Friday, August 3, 2007
Your disturbing sentences of the day
[O]fficials said the bridges design had been considered outmoded for decades because a single failure of a structural part could bring down the whole bridge. About 11 percent of the nations steel bridges, mostly from the 1950s and 1960s, lack the redundant protection to reduce these failures, federal officials said.What on God's green earth would be lower than a "poor" rating? A "Jeebus, we're lucky we got off the bridge in time to file this report" rating?
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Open family jewels thread
Comment away on anything interesting contained in the CIA's family jewels, released yesterday.
Known inside the agency as the family jewels, the 702 pages of documents catalog domestic wiretapping operations, failed assassination plots, mind-control experiments and spying on journalists from the early years of the C.I.A.The Times has also set up a blog by intellligence experts -- including danieldrezner.com's Official Go-To Person for All Things Intelligent, Ms. Amy Zegart.
Another contributor, Philip Taubman, concludes:
Reading through the litany of C.I.A. domestic spying abuses and other questionable activities during the cold war years, including plots to assassinate foreign leaders, its hard not to wonder what the men and women of the C.I.A. (mostly men, in those days) were thinking as they wandered far afield from the C.I.A.s own charter.
Friday, September 15, 2006
If only Dubai Ports World could somehow run our ports
I'll just file this announcement from Dubai Ports World under "irony" and move on:
DP World, a leading global marine terminal operator, has become the first global company in the transport and logistics industry to gain certification to an international standard for its security management systems and operations. Lloyds Register Quality Assurance (LRQA), an independent international certification body, has audited DP World for compliance with the international standard ISO/PAS 28000:2005 at both the corporate head office in Dubai, UAE, and its chosen site, Djibouti Container Terminal....Hat tip: Michael Levi.
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
How do we classify the embassy attack in Syria?
Over at Open University, I posted the following question last week:
Now, the Syrian attack does not qualify as a drive-by shooting. At the same time, the odds of success of such an enterprise in Damascus seem very low -- as the Guardian points out:While security officials are largely focused on organized terror groups like Al Qaeda, lone attackers like Mr. Jaoura present a new challenge. They are hard to track and even harder to stop, making them an especially difficult target for the police and security officials.If you read the whole story, this seems like the kind of attack that, in the United States, would qualify as a drive-by shooting rather than "Islamofascism."
Peter Ford, Britain's ambassador to Syria, told CNN that the incident did not seem similar to an al-Qaida attack, but appeared to be "an operation by a small group".So, either a) Al Qaeda's having a really bad draft year, or; b) This was a local operation with zero ties to AQ.
I'll leave it to the commenters to sort this out.
Tuesday, September 5, 2006
Are you safer than you were five years ago?
The White House just released its new National Strategy for Combatting Terrorism. Here's the punchline:
From the beginning, we understood that the War on Terror involved more than simply finding and bringing to justice those who had planned and executed the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Our strategy involved destroying the larger al-Qaida network and also confronting the radical ideology that inspired others to join or support the terrorist movement. Since 9/11, we have made substantial progress in degrading the alQaida network, killing or capturing key lieutenants, eliminating safehavens, and disrupting existing lines of support. Through the freedom agenda, we also have promoted the best long-term answer to alQaida's agenda: the freedom and dignity that comes when human liberty is protected by effective democratic institutions.Given the supposed metamorphosis in the terror threat, why does only one of those bullet points address the "radical ideology" that is supposedly so threatening?
Also worth checking out -- the Center for Strategic and International Studies balance sheet on Five Years After 9/11. There's a lot of congruence between the reports -- but CSIS does have the advantage of candor. For the Democrat take, click here.
UPDATE: On the other hand, this GovExec interview with assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism Frances Townsend seems pretty candid to me.
Thursday, August 10, 2006
Gonna be a fun month to fly
Congrats to all involved on foiling that terror plot.
And now, a very selfish request:
Please, please, please, pretty please, pretty please with sugar on top, allow things to calm down enough so that next month when I have to fly to and from the UK, these travel restrictions are no longer in place.UPDATE: Although the media reaction has focused on this latest plot as an example of the vitality of terrorists, I tend to agree with much of this Stratfor analysis:
There are four takeaway lessons from this incident:
Monday, August 7, 2006
Apparently, the counterinsurgency manual needs a rewrite
My Fletcher colleague Richard H. Shultz co-authors an op-ed in the New York Times the Army's efforts to develop a new manual about about counterinsurgency tactics from its experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some sobering highlights:
In todays internal wars several different types of armed groups not just traditional insurgents bent on changing a national regime engage in unconventional combat. Iraq is illustrative. Those fighting American forces include a complex mix of Sunni tribal militias, former regime members, foreign and domestic jihadists, Shiite militias and criminal gangs. Each has different motivations and ways of fighting. Tackling them requires customized strategies.This part is particularly interesting:
Meeting and defeating terrorist groups requires a far deeper understanding of their factions and the exploitation of the rifts between them. Consider how such profiling led to the demise of the Abu Nidal organization, which 20 years ago was the worlds most lethal terrorist group.An interesting question to ask is the extent to which western and Arab intelligence agencies have managed to penetrate Al Qaeda's network -- and whether such penetration is more difficult because of the Islamist nature of that organization. It might be tougher to penetrate networks where the identity rests on a theocratic foundation.
