Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

September 22, 2013

Al Shabaab hits Kenyan soft-target

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

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

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To supplement US-based news coverage you might consider:

The Nation (major Nairobi newspaper)

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

BBC News live updates

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

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

(From Songs of Sorrow)

August 15, 2013

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

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

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

ORIGINAL POST:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 8, 2013

An abundance of caution

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing,Risk Assessment,Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on August 8, 2013

Diplomatic Posts ClosedOn Monday the State Department’s deputy spokesperson, Marie Harf, explained several U.S. diplomatic posts would remain closed for up to a week out of an “abundance of caution” prompted by a potential terrorist attack.

As the Tsarnaev brothers fled, flinging explosives from their stolen car, residents of Boston and many close-in suburbs were told to stay inside behind locked doors.  The unprecedented, rather amazing, shut-down of a huge urban area was justified by an abundance of caution emerging from a proven murderous capacity and a continued proximate capability demonstrated just hours before.

As Hurricane Sandy churned north, Mayor Bloomberg announced mandatory evacuations and scheduled suspension of the transit system as warranted by an abundance of caution. Soon enough — and well before landfall — he was warning of a clear and present danger.

Congressional leaders who have been briefed on the intelligence “stream” are unified in endorsing the abundance of caution undertaken in recent days.  It is reassuring that our feuding representatives can find anything on which to agree.  Especially when such vociferous political adversaries make common-cause, I am inclined to defer to their assessment of the current context.  The evidence has, apparently, pointed to a fast-approaching threat.

But I will raise an issue of strategy or perhaps policy beyond the current circumstance: With Hurricane Sandy the threat velocity was known and New York was absolutely in the target zone.  In the case of Boston, Watertown, and near-by, bombing, murder and mayhem were undeniably clear and present.

What seems to be the situation with Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and AQ-Core is a communications intercept involving a vague instruction to do something big.  I will admit this strikes me — so early in the post-Snowden period — as a suspicious choice by Messrs. Zawahiri and Wuhayshi. (Or… in our Kafkaesque counterterrorism context is the intercept report a false-flag to distract AQ et al from the actual tradecraft involved?) When or where or precisely who might carry out the attack is not known.  So… we evacuate or shelter-in-place across roughly the same expansive space as the Umayyad Caliphate.

But… taking the reported intercept on face value, AQAP has a significant capacity in Yemen.  Given demonstrated AQAP capabilities, the shuttering of our Sana’a facility and evacuation of most personnel is probably a prudent measure.  (The government of Yemen disagrees and claims to have foiled a local plot.)

We have seen that other AQ franchises across North Africa, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere also have existing capacity.  I don’t have the resources to assess threat capabilities in each nation where our official outpost has closed its doors.  No doubt if the decision-criterion is an “abundance of caution” a sufficient argument can be made for each.

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Last week I was given a boilerplate contract to sign.  It included a clause that could have been used by the other party to claim 125 percent of any revenue I generated from a set of long-time clients.  This was not the original intent of the clause, but was a possible application.  Such action by the other party is very unlikely, but out of an abundance of caution I arranged for an amendment to the agreement.

This is an example of the origins of the phrase.  In Latin it is “ex abundanti cautela”.  In Roman law the tendency to explicitly engage and counter very unlikely possibilities is prompted by an an abundance of caution.  Such action is certainly prudent. It is also — at least in the context of ancient Roman law — tedious, pedantic, and often so ridiculous as to become absurd.

Today the phrase is usually unveiled with a kind of magisterial flourish that suggests no reasonable person could possibly contest the good sense of behaving with an abundance of caution.

Is over-abundance possible?

New York could — out of an abundance of caution — announce voluntary evacuations every time one of those individual tracks in the hurricane cone-of-probability crosses between Atlantic City and the Hamptons.

The Boston area shelter-in-place order was lifted about 6:15 PM.  After nearly eleven hours behind locked doors, caution seemed a bit over-ripe. The surviving suspect was located in the boat about a half-hour later.  What would have been our assessment of the Boston shut-down if the second suspect had not been located that evening?

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Most of our risks are no-notice. But with hurricanes — and to a lesser extent tornadoes and blizzards — there is an emerging ability to take action to avert harm.  The reason we spend billions on  the intelligence community and offer the first fruits of liberty on the altar of security is to give us similar warning for evil intention.

What we have learned from weather-related warning is that preventive action not followed by a confirming event increases the tendency of the population to take unnecessary risks next time.  Over-zealous — or unlucky — efforts to prevent harm can perversely cause greater harm.

While we are certainly dealing with probabilities, this is not — yet — a matter of contending mathematical models.  We are left with concepts… judgments… words.  Always fallible, but fully worth our careful thought.

An abundance of caution is an ancient legal principle supportive of taking preventive action. So is the common law’s “bad tendency” which was succeeded by “clear and present danger” which has evolved into justifying preventive action by the State only where the threat of violence is both imminent and likely.

Is the threat proximate in time and space and probable?  We will still disagree, but these are the right questions to ask.  These are the right questions to answer in justifying dramatic preventive or preemptive action.

July 26, 2013

Congressional prospects for NSA operations

Filed under: Congress and HLS,Intelligence and Info-Sharing,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on July 26, 2013

As I explained in an early June post, I have mostly been reassured by the controversy over NSA domestic intelligence gathering.  So far the evidence I have seen indicates operations have been undertaken consistent with the law, with judicial authorization, and with Congressional oversight.

The close vote on Wednesday night to continue funding NSA operations is another example of the system working as it ought.  It is helpful and appropriate that policy of this sort be actively and critically examined by the people’s representatives.  Our security mavens have been forcefully reminded of their obligation to consult with Congress on policy and strategy.  (And I even hope against hope that those in Congress may have learned to listen more carefully.  I know I’m a glutton for disappointment.)

If some are tempted to “learn” from this experience that they need to be even more secretive, they are idiots.  If they instead recognize the benefit of proactive and principled engagement at the policy level, we will all be better off: both in terms of our tactical security and the preservation of liberty.

