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March 28, 2010

Pulling on the Thread of the VISA Bureaucracy

Following the attacks of September 11th one of the immediate concerns was the millions of people who had entered the United States with legal temporary VISAS and had "somehow" become lost or misplaced. This was known as the VISA overstay problem. It is still estimated that as many as 30% of the people living illegally in this country have overstayed their temporary VISAS (nearly 200 million temporary visitors come to this country each year).

Today, the problem of VISA Overstay remains unsolved .

Last year, 39 million foreigners entered the United States, and using paper logs, DHS has confirmed that 92.5 percent have left the country. Of the remaining 2.9 million foreign visitors, an estimated 200,000 are believed to have intentionally overstayed their visas. Over all, immigration officials said, about 40 percent of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States came on legal visas and overstayed.

The question of VISA Overstays is probably a topic for discussion in a longer analysis at some point. But while policy makers debate whether the use of new technologies like biometrics and fingerprinting, or simply greater vigilance of people entering and leaving the country is a better way to reliably track the overstays, one very real question is raised by the recent revelation that would be terrorist bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's 2004 VISA request to enter the U.S. had originally been rejected because he had lied on his application but that the rejection had been reversed when he reapplied in 2008.

Abdulmutallab first applied for a U.S. visa in Lome, Togo, but was told that he needed to apply closer to his place of residence in Nigeria. He returned to Lagos and filed an application that stated incorrectly that he had never been denied a visa, leading a consular official to deny him one. "It's kind of outrageous that the consular officer overturned this denial in the first place," Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said in an interview. "The second thing is, if you go back to his first coming to this country, he could have been denied because he had lied on a previous application."

Calling for increased VISA security officers at overseas offices to enhance screening of applicants is one possible step. But this is not a law enforcement issue. It is an issue of National Security. All excuses aside, it is probably time to institute a "one strike and you're out" policy when it comes to lying or misrepresenting facts on applications to enter this country. If we have difficulty in finding people who have overstayed their VISAS, the least we can do is prevent people like Abdulmutallab who lied once and was caught, from entering in the first place. Excusing his lie (or misrepresentation) as a misunderstanding (no willful misrepresentation) on his part is a hole that should be filled. Leaving human judgment to err on the side of enabling someone like Abdulmutallab to try again can't possibly be good security policy.

March 21, 2010

Mexico: Denying the Obvious

Ask these questions. At what point do frequent and periodic border incursions constitute a violation of US sovereignty? At what point does the instability in Mexico become a direct threat against American citizens? How many Americans will have to die before our federal government takes serious action along the Texas-Mexico border? And finally, how long does the federal government delay before violence against American citizens on American soil constitute an act that prompts more proactive actions than stating that "it continues to support Mexico's fight against ruthless gangs smuggling narcotics into the United States."

Quite obviously, we are fighting a war against terrorists worldwide. Regardless of what you call it, al Qaeda's form of terrorism is an aggressive force on multiple fronts around the globe. More recently, American citizens influenced or motivated by some "need" have become another focus of terrorism concern. Yet, while we are working, fighting and dying to establish security and stability in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mexican President Calderone's policies to control and combat the narcotics violence on/near or across our border appear to be ineffective and as some people believe, failures. Ask when (not if), it will fall to the United States to defend itself from continued incursions by the criminal and violent elements in Mexico?

Earlier this week, Texas Governor Perry deployed Texas military helicopters to begin patrolling the border as part of his Spillover violence contingency plan in response to the latest incursion by Mexico in the United States.

"As violence escalates in Mexican border cities, it's critically important for Texas, U.S. and Mexican law enforcement to communicate and appropriately coordinate our efforts to combat border crime and protect legitimate cross-border trade and travel...

[continued]

..."The helicopter incursion and uptick in violence in Mexican border communities underscore the urgent need for more U.S. law enforcement and surveillance along the Texas-Mexico border. I once again urge our federal government to add personnel and technology along the Texas-Mexico border to prevent spillover violence here and to combat drug cartels operating in the border region."

The actual Press Release can be seen here.

Saturday's local newspaper featured a quote from, Mexican Ambassador to the U.S. Arturo Sarukhan that "Texas elected officials are disingenuous or naïve to believe drug violence is spilling across the border into the United States."

Disingenuous? Naïve?

It is pretty well established that one of the most successful methods used by Los Zetas "south of the border" has been recruitment of law enforcement officials through bribes and threats of death, dismemberment and dead families. To believe that police in the U.S. would be immune to the same bribes and threats would be naïve. In fact, the DHS has said that since 2008, the cartels have ramped up their efforts to bribe U.S. law enforcement. According to the F.B.I.:

Around 400 corruption cases have been investigated by U.S. federal agents. The Customs and Border Protection (CBP) service is a particularly popular target for cartelista bribery or even infiltration. The CBP itself reported that over 500 corruption cases were made in 2009 against people working for the service.

