Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

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.

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December 18, 2015

Friday Free Forum

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

William R. Cumming Forum

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Probability assessments

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Resilience,Risk Assessment,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on December 18, 2015

After Paris and before San Bernardino a Washington-Post ABC News poll found that 83 percent of registered voters perceive “a terrorist attack in the United States resulting in large casualties is likely in the near future.”

In a more recent poll seventy-seven percent of Americans express significant skepticism that  it is possible to stop terrorist attacks carried out by individuals, so-called “lone wolfs” or those inspired but not directed by ISIS, al-Qaeda, and similar organizations.  There is much more confidence that larger-scale coordinated attacks can be preempted.  But even here a majority of poll respondents doubt all such attacks can be stopped.

The media reports on these polls (linked above) tend to perceive increasing anxiety or fear and focus on political consequences.

But the more recent poll, conducted between December 10 – 13, also asked the question, “How worried are you that you or someone in your family will become a victim of terrorism?” Despite (because of?) the proximity of the Paris and San Bernardino attacks the percentage responding as “not too worried” or “not worried at all” increased from 49 percent in a June poll to 57 percent last week.

These survey results seem coherent with my own perceptions:

Continued terrorist attacks on the United States are likely. Variations of the Boston bombings or San Bernardino shootings are most likely.  An urban swarm attack, ala Mumbai or Paris, will — almost certainly — eventually be carried out.

We should be proactive and smart in taking reasonable and effective steps to reduce these probabilities. In the homeland security domain this ranges from a strategy of social solidarity to well-targeted intelligence operations.  But at some time and place all of our best efforts will fail.

In any case, these terrorist operations are unlikely to directly threaten me or my family directly.  They do not — or at least, need not — present an existential threat to the nation.

Given the polls reported above, other recent polls, and my own conversations with a wide range of Americans, it would seem that more than sixty percent share very similar views.  It is, it seems to me, a very realistic perspective on probabilities.

It is remarkable that political leadership seems unwilling or unable to build-on the realism of a significant majority of the population. It is even worse when some putative leaders are focused on stoking an unachievable fantasy of complete security on the part of a fearful minority.

–+–

UPDATE:  On December 16 the Department of Homeland Security released a National Terrorism Advisory System Bulletin, a new approach to providing public alert.  Rather than the old (bad) color codes, it attempts to provide some context.  The first alert opens with:

We are in a new phase in the global threat environment, which has implications on the homeland.  Particularly with the rise in use by terrorist groups of  the Internet to inspire and recruit, we are concerned about the “self-radicalized” actor(s) who could strike with little or no notice. Recent attacks and attempted attacks internationally and in the homeland warrant increased security, as well as increased public vigilance and awareness.

This is hardly new, but perhaps someone had been waiting for “official” notice.

 

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December 17, 2015

Talking terrorism

Filed under: Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on December 17, 2015

vegas-debate

Tuesday evening in Las Vegas the Republican presidential candidates all had something to say about terrorism… and immigration, refugees, cyber-war and whether or not we are already engaged in World War III. The following focuses on what I heard regarding terrorism.

Senator Paul said, “If we truly are sincere about defeating terrorism, we need to quit arming the allies of ISIS. If we want to defeat terrorism, the boots on the ground — the boots on the ground need to be Arab boots on the ground.” He also said,”every terrorist attack we’ve had since 9/11 has been [the result of] legal immigration… I want more rules, more scrutiny, and to defend the country, you have to defend the border.”

Senator Cruz said, “If I am elected president, we will hunt down and kill the terrorists. We will utterly destroy ISIS. We will stop the terrorist attacks before they occur because we will not be prisoners to political correctness. Rather, we will speak the truth. Border security is national security and we will not be admitting jihadists as refugees. We will keep America safe.”

Mr. Bush said, “We need to destroy ISIS in the caliphate. That’s — that should be our objective. The refugee issue will be solved if we destroy ISIS there, which means we need to have a no-fly zone, safe zones there for refugees and to build a military force. We need to embed our forces — our troops inside the Iraqi military. We need to arm directly the Kurds. And all of that has to be done in concert with the Arab nations. And if we’re going to ban all Muslims, how are we going to get them to be part of a coalition to destroy ISIS?The Kurds are the greatest fighting force and our strongest allies. They’re Muslim.”

