Category Archives: The Homeland

Phase Zero: Last Week in Review 4.27.15

The following posts appeared on Phase Zero last week:

Will The Death of Two Hostages Finally Force Us to Face Drone Killing?

U.S. Inadvertently Kills Adam Gadahn, Saves $1,000,000

An Intelligence Vet Explains ISIS, Yemen, and “the Dick Cheney of Iraq” : An Interview with Malcolm Nance

The Blackwater Murders Aren’t Blackwater’s Fault. They’re Ours.

Is Germany Really The Heart Of America’s Drone War?

April 19 Has Become Everyone-Is-a-Threat Day

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Threats to SuperBowl 48, from Gov. Christie’s CIA

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Missing the point about F-35s

Rutland Herald, Sunday, November 17, 2013

The good people of Burlington – the Stop the F-35 Coalition – declared war this week, decrying what they call a “corrupt basing selection process” to put the new fighter jet at Burlington International Airport, and making all sorts of claims as to the dire circumstances that will befall the community if the Air Force carries out its plan.

This is not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) at its finest, and I applaud the citizens for being motivated at all to involve themselves in the touchy world of national security.

But I can’t support them.  I can’t support them because the arguments they use are faulty and intentionally manipulative, and in that, they merely mirror the Pentagon’s own ritualistic nonsense, a campaign thus destined for failure, a learning opportunity lost, and change thwarted.

The F-35A will go to Burlington to replace the F-16s that are already there, and by all accounts, Vermont’s elected officials all support and have lobbied for this no-brainer modernization.

No brainer because no one is willing to question whether we really need to protect the skies, whether we need a new plane for this task at all, whether any airplane should be based at a civil airport, even an ostensibly National Guard airplane, whether lobbying should be the basis for our national security, whether overall continued down the same-old, same-old path of homeland security after 9/11 makes the slightest sense.

The Stop the F-35 Coalition doesn’t really address any of these gigantic questions, instead saying that the Environment Impact Statement prepared for basing lacks crucial health-related information, claiming as well that the jets in Burlington will devalue property, disproportionally impact minorities and low-income people, impact cardiovascular health of those nearby, and impair the learning ability of children in nearby schools.

After a few more back-and-forth, even in court, the government is sure to prevail, maybe even addressing some of the Coalition’s concerns – want more health-related information?, the government might say.  Ok, we’ll spend even more of your tax dollars to produce whatever you want.  But absent the support of the Governor or our Congressional representatives, the Coalition doesn’t really have a prayer.

Meanwhile, what’s destroying our nation, what’s robbing from civil society, what’s short-changing health care and even directly messing up the heads of our young people, is the constant state of war we endure, the overblown threat of terrorism, our crazy worship at the national and homeland security alter.

NIMBY is fine, but in this new world of interconnectedness and social media, Not-in-my-Country is the more appropriate campaign.   The roar of F-16s or F-35s might rupture the peaceful image of Vermonters, nice people who think that they can create some sanctuary and drop out of the national tragedy.  They should spend their energy instead going to war against a national security system that can no longer police itself, and one that no one in Washington has any intent of changing.

William M. Arkin, who lives in South Pomfret, is author of “American Coup: How a Terrified Government is Destroying the Constitution” and co-author of the national bestseller “Top Secret America.”

State of Emergency OpED

State of Emergency

Rutland Herald, Sunday, September 22, 2013

In case you missed it, it’s National Preparedness Month, one of those earnest government PR campaigns that is half propaganda and half patronage.

For the Department of Homeland Security, which also is celebrating its 10th anniversary, it’s a bittersweet month. The post- 9/11 department, which has established a permanent foothold in Washington, comes in for constant criticism and has little actual authority.

But it has also sold the idea of the need for a whole-of-nation, whole-of-community approach to domestic security, and that idea successfully enlists more and more normal Americans into vastly expanded ranks of national first-responders.

The impact at the state and local level has been profound. From California to Maine, and here in Vermont, terrorism task forces, homeland security departments, and intelligence fusion centers mimic Big Brother.

Even the state National Guard, venerable offspring of citizen militias that predate the United States, is not just a local response force or called out for federal service overseas. The Guard is also increasingly reoriented as a regional and national homeland response force, less and less the governor’s reserve or connected to the local community, more and more an undifferentiated federal government adjunct.

The specter of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction hangs over all of this — it was after all, why the Department of Homeland Security was created in the first place. Yet the real need at the local level remains an Irene and not an Iraq.

That’s why it shouldn’t come as a surprise that in all of the swag emanating from the feds promoting National Preparedness Month, there isn’t a word about terrorism. “We as individuals and communities must do our part to become safer by following some commonsense advice,” FEMA’s Ready Campaign urges.

In other words, it doesn’t matter what the threat is. It just matters that the American public feels threatened enough to either join in the ranks or stay obediently out of the way.

If it were only preparation for hurricanes we were talking about, none of this hyper-preparedness would threaten any of our liberties or challenge our system of federalism. That system, under the Constitution, places police powers in the hands of the local community and gives states the authority to ask for federal assistance rather than have it imposed. Yet for the sake of national security and its baby brother, homeland security, both principles have been subtly reversed in the past decade.