I am glad the funding was continued.  I am glad the vote was close.  I am glad that other efforts are underway to ensure legal constraints on domestic intelligence operations.  Yesterday reporting by ProPublica identified six proposals still under consideration by Congress:

1) Raise the standard for what records are considered “relevant”

2) Require NSA analysts to obtain court approval before searching metadata

3) Declassify Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court opinions

4) Change the way Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judges are appointed

5) Appoint a public advocate to argue before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court

6) End phone metadata collection on constitutional grounds

Read more on each proposal by Kara Brandeisky at ProPublica

July 18, 2013

Repeating history and writing the future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 17, 2013

Dear Malala in brotherly concern

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

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

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

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

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IN THE NAME OF ALLAH THE MOST MERCIFUL AND BENEFICENT

From Adnan Rasheed to Malala Yousafzai

Peace to those who follow the guidance

Miss Malala Yousafzai

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All praises to Allah the creator of the Universe.

15 July 2013

June 10, 2013

I am, after all, a republican

Filed under: Legal Issues,Media,Privacy and Security,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on June 10, 2013

Glenn Greenwald and his colleagues at The Guardian continue to demonstrate the power of  the old school “mainstream media” to set an agenda.   Now we are hearing from Greenwald’s NSA source who explains, “I’m willing to sacrifice all… because I can’t in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building.”

And so, perhaps inevitably, a complicated issue of ethics and politics of the highest order will be personalized and reduced to melodrama.  Which, at least, gives me permission to tell my story.

The only claim I have on anything truly scholarly is a sort of silver-age knowledge of the constitution of late-republican Rome.  This involves the period from about 133 BC to the rise of Augustus (27 BC) when constitutional structures imploded and produced the Empire.  As a young man I read entirely too much Cicero and have carried the burden into old age.  It is a story of freedom thoughtlessly and selfishly sacrificed.

As a result the claims of a “unitary executive” by various players in the George W. Bush administration caused me considerable concern.  A life-long Republican (capital R) I had supported John McCain in 2000 and expected to do so again in 2008.  But in conversation with his national security team (in which homeland security was entirely subsumed) I became increasingly alarmed.

It was not so much what they intended to do.  It was how and why they were going to do it.   The world had, it seemed to them, become too dangerous for due process.  It depended on a few good men (mostly good, mostly men) to do what was needed to defend the nation against attack.   Further, the nation they sought to defend was an abstraction of power and interests that did not, listening carefully, seem to have much at all to do with the Constitution.

So in early 2008 I decided to work for the once-upon-a-time lecturer on constitutional law at the University of Chicago, who — it seemed to me at the time — combined a kind of tough Niebuhrian realism with a disciplined self-restraint that reflected both the Founders and a good slice of Cicero.

Like our NSA contractor/whistleblower/hero/traitor — Mr. Snowden — I suffered the consequences of my choice.  My wife has made the point that if we had given the campaign what we lost because we joined the campaign I might have at least been made ambassador to some obscure corner of the world.  More to the point, a lifetime of personal relationships and professional networks was largely sacrificed.  Even my Dad was disappointed.

Since his election President Obama has been very tough on terrorism or, as he prefers, “violent extremism”.  Several times he has exceeded what I perceive to be his appropriate constitutional role.  Especially in these cases the President has tended to argue that the controversial decision is an exception-that-proves-the-rule.  It may be little more than a fig leaf, but I have appreciated the nod to constitutional decorum even as I recall Augustus was a master of the technique.

Potentially more substantive, the President’s May 23 National Defense University speech called for a more extensive legal framework  that would explicitly limit his own authority and that of future executives.  But other than the classified PPD and other gracious acts of executive self-restraint will anything really change? Right now the speech is as likely to become a footnote — another fig leaf — in future explanations of the eventual collapse of our Constitution under conditions of perpetual war.

In this context I have found the revelations of NSA spying on you and me to be cause for considerable celebration.

Based on what can be known today it would seem that:

  • The spying has been undertaken in accordance with the laws and Congressional oversight — such as it is — has been consistently facilitated.
  • The spying has been undertaken only after judicial review and authorization of narrowly written warrants.
  • The spying has been structured and organized specifically to limit when and how the information is used consistent with the judicial warrants and is extended only with further judicial review.
  • The spying has been exposed by the unofficial fourth branch for public consideration.
  • The spying has caused political enemies who sometimes seem to personally despise each other to share the same or proximate podiums to not only explain the due process exercised in this case but the mysteries of meta-data as well.

What a world!

I regret living in an age when so much of what I do is tracked — and even more is trackable — by a whole host of players.  This is an issue Cicero did not need to consider. It is a temptation to which neither Julius nor Augustus Caesar could succumb.   But this is our reality.  It is not a question of being tracked.  It is an issue of how and why… and what will be done with the results.

And in dealing with the wicked problem of terrorism and the temptation of digital tracking, what we are seeing unfold is the way our Constitution — formal and informal — is supposed to work.  We have elected agents to make judgments on our behalf.  Thanks to Madison and others we have structured our Constitution so that these agents compete with each other.  Through this competition of branches and parties and people a self-restraining, privacy- protecting, freedom-preserving process is cobbled together. Thanks to the First Amendment to our Constitution we have empowered informal agents to hold our elected agents accountable.

As a result, we are given the opportunity to consider difficult issues and to decide how our agents are behaving regarding these issues and whether or not we are prepared to allow them to continue to be our agents.  For me this is the nation.  This is what is worth defending.

May 30, 2013

Pathogenesis of terrorism

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on May 30, 2013

Last week the President articulated his understanding of terrorist origins. At the National Defense University he explained:

Most, though not all, of the terrorism we face is fueled by a common ideology – a belief by some extremists that Islam is in conflict with the United States and the West, and that violence against Western targets, including civilians, is justified in pursuit of a larger cause. 

This is a common perception of what motivates terrorists.  The President tells us — and I agree — the motivation is not based in reality.

Of course, this ideology is based on a lie, for the United States is not at war  with Islam; and this ideology is rejected by the vast majority of Muslims, who are the most frequent victims of terrorist acts.

