Tag Archives: War On Terror

The King Hearings… A Small Sampling

Mark Memmott at NPR:

The House Committee on Homeland Security’s hearing on what Chairman Peter King (R-NY) says is the domestic threat from “Muslim radicalization” continues on Capitol Hill. We posted earlier on the emotional testimony from Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim member of Congress and on a father’s warning about the “extremist invaders” who he says programmed his son to kill.

King, as you can see in this video from The Associated Press, said he will not “back down … to political correctness.”

“There is nothing radical or un-American in holding these hearings,” King said

Chris Good at The Altantic:

In a move that’s stirred much criticism, New York Rep. Peter King on Thursday, at 9:30 a.m. Eastern, will hold a hearing of the House Homeland Security Committee examining radicalization among American Muslims.

Not since the Bush administration has public debate erupted so sharply over whether a particular congressional hearing should even be held.

King says the hearing is “absolutely necessary.” Radicalization exists in the Muslim community in America, and it’s his job as committee chairman to fully investigate it, King has said.

“I have no choice. I have to hold these hearings. These hearings are absolutely essential. What I’m doing is taking the next logical step from what the administration has been saying. Eric Holder says he lies awake at night worrying about the growing radicalization of people in this country who are willing to take up arms against their government. I believe that the leadership, too many leaders in the Muslim community do not face up to that reality,” King recently told CNN’s Dana Bash.

“I never want to wake up the morning after another attack and say if only I had done what I should have done as homeland security chairman, this wouldn’t have happened,” said King, who represents a district on Long Island.

Others don’t see it that way: Many have raised questions about whether King is wrong to single out a particular religious group. Comparisons to McCarthyism have being raised.

Joe Coscarelli at The Village Voice:

Rep. Keith Ellison, a Democrat from Minnesota, spoke this morning at the controversial hearings led by Long Island Republican congressman Peter King, and broke down in tears while telling the story of Mohammad Salman Hamdani, an American citizen from Pakistan, who died in the Septemper 11 attack on the World Trade Center. Ellison first warned of the dangers of “ascribing evil acts of a few individuals to an entire community,” before sobbing through the story of Hamdani, who was slandered when he went missing on 9/11, accused of being complicit in the attack. “His life should not be indentified as just a member of an ethnic group or just a member of a religion,” Ellison said, “but as an American who gave everything for his fellow Americans.”

King, meanwhile, announced today that he has had around-the-clock security since late last year, when he announced plans to hold hearings that examine recruitment for Al Qaeda and the threat of “radicalization.”

More important is Ellison’s moving plea. If this country has any sense, his impassioned testimony will be the lasting image from this detrimental sham masquerading as government action.

David Weigel:

Much of the liberal opposition to Rep. Peter King’s hearings on Muslim radicalism today has focused on King himself — his past support of the IRA, his treasure trove of heated comments about terrorism.

That came to the fore just now, after Rep. Bennie Thompson, the Homeland Security Committee’s ranking member, asked about the implications of a member of Congress saying there were “too many mosques.” Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., took umbrage at that.

“I haven’t heard any member of our committee say there’s too many mosques,” he said. The implication was shameful.

King briefly took the microphone. It was him, he said: “I’d said there are too many mosques.”

Indeed, he sort of did. It’s complicated. In 2007, he said those exact words in a Politico interview, but immediately pointed out that they were taken out of context — he meant to say* that there are “too many mosques not cooperating with law enforcement.”

Rep. Peter King: There Are Too Many Mosques In The US

It was just one skirmish in the long-running war between King and CAIR et al.

Joe Klein at Swampland at Time:

I’m of two minds about the hearings on domestic terrorism that Rep. Peter King is holding today. I’ve been a staunch defender of Muslims–of their patriotic record as American citizens, of their right to build houses of worship anywhere they want, including near Ground Zero. But let’s face it: there have been a skein of attacks over the past year–starting with the Fort Hood massacre and running through the aborted Times Square bombing–that have been attempted by U.S. citizens who happen to be Muslims. This is something new and, I think, it is a phenomenon that needs to be (a) acknowledged and (b) investigated as calmly and fairly as possible.

I’m not sure that King, an excitable bloviator, is the right person to conduct the hearings–but we need to know whether there is a pattern here, whether there are specific mosques that have been incubators, and how much an influence the American-born terrorist Anwar Awlaki, who is now living somewhere in Yemen, has been. We should do this with the assumption that American muslim terrorists are about as common as American Christian anti-abortion terrorists. We should do it as sensitively as possible, with the strong assertion that Islamophobia is unacceptable in America. But we should do it.

Rick Moran:

This is such a no-brainer issue that the only possible reason to oppose King’s hearings is to score political points. There is no earthly reason that Muslims should oppose rooting out radicals in their midst – especially since law enforcement says that either out of fear or anti-Americanism, many ordinary Muslims do not cooperate with the police or FBI.

I have a feeling this hearing is going to be an eye opener. And that might be why some Muslims are so opposed to having it.

Jennifer Rubin:

The notion that we should ignore the obvious in an attempt to curry favor with “moderate” Muslims here in the U.S. and to avoid offending those overseas is badly misguided. For starters, it assumes that those audiences are infantile in their inability to distinguish, as the rest of us do, the difference between radicalized, murderous Islamic fundamentalists and those who pose no threat whatsoever. In doing so, we only serve to undermine the efforts of those non-radicalized Muslims abroad who could use some assistance, even if it is only rhetorical in pushing back against extremists.

