Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

August 2, 2014

Ancient analogies?

Filed under: Congress and HLS — by Philip J. Palin on August 2, 2014

Yesterday (Friday) the House passed an emergency supplemental to provide some additional funding to address various problems — mostly associated with the surge of children — at our Southern border.

The Senate had failed to advance related legislation and left town Thursday. With no second chamber to take up the House action the bill cannot become an Act of Congress.  The current “emergency” is left to the Executive to handle as best it can.

I suppose the House action does establish a floor for negotiations with the Senate in mid-September, when the emergency will, probably, be even more acute.  Otherwise, the drama on Capitol Hill was about as substantive as most performance art. Maybe the House should reconvene at the Hirshhorn.

But passage of the legislative package allows some House members the illusion-to-spread — self-delusion to indulge? — that the House was able to be responsible when others are not.

Once upon a time I gave considerable attention to the constitution of late republican Rome, from about 140 BC to Augustus. The Framers of the US Constitution were significantly influenced by the “mixed” government of the Roman Republic.  But even at the beginning of this period much of the republic’s legislative process had become empty ritual.  Only the Senate remained a source of real moral authority, political power, and legislative substance.

Over the century-plus before the Caesars, the Roman Senate largely abrogated its authentic power, becoming another venue for political theater.  Power emerged and was practiced elsewhere.

The reasons are complicated.  Not all have analogies for our situation.  But the principal symptomology — whatever the underlying pathology — was a failure to legislate: the inability to find sufficient consensus within the Senate to act in a reasonable, timely and effective manner.

In the late republic, the absence of legislative effectiveness produced Executives compelled to act (not always wisely) even when they would have preferred not to act.  And, in any case, the Executive acted without the benefit of legislative wisdom, reason or, at the very least, the give-and-take of experience and independent judgment in search of agreement.

We are not quite there.  But we are close enough to make me uncomfortable.

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August 1, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on August 1, 2014

On this day the Great Flood of 1993 is thought to have peaked along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers.  Thirty-two died.  Over $15 billion in damages.

On this day in 2007 the I-35W Bridge in Minneapolis collapsed, killing thirteen and injuring over 140.

On this day in 2013 the Department of State closed several US diplomatic missions across the Middle East and North Africa.  The official announcement noted, “Current information suggests that al-Qa’ida and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks both in the region and beyond, and that they may focus efforts to conduct attacks in the period between now and the end of August.”

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

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July 31, 2014

The government we deserve?

Filed under: Border Security,Congress and HLS,Immigration — by Philip J. Palin on July 31, 2014

UPDATE: Friday Morning:  According to The Hill: “Senate Republicans blocked a $2.7 billion border spending bill Thursday in a 50-44 vote. The Senate voted against waiving a budget point of order on the measure, which would have provided funding for authorities to handle a wave of child immigrants crossing the border.” MORE.

Later today the House is expected to try again to pass a narrower package.  According to Roll Call: “It could happen as early as Friday morning — the GOP will gather at 9 a.m. to discuss new policy proposals to accompany a $659 million appropriations bill they abruptly yanked from consideration Thursday. Republicans departing from an emergency conference meeting Thursday afternoon told reporters they felt confident that, through a process of educating colleagues and agreeing to make some changes to existing legislative language, they could muster enough votes to pass the new measure. MORE.

But with Senators already leaving town for a five-week recess, whatever the House does will be symbolic rather than substantive.  The House will blame the Senate. Democrats will blame Republicans (and vice-versa).  Congress will have fulminated and flailed, but in the end the legislative branch failed to act.

UPDATE: 4:30 Eastern:  Republican leadership has announced the House will delay its recess until a vote is taken on border-related legislation.  MORE from The Hill.

I will be driving for a couple of hours.  Texting while driving is dangerous, blogging is worse.  This is about all from me today… and tomorrow will not be a good day for me to be online.  Blogging is not all I do.

As Bill Cumming mentioned, it’s been interesting to watch the “dance of legislation.”  Beautiful ballet it ain’t.

UPDATE 3:00 Eastern:  Several news outlets are reporting the House is unlikely to vote today on a border related supplemental.  The Hill is using the word “canceled” in regard to the vote.  Roll Call is using “postponed”, saying there is still a small chance of the vote being rescheduled.  Just moments ago Politico led their coverage with, “The House descended into chaos on Thursday, unable to plot a path forward on a bill to address the border crisis.”

I have received email and voicemail from those claiming to be inside the process on Capitol Hill.  Some I do not know.  One writes, “Every effort at responsible legislative action is being countered by those, some Democrats and some Republicans, who threaten the political equivalent of all out war.  This is not parliamentary maneuver or even political hard-ball, but hostage-taking and career-threatening extortion. It makes House of Cards look like Little House on the Prairie.”

It is my understanding that unless the House passes something, there will be nothing to reconcile with the Senate (presuming something emerges there) and legislative input to the oft-referenced “crisis” on the border will be null.

I’m told a meeting is just getting underway among Republican leaders to find some way through to more than null.  I’ve got other work, but will be back when I can be.

UPDATE 1:30 Eastern: The Hill reports that Democrats in the House will not vote for the so-called Granger supplemental.  This means divisions in the Republican caucus must be overcome for the legislation to pass in the House.  The House is expected to vote early this afternoon.  I will probably be offline when it happens… if it happens anytime close to schedule.

