In response to a FOIA-related court order a key Justice Department legal opinion has been released. The July 2010 memo was the basis for the government’s extrajudicial killing of an American citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, in 2011. The Washington Post provides a PDF of the memo here.
June 23, 2014
June 19, 2014
In the midst of mayem and deep uncertainty, as nations tremble and empires flail, it may be worth revisiting the Iliad.
But if you do, resist (briefly) the poetic allure. Instead give more attention to the convoluted plot, human psychology, and social anthropology of the Great Tale. (I prefer Robert Fagles translation.)
Is Abu-Bakr al-Bagdadi our new Agamemnon? Is ISIS the Mycenaean wedge at the fore of loosely assembled Sunni tribes? Is Maliki a misunderstood Priam or is Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani more analogous? Who is your Hector? Who is the Paris we can all agree to blame.
Instead of playing Baghdad for Troy, you might want to consider Kabul or Bangui or Bamako. Dare we imagine Islamabad or Abuja? Damascus or Jerusalem? Some shining city on a hill. Maybe Troy is Kurdish. Your hometown?
Who are your heroes? Your villains? In Homer’s telling every god and mortal — Greek and Trojan — is capable of conceit, self-delusion, and brutality… and their opposites.
Are we so different now? There are many more of us. Our weapons are surely more horrible. Has our heroic capacity matured with our capability to kill? Achilles is the best known of Homer’s so-called heroes. But he spends much of the war sulking. When vengeance pushes him furious into battle he sadistically sullies his win; as we have seen this week in Mosul and many places before.
That this story has in some form persisted these — what, 3000? — years must reflect some realism and recurring relevance of the text.
Especially in its current form the Iliad is a product of the Axial Age. Looking back five (or 30) centuries the supposed casus belli — Helen’s kidnapping — is as absurd as the assassination of an Archduke. Battle is opportunity for personal valor, compelling comradeship, and even stirring pageantry. But warring is also reduced to the reality of individual encounter and inglorious gore, any alleged greater purpose somehow receding. Socrates fights valiantly at Delium, but Sparta still wins the war. Socrates saves the life of Alcibiades at Potidaea and he, who will drink hemlock rather than depart his homeland, becomes teacher, friend, perhaps lover, of that most ambiguous of men. Awareness of — even comfort with — such ambiguity Homer offers as civilizing: probably a Fifth Century theme added to older, less self-critical verse.
The Axial Age, at least as conceived by Karl Jaspers, brings us greater integration and more alignment of belief and behavior. Quarreling gods, random warlords and associated violence are gradually supplanted by purposeful principles and imperial command: Cyrus, Ashoka, Alexander, Qin Shi Huang, Augustus and their successors. Certainly we continue to pillage, rape and murder. But we are rather more organized about it. Boundaries — political, physical, philosophical — are put in place (with significant exceptions, some extending over thousands of miles and centuries).
According to Stephen Pinker, Joshua Goldstein, Norbert Elias and others we can measure — despite all the bloody brutality — real long-term reductions in violence. The Westphalian consensus retrieved and strengthened Axial values. The survivors of the European wars of religion deciding that violence ought be a State monopoly has been especially hard on warlords. Until recently.
Maybe it is the result of that Archduke’s assasination, but however it happened we seem to have entered a transaxial, post-Westphalian period. Era or interlude?
By transaxial I mean the once-upon stand-alone axes which cultures use to mitigate internal strife now intersect and conflict and — so far — no Frank Gehry is emerging to transform multiple axes into beautiful torque (think Bilbao Guggenheim or LAs Disney concert hall). The contradicting lines are dramatic just now along the Tigris, Indus, Niger and Nile rivers. But something similar can erupt even along the Danube or Ohio or Dnieper or James.
This crossing of axes made more dangerous as violent capabilities are more widely distributed. In many cases, the State being only one of many deadly players.
All of which is difficult enough. But what — even in this long-view — has recently caused me particular concern is for transaxial and post-Westphalian to merge with what might be neo-Manichean.