Intriguingly, this problem has the potential to cut both ways. Dexter Flikins' review of Lorenzo Wright's new book contains the following nugget of information:
Al Qaedas leaders had all but shelved the 9/11 plot when they realized they lacked foot soldiers who could pass convincingly as westernized Muslims in the United States. At just the right moment Atta appeared in Afghanistan, along with Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Ziad al-Jarrah and Marwan al-Shehhi, all Western-educated transplants, offering themselves up for slaughter.
Friday, July 21, 2006
There's a classified blogosphere?
Apparently so -- and according to the Washington Post's Dana Priest, someone was just kicked off that particular island:
Christine Axsmith, a software contractor for the CIA, considered her blog a success within the select circle of people who could actually access it.Read the whole thing.
UPDATE: Douglas Hart and Steven Simon have an article in the Spring 2006 issue of Survival that addresses the larger question of the role that blogs can play in bolstering intelligence analysis. In light of the Post story, this section is worth quoting:
Current reporting procedures within the intelligence community enforce a hierarchical organisational structure in which information flows up and decisions flow down. Blogs, on the other hand, produce communities of interest in which power is manifested through the number of individual connections within a network, rather than through an individuals position with respect to reporting chains. These networks are key to emergent or new types of critical thinking amongst the analytical population. In other words, blogs might well be a means for individual analysts to express dissenting opinions that are not subject to official censorship.I have to think that this episode will blunt these kind of benefits.
Wednesday, July 5, 2006
What's the bigger threat to national security?
When the New York Times published stories about the Bush administration's efforts to track terrorist financing via the SWIFT consortium, a lot of the conservative blogosphere got on the NYT's case about publishing national secrets on the front page of the paper of record. And, for the record, I suspect that the publication probably disrupted the program because of the backlash it created in Europe, where SWIFT is headquartered.
And yet, I'd take the Bush administration's umbrage about the publication of classified information more seriously if the government demonstrated anything close to competence when to comes to protecting the computerized data currently in its possession.
Now Eric Weiss reports in the Washington Post that the FBI has had a little bit of a problem in this area:
A government consultant, using computer programs easily found on the Internet, managed to crack the FBI's classified computer system and gain the passwords of 38,000 employees, including that of FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III.To be fair to the Bush administration, a lot of this stuff might have happened regardless of who was running the White House.
That said, the administration seems to be obsessed with protecting data from journalists. I'd much prefer it if they were obsessed with protecting their data from hackers.
UPDATE: On the other hand, the FBI has done an excellent job protecting Coca Cola's secret formula!!
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
The Bush administration's whack-a-mole on data privacy
In less than a month, the Bush administration has had two gaffes on the security of electronic data.
Energy Department officials have informed nearly 1,500 individuals that their Social Security numbers and other information may have been compromised when a hacker gained entry to a department computer system eight months ago, a spokesman said Monday.
Tuesday, May 23, 2006
My question about the stolen veterans' data
I'm still trying to wrap my head around one aspect of this story regarding the apparent theft of 26.5 million military veterans' personal data (names, social security numbers, and birthdates). According to the New York Times, "[The data] was stolen from the residence of a Department of Veterans Affairs employee who had taken the data home without authorization, the agency said Monday."
Let's assume there was authorization -- what possible reason would a DVA employee have to take home that kind of data?
This sort of episode does raise some intriguing questions about supporters of national ID cards or other central registries -- to what extent does the possibility of data piracy negate whatever security gains would be generated by such ideas?
UPDATE: The VA didn't alert the FBI about the stolen data for two friggin' weeks??!!! What did they think -- it would just show up after looking under the couch cushions?
Thursday, May 18, 2006
Open Thinthread thread
Sorry for the post title -- couldn't resist.
Siobhan Gorman has a story in the Baltimore Sun that suggests that, in the late 1990s, the NSA ditched one kind of data collection program (Thinthread) in favor of another. A lot of NSA types apparently preferred Thinthread:
The National Security Agency developed a pilot program in the late 1990s that would have enabled it to gather and analyze massive amounts of communications data without running afoul of privacy laws. But after the Sept. 11 attacks, it shelved the project -- not because it failed to work -- but because of bureaucratic infighting and a sudden White House expansion of the agency's surveillance powers, according to several intelligence officials.My take is similar to Kevin Drum's -- I'm not sure if this is an example of dumb policymaking or an example of the losers of a policy decision leaking to the press at an opportune time.
I am sure that readers wil have their own opinions.
Monday, May 15, 2006
Open Bush/immigration thread
I'm busy packing for yet another conference, but readers should feel free to comment away on Bush's immigration speech tonight.
