Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

December 1, 2015

Urgent versus Important

Filed under: Climate Change — by Philip J. Palin on December 1, 2015

We focus again on Paris to better understand the nature of contemporary risks. In his Monday opening of the long-planned United Nations Conference on Climate Change, the President of France said:

Today is a historic day. Never has a conference received so many officials from so many countries. Never, I say never, have the stakes of an international meeting been so high, for this is about the future of the planet and the future of life… I am not choosing between the fight against terrorism and the fight against global warming. We must leave our children more than a world free of terror, we owe them a planet protected from disasters, a viable, livable planet.

Another opening speaker said, the people of the planet have become “the architects of our own destruction” and warned of “impending catastrophe”. It could be asked, which threat — extreme violence or extreme weather — was he addressing?  Many of the speakers pivoted from terrorism to climate, with some pointing to potential intersections.

As dense smog, measuring twenty times worse than the safety threshold, enveloped Beijing, Shanghai and much of northern China, President Xi Jinping told delegates gathered at Le Bourget that addressing the risk of climate change ought not be allowed to dilute “the legitimate needs of developing countries to reduce poverty and improve their people’s living standards.”

Indian Prime Minister Modi echoed Xi’s argument on behalf of economies still seeking to catch-up with the original industrial revolutionaries. He also said, “Over the next few days we will decide the fate of this planet.”

Three decades ago at a dinner in Paris a distinguished Swede asked me, “If you are presented two problems — one important, the other urgent — to which do you attend?”  My hesitation was a sufficient answer for him.  “The urgent emerged from prior neglect of something important.  Do not repeat the same mistake.”

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November 29, 2015

Caught between commission and omission

Filed under: Refugee Crisis — by Philip J. Palin on November 29, 2015

Anne Frank

According to a historian at The American University (Washington DC), the family of Anne Frank, the adolescent diarist of the holocaust, could not qualify for US refugee status:

Otto Frank’s efforts to get his family to the United States ran afoul of restrictive American immigration policies designed to protect national security and guard against an influx of foreigners during time of war. The State Department frequently reduced the number of immigration visas granted below the annual quota levels (set for each European nation by the basic immigration law) by enforcing strict immigration regulations. Those seeking to save themselves had to search for credible American sponsors, accumulate funds for overseas travel,and convince American consuls and State Department officials that they would be a benefit, and not a burden or a threat to the country.

Concerned  by the rise of the Nazis, the Frank family left their native Germany in 1933 to live in Amsterdam. In 1942 the family went into hiding, as described in Anne’s The Diary of a Young Girl.  In 1944 they were betrayed, transported to Bergen-Belsen where Anne died in the late winter of 1945 at fifteen years of age.

In July 1944 she wrote,

It’s difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart. It’s utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more. In the meantime, I must hold on to my ideals.

Seventy years later US refugee policy and procedure continues to challenge the hopes and ideals of many thousands.

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November 27, 2015

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on November 27, 2015

William R. Cumming Forum

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November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving 1863

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on November 26, 2015

The year opened with President Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation. Early in the Spring fighting season three days of battle at Chancellorsville killed more than 3000. In late April General Grant initiated the campaign that eventually captured Vicksburg. Over the first days of July the Union prevailed at Gettysburg, but like most great battles it might easily have gone the other way.

In mid-July several days of draft riots and racial attacks rocked New York City. Some historians claim 2000 were killed. Order was restored using artillery and fixed bayonets. In late August irregulars massacred 183 civilian men and boys in Lawrence, Kansas. Americans would continue to kill Americans for two more years. More than 600,000 died on the battlefield or a bit later of wounds. The total population — North and South — was 34.4 million.

In the midst of this relentless bloody struggle of brother against brother, Lincoln called for giving thanks. Even as the very existence of the United States was reasonably in doubt, the President pointed to progress. While our great-grandfathers on each side were often consumed by self-righteous anger, Lincoln invited the whole people to acknowledge our national perverseness and pray for peace, harmony, tranquility and union.

