Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 30, 2014

Renewed use of chemical weapons in Syria challenges inaction

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

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

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

– +–

ORIGINAL POST:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 24, 2014

Attention, distraction, and Yemen

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on April 24, 2014

Gulf_of_Aden_mapWikipedia Commons

Sometime between mid-February and late March al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) held a combination pep rally and planning conference.  The specific location is contested, but almost certainly somewhere in Yemen.  On March 29 a video was released of the event.

Nasir al Wuhayshi, the AQAP chief — and “general manager” of AQ-Core — is shown speaking, “We must remember, oh brothers, that we are fighting the greater enemy: the leaders of disbelief. We must bring down their leaders. We must eliminate the cross. The bearer of the cross is America!”

The video is a spit-in-the-eye of Yemeni, Saudi, US, and other intelligence services that would dearly love to have targeted such an event. It is also a rallying activity for far-flung affiliates.

In this context, threat is the outcome of capability and intention. AQAP has consistently demonstrated both.  It was behind the attack on the USS Cole. The Yemen-based AQ affiliate was the long-time host and sponsor of Anwar al-Awlaki, a premier English-speaking evangelist of attacks on the United States (see related story). AQAP continues to support the bomb-making specialist Ibrahim al-Asiri, mastermind of a wide range of attacks on the US and object of a February warning to air travelers.

Ibrahim al Rubaish, a former Guantanamo detainee, now serves as the AQAP “chaplain”.  Early last year he released a video that included, “It is my duty to spur the Muslims to kill the Americans, to get them out of the Muslims’ land.”

In 2012 John Brennan, then Deputy National Security Advisor now CIA Director, told the Council on Foreign Relations, “Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, is al-Qaida’s most active affiliate. It has assassinated Yemeni leaders, murdered Yemeni citizens, kidnapped and killed aid workers, targeted American interests, encouraged attacks in the United States and attempted repeated attacks against U.S. aviation.”

Sunday and Monday saw  a series of assaults on AQAP by Yemen and the United States. The US operates a significant fleet of Reaper drones out of bases in Djibouti, just across the narrow Bab-el-Mandeb (Gate of Tears) from Yemen.  Several reports indicate more than fifty AQAP fighters have been killed.   The Yemen Post reports the military operation had an “intensity and violence never witnessed before.”

See especially Bill Roggio’s and Oren Adaki’s reporting at Long War Journal .

The ground and air operation follows the visit of a Yemeni military delegation to Washington DC in early April.  It is also well-timed to demonstrate Yemeni government resolve and capability in anticipation of the April 29 meeting of the “Friends of Yemen” in London.

–+–

Apples and oranges I suppose, but on Wednesday morning I typed into my English-language US-based Google webpage the word “Yemen” — non-specific, all-inclusive.  Google tells me I can choose from among 82,800,000 results.  Plenty.

When I type in “Malaysia Airlines Flight 370″ Google gives me 117 million results.  254 million without quotation marks.  Forty to 300 percent more than anything related to Yemen. Is Google content a proxy for public interest… or media coverage… or what?

In a March 20-23 survey the Pew Center for the People and the Press found that the loss of Flight 370 was attracting the most attention of Americans following any news.  Interest regarding the missing plane far surpassed the Ukrainian crisis, a distant second with less than half the level of attention given the plane.  Nothing related to Yemen or Nigeria or Central African Republic or even Afghanistan made the list of seven top stories offered by respondents.

The human mind is attracted to mysteries.  I understand the intrigue with Flight 370.  I don’t understand the disinterest in Yemen and similar.

The Twentieth Century political-economist John Kenneth Galbraith said, “Politics is not the art of the possible. It consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable.” Given options available in Yemen, Ukraine, Egypt or even the Jersey Shore, that seems a fair assessment.

But is it possible a significant block of the voting public may actually prefer the clearly disastrous to the ambiguously unpalatable?

April 23, 2014

Appeals panel orders release of kill memos

Filed under: Legal Issues,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on April 23, 2014

A three-judge Court of Appeals for the second circuit has ordered the US government to release a redacted version of documents, “relating to targeted killings of United States citizens carried out by drone aircraft.”

The decision is narrowly framed as a matter of FOIA procedures and does not address the legality of the actual killing of United States citizens.

