Homeland Security

A Picture on My Wall

There’s a picture on my wall of me with my former boss, Denny Hastert, surrounded by a group of reporters. I am on his left shoulder, listening in. As it turns out, the reporters were listening in, too. Hastert was talking to three ladies who weren’t registered lobbyists, who weren’t elected representatives, and weren’t reporters. They were three concerned citizens who had petitioned Congress to enact legislation that they thought would make America safer.

One of those ladies was Beverly Eckert. She was one of the ringleaders of the so-called “9/11 widows.” She badgered the Speaker and the Congress to allow a full investigation of what actually happened on one of the worst days in the nation’s history. Without Beverly, there probably wouldn’t have been a 9/11 Commission.

More Than a Symbol

With the stroke of a pen, President Obama fulfilled a campaign pledge this week, closing within the year the infamous Guantánamo Bay prison facility and the apparent abuses carried out under the Bush administration.

The symbolism of this gesture is powerful, for it stands as a reminder that Americans value the sanctity of the rule of law and judicial review. But now the cold reality sets in — what are we going to do with the remaining 250 detainees?

It’s not a question that’s easily answered. We sure can’t bring them to our nation’s shores. As much as we want to give them their legal rights, it doesn’t mean we should bring dangerous suspected terrorists to, say, Kansas.

Safety vs. Freedom

As George Bush departs the presidential stage, he leaves behind many detractors and one rather large accomplishment that they either ignore or undervalue.

Since the horrific attacks of Sept. 11, not one terrorist has been successful in attacking America. Not one Islamic terrorist, not one domestic terrorist. In the days following 9/11, nobody would have believed that more than seven years later, the terrorists would have struck out.

There are a lot of reasons for that. First, Bush created a whole separate battlefield for the Islamic extremists to fight. That battlefield was in their backyard, in Iraq and in Afghanistan.

Thank You, Mr. President

The most poignant message of President George W. Bush's farewell address will endure and become stronger over time. He has earned credit, but it has not yet been given. I believe history will ensure that he is awarded his due for doing what most of us feared, just over seven years ago, was impossible, or at least highly unlikely.

Reflecting on our nation in the months and years after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the president noted, "Most Americans were able to return to life much as it had been before 9/11. But I never did. Every morning, I received a briefing on the threats to our nation. And I vowed to do everything in my power to keep us safe."

Why is Obama Emasculating Intelligence?

President-elect Obama’s new head of the Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department, Dawn Johnsen, called the legal reasoning that gave the president broad powers to authorize “rough” interrogation of terrorists “shockingly flawed … bogus … outlandish.” She said it allowed “horrific acts” and demanded to know, “Where is the outrage? The public outcry?”

This is the person who will decide how to interrogate terrorists. If she errs on the side of weakening methods of questioning, there’s no chance her boss, Eric Holder, the new attorney general, will reverse her. He approved of the Clinton/Reno “wall” preventing intelligence from finding out what criminal investigators had found out and took the lead in pardoning the FALN terrorists.

What To Do with Whistleblowers

Tattletales and snitches are objects of opprobrium, in high society and low. People generally dislike folks who tell on others. But whistleblowers have a different image. They are perceived as heroic because they sacrifice themselves for a higher purpose — stopping government misconduct or preventing corporate misdeeds. We don’t treat them as heroes, however. I’ve counseled some in my law practice, and they usually have paid a great price for their sacrificial behavior. Whistleblowers are subjects of glorifying movies, but I share their pain. Few have launched successful careers after their “heroic” acts.

The Dec. 22, 2008 Newsweek cover story about Thomas Tamm’s excruciating experiences deciding to and eventually disclosing the federal government’s warrantless wiretapping practices is a classic example of the whistleblower’s dilemma. Tamm is not a flaming liberal critic of government. He is a product of it — the son of a high-ranking FBI official and member of a family invested in law enforcement and, as Newsweek reported, “a least likely suspect” to be a national security leaker. When he tried to remedy what he saw as illegal activities by law enforcement officers, Tamm was told, “Don’t go there.” Others knew what was going on, but feared to act.

Who Watches the Watchers?

I had to re-read it, to make sure I read her message right. Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus sympathizes with government officials who violate laws and the United States Constitution because they have a “good faith” (how can she use this term in this context?) belief that their actions are necessary to preserve the country. For this, she gets the Ollie North Award for official vigilantism, to be presented at Vice President Cheney’s hidden bunker. Cheney and Rumsfeld and their Iago-like lawyers might be pardoned for their lawless incarceration and interrogation and investigatory excesses, Marcus muses. She was, when younger, “revolted” by comparable bad behavior by government officials, but now she is sorry, at some level, for the actors. She should have followed her early reactions.

Q-and-A with Secretary Michael Chertoff, Department of Homeland Security

Q: What are your plans after Jan. 20, 2009?

I am looking forward to taking a break and then taking on new challenges. I have not made a decision yet. Until Jan. 20, the department is focused on a seamless and safe transition, and I am committed to assisting my successor and her team in any way I can.

Q: Where do you see yourself in five years?

I am not sure, but I would like to stay involved in the issues I've been working on as Secretary.

Are Terrorists Reverse Outliers?

The first few dispatches about the Mumbai terrorists came out yesterday and there are already some revealing details about the 10 gunmen who opened fired indiscriminately on civilians in the streets and buildings of Mumbai. The gunmen are alleged members of Lashkar-i-Taiba, a Pakistani separatist group located in the disputed territory of Kashmir.

An attack like this shakes the mind. How could human beings carry out such an act of evil?

Osama vs. Obama

For many people in the the Arab world, attacking George W. Bush is one thing. Going after Barack Hussein Obama is another.

That's the impression I'm getting from North Africans who've seen the latest video diatribe from al Qaeda's No. 2 man, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

In the video, which is airing widely on Arabic TV channels, al-Zawahiri accuses the U.S. president-elect of everything from denying his racial heritage to outright apostasy.