Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

January 27, 2011

Unrest in the Middle East: implications for homeland security?

Filed under: International HLS — by Arnold Bogis on January 27, 2011

Trying to predict the outcome of all the protests rocking Middle Eastern countries is a mug’s game.  Will authoritarian regimes fall or will they crush the uprisings?  If political change occurs, will democracy (of any sort) necessarily be the result?

Middle East expert Marc Lynch of George Washington University addresses some of the underlying issues:

The end of the Tunisian story hasn’t yet been written. We don’t yet know whether the so-called Jasmine Revolution will produce fundamental change or a return to a cosmetically-modified status quo ante, democracy or a newly configured authoritarianism. But most of the policy community has long since moved on to ask whether the Tunisian protests will spread to other Arab countries — Egypt, of course, but also Jordan, Yemen, Algeria, Libya, and almost every place else. Most experts on each individual country can offer powerful, well-reasoned explanations as to why their country won’t be next. I’m skeptical too.

But I found it unsatisfying to settle for such skepticism as I watched the massive demonstrations unfold in Egypt on my Twitter feed while moderating a panel discussion on Tunisia yesterday (I plead guilty). As I’ve been arguing for the last month, something does seem to be happening at a regional level, exposing the crumbling foundations of Arab authoritarianism and empowering young populations who suddenly believe that change is possible. There are strong reasons to expect most of these regimes to survive, which we shouldn’t ignore in a moment of enthusiasm. But we also shouldn’t ignore this unmistakable new energy, the revelation of the crumbling foundations of Arab authoritarian regimes, or the continuing surprises which should keep all analysts humble about what might follow.

Harvard realist Stephen Walt does not believe we’ll see what happened in Tunisia occur in Egypt or elsewhere….maybe:

Do the large and angry demonstrations in Egypt mean that I was wrong to predict that the revolution in Tunisia wouldn’t spread? Not yet, but I will be watching events closely and developments there could eventually prove me wrong. (As Keynes famously retorted, “when the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do?”) But thus far, I’m sticking with my original forecast.

And Daniel Drezner of Tufts University asks a question that touches on a potential homeland security implication:

Which neoconservative impulse will win out — the embrace of democratic longing, or the fear of Islamic movements taking power?

Experts have pointed out that while there was little Islamic fundamentalist-based opposition to the Tunisian government, that is not true in Egypt.  While it appears the current protests are organic in nature and not organized by any particular group, the largest opposition group in Egypt is the Muslim Brotherhood.  Clearly spelling out the nature of the group is for others with a much deeper understanding of their beliefs and activities, but I would bet that many U.S. security officials would be nervous about them gaining power in the largest Arab state.  Many homeland security analysts are already wary of groups operating in the U.S. that are associated with the Brotherhood.

A larger issue is if regime change does come to some of these nations, will it have a net positive effect in terms of terrorist recruitment in the future? One of the reasons given by Bin Laden for attacking the U.S. is that we prop up these “apostate” regimes in the Arab world–regimes that people like Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri have been unable to topple themselves.  So they focused on the “far enemy” (the U.S.) so that we would retreat from the Middle East and they could then topple the “near enemy” (regimes in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, etc.).

So if there is regime change of any sort, will that decrease the terrorist threat to the U.S.?

As appealing as the prospect of democracy spreading across the Middle East is, it is not the primary national security interest in the region for the U.S.  That would be keeping the flow of oil unimpeded by ensuring that no one state dominates the area.  Could that clear interest come into conflict with a murky opportunity to perhaps decrease the long-term terrorist threat?     

March 26, 2008

Homeland Security Secretary in Middle East

Filed under: International HLS — by Jonah Czerwinski on March 26, 2008

We’ve discussed on this blog the opportunities for greater cooperation between the U.S. and critical countries in the Mediterranean and Middle East regions that is focused on the shared interest we have in protecting civilians.  Secretary Chertoff is in Kuwait today meeting with government counterparts, including:

  • Assistant Undersecretary of Kuwait’s Interior Ministry for Border Security Affairs Major General Suleiman Al-Fahad,
  • Director General of the General Directorate of Security of Land Borders Brigadier Abdullah Al-Mehanna, and
  • Undersecretary of the Interior Ministry Lieutenant General Ahmed Al-Rujaib.

The focus of his meetings appears to be on border security and what he called “security cooperation.”  This is critically important dialogue that can enable the U.S. to demonstrate both our capabilities and our lessons learned over the past five years of having the Department of Homeland Security.  However, Kuwait is low-hanging fruit in the diplomatic realm.

Working with Kuwait is valuable, but it isn’t exactly difficult to obtain their cooperation.  (Long history there.)  However, the same cannot be said about their media. Chertoff sat for a brief media roundtable yesterday (transcript here) in Kuwait City to field some questions. Sure there were some softballs about our airports, but these questions typified the exchange:

President Bush has mentioned…that the … U.S. fights terrorism overseas to prevent terrorists from performing terrorist acts in the U.S. What’s your comment on these thoughts and these statements from the President, given the fact that some Arab countries are in contradiction with those statements?

How are you trying to convince Arab countries with this policy, and is that part of your agenda for the trip?

Can you comment on the policy of the U.S. to manage crisis in the Middle East, given the fact that Syria and Iran are in almost a war state?

Is there a list of what’s called the blacklist of people (inaudible) to the U.S…?

But this question is the one that we sort of expected:

Since the U.S. announced a launch on a war on terrorism after the event of September 11th, in your assessment is the world a safer place now after all that has been done? And… what is the level of cooperation between Kuwait and the United States in achieving a safer world?

Hmm. Is the world safer? He didn’t ask whether terrorism has been vanquished. Just whether there’s been any improvement since the several hundred billion dollars have been spent over the past seven years in response to the 9/11 attacks.  The answer?

“Well, let me answer the second question first — it’s easier.”

February 21, 2008

Middle East Eyes Homeland Security

Filed under: Infrastructure Protection,International HLS — by Jonah Czerwinski on February 21, 2008

The Middle East is beginning to appreciate the importance of homeland security in new ways, and the United Arab Emirates appears to be at the forefront. With what’s being billed as the Middle East’s first event focused exclusively on homeland security, Abu Dhabi will host a conference on protecting national borders, building disaster resilience, and countering international terrorism next month.

Entitled “International Security / National Resilience,” the gathering takes place March 2-5, 2008, at Abu Dhabi and is sponsored by HH General Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, along with the UAE Ministry of Interior. ISNR Abu Dhabi follows ISNR London, which was held 4-5 December 2007.

Last year the UAE President, His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan created a new government agency charged with protecting vital facilities and utilities in the emirate of Abu Dhabi. With critical infrastructure that includes onshore and offshore petroleum facilities, power generation stations, water desalination plants, a natural gas transportation network, airports, seaports, and service networks, its no wonder they see the value in their own version of a DHS. However, since all of this infrastructure is owned by the emirate, they’ll likely have an easier go of it than DHS, which must navigate a domain of critical infrastructure owned almost entirely by the private sector.

Promoters of ISNR Abu Dhabi explain that the gathering will provide a comprehensive look at homeland security issues to enable “governmental authorities to respond resiliently to natural disasters as well as man-made ones.” This is just the sort of opportunity the U.S. Department of Homeland Security should capitalize on by sending delegates armed with speeches and presentations that explain the way we perceive the threat, the lessons we’ve learned, and the interest we have in supporting their efforts in a partnership against a threat that requires cooperation in order to be combated.

This blog has written before about the opportunities – some missed – for sharing our expertise in homeland security to benefit reluctant friends overseas. We have a shared interest in protecting our civilians. And the U.S. could really use some friends nowadays in that region.

December 20, 2015

Saturday night in New Hampshire

Filed under: Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on December 20, 2015

The three candidates for the Democratic Party presidential nomination met in New Hampshire on Saturday night, four days after a Republican debate in Las Vegas.  Both sessions focused significant attention on terrorism.  The Democrats shared a stage at Saint Anselm College.  The Republicans met at the Venetian Hotel and Casino.  The content for the two events was as differentiated as the venues.