Governor Kasich said, “Then here at home, there are things called the Joint Terrorism Task Force, headed by the FBI, and made up of local law enforcement, including state police. They need the tools. And the tools involve encryption where we cannot hear what they’re even planning. And when we see red flags, a father, a mother, a neighbor who says we have got a problem here, then we have to give law enforcement the ability to listen so they can disrupt these terrorist attacks before they occur.” In regard to operations against ISIS, the Governor said, “This is not going to get done just by working with the Sunnis. And it is not going to get done if we just embed a few people. We have to go massively, like we did in the first Gulf War where we destroyed Saddam’s ability to take Kuwait. We need to have a coalition that will stand for nothing less than the total destruction of ISIS and we have to be the leader. We can’t wait for anybody else.”

Ms. Fiorina said, “Why did we miss the Tsarnaev brothers, why did we miss the San Bernardino couple? It wasn’t because we had stopped collected metadata it was because, I think, as someone who comes from the technology world, we were using the wrong algorithms.”

Senator Rubio said, “ISIS is a radical Sunni group. They cannot just be defeated through air strikes. Air strikes are a key component of defeating them, but they must be defeated on the ground by a ground force. And that ground force must be primarily made up of Sunni Arabs themselves, Sunni Arabs that reject them ideologically and confront them militarily. We will have to embed additional American special operators alongside them to help them with training, to help them conduct special missions, and to help improve the air strikes… And beyond that, I would say we must win the information war against ISIS. Every war we have ever been involved in has had a propaganda informational aspect to it. ISIS is winning the propaganda war. They are recruiting people, including Americans, to join them, with the promise that they are joining this great apocalyptic movement that is going to defeat the West. We have to show what life is really like in ISIS territory, and we have to show them why ISIS is not invincible, by going out and conducting these attacks and publicizing them to those who they recruit.”

Governor Christie said, “What we need to do… is restore those tools that have been taken away by the president and others, restore those tools to the NSA and to our entire surveillance and law enforcement community. We need a president who is going to understand what actionable intelligence looks like and act on it.” The Governor said or suggested much more, but mostly by criticizing what others have done or propose to do and promising he will be stronger.

Mr. Trump‘s comments were, at least to me, incoherent. Every quote I begin to cut and paste seems ridiculous.  I sort of know what he means, but only by finishing sentences for him.

Much more was said, the Washington Post provides an annotated transcript.

Hugh Hewitt, a conservative radio broadcaster, who CNN had asking questions initiated an exchange with Ben Carson regarding the role of healing violence. This is not the term used in Las Vegas by either man, but the work of surgeons, such as Dr. Carson, is sometimes described with this phrase. The pediatric neurosurgeon responded that in fighting terrorism he is prepared to practice extreme triage. Here’s one part of the exchange:

HEWITT: So you are OK with the deaths of thousands of innocent children and civilians? It’s like…

CARSON: You got it. You got it.

Dr. Carson and most of the other Republican candidates — many others as well — have situated the current terrorist threat as a particular thing in a particular place or places.  This diagnosis drives the treatment: complete eradication.

There is an abiding sense of terrorism as an external epidemic or an internal cancer — perhaps some weird hybrid of both — that will continue to threaten if it is not entirely exterminated.  Dr. Carson is not alone in deciding that the threat is self-evidently sufficient to justify the most heart-wrenching triage.

Is a chronic coronary condition the more accurate analogy? There is a significant weakness in our global circulatory system. Blockages tend to form, threatening various ruptures that could kill us. This sort of diagnosis would tend to drive wellness, reinforcing therapies, and less drastic surgical interventions. Triage is much less relevant to this diagnosis.

Earlier in the evening at the undercard debate Senator Graham said, “This is a religious war between radical Islam and the rest of the world. And there’s only one way you’re going to win this war. Help people in Islam who reject radical Islam to fight over there and destroy this ideology. Donald Trump has done the one single thing you cannot do: Declare war on Islam itself. ISIL would be dancing in the streets, they just don’t believe in dancing. This is a coup for them.  And to all of our Muslim friends throughout the world, like the King of Jordan and the President of Egypt: I am sorry. He does not represent us. If I am President, we will work together and with people of faith all over the world to destroy this radical ideology. Declaring war on the religion only helps ISIL.”

Senator Graham is still using the language of destruction. But what I hear him describing is much more a matter of building up the strength of a whole system, not just for some to survive but for everyone to thrive.

–+–

UPDATE:  Mid-day on Thursday the President visited the National Counterterrorism Center.  His remarks on the terrorist threat can be found here.

