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Monday, March 10, 2014

NEVER FORGET - TERROR IS HERE TO STAY

On Sunday, March 9, a plane carrying 239 people went missing and has yet to be found. Not long after taking off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing, Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370, a Boeing 777, vanished from the radar screens off of the coast of Viet Nam.

The weather was clear, there were no signs of distress, no calls for help, and then silence. No radio contact with air traffic control, and no sign of the flight on radar.

According to published reports, two people on that flight boarded with stolen passports, one Italian and one Austrian. The Malaysian Transport Minister said that the identities of two other passengers are also of concern, and he is working with a number of international intelligence agencies as part of his inquiry. The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has also responded with grave concern.

Malaysian authorities are reluctant to call it terrorism, but for several years, we have seen increased terror activity in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. The two stolen passports were reportedly stolen in Thailand and used by two people who bought their airline tickets together for the Malaysian flight to China.

That flight disappeared somewhere over the coast of Viet Nam, with an onboard catastrophe that prevented the crew from calling for help and announcing any sign of distress. Search crews consisting of 45 ships and 22 aircraft have located what they have reported are pieces of the aircraft’s door and tail wing.

If there was an explosion in the rear of the plane or the cargo bay or an engine malfunction, we would most likely have heard from the pilots. That leads us to believe that something happened in the front of that plane that took out the communications system, and ultimately took the plane down.

Although it is still too early to call it terrorism, this tragedy, still a mystery, raises some very serious concerns that must be addressed as the search continues for the missing plane.

Were the stolen passports reported to Interpol by the Thai authorities, and/or the Italian and Austrian Embassies? If not, why not?   If so, why weren’t these people flagged at passenger check-in and the carriers of the stolen passports stopped?

The authorities will be looking at the cargo handlers, the vendors, other passengers, and even the crew assigned to the flight, including the pilots.  Every inch of video footage will be scoured for clues.  Who were these people?  Did they act alone or did others assist them, including airport or airline personnel?

Although it is still too early to call it terrorism, it not too early to remind people that it is highly possible this is another act of terrorism against, not just the West, but humanity.  Whatever the failures were that led to this disaster must be determined, assessed and learned from. 

Terrorism is here to stay, and the enemies of freedom are constantly seeking new methods of attack. 

Let just hope this isn’t the result of one.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

THE NEW YORK TIMES AND CLEMENCY


A New York Time’s editorial recently outlined how presidential clemency which allows the President of the United States to either commute unjust sentences or pardon deserving petitioners who have served their time, has decreased over the past several decades.  The editorial stressed there is now a call for reviving this much needed practice…and that we should heed that call.
U.S. Deputy Attorney General James Cole recently encouraged the criminal defense bar to assist the Justice Department in finding suitable candidates for clemency among the thousands of people who were incarcerated unjustly as a result of mandatory minimum sentencing.
Mr. Cole was talking specifically about low-level, nonviolent, and many first-time drug offenders who are serving draconian, “life or near-life” sentences, who The Times’ reported “are trapped permanently at the margins of society by post prison sanctions — laws that bar them from jobs and housing, strip them of the right to vote and make it difficult for them to obtain essential documents like drivers’ licenses.”
As much as I agree with The Times and Mr. Cole’s assessment, I would strongly urge a bigger, broader look at the problem and how to address it.
Drug offenders are not the only ones suffering from post-prison sanctions, nor are they the only people who are serving unjust or unfair sentences as a result of the federal sentencing guidelines or mandatory minimums.
If our Founding Father’s beliefs were truly that all men are created equal, and that the punishment must fit the crime, and once you have been punished, you have served your debt to society, then our failings are far greater than the American people could ever imagine.
The collateral damage to a convicted felon, not just to a drug offender, is the same.  There are men convicted of first time, non-violent, non-drug offenses with Master’s degrees and Ph.D’s who cannot find a job. There are similarly convicted members of our Armed Forces who put their lives on the line for us in war but who cannot now find housing. The label of “convicted felon” is a life sentence of personal, financial and professional hardship that creates an unending burden, not just to the individuals and their families, but to society as well.  
Presidential clemency is needed to right the wrongs in the drug sentencing laws, but it is also needed to give those men and women who deserve it, a real second chance. Our system of justice today offers none.
I agree with the Times that the Justice Department’s recent interest in the clemency problem is good news, but looking beyond the Justice Department’s Pardon Office is a must.
There are men and women sitting in prison or who have already served an enormous amount of time, yet do not have the money to hire attorneys to file a petition of clemency or the education to do so on their own.
Counselors and case managers in the federal prison system can be extremely helpful in identifying candidates for consideration. So can advocacy groups, family members, and others willing to handle the necessary paperwork in a skillful manner.
In considering changes in the mandatory minimums and sentencing guidelines, our legislators must look at ways to make those deserving U.S. citizens whole, once they have paid their debt to society for mistakes they have made. A life-long period of punishment is unjust, unfair, and un-American.
In speaking about presidential clemency, Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy once said, “A people confident in its laws and institutions should not be ashamed of mercy. The greatest of poets reminds us that mercy is ’mightiest in the mightiest.’ It becomes the throned monarch better than his crown.” I hope more lawyers involved in the pardon process will say to the powers that decide, “This man has not served his full sentence, but he has served long enough. Give him what only you can give him. Give him a second chance. Give him a priceless gift. Give him liberty."
In a country bound by what I believe is the greatest Constitution on the face of the earth, we must encourage the use of presidential clemency as the Times’ suggests. We should also encourage our legislators to do the job that they were sworn to do, and create laws that are fair, impartial and, most importantly, with punishments that fit the crime, not ones that last for eternity.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

