On: A Look Back to Look Forward.” It mostly focused on the law enforcement-related decisions, and served as a podium to denounce the Administration’s stated plans to consolidate homeland security grants into one block grant to states.  However, it also contained interesting questions and answers/testimony on the current and future state of NIMS in disaster response.

The Committee’s page for this hearing can be found here: http://homeland.house.gov/hearing/hearingthe-boston-marathon-bombings-one-year-look-back-look-forward

A better quality video can be found here (apologies, but I couldn’t find one I could post on this blog): http://www.c-span.org/video/?318765-1/boston-marathon-bombings-anniversary-review

The Witness list with links to written statements:

Witnesses

Mr. Edward F. Davis, III

Former Commissioner, Boston Police Department and Fellow

John F. Kennedy School of Government

Harvard University

Witness Statement [PDF]

 

Mr. Edward P. Deveau

Chief of Police

Watertown Police Department

Witness Statement [PDF]

 

Mr. Jeffrey J. Pugliese

Sergeant

Watertown Police Department

Witness Statement [PDF]

 

Prof. Herman “Dutch” B. Leonard

Professor of Public Management

John F. Kennedy School of Government

Harvard University

Witness Statement [PDF]

Witness Truth in Testimony [PDF]
Two of those testifying, Dutch Leonard and Edward Davis, participated in the development of the report, “Why Was Boston Strong, Lessons from the Boston Marathon Bombing.” Among it’s conclusions:

 The report highlights a number of factors that contributed to a largely successful response and emphasizes what, exactly, made Boston Strong and resilient in the face of tragedy. It also provides a set of recommendations for jurisdictions to consider going forward. Among other findings, the authors urge responders:

•    To quickly establish a cross-agency, senior strategic and policy-making level of engagement and secure command post — with dedicated space for strategic, tactical and logistical teams — that looks to both the big picture and a longer timeframe.

•    To provide responders and political leaders with more training and experience in the doctrine of incident command in complex circumstances through exercises and utilization of regular “fixed events” to develop skills.

•    To develop a more effective process to manage the inevitable self-deployment of responders who in response to crisis arrive as independent individuals rather than in organized units.

•    To critically review current training and practice on control of weapons fire, which may call for new paradigms.

•    To design and routinely establish a staffing schedule for all levels of personnel ensuring rotation and rest that are essential to sustained performance when critical events last for days.

•    To consider a legislative change to the HIPAA regulations regarding release of information to family members about the health status of patients critically injured in an attack, in order to provide them the best care possible and to cater to their wide range of needs.

The National Preparedness Leadership Initiative, a joint Harvard Kennedy School and Public Health School venture, just released their preliminary findings on “Crisis Meta-Leadership Lessons From the Boston Marathon Bombings Response: The Ingenuity of Swarm Intelligence.” What’s it about?

The Boston Marathon Bombings required leaders of many agencies – scattered over numerous jurisdictions and with different authorities and priorities – to rapidly respond together to an unknown and complex set of risks, decisions and actions. This report analyzes their leadership through the event. It seeks to understand how they were able to effectively lead an operation with remarkable results. These outcomes are measured in lives saved, suspects quickly captured, public confidence maintained and population resilience fostered. These leaders were observed to exhibit “Swarm Intelligence,” a phenomenon in which no one is in charge and yet, with all following the same principles and rules, leaders are able to accomplish more together than any one leader could have achieved separately. These rules include: 1) unity of mission that coalesces all stakeholders; 2) generosity of spirit; 3) deference for the responsibility and authority of others; 4) refraining from grabbing credit or hurling blame; 5) a foundation of respectful and experienced relationships that garner mutual trust and confidence. That confidence, both personal and systemic, bolstered these leaders individually and as a coordinated force over the 102 hours between the attacks and the conclusion of the incident. They handled difficult decisions in the face of credible risks: Whether to keep public transit open? Whether to release blurry pictures of the suspects? The study found that over the course of the week, they learned how to lead and lead better, so that by the time they reached the chaotic conclusion of the event, they acted as a coordinated and unified cadre of crisis leaders.

Finally, 60 Minutes aired a segment several weeks ago about the decisions made behind the scenes during the manhunt for the Boston Marathon bombers.

House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on “Is al-Qaeda Winning? Grading the Administration’s Counterterrorism Policy”

Filed under: Congress and HLS,Risk Assessment,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Arnold Bogis on April 9, 2014

Yesterday, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade held a hearing on “Is al-Qaeda Winning?”

I’m going to say no.  No, they are not.

It seemed more an opportunity to critique the Administration on the concept of a “pivot toward Asia” and keeping us (too?) engaged in the Middle East rather than a honest attempt at assessing this difficult question.

However, the participants are well qualified to address this issue:

Panel I

The Honorable Joseph Lieberman
(Former United States Senator)
[full text of statement]
[truth in testimony form]

The Honorable Jane Harman
Director, President, and Chief Executive Officer
The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
(Former Member of Congress)
[full text of statement]
[truth in testimony form]

Panel II

Seth Jones, Ph.D.
Associate Director
International Security and Defense Policy Center
RAND Corporation
[full text of statement]
[truth in testimony form]

Frederick W. Kagan, Ph.D.
Christopher DeMuth Chair and Director
Critical Threats Project
American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
[full text of statement]
[truth in testimony form]

Mr. Benjamin Wittes
Senior Fellow
Governance Studies
The Brookings Institution
[full text of statement]
[truth in testimony form]

One would think this would be a well attended hearing, but notice the empty seats around the 2:00 minute mark in this video (unfortunately I couldn’t find a video of the entire hearing that I could post):

For the full hearing, go here.

 

March 20, 2014

Syria’s suffering as precursor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And again?

February 5, 2014

More struggles with the meaning of homeland security

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Arnold Bogis on February 5, 2014

Brian Michael Jenkins has a piece at Slate on “The Real Homeland Security Issues for 2014.” Let me end the suspense now — every “issue” is terrorism related.  Not one mention of natural, technological, or other non-terrorism issues.

