Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

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.


January 22, 2015

“Countering violent extremism”

Filed under: International HLS,Radicalization,State and Local HLS,Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on January 22, 2015

Wednesday the French Prime Minister and other ministers announced several “exceptional” counter-terrorism measures. (Complete remarks in French) (Summary in English) (Reporting by The Guardian)

  • Increased protective services, especially of Jewish and Muslim places of worship.
  • Increased staffing of intelligence functions and a new legal framework for domestic intelligence operations.
  • Increased investments to counter radicalization, especially in prisons, via the Internet and in the community.
  • Increased measures to target and track specific individuals convicted or “accused” of terrorism.
  • Increased efforts, in coordination with the European Union and its member states, to implement effective border controls for the Schengen area.

The summary of the ministerial briefing provided by the French embassy in Washington DC notes, “a file containing the names of all individuals convicted or accused of terrorist acts will be created. These individuals must provide proof of their address at regular intervals and provide notification of any change of address or trips abroad. Failure to comply with these provisions will constitute an offence.” Please note convicted or accused.

Also highlighted at the ministerial briefing — though not actually discussed in any detail — was a government report released on Monday: “Une école qui porte haut les valeurs de la République” (A school that promotes the values of the Republic).

This begins to suggest “soft power” tools the French government will attempt to strengthen to counter radicalization.  The “School of the Republic” concept goes back to the 1789 Revolution and is especially associated with the Third Republic (1870-1940).  The focus has always been on unifying France around core Republican values.

According to the report, included in the priorities for a school that “carries the banner” for the Republic are (my translation):

  • First, secularism with new content related to moral and civic education, but also lay teaching about religions; with a massive effort of continuing education for teachers and operational support to teams in difficulty.
  • Second, reducing educational inequalities: to strengthen the sense of belonging to the Republic by all students, this will require new measures in favor of diversity and social mobility.
  • Finally, the mobilization of all national education partners, and primarily the parents of students: measures to develop school democracy, learning a culture of commitment…

Neither the process nor the principles articulated in the report are exportable to the United States.  But it is interesting to see the explicit connection made between counter-terrorism  – or more accurately, anti-terrorism — and public education.


Related — at least in my fevered brain — is the rather extraordinary dust-up emerging over the “summit” to be hosted by the White House on February 18.  This is part of the ongoing Countering Violent Extremism effort by DHS, State, and “The Interagency”.

In the White House statement on the upcoming session (almost the only detail available so far), it is explained:

Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) efforts rely heavily on well-informed and resilient local communities.  Boston, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis-St. Paul have taken the lead in building pilot frameworks integrating a range of social service providers, including education administrators, mental health professionals, and religious leaders, with law enforcement agencies to address violent extremism as part of the broader mandate of community safety and crime prevention.  The summit will highlight best practices and emerging efforts from these communities. At the same time, our partners around the world are actively implementing programs to prevent violent extremism and foreign terrorist fighter recruitment.  The summit will include representatives from a number of partner nations, focusing on the themes of community engagement, religious leader engagement, and the role of the private sector and tech community. 

The too often contorted  lingo — and bureaucratic behavior — around CVE has been a fair target from the beginning.  It was not surprising when Victor Davis Hanson at the National Review took aim at the summit.  Or when his NR colleague Rich Lowry did so in Politico’s magazine (I can’t quickly find an online link).  But in yesterday’s  New York Times, Thomas Friedman piled on big time.

Some of the critiques are constructive.  Failing to differentiate between nearer-term counter-terrorism and longer-term anti-terrorism is not constructive.  Both are needed.  Well-conceived, the measures of each are complementary.  But in conception and practice they are two very different undertakings.

January 15, 2015

There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures.

Filed under: Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on January 15, 2015

New York Post cover

The Kouachi brothers’ assassination attack on the editorial meeting at Charlie Hebdo killed twelve.

The next day with the Kouachi’s on the run, Amedy Coulibaly assassinated a French policewoman and subsequently took hostages at a kosher grocery in Paris.  Four hostages were killed.

The Kouachi brothers and Coulibaly were well-acquainted with each other.  Based on statements made by the murderers it would seem the Kouachis self-identified with Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula while Coulibaly, at least most recently, had pledged loyalty to the Islamic State.

The connections between these three men and their relationships with AQAP, IS, or other extremist organizations will take time to carefully trace.  It is not yet clear, for example, if others had any operational control, or even prior knowledge, of the attack.

“Is this a Mumbai or a Boston?” We don’t know yet. (Though some early signals lean toward a more-connected, less free-lance relationship with terrorist nodes.)

All three assailants were well-known to French police and other Western security agencies.  All had criminal records.  All had publicly expressed sympathy with terrorist organizations and ideology. At some point, all had been under surveillance.  So are over 1600 French citizens.  The potential threats far exceed the resources reasonably available to maintain some balance between security and due process.

I am surprised we have not seen more Mumbais and Bostons (or we might say, Bed-Stuys and Utoyas).  These lone-wolf or small wolf-pack attacks are very difficult to prevent. For twisted egos they practically guarantee mass-media validation. Jim Bittermann at CNN commented: Chérif Kouachi was a failed soccer player and a failed rap artist who finally found a way to claim our attention.

As long predicted, one of the blow-backs of the Syrian civil war will almost certainly be some increase in deadly events of this sorts. Several thousand egos are being simultaneously abused and inflamed.  But — none of those killing and finally killed last week were veterans of that conflict. There is even evidence that close encounters with the self-styled Caliphate have disillusioned many Western volunteers.

Intelligence operations, border controls, law enforcement vigilance and prosecutorial attention can help contain these threats.  The mid-December Lindt Cafe hostage taking in Sydney probably could have been prevented under new legislation that took effect on New Years Day.  Coulibaly could have still been in prison for his last offense, but he was released early. There is, however, no full-proof way to prevent these sort of small-scale operations.  Bigger more complicated efforts are much more likely to “leak” in a way we will notice. Even then to recognize the risk we require considerable expertise and just about as much luck.

In calendar year 2002, 1119 people were murdered in France. In 2012 the number had fallen to 665.  Last week was horrific.  Last week’s number was not — sadly — significantly outside historical proportions. On the same day of the Charlie Hebdo attack thirty-seven Yemeni police recruits were killed by what is widely assumed to be an AQAP vehicle bomb.  But this other mass-murder does not surprise us.

Of course it is not just the number of dead that matters.  We are horrified by how the targets were selected and the manner in which they were killed. The French Premier, Manuel Valls, proclaimed, in most English translations, “We are at War.”  But here is the complete quote (and my personal translation).

Nous faisons une guerre, pas une guerre contre une religion, pas une guerre de civilisation, mais pour défendre nos valeurs, qui sont universelles. C’est une guerre contre le terrorisme et l’islamisme radical, contre tout ce qui vise à briser la solidarité, la liberté, la fraternité. 

(We make war, but not a war against a religion, not a war of civilizations, but to defend our values, which are universal. It is a war against terrorism and radical Islam, against everything that aims to shatter solidarity, liberty, fraternity.)

Next month the United States will host a long-planned — but just calendared – international conference on counter-terrorism. The purpose of the February 18 session is to “better understand, identify, and prevent the cycle of radicalization to violence at home in the United States and abroad,’’ the White House said.  Even if we could fully understand the root causes, I’m not persuaded this knowledge would allow us to consistently identify and/or prevent.  Besides, the root causes are complicated, even by-the-textbook complex.

It seems to me that humanity is trying to adapt to a broad-based social revolution that began more or less four centuries ago and has been accelerating, gyrating, imploding and exploding ever since.  Some places and people have adapted reasonably well, others quite badly.

All of the great religions (inherently conserving institutions) have been challenged and changed by this great transformation. Islam has been undergoing its own “reformation” for at least the last century.  The contemporary convulsion in many Muslim states and between strands of Islam can be compared to the collision of a great flood with a great rock.  The flood does not stop.  The rock persists.  The water may swamp the rock or be diverted by the rock or build-up behind the rock until spilling over it.   The rock may even be carried with the flood until it is deposited far downstream.  In any case, big rocks and fast water are a dangerous combination.