UPDATE Noon Eastern: Roll Call reports: “Just hours after shifting gears on a strategy to pass a $659 million appropriations bill to bolster resources at the U.S.-Mexico border, House Republicans are moving ahead, more confident they have the votes. Rank-and-file members emerged from a GOP Conference meeting at the Capitol Hill Club on Thursday morning with a sense that the gambit — giving conservatives a standalone vote to stop the expansion of President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program after they pass the border funding bill — would be enough to bring conservative holdouts on board. MORE.

At 11:17 AM Reuters reported:  ”The Congress on Thursday is set to debate “emergency” border security legislation that lawmakers acknowledge will not be enacted but will enable them to campaign for re-election by arguing they worked to address a humanitarian crisis. Republicans and Democrats have been sparring over President Barack Obama’s request for $3.7 billion to respond to the crisis in which tens of thousands of Central American children have tried to enter the United States illegally. With Congress on the verge of beginning its five-week summer recess, the votes in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and Democratic-held Senate on Thursday will mark a holding pattern.” MORE.

UPDATE 11:00 Eastern:  Statement by the White House Press Secretary: “It is extraordinary that the House of Representatives, after failing for more than a year to reform our broken immigration reform system, would vote to restrict a law enforcement tool that the Department of Homeland Security uses to focus resources on key enforcement priorities like public safety and border security, and provide temporary relief from deportation for people who are low priorities for removal.  In the face of Congressional inaction, the Administration’s use of Deferred Action for DREAMers in 2012, which has benefitted more than 500,000 young people who are Americans in every way except on paper, is the most significant progress we have made toward immigration reform in years.  By failing to act on an immigration reform bill that requires that people who are here illegally pay taxes, undergo background checks and get on the right side of the law, the House is instead driving an approach that is about rounding up and deporting 11 million people, separating families, and undermining DHS’ ability to secure the border.”

–+–

ORIGINAL THURSDAY MORNING POST:

Yesterday (Wednesday) late morning the Senate voted 63-to-33 to end debate on the emergency supplemental.  (See Senate Appropriations Committee language.) This advanced the proposed appropriation toward floor amendments and an up-or-down vote.  According to Politico, “GOP senators who don’t support the Senate Democrats’ package – which also includes funding for wildfire aid and for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system – lent their votes for the procedural vote in hopes of amending the measure more to their liking.”

Later today (Thursday) the House is expected to vote on a $659 million package. (See House Appropriation Committee’s supplemental language and funding amounts.) According to Roll Call, “Two-thirds of the funding will be for border security, with $40 million going to prevention and $197 million going to humanitarian assistance, according to a GOP aide. It will run through Sept. 30.”

The Republican caucus is not wholly on board.  Last minute changes are possible.  There is even some talk of passing the stop-gap measure with bipartisan votes, rare on big bills.  According to The Hill, “House conservatives emerging from a late evening meeting in Cruz’s office said they would oppose the $659 million legislation and warned it might fail on the House floor, an embarrassing prospect for the new GOP leadership team.”

At 11PM Wednesday night, Roll Call reported:

In a bid to shore up votes for their border supplemental, Republican leaders plan to give conservatives a vote Thursday prohibiting President Barack Obama from granting deportation relief to more illegal immigrants. One vote will be on the $659 million appropriations bill aimed at curbing the flow of child migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, which includes policy riders that have alienated nearly all Democrats. On the condition of that bill passing, members would then be allowed to a vote on standalone language prohibiting the expansion of President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program granting deportation relief and work permits to children brought here illegally by their parents. Republicans charge DACA has acted as a magnet for unaccompanied children to come to the United States, although recent immigrants are not eligible.

Republican Senators McCain and Cornyn are rumored to be working on a version of the House bill that could pass the Senate, presumably as an in extremis measure. But Wednesday afternoon some White House staff threatened a Presidential veto if the House measure makes it through the Senate and to the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

As of Thursday dawn it does not appear likely that the House and Senate will reconcile their alternatives anytime soon.  The Hill reports, “…before the House and Senate are to adjourn for a five-week recess, there is little chance that legislation dealing with the wave of immigrants crossing the border will reach President Obama’s desk.”

Both chambers are expected to complete work tonight.  I will provide updates to this post throughout today as legislative action is taken.

Given the apparent division and indecision on Capitol Hill, it is interesting to see that a July 23-27 public opinion poll found significant public consensus related to the current border issue.  Here are the results for two of the questions asked of a statistically valid sample:

Which statement comes closest to your views about what the U.S. should do about
the children who are currently arriving from Central America without their parents. We should…

70 percent   Offer shelter and support while beginning a process to determine whether they should be deported or allowed to stay in the U.S.
26 percent   Deport them immediately back to their home countries
2 percent     None of these
2 percent    Don’t know/Refused
100 Total

Now I’m going to read you a few pairs of statements. For each pair, please tell me whether the FIRST statement or the SECOND statement comes closer to your own views — even if neither is exactly right. The first pair is…  Which statement comes closer to your own view?

38 percent    The families of children arriving from Central American are taking advantage of American good will and are really seeking a back door to immigrate to our country
56 percent    The families of children arriving from Central American are doing what they can to keep their children safe in very difficult circumstances
3 percent      Neither/Both (VOL.)
3 percent      Don’t know/Refused (VOL.)
100 Total

Joseph de Maistre wrote, “Every nation gets the government it deserves.”  The American nation is authentically divided on many important issues.  Our government reflects this division.  But in this particular case, a significant majority of the people-as-a-whole seem wiser, more merciful, more generous than a majority — or a stubborn minority? — of our legislators.