Here’s a transcript from Saturday night.  More later.

–+–

A few excerpts from St. Anselm (added to this post early on Monday morning, December 21):

The former Senator and Secretary of State said:

I have a plan that I’ve put forward to go after ISIS. Not to contain them, but to defeat them. And it has three parts. First, to go after them and deprive them of the territory they occupy now in both Syria and Iraq.

Secondly, to go after and dismantle their global network of terrorism. And thirdly, to do more to keep us safe. Under each of those three parts of my plan, I have very specific recommendations about what to do.

Obviously, in the first, we do have to have a — an American-led air campaign, we have to have Arab and Kurdish troops on the ground. Secondly, we’ve got to go after everything from North Africa to South Asia and beyond.

And then, most importantly, here at home, I think there are three things that we have to get right. We have to do the best possible job of sharing intelligence and information. That now includes the internet, because we have seen that ISIS is a very effective recruiter, propagandist and inciter and celebrator of violence.

That means we have to work more closely with our great tech companies. They can’t see the government as an adversary, we can’t see them as obstructionists. We’ve got to figure out how we can do more to understand who is saying what and what they’re planning.

And we must work more closely with Muslim-American communities. Just like Martin, I met with a group of Muslim-Americans this past week to hear from them about what they’re doing to try to stop radicalization. They will be our early warning signal. That’s why we need to work with them, not demonize them, as the Republicans have been doing…

You know, I was a senator from New York after 9/11, and we spent countless hours trying to figure out how to protect the city and the state from perhaps additional attacks. One of the best things that was done, and George W. Bush did this and I give him credit, was to reach out to Muslim Americans and say, we’re in this together. You are not our adversary, you are our partner.

And we also need to make sure that the really discriminatory messages that Trump is sending around the world don’t fall on receptive ears. He is becoming ISIS’s best recruiter. They are going to people showing videos of Donald Trump insulting Islam and Muslims in order to recruit more radical jihadists. So I want to explain why this is not in America’s interest to react with this kind of fear and respond to this sort of bigotry.

The Senator from Vermont said:

Number one, our goal is to crush and destroy ISIS. What is the best way to do it? Well, I think there are some differences of opinion here, perhaps between the secretary and myself. I voted against the war in Iraq because I thought unilateral military action would not produce the results that were necessary and would lead to the kind of unraveling and instability that we saw in the Middle East.

I do not believe in unilateral American action. I believe in action in which we put together a strong coalition of forces, major powers and the Muslim nations. I think one of the heroes in a real quagmire out there, in a dangerous and difficult world, one of the heroes who we should recognize in the Middle East is King Abdullah II of Jordan. This small country has welcomed in many refugees.

And Abdullah said something recently, very important. He said, “Yes, international terrorism is by definition an international issue, but it is primarily an issue of the Muslim nations who are fighting for the soul of Islam. We the Muslims should lead the effort on the ground.” And I believe he is absolutely right.

The former Mayor of Baltimore and Governor of Maryland said:

We have invested nowhere near what we should be investing in human intelligence on the ground. And what I’m talking about is not only the covert CIA intelligence, I’m also talking about diplomatic intelligence. I mean, we’ve seen time and time again, especially in this very troubled region of nation-state failures, and then we have no idea who the next generation of leaders are that are coming forward.

So what I would say is not only do we need to be thinking in military terms, but we do our military a disservice when we don’t greatly dial up the investment that we are making in diplomacy and human intelligence and when we fail to dial up properly, the role of sustainable development in all of this. As president, I would make the administrator of USAID an actual cabinet member. We have to act in a much more whole of government approach, as General Dempsey said.

And I do believe, and I would disagree somewhat with one of my colleagues, this is a genocidal threat. They have now created a safe haven in the vacuum that we allowed to be partly and because of our blunders, to be created to be created in the areas of Syria and Iraq. We cannot allow safe havens, and as a leader of moral nations around this Earth, we need to come up with new alliances and new ways to prepare for these new sorts of threats, because Martha, this will not be the last region where nation-states fail.

And you’ve seen a little bit of this emerging in the — in the African Union and the things that they have done to better stabilize Somalia. We need to pay attention here in Central America as well. So this is the new type of threats that we’re facing and we need to lead as a nation in confronting it and putting together new alliances and new coalitions.

Lot’s more in the transcript.  Substantive discussion and distinctions, mostly coherent consideration of real issues and a couple of worthwhile positions well-outside conventional wisdom.

December 5, 2015

Germany in the mix

Filed under: Radicalization,Refugee Crisis,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on December 5, 2015

According to Deutsche Welle:

Germany’s foreign intelligence agency BND has released a disparaging report on Saudi Arabia. Their assessment says the country is destabilizing the Middle East with proxy wars in Yemen and elsewhere in the region.

The BND document entitled “Saudi Arabia – Sunni regional power torn between foreign policy paradigm change and domestic policy consolidation” singled out Saudi Arabia’s defense minister, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as trying to strengthen his place in the royal succession while putting Saudi Arabia’s relationship with erstwhile regional allies in jeopardy.

“The careful diplomatic stance of older members of the Saudi royal family has been replaced by an impulsive policy of intervention,” the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) said.

The spy agency accused bin Salman, second in line to the throne, and his father, King Salman, as trying to create an image of Saudi Arabia being the leader of the Arab world. The BND added that bin Salman’s quest to cement his place in the nation’s leadership could also irritate other members of the royal family.

As another reason for the shift in policy, the BND also cited a perceived change in the role of the United States as the guarantor of stability in the face of growing influence exerted by Iran.

Since King Salman’s succession to power in January 2015, there’s been a more forceful response to the regional standoff between Iran and Saudi Arabia largely set in motion by Prince Mohammed. The BND said that this could mainly be observed in Saudi Arabia’s military intervention in Yemen as well as its increased support for Syrian rebels in a bid to remove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Since the limited release of the report on Wednesday (I have not yet found an original), the German Foreign Ministry has repudiated the BND findings.

According to a separate DW story:

German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said Friday it was crucial that Berlin has a “coherent position” on the role of Saudi Arabia in the region.

The assessments by the BND that were published do not reflect this coherent position,” Seibert said. “Those who want progress on the pressing issues in the region, and there are many, need constructive relations with Saudi Arabia.”

Friday the German parliament approved the deployment of up to 1,200 soldiers against the Islamic State. The government mandate was endorsed by 445 parliamentarians, with 146 others voting against and seven abstaining.  This week the British House of Commons also endorsed military action against the Islamic State in Syria, the RAF launched its first attack hours later.

December 3, 2015

Learning from Trump

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on December 3, 2015

Today three things converged in a way that is pushing a new — for me — perspective.  This is mostly a personal post, so you are warned and welcomed to click away.  It is also a new perspective that will, I expect, have an influence on how I contribute to Homeland Security Watch.  I am wanting to be transparent.

I expect today’s “injects” had amplified influence given the context of the San Bernardino bloodbath. Then in recent weeks I have also been considerably involved in both Central American and Syrian refugee issues.  The ongoing engagement with such extreme violence and its consequences has, undoubtedly, caused me to listen — to hear and to feel — differently than before.

First:

Until this morning I had not heard what Donald Trump said yesterday, speaking to Fox and Friends.  This is the video at the top.  It is both what he said and how he said it that literally sickened me. It has long been clear that Mr. Trump is vulgar.  Prior comments have confirmed his ignorance, bigotry, and predisposition to violence.  In this Fox telephone interview he announces, “And the other thing is with the terrorists, you have to take out their families.” (The entire interview is disturbing, but it was about the 4:45 mark when I was physically repulsed.)

Second:

While on the train to Philadelphia I started getting emails from friends about Senator Lindsey Graham’s Thursday morning remarks to the Republican Jewish Coalition.  The South Carolina Presidential candidate immediately followed Ted Cruz and had heard some of Donald Trump’s earlier remarks to the RJC.  Mr. Graham was apparently inspired to depart from his planned text.  Following is what my friends quoted to me (I have not fact-checked).

