Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

June 25, 2015

Security Mom Podcasts: Michael Chertoff on risk communication and Jessica Stern on radicalization

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Media,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Arnold Bogis on June 25, 2015

These are a little bit old, but interesting enough to share nonetheless.

Juliette Kayyem’s podcast “Security Mom” in the not-so-distant-past (a few weeks ago), focused on crisis communication with former DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff and radicalization/ISIS recruitment with terrorism expert Jessica Stern.

The Chertoff conversation I found especially interesting.  It took what seems like an old issue, the color coded homeland security threat level system, and turns it into a serious discussion of risk communication.  You can find it here:

http://wgbhnews.org/post/slow-death-color-coded-terror-alert-system

From the show’s website, here is a bit of the transcript with Chertoff explaining his issues with the color scheme:

Green was a theoretical baseline of world in which there’s no terrorism. That’s not gonna happen. So then you had yellow and orange. Yellow being kind of some level of threat, orange being a heightened threat. And then you had red. And the problem is it was very difficult to define to define what red was. Did red mean an attack is literally gonna happen like tomorrow? Did it mean an attack already happened? Once you’re at red, how do you come down from red? So, we realized pretty quickly that essentially you’re really dealing with two states. Yellow is your base. And orange is your elevated. And then we tried to be focused on, again, particular regions or particular types of threats.

In an other episode, Juliette talks with Jessica Stern about radicalization, in general, and ISIS in particular. It is a wide ranging conversation, but I’ll share one of her conclusions regarding the threat that ISIS poses to Americans here at home that gets back to risk communication from the Chertoff discussion:

For a police officer, for the FBI, for the president, for people working in government — this should be keeping them up at night. But for a person sitting at home in Brighton or Cambridge —  for any given individual, you’re more likely to die from a beesting than you are in a terror strike. You’re probably more likely to die in your bathtub.

You can listen to it herehttp://wgbhnews.org/post/inside-minds-isis-members

Or by clicking on this link:

Stern ISIS MIX 1

December 30, 2008

Homeland Security Threat Assessment Cites WMD, Radicalization

Filed under: Risk Assessment,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Jonah Czerwinski on December 30, 2008

A new Homeland Security Threat Assessment obtained by The Associated Press, marked FOUO, considers loss of life, economic and psychological consequences, and likelihood of potential attack vectors over the next five years.

During the period of 2008-2013, terrorists will try to conduct a biological terror attack, resulting in overwhelmed regional health care systems and deep economic impacts caused by widespread workforce illnesses and deaths. Interestingly, the assessment suggests that biological agents stolen from labs or other storage facilities within the U.S. remain among the highest threats. Al-Qaida continues to focus on attacks that would generate significant economic losses, casualties, and political turmoil. Hizbollah is cited as also interested in fomenting attacks within the U.S.

Eileen Sullivan’s reporting on this new threat assessment explains that instability in the Middle East and Africa, border security, and expanding cyber terrorism capabilities drive the terrorism threat to the U.S. over the next five years.

Recall the post here about Peter Bergen’s op-ed in the New York Times, In that piece, Bergen offers four reasons why the threat posed to the American homeland is far lower now, such that it justifies a title like “Safe At Home.” This latest threat assessment explains, however, that terrorists will continue to try to evade U.S. border security measures and place operatives inside the mainland to carry out attacks, possibly posing as refugees, asylum seekers, or travelers from visa waiver program members.

I’m not sure how accurate the threat assessment is, but I’m pretty confident that this only adds to the post rebutting his article. Indeed, according to Sullivan, the assessment predicts that the number of radical Islamists within the U.S. will increase over the next five years due partly to the ease of online recruiting means. Sullivan cites that intelligence officials foresee “a wave of young, self-identified Muslim ‘terrorist wannabes’ who aspire to carry out violent acts.”

August 16, 2007

NYPD Intel Unit Releases Study on Terror Radicalization in U.S.

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Jonah Czerwinski on August 16, 2007

The NYPD released a study created by their Intelligence Division that analyzes the nature and evolution of terrorism radicalization and recruitment.  Entitled Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat, the report presents a “conceptual framework for understanding the process of radicalization in the West,” which is based on an analysis of five U.S.-based incidents: 

Lackawana, New York
Portland, Oregon

Northern Virginia

New York City –
Herald Square Subway
New York City – The Al Muhajiroun Two (see page 66 of the report)

NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly introduces this new study by explaining that “understanding this [terrorist recruitment] trend and the radicalization process in the West that drives it is vital for developing effective counterstrategies.”  This is why, Kelly continues, the “NYPD places a priority on understanding what drives and defines the radicalization process.” 