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July 30, 2014

White House Innovation for Disaster Response and Recovery Demo Day

Filed under: Technology for HLS — by Arnold Bogis on July 30, 2014

Yesterday the White House hosted the Innovation for Disaster Response and Recovery Initiative Demo Day.  What exactly? Elaine Pittman from Emergency Management magazine explains:

Emergency managers converged with the tech community in Washington, D.C., to discuss tools that can create more resilient communities and also positively impact disaster preparedness, response and recovery. The White House Innovation for Disaster Response and Recovery Initiative Demo Day on July 29 showcased new innovations in both government and the private sector that aim to aid the survivors of large-scale emergencies.

The key goal is to “find the most efficient and effective ways to empower survivors to help themselves,” said U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park, adding that there have been many technological advancements since Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

Ms. Pittman provides a list of companies and government agencies that announced their work during the event.

CITY72 TOOLKIT — San Francisco launched an open source tool based off its emergency preparedness portal, SF72 portal. The City72 Toolkit helps emergency managers create their own site, while benefiting from lessons learned by San Francisco. Kristin Hogan Schildwachter, external affairs specialist for the city’s Department of Emergency Management, said current messaging focuses on pushing people to extremes and doesn’t build on current tools that the public is already using to communicate. The customizable Web platform is also in use in Johnson County, Kan., and branded as JoCo72.

AIRBNB — The sharing economy platform used to locate a place to stay now has memorandums of understanding in place with Portland, Ore., and San Francisco to work with the cities before, during and after an emergency. Airbnb’s director of public policy and civic partnerships, Molly Turner, outlined the four parts of the partnership:

  1. to identify hosts who will house emergency workers and survivors;
  2. to provide preparedness materials to hosts;
  3. to provide emergency alerts to hosts and their guests about hazards; and
  4. to provide community response training to hosts, helping them to become community leaders.

POWER OUTAGE DATA — Going forward, a number of electric companies will publish their power outage and restoration data in a standard format so that tools like Google Crisis Map can make the information easily accessible to the public. During Hurricane Sandy, this information wasn’t openly available, leading Google to post links to the different utilities’ sites but not being able to incorporate it into its information, according to Nigel Snoad of the company’s Crisis Response and Civic Innovation arm. He also said another addition is that Google will include crowdsourcing capabilities in the Crisis Map.

LANTERN LIVE — Inspired by lessons learned from Sandy where situational awareness was lacking, particularly around the status of fuel and which gas stations were open, the U.S. Department of Energy is preparing to beta test Lantern Live, a new mobile app. Its features will include: the status of gas stations; the ability to report a power outage and downed power lines with geolocated information; and emergency preparedness tips.

DISASTER ASSISTANCE AND ASSESSMENT DASHBOARD — Appallicious launched a new disaster dashboard that aims to make rebounding after devastation more manageable. Get an in-depth look at the Disaster Assessment and Assistance Dashboard.

GEOQ — The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency announced its crowdsourcing tool, GeoQ, which allows users to upload geo-tagged photos of an area impacted by an emergency. Raymond Bauer, the agency’s technology lead, said the tool is available for anyone to participate or work with the code via open source.

NOW TRENDING ON TWITTER — Helping emergency managers and public health officials, a new website, nowtrending.hhs.gov, searches Twitter data for health and natural disaster topics and analyzes that data. Karen DeSalvo, national coordinator for health IT, said the tool scours social media and looks for topics that could turn into public health emergencies.

DISASTER DATA — Coming soon, the new site disaster.data.gov aims to become a resource for preparedness and can also be used during and after an emergency. More than 100 tools from the public and private sectors have been submitted for inclusion on the site, and it will also host disaster-related data sets.

I don’t believe this is the entire event, but here is a video that the White House posted on YouTube:

UPDATE: Never mind about that video.  I watched earlier this evening, but apparently the White House has taken it off of YouTube and their own website.  And while the event itself was webcast live, apparently it is too sensitive to let a recording remain on the internet.  Obviously, as it dealt with homeland security issues, it was determined to be FOUO…

UPDATE 2: Obviously, my biting sarcastic comments shamed the Administration to re-post video of the event…or, just perhaps, they experienced some technical difficulties earlier (cough, Obamacare website, cough…) and they have now fixed things and are sharing the presentations from the day. They are rather interesting and worth your time to watch.

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William Wilberforce

Filed under: Border Security,Congress and HLS,Immigration — by Philip J. Palin on July 30, 2014

On this day in 1833 William Wilberforce died.  On August 1, 1833 slavery became illegal in the British Empire. Passage of this law had been a decades-long goal of Wilberforce.

Wilberforce was a religious man and an effective politician.  Abolition of slavery was only one of his many parliamentary and social causes.  Most of which he practically advanced.

This week several steps are being taken to potentially amend the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (Wilberforce Act).  Several have pointed to this law as the cause of the surge of children presenting at the US border.   It is seldom so simple.

The life of Wilberforce demonstrates the potential of law — and law-makers — to advance the boundaries of human justice.  Ethical, economic, and political complications also challenged Wilberforce.  But his life in politics is a model for the practical, patient, persistent — courageous and insistent — application of legislative give-and-take.  He always tried to elicit the best from his allies and adversaries, saying, “Be happy, and your joyful work will prosper well.”

Given our current challenges at the border and elsewhere, another Wilberforce quote seems especially relevant: “You may choose to look the other way but you can never again say you did not know.”

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July 29, 2014

“Reflections on the Tenth Anniversary of the 9/11 Commission Report” – a disappointing sequel

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on July 29, 2014

“Nobody pays any attention to these reports. But you still keep printing them.”

