Topic: Foreign Policy and National Security

Condoleezza Rice Recants

Readers may recall Condi Rice’s 2000 Foreign Affairs article in which she declared, among other things, that with respect to regimes like Iraq and North Korea,

These regimes are living on borrowed time, so there need be no sense of panic about them. Rather, the first line of defense should be a clear and classical statement of deterrence – if they do acquire WMD, their weapons will be unusable because any attempt to use them will bring national obliteration.

My own favorite 2000-vintage Riceism is still “Carrying out civil administration and police functions is simply going to degrade the American capability to do the things America has to do. We don’t need to have the 82nd Airborne escorting kids to kindergarten.”

But you get the idea that there is a fairly profound disconnect between the 2000 Condoleezza Rice and the 2008 Condoleezza Rice. And sure enough, the Secretary has an article in the current Foreign Affairs that serves as a broad denunciation of her earlier incarnation, and an attempt to cloak airy Wilsonianism in the guise of tough-minded realism. My friend Kara Hopkins over at The American Conservative takes the editorial equivalent of a belt-sander to the piece and is left with little more than a pile of sawdust for her efforts.

[I]n Rice’s convoluted calculus, stability, once the grail in international relations, is no longer a worthy end of itself: “Freedom and democracy are the only ideas that can, over time, lead to just and lasting stability.” To secure peace, we must first, in true revolutionary fashion, destabilize: “the process of democratization is likely to be messy and unsatisfactory.” How else to explain away the electoral successes of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood? Temporary “untidiness.” She sees this upheaval as a transitional period in a “generational” project—which means she has time to get out of town.

Realism, also overdue for a revival, fares no better in the Rice rebranding scheme. Surely no resident of the reality-based community believes that “what will most determine whether the United States can succeed in the twenty-first century is our imagination.”

[…]

Were these the delusions of a streetcorner radical, they might be silly. But coming from the Secretary of State, they’re dangerously mad–-and appropriating sound labels doesn’t make them less so.

I liked the old Condoleezza Rice quite a bit better, too.

Defeating Terrorism Without Terrorizing Ourselves

I recently finished reading Michael Sheehan’s new book Crush the Cell: How to Defeat Terrorism Without Terrorizing Ourselves. It jibes with much of what I think about terrorism and terrorism counterstrategy, but there’s more than that to recommend it.

Sheehan has extensive, on-the-ground experience in counterterrorism operations and policy in the federal government, in the military, at the UN, and in New York City, where he did the work that he is obviously the most proud of. The book overflows with recollections and opinions from someone who has been working on fighting terrorism for many years. This focus almost guarantees differences of opinion with someone like me, whose focus is limited government and protection of liberty, but the differences are profitable to explore.

For example, Ben Friedman and I both credited the recent Rolling Stone article arguing that domestic terrorism threats are overblown. Much derision has been poured on domestic terror threats like the “Lackawanna Six” and their obvious incompetence. But Sheehan has a different take:

The case of the Lackawanna Six is an interesting one. To some, these were just some suburban boys who were wanna-be jihadists—certainly not terrorists. But let’s take a closer look. Six young men who grew up in Lackawanna, New York, a small town outside of Buffalo, were inspired to form an al Qaeda cell by a man named Kamal Derwish in the spring of 2001… . All six went to Afghanistan and attended the al Qaeda camps, where they met bin Laden and were very much aware of his responsibility for the East African bombings and that of the USS Cole.

Derwish, a proven fighter and recruiter, was meanwhile sent on to advanced training. While he was gone, it appears that the others’ enthusiasm waned. They returned to the United States, while Derwish, upon completion of his higher training, went back to Yemen. In Yemen, Derwish found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time… . No one knows what that cell might have become if Derwish had returned to the United States to organize them. But these were not the innocent travelers that they’ve been portrayed by some to be.

A good point, and the foundation of Sheehan’s theme: crush the cell. Relative incompetents like the Lackawanna Six and the “muscle hijackers” of 9/11 can be pretty dangerous when activated by a well-trained leader like Mohammed Atta. An essential part of counterterrorism is to crush the cell before they reach that stage.