The NYPD suggests that a prime differentiator in the cases of the five incidents studied is that the perpetrators are “unremarkable.”  The authors of the report, Mitchell D. Silber and Arvin Bhatt of the NYPD Intelligence Division, apply the term about a dozen times in the report to suggest a new evolution of the terrorist threat in the U.S.: It could be anybody.

By this the report intends to explain that the traditional antecedents to an attack – perpetrators with criminal records, a presence on watchlists, observable anti-American behavior, travel to certain overseas locations – no longer necessarily present themselves even when a terrorist plan has become operational.  The report explains that the process of radicalization and recruitment can be characterized as follows: 

radicalization-scheme.jpg 

Each of the four stages is treated with detail.  In addition to a serious, if somewhat academic, definition of radicalization, the report provides an in-depth threat assessment from the perspective of the NYPD as informed by such well known experts as RAND’s Brian Jenkins.  In the end, the treatment given by this report may do well to highlight the interconnected nature of this threat across national boundaries and thereby give better impetus to a collaborative approach with allies and friends.  This is something the NYPD is known for doing well.  Another byproduct could be a more intentional assessment of drivers, which we called “root causes” years ago before the use of that phrase fell out of popular favor. 

This vitally important subject is covered in other posts here with links to related content from across the policy community.

August 25, 2006

Radicalization in Europe: Globalization and Its Discontents

Filed under: Aviation Security,International HLS,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Dan Prieto on August 25, 2006

Had the recent bomb plot against U.S.-bound flights from the U.K succeeded, it would have been the most spectacular terrorist attack since 9/11. It also would have been a brazen taunt to U.S. authorities: No matter what you do to protect airplanes, they are still not safe. Thwarting this latest attack was a huge law enforcement and intelligence success. But five years after 9/11, the plot also confirms that we have moved into a new stage in the war on terrorism, one that will require more tools than the military, law enforcement, intelligence, and homeland security solutions that have dominated our efforts to-date.

Islamic extremists’ fascination with airplanes has not abated, despite the nearly $20 billion we’ve spent since 9/11 to make them harder targets. Airplanes are ready-made for human casualties. They fit the bill for spectacular theater. And, Al Qaeda also places a premium on inflicting significant economic damage.

The often overlooked aspect of terrorists’ aviation fascination is that intercontinental air travel is a shining symbol of globalization. While many view the forces or modernization, mobility, and interdependence as forces of positive change, reaction against those forces feeds Bin Laden’s radicalism as well as the growing disaffection of segments of Europe’s indigenous Muslim youth, the young men behind the London transit bombings and this latest plot. In the reactionary worldview, globalization is an engine of western imperialism and injustice.

Arguably though, Bin Laden himself is a product of the globalizing trend, the son of a wealthy Saudi businessman and educated in engineering and business. Similarly, many of the 9/11 bombers were western-educated with technical and law degrees. As with the London transit bombings, many of these most-recent plotters were second-generation Pakistanis born and raised in UK. The westernized children are more radical than their first-generation immigrant parents. No irony is lost on the fact that the intended bombing paraphernalia included i-Pods and Gatorade bottles – two other icons of global capitalism.

The susceptibility of indigenous Muslim communities in Europe to terrorist radicalization is a vexing problem that will last for more than a generation. How do you prevent the alienation of young men from societies into which they were born? How do you counter or defuse the deep antipathy toward the U.S. that results from our foreign policy in the Arabic and Muslim world? How do you increase intelligence and law enforcement scrutiny of Muslims in Europe without fueling radicalism or alienating the overwhelming majority of law-abiding Muslim citizens?

Solutions will require patience and perseverance from societies that want security now. They will also require a greater engagement by “white” Europe of a “brown” Europe that it has traditionally tolerated but which it has never integrated. Policies must obviously include improving education, increasing economic opportunities, and bettering relations with police. At the same time, Muslims themselves must do more to turn their own against extremism. This is harder said than done, though: European Muslims who have cooperated with their governments have often lost credibility in their communities.

America’s war on terrorism has resorted to military solutions in Afghanistan and Iraq. Away from the hot wars, the counter-terrorism fight is banking on law enforcement, intelligence, and technology for its success: detect and prevent plots before they happen. As terrorist cells increasingly reflect autonomous and home-grown risks, however, it is unrealistic to think that detection and prevention will always succeed.