But there is another motivation more fundamental than the ideology referenced by the President.  There is an underlying precondition that enables the deadly ideology.  The vast majority of Muslims are mostly immune to this precondition precisely because of their Muslim faith.

Intentional violence against random strangers may be this precondition’s most dramatic symptom, but there are many more.  Other common attributes are beliefs and behaviors associated with narcissism: self-aggrandizement, sense of persecution, envy, lack of empathy, paranoia, delusions of omnipotence, et cetera.

If the ideology noted by the President is a symptom emerging from an underlying pathology, is a deeper diagnosis available?  Continuing the theme of poetic policy argument started on Tuesday, I suggest:

Banality breeds barbarity
Beginning with brittle self-regard
Combining with vague resentment
Finding in a convenient other
Sufficient blame for the fatal infection

The banal prefer clarity
Impatient with ambiguity
Insisting on bald binaries
Purchased by investing in
Disdain denial delusion

The banal find comfort in
Any orthodoxy that claims to
Contain the perpetual paradox
Emerging from our experience
Of constant creative change

Creating involves doing
Failing learning – thinking
Observing complications
Considering contradictions
Traipsing the light fantastic

The banal prefer repeating
Half-heard petty pieties
Unchanging litanies of self-
Congratulation and complaint
Elaborate confections of conceit

The banal build barns and fill them
Construct houses on sandbars
Do not consider the birds of the air
Cherish the log in their eye and the
Speck in the eye of their neighbor

The banal are deaf to dialogue
Blind to beauty but generally
Harmless except to themselves
Unless their delusions are
Nationalized, worse sacralized

Then sugary sentiment becomes
Hard cold sharp steel ready to
Sacrifice innocence especially their own
On a baroque altar of self-righteousness
Bloody bathos brutal banality

Bless me please with uncertainty.

May 29, 2013

Marathon bombing ‘would not have happened’ in New York

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Christopher Bellavita on May 29, 2013

In the Hill’s Blog Briefing Room, Jordy Yager reports:

A terror attack like the bombing of the Boston Marathon would never have happened in New York City, according to former CIA Director Michael Hayden.

Hayden, who also headed the National Security Agency, said the New York police department’s expansive spying on the city’s Muslim communities would have helped officials to identify the radical tendencies of the alleged bombers and prevent the attack.

“If these two mopes were living in New York this attack would not have happened,” said Hayden, speaking at a panel on Tuesday organized by the Institute for Education.
“The New York police department is far more aggressive, far more invasive, going what’s been termed ‘mosque crawling’ and a whole bunch of other things to permeate the Islamic-American community. Boston doesn’t do that,” he continued.

“The probability that these two young [men’s] — particularly the older one, Tamerlan [Tsarnaev] — behavior shows up on the scope in New York is much higher than it was in Boston.”

Hayden argued that there is not much more the government and law enforcement officials can do that would still maintain the civil liberties and personal freedoms that define America.

And Americans, he said, need to accept the consequences of that: the “inevitable” nature of another terror attack.

“We’ve already squeezed American privacy, American commerce, American convenience,” said Hayden. “My personal view is: we’re just about okay. I don’t know that I can promise you any more dramatic returns for doing more to make this kind of attack less likely.”

“In order to preserve our way of life, our DNA as a free people, we’re all going to agree that sooner or later something down here is going to happen.”

May 24, 2013

Terrorism and the greater threat of perpetual war

Filed under: Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on May 24, 2013

Below is an extended excerpt from the prepared remarks for a speech the President gave Thursday afternoon.  I have removed a historical preface and about the last fifth which addressed the situation with Gitmo and offered an eloquent closing.  The bold highlights are what on first reading struck me as especially interesting.  You can read the entire prepared remarks at the White House website.

–+–

With a decade of experience to draw from, now is the time to ask ourselves hard questions – about the nature of today’s threats, and how we should confront them.

These questions matter to every American. For over the last decade, our nation has spent well over a trillion dollars on war, exploding our deficits and constraining our ability to nation build here at home. Our service-members and their families have sacrificed far more on our behalf. Nearly 7,000 Americans have made the ultimate sacrifice. Many more have left a part of themselves on the battlefield, or brought the shadows of battle back home. From our use of drones to the detention of terrorist suspects, the decisions we are making will define the type of nation – and world – that we leave to our children.

So America is at a crossroads. We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us, mindful of James Madison’s warning that “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.” Neither I, nor any President, can promise the total defeat of terror. We will never erase the evil that lies in the hearts of some human beings, nor stamp out every danger to our open society. What we can do – what we must do – is dismantle networks that pose a direct danger, and make it less likely for new groups to gain a foothold, all while maintaining the freedoms and ideals that we defend. To define that strategy, we must make decisions based not on fear, but hard-earned wisdom. And that begins with understanding the threat we face.

Today, the core of al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan is on a path to defeat. Their remaining operatives spend more time thinking about their own safety than plotting against us. They did not direct the attacks in Benghazi or Boston. They have not carried out a successful attack on our homeland since 9/11. Instead, what we’ve seen is the emergence of various al Qaeda affiliates. From Yemen to Iraq, from Somalia to North Africa, the threat today is more diffuse, with Al Qaeda’s affiliate in the Arabian Peninsula – AQAP –the most active in plotting against our homeland. While none of AQAP’s efforts approach the scale of 9/11 they have continued to plot acts of terror, like the attempt to blow up an airplane on Christmas Day in 2009.

Unrest in the Arab World has also allowed extremists to gain a foothold in countries like Libya and Syria. Here, too, there are differences from 9/11. In some cases, we confront state-sponsored networks like Hizbollah that engage in acts of terror to achieve political goals. Others are simply collections of local militias or extremists interested in seizing territory. While we are vigilant for signs that these groups may pose a transnational threat, most are focused on operating in the countries and regions where they are based. That means we will face more localized threats like those we saw in Benghazi, or at the BP oil facility in Algeria, in which local operatives – in loose affiliation with regional networks – launch periodic attacks against Western diplomats, companies, and other soft targets, or resort to kidnapping and other criminal enterprises to fund their operations.

