of the Day
- January 5, 2010
some issues of interest to the community policing and neighborhood
activist across the country
EDITOR'S NOTE: The following group of articles from local
newspapers and other sources constitutes but a small percentage
of the information available to the community policing and neighborhood
activist public. It is by no means meant to cover every possible
issue of interest, nor is it meant to convey any particular
point of view ...
We present this simply as a convenience to our readership ...
From LA Times
Pioneering L.A. nonprofit is saving lives in Afghanistan
The International Medical Corps trains local health workers as it builds the basics of sustainable care.
by Alexandra Zavis
January 5, 2010
Reporting from Jalalabad, Afghanistan
Peering through a gap in her black veil, Bibi Totia watched anxiously as the doctor examined her fussing grandson in a crowded refugee camp near the Pakistan border.
The doctor diagnosed flu and handed her a prescription for an antibiotic from the free pharmacy.
"God bless you," she said, clutching the precious piece of paper to her chest.
For nearly a quarter of a century, Totia has relied on the doctors of the International Medical Corps to care for her family, first as a refugee in Pakistan and now as a refugee in her own country, Afghanistan.
Although less well known than the Nobel-winning Doctors Without Borders , the Los Angeles-based nonprofit shares a reputation with its gutsy counterpart for working in places where no one else will go.
Corps staff members say they are able to work in places like Afghanistan and Iraq because they refuse to take sides, they build strong community ties and they stay under the radar. In parts of Afghanistan where government forces have little control, staffers say, they are protected by traditional village councils, known as shuras. Although Taliban militants occasionally detain the group's trucks and personnel, they are usually released within a few days.
"The Taliban are local people, and they respect our facilities because their families are coming there," said Dr. Abdul Wakil Ziar, the corps' Afghan medical coordinator. "The important thing is our staff treat all patients. There is no discrimination between Taliban and other people."
From the beginning, the corps emphasized the need to train local health workers who would keep providing care long after foreign aid groups have packed up. In the process, they helped pioneer a new approach to providing help in countries struck by war and natural disaster.
"In emergency work, what people tend to do is they swoop in, they fix things and then they leave," said Andrew S. Natsios, a former administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, now at the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. Corp members "were early leaders in the whole business of building healthcare systems."
The corps built and supplies the health center at Totia's camp, in a government-dominated area near the eastern city of Jalalabad. But the doctors, midwives, pharmacist and lab technician are all Afghans. Eventually, the group hopes to turn the facility over to the Ministry of Public Health.
"Capacity building" is now a widely accepted principle in all fields of humanitarian work. But that was not the case 25 years ago, when Dr. Robert Simon founded the International Medical Corps to help the victims of an earlier war in Afghanistan, which pitted local Muslim fighters known as the Mujahedin against an invading Soviet army.
Like most Americans, Simon had paid little attention to the conflict. Then a report by exiled Afghan doctors landed on his desk at UCLA, where he was an assistant professor of emergency medicine.
The report said Soviet forces were systematically arresting, killing or exiling Afghan health professionals, Simon recalled. In a country that had as many as 1,800 physicians before the war started in 1979, only some 200 were left. International relief groups had been ordered out of the country, so villagers had to walk for days to seek treatment at refugee camps in Pakistan and Iran, which were home to an estimated 5 million Afghans. Many did not survive the trip.
In the spring of 1984, Simon, determined to act, made his way to Peshawar, a Pakistani border town teeming with Afghan refugees, resistance fighters and U.S. and Russian spies. There he made contact with the Mujahedin, who sneaked him across the border.
Under cover of darkness, they hiked through rugged mountain passes, dodging helicopter gunships to take medical care to villagers.
Many of them were dying of measles, malaria and whooping cough. Others had lost limbs when they stepped on land mines or picked up bombs that looked like toys.
Among the sick and injured was a 5- or 6-year-old boy who was nearly comatose from an infected shrapnel wound. His father had carried the child for miles when he heard that an American doctor had pitched a tent in the Kunar Valley.
"He had lost his entire family," Simon said. "The only one left was that child."
Simon worked on the boy for 36 hours but could not save him. When he broke the news to the father, the man reached into his bag and, in appreciation for Simon's efforts, offered him the only thing he had to give: an egg.
"That's what really made me want to continue to help these people," Simon said.
After six weeks in Afghanistan, he returned to the U.S. and wrote to dozens of aid groups. Most organizations would not work in a country without the blessing of the local authorities. So in the fall of 1984, he sold his house in Malibu to raise funds to start his own organization.
He made several more trips into Afghanistan with other doctors and nurses but concluded that foreign volunteers could never entirely meet the country's massive health needs.
Soon he began taking Afghans to Peshawar for nine months of intensive training and sending them back to their villages with supplies to set up their own clinics. By focusing training on the most common ailments, he said, he could teach an Afghan medic to diagnose and treat more than 80% of the injuries and illnesses he would encounter.
"At that time, it was considered a revolutionary approach," said Nancy Aossey, the corps' longtime chief executive. "People said you just can't do what you want to do inside Afghanistan. It's too dangerous, too remote, and there's just no way you're going to be able to help people help themselves in a conflict zone."
But Simon's vision got backing from the United States Agency for International Development, which at the time was looking for a way to help inside Afghanistan, Aossey said. It gave the fledgling group a grant of more than half a million dollars. By 1990, the corps had trained nearly 500 medics who helped establish 57 clinics and 10 hospitals serving more than 50,000 Afghan patients a month, according to its annual report.
When Simon recruited Aossey to run the organization in 1986, it had just three full-time employees; they worked out of a house in Brentwood that was donated by former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan. It has grown to an organization of 4,000 staff and volunteers, serving about 11 million people in 21 countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
As the International Medical Corps has expanded, it has continued to focus on places where few others venture.
In Angola in 1990, Aossey was taken blindfolded through the bush to a meeting with rebel leader Jonas Savimbi at his underground bunker, to seek his blessing to work in insurgent territory. When genocide erupted in Rwanda in 1994, the corps' volunteers moved into a hospital where doctors and nurses had been hacked to death with machetes. They had to bury the bodies themselves.
But as dangerous as these conflicts could be, "we weren't really targets," Aossey said at the group's Santa Monica headquarters. That changed during the 1992-95 Bosnian war, when snipers started taking shots at humanitarian convoys. Since then, at least 10 local corps staffers and volunteers have been killed in various parts of the world.
They include three workers killed last year in an errant NATO air strike against one of the group's convoys in the Afghan province of Nursitan, Ziar said. In August, Afghan security forces got into a firefight with Taliban militants at a corps clinic in Paktika province when they tried to arrest a suspected insurgent commander who was being treated there. The Afghan forces called for backup, and a U.S. helicopter gunship destroyed one of the clinic's two buildings after patients had been evacuated, according to news reports.
Despite the risks, corps officials estimate they have trained about 1,500 Afghan health workers. Some of those graduates continued the group's work under Taliban rule, making it one of the few international organizations to have maintained a continuous presence, said country director Robert Lankenau.