LEARNING FROM RUSSIA

In late December, an Islamic military group in Dagestan claimed responsibility for two suicide bombings that killed more than 30 people and injured dozens more.

The same group then threatened to strike the Olympic Games in Sochi, which is about 300 miles west of Dagestan.
Russian authorities are now feverishly searching for at least three possible female suicide bombers, one of which is a 22-year-old widow of a radical Islamist who was killed recently by Russian security forces.  
According to various intelligence reports, these female suicide bombers, who have been dubbed “black widows,” are also responsible for a number of previous attacks throughout the country.  
As part of a massive pre-emptive security operation, photos of two women in veils and Muslim headdress have been distributed to the media, various hotels, other tourist sites in Sochi, the resort town and host city of the Olympics, in hopes that these women can be located before they strike.
The critical question now becomes:  Can the Russians guarantee the safety and security of their international guests and their own people from these and other potential terrorist threats?
Right now, no one knows the answer.  What we do know is that these women are like chameleons.  They will blend in to the local population, plan their dastardly deeds, and strike when it is least expected.
The Russians know who they are and why they are a perceived threat, but for how long have they known? When did they acquire this intelligence? Why weren’t these women monitored from the outset of their husbands' demise? How many more are there? Is there now a program in place to monitor and account for them?
It is all about knowing the threats that exist, gathering the intelligence, and pro-actively responding to actionable intelligence when possible.
It seems like the Russian government has let these women slip through the cracks of their security and intelligence services, at least for the time being, a lesson that every country battling radical Islam can learn from.
In a post-9/11 world, there is nothing more important than a capable intelligence system that allows local, state and the federal authorities to not only communicate but share critical intelligence that allows them to protect their citizens. We here in the United States have made tremendous strides in many ways, but we have still had our failures.
Could the Boston Marathon bombing have been prevented? Many believe so. Were mistakes made? What were they? Who knew what and when?  
That is probably what the Russians are asking themselves today, as they must sit on pins and needles until they find these terrorists or the games come to an end without death and destruction.
As we stand on the sidelines praying for the safety and security for all those who will be attending the games, including our own Olympians, we can learn from these events.
Proactive and pre-emptive intelligence gathering and following up on actionable intelligence will lead to the success of combatting terrorism, both now and in the future.
You cannot fight an enemy that you cannot see.  You cannot stop an attack that you do not know is going to happen.  And, no matter how quick you think you can respond, you are never going to be quick enough to stop the bloodshed and death once a terrorist detonates an explosive device with the intent of causing mass casualties.
Intelligence is the answer.
The faster those fighting this war against terror learn that, the safer we are all going to be.
-BERNARD B. KERIK