Finally, we face a real threat from radicalized individuals here in the United States. Whether it’s a shooter at a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin; a plane flying into a building in Texas; or the extremists who killed 168 people at the Federal Building in Oklahoma City – America has confronted many forms of violent extremism in our time. Deranged or alienated individuals – often U.S. citizens or legal residents – can do enormous damage, particularly when inspired by larger notions of violent jihad. That pull towards extremism appears to have led to the shooting at Fort Hood, and the bombing of the Boston Marathon.

Lethal yet less capable al Qaeda affiliates. Threats to diplomatic facilities and businesses abroad. Homegrown extremists. This is the future of terrorism. We must take these threats seriously, and do all that we can to confront them. But as we shape our response, we have to recognize that the scale of this threat closely resembles the types of attacks we faced before 9/11. In the 1980s, we lost Americans to terrorism at our Embassy in Beirut; at our Marine Barracks in Lebanon; on a cruise ship at sea; at a disco in Berlin; and on Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie. In the 1990s, we lost Americans to terrorism at the World Trade Center; at our military facilities in Saudi Arabia; and at our Embassy in Kenya. These attacks were all deadly, and we learned that left unchecked, these threats can grow. But if dealt with smartly and proportionally, these threats need not rise to the level that we saw on the eve of 9/11.

Moreover, we must recognize that these threats don’t arise in a vacuum. Most, though not all, of the terrorism we face is fueled by a common ideology – a belief by some extremists that Islam is in conflict with the United States and the West, and that violence against Western targets, including civilians, is justified in pursuit of a larger cause. Of course, this ideology is based on a lie, for the United States is not at war with Islam; and this ideology is rejected by the vast majority of Muslims, who are the most frequent victims of terrorist acts.

Nevertheless, this ideology persists, and in an age in which ideas and images can travel the globe in an instant, our response to terrorism cannot depend on military or law enforcement alone. We need all elements of national power to win a battle of wills and ideas. So let me discuss the components of such a comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy.

First, we must finish the work of defeating al Qaeda and its associated forces.

In Afghanistan, we will complete our transition to Afghan responsibility for security. Our troops will come home. Our combat mission will come to an end. And we will work with the Afghan government to train security forces, and sustain a counter-terrorism force which ensures that al Qaeda can never again establish a safe-haven to launch attacks against us or our allies.

Beyond Afghanistan, we must define our effort not as a boundless ‘global war on terror’ – but rather as a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America. In many cases, this will involve partnerships with other countries. Thousands of Pakistani soldiers have lost their lives fighting extremists. In Yemen, we are supporting security forces that have reclaimed territory from AQAP. In Somalia, we helped a coalition of African nations push al Shabaab out of its strongholds. In Mali, we are providing military aid to a French-led intervention to push back al Qaeda in the Maghreb, and help the people of Mali reclaim their future.

Much of our best counter-terrorism cooperation results in the gathering and sharing of intelligence; the arrest and prosecution of terrorists. That’s how a Somali terrorist apprehended off the coast of Yemen is now in prison in New York. That’s how we worked with European allies to disrupt plots from Denmark to Germany to the United Kingdom. That’s how intelligence collected with Saudi Arabia helped us stop a cargo plane from being blown up over the Atlantic.

But despite our strong preference for the detention and prosecution of terrorists, sometimes this approach is foreclosed. Al Qaeda and its affiliates try to gain a foothold in some of the most distant and unforgiving places on Earth. They take refuge in remote tribal regions. They hide in caves and walled compounds. They train in empty deserts and rugged mountains.

In some of these places – such as parts of Somalia and Yemen – the state has only the most tenuous reach into the territory. In other cases, the state lacks the capacity or will to take action. It is also not possible for America to simply deploy a team of Special Forces to capture every terrorist. And even when such an approach may be possible, there are places where it would pose profound risks to our troops and local civilians– where a terrorist compound cannot be breached without triggering a firefight with surrounding tribal communities that pose no threat to us, or when putting U.S. boots on the ground may trigger a major international crisis.

To put it another way, our operation in Pakistan against Osama bin Laden cannot be the norm. The risks in that case were immense; the likelihood of capture, although our preference, was remote given the certainty of resistance; the fact that we did not find ourselves confronted with civilian casualties, or embroiled in an extended firefight, was a testament to the meticulous planning and professionalism of our Special Forces – but also depended on some luck. And even then, the cost to our relationship with Pakistan – and the backlash among the Pakistani public over encroachment on their territory – was so severe that we are just now beginning to rebuild this important partnership.

It is in this context that the United States has taken lethal, targeted action against al Qaeda and its associated forces, including with remotely piloted aircraft commonly referred to as drones. As was true in previous armed conflicts, this new technology raises profound questions – about who is targeted, and why; about civilian casualties, and the risk of creating new enemies; about the legality of such strikes under U.S. and international law; about accountability and morality.

Let me address these questions. To begin with, our actions are effective. Don’t take my word for it. In the intelligence gathered at bin Laden’s compound, we found that he wrote, “we could lose the reserves to the enemy’s air strikes. We cannot fight air strikes with explosives.” Other communications from al Qaeda operatives confirm this as well. Dozens of highly skilled al Qaeda commanders, trainers, bomb makers, and operatives have been taken off the battlefield. Plots have been disrupted that would have targeted international aviation, U.S. transit systems, European cities and our troops in Afghanistan. Simply put, these strikes have saved lives.

Moreover, America’s actions are legal. We were attacked on 9/11. Within a week, Congress overwhelmingly authorized the use of force. Under domestic law, and international law, the United States is at war with al Qaeda, the Taliban, and their associated forces. We are at war with an organization that right now would kill as many Americans as they could if we did not stop them first. So this is a just war – a war waged proportionally, in last resort, and in self-defense.

