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December 28, 2009

Of No Practical Significance

Eight years on, new legislation, new organizations, reconfigured security apparatus, and we still lack the ability to keep the usefully delusional from trying to blow their extremities up at altitude.

We confuse rights with privileges, and assign them to those who don't deserve them. We let the passage of time lull us into a sense of complacency. We make it difficult for those who want to do the right thing to keep their jobs, much less advance the state of national security, while those in authority continue to rack up "heck of a job, Brownie" moments with no apparent negative consequences.

We quibble over nonsensical issues like online Jihadist forums (that only seem to radicalize prison fodder), yet it matters not who is actually behind recent events: we continue to demonstrate that we are incapable of fulfilling the first priority of the state (the security of itself and its people) because we refuse to actually consider much less implement deep and meaningful reforms.

At the end of the first decade of the new century we see what the future holds if we fail to pay attention to issues of national security like we pay attention to health care, taxes or sports. What good is a public option if the public is dead or enslaved to mindless, ineffective bureaucracy? Your team made the playoffs? How are you going to watch the post-season if you're taking a dirt nap?

As far as I can tell, well-meaning words on paper notwithstanding, we've advanced not one practical iota from 9/10/01.

December 30, 2009

America's Top Three Threat Developments

Since kicking up much dust regarding President Obama's quiet empowerment of InterPol on US soil, I've been intellectually disengaged for the most part in my annual 'decompression week' over the Christmas holiday. A necessary retreat. But it's time to re-engage.

There are three pressing situations that require attention, analysis and awareness.

1. The internal Iranian developments are fast and furious, yet largely under-reported still. Is the regime at a crucial tipping point? Has the regime actually made an aircraft ready to whisk Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Khamenei away to safety? Are there quiet and secret splits in the ranks of its military and security forces, including the Revolutionary Guards Corps and the Bassij?

2. What is to be made of al-Qaeda's latest attempt to bring down an airliner descending into Detroit? What's to be made of our own systems, organizational awareness and domestic security?

3. The question of why Interpol was granted full diplomatic immunity and its archives and records "inviolable" has yet to be addressed by the White House. It has been two weeks since the amending of Executive Order 12425. (See: PrincipalAnalysis: Wither Sovereignty.)

Overview, tracking and analysis soon forthcoming at ThreatsWatch.

December 28, 2009

Dealing with the "Violent extremists who threaten us."

The full quote from the President is that he vows to 'disrupt, to dismantle and defeat the violent extremists who threaten us - whether they are from Afghanistan or Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia or anywhere where they are plotting attacks against the US homeland.'

Parsing words does not begin to express the threat. Frankly, it is hard to accept that the political correctness that avoids the words "War on Terror(ism)," or "jihad" or "Islamic fundamentalism" is valid in light of the continuing attempts to destroy human life, attack or kill Americans or to destroy America.

We stand on the dawn of a new year and on the anniversary of "change." Yet, it is clear (to some, if not many) that ignoring the lessons of the past (and those who attacked us on September 11th, 2001) is possible, and that another tragic morning could happen. How is it anything but troubling that after being released from GITMO for "art rehabilitation" two of the releasees scurried off to Yemen?

We are, in fact, engaged in a great WAR against Islamic Fundamentalist Extremist Jihadists. No mincing of words and attempting to avoid the politically incorrect can protect those of us who travel frequently by air.

This is personal...very personal. Yes, it is. Yemen, Nigeria, Somalia. All too many Americans are willing to believe that al Qaeda is not a threat to our country. All too many are willing to believe that the Taliban pose no threat to the United States. All too many people are willing to believe that al Qaeda is nearly defeated. THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is likely one of the greatest threats to our Nation's security.

December 18, 2009

Growing Domestic Threat of White Supremacists

As if all of the warranted concern over Islamic jihadists and drug cartels was not enough, a new report from the Anti-Defamation League highlights the growing threat of a domestic group called the Aryan Circle.