FYI, Karl Rove said this afternoon that the Bush administration is "doing a heck of a lot better job" in controlling the U.S.-Mexican border than most Americans realize. On the other hand, http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/wireStory?id=1964630 that, "We do not yet have full control of the border and I am determined to change that." To be fair, these two points are not necessarily contradictory, but I wouldn't exactly call it consistent spin, either.
Thursday, May 11, 2006
Open CIA thread
I've been remiss in posting about the debates over who should head the CIA and what it should do, so here's an open thread.
Readers are encouraged, before posting, to read John Crewdson's dissection in the Chicago Tribune of the bureaucratic conflicts at work behind Porter Goss' resignation and the Hayden nomination:
[A] senior U.S. intelligence official with firsthand knowledge of events says Goss was dismissed as CIA director after the White House became convinced that strong disagreements with his immediate boss, John Negroponte, were beyond resolution. Those disputes involved changes that Goss feared would limit the agency's scope and influence, undercutting its role in analyzing intelligence.It should be noted that Crewdson's chief source was a Goss loyalist.
I tend to agree with Matt Yglesias and Fred Kaplan that Hayden's military status is a nonissue -- though, on the other hand, Amy Zegart does seem exercised about it, and that it reason enough for concern here at danieldrezner.com.
Thursday, March 9, 2006
Well, I feel much safer
I, for one, feel much safer that Dubai Ports World won't be operating port terminals at six American ports. Yes, even though shipping experts and homeland security experts agreed that there was little risk in having DPW take over P&O, I'm glad an American company will be running things.... even if U.S. capital might be more efficient at doing something else.
I feel particularly safe because even though DPW has pledged to divest its ownership of American operations, Knight-Ridder reports that Congress isn't taking any chances:
Senate Democrats pressed ahead with attempts to block DP World's takeover, and House leaders weighed whether to proceed as well.And might I finally add that I feel ultrasafe upon hearing word that the US Trade representative is planning to postpone talks for a USA-UAE free trade agreement. We sure sent the proper signal to foreign investors -- and it's not like the UAE could retaliate or anything.
With just a little more effort, I'm convinced that U.S. lawmakers can convince everyone in the Middle East that it doesn't matter how much you try to buy into the U.S.-promoted liberal economic order, no one will really trust you.
[Snarked out yet?--ed.] Yes, that felt good.
Whatever you think of the ports deal, this has been a major foreign policy f$%#-up. The UAE is the closest thing we have to a reliable, stable, Westernized ally on the Arabian peninsula, and both official Washington and the American public just pissed on their leg.
There is a lot of blame to go around here on this one, but I must reluctantly conclude that the Bush administration should shoulder most of it. Bizarrely, this is a case where I think they got the policy right but royally screwed up the politics. Both the failure to keep Congress in the loop after the CFIUS approval and the veto threat without consultation guaranteed a Congressional revolt.
I can't blame Congressmen too much for acting like short-sighted glory hogs driven by electoral considerations -- that's their job. So I'll join the crowd and blame Bush.
Wednesday, March 8, 2006
The House of Representatives engages in reasoned debate
Looks like the House of Representatives doesn't want to wait for the results of a 45-day review of the port deal, according to the Washington Post's Jonathan Weisman:
Efforts by the White House to hold off legislation challenging a Dubai-owned company's acquisition of operations at six major U.S. ports collapsed yesterday when House Republican leaders agreed to allow a vote next week that could kill the deal.Hey, you ask me, Hunter is being too conservative. Why not require all employees as "critical infrastructure" facilities to be red-blooded Americans? Why aren't airports and airlines included? Why, do you realize that, even as I type this, there are foreign-born pilots flying state-owned airliners within a few miles of our major cities???!!!
And, you know, there are lots of products that make up America's "critical infrastructure" beyond transportation and tilities? What about oil and energy firms? Steel? Automobiles? Will wool and mohair be next? UPDATE: Bill Harshaw makes an excellent point in the comments -- we shouldn't let foreign governments intervene in our financial markets either! Surely such a law wouldn't affect America's economic position. Oh, wait.... ]
If the House had proposed this after the 45-day review, I could believe that some serious thought was going into this bill, even if I disagreed with it. What's going on now, however, is just protectionist bulls$%t.
Sunday, February 26, 2006
Still looking for a reason to get riled up....
I'm still trying to find a reason to get exercised about the Dubai port deal. The latest is Mickey Kaus' argument:
I recommend Daniel Engber's Explainer on what a port operator actually does:I would recommend that Mickey read this Washington Post story by Jim VandeHei and Paul Blustein. It's ostensibly about the White House's lugubrious reaction to the ports controversy, but it also sheds some light on how the CFIUS process addressed U.S. security concerns:It gets cargo containers off of ships and puts them onto trucks or trains. A port operator also provides other services to the shipping industry: It does the paperwork to get incoming shipments through customs and uses its computer system to help connect the goods with potential recipients. ...If we're afraid of bad guys sneaking something dangerous into the U.S., it sure seems like there are lots of opportunities for mischief if you can infiltrate the firm that does the paperwork and runs the computer system and handles the "personnel issues"! Is it comforting matter that "security" at American ports will still be "controlled by U.S. federal agencies led by the Coast Guard and the U.S. Customs and Border Control Agency ... ." Not if what you're worried about is a small cell of people looking for a way to get around the Coast Guard's security. Just having a port operator that is more easily approached by people who speak Arabic vastly increases the risk, at least the risk from Arab jihadists, no? (emphasis added)
The process began on Oct. 17, when representatives of the Dubai company informally approached the Treasury Department to disclose that they were planning to purchase the British firm, Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co., according to testimony by administration officials at a Senate hearing last week. Treasury officials directed them to consult with Homeland Security because of the port security question.Given the concessions obtained through the CFIUS process -- DPW's participation in the Customs initiative, the transparency of DPW's books, the continuance of the current management team for the U.S. ports -- is there any rational reason to get exercised about this deal? Is Mickey's assertion that jihadists would have a better opportunity to infiltrate DPW's ports a valid one, given the layers of American management involved?
