Friday, January 29, 2010

New Legislation for a New Enemy

After nearly every terrorist attack by a radical Islamic extremist group, the cowards behind the attacks do their best to promote their deadly deeds by proudly taking credit for the death and destruction they have caused or attempted to cause.

Osama Bin Laden couldn’t refrain from going public after the attacks on the World Trade Center, just as he did this week in trying to claim responsibility for the attempted Christmas Day bombing of the KLM flight by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. While Bin Laden’s claim was widely described as a bit of nasty credit stealing, claiming responsibility, whether real or not, enables the group to instill fear into the minds and hearts of their enemy, which is a substantial part of what terrorism is all about.

The bigger the soap box terrorists can stand on to proclaim their message, the more effective they can be at instilling fear and furthering their agenda. This is one reason why the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, the alleged mastermind of the attacks on America on 9/11, should not be allowed to take place in New York City. The international press and media coverage would be every bit as intense as it was in the aftermath of the attacks on the Towers, and would be a inspiration to every maniac out there who thinks nothing of strapping on a bomb belt and blowing himself and as many innocents as possible into a thousand pieces, believing it’s the right thing to do.

The security concerns for a trial like this would come close to shutting down southern Manhattan, as we did in the aftermath of 9/11. Businesses, government agencies, and residents alike would suffer greatly, as caution dictates that abundant security elements would be needed to secure areas around the courthouse, detention center, FBI headquarters, other government buildings, and a myriad of soft targets.

The reality is that it would be in the best interest of New York City and the American people that this trial does not happen in New York City or, for that matter, in any other major city in our country.
If the reports that the venue for the terror trial has been changed from New York City are true, this should be broadened to “Any American city.” A trial in DC, for example, would provide a tremendous backdrop for pro-terrorist propaganda. Los Angeles would provide Hollywood contrasts. Kansas City would let them set their propaganda against the Heartland. All cities would suffer tremendous security costs and risk being targeted for revenge attacks.

Consideration should be given to situating all trials of suspected terrorists and enemy combatants against the U.S. on a secluded military installation that can provide the perimeter security required for such an event and that can accommodate the security requirements for detention and court proceedings. Indeed, it wouldn’t be foolish to keep the location secret for as long as possible.

I strongly believe that it’s time we change the way we are handling the enemy altogether. Forget what the Clinton or Bush Administrations have done in the past and who was tried when and where or how prior incidents were handled. Forget what Bush or Obama has or hasn’t done and just face the reality, that terrorism is here to stay, and here in a bigger way than ever before in our history.
We need to prepare now, for how we will handle terrorism and attacks against the United States by enemies foreign and domestic.

Does new legislation need to be drafted, to outline how suspected terrorists will be detained – where and by whom – and where and how they will be tried? If those detained are truly enemy combatants, as I believe they are, then are there laws on the books to provide the necessary funding, resources and tools we need to get us from point A – Z, once they are captured and taken into custody?

If there are grey areas in the law, now is the time to turn those areas into black and white, and get it over with. We can’t continue to play political hot potato every time one of these guys is taken into custody in the United States or abroad.

An enemy is at war with us in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Africa, and even right here, right in our own backyard. Just because they don’t wear the uniform of another country or follow the orders of its leader doesn’t mean a terrorist shouldn’t be considered an enemy of the state. That’s what the terrorists are and the tactics they employ, exploiting out society’s freedom of movement and protections of individual rights, are especially dangerous.

These people are malicious chameleons, that can’t be seen; they are especially deadly because they can’t be seen – something we may have to address with legislation as well. This is the terrible dilemma that we face:we have an enemy that exploits our freedoms and then turns them against us.
We must continue to defend our freedoms but we need to learn how to balance our right to privacy against the dangers we face and our God given right to live in a safe and secure environment.

If the Geneva Convention no longer fits the kind of warfare in which we are now engaged, then let’s amend it. If the United Nations is incapable of enforcing its own rules, then we must ignore it to save ourselves.

Let’s not worry about what other people around the world think because history has clearly demonstrated that, when it comes to our national security, we’re on our own.
We need to fix a system that’s obviously broken before it is too late.

This is a new enemy that we must learn how to deal with. It’s time to face the fact that we’re going to have to carve out a new path to victory over those who are attempting to use our own constitution and institutions to destroy us.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Crisis in Haiti

Every disaster, natural or man-made, demands a response tailored to its particular challenges, but the lessons learned through handling past disasters can help avoid predictable mistakes.

The most substantial difference between the response to the attack on the World Trade Center and Katrina disaster was the management of the crisis. It remains an open question how well disaster relief for Haiti will be managed and coordinated.

In New York City, after the attacks of September 11th, there was a unified command structure, with the Mayor or Governor sitting in charge at executive management meetings three to four times a day. Those meetings consisted of all of the agencies responsible for running the city or state. Anything and everything that had to be done was coordinated in those meetings and delegated to the appropriate agency for handling. There was constant follow-up at these meetings to insure that the tasks assigned to agencies were carried out.By having so many regularly scheduled, highly focused meetings, crisis management strategies could be quickly modified as conditions changed or new information became available. If additional follow-up was required, it was only a matter of hours before the next meeting would be held, and any problems not taken care of in the field could be resolved quickly.