The quote is from a prominent (former) intelligence official. He was talking about the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review. But he could have been referring to the “Reflections on the Tenth Anniversary of the 9/11 Commission Report” released last week (available at this link: http://bipartisanpolicy.org/library/report/rising-terrorist-threat-9-11-commission)

One wishes to be fair to the people who wrote the Reflections. No doubt it was as well intentioned as any sequel. But in my opinion it doesn’t come anywhere close to being a worthwhile read. The assertions and arguments in Reflections are as fatigued as the authors claim the America people are.

And that’s unfortunate.

The Commission missed an opportunity to help reinvigorate the homeland security project they were instrumental in shaping.

——————————

The 9/11 Commission Report (available here: http://www.9-11commission.gov/report/) starts with the most memorable sentence of any government report I’ve ever read:

“Tuesday, September 11, 2001, dawned temperate and nearly cloudless in the Eastern United States.”

Here’s the opening sentence in Reflections:

“With temperatures in the low 50s, April 15, 2013, promised to be an almost ideal day for the 23,000 runners competing in the 117th Boston Marathon.”

This artless effort to draw a parallel between the Boston Marathon and the September 11 2001 attacks comes off sounding, at best, tone deaf. At worse, offensive.

But it’s only the start.

Instead of the thoughtfulness, balance, and bipartisanship of the original 9/11 Commission Report, we get a repetitive rehash of banal assertions: The terrorists are coming and they are really dangerous. Cyber threats are growing and they also are really dangerous. Congress is dangerous too. Their refusal to reduce the number of homeland security oversight committees is making the country less safe.

And by the way, the Director of National Intelligence (not dangerous) should control the budget of the Intelligence Community.

——————————

Unlike the hundreds of thorough and informative endnotes supporting the claims in the 9/11 Commission Report, Reflections backs up its assertions with a handful of anecdotes, a few charts, some quotes from unnamed experts and eight seemingly haphazardous endnotes.

The 9/11 Commission Report did not shy away from discussing at length alternative interpretations of “facts” they uncovered. See, for example, the extensive discussion of the intelligence wall.

That balance and realism is missing in Reflections on every significant issue discussed.

Is there no credible argument that the nation continues to overblow the terrorist threat? How about this one: http://www.amazon.com/Terror-Security-Money-Balancing-Benefits/dp/0199795762

Assuming the nation will not take the cyber threat seriously until we have a cyber version of the 9/11/01 attack, what can we do now to mitigate that attack?

Is there a case for having 92 congressional committees looking at homeland security issues? Are all those committees unnecessary?  Did Reflections speak with anyone who defends the current congressional oversight structure? Could it be an example of the messiness that is republican democracy? Is DoD really the efficiency model to be emulated by homeland security?  Are there no substantial downsides to having only a handful of committees looking at Defense matters?

——————————

I appreciate this was not supposed to be another 9/11 Commission Report. But I’m guessing – hoping? – it was supposed to be a serious analysis.

The commission members were “struck by how dramatically the world has changed” in a decade.

Struck? When was the last time a decade went by without dramatic world changes?

What about the current terrorist threat? It’s evolving, says Reflections.

“The forces of Islamist extremism in the Middle East are stronger than in the last decade…. The absence of another 9/11-style attack does not mean the threat is gone: As 9/11 showed, a period of quiet can be shattered in a moment by a devastating attack.”

Reflections continues to press the importance of connecting dots, even if one has to wait years. They ask,

Is the April 2013 rifle attack on an electrical substation in Metcalf, California, a harbinger of a more concerted assault on the national electrical grid or another component of critical infrastructure? What might we be missing today that, three years from now, will prove to have been a signal, a piece of a larger mosaic?

What if it’s not? Or is this report only reflecting things to be afraid of?

——————————

If you stop reading after the first two dozen pages of Reflections you’d think the nation is hanging by an existential thread, worse off now then it was ten years ago.

You have to get to page 25 of the 44 page report before learning:

There is no doubt that the country is better equipped to prevent and respond to terrorist attacks than in 2001. …The mass-casualty attacks many feared in the wake of 9/11 did not materialize. Today, in large part because of … many [security-related] reforms, the United States is a much harder target.

Senior leaders agree that America’s layered approach to homeland defense, which recognizes that no single security measure is foolproof, has improved our security….  At its best, a layered system integrates the capabilities of federal, state, and local government agencies. America’s resilience has improved as well. Federal, state, and local authorities have absorbed and applied the lessons of 9/11 over the last decade…. The country must continue to prepare for the unforeseen, but it appears to be moving in the right direction….

I think that’s called “burying the lede.”

Later:

There is a consensus among the senior officials with whom we spoke that information-sharing has improved significantly since 9/11.

And right before Reflections concludes (page 37):

As we reflect on the last ten years, we believe the government’s record in counterterrorism is good. Our capabilities are much improved, while institutional vigilance and imagination are both far better than before 9/11. Good people in government have absorbed the lessons of the 9/11 attacks, are tracking the evolving threat, and are thinking one step ahead in order to prevent the next attack.

Lest one think that gives us permission to be complacent, Reflections ends with this less-than-upbeat anecdote:

One former senior national security leader told us recently that he expects that his children and grandchildren will be carrying on this fight.

I wonder if there is another former senior national security leader, somewhere, who thinks about his children and grandchildren the way John Adams did:

I must study … war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.”

If there are any such national security leaders, they were not interviewed for Reflections.

Young Americans need to know that terrorism is not going away. And they need to know that many of our military personnel, intelligence officers, and diplomats on the front lines in the most dangerous parts of the world are like them—young people with dreams of bright futures.