As we approach the fifth anniversary of 9/11, the United States and its allies must develop a strategy to defuse the threat of a “Eurabian” fifth column, extremists within European immigrant communities bent on attacking their own countrymen.

The military, intelligence, technology, and aggressive police work are the right tools against the symptoms of terrorism, but do little to address terrorism’s root causes. While tough-on-terror politicians scoff at “softer” tools, education, outreach, and better economic opportunities are the right counterweight to radicalizing influences. If we are serious about waging and winning the long war on terrorism we must bring every possible tool to bear. Our political leaders need to realize that while hammers are essential, all problems are not nails.

Daniel B. Prieto is Senior Fellow and Director of the Homeland Security Center at the Reform Institute. Previously, he was Research Director of the Homeland Security Partnership Initiative at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

December 21, 2015

Trying to follow the money

Filed under: Budgets and Spending — by Philip J. Palin on December 21, 2015

Friday an omnibus appropriations bill funding the federal government through the end of September 2016 was signed by the President.  It is 2009 pages long.  I have not mastered it.  I welcome your corrections or additions to what is below

Following are a few homeland security related bits (drawn largely from the Senate Appropriations Committee minority summary and the Committee’s DHS summary.  The following is not complete.

$11.057 billion for Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which is responsible for securing our borders as well as regulating and facilitating international trade and immigration.  At this funding level, CBP will have the resources to hire and maintain 21,370 Border Patrol agents and 23,775 CBP Officers. (DHS)

$10.922 billion for the Coast Guard including $160 million for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO).  When OCO is excluded, the total amount is $933 million more than the fiscal year 2015 enacted level and $1.007 billion more than the request.  (DHS)

$4 .86 billion for the TSA. (DHS)

$5.832 billion for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  Within this total is $1.9 billion to support investigations in high-priority mission areas, including human trafficking and smuggling, child exploitation, commercial fraud and intellectual property rights enforcement, gangs, cybercrimes and terrorism. (DHS)

$1.63 billion for the National Protection and Programs Division including Infrastructure Protection, Cyber and Infrastructure Analysis, Federal Protective Service, and Biometric Identity Management. (DHS)

$1.5 billion, the same as fiscal year 2015 and $289 million more than the request, in funding to equip and train first responders and state, tribal and local officials for homeland security protection and response. (DHS)

Firefighter grants for equipment and staffing are funded at $690 million which is $10 million more than the fiscal year 2015 level and $20 million more than the request. (DHS)

$350 million is for the Emergency Management Performance Grants to ensure emergency management personnel and capacity is sustained nationwide. (DHS)

$100 million for the Predisaster Mitigation Program, quadrupling these funds from $25 million in fiscal year 2015, and $190 million for flood hazard mapping and risk analysis, almost doubling the program from $100 million last year. (DHS)

$7.4 billion for the Disaster Relief Fund. (DHS)

(Editorial note: We are willing to pay much more to clean up and try to repair Humpty Dumpty than to strengthen his shell, pad his falls, or stop him from sitting on walls.)

$50 million in new funding for the Secretary of Homeland Security to distribute as needed to state and local governments, universities, and non-profit organizations, to prepare for emergent threats from violent extremism and complex, coordinated terrorist attacks.  The bill also provides $3.1 million for the new Office of Community Partnerships, which will focus on countering violent extremism. (DHS)

$314 million in Department of Energy cybersecurity work, which is $10 million more than the fiscal year 2015 level, for cybersecurity activities. (DOE)

$21.3 million for the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to help ensure that federal laws and policies related to terrorism appropriately consider privacy and civil liberties.

$3.7 billion appropriated to Department of Justice, FBI, ATF and related agencies to help prevent radicalization in our communities and support our first responders and federal agents ensuring that if terror strikes, measures are in place to protect and save lives.  One of the biggest agencies in our fight to prevent terrorism within the CJS bill is the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).  The FBI’s counterterrorism and counterintelligence operations are funded at $3.4 billion to uncover, investigate and disrupt current and future threats to our national security.  The National Security Division (NSD), housed in the Justice Department, is funded at $95 million to coordinate efforts between federal prosecutors, law enforcement and the Intelligence Community to combat terrorism.  Other Justice Department agencies are funded as follows: the U.S. Attorneys Office at $51 million to prosecute terrorism cases; the Bureau of Prisons at $18 million to stop extremism and radicalization in federal prisons; the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) at $98 million to fight terrorism with a drug trafficking nexus; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) at $15 million to disrupt and prevent the use of firearms and explosives in terrorist acts; and U.S. Marshals Service at $13 million to handle threat investigations.  The National Institute of Justice is provided $4 million to provide community leaders with evidence-based practices for bolstering resilience and developing responses to prevent and mitigate threats posed by violent extremists. (DOJ)