I can’t blame Jenkins.  At least not entirely.  He is an expert on terrorism.  As they say in baseball, he’s not just a guy but a GUY. Perhaps THE GUY.  You’ve heard the phrase that terrorists want “a lot of people watching but not a lot of people dead?”  That’s him in Congressional testimony from the 1970s.  So it is to be expected that he concentrates on the terrorist threat.

What concerned me, I suppose, is that years after Katrina and not so long after Sandy he still frames homeland security issues solely  in the language of counter-terrorism.  What I can’t figure out, what we’ll possibly never know (unless one of you know him), is why he chose to frame his essay in the language of homeland security.

He could have chosen to reference counter-terrorism or national security or just simply security.  Instead, he made a point of highlighting homeland security:

As Congress sets its agenda for hearings and legislation relating to homeland security, we can anticipate some of the issues it will address. Expect discussion about whether al-Qaida is on the run or on the rebound, new legislative initiatives on how to deal with the continuing threat in cyberspace, beefing up security on the border, and the National Security Agency’s collection of metadata, to name just of few. These should be matters of great public interest, and they are. According to recent public opinion polls, 75 percent of Americans see terrorist attacks in the United States as a continuing threat, although they are close to evenly divided on whether the government can do more to stop them. But as legislators work their way through these matters, here are some fundamental issues of threat, risk, public expectation, and the protection of liberty and privacy that merit debate.

To give credit where credit is due, he does ask some good questions/brings up some good points. If you’re only concerned about terrorism. His outline:

What is the terrorist threat?

Ensuring homeland security in an era of budget constraints.

Homegrown terrorism and domestic intelligence. 

Does the need for collective security threaten individual liberties?

But what about everything else? At this point, should a basic understanding of what should be included in homeland security still elude any serious analyst? National security is still an amorphous topic, but the basics are not in much dispute. Jenkins doesn’t pretend that a national security discussion should only include the topic of terrorism. Is it too much to think that if you use the term “homeland security” you are at least entertaining the possibility that something non-terrorism is included?

Or is this a symptom of a wider problem? Are constituencies still talking past each other? Absent a recent natural disaster, does the federal government, and those who primarily serve federal agencies, default to the terrorist threat when considering the issue? Is it simply sexier than worrying about the intrinsic messiness that comes with natural events?

The following cartoon hits this nail on the head.  (Hat tip to Bill for pointing it out in the comments of a previous post.)

 

 

January 29, 2014

Senate Intelligence Hearing: Current and Projected National Security Threats Against the United States

This morning the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence held a hearing “Current and Projected National Security Threats Against the United States.” Testifying were the Directors of National Intelligence, CIA, DIA, and FBI.

I’ve yet to watch the hearing or read the transcript, but thought they’d be worth sharing.

 

The transcript can be found here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/transcript-senate-intelligence-hearing-on-national-security-threats/2014/01/29/b5913184-8912-11e3-833c-33098f9e5267_story.html

January 1, 2014

ACLU v Clapper: More complementary than conflicting?

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing,Legal Issues,Privacy and Security,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on January 1, 2014

Last Friday Federal District Judge William H. Pauley III released his decision in ACLU v. Clapper. Busy with post-Christmas travel and such I mostly heard the headlines.

Before reading the actual text — and overly influenced by those headlines — I intended to post today on the divergence of Judge Pauley from Judge Leon’s Klayman v Obama decision (see prior post).

But when I finally read the actual text of the decision, this non-lawyer finds significant complementarity in what Judges Leon and Pauley have decided.

Yes, Leon found bulk collection of meta-data to be illegal, while Pauley found the same practice legal.  But decisions (lawyerly or not) are often as icebergs where most of the weight is found below the surface.

In their analysis of what is being done by the US intelligence community and the potential implications for liberty, the two decisions seem to me to reach somewhat similar judgments. But Leon perceives innate abuse where, in the particular case before him, Pauley sees and hears mostly prospective rather than actual harm.

Again, you should read the original — which can be downloaded here — but to support my reading and entice you to read more, here is the opening of the Pauley decision, the bold highlights are my own:

The September 11th terrorist attacks revealed, in the starkest terms, just how dangerous and interconnected the world is. While Americans depended on technology for the conveniences of modernity, al-Qaeda plotted in a seventh-century milieu to use that technology against us. It was a bold jujitsu. And it succeeded because conventional intelligence gathering could not detect diffuse filaments connecting al-Qaeda.

Prior to the September 11th attacks, the National Security Agency (“NSA”) intercepted seven calls made by hijacker Khalid al-Mihdhar, who was living in San Diego, California, to an al-Qaeda safe house in Yemen. The NSA intercepted those calls using overseas signals intelligence capabilities that could not capture al-Mihdhar’s telephone number identifier.

Without that identifier, NSA analysts concluded mistakenly that al-Mihdhar was overseas and not in the United States. Telephony metadata would have furnished the missing infonnation and might have permitted the.NSA to notify the Federal Bureau of lnvestigation (“FBI”) of the fact that al-Mihdhar was calling the Yemeni safe house from inside the United States.

The Government learned from its mistake and adapted to confront a new enemy: a terror network capable of orchestrating attacks across the world. It launched a number of counter-measures, including a bulk telephony metadata collection program-a wide net that could find and isolate gossamer contacts among suspected terrorists in an ocean of seemingly disconnected data.

This blunt tool only works because it collects everything. Such a program, if unchecked, imperils the civil liberties of every citizen. Each time someone in the United States makes or receives a telephone call, the telecommunications provider makes a record of when, and to what telephone number the call was placed, and how long it lasted. The NSA collects that telephony metadata. If plumbed, such data can reveal a rich profile of every individual as well as a comprehensive record of people’s associations with one another.

The natural tension between protecting the nation and preserving civil liberty is squarely presented by the Government’s bulk telephony metadata collection program. Edward Snowden’s unauthorized disclosure of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (“FISC”) orders has provoked a public debate and this litigation. While robust discussions are underway across the nation, in Congress, and at the White House, the question for this Court is whether the Government’s bulk telephony metadata program is lawful. This Court finds it is. But the question of whether that program should be conducted is for the other two coordinate branches of Government to decide.

Legality, efficacy, and wisdom are three quite different standards. They may — or may not — overlap.