Moreover, it glosses over a real issue in the U.S.: a number of groups who offer themselves as “moderate” and with whom the administration consults are not helping matters, as evidence by the fit thrown over the prospect of examining how their fellow Muslims turn to murder and mayhem. Let’s take CAIR, for example. This ostensibly anti-discrimination group has refused to denounce Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist groups. As I wrote last year:

CAIR has created its own cottage industry by hassling airlines, intimidating government investigators, and generally spraying lawsuits and claims of “discrimination” at those who single out Muslims for additional scrutiny in efforts to defend ourselves in a war waged by Islamic fascists against our civilization. (CAIR figures also had their share of encounters with the law. See here and here.)

It’s not hard to figure out why public discussion of all this strikes fear in the hearts of those who would rather not see a public accounting of their actions. But even the administration has to acknowledge that failure to identify, understand and combat the role of Islamic fundamentalists’ recruitment of Americans is foolhardy in the extreme. And, so, lo and behold, we learn, “While the thrust of McDonough’s remarks seemed aimed at declaring common cause with the Muslim community, the White House official was also careful not to minimize the dangers posed by efforts to radicalize Muslims inside the United States. He also managed to announce, in advance of King’s hearings, that the administration will soon roll out a comprehensive plan aimed at combating the radicalization effort.” Well, I suppose CAIR won’t like that either.

If King’s hearings have spurred the administration to get off the stick and begin work on this issue, they are already a success. And if nothing else they have exposed just how unhelpful some Muslim American groups are in the war against Islamic jihadists.

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And The Verdict Is… Open!

Eli Lake at The Washington Times:

President Obama on Monday lifted the ban he imposed two years ago on military trials for detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison, ending his bid to move most terrorism trials to civilian courts and pushing his already busted deadline for shuttering the island prison indefinitely forward.

The reversal came as Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates visited Afghanistan and indicated that he was willing to keep a presence of U.S. forces in the war-torn country beyond the Obama administration’s 2014 pullout goal, highlighting again the difficulty the president has had moving from the policies of President George W. Bush.

Mr. Obama announced the Guantanamo decision in an executive order that also sets forth a periodic review process for detainees who have not been charged or convicted but are still considered threats to the U.S.

White House aides stressed that Mr. Obama remains committed to closing the prison, which he has described as a key recruiting tool for terrorist groups, and pursuing some cases in civilian courts. Mr. Obama vowed during the campaign to close the prison by the end of 2009, his first year in office.

Massimo Calabresi at Swampland at Time:

All of this responds to Obama’s archives speech of May 2009, where he walked back his more progressive January 2009 position but tried to retain a bulwark of detention and prosecution principles for terrorism detainees. Since then, Congress has passed laws blocking the closure of Gitmo by preventing the transfer of detainees by the executive branch. House and Senate Republicans (McKeon and Graham) are expected to introduce bills further blocking detainee access to U.S. courts in the coming week.

On a conference call Monday, Obama senior advisors said the president remains committed to closing Gitmo by diminishing the number of detainees held there. But the moves announced today could have the opposite effect, admits a senior White House official. The Bush and Obama administrations have faced repeated habeas corpus challenges to their detention of alleged terrorists at Gitmo. Last I checked, detainees bringing habeas cases were winning by a 4-to-1 ratio. By increasing due process at Gitmo, the new measures make it more likely judges will defer to the executive branch and rule against detainees claiming they are being held unfairly at Gitmo. One administration official argued that judges would not be affected by the new procedures.

The habeas releases remain the only way that Gitmo’s numbers can decrease these days. The administration is still debating how to comply with the Congressional ban, but as long as it is in place even a detainee who uses his new due process rights to challenge his detention in military commissions and wins will stay in Gitmo forever… or until Congress changes its mind about closing it down.

Amy Davidson at The New Yorker:

Who wins in this? Do we think that “American system of justice” means whatever it is Americans do, as long as some court-like trappings are present? The order acknowledges that the “privilege of the writ of habeas corpus” is available to inmates, but also sets up a routine for holding prisoners indefinitely without charges (what the order calls “the executive branch’s continued, discretionary exercise of existing detention authority”). In statements today, Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates all mentioned how highly they thought of the federal court system. Gates said,

For years, our federal courts have proven to be a secure and effective means for bringing terrorists to justice. To completely foreclose this option is unwise and unnecessary.

So this order doesn’t “completely foreclose” on the rule of law—is a partial foreclosure supposed to count as a moral stand? Given all the nice things the Administration has to say about the federal court system, one would think that it might find it wise, and even necessary, to actually use it a bit more. Instead, the statements seem more concerned to note that the President is not giving up any options or powers—as if bringing accused murderers to court were a prerogative, rather than an obligation. No doubt, Republicans, and some Democrats, have made it hard for Obama to close Guantánamo. But it might be easier if he wanted to do it; the order today makes it sound like he considers it a somewhat useful place. It is not.

Speaking of questionable detention measures: Can someone in the Administration explain, slowly and clearly, why Bradley Manning, the soldier accused of leaking the WikiLeaks cables, is required to stand naked in front of his cell in the morning and sleep naked, ostensibly for his own protection? The military’s explanations so far—that he could somehow harm himself with underwear (though he is not on suicide watch and is being monitored by video) so he can’t sleep in any, and then there is just no time for him to put underwear on in the morning before they get him out of the cell—are just not plausible. (By coincidence, a case about Americans being strip-searched after being arrested for minor offenses may be coming before the Supreme Court.) A naked man who hasn’t been convicted of a crime—that shouldn’t be what American justice looks like.

Josh Rogin at Foreign Policy

Bryan Preston at PJ Tatler:

Only two years into his presidency, Barack Obama has learned that there are no easy answers to dealing with captured transnational terrorists. It’s easy to create sound bites decrying the evils of holding terrorists at Gitmo, and it’s easy to create sound bites about how awful it is to try them in military tribunals (even though that’s where illegal enemy combatants should rightfully be tried), but it’s very hard to change reality. So bowing to reality, Obama has authorized the re-start of military trials for captured terrorists.