$7.228 billion for the Centers for Disease Control, $278 million more than last year. (HHS)

$175 million for the Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund to support the Department of State efforts to strengthen the capacity of foreign law enforcement, and to facilitate a more integrated interagency effort to analyze threats and identify priorities for counterterrorism activities. (STATE)

$750 million to respond to the surge of unaccompanied children coming from Central America to the U.S.  The funds will be used to implement a U.S. strategy focused on border security and the reintegration of migrants as well as to address the causes of the migration, including programs to improve education and employment, support families, counter gangs and professionalize police forces in Central America.  Seventy-five percent of the funds for the central governments of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala is subject to certification that they have met certain requirements related to governance, corruption and human rights. (STATE) (Note: $695 million is provided within CBP and ICE to house, process and transport up to 58,000 unaccompanied children and families with children.)

$300 million in disaster relief to help rebuild communities devastated by floods in 2015.  This level of funding is expected to assist approximately 4,000 households composed of homeowners with flood damage and no flood insurance, and very low- to extremely low-income renters with flood damage.  This funding can also assist with rebuilding small businesses and more resilient infrastructure in impacted communities. (HUD)

The Department of Defense (DoD) Appropriations Act, 2016 provides $572.8 billion in base and Overseas Contingency Operation (OCO) funding, compared to $554.1 billion enacted in fiscal year 2015 and $577.9 billion in the President’s budget request.  The base budget appropriation is $514.1 billion with $58.6 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations of the Department of Defense, compared to $63.9 billion for DoD OCO enacted in fiscal year 2015. (DOD)

Intelligence agencies are separately funded.  According to the Director of National Intelligence the FY2016 budget for non-military intelligence operations is $53.9 billion. (DNI, 16 differentmilitary and non-military intelligence agencies)

The comparative proportions are informative, don’t you think?

December 20, 2015

Saturday night in New Hampshire

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

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

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

–+–

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

The former Senator and Secretary of State said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Senator from Vermont said:

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

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

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

The former Mayor of Baltimore and Governor of Maryland said:

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

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

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

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

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

December 7, 2015

A President — and Paine — challenges the People

Filed under: Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on December 7, 2015

Sunday night the President outlined his approach to defeating ISIL.  There was nothing new, he did not attempt to make it sound new.  Mr. Obama summarized, “The strategy that we are using now—airstrikes, Special Forces, and working with local forces who are fighting to regain control of their own country—that is how we’ll achieve a more sustainable victory.”

The President called for narrow reforms related to visa screening and purchase of high-powered assault weapons.  He can implement most of the visa reforms on his executive authority.  Disallowing those on terrorist watch lists from purchasing weapons would require Congressional action.  As the President has argued previously, he called again for Congressional action to update and re-authorize use of military force against a terrorist threat that has morphed. The absence of a new AUMF has important constitutional implications, but probably no near-term practical effect.

As the President challenged Congress to act in ways he cannot, Mr. Obama also challenged the American people. He said:

We cannot turn against one another by letting this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam. That, too, is what groups like ISIL want. ISIL does not speak for Islam. They are thugs and killers, part of a cult of death, and they account for a tiny fraction of more than a billion Muslims around the world?—?including millions of patriotic Muslim Americans who reject their hateful ideology. Moreover, the vast majority of terrorist victims around the world are Muslim. If we’re to succeed in defeating terrorism we must enlist Muslim communities as some of our strongest allies, rather than push them away through suspicion and hate.

That does not mean denying the fact that an extremist ideology has spread within some Muslim communities. This is a real problem that Muslims must confront, without excuse. Muslim leaders here and around the globe have to continue working with us to decisively and unequivocally reject the hateful ideology that groups like ISIL and al Qaeda promote; to speak out against not just acts of violence, but also those interpretations of Islam that are incompatible with the values of religious tolerance, mutual respect, and human dignity.

But just as it is the responsibility of Muslims around the world to root out misguided ideas that lead to radicalization, it is the responsibility of all Americans—of every faith—to reject discrimination. It is our responsibility to reject religious tests on who we admit into this country. It’s our responsibility to reject proposals that Muslim Americans should somehow be treated differently. Because when we travel down that road, we lose. That kind of divisiveness, that betrayal of our values plays into the hands of groups like ISIL. Muslim Americans are our friends and our neighbors, our co-workers, our sports heroes—and, yes, they are our men and women in uniform who are willing to die in defense of our country. We have to remember that.