And yet as our fight enters a new phase, America’s legitimate claim of self-defense cannot be the end of the discussion. To say a military tactic is legal, or even effective, is not to say it is wise or moral in every instance. For the same human progress that gives us the technology to strike half a world away also demands the discipline to constrain that power – or risk abusing it. That’s why, over the last four years, my Administration has worked vigorously to establish a framework that governs our use of force against terrorists – insisting upon clear guidelines, oversight and accountability that is now codified in Presidential Policy Guidance that I signed yesterday.

In the Afghan war theater, we must support our troops until the transition is complete at the end of 2014. That means we will continue to take strikes against high value al Qaeda targets, but also against forces that are massing to support attacks on coalition forces. However, by the end of 2014, we will no longer have the same need for force protection, and the progress we have made against core al Qaeda will reduce the need for unmanned strikes.

Beyond the Afghan theater, we only target al Qaeda and its associated forces. Even then, the use of drones is heavily constrained. America does not take strikes when we have the ability to capture individual terrorists – our preference is always to detain, interrogate, and prosecute them. America cannot take strikes wherever we choose – our actions are bound by consultations with partners, and respect for state sovereignty. America does not take strikes to punish individuals – we act against terrorists who pose a continuing and imminent threat to the American people, and when there are no other governments capable of effectively addressing the threat. And before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured – the highest standard we can set.

This last point is critical, because much of the criticism about drone strikes – at home and abroad – understandably centers on reports of civilian casualties. There is a wide gap between U.S. assessments of such casualties, and non-governmental reports. Nevertheless, it is a hard fact that U.S. strikes have resulted in civilian casualties, a risk that exists in all wars. For the families of those civilians, no words or legal construct can justify their loss. For me, and those in my chain of command, these deaths will haunt us as long as we live, just as we are haunted by the civilian casualties that have occurred through conventional fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But as Commander-in-Chief, I must weigh these heartbreaking tragedies against the alternatives. To do nothing in the face of terrorist networks would invite far more civilian casualties – not just in our cities at home and facilities abroad, but also in the very places –like Sana’a and Kabul and Mogadishu – where terrorists seek a foothold. Let us remember that the terrorists we are after target civilians, and the death toll from their acts of terrorism against Muslims dwarfs any estimate of civilian casualties from drone strikes.

Where foreign governments cannot or will not effectively stop terrorism in their territory, the primary alternative to targeted, lethal action is the use of conventional military options. As I’ve said, even small Special Operations carry enormous risks. Conventional airpower or missiles are far less precise than drones, and likely to cause more civilian casualties and local outrage. And invasions of these territories lead us to be viewed as occupying armies; unleash a torrent of unintended consequences; are difficult to contain; and ultimately empower those who thrive on violent conflict. So it is false to assert that putting boots on the ground is less likely to result in civilian deaths, or to create enemies in the Muslim world. The result would be more U.S. deaths, more Blackhawks down, more confrontations with local populations, and an inevitable mission creep in support of such raids that could easily escalate into new wars.

So yes, the conflict with al Qaeda, like all armed conflict, invites tragedy. But by narrowly targeting our action against those who want to kill us, and not the people they hide among, we are choosing the course of action least likely to result in the loss of innocent life. Indeed, our efforts must also be measured against the history of putting American troops in distant lands among hostile populations. In Vietnam, hundreds of thousands of civilians died in a war where the boundaries of battle were blurred. In Iraq and Afghanistan, despite the courage and discipline of our troops, thousands of civilians have been killed. So neither conventional military action, nor waiting for attacks to occur, offers moral safe-harbor. Neither does a sole reliance on law enforcement in territories that have no functioning police or security services – and indeed, have no functioning law.

This is not to say that the risks are not real. Any U.S. military action in foreign lands risks creating more enemies, and impacts public opinion overseas. Our laws constrain the power of the President, even during wartime, and I have taken an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States. The very precision of drones strikes, and the necessary secrecy involved in such actions can end up shielding our government from the public scrutiny that a troop deployment invites. It can also lead a President and his team to view drone strikes as a cure-all for terrorism.

For this reason, I’ve insisted on strong oversight of all lethal action. After I took office, my Administration began briefing all strikes outside of Iraq and Afghanistan to the appropriate committees of Congress. Let me repeat that – not only did Congress authorize the use of force, it is briefed on every strike that America takes. That includes the one instance when we targeted an American citizen: Anwar Awlaki, the chief of external operations for AQAP.

This week, I authorized the declassification of this action, and the deaths of three other Americans in drone strikes, to facilitate transparency and debate on this issue, and to dismiss some of the more outlandish claims. For the record, I do not believe it would be constitutional for the government to target and kill any U.S. citizen – with a drone, or a shotgun – without due process. Nor should any President deploy armed drones over U.S. soil.

But when a U.S. citizen goes abroad to wage war against America – and is actively plotting to kill U.S. citizens; and when neither the United States, nor our partners are in a position to capture him before he carries out a plot – his citizenship should no more serve as a shield than a sniper shooting down on an innocent crowd should be protected from a swat team

That’s who Anwar Awlaki was – he was continuously trying to kill people. He helped oversee the 2010 plot to detonate explosive devices on two U.S. bound cargo planes. He was involved in planning to blow up an airliner in 2009. When Farouk Abdulmutallab – the Christmas Day bomber – went to Yemen in 2009, Awlaki hosted him, approved his suicide operation, and helped him tape a martyrdom video to be shown after the attack. His last instructions were to blow up the airplane when it was over American soil. I would have detained and prosecuted Awlaki if we captured him before he carried out a plot. But we couldn’t. And as President, I would have been derelict in my duty had I not authorized the strike that took out Awlaki.

Of course, the targeting of any Americans raises constitutional issues that are not present in other strikes – which is why my Administration submitted information about Awlaki to the Department of Justice months before Awlaki was killed, and briefed the Congress before this strike as well. But the high threshold that we have set for taking lethal action applies to all potential terrorist targets, regardless of whether or not they are American citizens. This threshold respects the inherent dignity of every human life. Alongside the decision to put our men and women in uniform in harm’s way, the decision to use force against individuals or groups – even against a sworn enemy of the United States – is the hardest thing I do as President. But these decisions must be made, given my responsibility to protect the American people.