John Yoo at Ricochet:

The Obama administration’s anti-war campaign rhetoric and naive first-year promises continue to collide with reality.  And happily, reality continues to prevail.  The Obama administration has finally admitted, I think, that the Bush administration’s decision to detain al Qaeda operatives and terrorists at Gitmo was sensible.  It wasn’t driven by some bizarre desire to mistreat terrorists, but instead was the best way to address security concerns without keeping them in Afghanistan or inside the United States.

It also turns out that the military commission trials too were a sensible decision.  Civilian trials threaten the revelation of valuable intelligence in a covert war where hostilities are still ongoing. Military commissions allow a fair trial to be held but one that does not blow our wartime advantages.  Meanwhile, the Obama administration’s track record has been poor — it was lucky to get the limited convictions that it has.  Obama folks owe an apology to the Bush administration for their unjust criticism of military trials.

It should also be noted that Obama did not come to this turnabout after reasoned consideration alone.  I think there are significant figures in the administration that would still love to close Gitmo tomorrow and give every terrorist the same exact trials reserved for Americans who commit garden-variety crimes.  Congress dragged the administration kicking and screaming to this destination by cutting off funds for the transfer of any detainees from Gitmo to the U.S.  This effectively used Congress’s sole power of the purse to prevent Obama from making a grievous national security mistake.  The new Congress should continue to keep the ban in its Defense spending bills to prevent Obama from another 180 degree turn.

Adam Serwer at Greg Sargent’s place:

Conservatives committed to burnishing Bush’s legacy were quick to claim vindication, arguing that the decision proved that the detention camp at Gitmo was a good idea all along. But Obama’s decision doesn’t prove this at all.

The administration also released an executive order outlining its new indefinite detention policy. Not much has changed from when I first wrote about it a few months ago — the new procedures formally adopt what Karen Greenberg referred to as “the heart of Bush policy” while making the process marginally fairer by allowing individuals detained indefinitely who have lost their habeas cases to be represented by counsel during periodic reviews every six months.

The president and the secretary of defense also reiterated the importance of trying terrorists in federal courts, but they might as well be shouting into the wind. The ban on funds for transfers of Gitmo detainees to federal court won’t be going away any time soon, but it’s worth remembering that ban actually ensures that fewer terrorists would be brought to justice than would be otherwise. Only six terrorists have ever been convicted in military commissions, compared to hundreds in federal court.

Failing to close Gitmo remains the most visible symbol of the president’s failure to reverse the trajectory of Bush-era national security policy, but the reality, as Glenn Greenwald notes this morning, is that most of the substantive decisions adopting Bush policies were made long ago. The new policies don’t amount to a “reversal” on the issue of whether Gitmo should be closed. Republicans are eager to portray Gitmo staying open as a “vindication” of the prison’s usefulness, but the fact that the indefinite detention order is limited to detainees currently at Gitmo means that the administration won’t be reopening the facility to new detainees, as Bush apologists have suggested doing.

Gitmo isn’t open because the administration doesn’t want to close it, although its efforts in this area are ripe for criticism. It’s still open because Republicans in Congress successfully frightened Democrats in Congress out of giving the administration the necessary funds to close it when they had control of Congress. In the process, they’ve managed to obscure the original reason detainees were brought to Gitmo — to keep them away from the scrutiny of the federal courts. Once the Supreme Court held that federal courts had jurisdiction and even habeas rights, the facility was useless for that purpose. Republicans are determined to keep it open not because we can’t safely imprison terrorists in the U.S., but because they feel its ongoing presence vindicates Bush in the eyes of history.

Glenn Greenwald

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The Death Of Shabaz Bhatti

Ray Gustini at The Atlantic:

Minority affairs minister Shabaz Bhatti was assassinated Wednesday outside his parents’ house in Islamabad. Bhatti–Pakistan’s only Christian cabinet member–is the second critic of the country’s blasphemy laws to be killed this year. Punjab Gov. Salmaan Taseer was murdered in January by Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, a member of his security detail. Qadri told authorities he killed Taseer because the governor considered the country’s strict blasphemy law a “black law.”

Fasih Ahmed at The Daily Beast:

“Bhatti’s ruthless and cold-blooded murder is a grave setback for the struggle for tolerance, pluralism, and respect for human rights in Pakistan,” said Ali Dayan Hasan, country representative for Human Rights Watch. “An urgent and meaningful policy shift on the appeasement of extremists that is supported by the military, the judiciary and the political class needs to replace the political cowardice and institutional myopia that encourages such continued appeasement despite its unrelenting bloody consequences.”

News of the attack broke shortly before noon. And two hours after his death was confirmed, it was back to business for the country’s boisterous TV channels, which focused instead on the cricket World Cup, political intrigue in the Punjab, and the fate of incarcerated CIA contractor Raymond Davis. Bhatti and Taseer had both advocated reforming the country’s blasphemy laws to prevent their misuse, and both had been declared apostates by the jihadists and tens of thousands of their mainstream supporters. If the celebratory reaction to Taseer’s assassination finally put paid to the notion that Pakistan’s militants are a vocal but fringe group (the Senate refused to offer prayers for Taseer), Bhatti’s seems to confirm growing national fatigue over the blasphemy-laws controversy.

Before they sped off, the assassins dumped pamphlets at the scene of the crime. “This is a warning from the warriors of Islam to all the world’s infidels, Crusaders, Jews and their operatives within the Muslim brotherhood,” it reads, “especially the head of Pakistan’s infidel system, [President Asif Ali] Zardari, his ministers, and all the institutions of this evil system.” This document from the Punjabi Taliban continues: “In your fight against Allah, you have become so bold that you act in favor of and support those who insult the Prophet. And you put a cursed Christian infidel Shahbaz Bhatti in charge of [the blasphemy laws review] committee. This is the fate of that cursed man. And now, with the grace of Allah, the warriors of Islam will pick you out one by one and send you to hell, God willing.”