Many Afghans now holding key positions in the public health system and the many nongovernmental groups that have launched programs since the Taliban was ousted in 2001 got their start with the medical corps.
"We've certainly delivered health services," Aossey said. "But the best way to deliver those services is through the local population."
Los Angeles court hearing scheduled in Roman Polanski case
January 4, 2010
Two weeks after a state appellate court proposed a way to bring Roman Polanski's long-running legal saga to a close, a Los Angeles County judge has scheduled a hearing on the 32-year-old child sex case.
Polanski's lawyers and prosecutors are to appear before Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza on Wednesday, but the subject of the proceeding was unclear. Court officials described the hearing only as a status conference.
A spokeswoman for the L.A. County district attorney's office said the filmmaker's lawyers requested a meeting with Espinoza, the supervising judge of the criminal division. Polanski's lawyers initially wanted the meeting to occur behind closed doors.“We thought that it was inappropriate,” said D.A. spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons. She said prosecutors wrote a letter asking that the hearing take place in open court but remained in the dark about what issues the defense planned to raise.
An attorney for Polanski, Chad Hummel, declined to comment.
In a decision last month, three justices of the 2nd District Court of Appeal refused to throw out the case but suggested that sentencing Polanski in absentia would allow for a full airing of the director's allegations of prosecutorial and judicial misconduct without requiring the 76-year-old director to return to the United States.
Polanski remains under house arrest at his Swiss chalet while courts weigh an American extradition request.
In 1977 a 13-year-old girl told police that Polanski raped and sodomized her during a photo shoot. He pleaded guilty to a charge of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor but fled to Europe before his 1978 sentencing.
Swiss authorities arrested him in September as he arrived in Zurich for a film festival.
CIA bomber was a Jordanian double agent, ex-spy official says
The suicide attacker killed eight people at a CIA compound in Afghanistan last week. He had been recruited to help U.S. spy agencies penetrate Al Qaeda, a former U.S. intelligence official says.
by Greg Miller
January 5, 2010
Reporting from Washington
The suicide bomber who killed eight people at a CIA compound in Afghanistan was a Jordanian recruited by that nation's spy service who lured operatives to a meeting with a promise of important new information about Al Qaeda's inner circle, according to a former senior U.S. intelligence official.
The bombing last week killed seven CIA employees and a Jordanian intelligence officer who is believed to have served as the main point of contact with the informant.
The disclosure that the deadliest incident in recent CIA history may have been the work of a double agent suggests a new level of sophistication in Al Qaeda's efforts to retaliate against the agency, which is responsible for an intense campaign of Predator drone strikes on the terrorist network in Pakistan over the last two years. It also underscored the risks inherent in the CIA's reliance on Jordan and other foreign partners in sensitive counter-terrorism operations.
"That's how you do these operations -- you find people who can conceivably penetrate terrorist organizations, try to turn them and run them," said the former U.S. intelligence official, who is familiar with aspects of last week's attack but spoke on condition of anonymity. "Obviously, this one turned out tragically."
Another former senior U.S. intelligence official who served in the region said that high-level CIA operatives from Kabul had been summoned to the remote base near Khowst for what they were led to believe would be an important meeting with a well-placed informant.
At least two of those CIA officers from Kabul were wounded, the former agency official said. The former official said that the fact that the informant was able to enter the base with a bomb strapped to his body suggests that he had earned the trust of his CIA and Jordanian handlers.
"What this tells you is that Al Qaeda is now capable of running a fairly sophisticated double-agent operation," the former CIA official said. "This guy totally had them believing, which means he had [previously] given them verifiable information and everything had checked out."
Still, former officials said the suicide bombing represented a serious and so far unexplained breach of security at the heavily guarded base in eastern Afghanistan near the Pakistani border, where operatives focus on gathering information about Al Qaeda, the Taliban and militant groups allied with them. Both Afghan and Pakistani fighters find refuge in Pakistan's tribal areas.
A CIA spokesman declined to comment on the circumstances of the attack or the agency's relationship with Jordan's intelligence service. Sources who provided information about the attack said that many details remained unclear.
The bomber was identified as Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal Balawi, a 36-year-old doctor from Zarqa, Jordan, which was also the hometown of Abu Musab Zarqawi, Al Qaeda's top operative in Iraq before he was killed in 2006. Balawi's identity was first reported by Al Jazeera, which said he was arrested by Jordan's intelligence service more than a year ago.
The service, known as the General Intelligence Department, or GID, believed it had succeeded in turning Balawi from an Al Qaeda sympathizer into an asset who could be used to penetrate the network.
Balawi's assignment was to help track down Al Qaeda's No. 2, Egyptian physician Ayman Zawahiri, according to the Al Jazeera report, which said that the bomber had fooled his Jordanian and CIA contacts for more than a year.
Hours after Wednesday's attack, the Taliban said it was responsible and claimed that the bombing was carried out by an Afghan soldier, which the Afghan military staunchly denied.
Evan Kohlmann, a counter-terrorism expert, said that Balawi was a "notorious Al Qaeda cyber-activist" known for extremist postings. Kohlmann said in an e-mail that Balawi's online moniker was Abu Dujanah al-Khorasani and that "he had announced he was leaving to go join the fight in Afghanistan, and was trying to inspire others to follow in his footsteps."
The Jordanian intelligence officer killed in the attack was identified as Sharif Ali bin Zeid. Jordan's King Abdullah II was present when Ali's casket arrived in the country, according to a report by Jordan's news service, which said only that Ali "fell as he performed his humanitarian duty with the Jordanian contingent" in Afghanistan.
U.S. officials said that the bombing was unlikely to have an effect on the CIA's work with its Jordanian counterpart.
The agency's relationship with the GID is "probably the most solid one we have" in the Arab world, said a former high-ranking U.S. intelligence official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.
The relationship dates to the 1950s, officials said, and expanded in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. Human rights groups have accused Jordan of involvement in CIA interrogation and rendition operations.
The CIA collaborated extensively with Jordan, as well as other Arab allies, on a program launched after the Sept. 11 strikes to identify recruits in the Muslim world who could be used to gather intelligence on Al Qaeda.
One former high-ranking U.S. intelligence official said the effort was dubbed the "baby terrorist program," because its aim was to identify individuals who could pass as Islamic militants and be turned against them.
"The theory behind it was that right after the attacks we were looking to recruit sources who could penetrate terrorist organizations," the former official said. "We worked with friendly services, and certainly the Jordanians."
The disclosure of Jordan's ties to the attack came as CIA Director Leon E. Panetta and other agency officials traveled to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware for the arrival of the bodies of the seven slain agency employees, said George Little, a CIA spokesman.
Among those killed were four CIA officers and three contractors hired to provide security.
Intelligence overhaul ordered for Afghanistan
The new strategy is to move beyond simply hunting extremists and gather information about local concerns, people and leaders in an effort to win over Afghans and marginalize the insurgency.
by Julian E. Barnes and Laura King
January 5, 2010
Reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan, and Washington Laura King -- U.S. military officials in Afghanistan have ordered steps to overhaul intelligence gathering and analysis in response to deficiencies uncovered during a lengthy White House strategy review last year.