At the heart of the Axial transformation was a rough sense of shared humanity. Whether it was Buddha, Zoroaster, Confucius, Deutero-Isaiah, or Socrates/Plato each recognized in others a reality deserving respect. In the Treaty of Westphalia the signatories pledge to honor their heretical adversaries and solemnly undertake “Universal Peace, and a perpetual, true, and sincere Amity.” Whatever they felt toward lousy Lutherans or corrupt Catholics, they were encouraged in what came to be known as Humanism. It could and did fail, but as Pinker might say, “It could have been — had been — much worse.”
Today with Boko Haram, the Anti-Balakas, ISIS, and others — some closer to home — there is a growing conception of being engaged in cosmic conflict between “us” and “them” — Good and Evil — that justifies, even galvanizes mass murder. This is not just ancient tribalism, but apocalyptic wish-fulfillment. This is an ideology of annihilation. It is Achilles mocking Hector’s offer of mutual honor. It is a shrill chorus of pre-historic savagery. It must be rejected… especially if noticed in ourselves.
Overpowered by memory
Each man gives way to grief.
Priam weeping for man-killing Hector
Throbbing crouching before Achilles’ feet
As Achilles himself also weeps
Now for his father
And again for Patroclus
Their sobs rising and falling throughout the house.
May we be able to share, even with our enemies, more than grief.
June 12, 2014
“The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”
PART I: COUNTERTERRORISM
On May 21 the Secretary of Homeland Security affirmed that counterterrorism is the primary mission of the Department. But speaking to a large crowd of mostly state and local officials, Mr. Johnson evidently felt compelled to — or did not have the energy to do more than — review the many activities of the Department and, at least to my ears, focused particular attention on the challenge of illegal immigration (See Part II below). The DHS website does not provide a transcript. I wonder if whoever prepared the read-out was actually there.
On May 28 the President told West Point graduates:
For the foreseeable future, the most direct threat to America at home and abroad remains terrorism. But a strategy that involves invading every country that harbors terrorist networks is naïve and unsustainable. I believe we must shift our counterterrorism strategy… So we have to develop a strategy that matches this diffuse threat — one that expands our reach without sending forces that stretch our military too thin, or stir up local resentments. We need partners to fight terrorists alongside us. And empowering partners is a large part of what we have done and what we are currently doing in Afghanistan.
The domestic analog of this strategy also needs to empower its partners. Our homeland security framework should be especially attentive to vulnerabilities and creative regarding strengths. This is certainly important in terms of counterterrorism, but applies across most other hazards as well… if we will take the opportunity to notice.
Neither this White House nor its predecessor has given anything close to the same quality of attention to partnering with the private sector or the states or other crucial domestic players that is given to collaborating with NATO or the G-7 or key individual allies. The diplomatic-military-intelligence triad enjoys an advantage of clout, connections, and intellectual capital that far exceeds what we call homeland security. Counterterrorism and cybersecurity are just about the only aspects of HS that earn any sustained attention by policy elites.
And this is no longer the elite of yore: foxes ala Isaiah Berlin moving from investment banking to the OSS to the Herald-Tribune to an embassy or two and then decamping for a few years at the Ford Foundation. More and more our modern masters are process managers, mathematicians, and other rather wonky hedgehogs “who know one big thing”. And they are inclined to leave other big things — if any might emerge — to someone else. They notice what they know.
Since mid-May I have had two separate conversations with recently retired senior counterterrorism guys. One has been out for about a year. The other just retired last month. They sounded alot alike. Most of what they said you already know. What struck me was what they did not say — seemed unwilling to seriously address — even in an informal setting and with their official duties behind them. (But then again, look what I am doing with the conversations.)