Gus Lubin at Business Insider:

Al Jazeera has posted a chilling interview from Pakistani Christian Shahbaz Bhatti from before he was assassinated by the Taliban (via @allahpundit).

Bhatti, the federal minister for minorities, had received death threats for supposedly deriding Islam. He said in this interview, “I am ready to die for a cause. I am living for my community and suffering people, and I will die to defend their rights.”

Aryn Baker at Time:

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are a colonial holdover put in place by British administrators seeking to calm the subcontinent’s fractious religious groups. They were sharpened under the reign of dictator Zia ul Haq, who added a clause calling for death to anyone found guilty of slandering the Prophet Mohammad. Since then some 1000 blasphemy cases have been registered. Though roughly half have been applied to religious minorities the others have been registered against muslims, in what is widely assumed to be the pursuit of personal vendettas. In one recent example a schoolboy from Karachi is being held in jail for allegedly writing insults against the on a school exam paper (because repeating what the boy wrote would in itself be considered blasphemy, the accusation  is enough to keep him in detention. Though considering what happened to Taseer, it could also be construed as keeping him safe). In another example, a religious leader and his son have been accused of committing blasphemy because they tore down a poster promoting an upcoming religious conference.

Yet any attempts to amend these laws to stem such abuse has been met with intense outrage by both religious leaders and Pakistani citizens, who hold that the law is divine, and cannot be changed. The blasphemy cases have become a boon for Pakistan’s religious parties, who have seldom done well at the polls. But with the country’s current government on the brink of collapse, religious group may be gambling that the issue of blasphemy could leverage them into power if new elections are called. Their gamble may well pay off. Qadri, Taseer’s assassin, was feted as a hero in Pakistan. In his confession, he said he had been inspired by the teachings of his local mullah Hanif Qureshi, who condemned anyone standing against the blasphemy law, saying they were worthy of death. At a rally a few days later, Qureshi claimed credit for motivating Qadri. “He would come to my Friday prayers and listen to my sermons.” Then he repeated his point: “The punishment for a blasphemer is death.”

Joe Carter at First Things:

Bhatti is the second Pakistani official in the past two months to be killed after publicly opposing the draconian blasphemy laws. How many others in that country will be willing to take his place and speak up for religious freedom?

Joe Klein at Swampland at Time:

Once again, Pakistan is the most dangerous country of the world. It has 100 nuclear weapons and it seems to be slipping into anarchy. No one is sure how much of its military favors the Islamist path. Several Pakistani friends of mine, people closely associated with the government, are despairing. I truly hope that the U.S. has contingency plans for taking control of Pakistan’s nukes if the Islamist coup that everyone fears come to pass (if we don’t, I expect that India won’t be shy about taking military action).

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We Got Them Pech Valley Blues

C. J. Chivers, Alissa J. Rubin and Wesley Morgan in NYT:

After years of fighting for control of a prominent valley in the rugged mountains of eastern Afghanistan, the United States military has begun to pull back most of its forces from ground it once insisted was central to the campaign against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

The withdrawal from the Pech Valley, a remote region in Kunar Province, formally began on Feb. 15. The military projects that it will last about two months, part of a shift of Western forces to the province’s more populated areas. Afghan units will remain in the valley, a test of their military readiness.

While American officials say the withdrawal matches the latest counterinsurgency doctrine’s emphasis on protecting Afghan civilians, Afghan officials worry that the shift of troops amounts to an abandonment of territory where multiple insurgent groups are well established, an area that Afghans fear they may not be ready to defend on their own.

And it is an emotional issue for American troops, who fear that their service and sacrifices could be squandered. At least 103 American soldiers have died in or near the valley’s maze of steep gullies and soaring peaks, according to a count by The New York Times, and many times more have been wounded, often severely.

Matt Cantor at Newser:

Military leaders say the valley ate up more resources than was appropriate considering its importance, that troops can be better used elsewhere, and that there aren’t enough troops for a clear victory in the region even if they did stay. “What we figured out is that people in the Pech really aren’t anti-US or anti-anything; they just want to be left alone,” notes an official. “Our presence is what’s destabilizing this area.” But insurgents will likely see this as a victory for their side, the Times notes. As for the Afghan troops that will remain behind, “It will be a suicidal mission,” says a former Afghan battalion leader.

Joshua Foust at Registan:

In a way, this will be more than a test. Our ultimate goal for every part of the country, whether Panjshir or Marjah, is to leave competent Afghan forces in our wake so we can withdraw responsibly. It is, in many ways, the only real strategy we have left, since the state-building that should be accompanying it remains embarrassingly negligent. Pech also isn’t the only place we’re pondering this. The French are trying this in Sarobi district of Kabul provinceᾹan area of acute emotional reaction in France because of all the casualties they’ve taken in the area. Sarobi, however, has been relatively calm as of late, so there is something of a push to declare it a success and hand over responsibility to the Afghans.

Sarobi hasn’t seen much violence in the last six months. There are appropriate concerns over why that is, including the political savvy of local militants who might just want to wait out the French until the area is open again. It is also a short drive from both Kabul and Bagram, meaning if something does go wrong help is very close by. There is a sense that the area has been “won” by the French, so therefore it is an appropriate time to handover the area to the Afghans, who will maintain that win.

Pech is a harder decision to make. It is remote and difficult to get to, either by land or air. There hasn’t been a reduction of violence in recent months. In fact, the network of river valleys centered on Pech are probably the most violent in the country: the Waigal Valley (where the Want base was attacked), the Korengal, Watapor. The only area nearby that’s been worse is Kamdesh, in Eastern Nuristan.