Coordination of volunteer assistance and resources is essential, and, just as there must be a unified executive command, the operational areas must also have a defined chain of command and mechanisms to promptly communicate necessary information from the executive command center to the operational or event commanders in the field.

In contrast to New York’s handling of September 11th, this kind of executive leadership never happened during the Katrina crisis. Although all parties were well intentioned, the Governor was going one way and the Mayor of New Orleans another, with the Mayor failing to communicate with federal assistance personnel. This chaotic absence of coordinated management only added to the crisis at hand.

September 11th and Katrina posed immense management challenges. The situation in Haiti, however, is far worse. The Haiti crisis is of epic proportion. All the issues we had to deal with in the United States during 9/11 or Katrina will be multiplied a hundred-fold, perhaps a thousand-fold. The importance of a unified command that efficiently manages the flow of information and resources to operational commanders in the field cannot be overstated. These are absolutely essential components for the best outcome for Haiti catastrophe relief efforts.

Haiti needs all the resources they can get through charitable contributions and foreign governments. Collecting, transporting, storing, and distributing resources poses an immense, complex challenge.
First and foremost, getting water and food and medical supplies to the people is a top priority. Relief leaders must do whatever it’s going to take to prevent the spread of disease. To minimize risk, supplies should be delivered within the first 72 hours – and the quake struck last Tuesday. Every passing hour in an area with contaminated water, insect-borne disease, and insufficient sanitation facilities puts survivors and rescuers at greater and greater risk.

For those interested in donating money to a Haiti-related charity, there are two things to keep in mind. You want to make sure that as much of your charitable dollar as possible reaches those who are suffering, rather than to support the administrative costs of whatever charity you’re considering giving to. A good rule of thumb is to choose a charity whose administrative fee does not exceed 10%. You can find this information for free online, through the searchable database at Charity Navigator. You don’t want to donate money to a life-and-death cause like Haiti relief, only to find that 50% of your money is going toward the charity’s administrative costs and employee salaries.

The other thing you should be aware of is that you must make sure the charity you’ve chosen will direct the full amount of your donation to Haiti relief. Even with a legitimate charity, you want to direct and to verify that all that the money you donate is going to Haiti relief, not to a bigger pot with only a portion of it going to Haiti.

We saw an historic problem of this kind in New York after September 11th. The Red Cross set up a fund to provide relief to the victims of the terrorist attacks.By November, 2001, the fund totaled $564 million in donations. Red Cross officials then decided to use 2/3 of these donations for other purposes, such as upgrading Red Cross computer and phone systems, which resulted in public outrage and Congressional hearings. So it’s important, even with the most trustworthy charity, to write your check so that the charity is obliged to use your money in the way you intend.

The President has already committed $100M in support to the government of Haiti and other governments should be doing the same. However, under no circumstance do I think that we should do so without conditions being put on that money, as to where it goes and how it should be spent, with methods of accountability installed to insure that it is used for the purpose it was granted.

I believe Haiti is going to be a test case for international compassion and coordination, and already it is pretty evident that the United States once again will lead the way. Where are Russia, China, and some of the other countries on the so-called world stage? China has pledged $1 million – a far cry from the $100 million the U.S. has pledged.

If other powerful nations can’t produce at times like this, when an entire country is on the verge of extinction, then we and the rest of the world need to seriously re-evaluate what we do for them, and with them.

God bless the people of Haiti, and Godspeed to those who go there to help the Haitian people.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Learning from the Christmas Attack

On Christmas Day, 23-year-old Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian national, boarded a KLM flight from Amsterdam to Detroit. He had one thing in mind: to murder everyone on the plane.

Luckily for the people on the aircraft, his explosive chemical concoction failed, and courageous passengers took him into custody. Because of their courage, we don’t need to sift through a destroyed aircraft and a bunch of body parts to learn what happened. The experts will undoubtedly produce recommendations and policy changes based upon what this incident reveals about weaknesses in air travel security, but we know some things even now.

First, this is not just about the terror organization called Al Qaeda. The threat is much larger. The bloody hands of Islamist terror reach out from Iraq and Afghanistan, from Europe, from Africa, even from right here in our backyard, perhaps from a local mosque where a radical imam preaches a hatred of the West that most Americans can’t fathom.

We also need to dispel the stereotype that radical Muslim extremists are underprivileged and poorly educated. Like Osama bin Laden and the doctors who attempted to detonate a car bomb in Scotland, they can be college graduates who grew up with wealth and privilege. Abdulmutallab’s family is among Nigeria’s elite. His father, the chairman of the First Bank of Nigeria and a former minister in the Nigerian government, sent him to the finest schools in Nigeria and England, where the terrorist studied engineering. So wealthy is the family that they maintain a $4 million flat in London’s posh West End, where Rolls Royces are more common than Hondas are in most neighborhoods.