The overhaul announced Monday will broaden the scope of intelligence gathering from hunting down extremists to gathering information about local attitudes, concerns, people and leaders as part of an effort to win over the Afghan population.
The changes were ordered by Maj. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, director of intelligence for the military command in Afghanistan, and were detailed in a paper published Monday by the Center for a New American Security, a military think tank.
They became public as military officials announced the first U.S. combat deaths of the new year. Four U.S. troops were killed by a roadside bomb a day earlier in Afghanistan's violent south. A British soldier was killed in a separate explosion.
The military did not reveal the location of the U.S. deaths, but most Americans in the south are based in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, where the Taliban movement is the strongest. Those provinces are also a center of Afghanistan's drug trade, which has close links to the insurgency.
Roadside bombs are the No. 1 killer of Western forces in Afghanistan and have become the signature weapon of the Taliban and other militants. Multiple fatalities in a single incident have become common because the Taliban is using more powerful bombs.
Western commanders have warned that an increase in casualties is likely as the first of 30,000 new U.S. troops begin flowing into the country, adding to the 68,000 already there. That is in part because the additional forces will push into parts of the country that have been under the sway of the Taliban and other insurgents.
But in the paper, Flynn and two other officials argued that intelligence efforts in Afghanistan have been focused too tightly on searching for insurgents and roadside bombs, often ignoring crucial information from knowledgeable Afghans, local council meetings, radio broadcasts and similar sources.
"This vast and underappreciated body of information, almost all of which is unclassified, admittedly offers few clues about where to find insurgents, but provides information of even greater strategic importance: a map for leveraging popular support and marginalizing the insurgency itself," Flynn and his coauthors wrote.
Western officials also are worried about the weakness of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government. Karzai is under pressure to form a government before a major conference of international donors in London begins Jan. 28.
On Monday, the Afghan leader ordered parliament to put off its winter recess and vote on a new Cabinet lineup as soon as this weekend. On Saturday, lawmakers defied Karzai by rejecting two-thirds of his Cabinet picks.
Senior aides to Karzai suggested that he may put forth some of the same nominees. Among those rejected was Ismail Khan, a powerful former warlord who is the incumbent minister of energy. The support of a number of onetime militia leaders helped Karzai win a second term in office, though the August election was clouded by massive fraud.
As part of the U.S. intelligence overhaul, commanders want to amass more information on leaders at the district and local levels. Flynn ordered the creation of teams to work across the military hierarchy to collect information and pass it up the chain of command.
The teams will work out of new information centers, where analysts will compile reports on many of Afghanistan's nearly 400 districts. Flynn and U.S. officials compared the operation of the intelligence teams to journalists, in that they can operate somewhat outside the traditional military hierarchy and move from unit to unit across regions.
The moves by Flynn were prompted at least in part, by deficiencies discovered during last year's White House strategy review.
During the review, administration officials pressed for information about dozens of critical Afghan districts, asking about local attitudes to the international military effort and about the strengths of local officials. But intelligence analysts are so lacking in data, they "could barely find enough information to scrape together even rudimentary assessments of pivotal Afghan districts," Flynn and his coauthors wrote.
Flynn makes it clear that intelligence plays a significant role in "finishing off enemy leaders." But he believes the military's priorities must be balanced to better understand local conditions.
He also wants the intelligence reports to be available to allied militaries and nongovernmental organizations.
Clinton urges Yemen to act
The U.S. secretary of State says American aid to the beleaguered Arab government depends on it moving decisively to curb terrorists and stabilize the nation.
by Paul Richter and Peter Nicholas
January 5, 2010
Reporting from Washington
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton declared Monday that Yemen is a threat to global security but warned that the Obama administration would continue accelerating U.S. aid only if the Yemeni government met U.S. demands to take steps toward stability.
Clinton signaled a growing U.S. focus on the beleaguered Arabian Peninsula nation, saying Yemen had become a launching pad for terrorist attacks on distant corners of the world. She singled out the attempted Christmas Day attack on a Detroit-bound jetliner, allegedly by a Nigerian man trained by Yemeni militants.
"We see global implications from the war in Yemen and the ongoing efforts by Al Qaeda in Yemen to use it as a base for terrorist attacks from beyond the region," she said during an appearance at the State Department with Qatari Prime Minister Hamad ibn Jassim Jaber al Thani.
She spoke on a day when Yemeni forces killed two suspected Al Qaeda militants northeast of the capital, Sana, in an area where the government last month struck an Al Qaeda cell believed to be plotting attacks against foreign embassies.
Meanwhile, the U.S. and British embassies in Yemen remained closed for a second day because of what Clinton called "ongoing threats" of attacks. France, Germany and Japan also closed their embassies, citing threats by Al Qaeda.
Ian Kelly, the State Department spokesman, said the decision to close the embassy had been made after officials received a "very specific threat" to U.S. interests.
Kelly said an embassy committee would be meeting daily to decide whether it was safe to reopen the facility in Sana. He acknowledged that American officials had stopped short of the most drastic step, an "ordered departure," because they believed the risk might become manageable.
Top administration officials were set to gather at the White House today for a meeting on the failed attempt to blow up Northwest Flight 253. Suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, had smuggled explosives onboard.
President Obama will meet with officials from the CIA, Homeland Security Department and other agencies, partly to give his assessment of "what needs to be fixed," a senior administration official said. The meeting will be a forum for the president to deliver a "clear message," the official said, that "this is unacceptable."
As the government's review of the Christmas Day incident continues, officials are looking at the ways they identify possible threats to the air transportation system.
U.S. intelligence officials have been examining three lists of people considered potentially dangerous. One is a list of 550,000 people, all considered known or suspected terrorists. A second list with 14,000 names includes people who would be subjected to intensive screening if they arrived at an airport. Then there is the "no fly" list -- 4,000 people who are barred from boarding a plane altogether.
Since the Northwest incident, officials have moved several hundred names to "no fly" status or to the list that requires additional screening, a U.S. intelligence official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Clinton, in her remarks Monday, praised the Yemeni government's cooperation but said that the United States and its allies had "expectations and conditions" that Yemen must meet to continue the flow of foreign aid it badly needs.
The Obama administration wants officials in Sana, who face rebellions in the country's south and north, "to take steps that will lead to a more lasting period of peace and stability," she said.
"There have been numerous conflicts in Yemen and they seem to just get worse and worse with more players involved now," Clinton said. "It's time for the international community to make it clear to Yemen that there are expectations and conditions on our continuing support for the government."
The Yemeni government is eager for more U.S. military and economic aid, but its goals differ from the Americans', which focus primarily on the terrorist threat in Western areas.
Senior Yemeni officials, apparently with an eye on the domestic political fallout, last week downplayed the possibility of cooperating closely with the U.S. in fighting Islamic militants.