Tom Maguire:

The WaPo covered the action in the Pech Valley late last year:

U.S. troops battle to hand off a valley resistant to Afghan governance

By Greg Jaffe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 27, 2010; 12:00 AM

IN PECH VALLEY, AFGHANISTAN — Earlier this year, Lt. Col. Joseph Ryan concluded that his 800-soldier battalion was locked in an endless war for an irrelevant valley.

“There is nothing strategically important about this terrain,” said Ryan, 41, a blunt commander who has spent much of the past decade in combat. “We fight here because the enemy is here. The enemy fights here because we are here.”

Ryan’s challenge for the past several months has been to figure out a way to leave the Pech Valley, home to about 100,000 Afghans, without handing the insurgents a victory. This fall he launched a series of offensives into the mountains to smash Taliban sanctuaries. His goal is to turn the valley over to Afghan army and police units who would work out their own accommodation with bloodied insurgents.

“The best thing we can do is to pull back,” he said, “and let the Afghans figure this place out.”

So it is all going according to the latest revised plan and there may be a bit of hype in the current Times headline

Stephen Walt in Foreign Policy:

So how can you or I tell if the war is going well or not? For that matter, how can Barack Obama be sure that he’s getting the straight scoop from his commanders in the field? Even if the military was initially skeptical about a decision to go to war, once committed to the field its job is to deliver a victory. No dedicated military organization wants to admit it can’t win, especially when it is facing a much smaller, less well-armed, and objectively “inferior” foe like the Taliban. Troops in the field also need to believe in the mission, and to be convinced that success is possible.

To the extent that they need to keep civilian authorities and the public on board, therefore, we can expect military commanders to tell an upbeat story, even when things aren’t going especially well. I am not saying that they lie; I’m saying that they have an incentive to “accentuate the positive” in order to convince politicians, the press, and the public that success will be ours if we just persevere. Indeed, this was one of the key “lessons” that the U.S. military took from Vietnam: Success in modern war — and especially counterinsurgency — depends on more effective “information management” on the home front. And this tendency is not unique to the United States or even to democracies; one sees the same phenomenon in most wars, no matter who is fighting.

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Domodedovo Airport

Video from Robert Mackey in NYT

BBC News:

Moscow’s Domodedovo airport has been rocked by a bomb explosion that an airport spokesman says has killed 35 people.

More than 100 people were injured – 20 of them critically – by the blast, which reports suggest was the work of a suicide bomber.

Russia’s chief investigator said terrorists were behind the attack.

The airport – the busiest serving Russia’s capital – is 40km (25 miles) south-east of the city centre.

President Dmitry Medvedev vowed those behind the attack would be tracked down.

He ordered increased security across Russia’s capital, its airports and other transport hubs, and called an emergency meeting with top officials. He also postponed his planned departure for this week’s World Economic Forum at Davos.

BBC security correspondent Gordon Corera said immediate suspicion about Monday’s attack would fall on militants from the Caucasus region.

Militant groups fighting in the Caucasus know how important the perception that the president and prime minister provide a secure society is, and to undermine that is a key aspect of their aims, adds our correspondent.

Last March the Russian capital’s underground system was rocked by two female suicide bombers from Russia’s volatile Dagestan region, who detonated their explosives on the busy metro system during rush hour, killing 40 people and injuring more than 80.

Ed Morrissey:

Update: Reuters also reports 10 dead, 20 injured, and that it was a suicide bomber:

At least 10 people were killed and 20 injured in a suicide bomb blast at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport Monday, Interfax news agency reported.

Update II: The AP was a little more cautious, saying that “no immediate word” on a cause had been given and not offering anything more specific than “at least 20 casualties.”

Update III: At the same link, the AP now says 23 are dead and are now including the likelihood of it being a suicide-bomber attack.

Update IV: The AP now puts the death toll to 31, with 130 injured.  They also note that Domodedovo had a reputation for lax security:

Domodedovo is generally regarded as Moscow’s most up-to-date airport, but its security procedures have been called into question.

In 2004, two suicide bombers were able to board planes at Domodedovo by buying tickets illegally from airport personnel. The bombers blew themselves up in mid-air, killing all 90 people aboard the two flights.

At least according to today’s reports, it’s also the busiest airport in Moscow, which makes it an even bigger target.

Doug Mataconis:

The most obvious suspects here would seem to be the Chechens, who have shown an ability to carry out spectacular, and deadly, terrorist attacks throughout Russia and even in Moscow itself many times over the past decade.

Michelle Malkin:

The NYTimes report doesn’t even bother to mention how Russia has been plagued by Islamic jihadist attacks.

But that’s par for the course.

The Jawa Report:

Now taking bets. The culprit is:

a. Tea Party Member

b. Someone incited by Sarah Palin’s violent rhetoric

c. A Christian

d. all of the above

e. None of the above (it wouldn’t be PC to define it)

[Update] Death toll now at 31 35. Russian President has already called the attack an act of terrorism. (In the U.S., authorities would insist it had no terrorist link until right-wing bloggers discovered direct and indisputable evidence that it was.)

Still no word – or even a hint – on motivation.

John Hinderaker at Powerline

The Gateway Pundit

Aaron Worthing at Patterico:

There are some reports around that this is a suicide bombing, which suggests a terrorist organization like al Qaeda is behind it.  But to be blunt the last time we had a breaking news story like that, the Safeway Massacre, very little of what was believed at first turned out to be true.  I mean Ms. Giffords can now use that familiar Twain joke “the rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”  The fact that those rumors were published in major media outlets is correctly seen as an embarrassment.

