Homeland Security

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.

Trials for Guantánamo Detainees on U.S. Soil?

The election has been held, the results are in and America prepares for the 44th president of the United States. Whatever your politics, this is a time of transition and transformation and a time to give the president-elect and his incoming team the benefit of the doubt — hoping that perhaps they will govern more pragmatically than the manner in which they campaigned for high office.

In this context, I was stunned to read an AP article this morning that began thusly: "President-elect Obama's advisers are quietly crafting a proposal to ship dozens, if not hundreds of imprisoned terrorism suspects to the United States to face criminal trials, a plan that would make good on his promise to close the Guantánamo Bay prison but could require creation of a controversial new system of justice." And there you have it.

Anti-terrorist Protection Without Sacrificing Civil Liberties

As President-elect Barack Obama confronts a myriad of domestic and foreign issues, one of the most critical will be what to do about the Terrorist Surveillance Program and other highly classified, covert programs that caused substantial civil liberties concerns during much of the Bush administration.

In this regard, his national security transition team will want to assess the effectiveness of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, a five-member, president-appointed panel that provides independent supervision of the government's anti-terrorist activities that could infringe on privacy rights and civil liberties rights. The board was recommended by the 9/11 Commission and created by the 2004 Intelligence Reform Act, and subsequently amended in 2007.

The New American Komityet Gosudarstvennoy Besopasnosty

Now that the Bush administration is making its final efforts to do away with civil liberties, we need to adjust to the new totalitarian reality.

With non-stop proposals to continue consolidating our law enforcement and intelligence entities, the inevitable police state will need to come up with a new name for the single government organization that will control and monitor every facet of our lives.

No longer will we need a confusing alphabet to differentiate between the various agencies. No longer will we need "PD" (as in NYPD or LAPD), FBI, DoJ, DIA, CIA or even NCIS. We can combine them. Let's call them all "The KGB.”