Amid the rising U.S. concern, analysts predict more strikes in the country by unmanned U.S. drone aircraft.
U.S. officials say they expect total aid to Yemen for development and security this year to reach $63 million, which would be a 56% increase over fiscal 2009.
U.S. Embassy in Yemen reopens
A Yemeni counterterrorism operation 'addressed a specific area of concern,' it says on its website.
by Borzou Daragahi
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
4:42 AM PST, January 5, 2010
Reporting from Beirut
Washington reopened its diplomatic outpost in Yemen today after shuttering it for two days because of "credible information that pointed to imminent terrorist attacks," said a statement posted on the website of the U.S. Embassy in Sana, the capital.
The U.S., Japan and several European nations shut their embassies this week amid worries about rising Al Qaeda activity on the troubled Arabian Peninsula. Western intelligence and counterterrorism officials have put a spotlight on Yemen after the suspect in the attempted Christmas Day bombing of a Northwest Airlines flight asserted that he was handed his instructions by a cleric in Yemen.
U.S. officials said they reopened the embassy today because a Yemeni counterterrorism operation on Monday "addressed a specific area of concern."
Yemeni officials reportedly killed two and injured two suspected Al Qaeda operatives in the Arabian Peninsula on Monday. The Interior Ministry today said it had arrested five other "terror elements" in and around the capital and Hudaydah province. The ministry said it had beefed up security measures around foreign embassies and residential districts favored by the international community in Sana, according to Yemen's official Saba news agency.
An unnamed official told Saba that security forces had imposed a "cordon" and round-the-clock surveillance around Al Qaeda militants. "Security protections for embassies are at a high standard of counteraction performance in case of any repulsive attempt," an official told Saba today. "The Ministry of Interior emphasizes that all embassies, diplomatic missions and foreign companies are fully secured and there is nothing to be worried about," the official reportedly said. "Security is maintained and there is no fear for the life of any foreigner or any foreign embassy in the country."
Still, U.S. officials urged Americans living in Yemen not to take any chances. "The threat of terrorist attacks against American interests remains high and the Embassy continues to urge its citizens in Yemen to be vigilant and take prudent security measures," a statement said. firstname.lastname@example.org
The chink in airports' armor
African nations can't meet even the old security standards that Western nations now call too lax. One option is to screen travelers from developing countries more thoroughly at transit airports.
by Robyn Dixon
January 5, 2010
Reporting from Johannesburg, South Africa
Western countries are rushing to upgrade airport security to meet new threats, but African countries don't have the money to even meet the old standards that Western airports now find inadequate, according to aviation analysts.
The answer, some say, is to screen passengers from developing countries with poor security much more thoroughly at transit airports.
The alleged attempt by Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to blow up a Detroit-bound airplane using explosives concealed in his underwear highlighted weaknesses in airport security. He boarded a plane in Lagos, Nigeria, and another at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport, apparently carrying explosives and a detonator. Both airports failed to detect a bomb.
In the wake of the Christmas Day incident, the U.S. announced Sunday that passengers arriving from certain countries, including Nigeria, would face enhanced screening. And the operator of Schiphol Airport said it would buy 60 body scanners to boost security there.
Nigeria criticized as discriminatory the new policy, which subjects passengers from Yemen, Nigeria and other "countries of interest" to intensive screening, including full-body pat-downs, carry-on bag searches, body scanning and explosive-detection screening.
"It is unfair to discriminate against over 150 million people because of the behavior of one person," said Information Minister Dora Akunyili.
Though some of the worst lapses, such as allowing spears or other potential weapons in carry-on luggage, seem no longer to occur, other aspects of airport security in Africa remain disquieting: the security official who barely glances at hand luggage, the bags lying in apparent chaos near a terminal building or the poor fencing on some airport perimeters.
Chris Yates, an aviation security analyst with Jane's Information Group, said security procedures in parts of Central, East and West Africa were often lax.
"I've been through airports all over the region. In some airports in Africa, not South Africa or the north but in the middle belt, the security is carried out in a relatively perfuctionary way," he said. "You'll get a loose pat-down and a random search of bags, but that doesn't necessarily cut it when you are looking at threats such as the one on Christmas Day.
"It's absolutely obvious to everybody that [Abdulmutallab] took a bomb in a plane from Lagos to Schiphol," he said, describing it as "a major failure in security at Lagos and a major failure in security at Schiphol."
He said that until now, transit passengers normally faced a lower level of security. "I'd prefer to see, as a matter of course, full-body scanning of transit passengers, particularly from higher-risk regions of the world," Yates said.
But U.S. aviation security analyst Douglas Laird said Abdulmutallab would have passed through almost any airport in the world because very few operate body scanners.
Laird has worked with aviation authorities in numerous African countries to help them improve security. He said most African nations could not afford even the computer scanning equipment used for examining checked bags in the U.S. He estimated the cost at $1.2 million for a scanner and $1.4 million for installation.
African airports meet international standards, he said, but they are less stringent than those in use in the U.S. and other Western countries. Security is monitored by the International Civil Aviation Organization, a U.N. agency that audits international airports every three years.
If airports in developing nations had to meet Western security standards, "they would ground all the airplanes, as simple as that," Laird said. "So you have to be realistic."
ICAO spokesman Denis Chagnon said the organization was in contact with the U.S. and other governments affected by the Abdulmutallab incident to discuss possible security improvements.
"We have to make sure that the security net is plugged up all over the world," Chagnon said. "To a large extent, it's up to individual countries to implement these measures in the way they feel is best to ensure the safety of flights, depending on the level of threat. The level of threat might not be the same in Latin America or Africa."
Chagnon said African countries could pool resources on safety and security systems to help allay prohibitive costs.
Nigerian aviation security analyst Chris Aligbe said Nigeria had been working to improve security because it wanted to establish direct flights to the U.S. He said security lapses and corruption, which were common in the past, had all but disappeared.
The transit of Abdulmutallab through Lagos, allegedly with explosives, was not related to lax security staff or corruption, Aligbe said, but outdated security equipment. Security staff now are university graduates, he said.
"Before, you had people who did not have a degree," he said. "During the last few years, a lot of things have changed."
Gunman, security officer killed in Las Vegas courthouse shooting
A deputy U.S. marshal is wounded. The shooter, who moved to Nevada from California, was upset about losing a lawsuit over Social Security benefits, authorities say.
by Ashley Powers and Richard A. Serrano
January 5, 2010
Reporting from Washington and Las Vegas
A 66-year-old retiree apparently upset over losing a lawsuit related to his Social Security benefits opened fire in a federal courthouse lobby Monday morning, killing one person and wounding another in a chaotic shootout.
The gunman, identified by law enforcement sources as Johnny Lee Wicks, died from gunshot wounds after fleeing across the street as court officers returned fire.
Stanley W. Cooper, a 72-year-old court security officer, was killed in the minutes-long gun battle. Cooper, a policeman for more than a quarter-century, had been a federal security officer since 1994, said Jeff Carter, a U.S. Marshals Service spokesman.