From the finding and order:

In resisting disclosure of the OLC-DOD Memorandum, the Government contends that making public the legal reasoning in the document will inhibit agencies throughout the Government from seeking OLC’s legal advice. The argument proves too much.  If this contention were upheld, waiver of privileges protecting legal advice could never occur… Agencies seeking OLC legal advice are surely sophisticated enough to know that in these circumstances attorney/client and deliberative process privileges can be waived and the advice publicly disclosed. We need not fear that OLC will lack for clients.

Reading the decision, it is clear the 2013 leak and eventual release of a redacted Department of Justice White Paper (Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a U.S. Citizen Who Is a Senior Operational Leader of Al-Qa’ida or An Associated Force) seriously complicated the government’s attempt to resist these FOIA requests.

April 21, 2014

“We were Boston Strong, because we were Boston Ready”

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Resilience,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Arnold Bogis on April 21, 2014

Today, nine thousand more people are running the Boston Marathon than last year.  Officials expect over one million spectators – roughly double the average. Hotels have been booked for months, and people looking to volunteer have been turned away for weeks due to the crush of applicants.

I take a couple of points away from this and all the other outpouring of support for today’s race, runners, and the Greater Boston area:

  • To steal NSFW terminology from Big Papi, this is basically a big fuck you to terrorism.  It doesn’t work if people aren’t scared, and the people of Boston, Massachusetts, and runners and spectators from across this country and world are obviously not scared.
  • Not only do Bostonians (and Cantabrigians and Watertown-ians(?) and etc.) not scare easily, Americans in general do not scare easily.  So I hope pundits leave behind flawed concerns that the unprecedented shelter-in-place order on the Friday following the Marathon bombings was a sign of underlying weakness rather than determined strength born out of  in-the-moment operational necessity.
  • We as a society are resilient.  Yes, there are significant concerns about infrastructure and emerging threats.  Things can and should be improved across a range of sectors and issue areas.   However, I simply have not read nor heard convincing proof that our current society is any less resilient than in decades past.  Stephen Flynn I’m looking at you. Instead, we live in a different world with different vulnerabilities but also different strengths.

Leading up to today, there has been much said about the potential of missed clues or signals that could have led authorities to prevent this attack.  There has also been much shared about the resilience of those directly affected by the bombings. Rightly so.

I’d be lying, however, if I didn’t admit to being a little concerned.  The medical response to the attack has been lauded.  It has not been sufficiently explained.  It should not be taken for granted.

The concept of a “dry run disaster” has been advertised.  Lessons learned from the Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Israeli experience have been explored. It is easy to point out that the explosions occurred yards away from a medical tent, and that Boston is blessed with an overabundance of world class hospitals just minutes away from the scene.

Yet the underlying strength of the Boston response originated from years of planning, practice, and collaboration.  Similar examples of which are difficult to find across our nation. Boston was, and is, strong because it has, and continues to, work on preparedness.

Boston Strong because Boston Ready.

This should be noted and shared.

All I have to offer in addition is a few suggestions:

  • The Federal goverment, both the Administration and Congress, should increase funding to such programs as the Hospital Preparedness Program (HPP) that aims to instill the cross-sector collaboration that was so successful in Boston.  It would also be nice if top Administration officials not only talked about resilience but actually did something to drive actual change in their departments.
  • State and local governments should embrace the “whole of community” approach.  This would require that first responders embrace the possibility of a robust civilian response in their plans, as well as encouraging cooperation among private stakeholders.
  • Those private stakeholders, hospitals and healthcare systems and etc., should understand that cooperation and collaboration with others should not be viewed as a net loss on the ledger books, but as an overall positive contribution to their business model.
  • And finally, the individuals among us should realize that having health insurance is a good thing.  Not unduly burdening the emergency medical system during times of unexpected stress, such as the Marathon bombing, could save lives. Learning what to do to help our neighbors would be even better.

- – - – - – - – - – - – - -

Recently, NBC’s “Meet the Press” aired a segment on “Boston Strong: The Marathon Bombing, One Year Later.”

You can watch a video of it here: http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/boston-bombing-anniversary/boston-strong-marathon-bombing-one-year-later-n79161

It was a round table discussion with an audience of Boston first responders.  The individual making the incisive observation I took as the title of this post was Senator Ed Markey.  His full quote:

And, you know, we were prepared. We were Boston Strong, because we were Boston Ready. The city was ready. And the commissioner has a lot to do with that. The people who were here. There was a lot of cooperation at the local level. And then we needed the bravery of people then to respond on that day. And they did. And the resilience of people afterwards.

He makes a subtle and often overlooked point.