Started in the prison system in the 1980's, the group now has over 1400 members in a number of metropolitan areas.

The full ADL report is found here. As the report highlights, membership outside of the prison system is growing as well. Also, while clearly a White Supremacist group, it is deeply involved in criminal activities. However, it is the hate aspects of their activities that differentiates this group from the "normal" criminal gangs.

Most of the group's members are concentrated in Texas, with cells in or near many metropolitan areas, including Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio, Waco, San Angelo, Wichita Falls, and Midland/Odessa, among others.

It is not just the "other than Mexicans" that cross our border with the illegal immigrants that present a growing threat among us.

Special note to Daveed Gartenstein-Ross who asked the question tonight on Twitter, "A lot of tweeps follow jihadists obsessively. Anyone do the same with white supremacists?" Well, I had read the press release earlier and then saw his comment and decided to follow through.

December 13, 2009

Threat Alert: MS13 and the Blending of Youth Gangs with Drug Cartels

Often it doesn't get the attention that the Mexican cartel drug violence gets in the media. Frankly, quite often the media doesn't pay all that much attention to the cartel related violence in general, and there are still too many Americans that do not appreciate the true threat represented by the encroachment of Mexican drug violence into our streets. So, while independent of the Mexican cartel, activities of transnational gangs like MS-13 and the 18th St. Gang represent a considerable threat to US citizens.

A recent F.B.I. press release described the multinational effort to counter the activities of Mara Salvatrucha (or MS-13), one of the largest and most violent street gang in the U.S. and Central America. A second transnational gang, the 18th Street gang, is also a target of law enforcement. A joint program of the F.B.I. and the State Department, the Central American Law Enforcement Exchange (CALEE) is an initiative that helps to bring resources together from both sides of the border.

This video describes the effort of the F.B.I. MS-13 National Gang Task Force and CALEE.

FBI-MS13.JPG MS-13 seems to derive its culture from several prisons in El Salvador. There have been instances in the past where murders on US soil were conducted on orders originating from prisons in El Salvador. However, as this article stresses, there are MS members in prisons in large numbers throughout Central America.

There is also strong evidence that there is gang activity in the military.

According to the militarytimes.com: "Gang-related activity in the US Armed Forces is increasing. Although gang members constitute only a fraction of military personnel nationwide, their presence can compromise installation security and force protection both internally and externally. Gang members in the military can disrupt good order and discipline and threaten military operations. Gang membership in the ranks may also result in a disruption of command, low morale, disciplinary problems, and a broad range of criminal activity. Gang-affiliated military personnel and dependent gang-affiliated children of service members facilitate crime on and off military installations, and are at risk of transferring their weapons and combat training back to the community to employ against rival gang members and law enforcement officers."
It is hard to ignore the connection, even if that connection is still a dotted line instead of a solid one, between gang activity and the drug cartels, and in turn, the threat posed by the blending of cartel activity with youth gangs on the U.S. side of the border.

It is known that the Zetas maintain tight control over their terorrity in the Northeast section of Mexico. From that vantage point, they have access to large cities like Houston Texas that enables them to form alliances with local youth gangs.

For many youths, working for the drug cartels is a far more attractive option than working in local fast food restaurants.

You can work at McDonalds for minimum wage or you can work for Juan and drive a $60,000 Escalade. Take your pick. That is the choice facing many American teenagers in border communities these days and sad to say, some are going for the SUV, unaware of the risk that brings on both sides of the fence.

Among the more disturbing trends is the recruitment of teenagers into the cartels' activities. While it started and thrived in border towns on the Texas side of the Mexican border, recent pronouncements by the Texas Department of Public Safety alerted "the many to what the few" already knew. The recruitment is no longer isolated to the border cities.

While such recruitment is growing across Texas, juveniles along the Texas-Mexico border are particularly susceptible. In 2008, young people from the counties along the Texas-Mexico border accounted for just 9 percent of the population in Texas, but 18 percent of the felony drug charges and gang-related arrests.