December 19, 2013

Klayman v Obama

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing,Legal Issues,Privacy and Security,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on December 19, 2013

Many of the issues we have previously discussed in terms of balancing liberty and security are taken up in Monday’s decision by a federal district judge to grant a Motion for Preliminary Injunction regarding bulk collection of meta-data by the National Security Agency.

Among most legally-trained commentators, there seems to be a consensus the district court’s injunction will be overturned by the US Court of Appeals, based largely on the Supreme Court’s previous decision in Smith v Maryland where no reasonable expectation of privacy was extended to the telephone numbers we choose to dial.

Judge Richard Leon probably also expects his decision to be overturned at the appellate level.  His opinion is written, it seems to this non-lawyer, more for the benefit of the Supreme Court than as a matter of conforming with the details of current law.  Indeed, the Judge stayed his own order “in view of the national security interests at stake in this case and the novelty of the constitutional issues involved.” (My italics)

As regular readers might imagine, I am sorely tempted to opine on what the judge wrote.  I spent (too) much of Tuesday reading and re-reading the sixty -eight page decision.  I agree with most of what I read and while the government’s argument may still prevail I am grateful Judge Leon has teed-up the issues so well.

But in this instance I will exercise more restraint than usual and not share with you my favorite bits.  If you have cause to read Homeland Security Watch you really owe it to yourself — your life, fortune, sacred honor and posterity — to read the full opinion and order. Please find it here:  Klayman v Obama

Judge Leon has written the clearest non-technical description I have read of what the NSA has actually been doing.  His statement of facts places these actions in their full legal context. Some important operational judgments are offered.  His footnotes are especially insightful and trenchant.  Whatever your angle on this issue, this is an original text worth your time and careful attention.  Get it, read it, and reflect.

–+–

Almost a month earlier than previously promised (gosh, I wonder why?), Wednesday afternoon the White House released the Report and Recommendations of The President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies.   Including appendices the full report is 308 pages long.  I have not yet mastered the text.  Eventually we should try to compare and contrast Judge Leon’s text with this one.  It is entitled, “Liberty and Security in a Changing World.”

December 5, 2013

Agreed: Terrorist tactics are tough to track

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on December 5, 2013

feinstein-rogers-CNN

The optics of a male Republican House Committee Chair and a female Democratic Senate Committee Chair appearing together and mostly agreeing on substance has continued to resonate, harmonically or discordantly depending on taste.

Last Sunday Mike Rogers (R-Michigan) and Dianne Feinstein (D-California) were interviewed by Candy Crowley on State of the Union. (Complete transcript here)  From the top of the piece:

CROWLEY: The big question that’s always asked, are we safer now than we were a year ago, two years ago? In general?

FEINSTEIN: I don’t think so. I think terror is up worldwide, the statistics indicate that, the fatalities are way up. The numbers are way up. There are new bombs, very big bombs, trucks being reinforced for those bombs. There are bombs that go through magnatometers. The bomb maker is still alive. There are more groups that ever and there’s huge malevolence out there.

CROWLEY: So congressman, I have to say, that is not the answer I expected. I expected to hear, oh, we’re safer. Do you agree?

ROGERS: Oh, I absolutely agree that we’re not safer today for the same very reasons.

So the pressure on our intelligence services to get it right to prevent an attack are enormous. And it’s getting more difficult because we see the al Qaeda as we knew it before is metastasizing to something different, more affiliates than we’ve ever had before, meaning more groups that operated independently of al Qaeda have now joined al Qaeda around the world, all of them have at least some aspiration to commit an act of violence in the United States or against western targets all around the world.

They’ve now switched to this notion that maybe smaller events are okay. So if you have more smaller events than bigger events, they think that might still lead to their objectives and their goals. That makes it exponentially harder for our intelligence services to stop an event like that.

In part — but only in part — the chairs of the intelligence committees are continuing an effort to explain and justify the sort of activities the Eric Snowden leaks have exposed. (Intelligence methods that many surveys find the American public tends to support.)   This does not mean their threat perceptions are inaccurate or misplaced.

Certainly decentralized — and particularly free-lance — terrorism is much more difficult to anticipate and track.  Certainly such events — Oklahoma City, Boston Marathon, Spokane MLK parade, Oak Creek Sikh Temple Shooting (should we include Newtown and Aurora, what should we exclude?) — can cause profound suffering. Certainly we would prefer to avoid such horrific consequences.

A case can be made that with more rigorous and sophisticated intelligence and policing most of these threats might have been recognized and action taken to save lives.  In retrospect there is — almost always — a trail  through thick underbrush, beneath a dense canopy that could have been seen.

But how much of the forest would need to be cut to bring that trail forward?  Is such clearing a trade-off we are ready to accept?   Is the forest that would remain sustainable?  Even if less than clear-cut, would it still be the forest we have learned to love?

Between the fetid terrorist swamp at one end of our forest and the glistening peaks of freedom at the other there is a varied topography and ecology on which our living daily depends.  Surely we need be vigilant.  But there are options other than flattening orchards, uprooting vineyards and harvesting ancient oaks for new fence posts.

To sweep the landscape so that every terrorist trail might be exposed threatens to leave us desolate.  Continue to identify and articulate threats.  Post guards.  Inform and empower citizens.  Mitigate vulnerabilities.   But the effort to obviate every threat involves a price too high (for me) to pay.

November 19, 2013

The reset of global violent jihad

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Christopher Bellavita on November 19, 2013

This essay was written by Mike Walker as a series of 49 tweets.  Mr. Walker is the former undersecretary and acting secretary of the Army and former deputy director of FEMA during the Clinton Administration.    You can follow his twitter feed @New_Narrative.

—————

The nominee for DHS secretary told Congress last week his first priority would be filling open political jobs. Shouldn’t the top priority of any DHS secretary be protecting the nation? In fact, the DHS nominee said counterterrorism was his third priority. The administration insists we are safer from terrorist attack today. We are, but a threat remains while a new one gathers. Many analysts believe the core of al-Qaeda has been decimated in its Pakistan safe haven. Yet, al-Qaeda keeps replacing everyone we kill. Their bench is apparently deeper than expected. Thanks to good intelligence, we have made it difficult for al-Qaeda to launch major attacks here at home.