So, take everything you are hearing as a “penciled in” report.  All of it could be wrong.  But hopefully as time goes on we will sort it out and I will try to update this post as details get clearer.

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A Church Bombing In Egypt

Liam Stack at The Daily Beast:

The recent bombing of a crowded church Mass is being blamed on the terrorist group, but as Liam Stack reports from Alexandria, Christians and Muslims are blaming Egypt’s own government.

A woman hunched over a table in the office of the Saints Church sobbing heavily with her face in her hands, a black crucifix swinging from her neck. Shattered glass from a row of blown-out windows crunched beneath her feet.

“I can’t bear it! I can’t!” She wailed, “Oh God, I can’t!”

A friend held her and slowly stroked her hair, concealed beneath the ceremonial veil Coptic Christian women wear during a religious service.

“It’s OK, it’s OK,” she soothed, “God is here. God is here.”

Sunday Mass at Saints Church was a frightened and somber affair, less than two days after the calm of Friday’s New Year’s Eve service was shattered by a deadly bomb attack that killed at least 21 and injured dozens here in Egypt’s second largest city, the Mediterranean port of Alexandria.

Many Sunday churchgoers wept quietly in their pews, while others dabbed their eyes, put on a stiff upper lip and sang hymns in the ancient Coptic language. Fear and sorrow hung in the air.

“I am afraid for the future,” said Malak Guirguis, a 17-year-old boy with a peach fuzz mustache who fought back tears after Sunday Mass. “I do not want to die here like these people did.”

Egypt’s interior ministry says Friday’s blast was the work of a suicide bomber possibly affiliated with al Qaeda, a potentially serious national-security development in a country that has long denied al Qaeda activity within its borders.

The sophistication of the attack and the large number of dead and wounded have also ratcheted up tensions in the often uneasy relationship between Egypt’s Muslim majority and its Christian minority, which makes up roughly 10 percent of its population of 80 million. Nearly 1,000 people were packed inside the church at the time of the attack.

Weasel Zippers:

Oh so predictable.

(JPost)– Counselors tell rally attack was Mossad reaction to uncovered spy ring; Egyptian authorities point towards al-Qaida involvement.

A coalition of Egyptian lawyers accused Israel of being behind an terror attack in Alexandria that killed 22 members of the Christian Copt sect attending midnight mass on New Year’s eve, Army Radio reported Monday.

“The Mossad carried out the the operation in a natural reaction to the latest uncovering of an Israeli espionage network,” the lawyers accused at a rally in memory of the victims, organized by the Egyptian Bar Association, according to the report.

Ed Morrissey:

For its part, the Egyptian government has remained mum on the motives of the bomber, claiming that the terrorism “hurt hearts of the Egyptians, Muslim and Coptics.” However, not all governments were as discreet, or even sane. Iran and its puppet front group Hezbollah in Lebanon have identified what they see as the real culprits (via Jeff Dunetz):

The fresh plot by terrorists to target churches is an organized Zionist scenario aimed at creating a rift between Muslims and Christians.

Following its intelligence and security failures in Egypt and the apprehension of a number of Mossad agents by Egyptian intelligence apparatus, the Zionist regime of Israel is set to exact vengeance on the Egyptian nation…..All the existing evidence proves that the Alexandria church explosion, though appearing to have been carried out by extremist groups, is the handiwork of the Israeli intelligence service Mossad.

And in Egypt, 22 lawyers publicly accused Israel of the crime as well:

A coalition of Egyptian lawyers accused Israel of being behind an terror attack in Alexandria that killed 22 members of the Christian Copt sect attending midnight mass on New Year’s eve, Army Radio reported Monday.

“The Mossad carried out the the operation in a natural reaction to the latest uncovering of an Israeli espionage network,” the lawyers accused at a rally in memory of the victims, organized by the Egyptian Bar Association, according to the report.

The bomber died in the blast, according to Egyptian officials, which would tend to rule out the Mossad, which doesn’t exactly have a track record of conducting suicide bombings. That distinction goes to the radical Islamists in the region, the same kind of terrorists (if not perhaps the same al-Qaeda brand) who bombed a Christian church in Baghdad not long ago.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

I’ve been struck over the past couple of days by the lackadaisical coverage of what seems to be the most important story coming out of the Middle East right now — the terrible attack early on New Year’s Day on a Coptic church in Egypt, in which 21 Christians were killed, and 79 people, mostly Christian, were injured. The attack, it seems, came from either domestic Egyptian Muslim extremists, or foreign, al Qaeda-influenced terrorists, but the meaning is mainly the same, no matter the exact perpetrator: The Salafist war on Christians in the Middle East is intensifying fairly rapidly, with profound consequences not only for Christians in the lands of their faith’s earliest history (keep in mind that Christianity had planted itself in Egypt well before the birth of Muhammad) but for the rights of all ethnic and religious minorities in the greater Middle East.

The relative dearth of coverage might have to do with holiday understaffing at news outlets, or it might not: I’m not one to generally go after news organizations for overemphasizing the troubles of Christians in Israel (who, don’t, in fact, have many troubles) and underplaying the near-genocidal campaign of Muslim extremists against Christians in places like Egypt and Iraq, but this attack seems like a watershed moment, and not only for Egypt, which is entering a long and dangerous moment as it changes leadership. One way to think about the Muslim Arab Middle East is as a place historically intolerant of the rights of non-Arab Muslim minorities: The blacks of Sudan, who are trying to break free of Khartoum’s hold; the Kurds in Iraq and Syria; Christians in Lebanon, Egypt and Iraq; and the Jews of Israel, among others. In Saudi Arabia, of course, it is illegal even to build a church, and I’m afraid it will soon be illegal to build one in Iraq.