A wounded deputy U.S. marshal, 48, was in stable condition at a hospital. His name was not released.
Law enforcement sources said Wicks' failed federal lawsuit -- an erratic document riddled with spelling and grammatical errors -- was a likely motive.
In 2008, Wicks, who had moved from California to a local retirement home, filed a complaint against a regional Social Security Administration commissioner, contending that his monthly benefits had been reduced by $317 because he was black.
"It's all about race," he wrote in the complaint, although he cited no evidence. "I am no fool."
A lawyer for the Social Security Administration responded in court documents that Wicks' payments had been cut because, as a Nevada resident, he was no longer entitled to a supplement he had received while living in California.
The lawyer also said that Wicks had not taken advantage of Social Security's system of appeals.
A judge threw out Wicks' case in September.
Authorities said Wicks' apartment caught fire about 5 a.m. Monday. Then, about 8 a.m., he entered the building where his lawsuit had been heard, the Lloyd D. George Federal Courthouse, just south of the aging casinos on downtown's Fremont Street.
Wicks, who had a stroke several years ago and said in his lawsuit that he sometimes struggled to walk, was sheathed in black.
The retiree pulled a shotgun from his jacket and opened fire in the entryway, a few steps from two metal detectors, said Joseph Dickey, an FBI special agent.
Seven court officers returned fire, and the shooter darted out of the building and across Las Vegas Boulevard. He was struck in the head and died in the shrubbery near historic Fifth Street School, a white stucco office building.
A video posted on YouTube captured the sounds of 50-plus shots snapping like firecrackers.
"The first shot that I heard was a shotgun blast. I knew it wasn't fireworks," Ray Freres, 59, a sandwich shop manager and Vietnam veteran, told the Associated Press. He said he was behind the federal building at the time.
"I heard an exchange of gunfire. I was watching the street," Freres said. "If they were coming my way, I was going the other way."
On the building's eighth floor, Ida Gaines, 55, a regional representative for Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) -- who, along with Republican Sen. John Ensign, has an office in the building -- had made coffee and was checking her computer. Most staffers hadn't heard the gunfire and gasped when a Reid aide shouted, "Somebody's been shot downstairs!"
Told to stay in the office, Gaines peered out the window. "We saw someone lying on the ground that was dead," she said.
The employees were unsure whether the gunman was in the building or if there was more than one. They turned on CNN.
When someone pounded on the door, Gaines said, "I didn't know if it was the gunman or not."
Authorities were at the door. They ushered the employees out of the building, telling them to leave their purses and cellphones behind. When employees returned several hours later, the building's entrance was pocked with bullet holes.
Ensign told reporters that the gunfight brought to mind an incident in 1996, when a man, in an apparent suicide attempt, shot himself in the chest outside Reid's Las Vegas office. The man was convicted of stalking.
After the incident, Reid moved his office from south of downtown to a federal building, he has said, because it had security guards.
A no-fly list? Count him in
Flying was awful even before 9/11; it's worse now, and we're not even really any safer.
by Jonah Goldberg
January 5, 2010
Almost 10 years ago this week, I boarded a Northwest Airlines plane in Minneapolis. As I started to my veal-pen seat in steerage, I saw the faces of the preboarded aristocrats in business class. But before I could glare at them with proletarian rage and envy, I heard a loud bang and felt a sharp pain on the top of my head. Everyone looked to see what the sound was; even the two flight attendants milling around the galley broke off their no-doubt-vital conversation.
The source of the preflight disturbance? I'd smacked my enormous gourd of a head on a television set that hung from the ceiling above the center aisle, which hadn't been stowed for boarding. I lifted my hand to my scalp and drew back a palm glistening with fresh blood.
The response from the flight attendants? A shrug from one and the faint hint of a chuckle from another. They went back to their conversation. Dumbfounded, I proceeded to my seat to nurse my head wound, fuming over the fact that customer service at even the most rancid highway rest stop taco joint requires providing a moist towelette for head wounds.
It's not the worst flight-from-hell story I've heard. Heck, it's not even my worst flight-from-hell story. So what's my point?
Well, for starters, it's a small reminder that flying before 9/11 was already awful, and it has only become worse.
Over the weekend, an idiot walked the wrong way through a secure exit for arriving passengers at Newark airport. An entire terminal was shut down so that everybody on the "sterile" side of the security barriers could be herded back out and rescreened. The entire process took just under seven hours. The cascading delays disrupted air travel worldwide. They never caught the doofus who caused the ruckus. No doubt, if they'd announced his location over the paging system, he'd have been drawn and quartered by a mob of traveling salesmen from 3M and a gaggle of middle school girls returning from a softball tournament.
Now, I should back up. When I referred to the "sterile" side of the security barrier, I was using the term narrowly, to refer to folks who'd been through the metal detectors. Because to use the word sterile in its usual context in the same sentence as airports -- those belching Petri dishes of bathroom effluence and unidentifiable noisome miasma -- would be a grotesque abrogation of journalistic trust.
According to the latest epidemiological research, airports reside somewhere between no-frills Haitian brothels and Penn State fraternity bathrooms when it comes to hygiene. USA Today recently surveyed the health inspection records of airport restaurants and found that serious code violations were as commonplace as rat and mouse droppings; 77% of 35 restaurants reviewed at Reagan National Airport had major violations.
I could go on, of course. The petty humiliations, the routine deceptions from airline employees desperate to rid themselves of troublesome travelers ("Oh, they can definitely help you at the gate!"), the stress-position seats, the ever-changing rules for what can and cannot be in your carry-on, being charged for food that the Red Cross would condemn if it were served at Gitmo: Air travel is the most expensive unpleasant experience in everyday life outside the realm of words ending in -oscopy.
And speaking of unwelcome intrusions, the current debate over the "underwear bomber" is important and necessary, but it is detached from basic reality. To listen to the experts, the only relevant choice is between privacy and security. But the average person already understands that privacy is something you have to compromise to fly. The white zone has been for unloading your civil liberties for generations. This isn't to say that retaining what's left of our privacy isn't an important priority. But I for one would gladly sacrifice more privacy in exchange for more decency and efficiency. As it stands, Shlomo Dror, an Israeli air security expert, had it right in 2002 when he said: "The United States does not have a security system; it has a system for bothering people."
Public-private partnerships are all the rage these days. Progressives insist the judicious application of regulations, the cooperation of "responsible" corporations and the acquiescence of the American people are all that's needed to deliver everything from high-quality and affordable healthcare to "green" cars that run on little more than love for mother Earth.
No realm of American life is as auspiciously fecund with precisely such conditions as air travel. So -- put up or shut up.
Mexico's drug violence respects no borders
The killing of El Monte educator Agustin Roberto 'Bobby' Salcedo in Durango is a reminder that Americans are not immune to the violence.
January 5, 2010
The execution of El Monte school board member Agustin Roberto "Bobby" Salcedo in the Mexican state of Durango is a horrible reminder that Mexico's drug violence does not belong to Mexico alone. It's ours too. There is the fact that U.S. consumption drives the illicit narcotics trade, of course. But there is also the reality that social and business relationships binding the two countries have resulted in a border that cannot guarantee Americans protection from drug violence.