“ISIL loves Donald Trump” (responding to yesterday’s kill their families tactic). “He (Trump) knows how to empower their base.”

“Why we lose has nothing to do with not being hard ass enough on immigration.”

“Winning this election is about repairing the damage done by incredibly hateful rhetoric driving a wall between us and the fastest growing demographic in America,”

“I believe Donald Trump is destroying the Republican Party’s chance at winning an election we cannot afford to lose.”

Apparently Cruz was also hit hard on other issues.  One of my friends commented, “Finally authenticity attached to a functioning brain.”  What I took away from multiple reports is that Mr. Graham was arguing that fear, exclusion, and self-righteousness are traps used by tyrants and those who want to be tyrants.  I still haven’t found a full version of the speech.  But this seems to coincide with news coverage.

Third:

I was still considering the contrast between the murderous vulgarity of Mr. Trump and Senator Graham’s experiment in spontaneity as I walked to my hotel.  That’s when the most important realization of the day hit me.

This morning, before catching the train, I was a panelist at a Washington DC policy discussion.  A woman for whom I have enormous respect was one of the principal organizers.  The speakers and other panelists were, like me, mostly the usual suspects: White House, DHS, FEMA, National Labs, academics, retired military, a few active, private sector.  A very large room was crowded.

The panelist who was at the other end of the table from me spoke second. I was fourth. His rhetoric and content was clearly not typical of Massachusetts Avenue panelists.  But I try to be atypical too.  It soon became clear that he perceives a catastrophic event is an issue of when not if.  He self-defined himself as a “prepper.”  Especially because all of this is not-typical (for DC), I was rather pleased he had been given a seat at the table.

But then he shared having had prior experience with a leading US bank where “at least a third of the executives were of Middle Eastern descent.” This was in the context of preconditions that he was setting out for catastrophic risk.  It quickly became clear that this is a man consumed by fear.

I was mostly embarrassed for my friend.  I wondered who had recommended this guy.

But no one challenged him. In particular, I failed to challenge him. Just as no one on Fox and Friends challenged Donald Trump on his readiness to purposefully kill women and children and others not known to be specific risks.

Where and when I was raised there was a well-known cohort of those in some way crazy.  Given that it was a very small town, in most cases the rest of us had an idea of what had driven them crazy. At some level — depending on the situation, more or less — we empathized.  In this context I was taught (perhaps learned too-well) to not respond directly to crazy talk.

In the case of this morning’s racist accusation I did not explicitly consider the option of challenging the comment until nearly three hours later, probably thanks to the bad example of Donald Trump and the good example of Lindsey Graham.  To notice the outrageous comment and not even consider responding is a complete ethical failure.

When and where I grew up public silence was combined with private engagement. This was a matter of dignity and diagnosis and social control. I’m sure it was sometimes abused.  But in my experience it mostly worked back then, back there.

Washington DC in 2015 is a very different place.

This is a time and place when fear, exclusion, and self-righteousness are being very widely deployed.  There is a need for courage and inclusion, without self-righteousness.  I’m guessing the third characteristic could actually be the most challenging.

So here’s the deal: for at least five months I have been on the edge of walking away from Homeland Security Watch.  I don’t really have the time.  It is good discipline.  But it’s been a very long time since I enjoyed it.

Maybe today’s epiphany gives me good cause to continue.

I have always thought the blog should be mostly about amplification, aggregation and a bit of analysis.  I have mostly wanted to avoid specific advocacy.  I am still not interested in partisan advocacy.  But it seems as if courage and inclusion need more advocates, especially in the context of homeland security.

 

November 20, 2015

Clinton at CFR

Filed under: Border Security,Immigration,Radicalization,Refugee Crisis,Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on November 20, 2015

Yesterday Hillary Clinton gave a speech and answered questions at the Council on Foreign Relations.  A transcript and video is available at the CFR website.

Here’s how she set up her remarks:

ISIS is demonstrating new ambition, reach, and capabilities. We have to break the group’s momentum, and then its back. Our goal is not to deter or contain ISIS but to defeat and destroy ISIS.

But we have learned that we can score victories over terrorist leaders and networks only to face metastasizing threats down the road. So we also have to play and win the long game. We should pursue a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy, one that embeds our mission against ISIS within a broader struggle against radical jihadism that is bigger than any one group, whether it’s al-Qaida or ISIS or some other network.

An immediate war against an urgent enemy and a generational struggle against an ideology with deep roots will not be easily torn out. It will require sustained commitment in every pillar of American power. This is a worldwide fight, and America must lead it.

Our strategy should have three main elements: one, defeat ISIS in Syria, Iraq, and across the Middle East; two, disrupt and dismantle the growing terrorist infrastructure that facilities the flow of fighters, financing arms, and propaganda around the world; three, harden our defenses and those of our allies against external and homegrown threats.

Mrs. Clinton proceeds with detailed, balanced, and well-argued analysis and recommendations.  Even one well-known conservative commented, “Candidate Clinton laid out a supple and sophisticated approach.”  It is worth reading — or at least listening — carefully.

While she did not give major attention to the issue of the US receiving Syrian refugees, given the political climate the presidential candidate’s comments could even be characterized as courageous. Below is part of what she said:

Since Paris, no homeland security challenge is being more hotly debated than how to handle Syrian refugees seeking safety in the United States. Our highest priority, of course, must always be protecting the American people. So, yes, we do need to be vigilant in screening and vetting any refugees from Syria, guided by the best judgment of our security professionals in close coordination with our allies and partners. And Congress needs to make sure the necessary resources are provided for comprehensive background checks, drawing on the best intelligence we can get. And we should be taking a close look at the safeguards and the visa programs as well.

But we cannot allow terrorists to intimidate us into abandoning our values and our humanitarian obligations. Turning away orphans, applying a religious test, discriminating against Muslims, slamming the door on every Syrian refugee—that is just not who we are. We are better than that. And remember, many of these refugees are fleeing the same terrorists who threaten us. It would be a cruel irony indeed if ISIS can force families from their homes, and then also prevent them from ever finding new ones. We should be doing more to ease this humanitarian crisis, not less. We should lead the international community in organizing a donor conference and supporting countries like Jordan, who are sheltering the majority of refugees fleeing Syria.

And we can get this right. America’s open, free, tolerant society is described by some as a vulnerability in the struggle against terrorism, but I actually believe it’s one of our strengths. It reduces the appeal of radicalism and enhances the richness and resilience of our communities.

–+–

A personal addendum: I have always wondered — worried, really — what I might have done (or perhaps not done) if I had been in Germany when the Nazis began their fear campaign against the Jews (and others), or if I could have encouraged the United States to accept more European refugees in the late 1930s, or if I had been in California when Americans placed fellow citizens of Japanese descent in our own concentration camps.  Right and wrong is so much easier retrospectively.

The House of Representatives has already voted to reject the victims of tyranny, hatred and war.  This is not surprising.  It reflects popular fear and the House was designed to mirror such sentiment.  We are certainly no better than our grandparents. I hope the Senate will act with wider and wiser consideration. But it will, apparently, be a close vote.  Courage and conscience are not major voting blocks.

In regard to receiving refugees, fear and concern ought not be dismissed.  But these are not our only or best options. American neglect and rejection of victims did not help avoid World War II and may have even encouraged those intent on the massacre of innocents.  The victimization of our own citizens was simply unnecessary and profoundly wrong.  In the current context, much of the ISIS strategy depends on the US and rest of the West rejecting the refugees and intimidating our Muslim citizens.

A world in which the stranger, widow and orphan are rejected is a place where none of us are safe.

November 17, 2015

Terrorism and the global war against indefinite pronouns

Filed under: International HLS,Radicalization,Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on November 17, 2015

HLSWATCH_DES MOINES DEBATE

The word-cloud was generated from a transcript of Saturday’s debate in Des Moines.

The “debate” was originally intended to focus on the economy. Given Friday night’s attack in Paris, the first twenty-five minutes were focused on the implications of that attack. The word-cloud pulled only from this initial portion. I also excised participant names and prepositions to highlight substance.