The Post story also aleviates the other small concern I had about this deal -- that the Bush administration bollixed up the process. The New York Times story I cited in my first post on this topic asserted:
The administration's review of the deal was conducted by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a body that was created in 1975 to review foreign investments in the country that could affect national security. Under that review, officials from the Defense, State, Commerce and Transportation Departments, along with the National Security Council and other agencies, were charged with raising questions and passing judgment. They found no problems to warrant the next stage of review, a 45-day investigation with results reported to the president for a final decision.VandeHei and Blustein have a different desription of the process in the Post story:
[O]nce Dubai Ports World had agreed to the conditions required by Homeland Security, none of the agencies on CFIUS objected to the transaction when the 30-day review was completed on Jan. 17. If even one agency had objected, the matter would have gone to a 45-day investigation -- which would have required a presidential decision at the end. Moreover, a single dissent would have meant bringing the matter before higher-ranking officials in each department.I should know which version of the process is correct, but I don't. Readers are encouraged to enlighten me on this [UPDATE: Thank you, Chris! This comment clears up much of the confusion.].
UPDATE: Mickey e-mails me to suggest I read Charles Krauthammer's thoughts on the matter:
[T]he problem is not just the obvious one that an Arab-run company, heavily staffed with Arab employees, is more likely to be infiltrated by terrorists who might want to smuggle an awful weapon into our ports. But that would probably require some cooperation from the operating company. And neither the company nor the government of the UAE, which has been pro-American and a reasonably good ally in the war on terrorism, has any such record.Color me unimpressed. DPW already gets a lot of this information because Dubai is a participant in the Container Security Initiative. Furthermore, the on-the-ground environments in the ports themselves look like they won't be changed one iota because of this deal. It will still be U.S. longshoremen handling the cargo, U.S. managers running
port operations for DPW, U.S. managers at the upper echelon of DPW, and U.S. law enforcement managing port security. Where's the beef?
A final point -- my support for the Dubai deal should not be misinterpreted as a lack of concern about port security. I'm as sanguine now as I was before the deal -- that is to say, not all that sanguine. It's just that this deal is irrelevant to the real problems at hand for port security -- inadequate inspections.
An excellent primer on port security can be found in Jon D. Haveman, Howard J. Shatz, and Ernesto A. Vilchis (2005) "U.S. Port Security Policy after 9/11: Overview and Evaluation", Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management: Vol. 2: No. 4, Article 1.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Looks like DPW has requested the 45 day review, which has gone a long way towards alleviating Congressional concerns.
Saturday, February 25, 2006
Will the wheel turn on the ports deal?
Via NRO's the Corner, I see that Glenn Reynolds has an op-ed about the political reaction to the UAE ports deal in the weekend Wall Street Journal. Actually, the story is more about the blogosphere's reaction:
When the story first appeared, bloggers were overwhelmingly negative. My own reaction, on Feb. 12, was "color me unimpressed." Other bloggers were more pungent, but the story got little attention in the national media, which were mostly preoccupied with the Cheney quail-hunting story. ... Some bloggers, meanwhile, were having second thoughts. One of them was me: Although my initial reaction was negative, I started getting emails from readers -- some of them longtime correspondents -- who had experience with the UAE. One had served alongside troops from the Emirates in Afghanistan; another had spent time in Dubai. Some had worked with UAE ports officials. All were positive. ... As I write this, it's not clear where the rest of the debate is headed, but there are already some useful lessons for the White House. First, blogs make an excellent early warning system. The White House, unaccountably, seems to have been blindsided by the furor over this deal, though most people's gut reaction was negative. As with the many bloggers like me who changed their minds, gut reactions can be overcome by evidence -- but the White House should have taken advantage of this early warning to have its arguments in order. It didn't. That's the second lesson: The White House should not only have read blogs, but responded to them with information and arguments, rather than waiting for blog readers to weigh in.I'll be intrigued to see whether the rest of the American people calm down as quickly as the blogosphere over a deal that should go through. I'd like to be optimistic, but I fear that Glenn's libertarian streak might be coloring how he thinks the rest of the vox populi will react. UPDATE: This is what I'm talking about.
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
What's the big deal about the port deal?
