— Homeland Security —

September 11, 2012

Things We Read Today, 8

Justin Katz

Today: September 11, global change, evolution, economics, 17th amendment, gold standard, and a boughten electorate... all to a purpose.

December 29, 2011

"Drill", "Strain", "Collapse" (No, It's Not a Greenie's Nightmare Vision of Offshore Oil Drilling)

Monique Chartier

Readers are warned to comment with care; Big Sister is (probably) now watching, attracted to this post by the words included in the title.

In America’s brave new world, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has set up fake Twitter and Facebook accounts in order to catch a potential criminal.

They claim to be protecting the Internet by invading American’s privacy without warrants, for the sole purpose of catching the bad guys. Really?

DHS says they are now “protecting” Americans by programming a few sensitive hot-key words into their computer programs and then tracking those who are tweeting words they think fit a certain profile.

Queried about this, DHS responded, in part,

... the DHS said that the National Operations Center (NOC) "will gather, store, analyze, and disseminate relevant and appropriate de-identified information to federal, state, local, and foreign governments, and private sector partners authorized to receive situational awareness and a common operating picture," said the statement.

"De-identified" information??? How would such information be useful if it lacks specificity? If a blog or a Tweeter or a Facebooker poses a threat, wouldn't local law enforcement need a name to step in and do their job? Or is this just a nice little fib to deflect privacy "freaks"?

As for the "key words" that you will want to avoid so as to stay off DHS's radar, these include but are not limited to


illegal immigrant


human to animal






We might or might not get to see the complete list of trigger (DHS is urged to review definition #2 before becoming alarmed about this use of the word "trigger") words and learn more details about DHS's social spying program: in February, the Electronic Privacy Information Center filed a FOIA request which, in the face of DHS stonewalling, they have escalated to a FOIA lawsuit (PDF).


In comments, Andrew shares an amusing illuminating story.

About fifteen years ago, I went to a local department store to buy an alarm clock. I needed to make sure I was buying one that was was sufficiently loud, so I prepared a test run involving the alarm going off 1 minute after it was set. However, I had the am/pm settings wrong, so it didn't go off as planned. My immediate reaction was to quote Marvin the Martian from the Bugs Bunny cartoons: "Where was the kaboom? There was supposed to have been an earth-shattering kaboom".

When I want to complete my purchase at the counter, there were about 10 mall security guards standing around the department I was in who hadn't been there before, and the guy behind the counter was very jittery. Today, in a similar situation, it would probably occur to me not to say that particular Looney Tunes quote out loud.

ADDENDUM II: Marvin the Martian

December 27, 2009

Give Some of Those New Airline Safety Regs a Short Half-Life

Monique Chartier

The TSA has announced new safety measures, both pre-flight and on-board, in the wake of the attempted on-board bombing of the Amsterdam to Detroit flight. While they apply only to international flights bound for the US, some domestic airlines have also implemented them.

ID checks, searches, pat-downs, canine and machine sniffers before the flight? Go for it.

Requiring passengers to stay seated, not retrieve items from the overhead and have no items on one's lap for the last hour of the flight? (What about the natural requirements of flying babies, to cite just one complication?)

There might be a reason to leave these new, on-board safety requirements in place for maybe another two days, to make sure the failed Northwest bomber didn't coordinate several attacks with some partners in terror. To let them stand beyond that would be foolish as they will not prevent a similar incident - "Oh, look, flight lands in two hours; I'd better get the bomb out of my bag now while I can still move around the cabin" - and they'll only serve to needlessly bore and alienate the flying public.

May 3, 2009

War criminal claims and our ignorance of history

Donald B. Hawthorne

Instapundit does us another public service by highlighting this Pajamas TV commentary about Jon Stewart claiming Truman was a war criminal:

Jon Stewart, War Criminals & The True Story of the Atomic Bombs.

As one of my friends wrote me after listening to it: "We were moved nearly to tears by this. What has happened to the world we knew?"

Our society is increasingly ignorant of history, which means we have lost touch with our roots and are subject more and more to whims of the moment that can only further endanger our liberty.