The potentially meaningful silence I observed related to terrorist motivation. Americans currently fighting in Syria were mentioned by both. Domestic terrorist trends were discussed. Recent events in the Sahel were reviewed. In each exchange there were similar references to “behavioral indicators” and “spatial analysis” and “antecedent conduct” and “heuristics” and “covariance” and “probability”. There was considerable reluctance to engage any questions related to ideology, religion, tribal-identity, grievance, or social, economic, and political “co-indicators”. When these questions were asked both experts bridged-back to statistics as quickly as possible.
Speaking of statistics, an N of 2 is seldom significant. But still the similarity was striking. Rather than discussing fleshy and potentially very bloody human beings, my conversation partners might have been describing Brownian physics: The random motion of particles suspended in flux.
PART II: IMMIGRATION
I considered Secretary Johnson’s May 21 remarks misaligned with his audience. He had a crowd with rather specific priorities. He gave a generic speech. Lost opportunity.
The somewhat greater focus I heard him give immigration may have been more the result of narrative punch than proportion or intention. The Secretary mentioned that on Mother’s Day his wife joined him to visit a hosting center in Texas for detained unaccompanied minors (UAMs in trade-talk). I was not taking notes, but his brief description was sufficient to imagine the kind of purgatorial scenes widely reported this week.
Holding area for unaccompanied minors in Nogales, Arizona (USAToday). Please note portable toilets in the far ground. Those are cots in the fore ground.
Mr. Johnson shared being profoundly affected and having since taken several steps to mitigate the troubling situation. This was more than three weeks ago. I have wondered how much the Secretary’s action might be cause of (or only coincident with) this week’s media blitz. I also wonder if our attention to this issue will be any more long-lasting or effectual than that given the kidnapped Nigerian school girls. The crucial difference may be that Secretary Johnson is paying attention and has the authority to ensure others notice and act as well.
In the case of both Nigeria and Nogales a “policy problem” has been personalized. In each case the “others” — even the “its” — who are victims have reclaimed their humanity. Or more accurately many of us have acknowledged what was always the case, but we had neglected to notice.
We are usually as effective depersonalizing victims as we are dehumanizing terrorists.
III. (IN)ATTENTION, INTENTION, AND INFLUENCE
Behavioral indicators and other more objective analytic techniques have emerged, in part, to discourage unthinking, unhelpful, misleading, gross profiling of potential terrorists; such as most Muslims or at least those with beards… or Sikhs who wear beards and turbans (but are not Muslim and at least in the United States have only been the target — not the source — of terrorism).
I am in favor of science, social science and statistics. I very much depend on hedgehogs and have tried to be better at burrowing into a hedge myself.
But this need not — ought not — exclude the knowledgeable, mindful, insightful application of the humanities (e.g. languages, literature. art, philosophy, religion, history). We should especially avoid excluding our humanity.
In dealing with homeland security problems we need to recognize cause and effect. This can often be done with a decidedly disinterested stance. But there are other contexts when subjective human insight can play an important role. There is a place for empathy even in counterterrorism.
At West Point the President also said, “We must not create more enemies than we take off the battlefield.” We might begin by recognizing that many of our most precious values are disruptive to more traditional societies… as well as some neighbors down the street. Being disruptive is often — even accurately — perceived as threatening. Living our values with integrity while defusing the unintended threat to others is a task requiring both fox and hedgehog, as many as we can get with eyes and ears wide open to the unexpected.
In Philadelphia Secretary Johnson saw a thousand state and local leaders and he didn’t seem to fully recognize their potential. In the particular moment he was unable to differentiate this crowd from other crowds. He only saw what he was prepared to see. But fortunately when Secretary Johnson saw a thousand illegal immigrants crowded into a detention center in McAllen, Texas he recognized: these are children. Not just UAMs. His observations and actions were informed by being a father as well as a cabinet secretary. Solutions will remain elusive, but much more likely when the problem is engaged as a whole.
June 11, 2014
A lot of bad things occurred this past week. Real bad things. Perceived bad things. Real people died. Real cable news pundits produced not-so-real outrage.