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Even more issues

Filed under: Climate Change,Immigration,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on December 17, 2015

This has been an especially busy several days in homeland security.  The list of issues and events could be quite long.  The following strike me as requiring at least a reference here.

The decision to close the Los Angeles public schools after receiving an emailed terrorist threat was defended by the LA Times editorial board.  They wrote, “with the San Bernardino shootings still a vivid memory, and with a somewhat more detailed threat in hand, district officials believed they had little choice but to close the schools. Had anything happened to a student or teacher, the horror would have been unspeakable, a wound from which it would be hard to recover. It’s easy to understand why the district erred on the side of safety.”

New York received a very similar — even identical — threat but decided differently.

“We are born of immigrants.  That is who we are.  Immigration is our origin story.  And for more than two centuries, it’s remained at the core of our national character; it’s our oldest tradition.  It’s who we are.  It’s part of what makes us exceptional,” the President told new citizens who had just participated in a naturalization ceremony at the National Archives.  Given increasing public anxieity regarding immigrants, it was a powerful, even poignant event.

Writing in Politico Michael Hirsh  argues that the recent terrorist attacks and even more recent climate deal in Paris reflect the darkest and the brightest aspects of life on our planet. He writes, “The question is whether the political leaders who signed what is being called “L’accord de Paris” were more effective in their efforts to preserve this civilization than the terrorists were in theirs to destroy it. Granted, the climate pact has plenty of holes—the biggest of which is that it is fairly nonbinding—but it still represents the strongest global consensus in two decades on climate change, bringing in nearly every nation on earth…”

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December 15, 2015

“What are things like in America?” – Letters from Aleppo (Part 2 of 3)

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on December 15, 2015

224 years ago today, the Bill of Rights was ratified.

“On December 15, 1791, the United States adopted the Bill of Rights, enshrining in our Constitution the protection of our inalienable freedoms, from the right to speak our minds and worship as we please to the guarantee of equal justice under the law…. In adopting the first ten Amendments, our Founders put forth an ideal that continues to define our Nation — that we can have both liberty and security, that we need not sacrifice the rights of man for the rule of law.”

Jeff Kaliner and his students remind us of a lesson easily forgotten:  as messy as our endless pursuit of a more perfect union may be, not everyone shares our blessing of liberty.

Kaliner teaches a homeland security class at the Clark County Skills Center in Vancouver, WA. His students were asked to step into the shoes of a child living in Aleppo and write a letter to a pen pal, relative or friend in the United States. Specifically, Kaliner asked the students to describe what they saw, heard and felt.

———————————————————————-

Dear Pen Pal,

My name is Mason. I am 17 years old and I am from Syria.

I have seen many terrible things. ISIS bombed my house last year and my mom and sister died. Even though I was very scared I wanted justice. So, soon after the bombing I began making weapons with my father.

I fear for my life and my family’s lives every day and the only thing that makes me want to live is my dad and my little brother. I am teaching my brother about how to make bombs. I am also trying to give him an education so that he might have a future after this war.

I wish we could send my little brother out of the country. He needs a proper education and a better life.

Mason Winstead

__________________________________________________________

 

Dear Pen Pal

I am writing to you from Syria.

Every day I patrol my area and look for anything that is out of the ordinary. The government has planted bombs.

In the morning I join my dad in the office to make bombs to use against the regime. Once I’m done with that my sister and I go and make sure the sheets are still hanging outside of our home so the snipers can’t shoot us.

On a daily basis I see war and I see people fighting for what they believe in. I also see my siblings suffering. We all felt it was best to stay and fight with my dad and I agree so that’s what we are going to do.

Even though I have lost friends who sided with the government, I know my help can make a difference.

I am constantly thinking about how I am going to die, I’m not really scared but I feel nervous as if when I die I won’t have contributed enough to the cause. I am feeling a bit of anxiety and stress due to my position but I am also feeling pride in the fact that I know fighting will change something.

Well I’m needed on the lines now so I have to go, bye.

Your Friend ~ Grady Baxter

_________________________________________________________

 

Hello Pen Pal,

My name is Evelyn and I am 9 years old. I live with my family in a country named Syria in the town of Aleppo.  Syria is where I was born and raised.

I believe my country would be better if we had peace. I feel as if I am terrorized for something that I have no part of. I love my family and we are at risk every day, knowing that anybody could die the next.