April 27, 2009

Head of Homeland Insecurity

Monique Chartier

Can we please trade in Janet Napolitano?

She has a seriously distorted take on the source and extent of domestic terror threats. (Her eventual apology for the worst of that report does not change the fact that she clearly possesses bad instincts for the job.)

She thought the 911 attackers arrived here from Canada. (They flew here directly from Saudi Arabia.)

Now, as some use the word "pandemic" with reference to the potential course of the outbreak of swine flu in Mexico and the US declares a public health emergency over it, she has declined to test or monitor arrivals from Mexico, much less impose a travel ban. Wouldn't this be a first line of defense, Madam Secretary? Not the only one, thanks to our elected officials lax enforcement of the border. But not to be omitted, either. Why such a passive approach to this potentially serious health threat?

A monkey would be preferable in the post. At least we'd have a fifty/fifty shot at a correct response to any given threat. This would be a considerable improvement over the batting average of the current occupant, who invariably makes the wrong call.

August 10, 2008

Review: Your Government Failed You

Marc Comtois

Richard Clarke, Your Government Failed You: Breaking the Cycle of National Security Disasters

Your government failed you.
So said Richard Clarke to the American people during the 9/11 Commission hearings a few years back. Clarke's resume of over 30 years in the foreign policy arena speaks for itself and adds weight to his point of view. At times, his tales of frustration infuriate because they show just how much government did fail leading up to 9/11.

But, as reaction to his first book Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror made evident, he can also be frustrating to those who are familiar with events he describes. And this familiarity with acute events can lead, ultimately, to a wholesale--albeit unwarranted--distrust of Clarke.

If I know that he's not being completely forthcoming on Event "A" for which I know a lot about, then how can I be sure he's not doing the same for Events "B, C and D" for which I'm not as familiar? And to the degree that his diagnoses and prescriptions rely upon his experience and expertise, as supported by his explanation of various events, then how seriously am I to take his ideas? In other words, are Clarke's ideas well-informed and worthwhile or just part of an exercise in legacy-protection? The answer, unsurprisingly, is all of the above.

When reading and analyzing a first-hand account of events, a reader should always be on the look out for bias; on the part of both the source and the reader. Ultimately, each of us have to rely on our sense of what seems like good, sound reasoning and argumentation. So, despite these reservations, there are still some things that even those most predisposed to distrust him can learn from Clarke.

Throughout Your Government Failed You, Clarke clearly names names and assesses blame. His reasoning seems sound and his grasp of the nuances of foreign affairs and diplomacy is worth noting as is his recognition of the role that contingency can play in outcomes. And while he doesn't let himself off the hook for some of the errors made, his phraseology can be passive/aggressive. For instance, the phrasing of his "apology" that gave title to this book leaves the impression that he's apologizing more for others than himself. In his opening to Chapter 5, Clarke explains that on the morning of 9/11

I knew that I had failed. In the days and years leading up to that awful moment I had failed to persuade two administrations to do enough to prevent the attacks that were now happening around me.
You see, the decision makers in government didn't listen to Clarke, which is why they failed. And he only failed because they didn't listen. That's a fairly obtuse way of taking blame. The question is then: should we listen to him? Based on my reading and analysis of the events that Clarke describes, I certainly am wary of accepting Clarke's version of events prima facia.

For instance, he notes "the refusal of the Bush administration to ratify the [Kyoto] protocol...(p.277)" and makes no mention of the Clinton administrations similar "refusal." Elsewhere, he explains how he thinks partisanship is bad for national security, something for which many would agree. But the examples of partisanship he provides are markedly one-sided.

I think the record is fairly indisputable that national security issues have been used for partisan electoral advantage in recent years: terrorism threats have been overhyped near elections, predictions have been made about terrorist attacks occurring if the other party wins, people's patriotism has been questioned. (p.340-41)
Common charges levied against the Republicans, all. No mention of the political rhetoric flying from the Democratic side--immediate withdrawal, illegal war, the Bush fascist state, etc.--which helped them sweep to Congressional power in 2006. I suppose if you believe one set of arguments, then they aren't partisan?