A contemporary political debate is not a graduate seminar.  It is not even a blog that can, if it decides, allow a couple of days for review, reflection, and revision.

But given the importance of this issue, with barely 24 hours elapsed between attacking and talking, the experience and aspirations of the three candidates, and the chance for an authentic exchange of views among them, Saturday night may be the best we get to assess how a large slice of the American political class frames the challenge.

What issue?  What challenge?  This remains unclear.

ISIS (not ISIL, btw) was the specific concern on Saturday.  Secretary Clinton said, “we have to look at ISIS as the leading threat of an international terror network.” Senator Sanders said, “Together, leading the world this country will rid our planet of… ISIS.”

Governor O’Malley did not disagree and emphasized, “ISIS, make no mistake about it, is an evil in this world.”   Mrs. Clinton was a bit more programmatic in her characterization, referring to “radical jihadist ideology.” Mr. Sanders offered, “I agree with much of what the secretary and the governor have said.”  He added (and then Mr. O’Malley piled on) that ISIS is the bastard child of the US invasion of Iraq.  Well, actually he said, “I don’t think any sensible person would disagree that the invasion of Iraq led to the massive level of instability we are seeing right now.”

I’m not sure that Mrs. Clinton disagrees, but she was keen to point to other contributing factors: “The Shia– Sunni split, the dictatorships that have suppressed people’s aspirations, the increasing globalization without any real safety valve for people to have a better life. We saw that in Egypt. We saw a dictator overthrown, we saw Muslim Brotherhood president installed and then we saw him ousted and the army back. So I think we’ve got to understand the complexity of the world that we are facing and no places more so than in the Middle East.”  There was even a point where the former Secretary of State may have been about to diagnose the origins of “jihadi extreme terrorism”, but I perceive she thought better of it and rather awkwardly turned another way.

This admittedly apophatic analysis is reinforced by a question the moderator, John Dickerson, posed to Mrs. Clinton a few minutes later: “You gave a speech at Georgetown University in which you said that it was important to show– quote– respect even for one’s enemy. Trying to understand and in so far as psychologically possible empathize with their perspective and point of view. Can you explain what that means in the context of this kind of barbarism?”

Given the context, I do not blame the candidate for choosing to emphasize, “… it’s very difficult when you deal with– ISIS and organizations like that whose–whose behavior is so barbaric and so vicious–that it doesn’t seem to have any purpose other than lust for killing and power.”  Indeed, given the context, I have some reluctant respect for her use of lawyerly qualifiers.

–+–

I could continue.  Linguistic analysis is a weird personal pleasure.  But if you did not inherit the gene, I recognize it soon becomes tedious. So some resulting judgments:

  • My initial impression of the Saturday performance was deep disappointment, almost disgust.
  • But careful sifting and reading exposed more coherence than a first hearing found.
  • In reading what was said it is possible to conceive — though seldom to confirm — presuppositions and predispositions that enlarge what was said.   In these between-the-line harmonies I encountered something much more complicated than the bombastic melody.
  • Nonetheless it remains a war march.  Whether the United States is leading or supporting and how differs with the specific composer.  But — as we see in the word-cloud — the consistent theme is: The World is at War with ISIS.
  • Moreover, this is — it seems to me — a rather old-fashioned composition:  Good versus Evil, us versus them, unconditional surrender, total victory, the score reaching a satisfying C major climax.  As Senator Sanders said, “they are a danger to modern society. And that this world with American leadership can and must come together to destroy them.”

I perceive this statement — which many other candidates Republican and Democrat echo — demonstrates a dangerous lack of understanding regarding the plural pronoun; something I have found treacherous in every language I have ever attempted. On Thursday I will try to make better sense of this indefinite.

–+–

On Monday at Versailles President Hollande sang a song very similar to Senator Sanders’.  After which the French Parliamentarians also sang. A less than stirring chorus, to my ear.

October 19, 2015

Homeland times (more than) two

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on October 19, 2015

Johnson_Dane_Hilary Swift_NYTPhotograph by Hilary Swift for the New York Times

Jeh Johnson, the Secretary of Homeland Security, had lunch recently with Claire Danes, star of “Homeland”.  Philip Galanes brought them together (above) for a piece printed in the Style section of the Sunday Times.

It strikes me as an odd invitation for the Secretary to accept.  But he is evidently a fan and, as explained in the feature, Mr. Johnson perceives that popular culture can do a great deal to shape the political context.

No breaking news that I recognized.  But it did cause me to look more carefully at yesterday’s edition of our “newspaper of record” for other homeland security related stories.

The magazine’s cover story is an exposé on the death of Osama bin Laden.  While a bit of a stretch, doesn’t anything dealing with bin Laden somehow touch homeland security?  That story is immediately followed by a two-page photo spread on confederate memorials in Richmond, Virginia.  What do you think?

The first section of Sunday’s paper has plenty on Israeli-Palestinian tensions, Hindu nationalism, the war in Syria, refugees in Europe, and a Mexican drug lord.  In their current form none of these reports quite strike me as speaking to the homeland.  But there is a follow-up on the mass shooting at Umpqua Community College.  That counts, wouldn’t you agree?

The business section’s big lead is on the head of the International Association of Fire Fighters.  Recently I have argued here for greater involvement by homeland security professionals in policy/strategy development.  The IAFF does so.  The NYT tells how.

Racial discrimination in housing is the topic of Sunday’s lead editorial.  The Sunday Review also includes an essay on how recent scientific studies show (again) “how easily we can be fooled by our belief in patterns.” Then there’s a piece on how Americans no longer learn to actively listen.  These issues strike me as having profound implications for what I frame as homeland security. But I expect many of you would disagree.

The sports section confirms we are closing in on the World Series (a National Special Security Event).

Scanning the travel section my synapses fired on several terrorism or counterterrorism possibilities.  Did you see the recent article claiming paranoia is good?

In an interview with Steven Spielberg we read:

So many things were in my mind in the contemporary world. Drone missions. Guantanamo Bay. Cyberhacking, because cyberhacking is a form of spying…  And yet today, there is much more dread and fear of who’s looking over our shoulders.  There was a specific enemy, the Soviet Union, in the the 1950s and ’60s. Today we don’t know our enemy.  The enemy doesn’t have a specific face.

The Book Review tells us about a post-catastrophe novel, a non-fiction “biography” of weather, a couple of thrillers involving “China is ascendant, Russia is on a real estate acquisition binge, the Middle East is aflame…”  There are also two new texts on “how we make sense of a complex world and try to predict its future.”

Any of the above strike you as homeland security stories?  Sorry, nothing that I saw on floods, droughts, grid-failures, earthquakes, cyclones, current epidemics, or even supply chains. Maybe I missed something, will look more carefully on the plane tomorrow.

I’ve been invited to write a chapter for a new text on national security. Saturday I was reading complaints by several scholars regarding how there is no consistent definition of national security.  If so, maybe the President is right when he insists, “Homeland Security is indistinguishable from National Security…”

But isn’t the Claire Danes character a CIA agent?  She should be having lunch with John Brennan not Jeh.

June 3, 2015

Don’t Sleep on MERS

Filed under: Public Health & Medical Care — by Arnold Bogis on June 3, 2015

In the wake of an overblown reaction to Ebola (in the U.S.), the public might be a little tired of hearing about the next dire threat to everyone’s public health.  Hopefully some are paying attention to the actions taken by the South Korean government in an effort to prevent a wide outbreak of MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus) in that country:

South Korea scrambled Wednesday to try to contain an outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome, a virus that has already claimed two lives in the country, with more than 1,300 people quarantined and upwards of 500 schools set to close their doors Thursday.

Two people have died from MERS in South Korea, while 28 others have been confirmed as having the virus, five of them on Wednesday alone. This makes the outbreak the largest outside Saudi Arabia, where MERS began three years ago, the World Health Organization said, warning that “further cases can be expected.”