April 17, 2014

One person’s freedom fighter is another person’s…

Filed under: Radicalization,Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on April 17, 2014

On the anniversary of one great rebellion the commanders met secretly to advance their own rebellion.

For several years they had operated mostly in the far north, but now gathered in the capital city.

Just days before, their leader had taken direct — and highly symbolic — action against the regime. His shift from argument and example to economic boycott and violent protest surprised many.

Passwords were exchanged, introductions offered, preparations undertaken. The insurrectionists were fully aware it was risky to meet together. Most did not expect, however, that their inner circle had been compromised.

They gathered over dinner. The ancient rebellion was recalled and celebrated. As subversives will, they also quarreled. Around the table several motivations were represented: nationalists, religious extremists, idealists, some simply attracted by the charisma of their leader and a common cause. They disagreed more than they agreed.

The leader was skilled in forging an alloy of their differences. He served them. He warned them: They would betray him and each other. They would suffer. What they valued most would be destroyed. He had an uncanny ability to upend typical understandings of good and bad.

They would be separated from each other, attacked, oppressed, tortured and killed. Despite all, together they were creating a more just reality. The new reality’s lack of specific definition allowed each to project his particular preferences.

Sharing drink, food, and conversation reaffirmed the relationships around the table: tenuous surely, but tenacious as well. They found in each other a confidence that was much more elusive when alone.

There were many similarly subversive groups. Until quite recently this particular movement had not seemed much of a threat, more reformist than revolutionary. Some senior officials shared most of the reformist critique. Others had a grudging respect for the movement’s ability to generate popular support.

In retrospect even benign neglect would probably have produced a less dynamic outcome. But challenging a core economic engine surely required a deterrent response, just as a matter of due diligence. Then the good fortune of “turning” one of the movement’s inner circle was too good to pass up.

They might have rounded up the whole command-network. It was an elegant bit of restraint to choose instead a single decapitation. The remainder of the inner circle quickly dispersed, a demonstration that demoralized many long-time followers and disgusted recent converts.

The most sophisticated advocated for a long languishing imprisonment, the proven technique for facilitating a divided movement’s self-disintegration. The cowardly behavior of those insurrectionists left at-large argued the efficacy of such a plan.

But the most sophisticated had not anticipated the intensely personal antagonism that erupted when some of their superiors encountered the arrested leader face to face… or rather word for word. He was infuriating: self-righteous, obscure, and entirely unrepentant.

(We often feel the most innate conflict with those who remind us of our own most troublesome tendencies.)

The decision was made to put him to death. Behind closed doors the most sophisticated argued this was a mistake. Alive but imprisoned he would impede the emergence of a successor. Death opened an opportunity for someone more radical to arise. A public execution could transform one of many malcontents into a useful martyr for a wide range of discontent.

But at times events emerge and can take on a life of their own. The most sophisticated did not win the argument.

April 16, 2014

Disengaging in order to more fully engage?

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing,Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on April 16, 2014

Two separate events, disconnected in any substantive way (as far as I know) but an interesting coincidence in terms of timing:

Monday the Muslim Public Affairs Council held a press conference alongside notable Muslim community leaders at the National Press Club to announce a new campaign to actively prevent violent extremism. Called the Safe Spaces Initiative, the campaign is the first major national grassroots effort to equip American Muslim community and campus leaders with practical tools for developing healthy communities as well as intervention strategies for troubled individuals. You can download the paper from the Safe Spaces website.

Tuesday the New York Police Department said it would disband a special unit charged with detecting possible terrorist threats by carrying out secret surveillance of Muslim groups. The squad that conducted the surveillance, known as the Demographics Unit, was formed in 2003. It brought the NYPD under fire from community groups and activists who accused the force of abusing civil rights and profiling.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “This reform is a critical step forward in easing tensions between the police and the communities they serve, so that our cops and our citizens can help one another go after the real bad guys.”

April 14, 2014

On the 14th of Nisan

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on April 14, 2014

A 14-year-old Eagle Scout, his grandfather and an elderly woman were killed in shootings Sunday afternoon near Kansas City. The two separate shootings each took place on the grounds of a Jewish institution.

73-year-old Frasier Glenn Cross Jr. was taken into custody after the attack. The Southern Poverty Law Center says Cross is an alias for Frasier Glenn Miller, the former Grand Dragon of the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and a long-time neo-Nazi.

It is worth noting that this year the celebration of Easter (in many churches) and the birthday of Hitler coincide on April 20.

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.

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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.

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