An estimated 1 million American citizens live in Mexico, and many more travel there each year. Families straddle the border, as do cities. Some cities do so literally, and in those, violence may cross north; others do so through their official and economic ties. Salcedo met his wife, Betzy, of Gomez Palacio, Durango, when she came to Southern California as an exchange student; he was past president of the sister city program between her hometown and his. They were visiting family for the holidays and went out for drinks with friends when Salcedo, 33, was abducted and killed along with five other men. Salcedo's death is a tragedy for his family and community, and our hearts go out to them.
In Mexico, unfortunately, the killing is more commonplace and less shocking. More than 15,000 people are believed to have been slain in drug-related violence there during the last two years, and although the vast majority are believed to have been traffickers, police or military, the victims include a growing number of civilians: more than 400 women, 149 minors, three dozen government officials and at least a dozen journalists in 2009, according to Mexican media tallies. The December killing of drug lord Arturo Beltran Leyva in an operation that also took the life of a Mexican marine was followed within days by the slaying of the marine's grieving mother, sister, brother and aunt.
Most of us think of violence as something that happens somewhere else -- or to someone else. In Mexico, the bloodshed has spread from traditional trafficking strongholds in Sinaloa and Chihuahua to Morelos, where Beltran Leyva was killed, and Tabasco, where the marine's family was slain. In Durango, Betzy Salcedo told The Times' Tracy Wilkinson that "you're careful, you look around, but you never think this kind of thing can happen . . . to innocent people." She and her American husband were having a good time one minute, and the next, "we were in the mouth of the wolf." Sadly, Salcedo is unlikely to be the last American caught up in the brutality.
Yemen's coming disaster
Its oil is expected to run out in 2017, but Yemen hasn't planned for its young, poverty-ridden population's post-oil future.
by Richard Fontaine and Andrew Exum
January 5, 2010
The Nigerian Islamist who allegedly attempted to detonate a bomb on a Christmas Day flight to Detroit, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, has brought Yemen once again into the spotlight as a breeding ground for terrorists. Abdulmutallab is thought to have trained with Yemen's Al Qaeda affiliate, and the group has claimed credit for the failed attack.
Yemen has long been a place of concern. Last month, before the attempted airliner bombing, the United States facilitated a missile attack against two suspected Al Qaeda strongholds in Yemen. And over the weekend, the U.S. Embassy in Yemen's capital city of Sana was closed because of security concerns.
But terrorism is just one of the threats the deteriorating situation in Yemen poses to U.S. interests.
Over the last few years, Yemen has been hurtling toward a disaster that could dramatically harm the interests of both the United States and its regional partners. An active insurgency in the north, a separatist movement in the south and a resurgent Al Qaeda franchise inside its borders present the Yemeni government with difficult short-term challenges. And managing the country's longer-term problems is likely to prove even tougher.
Yemen's economy depends heavily on oil production, and its government receives the vast majority of its revenue from oil taxes. Yet analysts predict that the country's petroleum output, which has declined over the last seven years, will fall to zero by 2017. The government has done little to plan for its post-oil future. Yemen's population, already the poorest on the Arabian peninsula and with an unemployment rate of 35%, is expected to double by 2035. An incredible 45% of Yemen's population is under the age of 15. These trends will exacerbate large and growing environmental problems, including the exhaustion of Yemen's groundwater resources. Given that a full 90% of the country's water is used for agriculture, this trend portends disaster.
This confluence of political, ideological, economic and environmental forces will render Yemen a fertile ground for the training and recruitment of Islamist militant groups for the foreseeable future. More than 100 Yemenis have been incarcerated in Guantanamo since 2002. And today, Internet message boards linked to Al Qaeda encourage fighters from across the Islamic world to flock to Yemen. The country is home to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which has carried out attacks in Yemen and Saudi Arabia.
Yemen's role as a haven for transnational terror groups with global reach could easily continue to grow. President Obama has stated his intention to work with the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan to eliminate havens in those countries for terror groups such as Al Qaeda. This could make Yemen an even more attractive place for would-be terrorists. Recent Saudi offensives against insurgents in northern Yemen, together with a Saudi naval blockade of the Yemeni coast, demonstrate how seriously other countries on the Arabian peninsula take the threat that instability in Yemen could radiate outward.
U.S. policy should aim to bring Yemen back from the brink, mitigating the risk to the rest of the peninsula by increasing the country's domestic stability. This task will not be achieved easily, quickly or inexpensively, and the use of force alone won't be sufficient. Any effective strategy must combine security assistance with mediation efforts, development, regional engagement and an effective communications approach.
Since 2001, U.S. policy has focused mostly on counter-terrorism. Given the threat posed not just by terrorism but by the potential for nationwide instability, the United States should move toward a broader relationship with Yemen, still focusing strongly on counter-terrorism but also on economic development and improved governance. The U.S. approach should publicly stress the comprehensive relationship that America seeks with Yemen. In so doing, the U.S. can build on the ad hoc, uncoordinated efforts of numerous international players in Yemen -- from Europe, the Persian Gulf states, Jordan and Japan, among others. This could start with a new international donor's conference, including a "contract with Yemen" that would provide aid in response to steps taken by the government to address issues of corruption, governance and human rights.
No amount of foreign assistance will cure Yemen's deeply entrenched economic, social and political problems. Yet in light of our compelling national interest in avoiding a failed state in Yemen, the United States has reason to devote even greater resources to the effort than it does today.
Over the weekend, Obama pledged to double aid to Yemen, but this money must be spent strategically. Several areas are ripe for foreign help, including training and equipping counter-terrorism forces, bolstering border security and building the capacity of the coast guard, expanding counterinsurgency advice to the Yemeni government and expanding programs focused on basic governance and anti-corruption.
A key challenge will be encouraging Yemen's government to confront Al Qaeda, something it has not been sufficiently willing to do up to now. The government's repeated battles against Houthi insurgents in the north have claimed resources that might otherwise have been directed at Al Qaeda elements. It is thus worth exploring whether mediation aimed at a political settlement of that conflict is achievable. In addition, the U.S. should privately make clear that the degree of political support it extends to the government of Yemen will depend directly on its taking action on the array of issues that concern Washington.
The goal of U.S. foreign policy toward Yemen should be for the country to emerge as a stable, functioning state, one that presents no sanctuary for transnational terrorist groups. U.S. policy alone can't bring this about. It can, however, attempt to mitigate the worst of the coming challenges that will plague Yemen.
Richard Fontaine is a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and traveled to Yemen with a Senate delegation in August. Andrew Exum is a fellow at the center.
From the Wall Street Journal
Dozens of Names Shifted to No-Fly List
by JONATHAN WEISMAN and EVAN PEREZ
The Obama administration has transferred dozens of names from a broad terrorism database to watch lists that are more closely monitored in an effort to plug security holes revealed by the Christmas Day airline-bombing attempt.