Another 398 cases are suspected and a total of 1,364 more people have been quarantined, the vast majority of them at home.

As public health experts strained to explain during the height of Ebola concern in this country, and what was proven during the SARS outbreak earlier this century, it is impossible to close borders and prevent a disease from spreading globally.  On that scary notion, there is worry that MERS has spread to China:

Meanwhile, Chinese authorities quarantined 88 people, including 14 South Koreans, after a 44-year-old South Korean man, the son of one of the people who has contracted the virus, defied medical advice and flew to Hong Kong on May 26 while he had symptoms of the virus. He then traveled to the southern Chinese province of Guangdong by bus.

China informed WHO on May 29 that the man had tested positive for the virus and had been isolated at a hospital in Huizhou, Guangdong, while Chinese authorities try to track down other people who might have been exposed.

If you haven’t followed earlier news about this emerging infectious disease that originated in the Middle East, here is a little background provided by the CDC:

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is an illness caused by a virus (more specifically, a coronavirus) called Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV). MERS affects the respiratory system (lungs and breathing tubes). Most MERS patients developed severe acute respiratory illness with symptoms of fever, cough and shortness of breath. About 3-4 out of every 10 patients reported with MERS have died.

Health officials first reported the disease in Saudi Arabia in September 2012. Through retrospective investigations, health officials later identified that the first known cases of MERS occurred in Jordan in April 2012. So far, all cases of MERS have been linked to countries in and near the Arabian Peninsula.

MERS-CoV has spread from ill people to others through close contact, such as caring for or living with an infected person. However, there is no evidence of sustained spreading in community settings.

MERS can affect anyone. MERS patients have ranged in age from younger than 1 to 99 years old.

 

May 12, 2015

The Evolving Islamic State Threat

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Mike Walker on May 12, 2015

Note: The following is based on a May 11, 2015, series of tweets by Mike Walker who tweets as @New_Narrative


Former CIA acting director Mike Morell says it is only a matter of time until the Islamic State (IS) attempts another 9-11.  He is correct. It is also past time for policymakers to level with Americans about the true nature of the IS threat.

Last year, when the IS took a swath of territory in Iraq & Syria the size of the UK, analysts said we had nothing to fear here in the United States.  They believed IS to be a regional Middle Eastern threat focused solely on advancing their so-called “caliphate”.  Based on that analysis, policymakers embarked on a slow-motion air war that would not defeat IS for years.

Unfortunately the analysts were wrong.  The IS group is not only focused on building and sustaining their caliphate; they are especially focused on creating an apocalyptic clash of civilizations.  Last August, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said IS leaders have an “end of days” strategic vision.

Based on centuries-old prophecy, IS leaders foresee a coming final battle with “infidel” forces at Dabiq in northern Syria.  They even named their English language magazine “Dabiq” to emphasize their commitment to this apocalyptic vision.

In recent months, IS has rapidly expanded outside their self-proclaimed caliphate, establishing cells in more than a dozen countries.  They are even challenging the Taliban in Afghanistan; and growing strength in Libya from where they plan to attack Europe.

Here at home, in just the last 4 months, more than 30 people have been arrested on IS terror-related charges.  Analysts who earlier said IS was only focused on building its caliphate are now saying “lone wolves” are the problem.

The DHS secretary warned Sunday that lone wolf attackers could strike the US at any time without warning.  No doubt, there will be more Garland-type attacks.  The IS has been promoting homegrown terror in the US for some time.  In fact, the FBI director says IS recruiters could now be in touch with thousands of potential followers inside the US.

But promoting self-starting lone wolves is only one aspect of an evolving Islamic State threat.  Jihadist ideologue Abu Mus’ab al-Suri wrote the blueprint for a global jihadist movement in 2005.  Central to his voluminous doctrine was a message to the West that “you cannot defeat us if we are everywhere”.  It is clear the IS group is unleashing an “everywhere” strategy.

Al-Suri also said that encouraging self-starters was only part of a global plan for violent jihadist victory.  He also supported accelerating the apocalypse, and criticized bin Laden over 9-11 because the attack wasn’t big enough.

Today, Western policymakers have wisely decided not to put our own “boots on the ground” against the IS.  The IS group wants the West to intervene on the ground so they can fulfill that prophecy.  No doubt IS leaders have looked at the history of global violent jihad and concluded that 9-11 was a watershed event.  They may now believe the US would respond to another 9-11 with boots on the ground like we did in 2001.

Yet, Western analysts insist the real threat to the US homeland continues to be al-Qaeda (AQ) and its affiliate, AQAP.  No doubt AQ would like to be the main threat to the United Stays, but they are way short of financial resources and talent.  And our counter-terrorism war against AQ overseas has greatly diminished their capacity to effectively attack.

Today, it must be acknowledged that the terrorist threat is far more complex than it was after 9-11.  In 2015, it is the IS that is well funded and has captured the imagination of a new generation of eager violent jihadists.  Thousands of Western Europeans and perhaps hundreds of Americans have already joined the IS cause.

Last week, the IS claimed to have sleeper cells in 15 American states poised to strike.  That’s IS propaganda for sure, but a well-financed group with a growing cadre of Westerners cannot be discounted.

In recent weeks we have also been seeing an IS social media campaign entitled #WeWillBurnAmericaAgain.  Words are cheap, but you don’t have to be an analyst to understand they are talking about another 9-11.

Of course, the next 9-11 doesn’t have to be a spectacular attack like 2001, but could be simpler attacks in many locations.  All terrorists need today are assault rifles and a little luck.  Would such a terrorist swarm equal another 9-11?

The FBI has honestly reported they worry about what they don’t know.  It is a matter of resources.  The reality is that “thousands of contacts” cannot be monitored in real time as we saw in Garland, Texas.

Rumor has it that the IS leader, al-Baghdadi, has been severely injured and has named a temporary successor.  If true, it demonstrates the continuing durability of the IS group, not its fragility.  And if the interim leader is indeed Abu Alaa Afri, the future of the IS group could become even more interesting.

Not much is known about Afri, but he is believed to have had the confidence of Osama bin Laden himself.  Bin Laden is revered in the IS group as he is in al-Qaeda.  In fact, IS insists AQ’s leaders have betrayed bin Laden.

Few believe a merger between al-Qaeda and the IS group is very likely.  Some very hard feelings have yet to soften.  IS may not need such an alliance, anyway, as they are gaining supporters from even AQ’s closest affiliate, AQAP.  But analysts cannot completely rule out some sort of an alliance, perhaps with AQ’s al-Nusra in Syria.

Some say the IS threat to the US homeland is being overblown, despite IS’ ability to attract thousands of followers.  Many believe the IS cannot pull off the equivalent of another 9-11, and that they are already being rolled back in Iraq.  Yet, most analysts do agree on one thing: the IS group will not be defeated in Iraq for years, if ever in Syria.  As long as the IS group holds territory and maintains the facade of a caliphate, they will represent a growing threat.

If the FBI is maxed out, will state and local law enforcement be able to prevent an Islamic State 9-11?

More broadly, how do we defeat the IS group without putting “boots on the ground” as IS leaders want us to do?

And if we defeat IS militarily overseas, how do we prevent another al-Qaeda or Islamic State from rising up again?

Policymakers should address these important questions before the next successful attack.


(Mike Walker is a former acting secretary of the Army and former deputy director of FEMA)

 

 

 

 

 

 

April 15, 2015

Oklahoma and Boston

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on April 15, 2015

The 20th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing of the Murrah Federal Building seems to be approaching with little interest (outside of this blog, of course).

The second anniversary of the Boston Marathon Bombing seems to be have passed with little interest outside of New England.

What do they have in common? What differentiates the two events?

Chris did a superb job of expressing the assumed role of Muslims in the Oklahoma attack:

The betting here is on Middle East terrorists,” declared CBS News‘ Jim Stewart just hours after the blast (4/19/95).

What does that matter regarding Boston, since the attackers were Muslim?

Nothing, actually.