Are some additional facts needed?

In the last two years, more that 4000 murders occurred in Juarez, or one in every 325 residents

According to the U.S. State Department, the death toll of Americans more than doubled from 2007 (35) to 2009 (79).

Texas politicians are "disingenuous and naïve" according to the Mexican Ambassador to the U.S. Americans are to blame for the drug cartels in Mexico because Americans are the market for the narcotics. Americans are to blame for the violence in Mexico because guns and ammunition are being illegally shipped across the border. Sure! In today's San Antonio Express (link will not be available until later this week when the publishers post the article on the website), Professor Hector Padilla, a social sciences professor at the Autonomous University of Ciudad Juárez is quoted as saying: "It's not really a crisis of narcos and murders. It's a crisis of the state, which cannot protect the citizens and is not accountable to them."

"If Calderon doesn't change his strategy, the people will continue to leave. And if things here continue to get worse, it will be worse for Mexico."

Unavoidably, and without the rose colored glasses of some like the honorable Ambassador from Mexico, the border between the United States and Mexico is incapable of keeping people from crossing the border illegally. Drug cartel activity in McAllen and Pharr Texas earlier this year is indisputable.

Sometimes it has been easy to criticize Texas Governor Perry's border security efforts. There is even an an article this week commenting that Mr. Perry blames Washington for the border violence and then criticizes the Governor for misdirected efforts on the border (to arrest illegals) instead of focusing on Interstates 10 and 35 that serve as a the drug corridors to Texas cities and to much of the rest of the mid-part of the country.

Although Texas U.S. Senators Cornyn and Hutchison sent a joint letter to President Obama last week stating in part that "The spillover violence in Texas is real and it is escalating," many people agree with the Mexican Ambassador.

PERSONAL OPINION: A head in the sand approach toward this situation denies the obvious. Some of the Governor's previous border security efforts have been of arguable value (like the border surveillance cameras). However, it is hard to criticize deployment of the helicopters to patrol the border. One question (at least) does arise however. How far can a state go in defending its border when the federal government is perceived as not doing enough?

ADDED (not new news): America's Unacknowledged War

March 19, 2010

Pick Your Favorite Russian Nuclear Deal

Hillary Clinton is in Moscow, and a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty should be finalized soon.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says there has been "substantial" progress on a new nuclear disarmament deal with Russia.

In Moscow, Mrs Clinton and Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov said a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (Start) should be finalised soon.

The nations are trying to replace the 1991 Start that expired in December.

Meanwhile, Putin says Russia should have Iran's Bushehr nuclear plant operating by summer.

"May you live in interesting times."

March 18, 2010

Dead or Alive?

Yesterday Steve Schippert discussed Attorney General Eric Holder's public revelation that terrorists like Osama bin Laden should be given the same rights as Charles Manson. Holder also claimed that Osama bin Laden "would be killed rather than captured alive, that Miranda rights would be read to the corpse of bin Laden."

Beyond the other problematic inconsistencies highlighted by Steve's post, we once again are witnessing a difference of opinion (schism?) between the Administration point of view in Washington DC and the statements of the Commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said Wednesday that the military would "certainly" try to capture Osama bin Laden alive and "bring him to justice" -- contradicting remarks by a top Obama administration official.

OK. Maybe it can be argued that the "reality" (as Holder put it) is that bin Laden will be killed before he is ever in custody. Even if that is true, somehow equating bin Laden's rights with those of Charles Manson simply, also bends reality. Thirty-six years ago Sam Peckinpah made a movie about bounty hunting titled "Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia" (admittedly a pretty bad movie). Maybe it's not that important if bin Laden is taken alive or if he is killed in the process of his capture. But proof of his death is what is needed.

Holder denies that there is a split between Administration policy and the attitude of the American people when it comes to the treatment of terrorists. It is interesting that some of the same people who are concerned about the post-September 11th security measures abridging their Constitutional rights are the same ones willing to extend Constitutional rights to the terrorists who started this whole mess in the first place. The disconnect is so obvious that is hard to see how Eric Holder doesn't see it.

Hoh: Identify The Enemy In Afghanistan

This discussion on Afghanistan with Matthew Hoh at Bloggingheads.tv is excellent, thoughtful, and worth your time to listen for the entire hour. Hoh understands the local dynamics, particularly the rural Pashtuns in the southern and eastern areas of Afghanistan, and Robert Wright asks intelligent questions throughout.