Proclamation Establishing Thanksgiving Day

October 3, 1863

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies.  To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore.  Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things.  They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people.  I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.  And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.

 

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November 24, 2015

Fear and loathing

Filed under: Radicalization,Refugee Crisis,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on November 24, 2015

Saturday the Washington Post reported, “Americans more fearful of a terrorist attack, poll finds”.  The article claimed that fear has “risen sharply” since the Paris attacks on November 13.

The actual survey question asked on November 19 was, “How likely do you think it is that in the near future there will be a terrorist attack in the United States causing a large number of lives to be lost?”  The identical question has been asked periodically since December, 2001. Last week eighty-one percent of respondents considered the prospect “very” or “somewhat” likely.  This is the second highest result since the question has been asked, surpassed only by the 85 percent net likelihood found after the July 2005 London bomb attacks.

The survey did not ask respondents anything about fear.

Last week I had three friends check in on canceling their holiday trips to New York.  I received one of their calls while walking across Times Square.  A related email arrived while I was getting off the subway at Herald Square.  That morning many newscasts were leading with the ISIS video-threat against New York.

Clearly my friends were apprehensive.  I don’t perceive they were afraid.  Rather, each of them was probably contacting me precisely to strengthen their predisposition to persist with their plans.  My work has very little to do with counter-terrorism, but one of my friends wrote, “You make me feel safer, because I know you know more than most…”

My responses were variations on the theme: risk is persistent, death is inevitable, New York is a very big place, I’m having a great time.  This does not assert any special knowledge.

The Old English word (fær) from which fear is derived means “sudden attack” or “ambush”.  If I had been at or near the Bataclan I would have been fearful.  I am not confident I have the courage or grace to perceive the profound love reported, even there, by one of those trapped in harms way (thank you Vicki).

But fear is not an accurate description for what I currently feel or what prompted my friends to contact me.  Fear may be what Mr. Trump is trying to sell.  But it is not, necessarily, what the survey respondents were channeling.  Perception of an increased likelihood of terrorist attacks may not translate directly into increased fear of the same.

Yet… I have difficulty explaining inflexible and craven notions regarding “outsiders” unless many are afraid or feel themselves on the sharpest edge of fear and are desperately trying to avoid falling further into what they see as a imminent maelstrom.

How do we constructively deal with such wide-spread anxiety?

It is difficult to think aloud about these issues.  Objective analysis helps, but in another way misses the point entirely.  This is mostly about subjective projection.

A few lines cherry-picked from Auden’s long poem The Age of Anxiety:

All war’s woes I can well imagine.
Gun-barrels glint, gathered in ambush
Mayhem among mountains…
Ruins by roads, irrational in woods,
Insensitive upon snow-bound plains,
Or littered lifeless along low coasts…

Numbers and nightmares have news value.

A crime has occurred, accusing all.

The world needs a wash and a week’s rest.

Better this than barbarian misrule.
History tells more often than not
Of wickedness with will, wisdom but
An interjection without a verb,
And the godless growing like green cedars
On righteous ruins…

But the new barbarian is no uncouth
Desert-dweller; he does not emerge
From fir forests; factories bred him;
Corporate companies, college towns
Mothered his mind, and many journals
Backed his beliefs. He was born here. The
Bravura of revolvers in vogue now
And the cult of death are quite at home
Inside the City…

Do we learn from the past? The police,
The dress-designers, etc.,
Who manage the mirrors, say–No.
A hundred centuries hence
The gross and aggressive will still
Be putting their trust in patron
Saint or a family fortress,
The seedy be taking the same
Old treatments for tedium vitae,
Religion, Politics, Love…

Both professor and prophet depress,
For vision and longer view
Agree in predicting a day
Of convulsion and vast evil,
When the Cold Societies clash
Or the mosses are set in motion
To overrun the earth,
And the great brain which began
With lucid dialectics
Ends in a horrid madness…

We would rather be ruined than changed,
We would rather die in our dread
Than climb the cross of the moment
And let our illusions die.