I can certainly see why there's some political controversy about a firm owned by the government of the United Arab Emirates helping to run ports on the Eastern seaboard -- but after reading this Christian Science Monitor story by Alexandra Marks, I don't think there's any real basis for the kind of outrage I'm seeing. This section in particular stands out:
Companies like P&O don't provide security at the ports. The US Coast Guard and Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement do. For instance, in New Orleans, P&O is one of eight terminal operators responsible for marketing the port, signing agreements with shipping lines, hiring labor, loading ships, and moving cargo.Then there's this from Heritage's James Jay Carafino in National Review Online:
What happens when one foreign-owned company sells a U.S. port service to another foreign-owned company. Not much. Virtually all the company employees at the ports are U.S. citizens. The Dubai firm is a holding company that will likely play no role in managing the U.S. facilities. Likewise, the company is owned by the government, a government that is an ally of the United States and recognizes that al Qaeda is as much a threat to them as it is to us. They are spending billions to buy these facilities because they think its a crackerjack investment that will keep making money for them long after the oil runs out. The odds that they have any interest in seeing their facilities become a gateway for terrorist into the United States are slim. But in the interest of national security, we will be best served by getting all the facts on the table.Except, of course, all the facts were reviewed by the Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States (CFIUS) earlier in the month. People aren't upset that there's been a review -- they're upset because there's been a review and the outcome is one they disagree with on a gut level. [Yeah, but hasn't CFIUS approved over 99% of the cases brought to its attention?--ed. Yes, but I dare the readers to find a case where CFIUS screwed up.]
There's been a lot of hot air in the blogosphere on this -- and even hotter air from the United States Senate, the House of Representatives, and local politicians -- but I haven't seen anything approaching a rational, reality-based argument against this deal.
I've been quite critical of President Bush as of late, but he deserves significant credit for sticking to his guns on this one. There is little political upside -- but in this case, George W. Bush has made the right decision.
I have every confidence in the ability of my readers to try and persuade me that I'm wrong. But you had better have a better argument than American ports + UAE firm = terrorist attack in the U.S.
UPDATE: A few commenters have raised the point that Dubai is considered to be the hub of Middle Eastern money laundering. This is a) true; and b) irrelevant to the question at hand. Dubai is the center of money laundering in the Middle East because it's the principal financial center in the region. It is undeniably true that pre-9/11, the UAE was remarkably uncooperative on terrorist financing. That did change with the terrorist attacks, however. Furthermore, this issue is irrelevant. Why would the UAE's government -- which has been an ally of the U.S. for decades -- use the ports as a source for money laundering?
ANOTHER UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds is mystified why Bush is digging his heels in on this issue. I'm not -- I'm sure that Bush views the Congressional hullabaloo as legislative interference in routine executive branch functions. And we all know how Bush feels about that issue.
YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Steve Flynn has been concerned about homeland security for quite some time, and he's not exactly Polyannish about the state of security in American ports. So I think it's telling that in this Time story by Tony Karon, Flynn is untroubled by this port deal:
[T]o call the United Arab Emirates a country "tied to 9/11" by virtue of the fact that one of the hijackers was born there and others transited through it is akin to attaching the same label to Britain (where shoe-bomber Richard Reid was born) or Germany (where a number of the 9/11 conspirators were based for a time). Dubai's port has a reputation for being one of the best run in the Middle East, says Stephen Flynn, a maritime security expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. And Dubai Ports World, which is a relatively new venture launched by the government of Dubai in 1999, has a number of Americans well known in the shipping industry in its senior leadership. It operates port facilities from Australia through China, Korea and Malaysia to India, Germany and Venezuela. (The acquisition of P&O would give them control over container shipping ports in Vancouver, Buenos Aires and a number of locations in Britain, France and a number of Asian countries.) "It's not exactly a shadow organization for al-Qaeda," says Flynn. Dubai, in fact, was one of the first Middle Eastern countries to join the U.S. Container Security Initiative, which places U.S. customs agents in overseas ports to begin the screening process from a U.S.-bound cargo's point of departure.Flynn has more to say to the Washington Post's Paul Blustein and Eric Rich:
Stephen E. Flynn, a specialist in maritime security at the Council on Foreign Relations, noted that although the company is state-owned, several members of its top management are Americans -- including its general counsel, a senior vice president and its outgoing chief operating officer, Edward H. Bilkey, who is a former U.S. Navy officer. And since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the United States has increasingly depended on such foreign port operators to cooperate in inspecting cargo before it heads for U.S. shores.YES, I'M STILL UPDATING: David Sanger and Eric Lipton do raise a small but valid and reality-based concern in their New York Times story:
The administration's review of the deal was conducted by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a body that was created in 1975 to review foreign investments in the country that could affect national security. Under that review, officials from the Defense, State, Commerce and Transportation Departments, along with the National Security Council and other agencies, were charged with raising questions and passing judgment. They found no problems to warrant the next stage of review, a 45-day investigation with results reported to the president for a final decision.I do get some hives whenever I hear that the Bush administration has circumvented standard operating procedures -- but, again, there's nothing in the reports I've seen to suggest that there is any substantive reason for concern. The alarmists on both sides of the aisle are making the kind of conspiracy-based arguments that would make Michael Moore blush. See, for example, this nice debunking by Dick Meyer of CBS News, or this Financial Times story by Andrew Ward, Stephanie Kirchgaessner and Edward Alden. And see also this fact-laden Q&A by Eben Kaplan at the Council on Foreign Relations website. This sentence stands out in particular: "Calls from lawmakers to reconsider the approval have come after the thirty-day period to raise objections had expired."