In regards to foreign terrorism those Afghanistan Taliban prisoners recently released and the situation in Iraq are getting most of the attention, and obviously given our country’s recent history in shaping events in both of those nations. However, I’d argue what transpired in Pakistan is much more worrisome.
Gunmen attacked Pakistan’s international airport in Karachi Sunday night, and the fighting continued into Monday morning.
The reported death toll has been rising: The latest from Pakistan media is that at least 23 are dead, including airport guards and the 10 militants said to be behind the attack.
A spokesman for the Airport Security Force told The Associated Press that the military was called in, but after that the fighting is now over.
The New York Times reports:
“Security forces sealed off the airport, and flights began being diverted away from Karachi within minutes of the fighting. Witnesses saw smoke rising from the airport’s old terminal, and one Pakistani news channel showed footage of a fire burning close to a plane.”
The AP notes that Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, “has been the site of frequent militant attacks in the past.”
Just for a moment, let this sink in.
Pakistan is a nuclear power. It produces a lot of nuclear weapons. This requires producing a lot of nuclear weapons-useable material.
This nuclear power cannot keep it’s largest international airport in it’s largest city safe. This was not a small airfield in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. This was JFK or O’Hare or LAX being attacked by armed militants.
Any insurgency in a nuclear weapons state should be worrisome. Since they are able to assault the most important airport in perhaps the most important city in a nuclear weapons state should be especially worrisome.
In my opinion, ignore the loud voices worried about the situations easiest to explain/blame someone. Worry about the ones few are talking about but that include nuclear weapons and material.
May 28, 2014
Earlier today President Obama gave the commencement address at West Point, describing his vision for U.S. foreign policy. Here are some of the homeland security-related points.
But the world is changing with accelerating speed. This presents opportunity, but also new dangers. We know all too well, after 9/11, just how technology and globalization has put power once reserved for states in the hands of individuals, raising the capacity of terrorists to do harm.
It is absolutely true that in the 21st century, American isolationism is not an option. We don’t have a choice to ignore what happens beyond our borders. If nuclear materials are not secure, that poses a danger to American citizens.
As the Syrian civil war spills across borders, the capacity of battle-hardened extremist groups to come after us only increases.
The United States will use military force, unilaterally if necessary, when our core interests demand it — when our people are threatened; when our livelihoods are at stake; when the security of our allies is in danger.
In these circumstances, we still need to ask tough questions about whether our actions are proportional and effective and just. International opinion matters, but America should never ask permission to protect our people, our homeland or our way of life.
This leads to my second point. For the foreseeable future, the most direct threat to America, at home and abroad, remains terrorism, but a strategy that involves invading every country that harbors terrorist networks is naive and unsustainable. I believe we must shift our counterterrorism strategy, drawing on the successes and shortcomings of our experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, to more effectively partner with countries where terrorist networks seek a foothold.
And the need for a new strategy reflects the fact that today’s principal threat no longer comes from a centralized al-Qaida leadership. Instead it comes from decentralized al-Qaida affiliates and extremists, many with agendas focused in the countries where they operate. And this lessens the possibility of large-scale 9/11-style attacks against the homeland, but it heightens the danger of U.S. personnel overseas being attacked, as we saw in Benghazi. It heightens the danger to less defensible targets, as we saw in a shopping mall in Nairobi. So we have to develop a strategy that matches this diffuse threat, one that expands our reach without sending forces that stretch our military too thin or stir up local resentments.
We need partners to fight terrorists alongside us. And empowering partners is a large part of what we have done and what we are currently doing in Afghanistan. Together with our allies, America struck huge blows against al-Qaida core and pushed back against an insurgency that threatened to overrun the country.
But sustaining this progress depends on the ability of Afghans to do the job. And that’s why we trained hundreds of thousands of Afghan soldiers and police. Earlier this spring, those forces — those Afghan forces — secured an election in which Afghans voted for the first democratic transfer of power in their history. And at the end of this year, a new Afghan president will be in office, and America’s combat mission will be over.