Going forward, I have asked my Administration to review proposals to extend oversight of lethal actions outside of warzones that go beyond our reporting to Congress. Each option has virtues in theory, but poses difficulties in practice. For example, the establishment of a special court to evaluate and authorize lethal action has the benefit of bringing a third branch of government into the process, but raises serious constitutional issues about presidential and judicial authority. Another idea that’s been suggested – the establishment of an independent oversight board in the executive branch – avoids those problems, but may introduce a layer of bureaucracy into national-security decision-making, without inspiring additional public confidence in the process. Despite these challenges, I look forward to actively engaging Congress to explore these – and other – options for increased oversight.

I believe, however, that the use of force must be seen as part of a larger discussion about a comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy. Because for all the focus on the use of force, force alone cannot make us safe. We cannot use force everywhere that a radical ideology takes root; and in the absence of a strategy that reduces the well-spring of extremism, a perpetual war – through drones or Special Forces or troop deployments – will prove self-defeating, and alter our country in troubling ways.

So the next element of our strategy involves addressing the underlying grievances and conflicts that feed extremism, from North Africa to South Asia. As we’ve learned this past decade, this is a vast and complex undertaking. We must be humble in our expectation that we can quickly resolve deep rooted problems like poverty and sectarian hatred. Moreover, no two countries are alike, and some will undergo chaotic change before things get better. But our security and values demand that we make the effort.

This means patiently supporting transitions to democracy in places like Egypt, Tunisia and Libya – because the peaceful realization of individual aspirations will serve as a rebuke to violent extremists. We must strengthen the opposition in Syria, while isolating extremist elements – because the end of a tyrant must not give way to the tyranny of terrorism. We are working to promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians – because it is right, and because such a peace could help reshape attitudes in the region. And we must help countries modernize economies, upgrade education, and encourage entrepreneurship – because American leadership has always been elevated by our ability to connect with peoples’ hopes, and not simply their fears.

Success on these fronts requires sustained engagement, but it will also require resources. I know that foreign aid is one of the least popular expenditures – even though it amounts to less than one percent of the federal budget. But foreign assistance cannot be viewed as charity. It is fundamental to our national security, and any sensible long-term strategy to battle extremism. Moreover, foreign assistance is a tiny fraction of what we spend fighting wars that our assistance might ultimately prevent. For what we spent in a month in Iraq at the height of the war, we could be training security forces in Libya, maintaining peace agreements between Israel and its neighbors, feeding the hungry in Yemen, building schools in Pakistan, and creating reservoirs of goodwill that marginalize extremists.

America cannot carry out this work if we do not have diplomats serving in dangerous places. Over the past decade, we have strengthened security at our Embassies, and I am implementing every recommendation of the Accountability Review Board which found unacceptable failures in Benghazi. I have called on Congress to fully fund these efforts to bolster security, harden facilities, improve intelligence, and facilitate a quicker response time from our military if a crisis emerges.

But even after we take these steps, some irreducible risks to our diplomats will remain. This is the price of being the world’s most powerful nation, particularly as a wave of change washes over the Arab World. And in balancing the trade-offs between security and active diplomacy, I firmly believe that any retreat from challenging regions will only increase the dangers we face in the long run.

Targeted action against terrorists. Effective partnerships. Diplomatic engagement and assistance. Through such a comprehensive strategy we can significantly reduce the chances of large scale attacks on the homeland and mitigate threats to Americans overseas. As we guard against dangers from abroad, however, we cannot neglect the daunting challenge of terrorism from within our borders.

As I said earlier, this threat is not new. But technology and the Internet increase its frequency and lethality. Today, a person can consume hateful propaganda, commit themselves to a violent agenda, and learn how to kill without leaving their home. To address this threat, two years ago my Administration did a comprehensive review, and engaged with law enforcement. The best way to prevent violent extremism is to work with the Muslim American community – which has consistently rejected terrorism – to identify signs of radicalization, and partner with law enforcement when an individual is drifting towards violence. And these partnerships can only work when we recognize that Muslims are a fundamental part of the American family. Indeed, the success of American Muslims, and our determination to guard against any encroachments on their civil liberties, is the ultimate rebuke to those who say we are at war with Islam.

Indeed, thwarting homegrown plots presents particular challenges in part because of our proud commitment to civil liberties for all who call America home. That’s why, in the years to come, we will have to keep working hard to strike the appropriate balance between our need for security and preserving those freedoms that make us who we are. That means reviewing the authorities of law enforcement, so we can intercept new types of communication, and build in privacy protections to prevent abuse. That means that – even after Boston – we do not deport someone or throw someone in prison in the absence of evidence. That means putting careful constraints on the tools the government uses to protect sensitive information, such as the State Secrets doctrine. And that means finally having a strong Privacy and Civil Liberties Board to review those issues where our counter-terrorism efforts and our values may come into tension.

The Justice Department’s investigation of national security leaks offers a recent example of the challenges involved in striking the right balance between our security and our open society. As Commander-in Chief, I believe we must keep information secret that protects our operations and our people in the field. To do so, we must enforce consequences for those who break the law and breach their commitment to protect classified information. But a free press is also essential for our democracy. I am troubled by the possibility that leak investigations may chill the investigative journalism that holds government accountable.

Journalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs. Our focus must be on those who break the law. That is why I have called on Congress to pass a media shield law to guard against government over-reach. I have raised these issues with the Attorney General, who shares my concern. So he has agreed to review existing Department of Justice guidelines governing investigations that involve reporters, and will convene a group of media organizations to hear their concerns as part of that review. And I have directed the Attorney General to report back to me by July 12th.

All these issues remind us that the choices we make about war can impact – in sometimes unintended ways – the openness and freedom on which our way of life depends. And that is why I intend to engage Congress about the existing Authorization to Use Military Force, or AUMF, to determine how we can continue to fight terrorists without keeping America on a perpetual war-time footing.