——————————

In addition to the full court press strategy (that includes a congratulations-9/11-Commission youtube video from tired-looking President Obama: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zIA2iiWkvKY), how are young Americans and the rest of the nation to learn “how dramatically the word has changed?”

It’s simple, says Reflections.

Senior leaders, including the President, have to make the case about terrorism and cyber threats and all the myriad things that go (or might go) bump in the night “in specific terms, not generalities.”  

One hoped Reflections would model some of the transparent specificity they want others to provide. Instead, what we get are statements like this one:

“If the American people hear what we have heard in recent months, about the urgent [cyber] threat and the ways in which data collection is used to counter it, we believe that they will be supportive.”

——————————

Don Marquis wrote that “a sequel is an admission that you’ve been reduced to imitating yourself.”

I found Reflections to be a disappointing sequel.

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July 28, 2014

This week the battle for the border will be on Capitol Hill (stand-off predicted)

Filed under: Border Security,Immigration — by Philip J. Palin on July 28, 2014

The onslaught of children at the southern border of the United States has several sources.

It appears that a law passed in late 2008 to deal with human trafficking — especially the trafficking of children — has had an almost opposite effect.

The law, which allows a wide class of children greater protection once they reach the US border, has been mis-characterized by criminal parties (especially in Central America) in order to motivate families to pay for their children to be smuggled through Mexico to the US border.

Over roughly the last year a rapid increase in children presenting themselves at the border has overwhelmed the existing immigration hearing system producing a defacto ability for children to remain in the United States for an extended period pending hearing.  This has reinforced the claims made by criminals.  It is also a problem that too many US officials tended to minimize until this last Spring.

Families are also motivated by a dangerous and deteriorating situation — especially in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador — where a confluence of economic turmoil, organized gangs, corrupt officials and other profound dysfunctions encourage taking significant risks in order to escape. The President of Honduras suggests many of these problems have their origin in the US demand for drugs.

The Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin, Texas recently released a report that highlights significant problems when children are repatriated.  These problems have been exacerbated by the surge in numbers.  Bloomberg’s BusinessWeek published a story last week on the range of challenges involved in repatriation.

On Sunday conservative commentator George Will told Chris Wallace, host of Fox News Sunday, “My view is that we have to say to these children, ‘Welcome to America. You’re going to go to school and get a job and become Americans’.”

To mitigate the current crisis Congress needs to act this week before it leaves for a long August break.  Unless additional funding and policy changes are legislated the Secretary of Homeland Security warns, “… we’re going to run out of money to deal with this. I’ve got my CFO working overtime this week working out how we are going to pay for this if Congress doesn’t act.”

Some suggested measures include:

Clarify the current legal situation with Central American families: This has been ongoing since at least March.  Some progress seems to have been achieved.  In June the number of children arriving at the border was reduced by about half compared to prior months.  The US government has increased official communications.  But unofficial information has potentially been even more influential.

Expedite the hearing process: Additional immigration judges, changes in law, and procedural adjustments could reduce the current log-jam and more quickly return children not found to qualify for some extended immigration status.  This would presumably reduce the motivation to make the risky and costly trip to the US border.

Amend the 2008 law, especially to facilitate prompt-return: Mexican and Canadian nationals can be returned without the hearing process currently afforded other children. But many are resisting this given the dangers facing Central American and other children. Under current law there is a prima facie right to hearings and the ethical implications of eliminating this right strike many as unacceptable.

Enhance security at Mexico’s southern border:  Reducing out-migration from Central America (more than a thousand-miles south of the US border) makes theoretical good sense.  There are, however, problems with corruption and lack of capacity related to Mexico’s National Institute of Migration. Still it is worth attention over the long-term.  It is more and more in Mexico’s self-interest as a stronger Mexican economy and comparative security also attracts immigrants.

Enhance US border security: Considerable progress has been made over the last ten-to-twelve years.  More on current House Republican proposals in this regard is available here.  Also see related prior post at HLSWatch

Allow application for refugee status in the country-of-origin: The idea being this would discourage the risky journey while responsibly addressing those most seriously threatened.

Increase country-of-origin efforts to encourage staying at home.  Both governmental and non-governmental programs exist to reduce severe want and fear.  Many would benefit from additional support.  Yesterday, George Will (see original reference above) argued, “Long term, the most effective legislation passed concerning immigration wasn’t an immigration bill at all. It was Bill Clinton’s greatest act, passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement that put North Americans on the path to prosperity. We need to do something similar for the countries in which these children are fleeing.”

What other near-term mitigation efforts or longer-term solutions do you have?

Most informed observers doubt that the House and Senate will take practical legislative steps before they are scheduled leave Capitol Hill late this week.  More on fast-breaking legislative prospects from:

The Hill

Roll Call

Politico

–+–

UPDATE:  Monday morning’s Diane Rehm Show, heard on many NPR stations, focused on efforts to address the “child migrant crisis”.   Joining Ms. Rehm and receiving call-in questions and comments were:

Laura Meckler, staff writer, The Wall Street Journal.
Carl Meacham, Americas program director at Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Mark Hugo Lopez, director, Hispanic trends, Pew Research Center
Marc Rosenblum, deputy director, U.S. immigration policy program, Migration Policy Institute

You can listen to the hour-long discussion at the following website by clicking on the “LISTEN” icon or word.

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July 27, 2014

Seeking new Congressional action on Counterterrorism

Filed under: Congress and HLS,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on July 27, 2014

As usual the Aspen Security Forum continues to be an abundant mid-summer source of breaking news.  I was not there.  Three years running I’ve had to work somewhere hot and steamy while many of my colleagues are cooling off and comparing notes.