Yet, the terrorists’ affiliates, allies & adherents are now active in more than 36 countries. The Al Qaeda movement today is in 3 times more countries than on 9-11. Since 9-11, al-Qaeda has morphed, decentralized & disbursed on purpose. Some analysts believe this diffuse, new al-Qaeda movement is, therefore, less threatening. They say the terrorists are now more focused on local issues, no longer on global violent jihad. These analysts are missing two current trends inside the terrorist syndicate.

First, al-Qaeda’s radical ideology continues to inspire small numbers of people, including Americans. In fact, a new Pew poll indicates as many as 13% of Muslims, perhaps 200 million people worldwide, view al-Qaeda favorably. Analysts also insist those being inspired today are less lethal. Tell that to Boston’s victims. Al Qaeda is actively urging homegrown terrorists to launch more attacks like Boston in America. Many analysts say, however, al-Qaeda’s call to violent jihad is falling on deaf ears. Yet, since Bin Laden was killed at least 50 people in the US, influenced by the al-Qaeda ideology, have been arrested or indicted. In the years since 9-11, law enforcement has done a great job keeping the nation safe. However, Boston proves we cannot stop everything & shows a continued weakness in intergovernmental cooperation.

The second trend is al-Qaeda’s rebirth overseas. The cycle of terrorism is being reset. Though under attack, al-Qaeda continues safe haven in Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq, & Somalia. New safe havens are being established in Libya, the African Sahel & the Egyptian Sinai. But it is Syria that is most troubling. Syria is attracting thousands, influenced by al-Qaeda’s radical & absolute beliefs. For the first time in al-Qaeda’s 25-year history, it now has a base in the very heart of the Middle East. Hundreds of Europeans & at least 60 Americans are being trained in Syria. Former FBI director Mueller warns these newly trained Americans may return home & attack here. One cell returning home has already been arrested planning attacks in Belgium.

Spreading violent jihad in recruits’ home countries is a requirement of al-Qaeda’s al-Nusra Front in Syria. The leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq also promises to attack inside the US, as does the brutal new leader of the Pakistan Taliban. And AQAP in Yemen has already launched at least 3 plots aimed directly at the American homeland. Before 9-11, al-Qaeda trained thousands of violent jihadists in large camps in Afghanistan. Today’s terror training is more modular & more subtle, thus more difficult to detect & stop. It is also more sophisticated & more accelerated than during the old days in Afghanistan. Some believe al-Qaeda has accomplished in 2 years in Syria, what it took them 10 to accomplish in Afghanistan. So, the global violent jihad has not disappeared; instead it continues to morph & develop.

Al Qaeda’s leaders have said future attacks will be at the time & place of their own choosing. Al-Qaeda’s adherents are patient & think in terms of decades or even longer. It was reported in mid-2009 that U.S. officials feared al-Qaeda’s ally, the Pakistan Taliban, had gotten their hands on a nuclear weapon. Fortunately, it wasn’t true, but Pakistan’s nuclear security is the second weakest in the world. And leading Pakistani nuclear scientists suggest those weapons could be hijacked & given to terrorists. Taking no chance, FEMA has been developing response plans to deal with the aftermath of an improvised nuclear device.

To conclude, we should all be wary of analysts with rosy assumptions. The global violent jihad movement has only been in hibernation. Today, that movement is resetting for the next new phase of terror. The reset of global violent jihad is emerging from an unfulfilled Arab Spring & is encouraged by weakened US influence abroad. So, the first homeland security priority must continue to be the safety of the United States. We are safer now than on 9-11 but will not continue to be if we take our eye off the ball. It is no time for complacency in America. As the director of the NCTC told Congress last week, al-Qaeda will attack should the opportunity arise.

This essay also appeared on the blog “Pietervanostaeyen: Musings on Arabism, Islamicism, History and current affairs.

October 24, 2013

Mr. Johnson Goes to Oxford

Filed under: Legal Issues,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on October 24, 2013


Video of Mr. Johnson’s address to the Oxford Union

Nearly eleven months ago Jeh Johnson, then coming to the close of his tenure as DOD General Counsel, addressed the Oxford Union on how the conflict with al-Qaeda and its affiliates will end.

Mr. Johnson has now been nominated to serve as the secretary of homeland security.

Following is most of that speech.  I do not include a long preface of administration priorities achieved nor any of the twenty-five footnotes.  Other lacunae are noted below.

–+–

The United States government is in an armed conflict against al Qaeda and associated forces, to which the laws of armed conflict apply. One week after 9/11, our Congress authorized our President to “to use all necessary and appropriate force” against those nations, organizations and individuals responsible for 9/11. President Obama, like President Bush before him, as Commander-in-Chief of our Armed Forces, has acted militarily based on that authorization. In 2006, our Supreme Court also endorsed the view that the United States is in an armed conflict with al Qaeda.[7] Therefore, all three branches of the United States government – including the two political branches elected by the people and the judicial branch appointed for life (and therefore not subject to the whims and political pressures of the voters) – have endorsed the view that our efforts against al Qaeda may properly be viewed as an armed conflict.

But, for the United States, this is a new kind of war. It is an unconventional war against an unconventional enemy. And, given its unconventional nature, President Obama – himself a lawyer and a good one – has insisted that our efforts in pursuit of this enemy stay firmly rooted in conventional legal principles. For, in our efforts to destroy and dismantle al Qaeda, we cannot dismantle our laws and our values, too.

The danger of al Qaeda is well known. It is a terrorist organization determined to commit acts of violence against innocent civilians. The danger of the conflict against al Qaeda is that it lacks conventional boundaries, against an enemy that does not observe the rules of armed conflict, does not wear a uniform, and can resemble a civilian.

But we refuse to allow this enemy, with its contemptible tactics, to define the way in which we wage war. Our efforts remain grounded in the rule of law. In this unconventional conflict, therefore, we apply conventional legal principles – conventional legal principles found in treaties and customary international law.

As in armed conflict, we have been clear in defining the enemy and defining our objective against that enemy.