Essentially, Matthew Hoh's judgment - one which ultimately compelled him to resign his position at State - is that we should withdraw from most or all of the highly compartmentalized rural areas of Afghanistan where we are fought by locals simply because we are there and increasing the Taliban's political capital as a result.

One of the most important takeaways for the average viewer, listener or reader is to understand the distinction between the actual Taliban ('Taliban Central') and those Pashtuns who, in their localized areas, are simply aligned with the Taliban. They align with the Taliban because they do not want to be occupied and they do not want a distant central government ruling over them and bringing in taxes.

While the episode is titled "Leaving Afghanistan," Hoh does not advocate a complete withdrawal. Rather, he advocates - as I understand - negotiated ceasefires (each very localized in nature) in order to allow the local populations/communities/tribes a measure of autonomy and self-governance in order to politically diminish the relationship between them and the Taliban and to politically weaken the Taliban. Left would be peace-keeping forces in Kabul and in the areas where the three primary ethnic groups territories meet.

He is spot on when he describes how the term Taliban is used too broadly and loosely. The first rule of warfare is to properly identify your enemy. Hoh is challenging you to revisit that. You may or may not agree with what Matthew Hoh is saying or the solutions as he sees them, but as John Derbyshire said, "He is an honest man."

His observations deserve your consideration.

March 17, 2010

Holder: Only The Crime Determines Terrorist Rights

In today's DailyBriefing, the first item highlighted is Attorney General Eric Holder saying that Usama bin Laden has the same rights as Charles Manson. What he actually said is far worse than that, as you will hear in the first minute of the video clip of his testimony below. The Attorney General's exchange with Texas Representative John Culberson is eye-opening for those who have napped through the dissolution of the Artist Formerly Known As The War on Terror (aka. Overseas Contingency Operations).

Eric Holder holds that the rights that should be afforded to terrorists who have declared war on the United States and executed their mayhem and killed Americans are to be based on their crime, not upon their citizenship status or the fact that they are enemy combatants at war. Simply astounding.

HOLDER: The comparison to 'are they getting more rights than the American citizen' is not an apt one. The question is are they being treated as murderers are treated? And the answer to that is yes. They have the same rights as a Charles Manson would have, any other kind of mass murderer. Those are the types of comparisons people should be making when trying make the determination about how terrorists are being treated, and not compare them to average citizens who have created no harm, have committed no crimes.

CULBERSON: You said that terrorists have the same rights as Charles Manson, correct?

HOLDER: I said that murderers have the same rights as Charles Manson. And if these people are charged with murder, then in essence, that's - those are the kinds of rights that they would get.

CULBERSON: Terrorists who have murdered American citizens - and the approach of your Department of Justice is that they would have the same rights as Charles Manson?

HOLDER: In the sense that a murderer has the right to go before a jury and get the acts that he is charged with proved beyond a reasonable doubt? Yes.

CULBERSON: So, therefor, Usama bin Laden has the same rights as Charles Manson.

HOLDER: In some ways, I think that they're comparable people in some ways, uh...

CULBERSON: That's incredible. This is where the disconnect between this administration, and your mindset, is so completely, uh, opposite that of where the vast majority of the American people are.

Holder went on to say that bin Laden would be killed rather than captured alive, that Miranda rights would be "read to the corpse of bin Laden." First, it is true enough that it is highly unlikely that bin Laden would be captured alive. However, such a statement by the top American justice official smacks of predetermination and hypocrisy similar to the pronouncement that there is no way Khalid Sheikh Muhammed would ever be found not guilty. One simply cannot have it both ways.

Citizenship and the context of war and and captured enemies in that war have no bearing on the rights of the captured. The only consideration is the crime.

If you're like me, you're just about speechless.

UPDATE: For amusement purposes, here is a particularly tickler of a headline for you in the aftermath of criticism - such as my own above.

Justice Department Accuses Republicans of Being Weak on Terrorism

The world and reality are turned on their heads.

March 15, 2010

China's Human & Labor Rights Lecture

The UK's Telegraph asks in a biting commentary, Is China's Politburo spoiling for a showdown with America? The short answer is yes, of course. As is its Peoples Liberation Army military leadership.

And while the commentary whistles by concerns that are not limited to the Chinese - such as the value of the dollar amid profligate US government spending that seems to know no bounds - the Chinese lectures contained within deserve sharp rebuke.

For all of the faults of the US government's hand in the flailing American economy, it frankly will be a cold day in hell when Chinese lectures to anyone this side of the Iranian regime on "workers' rights" and "human rights" warrant merit beyond comic strip anecdotes.

"I don't think the yuan is undervalued. We oppose countries pointing fingers at each other and even forcing a country to appreciate its currency," [Chinese premier Wen Jiabao] said yesterday. Once again he demanded that the US takes "concrete steps to reassure investors" over the safety of US assets.