Much of the first part of the book is devoted to Clarke's restatement of many of the same charges he made in Against All Enemies. He still thinks Iraq is a distraction away from Afghanistan, which is an arguable point, especially with Osama bin Laden still loose. He also puts much blame for Iraq at the feet of the generals charged with preparing our forces for the invasion:

1) "Neither the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff [General Richard Myers] nor the regional commander at CENTCOM [General Tommy Franks] dissented from the initial war plan..."
2) The generals didn't implement proper counter-insurgency activities though they were aware of analysis from the CIA and State department that predicted insurgent activity in post-invasion Iraq.
3) Related to #2, once it became clear that the President intended to invade Iraq, the Generals did not advise the President and Congress that they did not have enough troops to deal with an insurgency.
4) "Inadequate training and...equipment" for American troops in Iraq.
5) Generals tacitly condoned torture, such as at Abu Grahib.
6) Generals didn't ensure that wounded troops were treated adequately (Walter Reed).
All of these points are worth debating. But elsewhere, Clarke essentially accuses General David Petraeus, architect of the proving-successful surge implemented in 2007, of moving the goalposts himself when his own counter-insurgency efforts were initially exhibiting slow returns. "It began to seem as if the reason for the surge, in Petraeus's mind, was to prove that his new counterinsurgency strategy could work."

The recent success in Iraq is making Clarke a victim of the time line. For he claims that Petraeus

[b]y defending a policy that in the larger sense was injurious to the United States and the Army, by arguing for staying on when he admitted that his own condition for the U.S. presence (real progress toward Iraqi unity) was not being met...raised new questions about what makes a general political.
When Clarke wrote these words, the effectiveness of the surge was still in doubt. But no matter the expertise that lay on the side of the predictor, reality has a way of ruining predictions.

Clarke has much else to say about a plethora of items related to national security and, not as impressively, global warming. As to the last, he essentially toes the Al Gore line. Nothing earth shattering (or warming?).

Further, it becomes clear that Clarke is a supporter of the Powell doctrine, though redefined for the times, which is entirely defensible. On the other hand, he also channels Thomas Franks (the academic, not the general) by basically asking "what's the matter with the military," because he can't understand why they have become so overwhelmingly Republican (though he notes that Democrats are gaining support).

All in all, this is a "thick" book. There is a lot to digest and a lot to think about. Clarke's writing isn't florid or light. Instead, he hits you time and again with anecdotes and antidotes that spring from the mind of the man who apologized to the American people on behalf of the U.S. Government. In the end, his is a voice that warrants a listen. Perhaps the best way to get a balanced view of some of the events is to read Clarke's book in combination with Douglas Feith's War and Decision. To quote Ronald Reagan, "Trust, but verify."
Cross-posted at Spinning Clio.

May 27, 2008

A Profile in Bureaucratic Spending

Justin Katz

There's something emblematic about states' attempts to tweak homeland security programs in order to apply federal dollars to tangential matters:

More openly than at any time since the Sept. 11 attacks, state and local authorities have begun to complain that the federal financing for domestic security is being too closely tied to combating potential terrorist threats, at a time when they say they have more urgent priorities.

"I have a healthy respect for the federal government and the importance of keeping this nation safe," said Col. Dean Esserman, the police chief in Providence, R.I. "But I also live every day as a police chief in an American city where violence every day is not foreign and is not anonymous but is right out there in the neighborhoods." ...

Local officials do not dismiss the terrorist threat, but many are trying to retool counterterrorism programs so that they focus more directly on combating gun violence, narcotics trafficking and gangs — while arguing that these programs, too, should qualify for federal financing, on the theory that terrorists may engage in criminal activity as a precursor to an attack.

Could be I missed something, but I don't recall any of the 9/11 attackers having displayed any of those precursors. More likely these state and local authorities are providing an example of the inherent problem with big government: It creates a big pool of somebody else's money (taken under force of law) to be pulled and sliced across layers of bureaucracy, until its expenditure is scarcely related to the arguments for its allocation.