Syria may seem so distant to Vermonters, and a concern only played out in Washington. But since Washington unquestioningly asserts that terrorism and weapons of mass destruction trump every other concern, that’s where the resources go — even almost a decade after the abysmal response to Hurricane Katrina showed the dangers of neglecting day-to-day needs.

In Vermont, with a northern border and a significant federal presence given how small the state is, all of the “security” and response levers of the state are increasingly pushed to be militarized and hierarchical under national security command.

It’s not just federal dollars and the names of organizations. It’s a way of thinking and organizing ourselves that shortchanges civilian society and shifts the emphasis from building a more resilient country to preparing for its inevitable collapse.

If you missed National Preparedness Month, perhaps it is because you are not part of the 60 million Americans, about one-third of the adult population ages 20-64, whom the Department of Homeland Security counts as part of the regimented conglomeration of troops, government workers, first-responders, private-sector enlistees and civilian volunteers — a gigantic all-hazards reserve trained in everything from storm spotting and first aid to animal rescue and crowd control.

Precisely because preparedness for Washington’s priority concerns and fears is more important than the need (or the focus) of the actual readiness for real threats, intelligence collectors (and increasingly state and local police as new spies) need to feed a constant search for signs of disturbance.

Of course, there are real terrorists and criminals already on the radar screen of the authorities, but in this world, everyone who isn’t friendly is a potential enemy, that is, in a post-enemy kind of way.

As these ginormous databases of potential threats become available to state authorities, and as collection devices such as license plate readers and drones begin the proliferate to feed the insatiable appetite for intelligence information, Vermonters should ask if this emergency apparatus, set up with such panic after 9/11, still serves our interests, or even the national interest, any longer.

William M. Arkin, who lives in South Pomfret, is author of “American Coup: How a Terrified Government is Destroying the Constitution” and co-author of the national bestseller “Top Secret America.”

Homeland Security Fear Factors

EmergencyPrep10thAnv_Infographic11.inddHere’s how I read this new poster from Ready.gov.  Fifty percent increase in disasters in the past 10 years?  Government incentives to have a disaster declared and more, in everyone’s interest.  But the number of people who actually participate in this idiotic and no doubt expensive government pep-rally is tiny.  The only real statistic here is the claim that more than half of Americans have prepared emergency kits.  I don’t know whether that’s true but it is an indicator of a lack of public confidence in government’s ability to deal with disaster.  So as a self-help program, I guess the government telling everyone that they are on their own is working.

Want to understand the manufacture of fear and obedience in America?  Read my new book, American Coup: How A Terrified Government is Destroying the Constitution.

Government Conferences: The GSA Merely Got Caught in Las Vegas

No one in their right mind would want to stand up and defend the GSA’s $823,000 conference meeting in Las Vegas, which has become the latest paradigm of government waste.  Las Vegas in particular provokes images of ID card lanyards swinging around poles as the DC-revelers crowded the strip clubs on Industrial Road.

Now, as Fierce Government reports, the White House is imposing cut backs on conferences and travel expenses, directing agencies in a May 11 memo reduce expenses by at least 30 percent in fiscal 2013.  Deputy Secretaries will have to review any conference where the agency spending could exceed $100,000 and no agency can spend over $500,000 on a conference – well, that is, without a waiver.

I can’t imagine that anyone thinks this will change a thing, except make every Las Vegas planned event “sensitive.”  And of course it is just spitting in the wind when it comes to the industry and association sponsored conferences, the modern-day back rooms where deals are made and future careers for military officers are lined up.  These military – and increasingly homeland security – conferences are going on almost daily.

From the GovEvents website, I picked up 91 such events scheduled for the next six months.  At the bigger events, a dozen or more government and military officials can make presentations (at what cost to the taxpayer?) and loads of military personnel and government employees attend.  Looking at some of the more specialized IT symposiums, it can cost up to $500 each for each participant.  So if only 20 government participants attend these, not including travel and lost time, the cost is already $1 million. See how ridiculous efforts to save government – taxpayer — money are?

The Conferences and Expos:

Soft Power Becomes a Military-Dominated Counter-Everything…

Soft power, all the rage in the ivory tower, but ever so slowly being eclipsed in the Defense Department as mission excitement builds for China and that old foe Iran, is here to stay in that way that the Pentagon knows how to overdo everything: write the regulations and doctrine, open specialty institutions, build an internal constituency.  And of course, spend money, which in the military budget is a pittance but in comparison to other departments and agencies is a King’s ransom, which is why soft becomes hard, and everything that the U.S. government attempts to turn into non-military becomes military by default.

As Secretary Robert Gates nudged the rest of the government to do more so that the military didn’t have to do everything, and the commentators of everything-is-pathetic-except-for-the-military love to point out that the State Department can’t even find enough volunteers to man its hazardous posts in the perpetual warzone.  Come to think of it, I wonder if DOD could if their assignments were equally voluntary.

But I digress.  Institutionalized soft power a la Pentagon practice does take resources, and bodies, and pretty soon, hard power is compromised.  So there’s a double loss for America: Military priorities get distorted, and the distinction between what is military and what is civilian fades.