We are trying to make the best living here but it’s really, really hard. Bombs are always being thrown and destroying our property and our houses. I don’t think my family or any of us deserve this. We only want to be happy.

I see things that scare me and I know it’s not right. I see things like people’s heads being blown off and body parts laying around in the streets. It’s scary for me and all I can do is hope and pray every day and every night for a better tomorrow.

Peace to you,

E. N.

 

__________________________________________________________

 

 

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December 11, 2015

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on December 11, 2015

William R. Cumming Forum

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December 10, 2015

Risk is a river

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on December 10, 2015

Natural Risk:

According to the Seattle Times:

Heavy rains and melting snow swelled rivers over their banks across Western Washington on Wednesday, as floodwaters endangered lives and homes in at least 11 counties while pouring over roadways, undermining hillsides and forcing widespread evacuations.

A mudslide closed all lanes of northbound Interstate 5 near Woodland, which straddles Clark and Cowlitz counties, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) said. And more rain is on the way — with high winds on the coast and north of Everett…

Accidental Risk:

Methane has been leaking from a natural gas storage facility since October, sickening the residents of Porter Ranch, a Los Angeles suburb.  The video above was commissioned by a law firm and taken with a  specialized Optical Gas Imaging camera on December 7, 2015. It reveals a cloud of methane gas over the community. According to the Los Angeles City Attorney, the leak is releasing roughly 50,000 kilograms of methane per hour — a cumulative amount since October roughly equivalent to 200,000 cars running for a year.

Intentional Risk:

Yesterday the FBI Director testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee.  Most of the media reports have focused on the director’s oral comments related to the San Bernardino mass shooting.  According to National Public Radio,”The husband-and-wife team who killed 14 people during a shooting rampage in San Bernardino, Calif., had been radicalized before they “started courting or dating each other online…” Comey said the couple had talked about jihad and martyrdom as early as the end of 2013.”

The FBI Director’s prepared testimony is much more comprehensive.

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The enemy of peace and happiness

Filed under: Radicalization — by Philip J. Palin on December 10, 2015

I am a man in his sixties, mostly of Danish, Norman French, and English ancestry.  I enjoy a glass a wine.  I drink too much coffee.  I have a particular affection for the human form in art and otherwise. In many ways, I am a sensualist.

I am also an active member of the Jesus movement. I understand my spiritual tradition to be well-rooted in and watered by Judaism.  I recognize Islam as a closely-related tradition — in some ways the original protestants — who have preserved and extended a web of spiritual notions gradually excluded by the post-Constantinian Church.

I am especially taken by the Koran’s characterization of the relationship between Jesus and John the Baptist. For me it is entirely coherent with Gospel accounts… and much more extensive.

On Tuesday I sent and received several Rohatsu greetings, celebrating the anniversary of the Buddha’s enlightenment.

I understand Ultimate Reality — what I sometimes call God — to be radically open to constant flux.  Reality is predisposed to freedom and creativity. Randomness is one necessary aspect of this freedom. Chaos is how we may characterize our experience of reality.

I also perceive that deeply woven into our universal context are strange attractors quite adept at maintaining certain boundaries.  In most ways, the behavior of Ultimate Reality is precisely unpredictable, but in many other ways: discoverable, dependable, and  — while beyond proofs positive — potentially (and innately) self-restrained.  God is reasonable, Aquinas thought he had proven.

To some all of this makes me an infidel (and for others, dangerously religious).  I honor the material world.  I am religiously syncretic.  I perceive God to be self-restraining.  The God of Spinoza? Heretic.

To the extent that I actively quote Tanakh, Gospel, Talmud, Koran, Hadith, Sutra, Newton, Einstein, Heisenberg, and Bohr in arguing these perceptions, I am demonstrably Satanic.  A Tempter.  An Impediment. A Spiritual Rebel.

I am not being ironic.  I understand and — at a certain level — even empathize with the critique.

They crave certainty.  They perceive rather specific guarantees.  They preach and try to practice a strict formula that they are convinced can unfold into universal peace and happiness.  If only humanity would submit to this discipline, a holy justice, equality, and love would be experienced by all.

In my stubborn rebellion I not only condemn myself, but I endanger thousands of others. I am perpetuating the pain of sin and separation. Eliminating me would speed the reconciliation of humanity to its true calling.