However, perhaps the more disconcerting is that the DPS warning Nov. 17 about Mexican cartel recruitment beyond the border took some by surprise. DPS spokeswoman Tela Mange did not have any recent evidence of cartel recruitment in the state's interior. Several school districts contacted said they had seen the alert and had taken notice, but none knew of any such cases in their districts.

Indeed, while DPS "does not have recent evidence" of involvement in non-border communities, this past year has shown a dramatic increase in graffiti tagging along newly constructed overpasses in South and Central Texas. There have been "hushed" reports of drug gang activities in "good" high schools in upper middle class sections of San Antonio.

Over 2000 people have been murdered in Ciudad Juarez in 2009. To think that 2010 will be better is probably too optimistic. Be afraid, be very afraid. And being forewarned is being forearmed.

December 9, 2009

Merry Christmas, Usama bin Laden

I wrote a new holiday season intro bumper for the Steve Schippert Show. The production has just been just completed and it has not yet appeared in any of the podcasts. But it was so well done, I felt compelled to share with ThreatsWatch readers. Enjoy.

As Take That! Radio producer Mike Williams put it, "Only from the mind of Steve Schippert..." He's probably right. I couldn't help myself.

The pipes you hear are those of Roch Bordenave, who does work for the NFL and FOX Sports. He's awesome, and seems to hear in my scripts exactly what my mind hears as I write them. Highly, highly recommended talent.

Thanks, Roch. And Merry Christmas, Usama & Omar.

December 7, 2009

"Digital Pearl Harbor?" How About the War We're Actually In?

There is no such thing as an Electronic Pearl Harbor. On a fundamental level, for something to qualify as an EPH, we would have to have been untouched by offensive action by a belligerent adversary. We would have to ignore the glaring warning indicators, both strategic and tactical, that would lead to the destruction and disruption of so much technical capability that our ability to function as a power of any sort would be dramatically diminished for - in information-age terms - an extended period of time.

Yet every year banks get hacked, the government gets pwned, the digital duct tape holding critical infrastructure together loses its grip . . . and the lights are still on, the nation is still in one piece and there is still a balance in everyone's accounts. Why? Because in a wartime footing people learn to deal with the damage, the destruction, the interruption and - to coin a phrase - soldier on. Stiff upper lip and all that.

"War" might be too strong a word, but if we are going to draw parallels to conflicts past, we are actually engaged in something more akin to the First Battle of the Marne than we are waiting for Pearl Harbor. Make no mistake: we have been engaged in conflicts in the digital realm for forty-plus years. It has steadily grown against enemies both within and outside of our own institutions, both governmental and private. It's a war of attrition with aspects of terrorism, insurgency, and plain old criminal motivations. The battles rage daily, but you only really hear about the big ones. Like our most recent shooting war, hundreds of millions may have felt it necessary to engage in a fight, but a tiny fraction of those actually have to bloody themselves. The natural consequence is that everyone else forgets there are people fighting, so headlines that talk of concern over a sneak attack still get press.

War, real war, requires that an adversary do much, much more than turn off the lights or cause tertiary deaths. I don't think for a second that our status as a world power, or our integrity as a nation, is endangered by a digital attack; unless of course we're the sort that just rolls over when our nose is bloodied.

December 6, 2009

Palestinians: 'From The River To The Sea'

At Commentary magazine's blog, Evelyn Gordon clarifies succinctly 'What the Palestinians Really Want' by comparing their status to the situation Jews found themselves in at Israel's founding on the heels of the Holocaust. We pick up after her apt description of the Jewish condition circa 1947.

The Palestinians, according to their own universally accepted narrative, are in a similar situation today. For 42 years, according to this narrative, millions of them have lived under brutal occupation. For 61 years, millions more have lived in squalid refugee camps, with no hope and no future. Only statehood can end these evils.

