Homeland Security

American Muslims' experiences recognized

This week, Senator Dick Durbin is holding a hearing in the Senate focusing on the civil rights of American Muslims. It’s about time. As we near the ten-year anniversary of September 11, 2001, our country needs to invest in a national process of reflecting, understanding, and healing. 

Part of this process must include an honest assessment of how certain communities have endured a significant backlash over the past decade in virtually every context. From the workplace to schoolyards to the airport and in places of worship, South Asian, Arab, Muslim and Sikh American community members have experienced discrimination, isolation, hate crimes, harassment and surveillance.

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Honor Rob Krentz by strengthening border security effort

One year ago on March 27, the son of Southern Arizona pioneers who lived and worked on land his family has ranched since territorial days was found murdered about 20 miles north of the international border.

Rob Krentz was a true son of the American West – a rugged individualist who worked hard and loved his country. Sadly, he was a victim of our nation’s failure to secure the border not far from his land.

Evidence suggests the crime was committed by a drug smuggler who fled to Mexico. This individual remains at large and Arizona remains the main point for illegal drugs and immigrants entering this country.

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Nuclear storm warnings?

White House Science Advisor John Holdren and Sir John Beddington, Science Advisor to British Prime Minister David Cameron, in a recent joint article "Celestial Storm Warnings" published in the New York Times, warned that a solar flare from the Sun could cause a great geomagnetic storm, with catastrophic consequences for the United States and the world.  A great geomagnetic storm would generate a powerful electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that could destroy electronic systems and collapse all the critical infrastructures--power grids, communications, transportation, banking and finance, food and water--that sustain modern civilization, and the lives of millions.  Holdren and Beddington write reassuringly that "work to protect our societies is well underway."  

Unfortunately, the truth is that work to protect our societies has not even begun.  Those of us who have dedicated careers to protecting the American people from an EMP catastrophe know that no actual technical work is yet underway to physically protect the national power grid from EMP.  We are running out of time to make this happen.  As Holdren and Beddington note, the solar maximum, and increased possibility of a great geomagnetic storm, is fast approaching, now less than a year away. 

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U.S. and Afghanistan’s troops promoting democracy

Last week, I had the pleasure of hearing General David Petraeus, U.S. Army Commander of the International Security Assistance Force and of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, testify before the House Armed Services Committee on Afghanistan. Ever the dedicated professional, the General not only outlined the current state of affairs on the war front but also updated Members as to the progressions and potential setbacks currently facing allied forces in Afghanistan. 

After hearing his testimony and visiting with him and his troops last month in Afghanistan, I remain steadfast in my belief that our troops are truly making a difference in helping to establish a democracy in a country that was once run out of fear and corruption by terrorists, warlords, and the Taliban.

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Energy security: Important to budget, national defense

Last week, the House Armed Services Committee heard from General David Petraeus on operations in Afghanistan. While the context of the hearing focused generally on the overall operations on the ground, there is one area in particular that often gets overlooked in the larger debate on national security efforts abroad – energy security.

Energy efficiency is often framed as an environmental issue, but it is first and foremost a national security issue. The Department of Defense (DoD) is the world’s largest consumer of energy. Not only does petroleum-based fuel impact military budgets, the DoD’s reliance on fossil fuel creates great risks to troops involved in refueling operations in conflict areas like Afghanistan. DoD officials reported that in June 2008, 220,000 gallons of fuel, and the trucks carrying it, were lost due to attacks or other events. There is nearly one American casualty for every 24 fuel convoys that resupply troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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Washington needs to listen to real America

We have all learned the background on the appalling situation that has played out along the Mexican border with regard to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) and Mexican drug cartel operatives making large-scale purchases of weapons in the United States.  

This was a case of Washington-based bureaucrats making decisions that field agents, local law enforcement, and even gun shop owners worried might come back to haunt us. It did just that when one of those weapons allegedly killed an American agent. 

Unfortunately, this instance where Washington bureaucrats dictated policies that didn’t make sense at the local level is not unique. In fact, it exemplifies everything that is wrong with our approach to government and problem-solving.  

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Stop putting guns into hands of 'narco-terrorists'

The United States/Mexico border is a lawless warzone controlled by violent drug cartels. More than 34,000 people have been murdered in Mexico since the narco-terrorists began their reign of terror in 2006. Drugs and people are smuggled north into the United States and guns and money are flowing south, enabling the drug cartels to continue to wage their violent war.

Weapons from the United States reach the outlaws in Mexico, mostly because Mexico does not protect its own border any better than we do. Recent whistleblower allegations claim that tactics of the United States government, through the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), may be contributing to the problem of delivering weapons to the criminals in Mexico, rather than trying to fix it. I am deeply concerned about this.

Part of ATF’s mission is to protect American communities from “the illegal use and trafficking of firearms.” Put simply, part of ATF’s duty is to make sure guns don’t end up in the hands of the bad guys. Through the program “Project Gunrunner," ATF uses electronic tags to trace gun movements on both sides of the border. What has been alleged, however, is that while the program has been successful in apprehending weapons and criminals, too many guns have been intentionally let go into the hands of Mexican drug lords when it is almost guaranteed that the guns will be used in violent crimes.

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The scars you can't see and the deaths that happen at home

As we enter into the 8th year of war with Iraq and have already passed the 9th year mark with the war with Afghanistan, the costs of these wars are adding up. There is the economic cost, which has reached the trillion dollar mark at an estimated cost of 2.5 to 4.6 trillion dollars [1]. Yet, the human cost to our troops has been skyrocketing as well, and not just those dying in combat but those who have taken their own lives when they returned home.

We constantly hear the mantra of the psychological effects of fighting in the wars, and that they are taking an extreme toll on the troops. But this mantra brings the horrors of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), military sexual trauma, and traumatic brain injury to just numbers. The facts as just numbers don’t show the real pain to service members and their families. They only reduce that pain to a rating system just like the Veterans Affairs hospitals.

To understand the real pain is to hear the stories of the suicides and the attempted suicides of our service members.

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Why Obama can't hide behind congressional restrictions on Gitmo

The Obama administration’s recent announcement that it would restart military commission proceedings at Guantanamo Bay is a huge disappointment to anyone who values a commitment to due process and the rule of law. The military commissions are a second tier, flawed system of justice that will only produce verdicts highly vulnerable to appellate challenge. 

But nearly two years ago, during a speech at the National Archives, Obama made a similar announcement.  In May 2009, after already pledging to close Guantanamo within one year of taking office, he announced he would use both military commissions and civilian courts to prosecute terrorism suspects. The decision to use the military commission system, even if only in part, was bad then and it is bad now for a variety of reasons.  But it is not new. What is new is the ease with which the administration is willing to hide behind recent congressional restrictions as an excuse for the failure to close Guantanamo and bring more terrorism suspects to justice.

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Who wants to be responsible for nuclear terrorism?

Imagine a raging civil war against an autocrat with a history of supporting extreme terrorist acts in a country where nuclear weapons fuel was caught in the crossfire. That would be Libya today if the U.S. had not funded the removal of highly enriched uranium from that country in 2004.

That is why it makes no sense for the Congress to be debating how much to cut the budget for the programs that protect, remove and eliminate these nuclear materials in vulnerable locations around the world. But they are doing it anyway. 

The House wants to cut $600 million, the Senate $300 million. The nuclear nonproliferation budget they are debating is less than $3 billion and about one-third of that is for a new facility being built in South Carolina. So, the squabble is over spending that amounts to just 0.2 percent of the $700 billion in defense expenditures that is currently off limits from any reductions.

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