We are —  especially if we are weird (western educated industrial rich democratic) — a part of this flooding.   Those less-weird who are threatened by the flooding may view us as the cause of their distress.  There are also some who have attempted to ride the waves of this cascade, nearly drowned, and were barely saved by a last-chance grasp for edges of the rock. These are especially inclined to curse us and attempt to change the course of this flooding. (Shakespeare puts the lines used as today’s title in the mouth of Brutus, friend and assassin of Caesar. A very complicated character.)

Is this war?  Both war and guerre (the French term) are derived from the Old High German werra meaning confusion, perplexing, disarray, strife, and quarrel.  So yes, we all make war.

But I will also share that last Friday a French friend wrote me, “It is just terrorism.”

I thought she might be saying something in English that had a nuanced meaning in French. But when I asked, she wrote, “No, this phrasing has nothing to do with French at all. I said this on purpose but I didn’t have time to explain why. I feel that it is very important to reduce those thugs to what they are, terrorists. This isn’t Islam, this isn’t a cause.  This is nothing. Nothing but sheer terrorism in the name of absolutely nothing. When put in such a context we can make different moral judgments and we can rebound more easily. It doesn’t change the course of anything. It is murder for the sake of murder.”

October 24, 2014

The Homegrown Jihadist Threat Grows

Filed under: Radicalization — by Philip J. Palin on October 24, 2014

In today’s — October 24 — Wall Street Journal, former Senator Joseph Lieberman and former senior Senate staffer, Christian Beckner (this blog’s founder) share the byline in the top-of-the-page op-ed.  They focus particular attention — as each has for many years — on the role of online radicalization.

September 23, 2014

Six master’s degree theses

Filed under: Education,General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on September 23, 2014

Here are the titles – and abstracts – of six master’s degree theses recently completed at the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Homeland Defense and Security.  The theses will be publicly available in 4 to 6 weeks.  If you’re interested in seeing one or more of them, please email me (my first and last name [at] gmail.com) and I’ll put you in touch with the author.

Farewell To Arms: A Plan For Evaluating The 2001 Authorization For Use Of Military Force And Its Alternatives

On September 14, 2001, Congress passed the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). Over the past 13 years, the AUMF has served as the primary legal foundation for the use of force against terrorist organizations and other counterterrorist operations. Since its passage, threats facing the United States have evolved and new groups have emerged. Yet, Congress has failed to reexamine the statute. This thesis examines whether the AUMF serves as the proper foundation for addressing current terrorist threats or whether an alternative legal tool is more appropriate. … [The] thesis … [analyzes] the evolution of terrorist threats, constitutional concerns, the consequences of altering the legal structure upon which national counterterrorism strategies rely, international legality, and precedent. Ultimately, [the] thesis recommends that Congress sunset the AUMF and implement a tailored approach to force authorization – one that balances constitutional protections and security, while providing a foundation for crafting future force authorizations.


Now Is The Time For CVE-2. Updating And Implementing A Revised U.S. National Strategy To Counter Violent Extremism

The United States (U.S.) national strategy countering violent extremism (CVE) has yet to be updated and currently does not provide the necessary national framework to best combat self-radicalization and violent extremism (VE) in the United States. … “What are the necessary and effective components of the national U.S. CVE strategy that best prevent self-radicalization and VE in the United States?” This research examined the concepts and strategies surrounding extremism and self-radicalization in the U.S., the United Kingdom … and Australia. … One .. finding was the identification of overarching elements that, if implemented, would increase the effectiveness and applicability of the U.S. CVE strategy. These elements include: 1) identifying the federal agency in charge of administering the U.S. CVE strategy, 2) developing a more robust and actionable national CVE framework, 3) refocusing the federal government on support and not local engagement of CVE, 4) requiring all CVE related terms be defined in every document, and 5) requiring regular evaluations and updates of the U.S. CVE strategy. ….


Opaque Communities: A Framework For Assessing Potential Homeland Security Threats From Voids On The Map

Opaque communities are groups of two or more families or cohabitation partnerships that are inaccessible to non-members, affiliates, or associates either through explicit or implied restriction of member interaction outside of the group. [These communities] confound homeland security situational awareness and integration efforts, generating … threat perceptions that often escalate into governmental interventions and violent confrontations. Opaque groups’ disinclination to interact with the surrounding public stymies governmental situational awareness capabilities necessary for homeland security functions, prompting stakeholders to embrace a default tendency to perceive threat streams emanating from such groups and employ a respective confrontational posture. Concurrently, authorities have repeatedly attributed member’s individual crimes and discreet instances of illicit behavior to the entire community, creating self-imposed barriers to viable alternative investigative and enforcement options. Governmental failures to communicate with and effectively address past incidents involving opaque communities have led to tactical response disasters. Future inabilities to foster contact with such groups could present grave, unforeseen challenges to homeland security and surrounding community resiliency efforts. This thesis explores whether governmental entities [should] adopt a common set of operational assumptions regarding threats emanating from opaque communities and, if so, whether alternative interactional frameworks for integrating such communities into homeland security efforts are available.


Should We Stay Or Should We Go Now?—The Physical, Economic, Geopolitical, Social And Psychological Factors Of Recovery From Catastrophic Disaster

“Should we continue to build there?” is a question asked after other past disasters; it is especially more poignant as local, state and federal governments deal with pre-disaster mitigation funding and post-disaster emergency management funding issues. The goal of this research [was] to develop a way of answering that question through a better understanding of the social, economic, and cultural problems, and opportunities of rebuilding. As a result, shortcomings in the assumptions of existing response and recovery plans can be identified, and current community planning can consider future catastrophic events. Through pre-identification of physical, social, and political limitations other communities have faced, pro-active land use, response and recovery planning decisions could be implemented that increase the chance that communities can successfully emerge from disaster. This study investigates examples of past catastrophic disasters and the positive and negative experiences as those communities struggled to return to normalcy. The end result of the research is an assessment that identifies the economic, geopolitical, and social factors of recovery following a catastrophic disaster. ….

Immigration Adjudication Reform: The Case For Automation

A bill that has passed the United States Senate, S. 744, proposes a “Lawful Prospective Immigrant” (LPI) status and a “path to Citizenship” for an estimated 11-12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is the Agency that would be responsible for processing applications for LPI status or other immigration benefits authorized by immigration reform legislation or administrative relief programs introduced by the White House. Current Agency receipts of applications for immigration benefits range between 6 and 7 million per year. Depending on the eligibility criteria for new immigration benefits, Agency receipts could triple. The operational impact of these legislative or executive actions on USCIS could bear significant national security risks. This study evaluates whether the implementation of automated tools would mitigate external operational impacts on USCIS. Two existing automated systems are studied. The Secure Flight system, operated by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and the Automated Continuous Evaluation System (ACES) as utilized in the Joint Reform Effort (JRE) were selected for their complexity, maturity, and similarity to immigration adjudications. This analysis demonstrates that automated tools can improve the quality of immigration adjudications by supporting a comprehensive assessment, including accuracy, timeliness, completeness and validity. Further, automation would improve the Agency’s operational responsiveness when external factors such as policy changes affect workloads. These factors thereby improve national security by supporting the Agency’s mission to uphold the integrity of the immigration system and to prevent and intercept illicit actors from entering or remaining in the United States.


Eyes Of The Storm: Can Fusion Centers Play A Crucial Role During The Response Phase Of Natural Disasters Through Collaborative Relationships With Emergency Operations Centers

Through the maturation of the national network of fusion centers, processes, and capabilities originally designed to detect and thwart terrorist attacks are now applied to disaster responses. The fusion process, which involves the synthesis and analysis of streams of data, can create incident specific intelligence. The sharing of this information can enhance the operating picture that is critical to key decision makers and the discipline of emergency management. This thesis examined three case studies of fusion center disaster responses through a collaborative-based analytical framework. The resulting analysis of the case studies identified the crucial role played by fusion centers in responding to disaster events in a collaborative effort with emergency operations centers. This thesis concludes that fusion centers offer the greatest impact through enabling information sharing throughout the response phase. The specific benefits of the sharing of information directly influence executive briefings and the deployment of resources. This thesis also modeled a collaborative response. The research determined that the depth and breadth of these relationships involving cooperative responses must be proportionate to the incident and include a level of redundancy. Through a system design model, over connectivity through efficiency was shown to increase the likelihood of fracturing cooperative relationships.