We have made clear that we are not at war with an idea, a religion, or a tactic. We are at war with an organized, armed group — a group determined to kill innocent civilians.

We have publicly stated that our enemy consists of those persons who are part of the Taliban, al-Qaeda or associated forces, a declaration that has been embraced by two U.S. Presidents, accepted by our courts, and affirmed by our Congress.

We have publicly defined an “associated force” as having two characteristics: (1) an organized, armed group that has entered the fight alongside al Qaeda, and (2) is a co-belligerent with al Qaeda in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners.

Our enemy does not include anyone solely in the category of activist, journalist, or propagandist.

Nor does our enemy in this armed conflict include a “lone wolf” who, inspired by al Qaeda’s ideology, self-radicalizes in the basement of his own home, without ever actually becoming part of al Qaeda. Such persons are dangerous, but are a matter for civilian law enforcement, not the military, because they are not part of the enemy force.

And, we have publicly stated that our goal in this conflict is to “disrupt, dismantle, and ensure a lasting defeat of al Qaeda and violent extremist affiliates.”

Some legal scholars and commentators in our country brand the detention by the military of members of al Qaeda as “indefinite detention without charges.” Some refer to targeted lethal force against known, identified individual members of al Qaeda as “extrajudicial killing.”

Viewed within the context of law enforcement or criminal justice, where no person is sentenced to death or prison without an indictment, an arraignment, and a trial before an impartial judge or jury, these characterizations might be understandable.

Viewed within the context of conventional armed conflict — as they should be — capture, detention and lethal force are traditional practices as old as armies. Capture and detention by the military are part and parcel of armed conflict. We employ weapons of war against al Qaeda, but in a manner consistent with the law of war. We employ lethal force, but in a manner consistent with the law of war principles of proportionality, necessity and distinction. We detain those who are part of al Qaeda, but in a manner consistent with Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions and all other applicable law.

But, now that efforts by the U.S. military against al Qaeda are in their 12th year, we must also ask ourselves: how will this conflict end? It is an unconventional conflict, against an unconventional enemy, and will not end in conventional terms.

Conventional conflicts in history tend to have had conventional endings…

(Here Mr. Johnson provides a quick summary of how a few prior wars have ended.)

We cannot and should not expect al Qaeda and its associated forces to all surrender, all lay down their weapons in an open field, or to sign a peace treaty with us. They are terrorist organizations. Nor can we capture or kill every last terrorist who claims an affiliation with al Qaeda.

I am aware of studies that suggest that many “terrorist” organizations eventually denounce terrorism and violence, and seek to address their grievances through some form of reconciliation or participation in a political process.[20]

Al Qaeda is not in that category.

Al Qaeda’s radical and absurd goals have included global domination through a violent Islamic caliphate, terrorizing the United States and other western nations from retreating from the world stage,[21] and the destruction of Israel. There is no compromise or political bargain that can be struck with those who pursue such aims.

In the current conflict with al Qaeda, I can offer no prediction about when this conflict will end, or whether we are, as Winston Churchill described it, near the “beginning of the end.”

I do believe that on the present course, there will come a tipping point – a tipping point at which so many of the leaders and operatives of al Qaeda and its affiliates have been killed or captured, and the group is no longer able to attempt or launch a strategic attack against the United States, such that al Qaeda as we know it, the organization that our Congress authorized the military to pursue in 2001, has been effectively destroyed.

At that point, we must be able to say to ourselves that our efforts should no longer be considered an “armed conflict” against al Qaeda and its associated forces; rather, a counterterrorism effort against individuals who are the scattered remnants of al Qaeda, or are parts of groups unaffiliated with al Qaeda, for which the law enforcement and intelligence resources of our government are principally responsible, in cooperation with the international community – with our military assets available in reserve to address continuing and imminent terrorist threats…

(Here Mr. Johnson considers legal issues in making the transition from war time to peace time.)

For now, we must continue our efforts to disrupt, dismantle and ensure a lasting defeat of al Qaeda. Though severely degraded, al Qaeda remains a threat to the citizens of the United States, the United Kingdom and other nations. We must disrupt al Qaeda’s terrorist attack planning before it gets anywhere near our homeland or our citizens. We must counter al Qaeda in the places where it seeks to establish safe haven, and prevent it from reconstituting in others. To do this we must utilize every national security element of our government, and work closely with our friends and allies like the United Kingdom and others.

Finally, it was a warfighting four-star general who reminded me, as I previewed these remarks for him, that none of this will ever be possible if we fail to understand and address what attracts a young man to an organization like al Qaeda in the first place. Al Qaeda claims to represent the interests of all Muslims. By word and deed, we must stand with the millions of people within the Muslim world who reject Al Qaeda as a marginalized, extreme and violent organization that does not represent the Muslim values of peace and brotherhood. For, if al Qaeda can recruit new terrorists to its cause faster than we can kill or capture them, we fight an endless, hopeless battle that only perpetuates a downward spiral of hate, recrimination, violence and fear.

“War” must be regarded as a finite, extraordinary and unnatural state of affairs. War permits one man – if he is a “privileged belligerent,” consistent with the laws of war — to kill another. War violates the natural order of things, in which children bury their parents; in war parents bury their children. In its 12th year, we must not accept the current conflict, and all that it entails, as the “new normal.” Peace must be regarded as the norm toward which the human race continually strives.

Right here at Oxford you have the excellent work of the Changing Character of War program: leading scholars committed to the study of war, who have observed that analyzing war in terms of a continuum of armed conflict — where military force is used at various points without a distinct break between war and peace — is counterproductive. Such an approach, they argue, results in an erosion of “any demarcation between war and peace,” the very effect of which is to create uncertainty about how to define war itself.

I did not go to Oxford. I am a graduate of a small, all-male historically black college in the southern part of the United States, Morehouse College. The guiding light for every Morehouse man is our most famous alumnus, Martin Luther King, who preached the inherent insanity of all wars. I am therefore a student and disciple of Dr. King – though I became an imperfect one the first time I gave legal approval for the use of military force. I accepted this conundrum when I took this job. But, I still carry with me the words from Dr. King: “Returning hate for hate multiples hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars … violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction … The chain reaction of evil—hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars—must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.”