Earlier this year ISIS was quite explicit in one of their English-language publications (Dabiq) regarding this separation of sheep from goats, wheat from chaff, good from evil.  They paraphrased Osama bin Laden (who drew on George W. Bush): “The world today is divided into two camps. Bush spoke the truth when he said, ‘either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.’ Meaning either you are with the crusade or you are with Islam.”

Today those associated with Raqqa perceive too many Muslims (the vast majority) reside in what they call a “grey zone”, a shadowland between the light of certain truth and the darkness of ambiguity that I personify.  Too many modern Muslims share some of my corrupt predilections. They must be motivated to turn from darkness and toward the light.

One of the best ways to achieve this is for darkness to expel them. Again in Dabiq — published to be read by English-speaking Muslims — they wrote,

The Muslims in the West will quickly find themselves between one of two choices, they either apostatize and adopt the kufri [infidel] religion propagated by Bush, Obama, Blair, Cameron, Sarkozy, and Hollande in the name of Islam so as to live amongst the kuffar [infidels] without hardship, or they perform hijrah [emigrate] to the Islamic State and thereby escape persecution from the crusader governments and citizens… Muslims in the crusader countries will find themselves driven to abandon their homes for a place to live in the Khilafah, as the crusaders increase persecution against Muslims living in Western lands so as to force them into a tolerable sect of apostasy in the name of ‘Islam’ before forcing them into blatant Christianity and democracy.

The coordinated attack on Paris was well-timed, intentionally or not, to influence the French regional elections.  Sunday the first phase produced an outcome very satisfying to Raqqa.  The anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim National Front Party garnered more votes (28%) than the Socialists (23%) or conservative Les Republicains (27%).

In the US Republican Party nomination contest, Donald Trump is betting Iowa caucus goers and New Hampshire primary voters are ready to reject the grey zone. He is not alone.

The leaders of ISIS pray to a Power that they are certain can make Marine Le Pen and Donald Trump servants of His purpose: to eliminate the grey, clarify black from white, fulfill their vision of division and certainty.

This is a self-interested warping of reality.  In my experience the mixing of dark and light, night and day, is not grey.  At dawn and twilight what I most often see is pink to crimson, saffron to gold, and cerulean to ebony. This morning there was a crescent moon rising to meet the bright planet named for a once-upon goddess of love.

These places between light and darkness are beautiful. I welcome sharing them with anyone who is ready to look east in the morning or west in the evening.  I understand how this makes me the enemy of ISIS and others committed to certainty.  In this recognition, I am even more motivated to enjoy — and defend — these in-between places. Those who have been excluded or expelled are especially welcome.  Given your experience with extremists, your insight is especially needed.

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December 9, 2015

“What are things like in America?” – Letters from Aleppo (Part 1 of 3)

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on December 9, 2015

Jeff Kaliner teaches a homeland security class at the Clark County Skills Center in Vancouver, WA.  His students wrote most of this post.

Letters From Aleppo

“I am constantly thinking about how I am going to die. I’m not really scared but I feel nervous as if when I die I won’t have contributed enough to the cause.”

These words were written by a student in my high school homeland security class. The assignment was to step into the shoes of a child living in Aleppo and write a letter to a pen pal, relative or friend in the United States. Specifically, I asked the students to describe what they saw, heard and felt.

After a few weeks of studying the conflict, I was curious how teenagers from southwest Washington State comprehend the events taking place in Aleppo. In other words, how might twenty young people living in the United States make sense of over 10,000 dead children in Syria?

A sampling of the responses appear below (and in subsequent posts).


Dear Kelsie and Becca,

How are you doing?  I hear that fall has finally hit the states. Is it cold there now?

It’s getting rough over here in Aleppo. Yesterday a missile landed across the road from us. It didn’t go off right away, but when it did it destroyed most of the houses on that side plus part of our upstairs…where Kyle sleeps. Thank God he wasn’t there at the time. He was busy helping Dad deliver new ammunition to some of the other rebel fighters.

They shut school down a while ago. In a way I’m so glad they did, it was getting really difficult going there in peace. A lot of the teens there are children of regime fighters and since my dad (as you know) is a rebel fighter, they really don’t like me or my siblings. I would walk the halls in fear of my life!

Do you have to worry about that in the United States? I really wish we were there. But I am glad to being doing my part to help the rebel fighters. Kyle is fourteen now and he is very strong and has a good shot, so they asked him to help out. Mom was really hesitant about letting him go with the men. We worry that he is now a target for ISIS.