September 18, 2014

Johnson testimony: Worldwide threats to the homeland

Yesterday — Constitution Day BTW — the Secretary of Homeland Security testified before the House Committee on Homeland Security.  He was joined in giving testimony by FBI Director James Comey and director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Matt Olson. (Video and transcripts here)

Below is most of Secretary Johnson’s opening statement.  I hear a domestically-focused harmonic to the main counterterrorism melody performed by the President at MacDill (see prior post, immediately above).

Counterterrorism is the cornerstone of the DHS mission. And thirteen years after 9/11, it’s still a dangerous world. There’s still a terrorist threat to our homeland.

Today the terrorist threat is different from what it was in 2001. It is more decentralized and more complex. Not only is there core al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, there is al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula – which is still active in its efforts to attack the homeland – al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, al Shabaab in Somalia, the al Nusrah Front in Syria, and the newest affiliate, al Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent. There are groups like Boko Haram in Nigeria, which are not official affiliates of al Qaeda, but share its extremist ideology.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, previously known as al Qaeda in Iraq, is now vying to be the preeminent terrorist organization on the world’s stage. At present, we have no credible information that ISIL is planning to attack the homeland of the United States.

But that is not, by any means, the end of the story.

ISIL is an extremely dangerous organization. It has the elements of both a terrorist organization and an insurgent army. It kills innocent civilians, and has seized large amounts of territory in Iraq and Syria, which it can utilize for safe haven, training, command and control, and from which it can launch attacks. It engages in 30-40 attacks per month, has more than 20,000 fighters, and takes in as much as a million dollars a day from illicit oil sales, ransom payments, and other illicit activities. Its public messaging and social media are as slick and as effective as any I’ve ever seen from a terrorist organization.

Though we know of no credible information that ISIL is planning to attack the homeland at present, we know that ISIL is prepared to kill innocent Americans they encounter because they are Americans – in a public and depraved manner. We know ISIL views the United States as an enemy, and we know that ISIL’s leaders have themselves said they will soon be in “direct confrontation” with the United States…

From the homeland security perspective, here is what we are doing:

First, to address the threats generally emanating from terrorist groups overseas, we have in recent weeks enhanced aviation security. Much of the terrorist threat continues to center around aviation security. In early July, I directed enhanced screening at 18 overseas airports with direct flights to the U.S. Several weeks later, we added six more airports to the list. Three weeks ago we added another airport, and additional screening of carry-on luggage. The United Kingdom and other countries have followed with similar enhancements to their aviation security. We continually evaluate whether more is necessary, without unnecessarily burdening the traveling public.

Longer term, as this committee has heard me say before, we are pursuing “pre-clearance” at overseas airports with flights to the U.S. This means inspection by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer and enhanced aviation security before a passenger gets on the plane to the U.S. We now have pre-clearance at airports in Ireland, the UAE, Canada and the Caribbean. I regard it as a homeland security imperative to build more. To use a football metaphor, I’d much rather defend our end-zone from the 50-yard line than our 1-yard line. I want to take every opportunity we have to expand homeland security beyond our borders.

Second, the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, NCTC and other intelligence agencies are making enhanced and concerted efforts to track Syrian foreign fighters who come from or seek to enter this country. The reality is that more than 15,000 foreign fighters have traveled to Syria over the last three years, including approximately two thousand Westerners. We estimate that more than 100 Americans have traveled or attempted to travel to Syria to join the fight there one way or another. We are concerned that not only may these foreign fighters join ISIL or other violent extremist groups in Syria, they may also be recruited by these violent extremist groups to leave Syria and conduct external attacks. The FBI has arrested a number of individuals who have tried to travel from the U.S. to Syria to support terrorist activities there.

Third, we are working with European and other governments to build better information sharing to track Syrian foreign fighters. Whenever I get together with my European counterparts, this topic is almost always item number one on the agenda. The importance of this issue is also reflected by the fact it will be a singular topic of discussion at a U.N. Security Council summit that the President will chair in two weeks. In the history of the U.N., this is only the second time a U.S. President has personally chaired a Security Council summit.

We are increasing efforts to track those who enter and leave Syria, and may later seek to travel to the United States from a country for which the United States does not require a visa from its citizens. There are in fact a number of Visa Waiver Program countries that also have large numbers of citizens who are Syrian foreign fighters. Generally, we have strong information-sharing relationships with these countries. But, with their help, we will enhance this capability. We need to ensure that we are doing all we can to identify those who, by their travel patterns, attempt to hide their association with terrorist groups.

We are encouraging more countries to join the United States in using tools like Advance Passenger Information and Passenger Name Record collection, which will help to identify terrorist travel patterns.

Fourth, within the U.S. government, DHS and our interagency partners in law enforcement and the intelligence community, are enhancing our ability to share information with each other about suspicious individuals.

Fifth, we are continually on guard against the potential domestic-based, home-grown terrorist who may be lurking in our own society: the independent actor or “lone wolf” who did not train at a terrorist camp or join the ranks of a terrorist organization overseas, but who is inspired here at home by a group’s social media, literature or violent extremist ideology. In many respects, this is the hardest terrorist threat to detect, and the one I worry most about.

To address the domestic “lone wolf” threat, I have directed that DHS build on our partnerships with state and local law enforcement in a way that enhances community relationships. The local police and fire departments are the first responders to any crisis in our homeland. The local police, more than the federal government, have their finger on the pulse of the local community from which a domestic terrorist may come.

To address the home-grown terrorist who may be lurking in our midst, we must also emphasize the need for help from the public. “If You See Something, Say Something” is more than a slogan. For example, last week we sent a private sector advisory identifying for retail businesses a long list of materials that could be used as explosive precursors, and the types of suspicious behavior that a retailer should look for from someone who buys a lot of these materials.

Within DHS, we have outreach programs with communities who themselves are engaging youth in violence prevention. I have directed that we step up these programs and I personally participate in them. In June I met with a Syrian-American community group in a Chicago suburb. Next week I will meet with a Somali community in Columbus, Ohio. In October, the White House will host a summit on domestic efforts to prevent violent extremism, and address the full lifecycle of radicalization to violence posed by foreign fighter threats. The efforts highlighted at this summit are meant to increase the participation of faith-based organizations, mental health providers, social service providers, and youth-affiliated groups in local efforts to counter violent extremism.

Over the last 13 years, we have vastly improved this Nation’s ability to detect and disrupt terrorist plots overseas before they reach the homeland. Here at home, federal law enforcement does an excellent job, time and again, of identifying, investigating, arresting and prosecuting scores of individuals before they commit terrorist acts. But we continue to face real terrorist enemies and real terrorist threats and we must all remain vigilant.

Community-based, regionally — even globally — engaged, collaborative efforts to prevent, protect, prepare, mitigate, and respond.  Recovery and resilience are implied, but — as usual —  given a bit less attention.

December 18, 2013

The Boston Globe on the “Fall of the House of Tsarnaev”

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on December 18, 2013

A few Boston Globe reporters have collaborated on a lengthy and perhaps unique look into the background of the alleged  Boston Marathon bombers and their immediate family. The piece, “The Fall of the House of Tsarnaev,” suggests that the older brother, Tamerlan, exhibited signs of schizophrenia and that the younger, Dzhokhar (Jahar), had a history of manipulation and brash risk raking.  In addition:

The Globe’s five-month investigation, with reporting in Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Canada, and the United States, also:

  • Fundamentally recasts the conventional public understanding of the brothers, showing them to be much more nearly coequals in failure, in growing desperation, and in conspiracy.
  • Establishes that the brothers were heirs to a pattern of violence and dysfunction running back several generations. Their father, Anzor, scarred by brutal assaults in Russia and later in Boston, often awoke screaming and tearful at night. Both parents sought psychiatric care shortly after arriving in the United States but apparently sought no help for Tamerlan even as his mental condition grew more obvious and worrisome.
  • Casts doubt on the claim by Russian security officials that Tamerlan made contact with or was recruited by Islamist radicals during his visit to his family homeland.
  • Raises questions about the Tsarnaevs’ claim that they came to this country as victims of persecution seeking asylum. More likely, they were on the run from elements of the Russian underworld whom Anzor had fallen afoul of. Or they were simply fleeing economic hardship.

