On October 12, 2000, al Qaeda attacked the USS Cole in an Osama bin Laden-inspired plot. It was a deadly lesson in the importance of providing commanders with the intelligence and equipment necessary to safeguard their forces. As the folly of sequestration is proving, the national security of our nation is a casualty to the ongoing budget wars in Washington. While the immediate impact of sequestration has proven to be muted, the real danger lies in its potential to increase the United States' vulnerability to attack. Despite the investment of billions of taxpayer dollars, critical programs in development are being frozen in place or defunded at key milestones. All of this is being done with no prioritization based on our future operational requirements.
This is no way to defend a nation.
Soon after he came into office, President Obama pledged to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials around the world within four years. The President made great strides toward accomplishing this important goal, but his recently proposed cuts to nuclear security programs could jeopardize ongoing work to prevent nuclear terrorism. In its budget request for fiscal year 2014, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) cut $76.5 million for its program to secure nuclear materials, the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI). This represents more than a 15 percent reduction from GTRI’s pre-sequester annual budget.
As if out of a Hollywood movie, Edward Snowden emerged from hiding when he flew on commercial air from Hong Kong to Moscow in recent days, where he is now hunkered down in an airport transit zone and appears to be in legal limbo, having applied and withdrawn his request for political asylum from Russia. Snowden, the former NSA contractor reported to have leaked top secret material to the press detailing the government’s collection of “metadata” on Americans last month, is now officially on the run from U.S. authorities, since the U.S. filed criminal charges against him and requested his extradition, first from the Hong Kong government and now from Russia.
Without a clear plan for credible, effective, and affordable ballistic missile defense (BMD), the security of millions of Americans, our troops abroad and our allies is at risk. The threats are clear and present. Unfriendly nations like Iran continue to modernize their missile forces; North Korea already has the capability of reaching targets on the West Coast. A simple freighter off our shores with a cheap missile and a low-yield nuclear warhead could create an electromagnetic pulse that would damage and destroy much of our electronic infrastructure, wreaking havoc in a society so highly dependent on technology. To protect ourselves, the U.S. should commit to BMD and focus on providing a layered system of homeland defense which is flexible and which deploys proven technologies.
In fact, it is Graham and many of the other instant critics of the speech who are tone deaf. Loud calls for keeping a massive, expensive nuclear arsenal, twenty years after the Cold War has ended, are just out of touch with the 21st century.
First and foremost, this is an important opportunity to take a close look at the efficiency and effectiveness of the current security clearance process. Over the last decade, there have been numerous policy and legislative efforts to enhance the process. This is the right time to see if those enhancements have actually worked as designed. Does the system effectively use all of the available tools? Or is it still too dependent on traditional investigative modes, such as personal interviews, when various online resources might actually provide better and more accurate information? Are the periodic reviews to update individual clearances conducted in a timely manner? What are the ramifications of the recent announcement at the Defense Department that, due to budget constraints, they are ceasing such re-investigations for duration of the fiscal year? And how much progress have we made in aligning agency-unique clearance requirements so that, to the maximum extent practical, a top secret clearance at one agency is accepted at others?