Israel Matzav:

There have been many suicide bombings – inhumane acts – carried out by Muslims. And if Muslims and Christians get along so well, why are there constant complaints from the Copts in Egypt about discrimination and why is the only country in the Middle East where the Christian population is growing… you guessed it… Israel.

Here’s the Lebanese statement.

A top Shiite Muslim leader in Lebanon, Sheikh Abdel Amir Kabalan, denounced the attack as a “terrorist act aimed at sowing chaos and fear in Egypt”.

“This terrorist act bears the fingerprints of Zionists who keep on targeting religious sights and are working to … sow discord between Muslims and Christians,” Kabalan said in a statement.

The question is whether anyone will condemn Kabalan’s statement. Don’t hold your breaths.

Michelle Malkin:

What does the White House have to say? Here’s the full statement, but this is all you need to read:

I strongly condemn the separate and outrageous terrorist bombing attacks in Egypt and Nigeria. The attack on a church in Alexandria, Egypt caused 21 reported deaths and dozens of injured from both the Christian and Muslim communities.

Er. As Gadi Adelman points out:

I’m glad our President was so much quicker condemning this act of terror while on vacation than he was last year with the ‘underwear’ bomber.

Just one problem, just a little mistake in his sentence. He stated “deaths and dozens of injured from both the Christian and Muslim communities”. Wrong!

There was not one Muslim death, not one, unless of course you count the suicide bomber. Each person that died was a Christian; the bomb went off outside a Coptic Church.
As far as the injured, only 8 out of the 79 were Muslim.

More whitewashing of jihad here.

New year, same old reckless political correctness run amok.

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Today, We Get Info Without Julian Assange

Dana Priest and William M. Arkin at WaPo

Nine years after the terrorist attacks of 2001, the United States is assembling a vast domestic intelligence apparatus to collect information about Americans, using the FBI, local police, state homeland security offices and military criminal investigators.

The system, by far the largest and most technologically sophisticated in the nation’s history, collects, stores and analyzes information about thousands of U.S. citizens and residents, many of whom have not been accused of any wrongdoing.

The government’s goal is to have every state and local law enforcement agency in the country feed information to Washington to buttress the work of the FBI, which is in charge of terrorism investigations in the United States.

Other democracies – Britain and Israel, to name two – are well acquainted with such domestic security measures. But for the United States, the sum of these new activities represents a new level of governmental scrutiny.

This localized intelligence apparatus is part of a larger Top Secret America created since the attacks. In July, The Washington Post described an alternative geography of the United States, one that has grown so large, unwieldy and secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs or how many programs exist within it.

Today’s story, along with related material on The Post’s Web site, examines how Top Secret America plays out at the local level. It describes a web of 4,058 federal, state and local organizations, each with its own counterterrorism responsibilities and jurisdictions. At least 935 of these organizations have been created since the 2001 attacks or became involved in counterterrorism for the first time after 9/11.

(Search our database for your state to find a detailed profile of counterterrorism efforts in your community.)

Glenn Greenwald:

In The Washington Post today, Dana Priest and William Arkin continue their “Top Secret America” series by describing how America’s vast and growing Surveillance State now encompasses state and local law enforcement agencies, collecting and storing always-growing amounts of information about even the most innocuous activities undertaken by citizens suspected of no wrongdoing.  As was true of the first several installments of their “Top Secret America,” there aren’t any particularly new revelations for those paying attention to such matters, but the picture it paints — and the fact that it is presented in an establishment organ such as The Washington Post — is nonetheless valuable.

Today, the Post reporters document how surveillance and enforcement methods pioneered in America’s foreign wars and occupations are being rapidly imported into domestic surveillance (wireless fingerprint scanners, military-grade infrared cameras, biometric face scanners, drones on the border).  In sum:

The special operations units deployed overseas to kill the al-Qaeda leadership drove technological advances that are now expanding in use across the United States. On the front lines, those advances allowed the rapid fusing of biometric identification, captured computer records and cellphone numbers so troops could launch the next surprise raid. Here at home, it’s the DHS that is enamored with collecting photos, video images and other personal information about U.S. residents in the hopes of teasing out terrorists.

Meanwhile, the Obama Department of Homeland Security has rapidly expanded the scope and invasiveness of domestic surveillance programs — justified, needless to say, in the name of Terrorism:

[DHS Secretary Janet] Napolitano has taken her “See Something, Say Something” campaign far beyond the traffic signs that ask drivers coming into the nation’s capital for “Terror Tips” and to “Report Suspicious Activity.”

She recently enlisted the help of Wal-Mart, Amtrak, major sports leagues, hotel chains and metro riders. In her speeches, she compares the undertaking to the Cold War fight against communists.

“This represents a shift for our country,” she told New York City police officers and firefighters on the eve of the 9/11 anniversary this fall. “In a sense, this harkens back to when we drew on the tradition of civil defense and preparedness that predated today’s concerns.”

The results are predictable.  Huge amounts of post/9-11 anti-Terrorism money flooded state and local agencies that confront virtually no Terrorism threats, and they thus use these funds to purchase technologies — bought from the private-sector industry that controls and operates government surveillance programs — for vastly increased monitoring and file-keeping on ordinary citizens suspected of no wrongdoing.  The always-increasing cooperation between federal, state and local agencies — and among and within federal agencies — has spawned massive data bases of information containing the activities of millions of American citizens.  “There are 96 million sets of fingerprints” in the FBI’s data base, the Post reports.  Moreover, the FBI uses its “suspicious activities record” program (SAR) to collect and store endless amounts of information about innocent Americans:

At the same time that the FBI is expanding its West Virginia database, it is building a vast repository controlled by people who work in a top-secret vault on the fourth floor of the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building in Washington. This one stores the profiles of tens of thousands of Americans and legal residents who are not accused of any crime. What they have done is appear to be acting suspiciously to a town sheriff, a traffic cop or even a neighbor.