What seems unique about this article is the depth of investigation into the background and family history of alleged terrorists that have carried out an attack inside the United States.  Following 9/11 there was a considerable degree of discussion around the social conditions in which terrorists emerge, or what might cause young men and women to enlist in the jihadist cause.  ”Draining the swamp” was a popular, if unclear, concept that seemed to offer a menu of options to address what were referred to as “root causes” of terrorism.

Then the Iraq war happened and our incursion into Afghanistan turned out not to be a swift and clear victory.  COIN or counter-insurgency became the new buzzword, soon followed by a concentration on special forces raids and drone strikes.  Understanding the conditions that possibly drive some to terrorist acts drifted to the background.

In my opinion, this article helps bring some of those concepts back into the counter terrorism discussion.  It should not be read as an argument to absolve these brothers of their (alleged) acts, or an attempt to provide support for leniency in Dzhokhar’s upcoming trial due to the facts of a difficult upbringing.  Instead, I hope that it may provide at least a kernel of information that others can learn from to possibly prevent future radicalization.

Again, the article is long but worth your time and can be found at:


July 25, 2013

A missing link in strategy?

Earlier this week I was re-reading the DHS Strategic Plan (2012-2016).  I perceived something — actually its absence —  I had not noticed before.

Community involvement is, of course, a recurring mantra in the Strategic Plan and many other DHS policy, strategy, and operational documents. “Whole Community” is prominent in Mission 5: Ensuring Resilience to Disaster.  Other missions include similar language.  For example Mission 1: Preventing Terrorism and Enhancing Security has a goal to “Increase community participation in efforts to deter terrorists and other malicious actors and mitigate radicalization toward violence.”

A close reading of the Strategic Plan suggests the whole is made up of the following parts:

Private and Non-Profit Sectors
Faith Based organizations
Federal Partners
All Segments of Society

Especially with those catch-all terms it’s not that my “absence” is excluded.  But it is not given explicit attention.  Certainly not priority.

What prominent place in the life of most Americans is not referenced?

The workplace.

Indirectly this is part of the private sector or non-profit-sector or local and state government or whatever other sector in which you work. But these “sectors” are abstractions. The workplace is a concrete — often literally glass, steel, and concrete — place. Yet the only time “workplace” is referenced in the Strategic Plan is with workplace standards for protecting intellectual property and “workplace wellness” programs for DHS employees.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Americans age 25-to-54 spend an average of 8.8 hours per day at work. This is a larger block than any other activity, much larger than any other non-sleeping activity surveyed.

Yet the places where we work are not regularly conceived or engaged as venues where homeland security priorities can be pursued.

There are exceptions. I am aware of a few.  I welcome you highlighting successful exceptions in the comments.

The absence of the workplace from the DHS Strategy reveals a strategic perspective.  It is another example of the disconnect between private and public domains.  Clearly government is a place where homeland security is to be practiced.  There is considerable effort to engage neighborhoods and sometimes schools. These are real places too, but much more public than private in their character.

Is a “community” — whole or not — a real place?  It depends, in my experience, on the community and how an outsider approaches the putative community.

There are offices, distribution centers, power plants, factories and refineries, restaurants, hotels, retail stores and many more real places where each day the vast majority of Americans spend the majority of their waking hours.  Most of these places feature a task-oriented culture with management processes already in place.  Most of these places are self-interested in a reasonable level of safety, continuity, and resilience.

In my personal experience most of these places are wonderful contexts for the practical practice of homeland security.

There is a tendency for modern strategic thinking to be more comfortable with space than place.  See battlespace and cyberspace, even Space Command.  I am often an advocate for differentiating between Theater Command and Incident Command and perceive we give too little attention to the Big Picture.  But it is not, of course, one or the other: it is a continuum.

Real risks, threats, vulnerabilities and consequences usually unfold in real places where people come and go everyday.

Interesting what you can miss even when it’s right in front of you.  I’ve read that strategy a half-dozen times.  Wonder what else is hiding in plain sight?

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.

April 30, 2013

What are the people around you reading?

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on April 30, 2013

“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”

I came across that quote from Haruki Murakami yesterday.

I don’t know what everyone else is reading, so I asked them.

OK, not everyone, but at least the people who were around me yesterday, either physically or virtually.

Since 99% of the people I know have something to do with homeland security (that’s another story), the resulting list is mostly about homeland security.

And I do work at a university; that probably influenced the list a bit.

Plus the university is on a military base, so there’s that.

I did ask one person who was fixing a video screen near my office what he was reading. I’d never met him before, but he had no trouble immediately replying.

Two other people who responded are parents of small children who, at least for today, were the focus of their homeland security attention.

Here’s the reading list. I learned about some books and other material I had not heard of.

If you’d like, try the same experiment wherever you are today. Ask people you work with what they are reading. Keep it to one book per person. If you have the chance, post the results in the comments section.


1. Armstrong, Karen. The Battle for God. 1st ed. Ballantine Books, 2001.

2. “Articles that explore the use of Social Network Analysis to better understand: 1) cohesion factors in groups, 2) structure of message contributions, 3) pattern of exchange, 4) the role of the critical mass, 5) role and power network structures as they related to various type of on-line collaboration and knowledge creation.” (Right, not a book; the person who sent me this also included 15 pdf articles to illustrate the point he was making.)

3. Berggruen Institute on Governance. “Think Long Committee for California” a new governance tool to repair California’s government. (Not a book, but it’s what she was reading.)

4. Carafano, James Jay, and Paul Rosenzweig. Winning the Long War: Lessons from the Cold War for Defeating Terrorism and Preserving Freedom. Heritage Books, 2005.

5. “Cub Scout Committee Chair Training Manual” (That was her third choice.  Her first choice was somewhat more “shaded.”  She also said if I planned to use her name I had to say she was reading the Bible.).

6. Deardorff, Brad. The Roots of Our Children’s War: Identity and the War on Terrorism. AgilePress, 2013.

7. Desmond, Leslie, and Bill Dorrance. True Horsemanship Through Feel, Second Edition. 2nd ed. Lyons Press, 2007. (At first I thought this had nothing to do with homeland security, but on second thought….)

8. Dumas, Alexandre. The Three Musketeers. Simon & Brown, 2013.

9. Eco, Umberto. Serendipities: Language and Lunacy. Mariner Books, 1999.

10. Gardner, Howard. Five Minds for the Future. Harvard Business Review Press, 2009.

11. Hirsch, James S. Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend. 1st ed. Scribner, 2010.

12. Lemov, Doug, Erica Woolway, and Katie Yezzi. Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better. 1st ed. Jossey-Bass, 2012.

13. Lewis, Ted. “The Book of Extremes: Why the 21st century Isn’t Like the 20th Century.” 2013. (This book is in a prepublication format, and won’t be published for a few more months; it’s a follow up to Lewis’ Bak’s Sand Pile: Strategies for a Catastrophic World.)

14. Mackey, Sandra. Mirror of the Arab World: Lebanon in Conflict. 1st ed. W. W. Norton & Company, 2008.

15. McCauley, Clark, and Sophia Moskalenko. Friction: How Radicalization Happens to Them and Us. 1st ed. Oxford University Press, USA, 2011.

16. Moghaddam, Fathali M. The Psychology of Dictatorship. 1st ed. American Psychological Association (APA), 2013.

17. Mudd, Philip. Takedown: Inside the Hunt for Al Qaeda. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013.

18. Owen, Mark, and Kevin Maurer. No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden. First Edition. Dutton Adult, 2012.

19. Rejali, Darius. Torture and Democracy. Princeton University Press, 2009.

20. Sodium Polyacrylate: My life would be a mess without it. (Not actually a book. But it could be, should be, one.)

21. Stegner, Wallace. Angle of Repose. Penguin Classics, 2000.

22. Williams, Gary. Seal of Honor: Operation Red Wings and the Life of Lt. Michael P. Murphy, USN. Naval Institute Press, 2011.

23. “What am I reading? I can’t think of anything in particular…. Wow. How sad is that,” said a person who works as hard as almost anyone I know.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, “The person who doesn’t read good books has no advantage over the person who can’t read them.”


If you do ask people in your ecosystem what they’re reading, please post what you learn here.  And if you get to talk with each other about what you’re reading, that’s even better.

