Homeland Security

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.


Ten years after 9/11, let's honor the memory of first responders

As commander of Joint Task Force Katrina after the hurricane hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, I saw firsthand the dangerous and life-threatening problems that resulted simply because our emergency first responders could not communicate with each other quickly and reliably from the moment the hurricane struck.  Sadly - and even though Katrina hit four years after the horror of the September 11 terror attacks - lives were once again lost because of this inability to communicate.  And ten years after that tragic day in 2001, first responders still don’t have the tools they need to communicate effectively in real time during a disaster.

Ever since my service with Joint Task Force Katrina, I’ve focused on improving disaster preparedness at every level, including finding solutions to communications issues facing first responders across the nation, and reviewing various proposals designed to address public safety’s existing communications needs.  Hurricane Irene recently demonstrated vastly improved cooperation between government agencies; however, the challenge of real time communication among first responders and others increased the risks of tragedy.

On the tenth anniversary of the horror of 9/11, I am more frustrated than ever with the continuing delays in funding and deploying a nationwide interoperable public safety broadband network.  First responders urgently need that network to carry out their mission, not only during major disasters and emergencies but in their everyday work keeping all of us safe.  Such a network would have eliminated many of the challenges first responders and disaster managers faced last month during Irene.


A pathway forward, or a slippery slope?

The Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform coalition is conflicted over the Administration’s DHS announcement of August 18 regarding prosecutorial discretion in the handling of deportation cases.

Our coalition stands  for conservative family values, and a crisis exists in our churches, communities, and workplaces over the splitting up of good and hard working families that are caught up in the immigration system. This new announcement signals a new direction that DHS will be entirely focused on deporting criminals and hard core immigration offenders. We applaud this new effort to keep decent families intact that have otherwise been law abiding.

On the other hand, this unilateral action on the part of the Administration bends the rules to the breaking point--they have performed an end-run around Congress, which has unfortunately been unable to find a way to pass much needed immigration reform. Ultimately, we are a nation of laws. The immigration laws in our nation are antiquated and untenable, so the Administration’s action can be justified partially, but it doesn’t sit well. Our laws might not be working well, but they do exist. The law needs to be changed, not further obstructed. We must find a way to come together to change the laws to improve them and make them work for America.


9/11:Progress,but more to do

There is no doubt that the events of September 11, 2001 brought about fundamental changes to this nation.  The events of that Tuesday morning changed just about everything we know about aviation security, information sharing, civil liberties, war, and disaster response and recovery. 

As our government has changed its policies and practices over time, the American people have also changed their expectations.  Today, most people regard many new security measures as a reasonable price for security.  But as we enter the second post-9/11 decade, we must begin to question the price we pay.  


Nuclear lessons from 9/11

Ten years ago the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania prompted a sweeping reappraisal of security at U.S. nuclear energy facilities, led by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. America is fortunate that it has a strong, established regulator for nuclear safety and security.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has a staff of 4,000 competent and committed staff that oversees every facet of the commercial nuclear energy industry.  It has unfettered access to every worker, to every piece of operating data, and to every plant system at every nuclear energy facility—without notice.  Its success in regulating safety and security is the reason why it often is emulated by other regulators.
The September 11 attacks were an unprecedented act of violence on America’s critical infrastructure.   It demanded aggressive action to ensure that the nuclear energy facilities that are the source of 20 percent of our nation’s electricity were secure.  Fortunately, the NRC has unique statutory authority to regulate security.  As a result, the nuclear energy industry is one of a few commercial or industrial sectors that is subject to federal security requirements.  Although strong security programs were in place at commercial nuclear energy facilities before 2001, the NRC imposed a series of requirements that substantially strengthened physical and cyber security in the aftermath of the attacks.