"Some say China has got more arrogant and tough. Some put forward the theory of China's so-called 'triumphalism'. My conscience is untainted despite slanders from outside," he said

Days earlier the State Council accused America of serial villainy. "In the US, civil and political rights of citizens are severely restricted and violated by the government. Workers' rights are seriously violated," it said.

"The US, with its strong military power, has pursued hegemony in the world, trampling upon the sovereignty of other countries and trespassing their human rights," it said.

"At a time when the world is suffering a serious human rights disaster caused by the US subprime crisis-induced global financial crisis, the US government revels in accusing other countries." And so forth.

We have some very real issues to tackle in the United States with regard to government spending, unfunded liabilities, government interventions and manipulations on the free market and protecting the value of the US Dollar.

But human rights and workers' rights are not among them. And anyone who gives an ounce of credence to such libelous Chinese (and U.S. State Department?) rhetoric is so deeply jaded that reality stands not a chance.

March 14, 2010

Target: Anwar al Awlaki?

Anwar al Awlaki is connected to each of the following: Nidel Hassan (Ft. Hood), Najibullah Zazi, Jihad Jane (aka Colleen R. LaRose), Jamie Paulin-Ramirez, Sharif Mobley and who knows who else.

Even if Mobley's father's claim is true that his son "is no terrorist" he is connected to al Awlaki and he did work at potentially five nuclear sites (have to agree with Sen. Schumer on this one - "We simply cannot tolerate at any time having someone with terrorist ties working at a nuclear plant, period."

It cannot be too far fetched to believe that a a drone could be in al Awlaki's future.

He at least has to be considered a high value target.

Anarchy Awaits Mexico

Mexico is getting out of control. While we should be sure not to make more out of this incident than it is, the killing of a US Consulate employee and her husband as well as the slaying of the wife of another consulate employee in Juarez is bad enough on its face and a sign that Mexico is having a difficult time curbing the drug violence ravaging the notoriously corrupt country.

Gunmen believed to be drug traffickers shot an American consulate worker and her husband to death over the weekend in the violence-racked border town of Ciudad Juárez, and killed the husband of another consular employee and wounded his two young children, the authorities said Sunday.

Jorge Alberto Salcido Ceniceros, 37, the husband of an employee of the American Consulate in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, was killed in a drive-by shooting on Saturday in Ciudad Juarez.
Related

President Obama expressed outrage at the "brutal murders" and in a statement from the White House vowed to "work tirelessly" with Mexican law enforcement officials to bring the killers to justice.

We echo the president's outrage while also acknowledging that Mexico is tip-toeing the tightrope of democracy and civility with a hungry, drug trade-infused anarchy waiting below for a fall.

Just One Question...

The generally quite good Los Angeles Times blog "Babylon & Beyond" runs the following headline: DUBAI: Questions continue to surround alleged Mossad killing of Hamas operative.

The only question I have for the Los Angeles Times, the UAE and the EU (et al) is this: Is the co-founder of Hamas' "military wing" Izadin al-Qassam Brigades still dead?

Wake me when the answer is "No."

That is all.

Carry on.

There's Something Happening Here

Earlier last week there was the revelation that Jihad Jane (aka Colleen R. LaRose) had been in custody since October. Some people wondered why nearly five months later, her detention was being announced.

Frankly, it is probably not too important to try to decipher the reasons for keeping her arrest on participating in a plot to kill Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks quiet. But now add to her case that of Jamie Paulin-Ramirez, a Colorado mother of a six year old boy who is also connected to the plot to kill Vilks. Paulin-Ramirez was released from custody in Ireland. One of the more distrubing aspects of Paulin-Ramirez is the report that she had begun to radicalize and indoctrinate her six year old son, Christian, and had changed his name to Walid. Young "Walid" apprarently told his stepfather, "We are building pipes [pipe bombs], like the Fourth of July!"

Both women have been linked to Najibullah Zazi. It was about six months ago that the list of domestic jihadist activities was perhaps short, but growing. Since then, the list continues to expand. Prominently among them is the case of Major Nidal Hassan who killed 13 and wounded more than 30 others at Ft. Hood in November.

The plot and the interwoven network on "conspirators" in this and probably related situations is troubling. That unconnected individuals can easily communicate with others via the Internet, share thoughts and ideas, perhaps conspire and plot as these people did, is troubling. Consider that as the jihad continues, now approaching nine years since it smacked the majority of Americans "upside the head," it is becoming more possible for al Qaeda's goals to be reached through the acts of surrogates. These surrogates need not be part of the "official" al Qaeda group or its clones.