Under these circumstances, one would expect Palestinian leaders to jump at any offered state, however flawed, that would end the occupation and enable them to rehabilitate their refugees. Instead, they have repeatedly rejected statehood offers.

Moreover, they did not merely reject ridiculously inadequate offers like the one the Jews nevertheless accepted in 1947. They rejected offers equivalent to 95 and even 100 percent (the Clinton and Olmert plans, respectively) of the territory they ostensibly want, including most of east Jerusalem and even the Temple Mount. In short, they rejected everything they could possibly get under any formula leading to a Palestinian state alongside a Jewish one.

And that is the problem -- as becomes clear upon examining why the Palestinians repeatedly rejected such offers. First, Palestinians refused to abandon their demand that the refugees be resettled not in the Palestinian state, but in the Jewish one -- thereby effectively eradicating the latter. They also refused to acknowledge Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. They even refused to acknowledge any historical Jewish connection to this land, and especially to the Temple Mount -- though they would have controlled the Mount in practice.

In short, what the Palestinians really want is not a Palestinian state alongside a Jewish one; if they did, they could have one at any time. What they want is a Palestinian state instead of the Jewish one. And until that changes, Israeli-Palestinian peace will remain a mirage.

And there you have it. In five short paragraphs.

(With thanks to our good friends at Bookworm Room for the link.)

December 5, 2009

Marines Pounce Behind Taliban Lines With Ospreys and Armored Steamrollers

Armored steamrollers, you might ask? Yes. And the sight of the new twin rotor V22 Ospreys dropping into the dust behind Taliban lines and armored steamrollers pounding through minefields to their front must have been a sight to behold. Marines bring the hammer and the anvil to the party.

From a report on "Operation Cobra's Anger" in Helmand province, Afghanistan.

U.S. Marines swooped down behind Taliban lines in helicopters and Osprey aircraft Friday in the first offensive since President Obama announced an American troop surge.

About 1,000 Marines and 150 Afghan troops were taking part in "Operation Cobra's Anger" in a bid to disrupt Taliban supply and communications lines in the Now Zad Valley of Helmand province in southern Afghanistan, the scene of heavy fighting last summer, according to Marine spokesman Maj. William Pelletier.

Hundreds of troops from the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines and the Marine reconnaissance unit Task Force Raider dropped by helicopters and MV-22 Osprey aircraft in the northern end of the valley while a second, larger Marine force pushed northward from the main Marine base in the town of Now Zad, Maj. Pelletier said.

A U.S. military official in Washington said it was the first use of Ospreys, aircraft that combine features of helicopters and fixed wing aircraft, in an offensive involving units larger than platoons.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to detail the operation, said that Ospreys have previously been used for intelligence and patrol operations.

Combat engineers used armored steamrollers and explosives to force a corridor through Taliban minefields, known as "IED Alley" because of the huge number of roadside bombs, known as improvised explosive devices, and land mines, Maj. Pelletier said.

December 4, 2009

Mogadishu Bombing: Yes, Virginia, al-Qaeda's Influence Is Rising

Following the bombing of a Mogadishu hotel that killed three government ministers and 16 other civilians, al-Qaeda's McDonald's franchise in the Horn of Africa is the first and very obvious suspect. The Christian Science Monitor asks, "Is al-Qaeda's influence rising?"

At the risk of sounding a bit flippant, my reaction to that question is, "Ummm.... Hello?"

The attack coverage from the article is below.

A suicide bombing at a Somali student graduation ceremony which killed three government ministers and at least 16 other civilians on Thursday bore Al Qaeda's hallmark and further endangered the future of the country's wobbling administration, analysts says.

A man strapped with explosives and disguised as a woman apparently gained free access to what was supposed to be one of the few parts of Mogadishu, Somalia's capital, that was safe for the country's government.