October 3, 2013

Us versus them

Filed under: Radicalization,Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on October 3, 2013

Sunnis continue to target Shia in Iraq.   The reverse is also alleged.  (Deadly suicide bombings.)

In Syria Sunni dominate the insurgency as the regime works to wrap itself in the support of most others. Some even see the US as allied with Assad in anti-Sunni animus.  (Same fight against radical Islam.)

In Kenya Shabaab did what it could to underline the difference between Muslim, Christian, and Hindu.  (Though many insist they failed.)

Buddhists are killing Muslims in Burma (Myanmar). (Sectarian Violence.)

India and Pakistan were founded in sectarian strife.  These differences continue to complicate the relations of two nuclear-armed neighbors. (Hindu-Muslim Clashes)

A Christian and/or animist South confronts a Muslim North in Nigeria and across much of the Sahel. (Extremist killings, tight security.)

Threats against Jews are so common as to be widely neglected. (Global Antisemitism)

In the Philippines the division is between a Christian North and a Muslim South. (New clash raises fears.)  In Thailand a Muslim South contends with a Buddhist North. (Savage escalation threatened.)

Modern notions of self-martyrdom were forged as Buddhist Sinhalas confronted Hindu Tamils.  The tension persists. (Tamil abuses denied.)

The list could easily continue tediously long.  In many cases the religious differences amplified by ethnic, tribal, and class distinctions.  Demography as destiny?

Paul Tillich a German-American-Christian-Protestant-Existentialist scholar wrote:

God is being-itself.  After this has been said nothing else can be said about God as God which is not symbolic… Therefore if anything beyond this bare assertion is said about God it is no longer a direct and proper statement, no longer a concept. It is indirect pointing to something beyond itself: symbolic. (Systematic Theology)

Confusing the symbolic as being-itself is common.

Most of our antagonisms do not arise from any profound discovery of substantive ontological distinction.  Rather we fuss and fight over superficial symbols that, as much as anything else, distract us from the much more taxing task of engaging with being-itself.  This is the case well beyond the religious or spiritual and is especially true of the political.

There are broadly two strategic options: Persist with symbolic arguments (religion vs. religion, faith vs. science, conviction vs. conviction, etc. vs. etc.) or resist symbolism and insist on dealing with being itself.  The first strategy involves arguing between answers.  The second involves asking questions.  Neither is easy.

It may just be my conviction, but I perceive the second option — dealing with being-itself — is more likely to have lasting outcomes.

September 29, 2013

ICS implications of Westgate attack

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on September 29, 2013

On this blog I have been an advocate for more thoughtful and strategic application of the Incident Command System.  I have also argued that ICS is not fully scalable to theater-size operations (hundreds of square miles).

But today let me highlight how ICS is a fundamental component of emergency operations by offering this excerpt from a long-piece in the Sunday Telegraph:

The first rescuers to respond were a small team of Kenyan-Indians from a local plain-clothes unit that acts as a kind of armed neighbourhood watch for the large local Asian community.

With a handful of armed Kenyan police, they helped hundreds of people escape before pushing the terrorists into a corner on the ground floor, near the supermarket.

“They were returning fire, heavily, but they weren’t moving out from where they were,” said one person involved. “We had them contained. Done properly, we could have ended that thing on Saturday.”

Instead, Kenya’s army, which had taken four hours to group and prepare their assault, crashed in through both the ground and top-floor entrances, without understanding that some men wearing holsters and body armour were not attackers.

No radio contacts were set up between the units. No overall command had been appointed, and different commanders squabbled. A senior policeman was shot dead in a friendly-fire incident. Chaotic gunfire streaked across the mall’s open spaces.

Within 30 minutes, late in the afternoon, both the initial responders and the army had pulled out, leaving the mall to the terrorists and hostages.

There have even been rumors that the “friendly-fire incident” referenced above was the result of an argument over command between two military officers.

So for those readers who have felt my attitude toward ICS has been overly dismissive, here’s your dramatic example of how an effective Incident Command System is essential.

September 26, 2013

“Whoever fights monsters should see to it he does not become a monster.”

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on September 26, 2013

Elliot PriorAbove is Elliot Prior, his sister, and an unidentified dead man.  Elliot is the four-year-old referenced below. (Reuters photograph)

–+–

Two stories emerging from Nairobi give concrete context to a range of counter-terrorism theories.  The first as reported by The Daily Mail:

A four-year-old British boy caught up in the Kenya mall massacre showed astonishing bravery by confronting a marauding gunman who ended up begging for his forgiveness, it emerged today.

The child told one of the terrorists that he was a “very bad man” as he protected his mother who had been shot in the leg, and six-year-old sister.

Incredibly, the attacker took pity on the family and bizarrely handed the children Mars bars before telling them: “Please forgive me, we are not monsters.”

The second story I have only heard — and even then it was third-hand — on NPR’s Morning Edition. According to the report a nine year old Kenyan boy was wounded.  The attacker then turned to the boy’s mother and sister challenging them to quote a passage from the Koran.   The family is Muslim.  The mother and sister were each able to comply, but they were still shot and killed.  The boy screamed out asking why. The attacker explained the fifteen-year-old girl and her mother were not wearing the hijab.

I am prepared to believe both stories.

Another story or really speculation: Last week I abandoned a post on the apparent assassination earlier this month of Alabama-born al Shabaab commander Omar Hammami, also known as Abu Mansoor al-Amriki or “the American”. He was allegedly ambushed by other al Shabaab elements.

Hammami, some claim, was a fierce advocate for the Somali nationalist narrative within al Shabaab. Those most likely to benefit from Hammami’s death are champions of an internationalist al Qaeda inspired narrative, such as we have seen play out at the Westgate Mall.

The twenty-nine-year-old US citizen was on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists List.  Was he also an opponent of the Nairobi attack?  Was he a potential ally in containing — domesticating — al Shabaab?  When and how might an adversary become an ally? Can monsters be redeemed?

