Topic: Foreign Policy and National Security

Identity Systems Aren’t Good Security, and Other Lessons From the Chicago Airport Fake ID Story

AFP is reporting that more than a hundred people with false identification documents were given employee security passes to Chicago’s O’Hare airport.

This is a good opportunity to compare conventional wisdom to actual security wisdom.

CW: This was a breach of the airport’s security system.
W: This was definitely a breach of the airport’s identity system, but identity systems provide very little security. The airport’s security, already weak if it relied on workers’ identities, was little changed.

CW: “ ‘If we are to ensure public safety, we must know who has access to the secure areas of airports,’ said Patrick Fitzgerald, US attorney for the northern district of Illinois.”
W: Public safety can’t be ensured by knowing who has access to the secure areas of airports. Knowing who has access may protect against ordinary threats like theft, but not against the threats to aviation that we care about.

CW: “A fundamental component of airport safety is preventing the use of false identification badges and punishing those who commit or enable such violations.”
W: Preventing the use of false identification is a trivial component of airport safety. It’s a fundamental component of airport safety programs, which are mostly for show. Security expert Bruce Schneier calls them “security theater.”

CW: “Unauthorized workers employed at sensitive facilities such as airports, nuclear power plants, chemical plants, military bases, defense facilities and seaports pose a vulnerability which compromises the integrity of those key assets,’ US Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in a statement.”
W: Authorized workers employed at sensitive facilities pose a vulnerability which compromises the integrity of those very same assets. If you want to prevent some kind of harm, you must make that harm difficult to cause, regardless of who may try.

Security is not easy.

Sensible Foreign Policies — and One that Just Doesn’t Make Sense

Over at the Partnership for a Secure America, I highlight three recent articles – by Justine Rosenthal, Barry Posen and Richard Betts, respectively – that advance the sensible proposition that the best way to restore balance to our foreign policy is to change the ends, not the means.

Specifically, all three articles make a compelling case for a new direction that is less dependent upon America acting as the world’s policeman; would expect and demand more of America’s allies; and would place fewer demands on our nation’s military.

This new strategy would enable us to reduce overall defense spending to pre-9/11 levels, a position supported by more than 4 in 10 Americans. As a Gallup Poll found earlier this year, “The percentage of Americans saying the government is spending too much on defense has increased by 11 points over the past year and is now at its highest level since 1990.” By contrast, only 20 percent believe that we should be spending more on the military.

The most direct and concise of the three, Rosenthal’s lead essay in The National Interest, makes a number of specific recommendations for what a new strategy would look like.

Of her several proposals, I would take strong issue with only one: Rosenthal calls for a concentrated national effort aimed at “creating alternate sources of energy.” I don’t see how this advances U.S. security, in general. We have very little to fear from the so-called oil weapon, as Eugene Gholz and Daryl Press argued earlier this year.

But even if one were to concede the dubious point that energy independence would make us safer, there are a number of other ways to achieve said independence that do not require a massive new Manhattan Project.

Rosenthal says, that “He who breaks the hydrocarbon monopoly rules the 21st century” – but technology is transferable. What is broken by one is available to all – for a price. Which explains why there are thousands of entrepreneurs and venture capitalists pursuing alternative energies. The UN Environment Program found that $70.9 billion was invested in renewables in 2006, a 43 percent increase over the previous year, and trends from the first quarter of 2007 showed still further growth.

That these investors would love to have taxpayer money to subsidize their efforts shouldn’t surprise anyone; that we would be gullible enough to do so is another matter entirely.

It may seem trite to point out that the market still functions with respect to the allocation of all other natural resources, from gold, to copper, to tin, but the “oil markets are different” mentality persists. Perhaps what we really need is a Manhattan Project to teach Americans the basics of economics, beginning with the laws of supply and demand?

“The Goal Is Not Getting Out”

That was the comment of J.D. Crouch, former Deputy National Security Adviser to President Bush, at a recent forum on Iraq at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Click here for Crouch’s longer comment, describing why “I’m not sure that leaving, in fact, completely, is where we will ultimately want to be.” A refreshing moment of candor.