How do you do that? Sheehan has lots to say about how not to:

Soon after 9/11, the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) was created, and a new building was constructed a few miles down the road from the CIA to house its staff. But that wasn’t enough. Later, Congress created the position of Director of National Intelligence (DNI), whose staff was charged with supervising and integrating all other intelligence-gathering agencies: more bureaucracy to manage the swollen intelligence monolith. It was a classic Washington solution to a problem: create a new agency, hire more bureaucrats, and increasingly outsource the work to contractors.

The cost of these new organizations is absolutely staggering, but I’ve yet to see how they’ve appreciably helped the so-called war on terror.

Instead of all this bureaucracy, Sheehan argues for focused intelligence work, about which he has a lot of stories and information to share. There are gems (and a few lumps of coal) throughout the book.

Insight into the economics of security shines through, for example, when he tells the story of the intense inspection his rental car gets at the entrance to the Marine Annex near the Pentagon, comparing it to the Sheraton across the street:

[S]ince 9/11, the military has had an almost unlimited budget … . The Pentagon cites the targeting of U.S. military facilities as the reason for tight security. But hotels have been attacked by terrorists around the world as well, and at least as often as U.S. military bases. But because the hotel has to pay for its own protection, security there is almost nil.

From the coal department, Sheehan casually endorses a national ID card, saying it would “go a long way in controlling who we allow in our midst.” His is not the only good, insightful book on counterterrorism I’ve read that throws in a pro-national ID sentiment at the back end. I think that, given time to do it, folks who recognize the futility of inspecting every shipping container or patrolling every inch of our land and sea borders would recognize the same dynamics at play in trying to use a national ID system for security against terrorism.

But that difference and differences on signals intelligence and eavesdropping are things to work on and discuss as we join in defeating a key product of the terrorism strategy: self-injurious overreaction. Time and again in his book Sheehan emphasizes the importance of avoiding fear and overreaction while crushing terror cells. This is a notion about which lifelong security people and advocates for limited government can speak in unison.

North Carolina: REAL ID Implementation on Hold

North Carolina is not one of the states that has joined the REAL ID Rebellion. By all accounts, it was plodding along, getting ready to implement the federal government’s national ID mandate.

But now comes news that the changes North Carolina had planned are on hold. “ ‘The Real ID Act is pretty much at a standstill nationwide,’ said Marge Howell, a spokeswoman for the Division of Motor Vehicles,” according to one report:

As a means of complying with the federal Real ID Act, the state DMV had planned on implementing a requirement that people who apply for a new or renewed driver’s license start producing documentation showing the motorist’s proof of identity and legal address beginning Dec. 1. That has now been delayed.

Another change, set to begin on July 1, requires the DMV to mail a motorist’s license to a residential address instead of instantly issuing a license. Howell said that program won’t go into effect statewide at the beginning of July. Instead, the DMV plans to phase that program in.

Even the compliant states are getting the message that REAL ID is a non-starter.

I recently queried whether one of the largest companies producing driver’s licenses would continue to agitate for the national ID law or embrace a diverse, competitive identification and credentialing marketplace.

Gates vs. Fighters

The Secretary of Defense must read Cato-at-Liberty. I suggested Thursday that Robert Gates should break 25 years of fighter pilot rule over the Air Force when he picks Buzz Moseley’s replacement. And voila. General Norton Schwartz, who was head of US Transportation Command (the logistics center for the military, essentially) has experience as a C-130 (airlift) pilot and in Air Force Special Operations Command. He has even written about using AC-130 gunships to support urban combat operations.

This is the kind of guy the Army would pick to run the Air Force. The Air Force fighter leadership apparently wanted to elevate Gen. John Corley, commander of the Air Force’s Air Combat Command, a former F-15 guy, to the top spot. Not only did Gates not do that, he moved Schwartz’s deputy from Transcom, Lieutenant General William Fraser III, a three-star former bomber pilot, to Vice Chief of the Air Force.

Gates is slapping around the figher mafia that runs (ran?) the Air Force. The chances of F-22 procurement going beyond 183 (the Air Force, at least until today, wanted 381) just went down, although Congress and the next administration will have something to say about that. The China threat inflation coming from the Air Force should diminish. The Air Force’s commitment to supporting Army led counter-insurgency campaigns will increase. The cries that the Air Force is underfunded will soften.

ID Checks are About Control, Not Security

If there was ever any doubt that ID checks at airports are about control and not security, the Transportation Security Administration is clearing that up. Starting June 21, it says, “passengers that willfully refuse to provide identification at security checkpoint [sic] will be denied access to the secure area of airports.”