The AUMF is now nearly twelve years old. The Afghan War is coming to an end. Core al Qaeda is a shell of its former self. Groups like AQAP must be dealt with, but in the years to come, not every collection of thugs that labels themselves al Qaeda will pose a credible threat to the United States. Unless we discipline our thinking and our actions, we may be drawn into more wars we don’t need to fight, or continue to grant Presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation states. So I look forward to engaging Congress and the American people in efforts to refine, and ultimately repeal, the AUMF’s mandate. And I will not sign laws designed to expand this mandate further. Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue. But this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. That’s what our democracy demands.

May 23, 2013

The wisdom of the women of Woolwich

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on May 23, 2013

I am not in a position today to see/hear much of US broadcast media. I hope the following is not entirely redundant to every cable news headline blast. This afternoon — as I expect every reader knows — the President will give a much anticipated policy address on counter-terrorism.  I will be surprised if he addresses the kind of counter-terrorism we saw demonstrated earlier today in the UK.  There was a fierce collision at the intersection of despair, banality, barbarity, courage, competence and wisdom. If there is to be “victory” in the war against terror, it is more likely to emerge from what the women of Woolwich have shown us than 10,000 drones.  A long cut-and-paste from The Telegraph follows. 

–+–

A mother-of-two described tonight how she put her own life on the line by trying to persuade the soldier’s murderers to hand over their weapons.

Cub scout leader Ingrid Loyau-Kennett selflessly engaged the terrorists in conversation and kept her nerve as one of them told her: “We want to start a war in London tonight.”

Mrs Loyau-Kennett, 48, from Cornwall, was one of the first people on the scene after the two Islamic extremists butchered a soldier in Woolwich, south east London.

She was photographed by onlookers confronting one of the attackers who was holding a bloodied knife.

Mrs Loyau-Kennett was a passenger on a number 53 bus which was travelling past the scene, and jumped off to check the soldier’s pulse.

“Being a cub leader I have my first aid so when I saw this guy on the floor I thought it was an accident then I saw the guy was dead and I could not feel any pulse.

“And then when I went up there was this black guy with a revolver and a kitchen knife, he had what looked like butcher’s tools and he had a little axe, to cut the bones, and two large knives and he said ‘move off the body’.

“So I thought ‘OK, I don’t know what is going on here’ and he was covered with blood. I thought I had better start talking to him before he starts attacking somebody else. I thought these people usually have a message so I said ‘what do you want?’

“I asked him if he did it and he said yes and I said why? And he said because he has killed Muslim people in Muslim countries, he said he was a British soldier and I said really and he said ‘I killed him because he killed Muslims and I am fed up with people killing Muslims in Afghanistan they have nothing to do there.”

Moments earlier, the killers had hacked at the soldier “like a piece of meat”, and when Mrs Loyau-Kennett arrived on the scene they were roaming John Wilson Street waiting for police to arrive so they could stage a final confrontation with them.

She said: “I started to talk to him and I started to notice more weapons and the guy behind him with more weapons as well. By then, people had started to gather around. So I thought OK, I should keep him talking to me before he noticed everything around him.

“He was not high, he was not on drugs, he was not an alcoholic or drunk, he was just distressed, upset. He was in full control of his decisions and ready to everything he wanted to do.

I said ‘right now it is only you versus many people, you are going to lose, what would you like to do?’ and he said I would like to stay and fight.”

The suspect in the black hat then went to speak to someone else and Mrs Loyau-Kennett tried to engage with the other man in the light coat.

She said: “The other one was much shier and I went to him and I said ‘well, what about you? Would you like to give me what you have in your hands?’ I did not want to say weapons but I thought it was better having them aimed on one person like me rather than everybody there, children were starting to leave school as well.

Mrs Loyau-Kennett was not the only woman to show extraordinary courage. Others shielded the soldier’s body as the killers stood over them.

MPs praised the “extraordinary bravery” of the women and raised concerns about why it took armed police 20 minutes to arrive at the scene while people’s lives were at risk.

According to a security source the delay in the armed police response is “particularly surprising” because there is a heavily armed police presence at Woolwich Crown Court, which is just two and a half miles away.

Keith Vaz, the Labour chairman of the Home Affairs select committee, said: “We are all grateful for the local people who responded so quickly.

“I do want to pay tribute to them [members of the public] – I think what they have done is extraordinarily brave and courageous.

“It shows the spirit of London that people are just not prepared to allow an attack of this kind. I pay tribute to what they have done.”

Patrick Mercer MP, a former army officer and former shadow counter terrorism minister, paid tribute to the people who shielded the body of the soldier.

He said: “This is courage of the highest order, it sounds as if these members of the public are not soldiers, not policemen, not people whose duties demand this, they are extremely courageous people and that courage deserves to be recognised at the highest level.”

May 8, 2013

Back to Boston

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on May 8, 2013

I was back in Boston last week. Most of my meetings were along the waterfront.

But Sunday I worshiped at Trinity Church just yards from the first bombing.  I had coffee at the Starbucks many of us saw in video footage of the second detonation.

Boylston Street was bustling despite the labyrinth of police barricades for Sunday’s Hunger Walk.  The spring weather was spectacular: perfectly sunny in the high sixties.

The blast sites are cleaned, repaved, open to the public, and — unless you know where to look — entirely inconspicuous.  I heard one man saying, “It happened somewhere close here, but I’m not sure where.”  He was less than ten feet from where the first bomb exploded.

In the three weeks since the marathon trees have begun to bud.  At the site of the second blast an entire tree was removed as part of evidence collecting.  A new tree, still sporting a bright green root bag, has been staked upright to fill the gap.

Memorials — mostly flowers, hand written notes, and running shoes — have been moved and continue to accumulate at Copley Square across from Old South Church and the Public Library.  Opposite Boylston from the memorial corner a quartet (of Berklee students?) was busking with soft jazz.

Several “Boston Strong” signs could be seen.  Even more it seemed to me thanking First Responders, one reading: “Police, Fire, EMTs, and EVERYONE!”