President Barack Obama met Monday with White House counterterrorism chief John Brennan, National Security Adviser James Jones and Deputy National Security Adviser Tom Donilon ahead of a broader security team meeting Tuesday.
At that meeting, White House officials said, Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Robert Mueller is expected to detail the investigation into how Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was able to allegedly smuggle explosives onto a Northwest Airlines flight, despite warnings about him and numerous signs a terrorism plot was in the works.
Attorney General Eric Holder will detail plans to prosecute Mr. Abdulmutallab in federal court, and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano will discuss detection capabilities that are being reviewed and bolstered. Mr. Brennan will lay out initial findings of a security review, and more than a half-dozen agency heads, from the Department of Energy to the Central Intelligence Agency, will present their internal reviews as well as changes they are implementing in the wake of the Christmas Day plot.
Mr. Obama has attributed the plot to the al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen, which also has claimed credit for sending Mr. Abdulmutallab on his alleged mission.
White House spokesman Bill Burton said counterterrorism officials have examined "thousands upon thousands" of names from the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment list, to which Mr. Abdulmutallab was added in November. Dozens of names were shifted to the Transportation Security Administration's no-fly list, or to the Secondary Security Screening Selection list, also known as the selectee list.
President Obama will meet with security advisers today and review criteria for tighter travel restrictions, Washington bureau chief John Bussey reports.
The Christmas Day bombing attempt and recriminations that followed have set in motion policy responses with global reverberations. Security forces in Yemen, following consultations with U.S. officials, killed two alleged al Qaeda militants Monday in a village outside the capital of San'a, where the U.S. and British embassies remained closed due to terrorism threats. France, Germany and Japan shuttered their embassies in San'a on Monday, citing similar threats.
Intelligence, defense and law-enforcement agencies forwarded reports to the White House Monday night on their assessments of what Mr. Obama called "systemic" failures that allowed the bombing plot to proceed. The White House is expected to lay out a set of policy responses this week.
The earliest word about Mr. Abdulmutallab, much of which was piecemeal and unspecific, appears to have come via intercepts made by the National Security Agency, U.S. officials said. The agency is monitoring suspected extremists in Yemen, including radical U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who had contact with Mr. Abdulmutallab and with the suspect in the Fort Hood, Texas, shooting spree in November.
Some NSA intercepts date to late summer of 2009 when "chatter" suggested extremist groups in Yemen were preparing an attack employing a Nigerian. Officials said the information wasn't specific and that only in hindsight was its importance known.
Later, U.S. embassy consular officials and a CIA official met in Nigeria with the bombing suspect's father, who relayed concerns about Mr. Abdulmutallab's possible radicalization. The State Department says it made a report that was added to Mr. Abdulmutallab's file for future use in case he applied for a new visa.
The CIA official in Nigeria prepared a report and forwarded it to Washington, where Mr. Abdulmutallab was added to the nation's broadest terrorism database. The information, however, wasn't disseminated to other parts of the U.S. counterterrorism network.
Much of the data flowing into U.S. security agencies is supposed to be pulled together at the National Counterterrorism Center, which falls under the director of national intelligence. The counterterrorism center has said the CIA lacked specific information that would have allowed it to put Mr. Adbulmutallab on a no-fly list.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Monday defended the State Department's handling of the case. Based on the information that she has now, Ms. Clinton said, the department "fully complied with the requirements set forth in the interagency process" about what should be done when information is provided about a threat. But, she said, "We are not satisfied. We are conducting an internal review."
Third Gate Crasher Emerges
by KATHY CHEN
WASHINGTON -- A third person attended President Barack Obama's state dinner in November without an invitation, the Secret Service said, raising new questions about White House security procedures.
The Secret Service said Monday that it discovered the breach during its probe into security problems at the dinner for the Indian prime minister. A Virginia couple, Tareq and Michaele Salahi, were earlier found to have entered the event uninvited and are currently under investigation.
According to the Secret Service, the third individual had traveled from a local hotel, where the official Indian delegation was staying, and arrived at the dinner with the group. It said the individual "went through all required security measures" at the hotel with the rest of the official delegation, and then boarded a bus or van with the group to the White House. The Secret Service said it had no indication that the individual went through the receiving line or met with the president or first lady.
Rahul Chhabra, a spokesman for the Indian Embassy in Washington, said the individual wasn't a member of the Indian delegation and that the Indian Embassy "did not arrange his access" to the dinner. The Associated Press quoted a State Department official saying the individual was a U.S. citizen.
The discovery of the third uninvited guest who entered the White House event spotlights another potential weakness in the White House security protocol.
Monday, it sparked some finger-pointing among federal agencies, with the Secret Service statement noting that the Indian delegation had been "under or the responsibility of the Department of State."
Typically, the State Department submits names of members of official delegations meeting with the president to the Secret Service for vetting. Members of such delegations could then enter the White House without having to show an invitation.
A person familiar with the investigation said the State Department "assembled a group of Indian CEOs" at the Willard Hotel in Washington, at the request of the Indian Embassy for the state dinner. "Somewhere in the process, one individual got into the group" and the State Department didn't catch it, said the person.
Another person familiar with the investigation said the Secret Service was taking greater control of security procedures involving official foreign delegations.
State Department spokesman Darby Holladay said the incident was under investigation. The White House declined to comment.
New Rules on Flight Security Get Airline Groups' Support
by MELANIE TROTTMAN and MIKE ESTERL
WASHINGTON -- Airline groups expressed support Monday for new U.S. rules that mandate tougher screening for passengers traveling to the U.S. from 14 designated countries and ease a requirement that all U.S.-bound passengers be subjected to enhanced screening measures.
"We believe [the new measures] enhance security for the flying public, and they're being implemented in the most convenient manner," said David Castelveter, a spokesman at the Air Transport Association, an umbrella group for U.S. airlines.
The new rules require that all passengers flying to the U.S. from countries designated as state sponsors of terrorism or certain other countries "of interest" -- including Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria -- will be subject to enhanced screening, which could include full-body pat-downs, a physical inspection of personal property, or screening by one of the 40 advanced-imaging machines located in 19 U.S. airports, said a Transportation Security Administration official.
In addition, the majority of passengers flying from anywhere in the world to the U.S. will now be screened using enhanced security measures, said a TSA official.
International and domestic airlines were reluctant to comment specifically on the new TSA policy, issued in the wake of an attempt to blow up a Northwest Airlines jet en route to Detroit from Amsterdam on Christmas Day.
A spokesman for AMR Corp.'s American Airlines said travelers should expect to see varying degrees of security screening, with some measures taking longer than others.
A representative for Continental Airlines Inc. said the carrier continues to advise passengers to allow for extra time while traveling, especially internationally, to get through security. The airline is recommending that passengers arrive two hours before domestic flights and three hours before international ones, or about one hour more than usual, in part because of the tail end of a heavy holiday travel season.