September 25, 2012

Growing more homeland security ideas

Filed under: Education — by Christopher Bellavita on September 25, 2012

On September 21st, the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Homeland Defense and Security graduated its 39th and 40th master’s degree class.

To suggest the ideas explored by those graduates, here are the titles of their theses.

Most of the theses — adding to the storehouse of what we know, do not know, and might know about homeland security — will be available through the NPS Dudley Knox library in a few weeks.

(If you know of any other recent master’s or doctoral theses related to homeland security policy and strategy, please let us know – - along with enough information to find the documents.)


  • Leveraging National Guard Intelligence: Analysts in State and Regional Fusion Centers
  • The Future Mission, Tasking and Resourcing of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary
  • The FBI is Leading the Way by Making the Private Sector Part of the Counterterrorism Homeland Security Enterprise
  • Policy Options to Address Crucial Communication Gaps in the Incident Command System
  • Utilizing Social Media to Further the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative
  • Federated Search Tools in Fusion Centers: Bridging Databases in the Information Sharing Environment
  • Creating a Learning Organization for State and Local Law Enforcement to Combat Violent Extremism
  • Start Making Sense: Exploring an Emergency Learning Framework
  • Evolving the Local Fire Service intelligence Enterprise in New York State: Implementing a Threat Liaison Officer Program
  • Shaping the National Guard in a Post War Environment
  • Effective Municipal Emergency Planning for People with Disabilities and Others with Access and Functional Needs
  • FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Teams: Considering an Improved Strategy for an Evolving Homeland Security Enterprise
  • Internet Radicalization: Actual Threat or Phantom Menace?
  • Incomplete Intelligence: Is the Information Sharing Environment an Effective Platform?
  • Ready for the Future: Assessing the Collaborative Capacity of State Emergency Management Agencies
  • Unity of Command for the Federal Operational Response to a Catastrophic Disaster
  • Social Media, Social Networking, Facial Recognition Technology and the Future of Law Enforcement Undercover Operations
  • Emergent Social Software Platforms for Sharing and Collaboration on Criminal Information and Intelligence
  • The Provision of Public Health Services for Illegal Migrant Populations: Policy Options for Improving Homeland Security
  • Applying Deterrence Strategy to Agents of Asymmetrical Threats
  • What is the Best Approach to Crisis Intervention?
  • Hunting a Black Swan: Policy Options for America’s Police in Preventing Radiological/Nuclear Terrorism
  • Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: Where Do We Go from Here to Bring the Fire Service into the Domestic Intelligence Community?
  • Violent Mexican Transnational Criminal Organizations in Texas: Political Discourse and an Argument for Reality
  • Understanding “Swift Trust” to Improve Interagency Collaboration in New York City
  • Theory to Practice: How Developing a K-12 Curriculum in Emergency Preparedness, Life Safety, or Homeland Security can lead to Resiliency
  • Community Engagement for Collective Resilience: The Rising System
  • Integrating Unmanned Aircraft Systems into Modern Policing in an Urban Environment
  • Network Vulnerability Assessment of the U.S. Crude Pipeline Infrastructure

September 3, 2012

The blurring of homeland and national security

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on September 3, 2012

[Forgive the rambling nature of this post.  I blame the long weekend, skimming an article I should read more carefully, and too much Doctor Who.]

The term “homeland security” is notoriously hard to define. Even more difficult is where to draw the line between “homeland” security and “national” security.  Simply perplexing is the issue of whether there should be a line or not, and the possibly negative effects of attempting to draw one.

Large natural events, such as Hurricane Issac or the western wildfires, serve to highlight the emergency management/preparedness/response/recovery/etc. portion of the enterprise.  Terrorism, health events, and technological disasters comfortably fit here as well, at least in terms of preparing for and responding to effects.

Preventing terrorism would seem, at first, to fit easily within the homeland security arena.  “See something, say something,” fusion centers, the concern about domestic radicalization, and the shift in FBI focus from criminal investigations to terrorism prevention.  But set alone, this effort seems a bit inconsequential in terms of fighting terrorism.  The minor leagues, if you will, to the game being played by intelligence services (and not just U.S. agencies…) and the military overseas.  What major, potentially catastrophic, and realistic (an aspect that is interpreted by different people for different reasons) plots have been disrupted solely on the basis of domestically-gathered information?  Besides the FBI and the NYPD, what domestic agencies are conducting true intelligence-type operations domestically?

This is not a bad thing.  I personally do not want the CIA carrying out operations against U.S. citizens on U.S. soil.  We do have rights…or so I was led to believe in civics class.  Intelligence gathered abroad can be filtered and shared with relevant domestic law enforcement agencies in the hope of preventing attacks.  Well…one hopes.  Radicalization of at-risk individuals can be countered by developing relationships with responsible authorities among particular (really wanted to avoid the term “suspect,” sounds a little too NYPD-ish…) populations. Well…perhaps. And is anyone paying attention to the non-Islamic groups? (I know they are, but I also know that the Red Sox are still playing games. The underlying issue is who’s paying attention?)

My point is that counter-terrorism is neither simply a home or away game–it’s a continuum better understood with sci-fi metaphors rather than sports.

So how do we talk about homeland vs. national security?  Should we even bother? (Though I suspect that if we don’t, the “national security” community will out of superior numbers and positioning take what it wants from “homeland security” and leave the rest to emergency management.  Kinda like if FEMA had been separated from DHS following Katrina.)

What prompts these rambling thoughts are two somewhat recent articles.  The first is a Washington Post story on the successful melding of a homeland security sector, customs at the border, with a traditional national security realm, counter-proliferation:

The Chinese toymaker said he was seeking parts for a “magic horse,” a metal-framed playground pony. But the exotic, wildly expensive raw material he wanted seemed better suited for space travel than backyard play.

Only in recent months did the full scope of the ruse become apparent. The destination for the specialty steel was not China but Iran, and the order had nothing to do with toy horses, U.S. investigators say.

“We are certain,” said a law enforcement official familiar with the case, “that the metal was meant for advanced centrifuges in Iran’s nuclear program.”

How this effort was discovered:

Perhaps the most striking fact about the toy-horse plot, investigators say, is that it was discovered at all. The tip came in late 2008 from an obscure Homeland Security program that involves occasional factory visits by U.S. officials to guard against foreign pilfering of sensitive U.S. technology.

During a visit to a Puget Sound steelmaker, an export manager there told a U.S. official about a bizarre query he had gotten from China.

Export controls have a long and important history in the national security efforts aimed at preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons.  However, they remain a little publicized but very important mission of the Department of Homeland Security’s broader border security efforts.

The other nugget that got me thinking was this from a Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) news brief mounting a public health defense of the Biowatch program

Some public health officials’ discomfort with BioWatch also may be related to a culture clash between the public health world and the law enforcement and security realm, according to Biedrzycki.

“Public health typically hasn’t been part of that culture, of law enforcement or national security and the intelligence community,” he said. “This is new territory, and I think we don’t fully understand how to operate within that culture.

“It’s very difficult for us, coming from a very transparent, open, trust-building relationship with many of our clients, going into a less open environment in terms of information sharing. I can understand those criticisms, but in reality I think the trend is for public health to be integrated with the intelligence community.”

Emphasis added to underline my concern.

May 3, 2012

Reading over two terrorists shoulders

Filed under: Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on May 3, 2012

The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point has released 17 of the documents retrieved from the compound in Abbottabad where Osama bin Laden was killed.  In addition to English translations and the original Arabic versions  –  posted online today at 9:00 AM EST — the CTC has issued a short report contextualizing the documents.

See: Last Year at Abbottabad.

While you’re at the CTC site scan their other publications.  Good stuff.

Many HLSWatch readers will also be interested in a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs staff report on the radicalization of Zac Chesser.  Please access: A Case Study in Online Islamist Radicalization and Its Meaning for the Threat of Homegrown Terrorism.

In July 2010 I posted a piece entitled: Could you or I have talked Zac Chesser out of violent extremism? Arnold Bogis (not yet a fellow poster) and I had a quick exchange on the question.  In the Senate report there is  a tantalizing reference to Chesser almost being talked back from the edge.

Each set of resources offers fascinating insights into terrorist realities.