According to Josh Gerstein, on Saturday Lisa Monaco, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, called again for revised Congressional authorities to conduct operations against terrorists.

It’s been over a year since the President proposed  the current Authorization for the Use of Military Force be repealed or seriously reformed. (NDU speech)

Gerstein writes in Politico:

“The 2001 AUMF has provided us authority to go after terrorist actors and address the threats that they pose that fit within that definition. We are now 13, 14 years on from that and we’re seeing the emergence of other actors,” Monaco said during an appearance at the Aspen Security Forum. “I think there absolutely is a reason to have an authority to enable us to take the fight to these evolving terrorists that we’ve talked about.”

You can watch and hear Ms. Monaco’s complete remarks at:

http://www.aspeninstitute.org/video/view-west-wing

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July 26, 2014

Weekend appreciation

Filed under: Port and Maritime Security — by Philip J. Palin on July 26, 2014

I was mostly off-line this last week.  Pretty much dawn to dusk I was part of a site visit with the US Coast Guard.  I actually got out of meeting rooms and onto boats.

The purpose of the site visit was research-related.  My role is as interviewer, writer, and project ethicist.  The project has been going on for about three years.  I have interviewed a lot of Coasties over this time.  Over the last five days I talked to many more in a wide range of contexts, back to back, day after day.

When the project team met on Thursday night to start working the outbrief the Team Leader asked us to outline our top takeaways.  Among my top five was, “The high level of intelligence,  knowledge, experience, competence, self-criticism, openness, and passionate commitment that characterizes the force.”

Everyone else on the team enthusiastically agreed.

And we decided not to mention this in our outbrief. The Team Leader noted it would seem gratuitous.  He was right.

This suggests something profoundly screwed-up in contemporary culture that even authentic appreciation is usually presumed to be self-interested and manipulative.

While I have generally been impressed with the US Coast Guard, until this week my exposure has been more senior officers and headquarters staff than anyone else.  This week I talked to a lot more senior enlisted, ensigns, lieutenants, and Lt. Commanders.

Wow, wow, wow.

If you are a baby-boomer or older (like me) and worried about generational trends in the United States, a week with these folks will make you feel like a whiner and slacker.  If you are an intellectual in search of informed, self-correcting, meaningful discussion of important topics, find a bar or lunchroom with Coasties in it.  If you are an American worried about the future of the Republic, you will be much less worried after seeing and hearing a rising generation Coast Guard professionals engage their work.

Several times I have heard individual Coasties quote from memory selected lines from Alexander Hamilton’s instructions to the first complement from which the modern Coast Guard has emerged:

[An Officer] will always keep in mind that their countrymen are freemen, and, as such, are impatient of everything that bears the least mark of a domineering spirit. They will, therefore, refrain, with the most guarded circumspection, from whatever has the semblance of haughtiness, rudeness, or insult. If obstacles occur, they will remember that they are under the particular protection of the laws and that they can meet with nothing disagreeable in the execution of their duty which these will not severely reprehend. This reflection, and a regard to the good of the service, will prevent, at all times a spirit of irritation or resentment. They will endeavor to overcome difficulties, if any are experienced, by a cool and temperate perseverance in their duty–by address and moderation, rather than by vehemence or violence.

They know and live these words.

They are also reasonably skeptical of bleeding edge projects such as the one that brings me to them. But even here their skepticism is almost always affirmative.  They are critical thinkers, not just critics.  What most impresses me is how often they are personally and institutionally self-critical — brilliantly, honestly, and realistically — in front of each other and on-the-record. I am guessing this element of Coast Guard culture is crucial to other attitudes and behaviors observed.

The Latin from which appreciation is derived  was a neutral term for assessing value.  In both the original and modern meaning: I greatly appreciate the US Coast Guard.

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July 25, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on July 25, 2014

Since we opened the Friday Free Forum it has been my practice to tee-up the discussion with brief historical references to natural, accidental, and intentional events that happened on the same date.  The cumulative effect on me has been reassuring.  Bad — very bad — stuff happens, always has.  Despite my cognitive inclination to catastrophize the present, it is not necessarily worse than it has ever been.

This week my scan for July 25 has not quickly turned up the typical collection of calamities. (Deeper digging might find them.)  But right now we are dealing with:

A deadly intersection of drought and wildfire across the Western United States.

The unfolding consequences — human, political, and much more — of the downing of MH17. Beyond the debris field in Ukraine it has been a very bad week for commercial aviation.

Serious challenges to several nation-states by non-state and pseudo-state actors and the sustained use of state violence against several civilian populations, religious communities, and targeted ethnic groups.  A spillover to the US domestic context is already happening and is likely to increase over-time.

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

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July 24, 2014

Suffer little children, and forbid them not

Filed under: Immigration — by Philip J. Palin on July 24, 2014

The arrival at our southern border in recent months of over 60,000 children challenges our national identity.

How we resolve this challenge will have a profound influence on the sort of society we leave to future generations.

The controversy, incivility, anger and political opportunism that have erupted around this issue confirms that the values in play are as fundamental as forming a more perfect union, establishing justice, ensuring domestic tranquility, providing for the common defense, or promoting the general welfare.  In how we respond to this Children’s Crusade we are deciding the contours of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness for our time.

Tomorrow President Obama will host the presidents of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador at the White House.  Something close to an ideal solution would involve family reunification with reasonable guarantees of freedom from desperate want and fear. This seems unlikely in the near-term.

We can change our laws to deter children from being pointed toward our borders. But when families pay thousands of dollars to give their children into the tender mercies of smugglers, it is also reasonable to examine how our effort to deter compares with the perceived risks that prompt the 1400-mile plus journey.