My fellow Americans, I am confident we will succeed in this mission because we are on the right side of history. We were founded upon a belief in human dignity—that no matter who you are, or where you come from, or what you look like, or what religion you practice, you are equal in the eyes of God and equal in the eyes of the law.

Even in this political season, even as we properly debate what steps I and future Presidents must take to keep our country safe, let’s make sure we never forget what makes us exceptional.

There are some — perhaps one-quarter of our nation — who are predisposed to be against anything President Obama supports.  They are so personally offended by this President that they tend to embrace everything that is his opposite.  I hope the President’s embrace of religious pluralism, human decency, and fundamental equality does not increase suspicion of these propositions.

I anticipate there will be more attacks — both self-generated and coordinated.  I have long been surprised there have not been more.  As previously outlined, I understand the threat to go well beyond ISIS.  Given the fundamental nature of the threat any seemingly expedient solution is unlikely to work and may make things worse.

We have seen worse, but this will be plenty bad, day after infamous day. As Thomas Paine wrote so long ago, “these are the times that try men’s souls.”  A few lines later in The Crisis, Paine writes:

Tis surprising to see how rapidly a panic will sometimes run through a country. All nations and ages have been subject to them. Britain has trembled like an ague at the report of a French fleet of flat-bottomed boats; and in the fourteenth [fifteenth] century the whole English army, after ravaging the kingdom of France, was driven back like men petrified with fear; and this brave exploit was performed by a few broken forces collected and headed by a woman, Joan of Arc. Would that heaven might inspire some Jersey maid to spirit up her countrymen, and save her fair fellow sufferers from ravage and ravishment! Yet panics, in some cases, have their uses; they produce as much good as hurt. Their duration is always short; the mind soon grows through them, and acquires a firmer habit than before. But their peculiar advantage is, that they are the touchstones of sincerity and hypocrisy, and bring things and men to light, which might otherwise have lain forever undiscovered.

May our recent panic end. May our minds grow. May we assume a firmer habit than before.

November 20, 2015

Clinton at CFR

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

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

Here’s how she set up her remarks:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–+–

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

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

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

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

November 14, 2015

Immigrant Terror Threats: Imported Time Bombs in an Age of Poses

Filed under: Immigration,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Nick Catrantzos on November 14, 2015

Certain vulnerabilities are emerging in the wake of the attacks on Paris.

1. IMMEDIATE: Inability to vet hence screen assassins mixed among incoming refugees. A universal precept in safeguarding the people and assets of any organization is to begin by denying access to known or likely enemies. Thus the bank shies away from hiring convicted embezzlers, the liquor store from alcoholics, and the daycare center from child molesters. Before an organization can vet such people to make some intelligent decision about who gets in, it must begin with the most rudimentary of first steps: establish the person’s identity. This, sadly, is not possible when incoming droves hail from war-torn, hostile countries that are not about to do anything but impede attempts to trace a given individual’s pedigree and criminal record. Thus we have no way of vetting people like this, and our adversaries know it. The temptation to infiltrate adversaries agents into such migrant waves must be irresistible. It is such a windfall for those who would destroy us, that to not exploit such an opportunity would be jihadi malpractice.

2. EVENTUAL: The tendency of a succeeding generation to succumb to radicalization. A Western country can do everything right in extending humanitarian relief across its borders to welcome oppressed refugees, supplying them opportunities and civil liberties never before available, only to find the gratitude of the first wave of immigrant families turn into a tsunami of resentment for succeeding generations. Perhaps nowhere is this phenomenon better portrayed than in The Islamist, Ed Husain’s 2009 story of how he grew up in a diaspora community in Britain only to be radicalized in a process that began with a longing for a mother country he first saw through the rosy, airbrushed accounts of disgruntled relatives other than his parents. His parents, after all, having emigrated to find a better life, wanted to assimilate, to regard themselves British citizens. But as a youngster, Husain felt estranged, neither fish nor fowl, as he didn’t look or feel British on the one hand and didn’t have a strong Muslim identity on the other. Into this vacuum came recruiters capitalizing on alienation and holding out the allure of a welcoming cultural identity, a sense of purpose, a call to battle for a radical vision of an imagined greatness ideally experienced in snapshots and trickle charges of brief visits to an exotic mother land and to secret meetings of radicals at home. The pattern is revealing: it isn’t the first or true refugees who turn on their host; they are grateful. It’s the succeeding generations, the ones born in relative safety and comfort, the ones who have the luxury of growing up resentful, wanting more and, hence, malleable in the hands of radicals who dangle before them dreams of greatness attained via the express route of jihad rather than the long road of hard work and gradual ascendancy.