Auden wrote this between July, 1944 and November, 1946.  I have lived my entire life in the shadow he so powerfully projects.  There is also evidence of such dread being fully confirmed: Between April and November 1944 585,000 Jews were deported to Auschwitz.  On August 6, 1945 an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima incinerating at least 100,000.  Listing one dreadful example for each year since would not be difficult. Choosing only one would be the challenge.

Yet this is not the whole story.  Auschwitz was liberated, Japanese and Americans reconciled, in the last seventy years many ancient sources of oppression have withered. In the midst of these dreadful years, have you loved someone? Known the love of another? Experienced joy?

Reality taken as whole helps.  Reality is both brutal and beautiful (and more).  It is important not to deny its multiplicity.

Yesterday, Monday, the Washington Post had another story: Voters’ fear of terrorism changes the campaign.  This time individuals are quoted expressing specific fears.  In these explanations I hear something other than visceral reaction.  I hear self-interested choices.

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GAO: BioWatch is unreliable

Filed under: Biosecurity,Budgets and Spending,DHS News,Technology for HLS — by Philip J. Palin on November 24, 2015

According to the Government Accountability Office (complete report, 101 pages, available):

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) lacks reliable information about BioWatch Gen-2’s technical capabilities to detect a biological attack and therefore lacks the basis for informed cost-benefit decisions about upgrades to the system. DHS commissioned several tests of the technical performance characteristics of the current BioWatch Gen-2 system, but has not developed performance requirements that would enable it to interpret the test results and draw conclusions about the system’s ability to detect attacks. Although DHS officials said that the system can detect catastrophic attacks, which they define as attacks large enough to cause 10,000 casualties, they have not specified the performance requirements necessary to reliably meet this operational objective. In the absence of performance requirements, DHS officials said computer modeling and simulation studies support their assertion. However, none of these studies were designed to incorporate test results from the Gen-2 system and comprehensively assess the system against the stated operational objective. Additionally, DHS has not prepared an analysis that combines the modeling and simulation studies with the specific Gen-2 test results to assess the system’s capabilities to detect attacks. Finally, we found limitations and uncertainties in the four key tests of the Gen-2 system’s performance. Because it is not possible to test the BioWatch system directly by releasing live biothreat agents into the air in operational environments, DHS relied on chamber testing and the use of simulated biothreat agents, which limit the applicability of the results. These limitations underscore the need for a full accounting of statistical and other uncertainties, without which decision makers lack a full understanding of the Gen-2 system’s capability to detect attacks of defined types and sizes and cannot make informed decisions about the value of proposed upgrades.

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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.

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Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on November 20, 2015

William R. Cumming Forum

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November 19, 2015

Naming the enemy

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

Karen Armstrong and others have argued that great religions and ethical systems — Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Confucianism, classical Greek philosophy and more — arose in the Axial Age as universalist efforts to contain increasingly deadly tribal conflict. The goal was to extend common values across tribal boundaries. Christianity, Islam, and others have emerged from similar need.

The Westphalian Consensus might be summarized as European elites deciding their wars of religion — outbreaks of tribalism within a universalist construct — were entirely too costly.  An increasingly fractured universal claim was succeeded by cults of dynastic and/or national sovereignty. Confessional diversity and various tribal identities would be tolerated if subordinated to the State. While never entirely successful, the risks seemed manageable until 1914-1945, when the mitigation process dramatically failed.

Emerging from this failure, two large post-Westphalian States competed to offer alternate visions of universalist ascendance: capitalism or communism.  (Each offer complicated — occasionally enhanced — by tribal particularities of the USA and USSR.)

