Homeland Security

Economic security suffering with understaffed ports of entry

As Congress considers how to move forward with funding for Customs and Border Protection (CBP), it would be wise to consider its recent successes in fighting illegal immigration, and the unintended consequences on legitimate trade and travel. Cross-border tourism and trade, which is so vital to our economic recovery, is suffering as a result of an unbalanced approach toward the Southwest border.

In recent years, responding to constituent concerns, politicians have jumped on the border security bandwagon, insisting on the need for more Border Patrol and National Guard, especially along the Southwest border. 

Accordingly, appropriations for Border Patrol, which is an agency under CBP, have leaped from $1.06 billion in FY 2000 to $3.54 billion in FY 2011. This represents a 238 percent jump. The results have been nothing less than astounding. In the 11 months ending in August, Border Patrol apprehended 304,755 illegal immigrants along the Southwest border, down from a peak of about 1.6 million in 2000. Meanwhile, seizures of narcotics continue to increase. 


Just the facts on Fast and Furious

In a recent column in The Hill, Lanny Davis (“Let’s Get The Facts Straight On Holder,” October 12, 2011) claimed that Republicans politicized the inquiry into Operation Fast and Furious.  Ironically, however, it is charges of partisanship like his that inject party politics where it doesn't belong.  He questioned the motives of the Members of Congress involved while at the same time criticizing those members for allegedly questioning the motives of others.

Mr. Davis claimed that there are four “facts” that Republicans making “personal attacks” on Attorney General Holder should know: (1) gunwalking at ATF began “under the George W. Bush administration,” (2) the Attorney General meant only to deny knowing about the “faulty tactics,” (3) the Attorney General can’t be expected to read all of his memos, and (4) law enforcement needs bi-partisan support rather than “political cheap shots.”

Perhaps his search for a distraction is understandable.  The facts are so clear that there isn’t much the Department and its defenders can say, other than to lash out and blame the messengers.  The fact is that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) encouraged gun dealers to sell assault rifles to known straw purchasers illegally buying on behalf of others. 

The fact is that the Justice Department oversaw the operation as ATF literally watched bad guys collect hundreds of guns—week after week—for nearly a year.  


Senate missile defense strategy strikes right balance

If Congress doesn't set its defense priorities clearly, there is a risk that the the budget cutting super-committee will slash military spending in a way that will hamper our ability to defend against real and near-term threats to the United States, our allies, and interests. Tasked with proposing a plan to cut more than $1 trillion over ten years by a Thanksgiving deadline, the Joint Select Committee on Budget Reduction should look to a key Senate committee's guidance on how to responsibly reduce military spending.

The Senate Appropriations Committee, in a unanimous bi-partisan vote, has proposed a sensible approach that should be used as a model for maintaining a strong defense in this time of austere budgets. The plan reigns in long-term spending on a wish-list item, a yet-to-be-developed missile system, while redirecting a portion of the savings to fund an adequate supply of proven missiles that defend against the most immediate threats facing the country.


Border Patrol abuses of human rights must be stopped

The Border Patrol deported José Miguel to Nogales, Sonora, México wearing a back brace and in extreme pain. The pain only got worse once he finished the handful of pain pills the Border Patrol medic had given him.

José Miguel and his American family had made Los Angeles home for 35 years. The Border Patrol had picked him up in the desert, as he was returning from visiting his sick mother in Sinaloa. They loaded him into a patrol truck and sped down the dirt road at high speed. The truck left the road and rolled, injuring José Miguel’s back. When he refused to sign voluntary deportation papers, agents yelled at him, withheld food and water from him for 24 hours and promised him pain medication and medical care if he signed. Finally, he did.  Shortly after he arrived in Nogales he died. A volunteer with the humanitarian aid group No More Deaths called one of his daughters to ask if there was anything that he could do. The daughter replied, “We do not know where our father is buried.”


Iran's Saudi plot misinformation

As news broke last week of an Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador in the US, the world looked on in astonishment at what appeared to be an extremely amateurish plan. It seemed far-fetched to many that the Iranian regime would carry out a plot of such a nature in this manner. Further details will undoubtedly come out as the story develops, but no one should question the mindset of the Iranian regime. This is a regime which has its tentacles involved in terrorism across the Middle East and it does not hide its involvement in the murder of US and Coalition troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

However, this story has now taken a strange twist as the Iranian regime’s propaganda machine has begun a two-pronged campaign, blaming an Iranian opposition group for the attack while on the other hand threatening Saudi Arabia with further attacks. This is a very intricate campaign used extensively in the past by the regime to divert attention away from its actions while making it clear to its enemies that they need to fear Tehran and any attempt at reprisals will be met with Tehran’s full force of terrorism.