I recently discovered a cache of letters I had written (rough drafts) and received (in reply) from the early 1980s.  I came away wondering about the vagaries of memory and the often fluid nature of what purports to be real.

It’s a tad intimidating to think how these posts and comments may be read thirty years from now.  If we’re lucky these bytes may prove even more fragile than the thin airmail paper I found in a long forgotten file.   Based on all three examples, humility ages more gracefully than its opposite.

December 12, 2011

Locking up terrorists…but not in Guantánamo

Filed under: Legal Issues — by Arnold Bogis on December 12, 2011

This past weekend the New York Times published reporter Scott Shane’s investigation into the domestic system of detention for those convicted of terrorism.  It turns out Guantanamo, and military tribunals, are far from the full story when it comes to locking up terrorists:

In recent weeks, Congress has reignited an old debate, with some arguing that only military justice is appropriate for terrorist suspects. But military tribunals have proved excruciatingly slow and imprisonment at Guantánamo hugely costly — $800,000 per inmate a year, compared with $25,000 in federal prison.

The criminal justice system, meanwhile, has absorbed the surge of terrorism cases since 2001 without calamity, and without the international criticism that Guantánamo has attracted for holding prisoners without trial.

The numbers involved are eye-opening, even considering what I consider the generally inflated reporting on every far-fetched plot broken up in the planning stages (not to say there haven’t been serious threats, but to point out that groups that ask for boots from their FBI informant are likely not an imminent threat to blow up the Sears Tower):

Big numbers. Today, 171 prisoners remain at Guantánamo. As of Oct. 1, the federal Bureau of Prisons reported that it was holding 362 people convicted in terrorism-related cases, 269 with what the bureau calls a connection to international terrorism — up from just 50 in 2000. An additional 93 inmates have a connection to domestic terrorism.

Lengthy sentences. Terrorists who plotted to massacre Americans are likely to die in prison. Faisal Shahzad, who tried to set off a car bomb in Times Square in 2010, is serving a sentence of life without parole at the Supermax, as are Zacarias Moussaoui, a Qaeda operative arrested in 2001, and Mr. Reid, the shoe bomber, among others. But many inmates whose conduct fell far short of outright terrorism are serving sentences of a decade or more, the result of a calculated prevention strategy to sideline radicals well before they could initiate deadly plots.

The conduct of those responsible for operating these detention centers is also called into question (for a summary of the issues involved, see this HSPI/CIAG joint report “Getting Ahead of Prisoner Radicalization”:

Special units. Since 2006, the Bureau of Prisons has moved many of those convicted in terrorism cases to two special units that severely restrict visits and phone calls. But in creating what are Muslim-dominated units, prison officials have inadvertently fostered a sense of solidarity and defiance, and set off a long-running legal dispute over limits on group prayer. Officials have warned in court filings about the danger of radicalization, but the Bureau of Prisons has nothing comparable to the deradicalization programs instituted in many countries.

Both the Obama administration and Republicans in Congress often cite the threat of homegrown terrorism. But the Bureau of Prisons has proven remarkably resistant to outside scrutiny of the inmates it houses, who might offer a unique window on the problem.

In 2009, a group of scholars proposed interviewing people imprisoned in terrorism cases about how they took that path. The Department of Homeland Security approved the proposal and offered financing. But the Bureau of Prisons refused to grant access, saying the project would require too much staff time.

“There’s a huge national debate about how dangerous these people are,” said Gary LaFree, director of a national terrorism study center at the University of Maryland, who was lead author of the proposal. “I just think, as a citizen, somebody ought to be studying this.”

The article addresses the basic issue of the tradeoff between security and justice, and in my mind clearly comes out on the side of justice.  The reporter gives his story several faces in his exploration of a few cases.  The convicted, as well as their family and friends, can be read as arguing that sentences were too heavy for the infractions involved.  However there does not seem to be any true miscarriages of justice.  No innocent individual convicted on terrorism-related charges that in some way were not connected with the activities of which they were accused.  I do not believe that true justice has been carried out in every domestic terrorism case, history of the wrongly convicted in other criminal areas is too overwhelming.  Considering law enforcement’s focus on terrorism, perhaps the term near-hysteria could be applied for that period following shortly after 9/11 where a sleeper cell was suspected in every town, that the scales of justice do not appear dangerously unbalanced is of some relief.

The other important that emerges from this story is that our existing justice system appears up to the task of dealing with the issue of terrorism.  Compared against the costs and success of military tribunals and incarceration at Guantanamo, it should be a no-brainer to depend on domestic prisons and existing civilian judicial instruments.  Unfortunately, that is not happening.

December 8, 2011

Deterrence: Retrieving the full spectrum

Filed under: Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on December 8, 2011

Wednesday’s joint House-Senate hearing on homegrown terrorism was interesting, enlightening, painful, embarrassing, and infuriating… sometimes in the course of a single minute or two.  If you were not in the hearing room or missed the C-SPAN broadcast (available in archived entirety), individual videos and prepared testimonies are available at the House Homeland Security Committee website.

One of those testifying was LT. COL. Reid Sawyer, Director, Combating Terrorism Center at West Point.  In his prepared testimony LT. COL. Sawyer noted,

The emergence of homegrown terrorism and the targeting of U.S. military forces requires a renewed examination of the nature of radicalization and the changing nature of autonomous radicalization—a process that today occurs largely in isolation from direct connection with external networks, creating new challenges for law enforcement and intelligence communities to detect, prevent and deter homegrown terrorism.

Most of Wednesday’s testimony, questions, answers, and occasional pontificating focused on detecting and preventing.  The lack of attention to deterring is unfortunate.  Especially in regard to homegrown terrorism there is a significant opportunity for deterrence… especially if deterrence is well-understood.

The Latin origin of deter, deterrent, and deterrence is deterrere.   During the classical era deterrere was much closer to our understanding of discourage or hinder than the Mutual Assured Destruction of Cold War deterrence.  There is even a positive aspect to the concept.

In Cicero’s Impeachment of Verres we read, “… testis praesertim , timidos homines et adflictos, non solum auctoritate deterrere, sed etiam consulari metu, et duorum praetorum potestate.”  A reasonable translation: “… witness in particular, timid and oppressed men, hindered not only by your own private influence, but fear of the consul, and the power of two praetors.”  The explicit distinction between deterrere (hindered) and metu (fear) is meaningful.  Moreover they are hindered by influence, while they fear power.

Deter entered English in the 1570s.  An early use is found in Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667):

Rather your dauntless virtue, whom the pain
Of death denounced, whatever thing Death be,
Deterred not from achieving what might lead
To happier life, knowledge of Good and Evil?
Of good, how just! Of evil-if what is evil
Be real, why not known, since easier shunned?

John Milton, Paradise Lost (l. Bk. IX, l)

Early English usage reflected the classical meaning.  In the passage above, dauntless virtue being not discouraged or not hindered seems more coherent with the tone than “not terrorized.”

In 1764  Cesare Beccaria published Dei delitti e delle pene (On Crime and Punishments) in which he argued for a systematic approach to what we would now call deterrence.

It is better to prevent crimes than to punish them. This is the fundamental principle of good legislation, which is the art of conducting men to the maximum of happiness, and to the minimum of misery, if we may apply this mathematical expression to the good and evil of life. But the means hitherto employed for that purpose are generally inadequate, or contrary to the end proposed. It is impossible to reduce the tumultuous activity of mankind to absolute regularity; for, amidst the various and opposite attractions of pleasure and pain, human laws are not sufficient entirely to prevent disorders in society.

To effectively prevent crime Beccaria recommended swift, consistent, and just punishment of proven wrongs combined with education, rewards, and application of science to encourage desired behavior.

The English philosopher Jeremy Bentham built on Beccaria’s foundation, gave considerable attention to the efficacy of punishment to prevent unwanted behavior, and called it a “deterrent” (introducing the word in 1829). But Bentham notes a distinction between a longer-term and nearer-term deterrent:

All punishment has a certain tendency to deter from the commission of offences; but if the delinquent, after he has been punished, is only deterred by fear from the repetition of his offence, he is not reformed. Reformation implies a change of character and moral dispositions.