While we want to learn whatever there is to learn — including mistakes that can teach us — there is good cause to commend Boston’s response.  From what I could see the recovery is going well.  Monday Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick noted, “We showed the world in the immediate aftermath of the attack what a civilization looks like…”  On Sunday Boston was looking especially competent, creative, commercially vibrant, and compassionate.

In the Episcopal liturgy the Prayers of the People precede the offering of the Peace.  A wide range of intercessory prayers are offered.  Trinity has authored its own version but concludes as is traditional with a prayer for the departed.  Sunday this included: Krystle Campbell, Martin Richard, Lu Lingzi, Sean Collier,  and Tamerlan Tsarnaev.   There was a perceptible quaver in the voice of the woman leading the prayer.

The congregation responded: “Heal us and guide us.”

May 2, 2013

Catastrophe: Should’a, Would’a, Could’a

“I should prefer Mozart. Mostly I listen to 70s hits.”

“I should eat a hot breakfast, but usually have a powerbar instead.”

“I should work-out three or four times a week, maybe I walk around the block twice.”

Should has become moralistic.  It is typically used as a kind of anti-verb, ascribing — often anticipating — non-action.

I have heard a lot of “shoulds” in regard to the explosion of the West, Texas fertilizer storage facility. The April 17 blast killed 14 and injured more than 190 in the town of 2700.

“We should regulate better.”

“We should put buffer zones in place.”

“We should be more realistic about the threat.”

“We should do a better job sharing what we know about the risk.”

“We should focus more on pre-event prevention and mitigation.”

More plural pronouns than singulars it seems.

According to a November 2012 analysis undertaken by the Congressional Research Service, 6,985 chemical facilities self-report they pose a risk to populations greater than 1,000. There are 90 that self-report a worst-case risk affecting up to 1 million people.

The West facility was not included in the CRS analysis.  They did not self-report — or evidently self-conceive — a worst case scenario that would seriously harm anyone.

As regular readers know I have for a few years worked on catastrophe preparedness.

One of the most remarkable — and absolutely predictable — aspects of this gig is the readiness — preference really — by nearly everyone to define catastrophe as something non-catastrophic.  I saw it again last week and this.  It extends across the public-private divide and every level of government.  When a few of us argue otherwise we are being pedantic, unrealistic, and wasting people’s time.

We should give regular time and energy — maybe five percent of overall effort — to truly catastrophic risks: Global pandemic, significant earthquakes and cyclonic events hitting major urban areas, sustained collapse of the electrical grid whatever the cause. Each of these could have far-reaching secondary and tertiary effects.  In some regions I would include wildfire and flooding. If you have a chemical storage or processing facility nearby that is absolutely worth worst-case thinking now not later.

In many cases the most important issues relate to the mitigation of systemic vulnerabilities that are threat-agnostic.  ”Fixing” vulnerabilities can reduce consequences for a whole host of threats, including non-catastrophic threats.

USA Today editorialized, “The Boston Marathon bombings overshadowed the disaster in Texas, but what happened in West was deadlier, and preventing the next fertilizer accident should command serious attention.”

There’s that anti-verb again.

–+–

And how I wish I’d, wish I’d thought a little bit more
Now shoulda, woulda, coulda I means I’m out of time
Shoulda, woulda, coulda can’t change your mind
And I wonder, wonder what I’m going to do
Shoulda, woulda coulda are the last words of a fool

Can’t change your mind
Can’t change your mind

Beverly Knight

April 24, 2013

Wanted: A new narrative with American Muslim communities, based on trust and mutual respect

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

Mike Walker is a former acting Secretary of the Army, and former FEMA deputy director.

Yesterday on his twitter account — @New_Narrative — he posted the following 22 observations:

1) AQAP’s Inspire Magazine has been counseling homegrown jihadists to work alone & not tell anyone about plots. It may have worked in Boston.

2) The FBI has gotten so good at terrorism stings, the Boston bombers apparently closely held their plotting, not trusting anyone else.

3) The Boston brothers and their closely held jihad. Will this become the new face of terror?

4) Analysts had been saying homegrown terrorists would never be as effective as al-Qaeda operatives. The Boston brothers prove otherwise.

5) But remember my old caution: Global jihadists promote homegrown terror to tie down Western law enforcement while they seek to regroup.

6) But Islam is not the enemy. The terrorists are. They do not represent Islam, but a warped, narrow, essentially medieval interpretation.

7) Yet, global jihadists believe their strength is in their message that “Islam is under attack by the West and must be defended.”

8) The Boston brothers bought into the Al Qaeda narrative which seeks to inspire a small group of malcontents to do terror’s bloody bidding.

9) The US & the West are not at war with Islam. This is not a clash of civilizations nor a war of religions. Many Muslims believe otherwise.

10) Recent polls show Muslim views of the US are the lowest since 2008. We need a new narrative to effectively change those perceptions.

11) We also need more than “See something, say something.” We need a more effective outreach into American Muslim communities.

12) Only American Muslims, themselves, can effectively recognize warning signs when radicals in their midst are beginning to turn violent.

13) To be effective, our new narrative must be based on trust, mutual respect & must be a two-way street with American Muslim communities.

14) Canada’s approach with the Muslim community on the recent Al Qaeda train plot is a good example of how such outreach can be effective.

15) Homegrown terrorism is much more than a law enforcement issue. Don’t expect to eradicate it entirely. But it can be minimized.

16) And minimizing future Bostons is not solely a law enforcement responsibility. It requires a whole community approach.

17) Potential violent radicals must believe the US is not at war with their religion, but with terrorists who do seek to hijack Islam.

18) It would be a mistake to write Boston off as an anomaly. Clearly, very few American Muslims will become so radical as to become violent.

19) Yet, the number of homegrown terror cases continues to grow and Al Qaeda will seek to use Boston as their new recruiting tool.

20) A new narrative will not be easy to achieve. The war in Afghanistan continues. Drone attacks sometimes kill innocent civilians.

21) We must keep the most lethal terrorists abroad off balance, while also building a new era of trust in majority Muslim communities.

22) This is the new challenge in the war against the terrorists. Let the debate begin.

 


 

April 20, 2013

Why and/or how?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev arrested

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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