When there is a perception of little-to-lose and much-to-gain, even the prospect of prompt-return may be but one more lifeless mount on a Kafkaesque carousel.

What are the real-world human implications of turning-away children in desperate need?  How does this conform with American values? Deporting children without even a hearing?  It strikes me as entirely too analogous to the MS St. Louis… multiplied by about 60.

The policy issues relate to sovereignty, border security, and the integrity of the legal system. These are significant matters.  The ethical issues involve the life and death of children and shared responsibility for the poorest of the poor. These are complicated matters.

Homeland Security Watch has not given much sustained attention to immigration policy.  I expect this is changing.  These significant and complicated matters will not be solved at tomorrow’s White House summit.

My Personal Bias

On the first day of my first college class the professor insisted that an ethical speaker has an obligation to state his or her biases. His argument for this principle involved 1) the benefits of self-awareness and organized thinking that emerge from identifying our own biases,  2) the invitation for others to critique and potentially correct personal bias, and 3) the social value of all speakers accepting that we tend to be creatures of un-examined bias, but with careful listening and mutual respect bias can be balanced with reason. (I know, I know. This is what happens when you live long enough. The past really is another country.)

So… as we begin what may be a recurring dialogue related to immigration policy, forthwith are the key elements of my personal bias.

From the Hebrew Bible:

17 Do not deprive the foreigner or the fatherless of justice or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge. 18 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there. That is why I command you to do this. 19 When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.  (Deuteronomy 24)

From the New Testament:

23 Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices–mint, dill and cummin.  But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. 25 Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  (Gospel of Matthew 23)

I do not pretend these sources are authoritative for the purposes of our dialogue.  This is where my thinking begins.  For purposes of immigration policy my thinking must go beyond this beginning.  But to the extent you seek to shift my stance, the implications of these sources are worth attention.

John Rawls, widely claimed as the most influential political philosopher of our time, wrote, “Reasonable comprehensive doctrines, religious or non-religious, may be introduced in public political discussion at any time, provided that in due course proper political reasons – and not reasons given solely by comprehensive doctrines – are presented that are sufficient to support whatever the comprehensive doctrines are said to support.”

In due course…

(Oh, by the way, the title is also biblical: Matthew 19:13-14.)

–+–

UPDATE: FRIDAY, JULY 25

The Pew Research Center has found that children age 12 and under are the fastest growing group of unaccompanied minors arriving at the US border.

House proposal to address current border controversy: Story in Roll Call. Statement by Kay Granger, Chair of the “House Working Group to address the national security and humanitarian crisis at the southern border.”

Senate proposal to address current border controversy: Story in The Hill.  Statement by Barbara Mikulski, Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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July 23, 2014

See something say something goes awry?

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Infrastructure Protection — by Arnold Bogis on July 23, 2014

Boston_gas_tank

["Boston gas tank" by Lasart75 - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Boston_gas_tank.JPG#mediaviewer/File:Boston_gas_tank.JPG]

It’s rare that a big, albeit colorful, gas tank becomes a local landmark. But that is the case in Boston, where the tank pictured above sits just off of Interstate 93 on the southern approach to the city. Lots of people take lots of photos of this particular piece of critical infrastructure.  Apparently, one got in a lot of trouble for it. Boston.com reporter Roberto Scalese has the story:

We’re not sure what professional photographer James Prigoff called the tank in 2004, when he decided to photograph it from public property. In a post on the ACLU’s website, Prigoff recalled the security guards who demanded he stop taking the photos, saying the tank was on private property. After that encounter, he went home to California and found a Joint Terrorism Task Force agent’s business card on his front door.

There is some simple beauty to the “see something, say something” message, however there are inadvertent negative consequences as well. What some may deem suspicious, the photographing of critical infrastructure for example, others deem art.  In fact, I would argue that for every terrorist plot alleged to have been uncovered since 9/11, I could find you two artists within the Greater Boston area alone who photograph, draw, paint, sketch, or otherwise utilize images of what is considered critical infrastructure in their work. Should they all be registered with the government?

If this was simply the case of some over zealous security officers, I could understand.  But according to the ACLU, this type of thing stays on your permanent record:

SARs can haunt people for decades, as they remain in federal databases for up to 30 years. An individual who is the subject of a SAR is automatically subjected to law enforcement scrutiny.

Somewhat disturbing, right?

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July 22, 2014

“Terrorism has entered a new and dangerous phase,” says the 9/11 Commission

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Christopher Bellavita on July 22, 2014

From their press release:

This morning, the members of the 9/11 Commission, led by Chairman Tom Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton, released a new report reflecting the evolving and dangerous terrorist threat facing the nation. Ten years after the release of the commission’s original report, with mounting threats from the resurgence and transformation of al Qaeda, the situation in Syria and a rapidly changing cyber landscape, the commission’s new report calls for a vigorous and proactive counterterrorism effort. The report comes from the Bipartisan Policy Center and the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, which reconvened the 9/11 Commissioners to develop their updated recommendations.

A copy of the report is here:  http://bipartisanpolicy.org/sites/default/files/%20BPC%209-11%20Commission.pdf

 

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July 21, 2014

Full page ads

Filed under: Congress and HLS — by Philip J. Palin on July 21, 2014

DHS_graphic

Did you see it in your Sunday paper?  I saw it in the New York Times.  This weekend I was outside the Washington Post’s service area, but it must have run there as well.