What You Need to Know About Driver Licensing and Illegal Aliens

After 700 words of Sturm und Drang about lawsuits and partisan machinations over whether illegal aliens should be able to get drivers’ licenses, CNSNews.com reporter Fred Lucas quoted me briefly:

“Identification systems aren’t a good security tool,” Harper told Cybercast News Service. “Driver licensing isn’t a good tool for immigration control. It will just result in illegal immigrants driving without a license.”

That sums it up nicely. Just thought I’d share it.

(The story says that unlicensed driving dropped by a third when New Mexico de-linked driver licensing and immigration status. Actually, unlicensed driving dropped by two thirds, from 33% to 11%, lower than the national average.)

What Are We Supposed to Do?

John Quiggin posts that Glenn Reynolds no longer claims to be a libertarian. Quiggin argues that “the idea that a relaxed attitude to sex and drugs and support for economic policies that favour your own social class (note that “shmibertarians” happily square their anti-tax line with support for higher taxes on the poor) can trump the authoritarian implications of militarism, from Gitmo to collusion in government lies, is now pretty much dead.”

To which most of my Cato colleagues — one could probably count on one hand the exceptions and still have enough fingers left to smoke a cigarette — would say “Good riddance to bad rubbish.” The same number of people who would differ with that might give a fig what Glenn Reynolds’ reason is today for why George Bush is a heroic figure. But then, curiously, Quiggin goes on to argue that

The implications go further I think. Given that the Republicans are now definitively the war party (not that the Democrats have yet become the peace party, but that’s another story), it’s hard to see how libertarian Republicans can survive, any more than Dixiecrats survived Nixon’s Southern strategy. The recent decision by RedState to ban Ron Paul supporters is a pretty clear indication of how real Republicans think about this. This has big implications for a thinktank like Cato, which has opposed the war (but very sotto voce — a visitor to their website would be hard pressed to tell that there even was a war) while remaining within the Republican tent.

Emphasis and gnashing teeth mine. To this my (two, now three) colleagues in the foreign policy program at Cato and I would reply, “Have you read any of our work on foreign policy?” I’m sorry there was nothing on our front page yesterday about the war, but to say we’ve been sotto voce and that one would be hard pressed to tell, after looking at our foreign policy work, that “there even was a war” just shows that Mr. Quiggin may need a tutorial on how to use the intertubes.

Here’s our latest call (the first one was issued in 2004, as I recall) for immediately beginning to withdraw, having all U.S. troops out in six months. Here’s my boss Chris Preble assaulting two pro-war liberals in the pages of The National Interest. Humbly, here I am arguing that while getting out is going to be bad, that opponents have ridiculously inflated the costs to better make the case for staying. And factor into that roughly a gazillion conferences, panels, forums, interviews, talk radio and TV appearances, blog posts, talks with Capitol Hill folks, and sundry other think-tankery.

Now, we’re not posting articles every day about the Iraq war, it’s true. To be totally candid, I have very little left to say. It was a disastrous idea to get in, we should have gotten out immediately, we should still get out immediately. Full stop. We have precious little control over either the security environment over the long term or the political environment at all, so pouring money, men, or materiel in is throwing good stuff after bad. I imagine, although I’m not a soothsayer, that things will get noticeably worse for a time after we withdraw — but that this will happen whether we get out this year, next year, or in 10 years.

But in a nutshell, that’s about all I have to say. And I’ve been saying it to anybody who asks. Unfortunately, the New York Times hasn’t asked, and the Washington Post certainly hasn’t asked. For whatever reason, both op-ed pages remain more interested in what the neocons are saying. Probably that’s because they still have the president’s ear, and the papers want to run pieces that relate to policy options he’s actually considering.

Maybe it’s our absence from these venues that’s why Quiggin doesn’t know we’ve been arguing against the war. But to just parachute in to our site’s front page and declare our voices too soft for his liking is a bit much. For better or worse, we’ve been out there, lonely, arguing for withdrawal and against the ideas that spawned the war.