Immune to Reality: A view on the withdrawal from Iraq

Last week’s announcement by President Obama that all troops would be out of Iraq by the end of this year was welcomed by service members and their families.  The reactions of the current presidential candidates were strikingly dissimilar.  Characteristic of those reactions was Mitt Romney’s portrayal of the withdrawal as an “astonishing failure to secure an orderly transition in Iraq.”  Such statements reveal a fundamental lack of understanding about Iraq, our military, and perhaps even U.S. national security policy as a whole.

First, while the White House, maybe unwisely, attempted to frame the withdrawal as making good on a campaign pledge, the reality is that it was merely abiding by the 2008 Security Agreement between the Bush Administration and the government of Iraq.  That agreement mandates withdrawal by the end of this year.  In other words, while you would never know it by listening to Romney or President Obama, the current administration is simply carrying out the withdrawal deadline imposed by President Bush.


An unserious response to a serious concern

When it comes to dealing with terrorism, synching the law, morality and effectiveness of how we deal with terrorists – and how we show ourselves to the world – is vitally important.  Senators McCain, Ayotte, Graham, McConnell and Chambliss took to the Senate floor this week to “talk about the importance of the defense authorization bill.” The Senators focused on controversial provisions on detention and trial of terror suspects buried within this key piece of defense legislation. However, the Senators are playing loose with both the facts and history involved, and this leads to conclusions that are cynical at best, and harmful to our security at worst.

First a little background: The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which authorizes all defense spending for the fiscal year, contains several provisions related to detention policy that mark a drastic deviation from the norm: Section 1031 authorizes of indefinite detention; Section 1032 requires military custody of terrorism suspects; and 1033 has stringent restrictions on the transfer of detainees.

The five Senators took to the floor to raise three questions that they say their provisions are necessary to answer, but facts and recent history say otherwise:


Setting deportation priorities is legal and wise

On Wednesday, Oct. 12, House Republicans held their third hearing related to the Department of Homeland Security’s prosecutorial discretion policies, including a smart new initiative announced by Secretary Napolitano on August 18. Seeing as how the first two didn’t go so well for the Republicans, one would expect crackerjack witness testimony from the majority for the hearing. But the third time was no charm: The witnesses’ weak arguments reinforced that this series of hearings is little more than crass partisan gamesmanship by House Republicans.

Claims that President Barack Obama has performed an end-run around Congress are by now common fare from the right-wing crowd. The complaint du jour is that the Department of Homeland Security’s plan to focus agency resources on removing burglars rather than busboys ignores the president’s obligation to faithfully enforce the laws that Congress passes.

One of the majority witnesses, David Rivkin Jr., argued that this prosecutorial discretion initiative violates the Constitution’s separation of powers. One would have hoped for care and precision in his legal analysis given that Rivkin was a former Justice Department lawyer. Sadly, his error-plagued testimony delivered neither.


Balancing short-term gain and long-term pain

Due to the deteriorating conditions in Pakistan, the Obama Administration has placed a lot of emphasis over the past few years on strengthening the Northern Distribution Network (NDN) as an alternative overland supply route to reach troops in Afghanistan.  The NDN runs through Uzbekistan, undeniably one of the most authoritarian countries in the world. 

As the NDN grows in importance, the U.S. has become increasingly consumed by the fear that Uzbek strongman Islom Karimov may at some point end his support for NDN, much as he expelled the United States from a strategic airbase in 2005. 

This fear is making the U.S. both falter on its principles and put its own long-term security interests at risk.  Although the NDN has expanded rapidly over the last two years, the Administration is now seeking  favor with Karimov by pressing Congress to lift sanctions that prevent the U.S. from providing Foreign Military Financing or International Military Education and Training assistance to Uzbekistan.  Congress imposed these sanctions due to the Uzbek government’s failure to address the country’s abysmal human rights and democracy record. 


An opportunity to prepare

This has been a costly year for the United States and natural disasters. Tornados, hurricanes, even earthquakes in our nation’s capital. Lives have been lost, buildings destroyed, and nerves rattled.

Some have questioned whether this country really is ready for another disaster—manmade or natural—and whether we have learned our lessons from experiences of the past. September is National Preparedness Month. Our country also just marked the tragic 10th anniversary of September 11. With any attack or disaster, we tend to hug our children a little tighter and be thankful for what they mean to us. And while we know we can’t promise them another attack won’t happen, we can do what it takes to be prepared to keep them safe, if an incident occurs.
Disasters can take on many forms—whether they are the result of a tornado, flood, hurricane or acts of chemical or biological terrorism— and it is imperative we respond quickly and effectively.  It is also crucial that we realize children are not just little adults, and that their needs in these situations are unique.  The federal government must fully integrate children into national preparedness efforts.