Since the end of the Cold War, various kinds of capitalism — rarely pure, sometimes state-sponsored, usually mixed — have made their bid for universal influence. It is typically a creed of consumption, near-term gratification, supply chain efficiency, creative destruction, constant change, the next new thing. Many have benefited.  Millions have been pulled out of poverty.  But costs, both direct and indirect, are steep and are accumulating.

I am a Capitalist and an alleged Christian. I am an active citizen of a post-Westphalian nation-state that has proudly (at times earnestly) aspired to be post-tribal. Universalism is my cultural and personal comparative advantage.  But from time to time, even I feel the litany and logic of universalism to be manipulative, inhumane, and vulgar. Others, for whom tribe is source of identity and sustenance, — and those with no meaningful identity — often find my universalist values unnatural and frightening.

Some have credibly demonstrated our species emerged no less than 60,000 years ago and can be traced even further back.  For at least two-thousand generations tribe has been hearth, health, and all that is holy; universalism a very recent, comparatively abstract addition. Tribal relationships continue to enrich. A drought of tribal connections and continuity leaves many thirsty.

ISIS, al-Qaeda and similar movements — Islamic and not — attempt to fuse the promise of tribal roots and universal relationship. Despite the stonings, beheadings, bombings and mayhem their ultimate goal is said to be comprehensive peace and fraternity, within reassuring boundaries of their own tribal traditions.

Rather than atomistic consumers competing for the greatest new thing, they promise a global community of loving faithful no longer tempted by Satanic notions of self-indulgent, ephemeral, and empty consumption. With the wholeness of creation re-formed, peace will characterize the inner and outer lives of all, they promise.

In the specific case of ISIS, members of the cult are self-persuaded that Jews and Christians — and hypocritically modern Muslims — destroy and defile traditional truths and obscure the path of Ultimate Reality with gross materialism and a pernicious tolerance of evil.  To overcome this challenge ISIS has been explicit regarding a strategy to unify Muslims by causing the West to exclude and abuse them.  The Paris attack was designed specifically to prompt such responses.  The National Front and others — including governors of several of these United States — are ready to oblige.

ISIS has also communicated it desires to battle the Crusader nations, especially the United States, France, and Britain, in Northern Syria specifically at Dabiq.  Many in the ISIS leadership understand that this military encounter will initially bring it considerable success, followed by enormous losses, but in any case will inaugurate the end-days, the second-coming of Jesus, and divinity’s direct rule.  Once again several, including Senators Sanders, Graham and Cruz and President Hollande, seem ready to make a date for Dabiq.

ISIS, like al-Qaeda before it, is expert in manipulating tribal tendencies to its particular notion of strategic advantage.

The attacks in Paris were horrific. As we have seen in Mumbai and now again, a small team very modestly organized can do terrible harm. I expect we will see similar attacks in other cities: Rome, Istanbul, and London are at the top of my list.  ISIS has apparently called out Washington DC and New York as targets.

These sort of attacks do not reflect an existential threat to a great nation. But it is very difficult to imagine any government so disciplined and stoical as to make this argument.  A more robust military response, one way or another, eventually will come.

Despite the Dabiq prophecy, I expect a coalition of regional and Western forces will “destroy” the current Raqqa regime.  Given their threats, demonstrated capability, and bloody ambition this probably will now happen sooner than later. Given what we have heard from inside the self-styled Caliphate, maybe this time victorious troops will actually be greeted as liberators. (Probably not.)

But what then?

We can transfer, try to proactively avoid, and reduce the risk posed by ISIS.  But we live in an era when, I suggest, the risk itself will persist. The underlying threat will not be destroyed. Whether the West and/or modern Muslims wage war or peace, the perceived divide is too great to be reconciled any time soon. Given global proximity, even intimacy, the conflict will continue and probably escalate… regardless of what we do or don’t.