Evan Kohlmann noted the emergence of an "odd emerging trend in homegrown terrorism" in a recent article, "Jihobbyists" No More.. He notes that al Qaeda sees these unconnected "Lone Wolf" terrorists as another weapon of the jihad. Consider the case of six year old Christian "Walid" Carreon whose mother Jamie Paulin-Ramirez was just released by Irish authorities. Not only was he proud of the fact the "we are building pipe bombs," but he was being taught to shoot a gun. Worse, his indoctrination had gone so far that he told his grandmother "that Christians will burn in hellfire."

Think carefully if you think that we aren't truly engaged in a battle of ideology and a war that could last generations. How people like Colleen R. LaRose and Jamie Paulin-Ramirez are induced to become players in the jihad is something that needs to be better understood. How to recognize them and others like them, and stop them before they can kill Americans, is quite a different issue.

These people could well be traitors. But there's definitely something happening here (and it is probably bigger than these two women).

Iran Warns, Gates Warms

After an unprecedented visit by Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Kabul this week to meet with Afghan president Hamid Karzai, there are diverging narratives after his departure.

In a speech later delivered back in Iran's Hormuzgan province, Ahmadinejad warned its neighbors over the U.S. presence in the Gulf.

"We warn the countries in the region over the presence of bullying powers ... they have not come here to restore security or to counter drug trafficking," Ahmadinejad said in a speech during a visit to the southern province of Hormuzgan.

The hardline president accused the West of planning to dominate energy resources in the Gulf and said: "People in the region will cut off their hands from the Persian Gulf's oil."

Those are astounding words after a visit to the Afghan people we are trying to win over. A visit right in the middle of a US war zone by a demonstrated and self-declared enemy of America, dubbed the "Great Satan."

In sharp but muted contrast, the American Secretary of Defense downplayed Iran's support for the Taliban, saying that Iran provides only 'limited' support for the Taliban.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said Thursday that Iran's support for the Taliban in Afghanistan is "pretty limited".

Gates spoke Thursday during a stop at a U.S. military base en route to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.

The defense secretary said Iran's level of influence on the Taliban is not a major problem for the United States at this point. But Gates added he does not want the problem to grow worse.

The 'kinder, gentler' approach has never worked with Iran. Likewise, US forces confronting and often dying fighting the Taliban would understandably see Secretary of Defense Gates' words - in context of a visit to the battlefield by one of America's most bitter and lethal enemies - as insulting.

And who could blame them?

March 10, 2010

The "Jihadist" Next Door

Its becoming harder to differentiate between a "terrorist" or an unstable shooter or an angry anti-government suicidal person.

Now we have the case of Colleen R. LaRose of Montgomery Pa. whose arrest in Octber 2009 was kept secret to give the FBI a chance to seek other suspects.

We cannot suspect everyone we meet who acts in a strange way. What could be happening is happening out of sight but on the Internet. LaRose was working to recruit fighters and people to assassinate the Swedish cartoonist (Lars Vilks).

LaRose is better known to federal authorities as Fatima Rose or Jihad Jane. On June 20, 2008, LaRose allegedly posted a video on YouTube calling herself JihadJane and stating she was "desperate to do something somehow to help" ease the suffering of Muslims, according to news station WPVI. The indictment, obtained by ABC News, charged LaRose with conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists and conspiracy to kill in a foreign country, and making false statements to a government official and attempted identity theft.

America is an open society. It needs to remain open. But, people like LaRose exist, there may not be too many of them now.

March 8, 2010

Divine Secrets of the Yahya Sisterhood: It's Not Adam Gadahn

It was widely reported earlier that Pakistan had captured Adam Gadahn in a counterterrorism raid in Kirachi. We all hoped it was true. Once again - as is so often the case with "unnamed Pakistani official(s)" - the first report is wrong. Likely a matter of confusing non-Western names, in this case 'Yahya.' It was not Adam Yahya Gadahn (aka Azzam al-Amriki, aka Azzam the American, aka Yahya Majadin Adams, aka Adam Pearlman) but rather an "Abu Yahya Mujahideen al-Adams." I like to refer to it as the Yahya Sisterhood. Terrorists hate being laughed at more than being shot at.

The latter is reported (sourcing yet more unnamed US and Pakistani officials) to be an American "al-Qaeda commander" from Pennsylvania. While disappointing that it was not the incredibly annoying California native currently producing al-Qaeda's English language video propaganda, a captured al-Qaeda terrorist - especially a traitorous American al-Qaeda terrorist - is nothing to get glum about.

UPDATE: BBC News reported the following:

The man has been named as Abu Yahya Azam, an Egyptian-American, who is believed to be a close aide to Osama Bin Laden.

He is reported to have been in charge of al-Qaeda operations in Afghanistan.