Jessica and Kendra are afraid to venture far from the house. I don’t think they will ever get used to the missiles and the guns firing constantly. I don’t know if I will. At night sometimes they will crawl into my bed. I used to send them back to their room. But now I let them stay with me. I tell them stories and try to help them remember the way things used to be. Jessica is only nine and Kendra is only seven, but the way they talk and the look they get in their eyes sometimes shows age beyond their years.

They rarely talk like they used to. So whenever Jessica brings up her love of chickens or a bird she found, or when Kendra talks about candy and The Hobbit movies, we rejoice inside and encourage them to keep talking.

The other day Jennesa and I took the girls outside to explore a bit and we found a kitten. You should’ve been there to hear their squeals of joy. They laughed and jumped up and down for ages. I had tears in my eyes, it made me so happy to see them happy. Surprisingly Mom let us keep it. I guess she missed having the cats and it helps occupy the girls when we are trapped inside.

Many a time I wish that we were far away from here. Away from the fighting, away from the dust and constant fear. But I am glad that we are here to help the people, to be doing our part. ISIS and Assad must fall. I dream, as I know we all do, of better days. Where the air will be clean of debris from the blown up buildings, where my siblings can play in the streets without fear of a sniper or a sudden attack. I have hope. That day will come soon. With much love

Your cousin,

Kira Goodell

___________________________________________________

 

Dear Sara,

I wish I could be where you are, it’s getting really bad here.

It’s louder than usual, more bombs are going off now and more of the kids around town have gone missing. At first we started looking for them but many of us have given up.

Now our parents keep us in at night to avoid being taken or getting lost. That means we really don’t go out much anymore.

How are you? What are things like in America?

Talk soon.

Sidney Childers

______________________________________________________

Dear Pen-Pal,

Greetings from Syria!  I am a 19 year old girl who lives in Aleppo.   I help my mother take care of the rest of my family which consists of an older brother and two little brothers.  My father is fighting with revolutionaries against Assad’s Regime.

My town is constantly being hit with gunfire, rockets, and shelling.  Being out on the streets is too dangerous so we stay inside most of the time.   When there is a break in the fighting I take my little brothers to the balcony of our house where I teach them their alphabet and numbers. (They’re ages 5 and 3.)

My older brother helps my father with making bombs to use against Assad’s Regime.

When a family member leaves the house there is a possibility of them not returning.  So we treat each day as though it might be our last.  I am not afraid of losing my family for I know that when I do lose them I will see them again with God and that they will have died a martyr’s death.

What is it like over in America???

Is there any fighting where you live??

Will be awaiting your letter.

Sincerely,

Tiffany Miller

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December 8, 2015

Yale University active shooter preparedness video

Filed under: Preparedness and Response,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Christopher Bellavita on December 8, 2015

From the Yale University emergency management website:

This is an emergency preparedness video. This video guides people through the actions they would need to take if confronted by an active shooter. This video depicts fictional events on the Yale campus. Some content may be disturbing. It is intended as a learning tool.

You can watch the 8+ minute video at this link: http://emergency.yale.edu/be-prepared/active-shooterweapon  (not yet available on youtube).

Other examples of the expanding run-fight-hide video literature can be found at these links:

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December 7, 2015

December 7, 1941

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on December 7, 2015

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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.

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December 5, 2015

San Bernardino

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on December 5, 2015

A still emerging major news story such as the bloodbath in San Bernardino is not well-suited for detailed attention by this blog, in my judgment.  But clearly the event and our eventual judgments regarding it are likely to  have important homeland security implications.

According to the Associated Press, “The Islamic State group’s official radio station has aired a statement saying the mass shooting in California was carried out by two “supporters” of the extremist group. While praising the attack, the group stopped short of claiming responsibility for it. The Al-Bayan report Saturday echoed a claim carried Friday by the IS-affiliated Aamaq news agency.”

The Los Angeles Times is giving significant and sustained attention to the continuing investigation.  The reports are aggregated by The Times here.

–+–

The single best commentary I have so-far read on the implications of San Bernardino is by Jessica Stern, author of Terror in the Name of God and ISIS: The State of Terror.  In the Sunday New York Times she offers an empirically informed and thoughtfully framed analysis.

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Germany in the mix

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

According to Deutsche Welle:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

According to a separate DW story:

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

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

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

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December 4, 2015

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on December 4, 2015

William R. Cumming Forum

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