The claim is that this initiative is “the latest in a series designed to facilitate travel for legitimate passengers while enhancing the agency’s risk-based focus - on people, not things.” So let’s take a moment to look at how refusing airport access to the willful enhances security.

… OK! We’re done!

No terrorist or criminal would draw attention to him or herself by obstinately refusing an ID check. This is only done by the small coterie of civil libertarians and security experts who can’t stand the security pantomime that is airport identification checking. The rest of the people traveling without ID have lost theirs - and TSA officials at airports have no way of knowing which is which.

This new rule will do nothing to improve airport security, but watch for the incident when a TSA agent “doesn’t believe” someone who has truly lost his or her driver’s license and tries to strand a traveler in a faraway city.

Buzz Out

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates apparently forced out Air Force Chief of Staff General Mike “Buzz” Moseley and Secretary of the Air Force Mike Wynne today.

Initial reports are that lax nuclear weapons security was the “last straw.” Good reason.

There’s also this scandal. Moseley was recently slapped by the Pentagon IG after a two-year investigation involving the FBI showed that he might have helped a friend’s company receive a $50 million contract to provide media support for the Air Force’s Thunderbirds air show. That investigation led Senator Levin and the Armed Services Committee to call for another IG investigation of the Air Force leadership’s possible “ethical violations” in steering contracts. The IG’s initial audit of the units that run the Thunderbirds – Air Combat Command and the 99th Contracting Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada – found several contracting improprieties.

I would like to think that another cause of the firings was the Air Force’s recent use of $80 million in tax dollars to propagandize the public about their role in our defense with an ad campaign called Air Force Above All – a name bizarrely reminiscent of Deutschland über Alles. Sample claim: The Chinese have the world’s biggest Air Force. (True if only you count rusting turboprops and irrelevant to the fact that our Air Force is vastly superior to China’s). But that’s just wishful thinking.

The most important reason for the firings was probably the rift between the Air Force leadership and Robert Gates. Gates has repeatedly criticized the Air Force (rarely by name, but no one was fooled) for what he called “next-war-itis,” the tendency to push for its weapons program over immediate war needs. Gates was annoyed by the Air Force’ s reluctance to go full speed in getting UAVs, particularly Predators, to the field, even while it tried to gain control of all US military UAVs; by its inability to accept stopping F-22 production at 183 and end-runs to Congress to get funding for more; and by its overall lack of team spirit.

This goes to wider schism in the Pentagon and really, in the country. On one side you have people like Gates who want to transform the military to fight counter-insurgencies. On the other side, you have the services’ leadership, especially the Air Force’s, who understand that a military transformed to that end makes them an adjunct in fighting our wars, not its primary instrument. The Air Force’s view essentially is that the US military should not get away from its strengths – technology over manpower, standoff strikes versus population management. Gates would answer that there aren’t enough possible conventional wars to justify the Air Force’s agenda. Military analysts have mostly cheered Gates on this front and will likely support the firings for the same reason.

A pox on both your houses, I say. It’s true that the Air Force and Team Big War ignore the dearth of conventional enemies and want to make China into a vessel for all their procurement dreams. But Team Counter-Insurgency is too eager to use the military to fight a series of unnecessary wars, and they overstate our ability to win them.

One thing Gates should consider is selecting a non-fighter general to run the Air Force. The Air Force has been run by fighter pilots since the late 1970s, more or less, when they wrested control of their organization from bomber pilots. If Gates wants to change the Air Force, he might look for a leader from one of the Air Force’s other sub-communities, who may share his frustrations.

Fusion Centers in Search of a Problem

Via Secrecy News: “There is, more often than not, insufficient purely ‘terrorist’ activity to support a multi-jurisdictional and multi-governmental level fusion center that exclusively processes terrorist activity.” This is from a Naval Postgraduate School master’s thesis entitled: “An Examination of State and Local Fusion Centers and Data Collection Methods.”

Though they arose to counter the terrorism threat, “fusion centers” will seek out other things to do. Programs like these are born of slogans - “connect the dots” - “information sharing” - rather than sound security thinking. In a TechKnowledge piece last year titled, “Fusion Centers: Leave ‘Em to the States,” I juxtaposed the active fusion center in Massachusetts with the hair-on-fire overreaction of the Boston Police to a guerrilla marketing campaign featuring stylized Lite-Brites.