Pakistan's GEO TV reports:

KARACHI: Two terrorists, including a key al-Qaeda commander, were arrested from Karachi, sources told Geo Sunday.

According to sources, security agencies raided a house located at Super Highway in Karachi, in which two people, including a commander linked with the al-Qaeda network, were arrested.

The arrested men include Commander Abu Yahya Azam, a close accomplice of Usama bin Laden.

They were later shifted to some undisclosed location for further interrogation.

[End Update]

The US ambassador to Pakistan just days ago noted the urgency of finding American Muslims currently in Pakistan and Yemen for terrorist training. The realistic expectation is that they would use their citizenship and passports to re-enter America and attack her.

Reproduced below, a portion of our March 8 DailyBriefing.

AMERICAN JIHADI ARRESTED IN PAKISTAN?
U.S.-Born al-Qaeda Arrest News Incorrect - American, But Not Adam Gadahn - CBS News
Context: US Amb. to Pakistan: US hunts for citizens training w/terror groups - AP
Background: From Goat Farm To Treason Charge - CBS News
D.C. Muslim group rejects al Qaeda call to violence in recent Gadahn video - Washington Times

March 6, 2010

Europe De-Militrarizes NATO Military Contingents

If you think General McChrystal's changes to the Rules of Engagement are difficult, you might consider how European governments restrict their NATO forces in Afghanistan.

But analysts say NATO commanders are hindered in their fight against insurgents by so-called "caveats" - restrictions placed by various countries on what their forces can or cannot do.

Michael Williams, a NATO expert at London University, describes some of those restrictions.

"Some caveats might be our forces can't operate after night," said Michael Williams. "Our forces can't operate outside of this region or district. They can't be sent in combat operations. They can only fire when fired upon, etc. And so it can lead to some bizarre circumstances where if your rules of engagement are unless you are fired on you can't return fire - if let's say you are with the British and they are being fired at, but technically your soldiers aren't being, they can't actually assist the British forces."

Williams and other experts say those "caveats" make it difficult for commanders on the ground to put together a workable strategy.

Military forces that "can't be sent into combat" are effectively no longer military forces. European political leadership renders them about as useful as Wal-Mart door greeters.

That means McChrystal's hands are tied, as far as European forces go, before they even show up. It's been a complaint of mine - and many others - for years.

The China Dream: Dream With Eyes Open

On the issue of China, my first article at Breitbart's Big Government was published this week: _PLA Senior Colonel: 'The China Dream' Means US Defeat_. It's a warning and a call for vigilance and awareness, inspired by another book published by a Peoples Liberation Army colonel calling for aggressive Chinese measures to unseat America as the most powerful nation on Earth.

On the path to 9/11, many of us National Security wonks were intensely studying and tracking China and its activities before the al-Qaeda attacks of 9/11. Just as so many had our eyes too focused on a single ball then, it is a necessary exercise of experience and wisdom to ensure the same mistake is not made again, simply in the reverse. We cannot afford to be - neither as a National Security community nor as a society - so critically focused on our terrorist enemies as to lose sight of an equally determined if even more patient strategic competitor. Though the Chinese are much less overt than our terrorist enemies, their grand strategies and ambitions are hardly invisible. One need simply look for them and recognize them when seen.

It's not a panting, hyperventilating declaration that the sky is falling, but rather a reminder that we were singularly focused on just one ball leading up to 9/11 and risk being similarly singularly focused since. This would be a grave error. China's intentions are clear. You simply need to pay attention.

In today's hyper-intellectual exercise of Foreign Policy and National Security debate, especially when regarding China, never confuse "patient" with "nuanced." Nuance is overrated and often leads to policy inaction and confusion in the place of clarity and direction.

When it comes to considering the Chinese PLA book The China Dream, America would do well to dream while awake and with her eyes open.

Russia, China Waterboard Iran Sanctions

It's not surprising news, but it is news nonetheless. The West has finally drafted Iran sanctions - predictably weakened by its China-Russia protectorate. The UN Security Council veto-wielding Iranian allies have remained true to form.

Western countries, under pressure from Russia and China, drafted a blueprint for a fourth round of sanctions against Iran which would not tighten the ban on trade between Western banks and the Central Bank of Iran (CBI), Israel Radio reported overnight Friday.

Diplomats at the United Nations were quoted as saying that the United States, Britain, France and Germany accepted Russia's proposal that the West only ban trading with newly-established Iranian banks, and not increase existing trade limitations with the CBI.

China holds a position similar to Russia's.

Russia and China not only blocked blacklisting Iranian banks, but also blocked an arms embargo. It's the diplomatic equivalent of the East waterboarding the West and diluting diplomatic measures and sanctions to a predictably inert status. Sanctions - with the Russia-China protectorate - will never hinder the Iranian nuclear gambit.