The ultimate deterrent is change of disposition or what moderns might call motivation. Bentham certainly perceived we could be influenced by fear of detection, detention, and punishment.   But a more permanent form of prevention would, he argued at length, emerge from engaging the prospect of pleasure.  By understanding the fear of pain and the prospect of pleasure, Bentham perceived society can be constructively shaped:

Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do. On the one hand the standard of right and wrong, on the other the chain of causes and effects, are fastened to their throne. They govern us in all we do, in all we say, in all we think: every effort we can make to throw off our subjection, will serve but to demonstrate and confirm it.

From 1861, when “deterrence” first appeared in the English language, until the mid-Twentieth century the most common usage of the word related to issues of criminology.  Following World War II, however, deterrence was increasingly associated with military strategy and, particularly, the nuclear doctrine of Mutual Assurance Destruction.

In a January 1954 speech Secretary of State John Foster Dulles declared,

We need allies and collective security. Our purpose is to make these relations more effective, less costly. This can be done by placing more reliance on deterrent power and less dependence on local defensive power.

This is accepted practice so far as local communities are concerned. We keep locks on our doors, but we do not have an armed guard in every home. We rely principally on a community security system so well equipped to punish any who break in and steal that, in fact, would-be aggressors are generally deterred. That is the modern way of getting maximum protection at a bearable cost. What the Eisenhower administration seeks is a similar international security system. We want, for ourselves and the other free nations, a maximum deterrent at a bearable cost.

Local defense will always be important. But there is no local defense which alone will contain the mighty landpower of the Communist world. Local defenses must be reinforced by the further deterrent of massive retaliatory power.

Rather than carrot and stick, after Dulles deterrence was understood as the prospect of a very big stick pounding as hard as possible.

This Cold War definition was so deeply ingrained in our political culture that in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks President Bush asserted, “Deterrence—the promise of massive retaliation against nations—means nothing against shadowy terrorist networks with no nation or citizens to defend.”

Deterrence is being retrieved.  In defense policy there is considerable talk of a “new deterrence.”  In homeland security and counter-terrorism important work has been done by Matthew Kroenig, Brian Jenkins and Paul Davis. But we still tend to operate under the shadow of Dulles and his terrible swift sword.  For optimal deterrence we also need some beauty of the lilies, wisdom to the mighty, and succor to the brave.

October 11, 2011

The Naval Postgraduate School’s Homeland Security Reading List

Filed under: Education,General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on October 11, 2011

Here is a list of books the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center For Homeland Defense and Security use in its master degree program.

The works that follow, presented (mostly) in alphabetical order by author, include only books and monographs.  The list does not include the journal articles, reports, and other documents that make up the required reading in the program’s dozen master’s degree courses.  The list is current as of  late summer.

I took most of the brief descriptions that follow the book’s title from reviews I found on Amazon.


  1. Adler, Mortimer J. & Charles Van Doren (1972). How to Read a Book: A Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading (rev): The New Yorker says “It shows concretely how the serious work of proper reading may be accomplished and how much it may yield in the way of instruction and delight.”
  2. Andrew S. Grove (1999). Only the Paranoid survive: How to exploit the crisis points that challenge every company: Steve Jobs said “This book is about one super-important concept. You must learn about Strategic Inflection Points, because sooner or later you are going to live through one.”
  3. Aslan, Reza. (2009) Beyond Fundamentalism: Confronting the Religious Extremism in the Age of Globalization 2009: The School Library Journal says “This book offers an informed critique of good-and-evil dualisms on both sides in the war on terror.”
  4. Bardach, Eugene (2008). Practical Guide to Policy Analysis: The Eightfold Path to More Effective Problem Solving(3rd ed.): “Students consistently give this perspicacious presentation of policy analysis fundamentals high marks for its clarity and insight,” says Robert P. Goss
  5. Barrett, Frank J. and Ronald E. Fry (2005). Appreciative Inquiry: A Positive Approach to Building Cooperative Capacity: “This book provides a concise introduction to and overview of the growing discipline and practice of Appreciative Inquiry,” says one description of the book.
  6. Berger, Peter L. & Luckman, Thomas (1967). The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge: A long time ago the American Sociological Review called this book “… A major breakthrough in the  sociology of knowledge.” It still is.
  7. Berman, Paul (2004). Terror and Liberalism: Publishers Weekly said “Berman puts his leftist credentials … on the line by critiquing the left while presenting a liberal rationale for the war on terror, joining a discourse that has been dominated by conservatives.”
  8. Bernays, Edward (2004). Propaganda New York: Noam Chomsky said this “honest and practical manual [originally published in the 1920s] provides much insight into some of the most powerful and influential institutions of contemporary industrial state capitalist democracies.”
  9. Bobbitt, Philip (2009). Terror and Consent: The Wars for the Twenty-First Century: This is the most thought provoking homeland security book I’ve read.

10.  Bongar, Bruce Michael, et al. (2007). Psychology of Terrorism: The International Journal of Emergency Mental Health says “it would be difficult to find a more thorough and comprehensive compendium on the psychology of terrorism in all its important aspects than that represented by this volume.”

11.  Booth, Wayne & Gregory G. Colomb & Joseph M. Williams (2008). Craft of Research (3rd ed.): This is “a well-constructed, articulate reminder of how important fundamental questions of style and approach … are to all research, says the Times Literary Supplement.  It is the “first option offered to students who ask ‘Just how should I begin my research?’” says someone from the Business Library Review.

12.  Brafman, Ori and Rod A. Beckstrom (2008). Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations: Publishers Weekly believes this book is “a breezy and entertaining look at how decentralization is changing many organizations.”

13.  Brannan, David, Bruce Hoffman, Eric Herren, and Robert Matthiessen (2007). Preparing for Suicide Terrorism: A Primer for American Law Enforcement Agencies and Officers: is a “for official use only monograph.”

14.  Brockman, John (2006). What We Believe but Cannot Prove: Today’s Leading Thinkers on Science in the Age of Uncertainty: The American Library Association says in this book “more than 100 notable scientists and scholars answer the question, ‘What do you believe even though you cannot prove it?’”

15.  Bryson, John M. (2004). Strategic Planning for Public and Non-Profit Organizations (3rd Edition): Hal G. Rainey says “Anyone professing competence in public and nonprofit management needs to know what Bryson says about strategic planning.”

16.  Bulliet, Richard W. (2004). Case for Islamo-Christian Civilization: The Washington Monthly says according to this book “there is a far better case for ‘Islamo-Christian civilization’ than there is for a clash of civilizations.”

17.  Chicago Manual of Style (16th): According to the New Yorker, “The Sixteenth Edition of the Chicago Manual of Style is here, and it’s hard for some of us to contain our excitement.”

18.  Clarke, Richard and Knake, Robert (2010). Cyber War: The Next Threat to National Security and What to Do About It: The Financial Times says “It is worth [reading] this book if only for [the] pithy five-page vision of [the] coming apocalypse and a return to stone-age conditions within a week, all because of a few pesky hackers and viruses.”

19.  Clayton M. Christensen (1997). The Innovator’s Dilemma:  This book describes how disruptive technologies can redefine the landscape, sort of what Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party folks are trying to do.

20.  Covey, Stephen M.R. with Rebecca R. Merrill (2008). Speed of Trust: The One Thing that Changes Everything: Warren Bennis says this book is “brave, imaginative, amazingly prescient, and backed up by empirical and analytical heft.”

21.  Creswell, John W. (2009). Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches: This book provides a practical guide to designing, executing and presenting research.

22.  Cronin, Audrey Curth and Ludes, James M. (Eds.) (2004). Attacking Terrorism: Elements of a Grand Strategy: Kurt M. Campbell calls this an “unusually interesting, readable, and well integrated look at the essential elements needed for an American grand strategy to confront the scourge of global terrorism.”

23.  Davis, Paul K. & Brian M. Jenkins (2002). Deterrence & Intelligence in Counterterrorism: A Component in the War on al Qaeda: This monograph – available from RAND and elsewhere – “summarizes the findings of a six-month project on deterrence of terrorism.” It remains one of the most thoughtful and comprehensive discussions of deterrence.

24. Descartes, Rene (2006, by way of 1637). Discourse on the Method for Conducting One’s Reason Well and for Seeking Truth in the Sciences: How “perfect knowledge can be achieved by means of perfect, individual reasoning.”