This week, European Command (EUCOM) announced the opening of a new Joint Interagency Counter Trafficking Center in Stuttgart, Germany; a kind of unremarkable and typical blah, blah, blah, even for the once important European Command constantly looking for mission and relevance.  The new center focuses on trafficking in drugs, weapons, humans and other illicit commodities.  Army Brig. Gen. Mark Scraba, the center’s director, told American Forces Press Service that criminal networks were increasingly able to operate across national borders and build alliances.  Among the greatest concerns, he said, is the convergence of drug and terror networks.  The fusion center, the director says, has fewer than 40 staff members, and includes representatives of the FBI, DIA and other U.S. government agencies.

Fewer than 40 staff members indeed, but you gotta ask: Why is this paid for out of the defense budget?  Why does the military have to take the lead for the interagency to work?  How many additional contractors and supporters are really expended?  How does this subtly impact and undermine core military missions?  How does it slowly turn the military into a global law enforcement entity?

When the U.S. government started trumpeting the term narco-terrorism after 9/11, I took it to be a cynical effort to rename the war on drugs and the activities of the left-out combatant commands like Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) in the new mono-focus of terrorism.  The term in fact had been coined by President Fernando Belaúnde Terry of Peru in 1983, according to Wikipedia.  The adoption by DOD was in fact cynical, but soon enough they discovered that the most pressing narco problem was in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a mission that initially they relegated to the Brits and the NATO partners, but have been slowly taking over.  EUCOM’s center is really a product of endless fighting in Afghanistan.

EUCOM’s center joins the counter-narcotics and counter-narcoterrorism effort at Central Command (CENTCOM), which takes place in the Afghanistan and Pakistan Center (APC).   SOUTHCOM has their new Countering Transnational Organized Crime (CTOC) division.   Special Operations Command (SOCOM) has both a CTF [counter-threat finance] team and a TNT/CNT [transnational terrorism/counter narcoterrorism] division.  So does Northern Command (NORTHCOM), which has built up a whole group of Colorado Springs-based efforts fighting transnational criminal organizations (narcotics trafficking, human smuggling, weapons, money laundering/threat finance etc.), focused mostly on Mexico.

All of these field outposts feed into the counter-narcotics and counter trafficking intelligence efforts of the CIA – through its long-standing Crime and Narcotics Center — NSA, DIA, Army Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM), etc.  Even the Navy’s Nimitz Operational Intelligence Center has a Transnational Threat Department (TNT).  This is not even to mention the two Joint Intelligence Agency Taskforces focused on the war on drugs: South (JIATF-S) in Key West and West (JIATF-W) at Camp Smith, Hawaii.  The Department of Homeland Security, of course, has gotten into the act, opening an ICE Bulk Cash Smuggling Center and other organizations.

None of this particularly surprises me, even when budgets are supposedly so strained.  But I can’t help continue to think that the entire effort is both cynical and ass-backwards.  If we want soft anything, we have to lead with non-military efforts.

The Obama administration, not surprisingly, has made it worse, contributing to the mission creep into organized crime and human trafficking, through its Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime: Addressing Converging Threats to National Security, released in July 2011.

That Strategy called for DOD to enhance its support to law enforcement with the creation of the  Narcotics and Transnational Crime Support Center.  James Miller, the new Under Secretary of Defense for Policy called the Center “a dedicated DoD-led center that integrates military, intelligence, and law enforcement analytic capabilities to go after key nodes in global criminal networks.”  It reflects, he says, “the added value that the Defense department brings to whole-of-government efforts against transnational organized crime.”

Kathleen Hicks, who replaces Miller as Principal Deputy, told Congress:  “DoD should also consider how it can play a role in breaking the links among criminal organizations, terrorists, and insurgencies.  As the President’s strategy states, “terrorists and insurgents are increasingly turning to TOC [transnational organized crime] to generate funding and acquiring logistical support to carry out their violent acts.” As the Department continues with its counterterrorism efforts around the world, it will be important to account for the links between criminal and terrorist entities.”

I’d never heard of this Center, and Internet research turns up very little.  What I’ve pieced together is that it is located in Crystal City, Virginia, and the director reports to the Deputy Assistant Security of Defense for Counter Narcotics and Global Threats.  Camber Corporation is providing signals intelligence (SIGINT) expertise to link the Center to NSA.  Semper Fi Solutions, Inc. is providing CENTCOM liaison officers in Tampa to the Crystal City based center, as well as corruption and “predatory” analysts.

Other contractors providing intelligence support to the trafficking empire include: BAE Systems, Celestar, Delex Systems, Duer Advanced Technology & Aerospace (DATA), FedSys, Inc., General Dynamics Information Technology, L-3 STRATIS, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Prosync Technology Group, and SAIC.  Parsons Corporation is working on the methamphetamine/precursor chemicals problem set for the DIA.

Finally, one has to ask, with all of the enhanced intelligence collection and sharing and border control that is part of the post 9/11 world, why is this problem getting worse?  How is that possible, that borders are more porous?  So much for the war against terrorism.  No wonder they call it the forever war.