3. SYSTEMIC: The unchecked erosion of cohesive elements of the host society under the banner of tolerance to the point of enabling the rise of saboteurs from within. This phenomenon stands out with the demonization of the melting pot. There was a time, remembered more vividly perhaps by first generation children of immigrants whose parents fled countries in tatters in the wake of occupation and civil war, when assimilation wasn’t a dirty word. It was an objective to be pursued with pride and a sense of achievement. The émigrés landing successfully in the New World had to earn their keep and were only too happy to do so. They learned the language and conformed to the laws and customs of the new land providing them opportunities denied them back home. Only now, they were in a new and better home, and they knew it. Thus they thought themselves Americans or Canadians, and they insisted that their children take on the traditions and culture of their new home, sometimes even if this meant diluting the ties to the Old World. When law or custom of the new country conflicted with those of the old country, then the default choice was to go with the new land. After all, this was the source of opportunity, the current home, the place which gave the immigrants the chance they most desired and thus, by extension, the place that deserved their allegiance in return. Sure, it was fine to respect old ways, language, and tradition, but the old folks weren’t kidding themselves. “I enjoy the music and the food and the occasional festivals,” my mother’s kid brother once told me, “but I see myself as an American more than a Greek. This is my country and I put it first.” This was from a man who, like my parents, was in Greece during the Second World War, when the population starved in record numbers as the Nazis and their Italian allies plundered it. Uncle John didn’t remember that part; he was in a Nazi concentration camp at the time, having been rounded up as a low-level courier while a kid working for the Resistance.

Today, the melting pot of yesteryear is regarded an insult, an offense to sustaining cultural identity. Instead, to the extent any kind of nod to assimilation is even considered, the preferred metaphor is the salad bowl. This allows theoretical mixing without loss of identity. Instead of blending in a melting pot, people are supposed to remain distinct “chunks” that tumble in the bowl, coated by some light but not too sticky vinaigrette, such as the shared watching of situation comedies and reality TV shows, instead of shared traditions or, heaven forbid, open profession of allegiance to country or national traditions. Mix together minimally but remain distinct. That’s the mantra. It preserves whatever one wants held inviolate in one’s particular “chunk.” And this distinctness also proves handy in clutching resentments.

We make it worse. By bending over backwards today to open borders unconditionally to people without demanding of them both assimilation and self sufficiency, we load a pistol of cultural castration, cock it, aim it at our own national body parts, and then, perhaps, in a fleeting moment of hesitant misgiving cry out, “Don’t move!”

No Easy Answers

Diagnosing a malady does not necessarily mean offering a cure in the same breath. Doesn’t proper diagnosis at least uncover enough about root causes to suggest that there are things the patient should stop doing in order to prevent the situation from getting worse? If so, then some remedies based on the foregoing analysis would begin with a tenet traceable to both the Hippocratic Oath and emergency management circles: Don’t make it worse.

Places to Start

To counter the immediate problem of vetting incoming hordes, prudence would suggest taking a more cautious view to opening floodgates to people whose only qualification is a hard luck story. People value what they earn, and this applies to immigrants as much as to students or workers of any kind. If citizenship and its rights are to be valued, the country conferring them must treat them as valuable, not as candy to be tossed to win smiles and demonstrate humanitarian impulses in front of cameras. It would make sense to demand of immigrants that they meet some conditions as a ticket for admission. These include fluency in a national language, conversance with the laws and history of their new home country, and a pledge to both abide by the host country’s laws and traditions even when those are in conflict with those of the emigre’s country of origin. Otherwise, why import any avowed malcontent?

To counter the eventual and systemic problems, there needs to be serious recalibrating of institutions to promote and transmit some unifying vision of what it means to be a good citizen without demonizing patriotism. It is fine to maintain a fondness for and recognition of ancestral traditions and culture, but if one is leaving a place for greener pastures, there must be a recognition that the laws of the host country take precedence and deserve respect. For Muslims, this means no, you can’t run your community by Sharia law in defiance of the laws of the land. For others, you can’t insist on having government forms in your native language or fly any flag other than that of your host. Nor can you have your own schools or distinct enclaves designed to self-segregate. If you want to be here, blend. If you don’t, then rethink coming over in the first place.

Too often an otherwise advanced society, losing sight of its cohesive elements, can embark on self-defeating measures, such as a misguided, unchecked immigration policy under the banner of humanitarian relief. It takes level thinking and a weighing of consequences to realize that a nation’s first duty is to protect its citizens and that impetuous opening of floodgates to near term or nascent saboteurs is no way to perform this duty.