If I had to bet, though, I’d bet money that we’ll still be in Iraq in a meaningful way 10 years from now. Which is why, to my mind, it’s become all the more important that we don’t get the gang back together to play a reunion concert in Iran. Which is why, among other things, we’ve published a paper on what we should do now with Iran, a paper arguing that if a proactive policy fails, it would be better to live with a nuclear Iran than start another war, and a bunch of other stuff on Iran. Here’s a half-day event on Iran that we did that recently was mentioned in an Esquire profile of Flynt Leverett.

In short, I’m not sure what Mr. Quiggin wants us to do. If he has any sharp suggestions for stopping the war, I’m certainly open to them.

Tales from the Clinton Dynasty

Nina Burleigh, who covered the Clinton White House for Time and who once said of President Clinton, ”I’d be happy to give him [oral sex] just to thank him for keeping abortion legal,” reviews a new biography of Bill and Hillary Clinton in the Washington Post. She writes, “The details are riveting as ever. Who can get enough of POTUS sweating on the phone at 2 a.m. with a love-addled 24-year-old woman, placating her with job promises, knowing his world is about to explode as surely as a Sudanese powdered-milk factory?”

It seems a cavalier way to refer to the bombing of a factory in a poor country, a factory that was not in fact making nerve gas, and a bombing that happened suddenly, just three days after Clinton’s traumatic speech to the nation about the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Critics suggested that he wanted to change the subject on the front pages. Bombings aren’t funny, and Burleigh’s jest does nothing to put to rest the cynical, “Wag the Dog” interpretation of Clinton’s action.

Anti-Immigrant Opinions are Weakly Held

I didn’t watch Tuesday’s Democratic debate – watching politicians from either party outbid each other on faux outrage and how much of my money they would spend is too annoying – but I did get the after-action report on the Newshour. And it seems Senator Clinton was drawn into the vortex New York Governor Eliot Spitzer (D) created with his recent flip-flop on driver licensing and public safety.

His original decision to de-link driver licensing and immigration status for public safety reasons was right, but it was pounced on and demagogued by anti-immigrant groups. Spitzer backed down, and pledged his state to implement the REAL ID Act, pleasing nobody. (When the costs of this national ID law to New York are discovered, he’ll flip-flop again, earning quiet, broad-based appreciation.)

Watching the excerpts of the candidates bumbling around this issue, it appeared to me that they knew giving licenses to illegal immigrants is the right and practical thing to do, but also that they would get demagogued if they said so.

Well, here’s my advice: Go ahead and say it.

Having watched this issue, and having heard from lots of angry people, I know that anti-immigrant views are a classic weakly held opinion. Angry as people are about the rule of law and “coming to this country the right way,” that anger melts when they learn more. Stuff like this:

“We haven’t permitted anywhere near enough legal immigration for decades. You can sit back and talk about legal channels, but the law has only allowed a smidgen of workers into the country compared to our huge demand. Getting people through legal channels at the INS has been hell.

“America, you’re going to have to get over what amounts to paperwork violations by otherwise law-abiding, honest, hard-working people. And that’s what we’re talking about - 98% honest, hard-working people who want to follow the same path our forefathers did, and who would be a credit to this country if we made it legal for them to come. Our current immigration policies are a greater threat to the rule of law than any of the people crossing the border to come here and work.”

This kind of argumentation will be met with vicious demagoguery, which will weaken, and weaken, and fade and fade and fade. The people I hear from – and I regularly do because of the educating I’ve been doing nationwide on the REAL ID Act – immediately soften when I pull them from their echo chambers. The “rule of law” hand is a low pair compared to this full house: “honest, hard-worker from impoverished circumstances, denied legal channels other than a narrow chance of navigating an incompetent bureaucracy.”

There’s one Democratic candidate who is well suited to make this kind of argument. It’s a way to draw attention, look principled, do the right thing, and vanquish a loud but weak pressure group. New Mexico’s uninsured driver rate dropped by two-thirds – from 33% to 11% – when that state delinked immigration status and driving in 2003.