What concerns me most about the current discussion centered on terrorism is the central role that religion plays.  If the perpetrators of some violence are Muslim, terrorism is assumed.  If they are Christian, (or fill in the blank with some non-Muslim demonitation here)

 

April 13, 2015

Twenty years from Oklahoma

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Christopher Bellavita on April 13, 2015

On April 19th, 1995 I was walking around the muddy fields of the Georgia International Horse Park in Conyers, Georgia when the rented Ryder truck exploded outside the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. It was 10:02 in Georgia. 9:02 in Oklahoma.

One hundred and sixty-seven people were murdered that day. More than 600 were injured.

This Sunday marks 20 years.


I was part of an Olympic security exercise.  My memory is partial, but I think the main exercise event promised ATF would blow up a car. Twenty years ago that was a big deal.

FBI agents were the first ones to tell us about the Oklahoma events. About a dozen federal agents were participating in the exercise. Most of the time those agency representatives — like rabid football fans – could not stand the people from other agencies.  But on that day, when they heard the news their first concern – to a man (they were all men) – was who from their agency, from anyone’s agency, was in that building.

I think that was the first time I saw public safety agencies come together as a community.

I’ve seen it happen a lot since then, but that was the first time.


I remember almost everyone knowing with all but moral certainty that Muslims were behind the attack.

The betting here is on Middle East terrorists,” declared CBS News‘ Jim Stewart just hours after the blast (4/19/95). “The fact that it was such a powerful bomb in Oklahoma City immediately drew investigators to consider deadly parallels that all have roots in the Middle East,” ABC‘s John McWethy proclaimed the same day.“It has every single earmark of the Islamic car-bombers of the Middle East,” wrote syndicated columnist Georgie Anne Geyer (Chicago Tribune, 4/21/95). “Whatever we are doing to destroy Mideast terrorism, the chief terrorist threat against Americans, has not been working,” declared the New York Times‘ A.M. Rosenthal (4/21/95)….  “Knowing that the car bomb indicates Middle Eastern terrorists at work, it’s safe to assume that their goal is to promote free-floating fear and a measure of anarchy, thereby disrupting American life,” the New York Post editorialized (4/20/95)….. An op-ed in New York Newsday by Jeff Kamen (4/20/95) complained that officials had ignored “a sizable community of Islamic fundamentalist militants in Oklahoma City,” and urged that military special forces be used against “potential terrorists”: “Shoot them now, before they get us,” he demanded. Syndicated columnist Mike Royko wrote (Chicago Tribune, 4/21/95): “I would have no objection if we picked out a country that is a likely suspect and bombed some oil fields, refineries, bridges, highways, industrial complexes. . . . If it happens to be the wrong country, well, too bad, but it’s likely it did something to deserve it anyway.”

Except for Twilight Zone episode Number 22, called The Monsters are Due on Maple Street, I believe that was the first time I saw so many opinion leaders go so uniformly crazy, so quickly.

I’ve seen it happen many times since.  I expect it to happen again.


Edye Lucas was a 22 year old single mother of two boys, Chase (2 years old)  and Colton (3 years old). Lucas worked in the Murrah Building IRS office.

[She] only intended on being up at the office for a little bit to celebrate her upcoming birthday with co-workers. So, she dropped Chase and Colton at the American Kids daycare, planning on only keeping them there part of the day. She remembered walking to the conference room to blow out the candles on her birthday cake when the bomb went off….

“I look back now and I think why didn’t I just stay home,” said Lucas [two weeks ago]. “ Why? Could have, would have, should have – and I didn’t. And what happened, happened.”

“The outpouring of love and compassion from everyone was amazing.” Lucas said that is what helped her and others heal and move on. And to remind them that they are not alone, and that their loved ones will never be forgotten.

She said both the [Oklahoma City National Memorial]…and the museum are a testament to that. And Lucas said she often finds little tokens left behind along the fence or on the chairs for Chase and Colton. And that makes her smile.

“It’s sacred ground,” said Lucas. “And it’s such an honor to have that to memorialize my children forever and ever because it’s going to be there forever.”


Somerset Maugham told this story sometime in the 1930s.  The speaker is Death:

There was a merchant in Bagdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture, now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me.

The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went.

Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, Why did you make a threating getsture to my servant when you saw him this morning?

That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Bagdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.

March 31, 2015

Germanwings as mediated terrorism

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Christopher Bellavita on March 31, 2015

I listened – if that’s the right word – to a social media conversation last week about the Germanwings Flight 9525 crash.

The discussants were four colleagues who have been around homeland security for over a decade. The discussion took place at various times on March 26th and 27th, as news and speculations about what happened and why trickled through the Internet.

Here’s some of that discursive conversation, lightly edited

———————————————

Person A. So, the French procureur just said that crashing a plane to the ground and killing more than 100+ innocent people is not an act of terrorism….thoughts? ( I know, I know… I am opening the can of worms of “define terrorism” but this seems to be a good reason to open it.)

Person B. This is easy! If he’s Muslim it’s terrorism. If he’s Christian it’s mental illness.

Person C. Can an act be deemed terrorism if the affected population isn’t terrorized? Any reports of Europeans en masse opting not to fly for fear on inadequate pilot screening procedures?

B. The first 19 Aum Shinrikyo attacks failed to terrorize the population too.

C. Yet, that incident is widely referred to as an act of terrorism…at least by the host government officials.

A. This just happened: ggreenwald It’s the definition. RT @AliAbunimah BBC just said Germanwings pilots “was German. Not a known terrorist.” They really do go by ethnicity.

A. Parents are still sending kids to school after sandy hook…..  But it is scary as hell!

C. Two things strike me as odd about this latest plane crash. 1) if the lone pilot was pursuing a murder-suicide plot, why fly the plane on into a mountain? Major urban areas were nearby and he had a near full load of fuel to get him to these areas. 2) why hasn’t AQ or ISIS claimed credit for the incident. Even if they had nothing to do with the pilot it could cause short-term terror in some.

A. I guess the question that troubles me here is, why do we need a big political motif as motivation? The imbecile in Santa Barbara killed 6 people because he could not get a date. That does not make his bullets less real. 100+ people are dead in an aviation suicide attack. Why are their deaths less “terrorist related” than those of the victims of 9/11?

B. Because the political motivation impacts the funding steam.  Did you know that the Santa Barbara shooter shot one of our colleague’s daughters through the hoody? He also shot her boyfriend.

A. Did both survive? (say yes).

B. Yes

B. Are you saying violence = terrorism?

A. Violence with an audience to send a message (even if the message is trivial) = terrorism.

B. Those impacted are just as traumatized.

A. Ritualized killings to provoke a reaction in an audience = terrorism. It does not have to be about Palestine. It may be about getting laid, or telling the department of veteran affairs “fuck you” or, whatever sick excuse.

C. What is the motivation of the perpetrator? Killers of people to scare other people that others are pursuing a like agenda = terrorism. Kill lots of people because you are having a difficult time adjusting to societal norms = mass murder.

B. But you aren’t saying it’s an excuse. You are saying it is the motivation. Some violence is good right? When we do the violence to send a message. Right?

A. It is its public nature.

B. When the state says fuck you and uses violence that is legit.

A. Carpet bombing Dresden or the Blitz killed a lot of people, but it was not a ritualized act.

B. My ass it wasn’t.

A. Instead, it had a strategic objective.

C. Violence may not be good but it is necessary.

B. It may have been less personal but it sent the message intended

A. (it was also a ritualized act) but not only. The objective was to limit the military capacities of the other to kick my butt.

B. And Hiroshima and Nagasaki did exactly what it was to do re: Russia? Really?

A. I had written something about Big Boy, and I deleted it, because the bomb was a ritualized act!

B. That may have been an additional benefit but our violence is often intended to send a message, take for instance the conventional fire bombings in Japan. Or Doolittle’s raid.

A. So, if I am pissed off with the IRS (I am not) and go and kill 40 accountants, in an IRS building, that is not terrorism?