WHAT THE HECK, ONE
Finally check out Mansoor Ijaz's defense of Dubai in NRO. Key section:
Whatever the UAE's policies in the pre-9/11 world (whether as home to A. Q. Khan's illicit nuclear network, one of three Taliban embassies, questionable banking practices, or as an alleged repository for Iranian-terror funds), Dubai's record under these young leaders in the post 9/11 world reflects serious and structural change in national strategy. As Jim Robbins noted Tuesday, in December 2004, Dubai was the first Middle East government to accept the U.S. Container Security Initiative as policy to screen all containers for security hazards before heading to America. In May 2005, Dubai signed an agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy to prevent nuclear materials from passing through its ports. It also installed radiation-detecting equipment evidence of a commitment to invest in technology. In October 2005, the UAE Central Bank directed banks and financial institutions in the country to tighten their internal systems and controls in their fight against money laundering and terrorist financing.
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
The Bush administration wants to be like France
Marc Perelman has a piece on Foreign Policy's web site comparing and contrasting the American and French approaches to homeland security. One big difference is how the problem was viewed prior to 9/11:
In 1988, the FBI invited Alain Marsaud, then Frances top antiterrorist magistrate, to speak about terrorism to the bureaus new recruits at its academy in Quantico, Virginia.Then there are the differences in approach now. It turns out the Bush administration wishes the U.S. system was more like the French:
In the French system, an investigating judge is the equivalent of an empowered U.S. prosecutor. The judge is in charge of a secret probe, through which he or she can file charges, order wiretaps, and issue warrants and subpoenas. The conclusions of the judge are then transmitted to the prosecutors office, which decides whether to send the case to trial. The antiterrorist magistrates have even broader powers than their peers. For instance, they can request the assistance of the police and intelligence services, order the preventive detention of suspects for six days without charge, and justify keeping someone behind bars for several years pending an investigation. In addition, they have an international mandate when a French national is involved in a terrorist act, be it as a perpetrator or as a victim. As a result, France today has a pool of specialized judges and investigators adept at dismantling and prosecuting terrorist networks.The problem is that the French system doesn't fit very well with American traditions -- so I don't think grafting this system onto the American Constiution is going to work all that well.
Friday, December 23, 2005
"The judicial equivalent of a bitch slap"
That's Jacob Sullum's assessment of what 4th Circuit Court of Appeals judge Michael Luttig delivered to the Bush administration in denying their request to transfer Jose Padilla from military to civilian custody. Orin Kerr concurs.
Luttig was on Bush's short-list for Supreme Court nominees, but as Sullum points out:
The rebuke is richly deserved. Even a court that was prepared to recognize the detention authority asserted by Bush is not prepared to let him submit his policies to judicial review only when he feels like it.Indeed, just about every branch or bureaucracy of government is bitch-slapping George W. Bush this month on national security issues.
There's the judicial branch. Beyond Luttig, another federal judge resigned from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in reaction to the NSA domestic surveillance program, forcing the administration to brief the rest of the FISA judges before they faced a full-blown judicial revolt.
There's the legislative branch. As Jim VandeHei and Charles Babington point out in today's Washington Post:
This week's uprising against a four-year extension of the USA Patriot Act was the latest example of a new willingness by lawmakers in both parties to challenge Bush and his notions of expansive executive power.Finally, there's the permanent bureaucracy. As David Ignatius pointed out earlier this week in the Washington Post the torture question has revealed a clash between the Bush administration and national security professionals (link via Kevin Drum):
The national security structure that the Bush administration created after Sept. 11, 2001, began to crumble this month because of a bipartisan revolt on Capitol Hill. Newly emboldened legislators forced the administration to accept new rules for the interrogation of prisoners, delayed renewal of the Patriot Act and demanded an investigation of warrantless wiretapping by the National Security Agency.The great thing about the American system of government is that whenever one branch exceeds its traditional scope of authority, that branch is eventually brought to heel by the other parts of government.
This is one of the iron laws of politics that George W. Bush is now facing.
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
And you thought Heidi Fleiss' little black book was bad
If this Anne Kornblut story in the New York Times is true, then there are a lot of people inside the beltway who are going to be feeling very, very nauseous for the next few weeks:
Jack Abramoff, the Republican lobbyist under criminal investigation, has been discussing with prosecutors a deal that would grant him a reduced sentence in exchange for testimony against former political and business associates, people with detailed knowledge of the case say.
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
A good news post about New Orleans
I hope in the ensuing days and weeks there are more stories containing this kind of good news.