Just as the terrorists don’t fit the common stereotype, we should also remember that most Muslims are not pro-terrorist. Most are law-abiding and good religious people who want nothing more but to live in peace. These folks, however, aren’t the threat. Those who have created a perverted form of Islam that characterizes the West as its evil enemy are. They, unfortunately, dominate governments and sway public opinion in the Islamic world. Their ideology of hate must be confronted and those who believe in tolerance encouraged.

Perhaps the most important lesson we must learn is that we must put the gathering and dissemination of accurate intelligence ahead of concerns about political correctness. If we intend to prevail or even just survive in this battle against radical Islam, we must put an immediate and complete end to political correctness – period! In this case, as with Major Nidal Hassan, the Fort Hood terror assassin, we had information indicating that there may – just may – be a problem with these people, yet one way or another, they slipped through a crack. That this may have happened because some in positions to take preventive action felt they would be stigmatized as not politically correct and damage their careers is appalling.

The airlines and the Transportation Safety Agency, which reports to the Department of Homeland Security, follow a rigid set of guidelines to insure our safety and security in and around the airports and on aircraft. There is, however, a general suspicion that these rules are subjectively applied. We have all heard stories of a 90-year-old woman being searched before boarding a flight while a passenger who would fit the identical profile of Mohammed Atta, one of the 9/11 bombers, is less likely to be confronted because no one wants to be subjected to an allegation that they were racially profiling.

In the case of Major Hassan, although people were alarmed by his behavior, no one acted, and he was able to pull off a jihadist attack, killing 14 people. For Abdulmutallab, the procedural error occurred after his father went to the United States Embassy in November, concerned about his son’s radical beliefs and worried that he might attempt to do something bad to the United States.Abdulmutallab was allowed to board the KLM flight without even a second round of screening.
There are at least three separate watch lists that the U.S. security agencies maintain and monitor to track suspected terrorists, terror sponsors, and terror sympathizers. Evidently, Abdulmutallab was on the list that is supposedly the most minimum threat level. According to the authorities, his being on that list did not call for any additional screening over and above any other airline passenger. If that’s true, then what exactly is that list for? More importantly, if his father did, in fact, notify the U.S. Embassy of his concerns, then why did that not raise a flag somewhere, that this man should be looked at? If Dad thinks you’re nuts and murderous, then maybe you are and someone should look into it.

In the past 36 hours, I’ve watched all the reports on CNN, FOX, and NBC, about airports enhancing their security measures, and looking at new screening equipment and approaches to security in the airline industry.

This is insanity. If there’s anyone in the security business who is surprised by this attempted attack, they need to find another line of work. If they don’t get it by now, they aren’t going to.

El Al Airlines, Israel's national carrier, is by far the safest airline in the world despite its being one of the biggest terrorist targets in the world. Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv is the world’s safest airport, so why aren’t we mirroring their security protocols?

Passengers at Ben Gurion are spared the hassle of having to remove their shoes and don’t have the luxury of curbside check-in. Here in the United States, a passenger is barely spoken to, with the exception of continuous instructions on getting through the screening process. In Ben Gurion, however, you’re spoken to constantly. From the second you enter the terminal, security and airline agents alike are looking for clues that raise a red flag, such as bulky clothing or nervousness. There are also profilers who monitor your behavior and interview travelers for anything out of the ordinary. If they are intrusive or politically incorrect, it’s just too bad. Their approach saves lives, and to them, that’s what counts.

This morning, I listened to an airline official say that, based on this recent event, they were now looking at screening equipment that could x-ray clothing to determine if something were concealed beneath it.

That’s great, but that equipment has been out for years, so why isn’t it being used now? The answer is the same as to why we aren’t using Israeli type profilers at the airport. We don’t want to insult anyone or hurt their feelings.That’s the wrong approach, if we intend to do the job that has to be done. We have to concentrate on security first, and feelings second.

But changes inside the security profession aren’t enough. We, as a country, have got to understand that the terror threat is real and is here to stay, and we need to proactively take steps to address it. President Barack Obama’s order for a review of the watch lists requirements and protocols couldn’t come at a better time. In addition to this and the improved screening equipment, we must understand the threat posed by radical Islam.

In numbers, those who seek to destroy us through terror are smaller than the millions America faced in World War I and II, but, unlike those enemies, who could be recognized on the battlefield by their uniforms, our present enemy exploits civilian guise. There is no single face or uniform or color or ethnic background that identifies them. The single trait they all share is a sick and demented hatred that drives them to use themselves as the weapons of their war and to happily die in its cause. This makes them formidable enemies, but not enemies than can’t be resisted.

We need to fix the flaws in a system that has to be as close to perfect as we can possibly get it because this enemy will keep on coming.

This time we were lucky. The next time, we may not be.