Homeland Security

A reckless gamble

One of the most consequential issues of our times is passing with only sporadic notice by Capitol Hill.

That issue: If the Obama administration follows through on its recently advertized intention to slash the already greatly reduced U.S. nuclear deterrent, it will put the physical security of the United States and our allies at risk.

The ink had barely dried on the recently ratified New START Treaty, set to cut U.S. nuclear forces to 1,550 deployed strategic warheads, before the administration announced it is considering further reducing U.S. nuclear forces to fewer than 1,100 strategic nuclear weapons in ranges of 700 to 800 or as low as 300 to 400 weapons. While the administration might opt for the higher ranges, if it is managing expectations any of these options will take the U.S. down a very dangerous path, for ten reasons. 


Protecting the Homeland, Safeguarding Privacy

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is closely monitoring social media for potential threats and hazards to the United States. Little was known about the DHS monitoring program, however, until last month when new details about their policies became public for the first time. As a result of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit, DHS disclosed records revealing information about their tactics. DHS documents revealed that the department has tasked analysts with collecting intelligence on any media reports that “reflect adversely on the U.S. government and the Department of Homeland Security…including both positive and negative reports on FEMA, USCIS, CBP, and ICE.”
In one example, DHS used multiple social networking tools—including Facebook, Twitter, three different blogs, and reader comments on news websites to capture reaction of residents to a possible plan to bring Guantanamo detainees to a local prison in Standish, Michigan. This type of intelligence gathering is problematic. Collecting, analyzing, and disseminating private citizens’ comments could have a chilling effect on individual privacy rights and the people’s freedom of speech and dissent.


Cutting defense spending responsibly

On Monday (2/13), the Obama Administration will submit its fiscal 2013 budget to Congress.

Belt-tightening is the order of the day. And the Defense Department is
expected to announce the cancellation or down-sizing of a number of
high-profile weapons programs.

One of the projects about to undergo major reconstructive surgery is the
development of a new "Joint Air-to-Ground Missile" or "JAGM" -- high-tech
ordnance designed to be deployed from helicopters, fighter jets, and
unmanned aircraft systems.


Lessons from Iraq

With U.S. troops now home from our military operation in Iraq, there has been a flurry of debate around our mission there, the future of Iraq, and our security interests in the region. Whatever one may think of the reasons for going into Iraq in 2003 or the effects of our travails there, it is a given that the United States has invested a great deal of blood and treasure in order to leave a Iraq a more stable country. Our stabilization and reconstruction efforts following the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime were well-intentioned, but fraught with mismanagement and waste.

The U.S.-led rebuilding program in Iraq was met with mixed success, producing a plethora of painful lessons that should be closely examined. Iraq’s current difficulties must not obscure or impede Congress’s careful review of our experience as we seek to develop a more integral and effective system for managing overseas stabilization and reconstruction operations. Strict Congressional oversight is in our national interest. As then-Senator Harry Truman found when fighting waste and mismanagement of funding during World War II, effective Congressional oversight can not only save money and lives, it can make our efforts stronger.


Time to rethink nuclear weapons spending

The supercommittee’s failure to reach agreement on a deficit reduction plan may trigger deep, automatic reductions in future U.S. defense spending. At the same time, some in Congress are finally beginning to examine how much the United States plans to spend on nuclear weapons in the years ahead.

The automatic reductions, known as “sequestration,” would double the amount of money the Pentagon must cut from its projected budget growth, from about $450 billion to roughly $1 trillion, over the next decade.  

No matter how deeply the defense budget will be cut or how many hundreds of billions of dollars the federal government plans to spend on nuclear weapons, one thing is clear: Republicans and Democrats need to work together to reduce Cold War-era nuclear weapon systems that do not address likely security threats.  


Political gridlock could mean ‘game over’ for our national security

Rumor has it that Leonardo DiCaprio plans to remake the 1983 blockbuster WarGames, in which a young Matthew Broderick hacked into the government’s computer system and nearly triggered a thermonuclear Armageddon. Even thought the Soviet Union is long gone, it’s easy to see how the time is ripe for a remake.

In fact, the world is now a much more dangerous place. In 1983, only a handful of countries had nuclear weapons. Today, the nuclear genie has long left the bottle. Countries like Pakistan, China, and Russia have created a vibrant international market for nuclear and missile technologies, providing centrifuges, rockets, and know-how to countries like Iran and North Korea. Intelligence reports from the U.S., the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the British government estimate that these countries will develop nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of hitting a U.S. city within a few years – not decades as some assume.

But there’s a real-world twist to the story that will make screenwriters working on WarGames rejoice and everyone else despair. Congress is poised to slash funding for our national defense just as these threats are on the rise, all because of a technicality imposed by the debt ceiling deal. Among many other critical military programs, missile defense could take a serious hit. Truth really is stranger than fiction.


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.”