September 28, 2007

Firefighters' Picket Line Cancelled; Homeland Security Drill to Proceed

Carroll Andrew Morse

Projo 7-to-7 is reporting that the Providence firefighters' union has cancelled the job action that had been threatening to impede Sunday's Homeland Security disaster drill. Formal announcement to come from union president Paul Doughty at 3:00.

Firefighters' Picket Line Cancelled; Homeland Security Drill to Proceed

Carroll Andrew Morse

Projo 7-to-7 is reporting that the Providence firefighters' union has cancelled the job action that had been threatening to impede Sunday's Homeland Security disaster drill. Formal announcement to come from union president Paul Doughty at 3:00.

Bob Kerr on the Providence Firefighters' Union and the Statewide Disaster Drill

Carroll Andrew Morse

When you manage to get David Cicilline and Don Carcieri and Bob Kerr and Gio Cicione all aligned against an action you're taking, it's time to consider that you might be doing the wrong thing. Bob Kerr says it best in today's Projo, talking about the Providence Firefighters' Union plan to use a picket line to impede Saturday's statewide disaster drill...

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — you can earn a year’s pay in one horrible night.

But don’t do this. Don’t put a lasting stain on a fine tradition. Don’t let this showdown with the city lead you to do something that insults the very thing you’re supposed to stand for.

If you do this, if you use the picket line to screw up a statewide terrorism drill, you lose. You lose credibility and respect and professional standing. You come across as petty and arrogant, even childish. You are having a snit, and your snit is dangerous....

This one is going to stick to the firefighters union for a long time. It will be cited as an example of a union that lost its way and let long-standing grievances lead to a dumb and dangerous slap at the city union members are supposed to protect. It is a gift to anyone who sits on the other side of the bargaining table.

It is also an insult to hundreds of people who are very good at what they do.

From now on, perhaps, union meetings can open with a prayer, a prayer that a real attack similar to the one acted out on Sunday never happens.

And while heads are bowed, perhaps an added heavenly plea would be in order — that no one dies for lack of proper preparation.

September 27, 2007

Providence Firefighters' Union Attempts to Shut Down a Statewide Disaster Drill

Carroll Andrew Morse

If this is typical of the attitude that Providence Firefighters' Union President Paul Doughty brings when he answers a call, then he needs to quit his job and get into a new line of work. From Amanda Milkovits in today's Projo

A major statewide terrorism drill meant to train firefighters, police officers and medical crews to save lives after a chemical disaster could be severely curtailed because the Providence firefighters union plans to picket.

The labor action, which the union president downplays as an “informational demonstration” for disability benefits, is stopping dozens of firefighters from other municipalities from participating in Sunday’s drill.

This is the latest in a protracted contract battle between the Providence firefighters and the city. When asked how he could justify disrupting a complicated multi-agency drill, union president Paul A. Doughty said: “How can we take care of you if you won’t take care of us?”

Know that the average citizen takes the idea of firefighter training more seriously than the union President does…
Doughty was dismissive about the drill. “This is more for strategic issues than tactical issues,” he said. “Getting into the [hazardous-materials] suits, sampling the air, it’s stuff we’ve done before.”
The purpose of this picketing obviously isn't to rally public support, as Mr. Doughty is achieving the nearly impossible here: making Providence Mayor David Cicilline look like the sympathetic figure to almost everyone, even to the many people not generally impressed with his style of management. So if the purpose of crippling the terrorism drill isn't to scare the public -- "you don't take care of us, then we don't take care of you, and maybe some real bad disasters happen" -- then what is it?

January 10, 2007

Democrats 9/11 Commission Bill: Both Less and More Than Advertised

Marc Comtois

So, the 100 Hours continue and Speaker Pelosi has gotten her 9/11 Commission legislation through. And though some may think that every one of the 9/11 Commission prescriptions were included (the necessity or wisdom of implementing them all is another discussion), apparently, that's really not the case (via The Corner).

Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut, who held a hearing Tuesday as the Senate prepared for its version of this bill, noted that one major recommendation — not in the House measure — was strengthening Congressional oversight of intelligence and counterterrorism efforts. “We found it a lot easier to reform the rest of the government than we did to reform ourselves post-9/11,” Mr. Lieberman said. “That’s unfinished work.”
The relevant portion of the 9/11 Report to which Lieberman refers begins here (and I've excerpted it in full in the extended entry, below.

Finally, Speaker Pelosi's 9/11 Commission Legislation contains language making it possible for the federal employees of the TSA to unionize.

The 9/11 commission did not address union rights or personnel rules but urged improvements in airport screening operations. AFGE [American Federation of Government Employees] maintains that collective bargaining rights help smooth agency operations because labor-management contracts provide a structure for addressing employee issues, including job performance.

Peter Winch, an organizer with AFGE, said the union had asked Democrats to put bargaining rights for TSA screeners "on the agenda for the first 100 hours." He continued, "It does not make sense to keep these employees from collective bargaining rights when other Department of Homeland Security employees have those rights."

The TSA has said that collective bargaining is not appropriate for airport passenger and baggage screeners because of their national security mission and because the agency requires the ability to make personnel staffing changes rapidly in response to threats. In the law creating the TSA, Congress left it to the Bush administration to determine such issues as union rights for screeners.

The Bush Administration also provided an example:
As an example, officials pointed to the foiled United Kingdom airline bombing plot in August, when new procedures for screeners were put into place immediately.

"This flexibility is a key component of how the Department of Homeland Security, through TSA, protects Americans while they travel," the statement said.

Then there is this point made by Senator Joseph Lieberman's office:
"Other security personnel like customs agents and the Border Patrol have the right to collective bargaining, and that has not impaired their ability to protect American security."
OK, fine. But isn't this really just an "earmark" by another name? The original legislation that allowed this potential TSA unionization had previously stalled in committee (granted, GOP controlled congress) and NONE of this 100 hour legislation is being debated in--or passed through--committee. Heck, to the victor go the spoils and all that, but for the Democrat led Congress to reward one of their key constituencies--a federal employee union--under the cover of national security smells like business as usual to me.

Continue reading "Democrats 9/11 Commission Bill: Both Less and More Than Advertised"

August 10, 2006

British Stop a Major Trans-Atlantic Terrorist Attack

Carroll Andrew Morse

Pajamas Media has a round-up of the plot foiled by the British Government -- to blow up multiple airliners flying from Great Britain to the United States

UK SECURITY foils terrorist plot to make airliners into flying bombs. Police say they have disrupted a major plot to blow as many as 20 planes over UK and US cities with explosive devices smuggled aboard as hand luggage. Arrest 20. (Sky News) 00:37 PDT....

The terrorists were targeting United, American, Continental airlines, two U.S. counterterrorism officials say. One police spokesman said the attacks were planned to happen at the same time. The plan involved airline passengers hiding masked explosives in carry-on luggage, the official said. They were not yet sitting on an airplane, but were very close to traveling, the official said, calling the plot the real deal. A senior U.S. counterterrorism official said authorities believe dozens of people possibly as many as 50 were involved in the plot, which had a footprint to Al Qaeda back to it. (Fox News) 03:41 PDT

The threat is considered widespread enough that liquids have been banned from any carry-on luggage at Green (the terrorists apparently planned to use liquid explosives). According to Kate Bramson on the Projos 7-to-7 blog

No liquids of any kind are being allowed in carry-on luggage at T.F. Green Airport this morning following news that British authorities have thwarted a terrorist plot to blow up several aircraft heading to the U.S.

No liquid beverages, hair gels, lotions or shampoos can be carried on airplanes now, according to Patti Goldstein, spokeswoman for the airport corporation.

Goldstein urges passengers to get there 90 minutes to two hours before scheduled departure times to allow for additional time getting through security checkpoints.

The Department of Homeland Security has raised the threat level on flights originating in the UK to destined for the US to "critical" (the highest level) and raised the threat level on all other commercial flights to "high".