Now that was an enormous achievement made because of America’s armed forces. But as we move to a train and advise mission in Afghanistan, our reduced presence there allows us to more effectively address emerging threats in the Middle East and North Africa. So earlier this year I asked my national security team to develop a plan for a network of partnerships from South Asia to the Sahel.
Today, as part of this effort, I am calling on Congress to support a new counterterrorism partnerships fund of up to $5 billion, which will allow us to train, build capacity and facilitate partner countries on the front lines. And these resources will give us flexibility to fulfill different missions, including training security forces in Yemen who’ve gone on the offensive against al-Qaida, supporting a multinational force to keep the peace in Somalia, working with European allies to train a functioning security force and border patrol in Libya and facilitating French operations in Mali.
A critical focus of this effort will be the ongoing crisis in Syria. As frustrating as it is, there are no easy answers there, no military solution that can eliminate the terrible suffering anytime soon. As president, I made a decision that we should not put American troops into the middle of this increasingly sectarian civil war, and I believe that is the right decision. But that does not mean we shouldn’t help the Syrian people stand up against a dictator who bombs and starves his own people. And in helping those who fight for the right of all Syrians to choose their own future, we are also pushing back against the growing number of extremists who find safe haven in the chaos.
So with the additional resources I’m announcing today, we will step up our efforts to support Syria’s neighbors — Jordan and Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq — as they contend with refugees and confront terrorists working across Syria’s borders. I will work with Congress to ramp up support for those in the Syrian opposition who offer the best alternative to terrorists and brutal dictators. And we will continue to coordinate with our friends and allies in Europe and the Arab World to push for a political resolution of this crisis and to make sure that those countries and not just the United States are contributing their fair share of support to the Syrian people.
Let me make one final point about our efforts against terrorism. The partnerships I’ve described do not eliminate the need to take direct action when necessary to protect ourselves. When we have actionable intelligence, that’s what we do, through capture operations, like the one that brought a terrorist involved in the plot to bomb our embassies in 1998 to face justice, or drone strikes, like those we’ve carried out in Yemen and Somalia.
Keep in mind, not all international norms relate directly to armed conflict. We have a serious problem with cyberattacks, which is why we’re working to shape and enforce rules of the road to secure our networks and our citizens. In the Asia Pacific, we’re supporting Southeast Asian nations as they negotiate a code of conduct with China on maritime disputes in the South China Sea, and we’re working to resolve these disputes through international law.
That spirit of cooperation needs to energize the global effort to combat climate change, a creeping national security crisis that will help shape your time in uniform, as we are called on to respond to refugee flows and natural disasters, and conflicts over water and food, which is why, next year, I intend to make sure America is out front in putting together a global framework to preserve our planet.
I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being. But what makes us exceptional is not our ability to flout international norms and the rule of law; it is our willingness to affirm them through our actions.
And that’s why I will continue to push to close Gitmo, because American values and legal traditions do not permit the indefinite detention of people beyond our borders. That’s why we’re putting in place new restrictions on how America collects and uses intelligence — because we will have fewer partners and be less effective if a perception takes hold that we’re conducting surveillance against ordinary citizens.
The full transcript of the speech can be found here.
The video of his remarks, courtesy of PBS NewsHour:
April 30, 2014
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.
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.”
Whatever we do — or decide not to do — will have homeland security consequences.
April 24, 2014
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
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
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
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
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
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
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:
Mr. Edward F. Davis, III
Former Commissioner, Boston Police Department and Fellow
John F. Kennedy School of Government
Witness Statement [PDF]
Mr. Edward P. Deveau
Chief of Police
Watertown Police Department
Witness Statement [PDF]
Mr. Jeffrey J. Pugliese
Watertown Police Department
Witness Statement [PDF]
Prof. Herman “Dutch” B. Leonard
Professor of Public Management
John F. Kennedy School of Government
Witness Statement [PDF]Witness Truth in Testimony [PDF]
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”
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:
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]
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
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.
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.)