For more on the Iranian Russia-China protectorate, see the following:

The China-Russia-Iran Axis - Schippert Interview with FrontPage Magazine (2008)
The Language of Limbo: US Ceding Leadership And Principle To Russia On Iran - ThreatsWatch (2009)

New Night Raid Policy: Afghan Hearts And Minds

In another effort to blunt Afghan anger over casualties, Afghanistan theater commander General Stanley McChrystal has announced NATO's new night raids operational policy. The main change is to include Afghan forces in every night raid and put them to the front whenever possible. In short, put an Afghan face on the kind of operations the Aghan public criticizes most - night raids in villages.

General McChrystal said night raids are effective in the fight against the Taliban, but must be conducted with "greater care" to ease the anger they have caused among the Afghan people.

The order says NATO troops should avoid night raids when possible. It says if international forces have to enter residences after dark, Afghan forces should be in the lead wherever possible.

The Afghan government must also be alerted ahead of time.

Night raids have emerged as a leading concern among the Afghan public after resulting in the deaths of civilians.

The move is a natural reaction by our forces in a kind of conflict - counterinsurgency (COIN) - where ultimate victory is decided by the indigenous population, not purely strength of arms and battlefield success.

It is also a reaction to Afghan President Hamid Karzai who, purely seeking populist political gain, has called for an end to all night raids. While this is a non-starter right out of the gate - it is a safe bet that the vast majority of high-level captures have occurred at night (KSM, for instance) - it does not mean that public sentiment can be ignored.

It is another hindering change in the Afghanistan rules of engagement (RoE), but such things are necessary to blunt Afghan domestic criticism and thwart Taliban propaganda operations.

Criticism of such changes is often wide and loud here at home. And while the debate is healthy and the concerns for the safety of our men and women genuinely placed, keep in mind that our forces must keep one eye on the enemy seeking to kill them and the other on the indigenous population that will ultimately determine victory or defeat in Afghanistan.

Shameful Encounter

No names will be revealed here. But the following describes a very real exchange that occurred last week with someone who might best be described as a pacifist (rather than an anti-war liberal).

It is understandable, especially given the politicization of U.S. counterterrorism policy, that clear differences of opinion about the War on Terrorism exist. Especially given the dilution of the "perceived mission" among a large portion of the population that bases its opinions on those of others, the on-going battles in Iraq, Afghanistan and soon, probably other theaters of operation, disagreements are probably also "understandable."

A reference was made to a segment of the Frontline program "Behind Taliban Lines" as "some of the funniest TV EVER! It is amazing that we support both sides!"

When confronted with the question, "what is it that is so funny about the video" the response was: "if you didn't see it I can't explain it to you. No Americans were harmed" and "if you can't agree that it is embarrassing that the cultists in this video offer us any threat, we may not agree."

So, because no Americans were harmed and because the Afghan insurgents appear to be incompetent, someone thinks that armed attacks, even if failed attempts, are funny and indicative that U.S. policy in Afghanistan is inappropriate. The problem friends is that this one person's views are very likely shared by many others (who are equally uninformed). Consider the fortunate situation that the members of "The Central Group" eventually succeeded in killing the Afghan police in the same area shown in the video. The video is part of a report and an interview with Najibullah Quraish.

Often real life exchanges like this one emphasize the reasons why we write opinion, commentary and analysis here at ThreatsWatch. This one example of someone's "thoughts" though represents what I see as a shameful expression of an opinion that minimizes the real threat because of the apparent incompetence of the Afghan insurgents. If it is indicative of the views of others, parts of our population sorely misunderstand and underestimate the threats we face.

March 2, 2010

Iran Cleric Calls for "Special Weapon"

Describing Ayatollah Mezbah Yazdi as Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's spiritual mentor is accurate, but hardly enough for a real understanding. Yazdi is a powerful leader within Iranian political and religious circles. Perhaps the best way to describe the nature of Yazdi's (and thus Ahmadinejad's) messianic belief structure is to imagine the most radical form of Islamic beliefs merged with a mixture of supernatural mysticism. (Have a look at the pious Ahmadinejad's ring finger, for instance.)

It is a scary sight to behold, and one so frightening that many cannot quite come to grips with the fact that such a radical, even nutty, group of individuals has fingers on the levers of state power anywhere in the world. It remains a fact, regardless of reluctance to acknowledge.

Within that context, incomprehensible as it may seem to many, consider the latest development coming out of Iran.

Ayatollah Mezbah Yazdi wrote a book, The Islamic Revolution - Surges in Political Changes in History, for limited internal distribution (approximately 3,000) around the time of the Iranian elections. A copy of this book has surfaced and the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center has translated the Farsi to English and released portions.