The risk cannot be destroyed and must be ruefully accepted because ISIS is merely the most recent reflection of a 2500 year plus contention between forces of tribalism and universalism.  Across all these centuries and most of our cultures there has been a recurring effort to contain the deadly pride of tribe versus tribe.  In many times and places universalism has claimed the cultural high ground.  But tribal insurgencies have always retained the emotional commitment of many.

Tuesday I complained that our current threat had been reduced to an indefinite plural pronoun.  I have heard many insist that we must be explicit regarding the proper noun.  But most of the names offered have been those of a weaker progeny of a primordial power that the best men and women of our species — some would claim an authority even greater than this — have failed to destroy and seldom enough contained.

What then, shall we do?

I have just exceeded my thousand word limit, so I will conclude with three questions that may be worth regularly asking:

  • Does my (our, this nation’s, this culture’s) action inflame or contain tribe-vs-tribe tendencies?
  • Is my action coherent with some version of the other-as-self ethic of reciprocity?
  • Will my action increase or decrease the likelihood of future pain and suffering, for me and for most others as well?
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November 18, 2015

Protection and Recovery

Filed under: Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on November 18, 2015

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November 17, 2015

Terrorism and the global war against indefinite pronouns

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

HLSWATCH_DES MOINES DEBATE

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

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

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

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

What issue?  What challenge?  This remains unclear.

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

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

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

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

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

–+–

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

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

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

–+–

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

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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.

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November 13, 2015

Open Thread on the Paris Terrorist Attacks

Filed under: General Homeland Security,International HLS,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Arnold Bogis on November 13, 2015

Obviously, the facts regarding the multi-site attacks tonight in Paris tonight are fluid and it will take days to definitively understand and describe what has occurred.

I am not going to make an effort to replicate news outlets efforts at updating information.  Instead, I thought it might be useful to open a thread on this attack, specifically, or this type of threat, in general, to allow any interested parties to share their expertise, opinions, or general thoughts.

Update: For those looking for information online, the New York Times is providing free digital access to all of their coverage online.

Update 2: For news closer to the source see France 24, an English language French TV station. You can watch their live feed here: http://www.france24.com/

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Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on November 13, 2015

William R. Cumming Forum

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November 12, 2015

Proactively professional and non-partisan

Filed under: Resilience,State and Local HLS,Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on November 12, 2015

First proposition: Terrorism is the strategic application of opportunistic violence to achieve political purposes.

Second proposition: The political purposes of several radical Salafist groups are advanced when terrorist attacks are made against the United States.  The perceived success of such attacks enhance the recruiting potential of the group that can claim credit and serves to improve the power-position of that group vis-a-vis other radical groups.

Third proposition: The political purposes of several radical Salafist groups are advanced when United States military force is deployed in Muslim-majority territories.  This enhances the ability of such groups to portray themselves as legitimate defenders of Islamic peoples under attack and/or occupation.

[Readers are encouraged to utilize the comment function to raise objections to any or all of these propositions.]

First observation: To the extent the foregoing propositions are broadly accurate (if inevitably reductionist), it is reasonable to anticipate that one or more radical Salafist groups are actively engaged in motivating and/or coordinating a terrorist attack on the United States.  An especially sophisticated group would try to choose a time and target designed to prompt new or increased US military operations in Muslim-majority territory. Given prior patterns of behavior, a dramatic attack late in the US election season or early in the new President’s administration might be conceived as having particular potential. (Al Qaeda, in any of its surviving forms, might be especially motivated to launch a well-coordinated attack to differentiate and resuscitate its brand in competition with the more free-lance ISIS approach.)

Second observation: Barring a significant terrorist event, it seems unlikely the US presidential campaign will give substantive attention to terrorist threats, counter-terrorism, or other aspects of homeland security.  Nor is there evidence any current candidate is especially well-qualified on these issues. As a result, any well-timed and creatively targeted terrorist attack might well produce significant surprise and — especially when surprised — American political processes are predisposed to dramatic responses.