B. Yep I’d say it definitely is terrorism.

A. So, if I am pissed off with girls because I cannot get a date, and I go and kill 10 girls is that terorism?

B. Refer to my initial statement about Muslim v Christian: If he’s Muslim it’s terrorism. If he’s Christian it’s mental illness.

C. Why is it terrorism?

A. That is my question, why is it not? Students in Santa Barbara are scared to go back to college.

A. And clearly there was an audience, and he even has a crappy manifesto.

C. Finals exams are due to start soon.

B. This is nature’s terrorism…now I’m afraid of the sky
nature's terrorism

A. Suicide: I jump from the golden gate. Got it. Terrorism: I kill 3000 to send a political message .

C. Was he trying to change the policies of the country or simply exacting revenge for a perceived wrong?

A.Who says that terrorism is about changing policies? That is, I think, the core of the divergence. Not all political acts are about changing policies.

C. Agreed.

B. Political or social change influence …

A. Fear.

B. Not necessarily policies.

A. To produce fear among those I despise.

B. Or just a broader audience beyond those directly impacted by the violence.

C. Correct. Just as not all mass killings are terrorism.

A. Fear, audience, death. I can agree with those.

B. But I believe there is state terror too. Not just sponsorship terror

C. So there must be death for it to be deemed an act of terrorism?

B. David Claridge made a great argument for this (even though I’m not a fan, he was right about this).

C. What about maiming or the threat of death?

B. No, threat is ok too.

A. Pain and suffering work too. Torture.

A. Ok. if we cannot agree on a definition, I’ll take the “keywords” we did agree on as a common denominator.

[break]

C. Okay, let me get this straight. We are fighting alongside Iran in Iraq, fighting against Iran (proxy) in Yemen, and negotiating with them regarding acceptable nuclear capabilities?

A. I don’t know anymore against who we are fighting in the middle east. :)

C. Everyone is the correct answer

A. I think this answers your question about who are we fighting in the middle east :) http://thedailyshow.cc.com/videos/1xg427/wait–whose-side-are-we-on-again-?xrs=synd_facebook_032715_tds_2

[The link connects to a Daily Show episode whose conclusion is the US has finally found a way to fight a proxy war against itself.  But back to the other topic.] 

Person D. [joining the conversation] Terrorism = violence or the threat of violence that is perceived as undermining state sovereignty or the ability of the economy and/or society to function. I.e., Germanwings was not terrorism but rather an act of mass murder and a terrible tragedy.

A. Another definition throws its hat to the ring! :) Only a credible challenge to the state sovereignty?

D. Why can’t these guys who want to off themselves just do it without murdering innocents in the process?

A. Given the fact that my mother in law is terrorized to fly right now, I will still call Germanwings a case of terror.

D. It doesn’t have to actually be credible, just perceived as such. Terrorism produces exaggerated fear.

A. So, is Aurora or Sandy Hook not terror?

D. Not perceived as a threat to sovereignty, society, and the economy. Now a wave of mass shootings at movie theaters or schools could then be perceived as such. But it would also need to be seen as non-random.

A. I see in our future a post where [everyone who works here] answers the question: what is terrorism? I know we will get as many answers as we have [people who think about this], and that will add to the concert of others who have also answered the question. Still…..

D. Ok by me as long as you all agree in the end that I am right!

A. We are not aiming for consensus, but to look for the edges of the debate. That said, once we have X definitions, we may want to see if they can be “merged” in a lower common denominator, ala wikipedia, or if they can’t, to see where the deal breakers are. Could be a nice exercise. And it does not need to be permanent. We could update every time our thoughts on the topic evolve. I know that what I think terror and terrorism is today is different to what I used to think about the topic a few years ago.

A. I’m also having a similar conversation with [other people on a different social network platform]. We came to a conclusion…. :) instead of ruling out terrorism, as this seems to be a point of debate, we could agree (if that is the case): “at this point, the attack does not seem to have a political or religious motif.”

C. Agreed. All signs point to the co-pilot having diagnosed emotional issues. So how many other post 9/11 security fixes can or could lead to unintended consequences? http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/andreas-lubitz-kneejerk-reaction-to-911-enabled-mass-murder-10137173.html

[This link leads to a story that starts with: “A leading aviation security expert has condemned the rules on cockpit access as a “knee-jerk reaction to the events of 9/11” – which, he says, enabled the Germanwings co-pilot to commit the mass murder of the 149 other people on Flight 4U 9525.]

A. It is terrorism, right? :-) http://speisa.com/modules/articles/index.php/item.1086/the-co-pilot-of-the-germanwings-airbus-was-a-convert-to-islam.html

You can’t make this stuff up.

[This link — from one of the wondrous universes that inhabit the Internet – says (in an English translation of German), “All evidence indicates that the copilot of Airbus machine in his six-months break during his training as a pilot in Germanwings, converted to Islam and subsequently either by the order of “radical”, ie. devout Muslims , or received the order from the book of terror, the Quran, on his own accord decided to carry out this mass murder. As a radical mosque in Bremen is in the center of the investigation, in which the convert was staying often, it can be assumed that he – as Mohammed Atta, in the attack against New York – received his instructions directly from the immediate vicinity of the mosque.”]

C. He was converted posthumously.

A. So, is it terrorism now? http://www.liberation.fr/monde/2015/03/27/crash-a320-le-copilote-voulait-que-tout-le-monde-connaisse-son-nom_1230090
“One day everybody will know my name, I am going to change the system and everybody will remember me?” the pilot said to his girlfriend.
Is he trying to build a caliphate? No. But as we discussed before, killing 150 is hardly a suicide. He knew he was broadcasting to an audience, and he wants to make his mark in history books.
This is a powerful motivator…. A huge one actually among hackers, for example. A 17 year old who can hack a nuclear reactor will do it to prove he can….and kill somebody in the process.

February 23, 2015

Cyber: making national security personal

Filed under: Cybersecurity — by Arnold Bogis on February 23, 2015

David  Sanger writes in today’s New York Times of the escalating cyber conflict between the United States and Iran:

A newly disclosed National Security Agency document illustrates the striking acceleration of the use of cyberweapons by the United States and Iran against each other, both for spying and sabotage, even as Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart met in Geneva to try to break a stalemate in the talks over Iran’s disputed nuclear program.

With all the talk about the threat of cyber theft, attack, and even warfare, we should remember that it isn’t a one way street.  Or, in other words, something only done to us:

It detailed how the United States and Britain had worked together to contain the damage from “Iran’s discovery of computer network exploitation tools” — the building blocks of cyberweapons. That was more than two years after the Stuxnet worm attack by the United States and Israel severely damaged the computer networks at Tehran’s nuclear enrichment plant.

The United States is undeniably the sole superpower.  Unsurpassed in military and economic might. Yet, apparently, we are still seduced by tools that seem to promise big bang for the buck:

“The potential cost of using nuclear weapons was so high that no one felt they could afford to use them,” said David J. Rothkopf, the author of “National Insecurity,” a new study of strategic decisions made by several American administrations. But the cost of using cyberweapons is seemingly so low, Mr. Rothkopf said, that “we seem to feel we can’t afford not to use them” and that “many may feel they can’t afford ever to stop.”

The problem is, unlike nuclear weapons, other states and non-state actors are similarly not restrained in employing cyber tools.  Even if, for the time being, they aren’t particularly sophisticated:

The main targets were the websites of Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase. By 2015 standards, those were relatively unsophisticated “denial of service” strikes that flooded the banks with data, so overloading them it was impossible for a time for customers to access their accounts.

What struck me about this article was that last bit. Sure, there are a lot of issues in the cyber domain involved with deterrence, attribution, escalation, and other issues of doctrine.  However what is new, to the United States at least, is that this form of conflict may connect national security and other foreign policy decisions with the everyday lives of Americans in a way that probably hasn’t existed for decades.