On top of past hints of nuclear weapons ambitions by the most radical religious leaders and parts of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Yazdi suggests that Iran not only has the right to but must develop "a special kind of weapon," an unmistakable reference to nuclear weapons. Judge for yourself.

"We have to produce the most advanced weapon inside the country, even if our enemies don't like it. There is no reason that they have the right to produce a certain special type of weapon, but that other countries not have that right" (The Islamic Revolution - Surges in Political Changes in History, p. 337).

Some may draw comfort in the belief that 'crippling sanctions' are on their way as mentioned by President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton among others. But China and Russia both have come out against any 'crippling' sanctions, true to form and past patterns of behavior. Consider that both have veto power at the UN Security Council - the origin of any 'crippling' sanctions. Consider that it has been recently revealed that a Chinese firm - through obscuring shipping, payment and other trails - has recently provided Iran with banned sensitive equipment for its nuclear operations. Consider that Russia is still building Iran's Bushehr nuclear facility.

Consider also that Iran has been the subject of sanctions for decades, yet has been wholly undeterred by Western actions, whether penalties or incentives.

Furthermore, consider the words which directly followed the above excerpt from Yazdi's revealing book, which was never meant to be made widely public.

"In seeking to acquire the [necessary] technology Iran must be patient and not be deterred by economic shortages: Divine, messianic support has been the determining factor in the success of the Iranian regime during the various trying periods which have plagued it since its foundation...We cannot be broken because of temporary difficulties, they will pass, and Muslims must be patient and not be deterred by material or economic shortages, because if they do, it may lead them to be separated from [Islam]."

To be clear, the primary threat from Iran is, has been and remains its position as the chief state sponsor of international terrorism. Nearly every terror group has some degree of of Iranian fingerprints - whether wholly owned subsidiaries such as Hizballah, co-opted muscle such as Hamas, or willing students with a common American enemy such as bin Laden's al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The Iranian regime, in that context, with nuclear weapons should fill the West with a palpable fear. And it should address it directly and in the manner most likely to upset such a reality: Regime Change. As elaborated countless times before, this requires no invasion or air-strikes. Tangibly support the internal Iranian opposition against a regime that is widely unpopular.

Short of that, we are destined to confront the foremost state sponsor of international terrorism armed with nuclear weapons. And, if our past is any indication of the future, we will do so in a reactionary manner - meaning after a first catastrophc strike has been made, whether upon the West or upon Israel.

For more on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Mezbah Yazdi, see Understanding Ahmadinejad,a 2005 ThreatsWatch PrincipalAnalysis.

March 1, 2010

Israel May Have Assassinated a Hamas Leader - And?

The story that Israel 'may' have assassinated the co-founder of Hamas' 'military wing' (as opposed to its purely benevolent 'political wing,' of course) is not new news. I've yet to weigh in on it. But the story just won't go away. And it sticks in my craw like a thorn under my fingernail.

The UAE and Europe are all up in arms with righteous indignation that the Mossad (Israel's primary foreign intelligence service) - they almost certainly rightly charge - used forged passports in their plot to take out Hamas' top gun runner and principal link to their Iranian benefactors.

The United Arab Emirates Foreign Ministry issued a statement Sunday saying it was "deeply concerned" that passports from countries whose "nationals currently enjoy preferential visa waivers" were used in the recent assassination of a senior Hamas figure.

The statement was the most high-level comment by Dubai or UAE authorities on the January slaying of senior Hamas figure Mahmoud Mabhouh, which some allege was carried out by the Israeli spy agency Mossad.

My response: And???

Perhaps similar loud, exasperated and persistent condemnations would have come from these moral cowards had Hamas' suicide bombers and rocketeers had the audacity to use the dreaded forged passport ploy to gain entry before targeting Israeli civilians massed in buses or in pizzerias. Surely that would have netted media hellfire and brimstone condemnation.

But don't hold your breath.

imagine for a brief second, just a fleeting moment, that al-Qaeda's #2 Ayman al-Zawahiri were trotting around Dubai or anywhere else on the planet. When the CIA whacks him deader than a river stone (because we sure don't want to take prisoners anymore), are you going to cry about the CIA using forged passports to quietly get within bloodletting range?

Understand that Hizballah and Hamas (et al) are Israel's al-Qaeda. Both have the blood of hundreds of Israeli civilians upon their Iranian-backed hands. And they stand more alone today than ever before - if Europe's reaction does not make this patently clear.

For my friends who prefer to hold a supposedly nuanced approach to the whole ordeal, well, I can see your lips moving, but I can't hear a word you are saying.

It's that simple. And that disgraceful.

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