But Thursday's strike appears to be the latest in a fresh offensive by Al Shabab, deploying tactics that Somalia-watchers say have been imported directly from Al Qaeda.

US government officials are convinced that Osama bin Laden's terror organization is strengthening its links to its Somali proxy - in part by by sending trainers to the Horn of Africa to instruct new jihadists there.

It should be noted that at least one report says that al-Shabaab has denied responsibility for the attack. Al-Qaeda generally does not deny attacks it actually carries out, which is not to be construed to say that they make overt claims for all that they do.

But that aside, whether or not al-Qaeda's al-Shabaab Somali franchise carried out this particular attack, if you are still wondering "Is al-Qaeda's influence rising?" then you simply haven't been paying attention.

UPDATE: The Somali Front of the Global Jihad - SAAG

December 2, 2009

Afghanistan Strategy Cliff's Notes

Wisely, a counterinsurgency strategy for Afghanistan has been adopted by the president.

Fact: Indigenous populations determine winners and losers in all insurgencies against governments.

Fact: Afghan civilians have no "exit strategy."

Fact: The Taliban have no "exit strategy."

Imagine, just for a few moments, that you are an Afghan villager and the father of five children. You have seen with your own eyes what the bloodthirsty Taliban animals do to Afghans who "collaborate" with the Americans. You have seen what they do to their family members.

Being one of the 70% majority of Afghans who are illiterate, you have just heard through the grapevine that the American president has said that the Americans who say they want to help you and your village will begin leaving just two summers from now. The invisible Europeans (save for the Brits) will be gone well before that, you're told.

What incentive do you have to share information with or assist the Americans - let alone openly take up arms - if they're going to be gone long before the Taliban?

Perhaps you conclude that you prefer a life expectancy for your children longer than 18 months? Perhaps you conclude that you like the thought of your head consistently attached to your neck?

The wisdom and arguments for the Americans' most fantastic of military-civilian plans stop right there. With the indigenous population.

Again, imagine you are an Afghan father. What do you do? Does the rest coming from American thinkers and planners matter?

Fact: Indigenous populations determine winners and losers in all insurgencies against governments.

Fact: Afghan civilians have no "exit strategy."

Fact: The Taliban have no "exit strategy."

And now, perhaps, you "get it."

UPDATE: For more elaboration than Cliff's Notes affords, you might appreciate the reading companion of a Wednesday night sneak peak at the Washington Times' Thursday editorial - Obama's quickie: Fighting insurgents takes time.

Afghanistan Strategy Rebuttal: Counterinsurgency Incoherence

As a rebuttal to President Obama's announced Afghanistan strategy last night, the Washington Times has published my OpEd in Wednesday morning's edition. Focused more on exit strategies and time tables than on actually defeating the enemy, it appears clear the the mission can readily be called "Counterinsurgency incoherence."

For a counterinsurgency effort to succeed, the willing partners aren't in Kabul or Islamabad, no matter the demands made upon each. Rather, they reside in the villages and towns spread through the provinces of Afghanistan. Winning over the local leaders will strengthen our position and ultimately lead to the Afghan people demanding better governance from Kabul.

This requires - in both word and deed - clear demonstration of presence and resolve, not in intellectual arguments for an exit strategy. There are no exits for the Afghans we seek to defend in parallel with our own security and interests.

While we amuse ourselves with our intellect and mastery of nuance and the complex, a very simple truth remains. There is no exit for the Afghan people. Our strategies and time tables mean nothing to them. When we leave, angry men will remain to recall their assistance to Americans and slit their families' throats.

Let that sink in on a very personal level. Imagine yourself an Afghan with a family and children. What would you do?

Yeah. So will the Afghans we need to defeat this insurgency.

Utterly incoherent strategy. This will not end well. But perhaps the president is content being the one to "finish the job." We'll call it a "responsible exit." And then we'll forget about the Afghan and his family suddenly among the hunted. It will have been the "responsible" thing to do.

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