April 18, 2015

Categorical confusion: “The musical note and knife are sharp”

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on April 18, 2015

Early Thursday morning S.T. More (a provocative name, seeming to subtly signal St. Thomas More) asked an authentic question.  S/he wondered about my take on self-radicalization.  You can see the original exchange here.

Real questions are wonderful things.  Generous, beautiful, sometimes magical.  Certainly this question has been very good to me.

It prompted additional thinking and reading, especially Gilbert Ryle’s The Concept of Mind and some Aristotle.

Aristotle gave us a comparatively brief text now known as Categories.  Here Aristotle works through how we can accurately compare and contrast, how we can express meaningful characteristics, how we can think more accurately.  Aristotle compares the sharpness of music with that of a knife as an example of confusing substance for quality.

I was drawn to Ryle because of his ground-breaking work on category-mistakes, going well beyond Aristotle.  It occurred to me that with McVeigh, Breivik, the Tsarnaev’s, and others — including several in positions of great authority — we can perceive a recurring pattern of category mistakes.  It is a tendency that constantly challenges me. Anyone who is attracted to analogies will be regularly tempted to false analogies, often false because of some form of category-mistake.

Here is the note Dzhokhar Tsarnaev scrawled on the interior wall of the boat while hiding from search teams.  Many of the unintelligible (UI) words are the result of bullets fired during his capture.

I’m jealous of my brother who ha[s] [re]ceived the reward of jannutul Firdaus (inshallah) before me. I do not mourn because his soul is very much alive. God has a plan for each person. Mine was to hide in this boat and shed some light on our actions. I ask Allah to make me a shahied (iA) to allow me to return to him and be among all the righteous people in the highest levels of heaven. He who Allah guides no one can misguide. A[llah Ak]bar!

The US Government is killing our innocent civilians but most of you already know that. As a [UI] I can’t stand to see such evil go unpunished, we Muslims are one body, you hurt one you hurt us all. Well at least that’s how muhhammad (pbuh) wanted it to be [for]ever, the ummah is beginning to rise/[UI] has awoken the mujahideen, know you are fighting men who look into the barrel of your gun and see heaven, now how can you compete with that. We are promised victory and we will surely get it. Now I don’t like killing innocent people it is forbidden in Islam but due to said [UI] it is allowed. All credit goes [UI]. Stop killing our innocent people and we will stop. 

Where to begin…

Since this is just a blog, let’s try a simple exegesis:

Killing innocent people is evil

YOU are killing (“our”) innocent people

YOU must be punished, I will do so to deter YOU from further killing of innocent people. I will continue to punish YOU until YOU stop.

Fair enough?  Coherent with the original text?

If so, in these expressions, what are the characteristics of YOU?

Certainly you is other than the writer. An anticipated reader? The police?  Others?  Others as in those who do not kill innocents?  Well, give him credit, Dzhokhar recognizes he no longer belongs in the category of those who do not kill innocents.  Others as in non-Muslims?  Perhaps.  But clearly he recognizes non-Muslims can be innocent.  The text seems to be flailing about for some other category or set of categories.

In which category does the writer belong, innocent or evil? Within the claims of  the text, apparently both.  In which category does “you” belong?  Again, apparently both.  These are not yet useful categories.

This can — probably should — be continued.  But not here.

Here I will merely contrast the confusing categories that challenged Mr. Tsarnaev with the clarity that informed decisions made at the Cologne Cathedral on Friday. The memorial service at the cathedral was for those who died in the March 24 plane crash.  The memorial service was offered as a way to support those who had survived.  All those fitting the category descriptions were included.

Categorical clarity is possible.  There are several tools available to help.  One of the first steps will often involve sweeping away the dark cloud of self-righteousness.

April 16, 2015

Ordinary boys, extraordinary rage

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on April 16, 2015

Four Boys

Timothy McVeigh (far left) was the principal actor in the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.  He killed 168 and injured over 680.  The almost twenty-seven year old was assisted by Terry Nichols, but it seems unlikely the bombing would have happened without McVeigh.

A native of western New York state, McVeigh had been awarded the Bronze Star Medal for meritorious service in the First Gulf War. After discharge he held several part-time jobs and bought and sold on the gun-show circuit.  He was often described as soft-spoken and affable.