25.  Donatella Meadows (2008). Thinking in Systems: Peter Senge says “The publication of Meadows’ previously unfinished manuscript is a gift for leaders of all sorts and at all levels.”

26. Eggers, Dave (2010). Zeitoun: “the story of one man’s experience after Hurricane Katrina,… a successful Syrian-born painting contractor, decides to stay in New Orleans and protect his property while his family flees.”  A disturbing narrative.

27.  Entman, Robert (2003). Projections of Power: Framing News, Public Opinion, and U.S. Foreign Policy: The book jacket says this is “an essential guide for political scientists, students of the media, and anyone interested in the increasingly influential role of the media in foreign policy.”

28.  Fanon, Frantz (2005, via the 1961). The Wretched of the Earth 2005: Jean-Paul Sartre says “Have the courage to read this book.”

29.  Frankfurt, Harry G. (2005). On Bullshit: The author asks why “One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit.”

30.  Freier, Nathan (2009). DoD Leaders, Strategists, and Operators in an Era of Persistent Unconventional Challenge: “This study argues that the future security environment will be dominated by unconventional threats and challenges that lie outside the boundaries of traditional warfighting.”

32. Gerencser, Mark (2008). Megacommunities: How Leaders of Government, Business and Non-Profits Can Tackle Today’s Global Challenges Together: Newt Gingrich  says “… these concepts work,” and promises that “We’ll be applying the methods explained in this important book even more ambitiously in the months ahead.”

33. Godin, Seth (2011). Poke the Box: When Was the Last Time you did something for the first time?: This powerfully irritating manifesto says all your good ideas matter little unless you ship something.

34.  Hewitt, Christopher (2002). Understanding Terrorism in America: This book “surveys the characteristics and causes of terrorism and governmental responses to it.”

35.  Hoffman, Bruce (2006). Inside Terrorism: The Washington Post calls this “The best one-volume introduction to” terrorism.

36.  Johnson, Loch K. and James J. Wirtz (2010). Intelligence: The Secret World of Spies: An Anthology: “An admirable contribution to the intelligence canon,” says Mark M. Lowenthal.

37.  Jones, Morgan D. (1998). The Thinker’s Toolkit: 14 Powerful Techniques for Problem Solving: “A collection of proven, practical methods for simplifying any problem and making faster, better decisions every time,” says the product description.

38.  Kelly, Joesph F. (2003). Responding to Evil: This book asks how good and evil can be reconciled.

39.  Kettl, Donald F. (2007). System under Stress: Homeland Security and American Politics: A public administration scholar looks at the first few years of homeland security.

40.  Kim, W. Chan & Renee Mauborgne (2005). Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant: A “vision of the kind of expanding, competitor-free markets that innovative companies can navigate….  Swim for open waters.”

41.  Laurence, Jonathan & Justin Vaisse (2006). Integrating Islam: Political and Religious Challenges in Contemporary France: The American Prospect calls this “an exceedingly important read for anyone trying to understand how governments can help promote (or stunt) the integration process of Muslim immigrants to Europe.”

42.  Leedy, Paul and Jeanne Ormand (2009). Practical Research: Planning and Design: A “’do-it-yourself, understand-it-yourself’ manual designed to help research students in any discipline understand the fundamental structure of quality research and the methodical process that leads to genuinely significant results,” promises the product description.

43.  Lewis, Ted (2006). Critical Infrastructure Protection in Homeland Security: Defending a Networked Nation: Homeland Security Watch says “The book is written as a student textbook, but it should be equally valuable for current practitioners…this book is a very worthwhile investment.”

44.  Lewis, Ted. (2010) Bak’s Sand Pile: The author says “Modern societies want to avert catastrophes, but the drive to make things faster, cheaper, and more efficient leads to self-organized criticality-the condition of systems on the verge of disaster.”

45.  Lowenthal, Mark M (2011). Intelligence: From Secrets to Policy: This is “the go-to book for the most comprehensive overview on the U.S. intelligence community,” says Michael Bennett .

46.  Mansfield, Laura (2006). His Own Words: A Translation and Analysis of the Writings of Dr. Ayman Al Zawahiri: “The vision of Al Qaeda as it is articulated by one of its founders,” says a book reviewer.

47. Mintzberg, Henry (2005). Strategy Safari: A Guided Tour Through The Wilds of Strategic Management: I don’t know a better overview of strategy.

48.  Moghaddam, Fathali (2010). The New Global Insecurity: How Terrorism, Environmental Collapse, Economic Inequalities, and Resource Shortages Are Changing Our World:  The author “analyzes the elements and roots of global insecurity, discussing it in relation to terrorism, torture, economic instability, threatened identity, and religious fundamentalism.”

49.  Moghaddam, Fathali (2008). How Globalization Spurs Terrorism: The Lopsided Benefits of “One World” and Why that Fuels Violence: Paul Ehrlich says this provides “the Big Picture for better understanding radicalization and terrorism in the 21st century.”

50.  Moghaddam, Fathali (2007). Multiculturalism and Intergroup Relations: Psychological Implications for Democracy in a Global Context: An exploration of “the large-scale migration of refugees fleeing international conflict as well as the effects of 9/11 and the violent conflicts that have erupted in its wake.”

51.  Moghaddam, Fathali M. (2006). From the Terrorists’ Point of View: What They Experience & Why They Come to Destroy: Masur Lalljee  calls this “A fascinating study into the development of the perspective of the terrorist. The ‘Staircase to Terrorism’ is a powerful metaphor.”

52.  National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States (2004). 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States: Required reading, for as long as we talk about homeland security.

53.  Provost, Gary (1985). 100 Ways to Improve Your Writing: Way number 1 – get some reference books.

54.  Reynolds, Garr (2008). Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery: Check out the pecha-kucha style for powerpoint presentations (and the presentation zen website).

55.  Sims, Jennifer & Burton Gerber (2005). Transforming U.S. Intelligence: “[T]ransforming intelligence requires as much a look to the future as to the past and a focus more on the art and practice of intelligence rather than on its bureaucratic arrangements.”

56.  Stewart Baker (2010). Skating on Stilts: Why We Aren’t Stopping Tomorrow’s Terrorism: The Wall Street Journal describes this as “a memoir of day-to-day life within a major Washington bureaucracy [DHS] and an insider’s analysis of the challenges to domestic security in the post 9/11 era.”

57.  Tajfel, Henri (2010). Social Identity and Intergroup Relations:a collection of articles about social identity theory.

58.  Taleb, Nassim Nicholas (2010). The Black Swan: Second Edition: The Impact of the Highly Improbable: With a new section: “On Robustness and Fragility: Niall Ferguson says this is “Idiosyncratically brilliant.”

59.  Van Der Heijden, Kess (2005). Scenarios: the art of strategic conversation: Probably the definitive contemporary work on scenario planning.

60.  Wolf, Naomi (2007). End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot: Wolf cautions how “fascism can exist without dictatorship.”

61.  Zegart, Amy B. (2009). Spying Blind: The CIA, the FBI & Origins of 9/11: Graham Allison believes this is “An outstanding demonstration of how the adaptation failures of the CIA and FBI before and after 9/11 lie in deep-rooted organizational deficiencies and not individuals asleep at the switch.”

62.  Zimbardo, Philip and John Boyd (2008). Time Paradox: The New Psychiatry of Time that Will Change your Life: This work will “help you understand the source of many of the world’s greatest triumphs and most pressing problems — from terrorism to homelessness, from religion to love, from the successes and failures of CEOs to those of marriages,” says Sonja Lyubomirsky.

63.  Zimbardo, Philip G. (2008). Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil: Zimbardo describes how “almost anyone, given the right ‘situational’ influences, can be made to abandon moral scruples and cooperate in violence and oppression.”

64.  Zimmerman, Doron & Andreas Wenger, eds (2006). How States Fight Terrorism: Policy Dynamics in the West: The book describes “how national governments are struggling to cope with the complex threat of mass-casualty terrorist attacks carried out by armed groups driven by ideological and/or religious motivations.”

65.  Zinsser, William K. (2001). On Writing Well, 25th Anniversary: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction: This is a book “for everybody who wants to learn how to write or who needs to do some writing to get through the day,” whether a memo, report or a blog post.



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