Above is the graphic that makes up most of the full-page: a wire-diagram for DHS Congressional oversight.  You can read more on the ad campaign and the substance behind it at:

http://www.annenbergpublicpolicycenter.org/security/

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July 18, 2014

Friday Free Forum

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on July 18, 2014

On this day in 1995 the Soufrière Hills volcano on the island of Montserrat erupted.  It has continued volcanic activity ever since leaving more than half of Montserrat uninhabitable, destroying the capital city, and causing about two thirds of the population to evacuate the Caribbean island.

On this day in 1945 the Bedford Magazine fire and explosions began causing widespread damage in the Nova Scotia communities of Bedford, Halifax, and Dartmouth.

On this day in 1994 the Argentine Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires was bombed killing 85 and injuring 300.

What’s on your mind related to homeland security?

 

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July 17, 2014

Contemplating lethal operations

Filed under: Legal Issues,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on July 17, 2014

Four years ago (as of yesterday), David Barron, then Acting Assistant Attorney General and chief of the Office of Legal Counsel finalized his memorandum to the Attorney General RE: Applicability of Federal Criminal Laws and the Constitution to Contemplated Lethal Operations against Shaykh Anwar al-Aulaqi.  

After being kept secret, the document was released last month.  Some redacting does not undermine the integrity of the analysis.  If you regularly read this blog, you ought take the time to read the memorandum.  The link above will give you a pdf.

The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit made the document public in June as part of a court case.  The Department of Justice did not contest the memo’s release as part of an effort to ease confirmation of Mr. Barron’s appointment to the First Circuit Court of Appeals.  HLSWatch previously linked to the document but this is our first comment.

Mr. Barron — now Judge Barron — asks, is it an unlawful killing for a U.S. public authority to take premeditated lethal action against this specific U.S. national (Anwar al-Aulaqi) outside the territory of the United States when not in the heat of immediate combat?

No, the memorandum counsels, it would not be an unlawful killing.  In the particular case of Anwar al-Aulaqi in mid-2010, given the preponderance of evidence, lethal action would be a reasonable act of self-defense undertaken in accordance with the law of war, not contrary to federal statutes, and consistent with the constitutional authority of the President in this case amplified by specific Congressional action.

The US-born self-proclaimed prophet of violent action against the United States was killed in a drone attack on September 30, 2011.

Does the question as posed above appropriately frame the legal context of the President’s decision to kill Anwar al-Aulaqi?

It is not inappropriate.  But it is not necessarily dispositive.

Another question: Is secret deliberation by the Executive sufficient to fulfill the due process rights of citizens under the Constitution?

I perceive that secret processes undertaken only by the Executive, no matter how rigorous, do not meet an acceptable constitutional threshold for due process. Reading this once-secret memorandum reinforces my predisposition.  While I can gin-up arguments against some specific findings of the memorandum, the legal and constitutional analysis is balanced and largely persuasive.  If these findings had been made public in 2010 I would have almost certainly supported the findings and subsequent killing if part of a broader process of legal engagement.

It is the Executive exercising unilateral lethal power in secret that gives me profound pause.  What can be undertaken in secret tempts authority to arbitrary and arrogant acts.  The more elaborate and clinical the secret procedure the more it ends up smelling of attainder: guilt established by procedural writ rather than substantive findings.

In the case of al-Alaqi, I see no good cause for secrecy. His criminal behavior was notorious as early as 2006.  He was known and known to be known. There were many good reasons to publicly proclaim this citizen as “outlaw”.

I can, however, imagine other cases where there is cause for authorities to not signal they are aware and watching.  When there is a compelling case for secrecy in taking premeditated, carefully planned lethal operations against a citizen, it is then even more important the decision not be left to the Executive alone.  The soon-to-be 800 years since the Magna Carta offer diverse methods for discrete due process.  For several examples and thoughtful consideration, please see Due Process in the American Identity by Cassandra Burke Robertson.

Some readers — not unreasonably — will conclude from the 580 prior words that I am a co-conspirator in what Philip Bobbitt has called the “due process explosion” of the last generation.  What do you want, I can hear you ask, a JAG officer assigned to every platoon?  DHS General Counsel staff in jackboots and camouflage?

A joke that lawyers tell lawyers: What is the only place where due process is consistently and completely achieved? The answer: Hell.  Ironic humor benefits from personal experience.

In his ultimately influential dissent in Poe v. Ullman, Justice Harlan argued:

Due process has not been reduced to any formula; its content cannot be determined by reference to any code. The best that can be said is that through the course of this Court’s decisions it has represented the balance which our Nation, built upon postulates of respect for the liberty of the individual, has struck between that liberty and the demands of organized society. If the supplying of content to this Constitutional concept has of necessity been a rational process, it certainly has not been one where judges have felt free to roam where unguided speculation might take them. The balance of which I speak is the balance struck by this country, having regard to what history teaches are the traditions from which it developed as well as the traditions from which it broke. That tradition is a living thing.

In what many of us perceive will be a long-struggle with violent and shadowy adversaries, abetted by prolific opportunities for mayhem emerging of modern technologies, and often involving or implicating our neighbors, families, and ourselves, there is a need to renew the tradition or at least be mindful of what we are choosing to break with.

To its credit and as it ought, the Executive has been diligent in this task. The Judiciary is being responsive when called upon.  It is the Legislature that seems mostly absent in renewing due process for  our contemporary challenges.

You probably saw the public opinion polls showing attitudes toward Congress at historic lows.  By design the Legislative branch is most reflective of the whole people.  To make progress on due process — and other issues — it might be worth looking in the mirror and to your left and right.  Might even be worth talking to yourself… but especially talking to your left and right.

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