It is, I’ll readily admit, quite precarious, but the paradox of the first story combined with the utter brutality of the second and the tantalizing possibilities of the third, expose what may be our best bet for effectively engaging the terrorist threat.  Cold-blooded murder of Muslim women — hajib or not — and children is not an effective recruiting strategy.  No matter how disaffected, resentful, or misogynistic a potential terrorist may be, the vast majority are as capable as the four-year-old in recognizing what is “very bad.”

In her groundbreaking text, How Terrorism Ends, Audrey Kurth Cronin, finds that among several end-games is the implosion of the terrorist group.  She writes, “Marginalization from their constituency is the death-knell for modern groups… Loss of support may occur if the driving narrative is overtaken by events, contact with ordinary people is lost, or above all if groups target potential members of their own constituencies and provoke a backlash.” (page 203)

This is almost certainly the current plot line for al Shabaab and especially its al Qaeda faction.  Such marginalization is largely why al Shabaab lost local support in Somalia with over-aggressive enforcement of Salafist codes.   It’s mishandling of the 2011 drought and famine was widely seen inside Somalia as causing the death of tens of thousands. Omar Hammami is said to have decided his more al Qaeda oriented colleagues had “gone crazy” seeking power.

When the world sees the death penalty imposed for dress code violations, even the most conservative are repulsed.

When in the midst of a martyrdom operation the proto-martyr asks forgiveness, we might perceive strategic opportunities worth engaging.

September 24, 2013

Ten signs the U.S. is overreacting to the Nairobi Mall attack

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Christopher Bellavita on September 24, 2013

I asked a few dozen homeland security colleagues  to describe what they’d have to see before concluding the country was overreacting to the Nairobi mall attack.

In no particular order, here is a summary of what they told me:

1. Hardening of malls and related soft sites (Apple Stores, Best Buy, etc.) This includes — just in time for Christmas — checkpoints at malls, and random bag checks conducted by law enforcement, contract security or Department of Homeland Security personnel.

2. An increase in uniformed on duty and off duty police officers walking around malls with no clear mission, but costing a ton of money.

3. Security personnel carrying military-style weapons in and around malls.

4. Increased use of secured parking lots, including recording who comes into the mall in each vehicle, who leaves in that vehicle, and who doesn’t.

5. More mall video surveillance, increasing opportunities to record people making mistakes.

6. Expanded use of stop and frisk policy, especially directed toward people who (how shall we say) don’t seem to belong in a particular mall.

7. Spike in “see something – say something” phone calls, particularly reports about seeing “Somalian-looking” young black males.

8. Expansion beyond NFL stadiums of the Mandatory Clear Bag Rule.

9. Fewer people shopping in malls. More people using Amazon.

10. In addition to providing hand sanitizer wipes at mall entrances, high end malls will offer a bullet proof vest option — just in case.

————————————————————–

Last week it was the Navy Yard shooting. This week it’s the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.

Last week it was a single gunman. This week it’s a terrorist group.

A decade ago William Crowe  warned “the real danger lies not with what the terrorists can do to us, but what we can do to ourselves when we are spooked.”

Is America spooked yet?

Not yet.  But it’s getting there.

Here are some media observations.

  • “The deadly assault on a luxury Nairobi mall Saturday has sent shock waves around the world, raising concerns about security at shopping centers amid fears of copycat violence or other terror attacks, according to industry officials and other experts,”writes Daniel Arkin

 

  • Malachy Kavanagh, a spokesman for the International Council of Shopping Centers, said [in the same article] “officials may … increase the police presence at many shopping complexes by enlisting off-duty officers to stand guard and defend against incursions….”

 

  • “The deadly attack on a high-end Nairobi shopping mall on Saturday put the safety of malls around the world into the spotlight and could trigger moves to improve security and make it more visible,” write Ilaina Jonas and Mark Hosenball for Reuters

 

  • It’s hard to imagine a softer target than an enclosed, easy-to-enter space with large numbers of civilians, many of them children or elderly, milling about with no authority clearly in charge, says CNN’s David Simpson.  And the Al-Shabaab terrorist group that carried out this weekend’s mall attack in Kenya is known to have recruited in the United States. If you connect those dots, you get the kind of scenario that “keeps us up at night,” as a federal law enforcement source told CNN…: an attack at a shopping mall in the United States.

Crowe’s Law: “[The] real danger lies not with what the terrorists can do to us, but what we can do to ourselves when we are spooked.”

  • “The worst case scenario is a bunch of these [Al-Shabaab] kids coming back, buying weapons in the United States some place like Minneapolis or Chicago and going after one of our malls here,” … CNN’s national security analyst, said Sunday.  ”They are indefensible especially with a well-trained group. There’s nothing you can do about it. And I guarantee you that the FBI is going to be on it today.”

————————————————————–

Malls have not ignored security in the post 9/11 world.  The Nairobi attack will spur a renewed look at security and training.

But the attack does not automatically mean the militarization of shopping.

An International Council of Shopping Centers spokesman noted “mall proprietors will be careful to take their cues from consumers, who may already be weary from boosted security at airports.” 

A law enforcement analyst for CNN said “For the average American citizen, you go to the grocery store, you go to the gas station, you go to the shopping mall, and you go to a movie theater. You take walks in your neighborhood…. Anyone of those situations could make you vulnerable if other people or another person is out there determined to conduct an attack.”

And from the security director of the Mall of America: “I think that if you’re looking for a hundred percent safety, you should probably wrap yourself in bubble wrap and never leave home.”

————————————————————–

But what if?

What if terrorists — as opposed to a lone gunman — do strike an American mall?

Politics, experts and I-told-you-so’s will fill the information mushroom cloud.

But the Market State will tell its own story, in the case of Nairobi treating the 62 dead and 175 injured as unfortunate but inevitable rounding errors in the eternal quest for resource optimization .

“[The] country is unlikely to see long-term investors pull money out after the deadly attack on a Nairobi shopping mall, analysts say.

“It will hit investor confidence but having said that the areas which are most likely to be impacted are tourism and in the shorter-term consumer goods,” said … a portfolio manager of African equity portfolios at Investec Asset Management in Cape Town.

“People are likely to stay away from the malls for a week or two, but the long-term structural story – the growth, regional integration, political achievements – investors recognize those and an event like this is unlikely to change those views.”….