Recommendation:  To the extent these observations are plausible, there would be potential benefit if homeland security professionals in the United States would be proactive during the presidential election season communicating the “draw-play” potential of terrorist attacks and discussing a wide range of US strategic options.  Such activity would be designed to 1) reduce the surprise factor associated with any such attack and 2) discourage US responses that play into the political purposes of radical Salafist groups.

[If the observations and recommendations survive reader scrutiny, it would be especially interesting to hear suggestions about how homeland security professionals could engage in this process.]

–+–

The principal author of the prior 400 words does not want to be identified. Let’s call him “Paul Brown”.  He is a self-described homeland security professional currently employed by a State.  Philip Palin has helped shape the language above and will — sometimes in conversation with the author, sometimes not — attempt to respond to reader comments, critiques, and suggestions.

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November 10, 2015

Critical and creative as complementary

Filed under: Biosecurity,Border Security,Preparedness and Response,Public Health & Medical Care — by Philip J. Palin on November 10, 2015

Last week the Secretary of Homeland Secretary presented awards recognizing, “the work, sacrifice, and professional excellence of employees from components all across the Department of Homeland Security.  [Individuals who] performed above and beyond the call of duty, responding in extraordinary ways to the challenges of protecting the homeland.”

The DHS website provides quick profiles of several team-based and a few individual awards.

Most of the awards focus on success addressing a specific problem and most of the problems are component-specific (i.e. involving only one agency).  But of eight award categories, one addresses “unity of effort“.

Three of the awards given in this category relate to a National Special Security Event (e.g. papal visit), one on a public-private effort at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, one on Southern border operations, and one on Ebola response.

The Ebola team honored especially caught my attention:

Aaron Firoved, Ph.D., Office of Health Affairs
Captain David Lau, ICE
Mallory Lowe, FEMA
Jamie Johnson, FEMA
Elizabeth Harman, FEMA
Jeremy Guthrie, FEMA
Mike Turner, OIA
Pedro Bordatto, TSA

Last year most of the Ebola related news focused on actions by the Centers for Disease Control or Department of Defense.  But behind the scenes even more was happening.  CBP developed new policies for enhanced airport screening.  Several DHS components were involved in responding or preparing to respond.

The team honored last week was involved in policy/strategy development. But as important they were charged with a proactive, coordinated reach-out across DHS and with state, local, tribal and private sector colleagues to communicate the situation, problems, and opportunities.  I am told this group became a trusted go-to source within the Department for timely and accurate information, especially when the immediate answer was the dreaded, “I don’t know.”

This is a communications role seldom sought out within the public sector and like-wise across the culture.  There is often an expectation for expert and authoritative information, even–especially–in the midst of an emerging crisis.  The messenger can be damned regardless of what s/he does or doesn’t. (If you need to be reminded of the epidemic potential for paranoid criticism just google “fema ebola”.)

A friend who came to depend on the team told me, “It really was less about what they communicated and more how they communicated. Often they had bad news or no news, but they were receptive, responsive, and proactive in trying to trace what they did not know and getting back with whatever they had.  This encouraged ongoing exchange and increased institutional confidence. It may have even increased competence.”

(But even this good example and the award does not allow my friend to feel sufficiently empowered to be named as a source. She admits trust-building takes two and she is not–yet–ready to do her part.)

Critical thinking is usually a very productive skill.  A great deal of critical thinking was applied to last year’s Ebola crisis.  What I perceive this task-team was able to do is complement the critical thinking with creative thinking.  They generated new capacity by using the questions they received to “learn-from-artful-searching”, “give particular attention to strengths” that could be found within DHS or across the whole-of-government, while inviting DHS personnel to “create new ways to pursue… a positive future.”  (The quotes are from Appreciative Inquiry by Frank Barrett and Ronald Fry.)

The Secretary expressed his appreciation for their appreciative approach.

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