To get a sense for what kind of information ends up being stored — based on the most innocuous conduct — read this page from their article describing Suspicious Activity Report No3821.  Even the FBI admits the huge waste all of this is — “‘Ninety-nine percent doesn’t pan out or lead to anything’ said Richard Lambert Jr., the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Knoxville office” — but, as history conclusively proves, data collected on citizens will be put to some use even if it reveals no criminality.

Ed Morrissey:

Again, none of this is particularly surprising.  Battlefield technologies almost always “migrate” to use at home, depending on its application and the cost.  The city of LA had halftracks used in combating drug trafficking more than two decades ago, for one example, parodied in the movie Die Hard.  The FBI collects data from many people and always has, which is one of the reasons why releasing the raw FBI files on political figures to the Clinton White House was such an egregious act.  What they do with the data is, of course, the greater consideration.  Picking the wrong imams isn’t just limited to “some law enforcement agencies,” as the Pentagon’s relationship with Anwar al-Awlaki demonstrated.  The problem of government agencies acting with less than optimal efficiency at working across boundaries is hardly new, either.

It’s still valuable to have journalists dig into these problems on a regular basis so that we can demand better performance from security groups and Congress, rather than just shrug at inefficiency, waste, and abuses of power.  But Liz Goodwin’s “5 most surprising revelations” from the WaPo entry today at Yahoo read as though Goodwin has never before reviewed governmental performance:

  1. The FBI has 161,948 suspicious activity files on “tens of thousands” of Americans – The FBI set up hotlines and websites for tips on terrorism immediately after 9/11.  Each tip presumably opens up a file.  In nine years, the effort has produced less than 20,000 tips per year and (assuming the maximum range of tens of thousands) about 10,000 suspects a year.  That doesn’t seem very surprising to me.  That they haven’t arrested anywhere near that many people is a function of what an investigation produces.  Maintaining files on dead probes doesn’t mean anything, unless they get leaked.
  2. DHS has no idea how much it’s spending on liaison efforts to local agencies – I’d guess that many agencies don’t really know how much they spend on any one aspect of their operations.  DHS is a huge federal agency, employing 216,000 people with an overall budget of about $52 billion with varied and overlapping jurisdictions.
  3. Local officials in these “fusion centers” get little or no training – Surprise!  Government bureaucracies are notoriously inefficient.  That’s why it’s a good idea to limit them to tasks that only government can and should do — although it’s worth pointing out that this happens to be one of those tasks.
  4. Local agencies are “left without guidance” from DHS – This is really the same thing as #3, isn’t it, or at least the same root problem?   She points out that among those groups suspected of potential terrorist activity by state and local authorities were Tea Party activists, historically black colleges, and a group that campaigned for human rights and bike lanes.  Again, that might have been based on tips received and followed up by the agencies, but also again, it’s part of a lack of competence and accountability endemic in bureaucracies.
  5. State and local agencies are taking counterterrorist funding and using it to support regular law-enforcement efforts instead – Who couldn’t have seen that coming?  These funds are usually given in bloc grants, which means the recipient can use the money for whatever purpose they desire.  All they need is a tenuous link to the original purpose of the funds to make it pass muster, and it’s certainly arguable that by enforcing the state and local law more vigorously, local law enforcement might be able to flush out terrorists.  However, this is a problem because it makes local law enforcement dependent on federal funding, which is a bad idea in principle.  Communities should pay for their own law enforcement needs and let the feds concentrate on actual federal crimes.

These aren’t surprises at all.  They are, however, issues that need to be corrected — and it appears that the first item on correction should be a rethink of DHS and its top-heavy bureaucracy.

Spencer Ackerman at Danger Room at Wired:

Military technology has a tendency to trickle down to civilian applications, as evidenced by the fact that you’re reading this story on the internet that Darpa helped create. Usually that takes time, but police departments across the country are fielding tools that the military developed to keep tabs on insurgents are now in place to see if you’ve got any outstanding arrest warrants. That’s what the Washington Post found for the latest installment of its series on the expanding surveillance state: Arizona’s Maricopa County, for instance, keeps a database sized at “9,000 biometric digital mug shots a month.”

Here’s how the proliferation of biometrics works, as the Post discovers. The Department of Homeland Security wants more data points on potential homegrown terrorists. Through Federal-state law enforcement “fusion centers,” federal grants help finance law enforcement’s acquisition of ID tools like HIIDE, as well as powerful surveillance cameras and sensors. Police incorporate them into their regular law-enforcement duties, picking up information on suspects and using them to cut down on the time it takes to figure out who’s evading arrest.

As the military learned, positive identification depends on having a large data set of known insurgents. Cops and the feds are going just as broad. Fingerprint information from crime records gets sent to a  FBI datafarm in West Virginia, where they “mingle” with prints from detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Military and Homeland Security officials can search through the FBI database for possible connections to terrorists.

It’s unclear if there are minimization procedures in place to void someone’s fingerprints in the datafarm after a distinct period of time, or how serious a crime has to be to merit a bioscan getting sent to West Virginia. And in many cases, the technology at use here just accelerates the speed at which, say, prints from a police station get sent to the FBI, rather than making the difference between inclusion at the datafarm and remaining at the police station. But it certainly looks like there’s not such a lag time between tech developed for a complex insurgency finding applications for crime-fighting at home.

Instapundit:

Luckily, this stuff is only creepy when there’s a Republican President. Otherwise I’d be worried. But as we all know, to worry about this when there’s a Democrat in the White House is merely a sign of the “paranoid strain” in American politics.

Emptywheel at Firedoglake

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