“Insecurity will remain a key business risk in Kenya. That being said, business will likely get back to normal in a relatively short period as Kenyans have become accustomed to attacks,” risk consultancy Eurasia Group said in a note.

“Some near-term business interruptions and losses are a given, but a sustained economic shock is unlikely. “

————————————————————–

The real danger lies not with what the terrorists can do to us,  Admiral Crowe warned,  but what we can do to ourselves when we are spooked.

 

September 22, 2013

Al Shabaab hits Kenyan soft-target

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on September 22, 2013

TUESDAY UPDATE: The Kenyan Foreign Minister has claimed (speculated?) that “two or three Americans” were members of the Al Shabaab unit that undertook the attack. (More from the Minneapolis Star Tribune and AP)

–+–

To supplement US-based news coverage you might consider:

The Nation (major Nairobi newspaper)

Kenyan Television Network (livestream of local coverage via The Standard, another Nairobi newspaper, wait for annoying US ad to end)

BBC News live updates

Among those killed in the assault was Kofi Awoonor, the Ghanaian poet.  He wrote:

Death has made war upon our house;
And Kpet’s great household is no more,
Only the broken fence stands;
And those who dared not look in his face
Have come out as men.
How well their pride is with them.
Let those gone before take not
They have treated their offspring badly.
What is the wailing for?
Somebody is dead. Agosu himself
Alas! A snake has bitten me
My right arm is broken,
And the tree on which I lean is fallen
Agosu if you go tell them,
Tell Nyidevu, Kpeti and Kove
That they have done us evil;
Tell them their house is falling
And the trees in the fence
Have been eaten by termites:
That the martels curse them.
Ask them why they idle there
While we suffer, and eat sand,
And the crow and the vulture
Hover always above our broken fences
And strangers walk over our portion.

(From Songs of Sorrow)

August 15, 2013

A welcome Presidential invitation (but please proceed even if there are no RSVPs)

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing,Legal Issues,Privacy and Security,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on August 15, 2013

AUGUST 16 UPDATE: Today the Washington Post reports on several hundred incidents of the NSA failing to conform with current regulations and legal boundaries for domestic surveillance.  This is where strong action by the executive — as outlined below — is most needed and can be most effective.

ORIGINAL POST:

Friday the President used the White House press room to announce and take a few questions on proposals to better balance civil liberties with digital surveillance.

Monday the Wall Street Journal editorialized that these proposals constitute a “retreat on his core powers as Commander in Chief.”  If I understand the editorial correctly, the WSJ perceives the President has sovereign authority under Article II, Section 2 to spy on us as much as he perceives the nation’s security might require.  Judicial oversight as currently provided by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is, in their view, unconstitutional.  Any due process is, it would seem, collaboration with our enemies.

On the left hand: Writing in The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf conducts an eviscerating exegesis of the rather brief — even bland — Presidential statement and concludes, “Obama is still lying, obfuscating, and misleading the American people. In doing so, he is preventing representative democracy from functioning as well as it might.”   He perceives a President corrupted by power and given over to condescension, setting the stage for our liberties to be lost forever.

There are of course judgments farther to the right and left of these still recognizably reasoned opinions.  But rather quickly “right” and “left” are lost to something closer to Freudian obsessions or the deepest mysteries of Jung’s collective unconscious.  Obama becomes a token or talisman or target of spiritual warfare and whatever he says is treated like a just-discovered manuscript in a Dan Brown novel.

My take is more prosaic.  The President — like all of us — is a creature of his prior experiences.  Among these are 1) a black man with insider knowledge of white America, 2) community organizer, and 3) lawyer.

If the first prior is having any influence here, it is expressed in the President’s perpetual pragmatism.  He intends to “get ahead” (what this means specifically depends on context).  To do so he needs to be realistic about the impediments or threats he will encounter.  He is predisposed to action that mitigates or obviates knowable problems. The surveillance programs (and the drone program and much more) inherited from his predecessor are adapted, expanded, and subjected to more detailed processes.

As a community organizer he is sensitive to matching his interventions to the values, aspirations, capabilities, and readiness of those he is trying to organize.  He can facilitate, provoke, propose… but it is up to the community to choose and sustain (or not).  Fundamental issues can be teed up, but it is the community’s role  – not his — to decide.  Notice how often, including in this instance, he unveils a process that tends to turn the initiative over to others.  He will advocate for certain principles or objectives, but if and how these are adopted is really up to others.

As a lawyer President Obama is inclined to procedural solutions: a task force, a privacy advocate, checklists, reviews, appeals…  Justice Frankfurter once wrote, “The safeguards of due process of law and the equal protection of the laws summarize the history of freedom of English-speaking peoples running back to Magna Carta and reflected in the constitutional development of our people. The history of American freedom is, in no small measure, the history of procedure.”  Whether or not the President knows the quote, he regularly demonstrates his concurrent view.

As a white man I have not needed to be quite so pro-active regarding threats and impediments.  My approach to management and leadership is similar to that of a community organizer. The successes tend, I am proud to say, to be substantive and long-lasting.  But failure is much, much more common.   I am personally impatient with procedure, but as a matter of human history I agree with Frankfurter (and the President) on its important role.

There are tangible threats to the United States which surveillance can help prevent and mitigate.  There is a profound threat to our liberty that emerges from government surveillance, especially in this digitally networked era.  Procedures are, probably, the most important part of any large bureaucracy’s effort to mitigate abuse of this unprecedented surveillance capability.

In a different time or place I might, despite all my failures, still advocate for community-based engagement with these treacherous issues.  Unfortunately, in this time and place if our civil liberties are to be reasonably preserved in face of these extraordinary technical means, strong and specific Presidential action will be needed.  Legislation would be better, but I don’t think it will happen.  Community consensus would be even better, but on this issue nothing even close to consensus is possible any time soon.

It is problematic. It is paradoxical.  But a community’s strength sometimes depends on individuals to sacrifice legitimate power in order advance what is best for the community.  On Monday the Wall Street Journal editorial board complained, “Mr. Obama invited Congress to tie him and future presidents down with new oversight and limits on a surveillance program…”  It is right to extend the invitation.  It will be necessary to do even more.

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