Thursday, September 8, 2005
"Katrina is not the Worst Case Scenario"
Amy Zegart -- danieldrezner.com's resident expert on homeland securit and intelligence reformy -- e-mailed me these thoughts on Katrina's lessons for defending against terrorist attacks:
Zegart also has a sobering reminder -- it is easier to cope with natural disasters than terrorist attacks:
Sunday, August 28, 2005
Regarding the CIA's latest self-assessment
Amy Zegart -- who is writing a book on intelligence reform and is danieldrezner.com's official go-to source on this issue -- e-mailed me her thoughts on the CIA's latest effort at self-criticism:
Monday, August 8, 2005
The CIA meets the Department of Common Sense
Timothy Burger reports in Time on a recent initiative by Porter Goss:
On the one hand, this seems like an excellent idea.
On the other hand, I keep wondering why the hell something like this wasn't instituted, oh,
Saturday, January 15, 2005
Following up on Sibel Edmonds
Remember FBI whistle-blower Sibel Edmonds? The Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General has just issued a review of how the FBI handled both Simonds' allegations of incompetence and security breaches among FBI translators, as well as the Bureau's decision to terminate Simonds. Ted Bridis reports for the Associated Press:
That assessment of Simonds raises a point I've made in the past about whistle-blowers: "there's probably a strong correlation between being a whistle-blower and generally being a royal pain-in-the-ass."
Jerry Seper has a similar story in the Washington Times (link via Glenn Reynolds). Better yet, why not read the unclassified summary of the actual OIG report?
Tuesday, November 16, 2004
What happens if Conan the Bacterium infects Aquaman?
John J. Fialka has a front-pager in today's Wall Street Journal (this link should be good for non-subscribers as well) that spurs a "Wow, this is cool" reaction in me. It's about research into microorganisms that can not only survive in nuclear waste dumps -- they thrive there:
I will confess that the bolded section was my second reaction when reading the headline. I immediately flashed back to when I would watch Superfriends on Saturday mornings. Inevitably Aquaman would experience some "freak genetic mutation" and turn into some giant pissed-off fish that wreaked havoc on the high seas until Superman finally gave him the antidote. It was always a nuisance. [Er, but these extremophiles would prevent this from happening -- so why did you think of Aquaman?--ed. I didn't say I was following a rational chain of logic here. I was describing gut instinct.]
Wednesday, September 15, 2004
The CIA's take on intelligence reform
Ted Barlow has a good summary of a talk given by deputy executive director of the CIA Marty Peterson. On Iraq:
Read the whole thing.
Monday, September 13, 2004
You say "Department of Homeland Security" I say "massive pork barrel"
Amy Zegart had a must-read op-ed in yesterday's Newsday on homeland security and intelligence reform. Here's one of the disturbing bits:
Read the whole thing.
Wednesday, September 8, 2004
Bush flip-flops on intelligence reform
Bush's actual statement is even more explicit: "We believe that there ought to be a National Intelligence Director who has full budgetary authority." According to the draft plan on the White House's web site, the NID would have significant authority over personnel decisions as well.
Needless to say, this is a departure from what Bush proposed last month on the subject.
I'm still not convinced it's the right thing to do -- and Phil Carter is on vacation, so I can't ask him. What's more interesting is why Bush changed his mind -- was this just blowing with the political winds or does he believe this is the right thing to do?
The title to this post suggests my thoughts on the answer.
UPDATE: It occurs to me that there's a slightly more generous interpretation of Bush's actions -- that he started out with a deliberately vague proposal and then filled in the details over time. Still, even within that vagueness, Bush implied a lot more decentralization than the current proposal.
Meanwhile, over at Slate, Fred Kaplan thinks the debate over bureaucratic debate misses the point about personnel.
Thursday, August 26, 2004
Amy Zegart goes medieval on Fred Kaplan
I think it's safe to say that intelligence reform expert Amy Zegart really dislikes Fred Kaplan's take. She e-mailed me the following reaction:
Post your own thoughts below.
UPDATE: Esther Pan has compiled an excellent backgrounder on the different reform proposals at the Council on Foreign Relations web site.
Tuesday, August 24, 2004
Open intelligence reform thread
Feel free to comment here on Senator Pat Roberts' proposed plan for intelligence reform. As I've said before, I'm leery of the pushes towards centralization made in the 9/11 Commission report, and Roberts' proposal goes further in some ways. On the other hand, I really do like the idea of splitting up the analytic and clandestine components of the CIA, an I really like the idea of rotating intelligence officers through different agencies.
My opinion don't count for much on this, however. On the other hand, Amy Zegart's opinion does count for a great deal -- intelligence reform is what she studies. So check out what Zegart said last night on Aaron Brown's NewsNight:
UPDATE: I think it's safe to say that Fred Kaplan doesn't like the proposal.
Sunday, August 15, 2004
The shifting threat from Al Qaeda
The Economist has a good rundown of the latest intelligence about Al Qaeda and its altered post-9/11 state, reaffirming some points that Daniel Byman made a few weeks ago. The good parts version:
Thursday, August 5, 2004
What kind of intelligence reform is necessary?