For so long, perhaps even during the Cold War but definitely following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States has acted with relative impunity around the world. The costs of our involvement in far flung engagements ranging from special forces deployments in Africa to full on war in the Middle East have not been transferred to the American population writ large.  Reasons for this range from our practical conventional military invincibility (at least when it comes to state actors, not insurgencies…) to an enormous nuclear deterrent (which keeps us out of serious conflicts with Russia and China) to an all volunteer force that has become an incredibly lethal and capable machine, but one removed from most Americans’ everyday lives. Even the reluctance of our elected leaders to pay for these actions through anything but borrowing against the future, rather than taxing in the present.

What’s different about cyber is that the U.S., or any other nation, has yet to demonstrate or develop dominance in this space.  We haven’t yet figured out how to deter various levels of cyber incidents.  We haven’t yet been able to articulate, never mind enforce or coerce acceptance, of “rules of cyber war” or their equivalent.  So what has resulted is an ever shifting landscape where Iran can (for now simply) inconvenience U.S. citizens in retaliation for our cyber attack on their uranium enrichment equipment. But how far off in the future is it when they can do more than simply inconvenience us?  Was that their current limit of capability or simply a warning shot across our cyber bow?  How soon until they are able to mine our systems for personal data that can be sold or simply given to malicious third party actors?

This potential to affect the lives of U.S. citizens in such a manner could very well bring into sharper focus our nation’s national security and foreign policy choices for a much broader audience than is currently engaged. Sure, the public likes the veneer in foreign policy of both competence (usually defined as the perception that every other country is doing what the U.S. wishes it would do, regardless of their own national interests) and strength (usually defined as talking tough/occasionally dropping bombs on other countries).

What changes when they perceive they have a lot more skin in the game?  Will elected officials be pressed as to what really are U.S. national security interests vis-a-vis an Iranian nuclear program?  Today, it sounds scary – Iranians are crazy, developing missiles, and want to wipe Israel off the map.  But if you, your parents’, and your neighbors’ financial or medical security and privacy are at stake, what will be identified as the most important threat – an unrealized nuclear program halfway across the world or loosing control of your own personal life?

After that threshold is crossed, what events or global security situations will be reconsidered in the same light?

National security is about to get personal very soon.

February 19, 2015

Bending the narrative

Filed under: Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on February 19, 2015

Here is what I consider the center-of-gravity in the argument made by the President in closing yesterday’s White House summit. His full remarks are available from the White House website.

–+–

… We are here today because of a very specific challenge  — and that’s countering violent extremism, something that is not just a matter of military affairs.  By “violent extremism,” we don’t just mean the terrorists who are killing innocent people.  We also mean the ideologies, the infrastructure of extremists –the propagandists, the recruiters, the funders who radicalize and recruit or incite people to violence.  We all know there is no one profile of a violent extremist or terrorist, so there’s no way to predict who will become radicalized.  Around the world, and here in the United States, inexcusable acts of violence have been committed against people of different faiths, by people of different faiths — which is, of course, a betrayal of all our faiths.  It’s not unique to one group, or to one geography, or one period of time.

But we are here at this summit because of the urgent threat from groups like al Qaeda and ISIL.  And this week we are focused on prevention — preventing these groups from radicalizing, recruiting or inspiring others to violence in the first place.  I’ve called upon governments to come to the United Nations this fall with concrete steps that we can take together.  And today, what I want to do is suggest several areas where I believe we can concentrate our efforts.

First, we have to confront squarely and honestly the twisted ideologies that these terrorist groups use to incite people to violence.  Leading up to this summit, there’s been a fair amount of debate in the press and among pundits about the words we use to describe and frame this challenge.  So I want to be very clear about how I see it.

Al Qaeda and ISIL and groups like it are desperate for legitimacy.  They try to portray themselves as religious leaders — holy warriors in defense of Islam.  That’s why ISIL presumes to declare itself the “Islamic State.”  And they propagate the notion that America — and the West, generally — is at war with Islam.  That’s how they recruit.  That’s how they try to radicalize young people.  We must never accept the premise that they put forward, because it is a lie.  Nor should we grant these terrorists the religious legitimacy that they seek.  They are not religious leaders — they’re terrorists.  And we are not at war with Islam.  We are at war with people who have perverted Islam.

Now, just as those of us outside Muslim communities need to reject the terrorist narrative that the West and Islam are in conflict, or modern life and Islam are in conflict, I also believe that Muslim communities have a responsibility as well.  Al Qaeda and ISIL do draw, selectively, from the Islamic texts.  They do depend upon the misperception around the world that they speak in some fashion for people of the Muslim faith, that Islam is somehow inherently violent, that there is some sort of clash of civilizations.

Of course, the terrorists do not speak for over a billion Muslims who reject their hateful ideology.  They no more represent Islam than any madman who kills innocents in the name of God represents Christianity or Judaism or Buddhism or Hinduism.  No religion is responsible for terrorism.  People are responsible for violence and terrorism.

And to their credit, there are respected Muslim clerics and scholars not just here in the United States but around the world who push back on this twisted interpretation of their faith.  They want to make very clear what Islam stands for.  And we’re joined by some of these leaders today.  These religious leaders and scholars preach that Islam calls for peace and for justice, and tolerance toward others; that terrorism is prohibited; that the Koran says whoever kills an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind.  Those are the voices that represent over a billion people around the world.

But if we are going to effectively isolate terrorists, if we’re going to address the challenge of their efforts to recruit our young people, if we’re going to lift up the voices of tolerance and pluralism within the Muslim community, then we’ve got to acknowledge that their job is made harder by a broader narrative that does exist in many Muslim communities around the world that suggests the West is at odds with Islam in some fashion.

The reality — which, again, many Muslim leaders have spoken to — is that there’s a strain of thought that doesn’t embrace ISIL’s tactics, doesn’t embrace violence, but does buy into the notion that the Muslim world has suffered historical grievances  — sometimes that’s accurate — does buy into the belief that so many of the ills in the Middle East flow from a history of colonialism or conspiracy; does buy into the idea that Islam is incompatible with modernity or tolerance, or that it’s been polluted by Western values.

So those beliefs exist.  In some communities around the world they are widespread.  And so it makes individuals — especially young people who already may be disaffected or alienated — more ripe for radicalization.  And so we’ve got to be able to talk honestly about those issues.  We’ve got to be much more clear about how we’re rejecting certain ideas.

So just as leaders like myself reject the notion that terrorists like ISIL genuinely represent Islam, Muslim leaders need to do more to discredit the notion that our nations are determined to suppress Islam, that there’s an inherent clash in civilizations.  Everybody has to speak up very clearly that no matter what the grievance, violence against innocents doesn’t defend Islam or Muslims, it damages Islam and Muslims.

And when all of us, together, are doing our part to reject the narratives of violent extremists, when all of us are doing our part to be very clear about the fact that there are certain universal precepts and values that need to be respected in this interconnected world, that’s the beginnings of a partnership.

As we go forward, we need to find new ways to amplify the voices of peace and tolerance and inclusion — and we especially need to do it online.  We also need to lift up the voices of those who know the hypocrisy of groups like ISIL firsthand, including former extremists.  Their words speak to us today.  And I know in some of the discussions these voices have been raised: “I witnessed horrible crimes committed by ISIS.”  “It’s not a revolution or jihad…it’s a slaughter…I was shocked by what I did.”  “This isn’t what we came for, to kill other Muslims.”  “I’m 28 — is this the only future I’m able to imagine?”  That’s the voice of so many who were temporarily radicalized and then saw the truth.  And they’ve warned other young people not to make the same mistakes as they did.  “Do not run after illusions.”  “Do not be deceived.”  “Do not give up your life for nothing.”  We need to lift up those voices.

And in all this work, the greatest resource are communities themselves, especially like those young people who are here today.  We are joined by talented young men and women who are pioneering new innovations, and new social media tools, and new ways to reach young people.  We’re joined by leaders from the private sector, including high-tech companies, who want to support your efforts.  And I want to challenge all of us to build new partnerships that unleash the talents and creativity of young people — young Muslims — not just to expose the lies of extremists but to empower youth to service, and to lift up people’s lives here in America and around the world.  And that can be a calling for your generation.

MORE.

Next Page »