A best selling biography of McVeigh — American Terrorist — was written with his cooperation.  Just before McVeigh’s 2001 execution one of the biography’s co-authors answered the following question posed by a BBC correspondent:

NEWSHOST:  A lot of people have asked me in conversations how does someone go from being a veteran in the US Army to becoming someone who can carry out the greatest act of terrorism on American soil?

DAN HERBECK:  Part of it started when he was a boy and he was picked on by bullies in his school. Part of it was when his parents had a difficult divorce and he was very hurt by that and part of it was when he was taught to kill in the US Army. And then a big part of it was that he really fights for gun rights and he believes that everyone should have the right to own guns and when he felt the US Government was trying to take that away from him he snapped and he decided he was going to take action against our government.

The book offers a more complicated answer, but quite late in his book tour, the co-author is willing to deploy this reduction.

Anders Brevik (second from the left), was in his early thirties when he bombed government offices in Oslo.  While McVeigh’s murder of children in a day care center was unintended “collateral damage,” Breivik  quite purposefully gunned down over sixty young people on Utøya Island.

There is a new biography of the Norwegian terrorist, the English language title is One of Us.  Reviewing the book for The Guardian, Ian Buruma wrote, “It is a ghastly story of family dysfunction, professional and sexual failure, grotesque narcissism and the temptation of apocalyptic delusions.” With modest adjustments the same diagnosis can be found in most biographies of McVeigh, including a long Washington Post profile published in 1995 titled, “An Ordinary Boy’s Extraordinary Rage.”  Breivik was raised by a single parent, bullied in school, mildly maladroit. Like McVeigh. But while their back-stories are troublesome, nothing seems extraordinary. Each of them: just one of us.

A biography of the Tsarnaev brothers has been published to coincide with the survivor’s verdict and sentencing.  The Brothers was featured on the front-page of last Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, assessed by none other than Janet Napolitano.

The author, Marsha Gessen, mostly avoids the Freudian frames of the previous biographers.  Yes, the brothers were born into an increasingly dysfunctional family. Certainly there was a share of professional failure, especially for the father and older brother. Yes, there was cultural and personal narcissism.  But Gessen is reluctant to see any of these as explaining the apocalyptic delusions or violent rage that exploded on Boylston Street.

Last week the author of the Tsarnaev book was a guest on Fresh Air with Terry Gross.  An excerpt from the transcript:

GROSS: The defense is saying that Dzhokhar (above, far right) was following his brother, Tamerlan (above, second from the right), but unlike his brother, Dzhokhar was not a self-radicalized terrorist. What does the expression self-radicalized mean?

GESSEN: Nobody knows. Nobody knows what self-radicalized means, and that’s one of the weird things about the way that we talk about terrorism. We talk about radicalization as though it were a thing, as though you could sort of track it and identify it, and that’s not the case. And then we’ve added this other layer, which is self-radicalization. Originally, radicalization was supposed to mean that there was an organization that sort of took you through the stages, and then when it turned out that some people just came to terrorism by themselves, this new thing called self-radicalization showed up. No one knows what it means.

Well, some claim to know.  And I have seen some reasonable claims.  But Gessen’s critique is a helpful rejoinder to quickly applying a convenient label that mostly obscures all that we do not know.

Whatever their origins and experience, the four boys seem to have arrived at a similar nexus where rather than accept what can not be known, they sought certainty in a baptism of blood.

 –+–

Despite mixed reviews, I have ordered Gessen’s biography. It has not yet been delivered.  So my imagination has full-rein.  The title suggests to me  The Brothers Karamasov, where Dostoyevsky has the father of the three brothers being warned:

Above all, do not lie to yourself. A man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point where he does not discern any truth either in himself or anywhere around him, and thus falls into disrespect towards himself and others.Not respecting anyone, he ceases to love, and having no love, he gives himself up to passions and coarse pleasures, in order to occupy and amuse himself, and in his vices reaches complete bestiality, and it all comes from lying continually to others and to himself. A man who lies to himself is often the first to take offense. It sometimes feels very good to take offense, doesn’t it? And surely he knows that no one has offended him, and that he himself has invented the offense and told lies just for the beauty of it, that he has exaggerated for the sake of effect, that he has picked on a word and made a mountain out of a pea — he knows all of that, and still he is the first to take offense, he likes feeling offended, it gives him great pleasure, and thus he reaches the point of real hostility. (Book XI, translated by Volokhonsky)

What are the lies I use in self-construction?  What offenses do I construe to give me pleasure?

Nothing out-of-the-ordinary, I assure myself.

February 19, 2015

Bending the narrative

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

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

–+–

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MORE.

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.

 

 

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