Members of the 9-11 Commission are not pleased with President Bush tweaking their intelligence reform proposals:
Sounds like a bad omen for the administration, and more fuel for the left half of the blogosphere.
However, intelligence expert Anthony Cordesman argues in a Council on Foreign Relations interview that Bush did the right thing in his initial proposal:
As someone who urged the Bush administration to take the 9-11 Commission's policy recommendations seriously, this sounds about right to me.
Furthermore, Columbia sociologist Duncan Watts has a Slate piece that suggests the urge to centralize control/authority is mistaken:
Watts might be overestimating the extent to which even the 9-11 Commission wants to centralize inelligence. However, his points about the power of informal social networks and decentralized efforts sounds awfully familiar with James Surowiecki's arguments about intelligence reform.
The left half of the blogosphere seems exercised about the notion that the Bush administration suggests that it is implementing the Commission recommendations when it actually isn't. Re-reading Bush's Rose Garden announcement, I think they do have half a leg to stand on. However, I don't really care whether the administration is trying to spin the atmospherics on this -- duh, of course they are -- but I do care about whether the substantive recommendations are the right ones to make. There's an implicit assumption in much of the blogging on this that the Commission must be correct.
The more I think about it, the more I believe that the Commission has put forward a serious proposal -- but there should not be an a priori assumption that it's the best proposal.
UPDATE: I received the following e-mail this morning:
Wednesday, August 4, 2004
What the f#$% is going on at the FBI?
Let's say you're running the organization responsible for trying to track potential terrorists in the United States. Immediately after 9/11, let's say that one of your new employees tells you that some of the people doing necessary translating work (from Middle Eastern languages into English) are incompetent, helping to explain why relevant information never made it to the necessary links in the chain of command. What do you do?
Alas, in the case of FBI whistle-blower Sibel Edmonds, it appears that both the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice picked option B. For more background on the story, check out this Boston Globe story by Anne E. Kornblut, as well as Fred Kaplan's justifiable rant in Slate. The FBI admitted last week that Edmonds' whistle-blowing was "a contributing factor" in her firing. [Last week? That's, like, a decade in blog-years--ed. Better late than never.]
The coverage of this story reveals the extent to which the FBI has resisted any efforts at reform. In a 60 Minutes story on Edmonds from October 2002, consider this section:
And then there's this New York Times account of another case study in FBI management:
Look, maybe the FBI has changed its ways and these examples are exceptions to the rule. And it should probably be acknowledged that there's probably a strong correlation between being a whistle-blower and generally being a royal pain-in-the-ass.
But they're still pretty scary exceptions. And this open letter from Edmonds to the 9-11 Commission doesn't make me feel any more sanguine. Particularly this part:
UPDATE: In the interest of fairness, here's a link to yesterday's testimony by the Executive Assistant Director for Counterterrorism/Counterintelligence to the Senate Government Affairs Committee on what the FBI thinks it has done right since 9/11. And here's the FBI's official response to the 9-11 Commission's report.
Monday, August 2, 2004
Evaluating the threat from Al Qaeda
Dan Byman, a counterterrorism specialist at Georgetown, has a counterintuitive Slate essay on why the U.S. homeland is safer than commonly thought -- despite the recent terrorist advisory for certain East Coast locales:
There's another reason to believe that an Al Qaeda attack might stoppable. Although the U.S. might still not be prepared to protect critical infrastructure, this Washington Post story suggests that Al Qaeda isn't targeting it either. For all the talk about Al Qaeda's flexibility, they appear to be relatively orthodox in targeting symbols. The key paragraph:
More on this point from Knut Royce of Newsday.
None of this means that the Al Qaeda threat has been eliminated -- but it's still worth noting.
UPDATE: Douglas Jehl and David Johnston report in the New York Times that, "Much of the information that led the authorities to raise the terror alert at several large financial institutions in the New York City and Washington areas was three or four years old." However, both the Times account and this Chicago Tribune story make it clear that while most of the information was old, it was only in the past few weeks that it was obtained by U.S. intelligence. The Tribune report also states, "The senior official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that while much of the surveillance predated the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, some information about one of the targeted buildings was from 2004."
Tom Maguire (who's been on a roll as of late) has some relevant thoughts.
Thursday, July 22, 2004
The trouble with racial profiling
So, as a public service, here is Sara Sefeed's response to Annie Jacobsen in the Persian Mirror. Sefeed has her own disturbing experience with airport security when she's issued a boarding pass with the wrong name and no one notices.
Safeed's proposed reforms sound just as overwrought as Jacobsen's original account -- her complaint that "everything in the US is privatized and there is no unison among the different states, companies, and airlines, no one person seems to have jurisdiction or responsibility over anything" is as unfocused as the supposed target of her lament. That said, she does have a good closing paragraph:
UPDATE: This story by Eric Leonard casts further doubt on Jacobsen's account:
LAST UPDATE: Michelle Malkin, blogging with a vengeance, reports and follows up on the visa status of the Syrians.