A representative for Delta Air Lines Inc., the world's biggest carrier by traffic, said the airline was "not aware of any real meaningful delays for U.S. bound flights" Monday afternoon. Several industry officials indicated they would need to assess lines at airports to determine the impact of the new screening procedures.
Separately, thousands of passengers experienced residual delays Monday as officials tried to determine how an unidentified man who hadn't been screened entered a secure departure area Sunday at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey.
The man, who was never located, was seen on security tape entering the secure departure area around 5:30 p.m. Sunday by walking through a passage meant for arriving passengers, said TSA spokeswoman Ann Davis. The man apparently hadn't been screened for explosives, weapons or liquids, she said. "We don't assume he got on a plane," she said. Ms. Davis said a TSA officer posted at the exit has been reassigned to nonscreening duties while the TSA investigates.
Meanwhile, the new TSA rules represent an easing from the agency's initial response to the bomb attempt. Immediately after the Christmas Day attack, the TSA ordered emergency screening for all U.S.-bound passengers, a move that raised concerns among airlines worried about extensive delays. On some U.S.-bound flights from Europe and Canada, flights were delayed by up to three to four hours during the first weekend after Christmas, though airlines say this eased as screening staff were added and security checks became more organized.
The International Air Transport Association, which represents international air carriers, said it "understands the need for government-mandated emergency security measures," but those measures should be revised as information is gathered in the investigation. The TSA's latest directive "is a welcome step in the right direction," the IATA said Monday.
The TSA said Monday that its latest directive includes "long-term, sustainable" security measures, indicating that these measures could be in place for the foreseeable future. In the coming months it plans to begin deploying an additional 150 advanced imaging technology machines it has purchased.
The TSA senior official said the list of 14 countries was developed by the Homeland Security and State departments. The countries designated as state sponsors of terrorism are Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria. The countries of interest are Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen.
Loaded: Freighters Ready to Shoot Across Pirate Bow
Some Cargo Ships Break Maritime Tradition by Taking Up Arms but Many Carriers Fear That Will Threaten -- Not Improve -- Safety
by JOHN W. MILLER
Freighters that ferry goods in the pirate-infested waters off the coast of Somalia have a new and unusual cargo: armed guards.
Shipping firms in the modern era have resisted packing heat even in areas where attacks are common. Their reasoning: A firefight leading to lawsuits, damaged goods or a sunken ship could cost hundreds of millions of dollars, a sum far exceeding the few million dollars in ransom that pirates usually demand.
But some shipping companies and fishing vessels are tacking away from a longstanding tradition of unarmed sailing amid escalating violence on the high seas. And pirates, who once used small arms as their weapon of choice, now resort to heavier armaments such as grenade launchers, shipping and security firms say. Besides, they note, recent armed conflicts have had some success repelling pirates.
Still, the majority of the international maritime community resists using lethal force because it "poses incredible logistical challenges, potentially violates many national and international laws, and is contrary to maritime conventions," says James Christodoulou, chief executive of Industrial Shipping Enterprises Corp.
One of Mr. Christodoulou's ships, the MC Biscaglia, was hijacked in November 2008, then released after a ransom payment of over a million dollars two months later. Despite being a victim, he still rejects weapons. They could, he says, endanger merchant crews in captivity and "turn the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden into a shooting gallery."
Though no commercial seamen have been killed by pirates, conflicts are escalating. According to the International Maritime Bureau, a London-based trade group, there were 324 attempted boardings by pirates around the world in the first 10 months of 2009, up from 194 in the same period in 2008.
About half the raids are in the Gulf of Aden. Of those, there were 47 successful hijackings in the region in 2009, up from 42 in 2008, the IMB says. The increase, though slight, was surprising, because a trading slump has reduced the number of ships at sea, and a 15-vessel military armada, coordinated by NATO and the EU, was supposed to squelch the problem.
It doesn't look like pirates are taking any time off. On New Year's day, the U.K.-flagged Asian Glory, which transports cars, was hijacked in the Indian Ocean. Two days earlier, the M/V Pramoni, a chemical tanker from Singapore, was taken in the Gulf of Aden. That followed two hijackings after Christmas, and brought to 14 the total number of ships being held.
Piracy -- and mustering the arms to thwart it -- stretches back to the dawn of ocean trading. In the 16th century, commercial sailing ships "could be as well armed as warships," says Brian Lavery, author of "Ship: 5000 Years of Maritime History."
But in the 19th century, the end of monopolies like the East India Company meant greater competition, and amid the industrial revolution, there was a new emphasis on speed. Fast sailing vessels like the clipper, rushing to transact business, couldn't afford to be weighed down by ammo. And they could outrun pirates.
The practice of stocking weapons faded out, re-emerging only during wartime. The odd freighter may have a secret weapons trunk aboard, and those carrying nuclear waste have regularly equipped themselves with armed guards, say industry veterans. But "merchant ships don't like to enter fights," says Mr. Lavery. "Now their job is to get stuff from A to B as fast as possible, and that's what they take pride in."
Today, most fast ships, which cruise at speeds of 25 knots, can still outrun pirates. But oil tankers and bulk carriers, which typically cruise at 12 knots, aren't so nimble. Recent risk assessments by insurance companies and others have concluded that "sometimes the only way of keeping the ship safe is an armed guard," says Peter Hinchcliffe of the International Chamber of Shipping, another London-based trade group.
Security companies report an increase in requests for armed personnel, usually retired soldiers over the age of 30. After being hijacked in April and freed by U.S. Navy SEAL snipers, the Maersk Alabama brought on an armed private-security team, which successfully fought off an attack 300 miles off the coast of Somalia on Nov. 30. Nobody was hurt. Weapons were "not the preferred route," says Kevin Speers, a spokesman for Maersk Line Ltd. But after getting approval from the U.S. Coast Guard, Maersk hired the guards for transit through risky waters, he says.
A growing number of governments that flag ships now support arming vessels. After the Maersk Alabama attack, the U.S. started advising its ships to carry armed guards. Congress passed a bill limiting the liability of firms that use force against pirate attacks. In late October, Spain passed a law allowing armed security guards on Spanish-flagged ships.
Insurers, many of which require ships passing through the Gulf of Aden to carry kidnapping and ransom coverage, are also onboard with arming ships. Some have recently begun to offer special deals for ships that carry armed security guards. Hiscox Ltd., for example, now offers premium reductions of up to 50% for ships that buy armed protection.
One company that has used armed guards is Denmark's Clipper Group A/S, which operates and charters out some 80 vessels. In November 2008, one of them, the unarmed CEC Future, was hijacked off the coast of Somalia for two months, then released after a $1.7 million ransom was paid.
That prompted a change in philosophy, says CEO Per Gullestrup. A few months ago, Clipper, which employs many Russian crew members, accepted the Russian navy's offer of stationing six armed marines prominently on each of its ships going through the Gulf of Aden. Weapons, he adds, "are a good idea for ships that are particularly vulnerable: ships that are too low and slow."
Rates for a team of armed guards vary greatly, between $25,000 and over $100,000 for crossing the Gulf of Aden. They board ships at ports in Yemen, Djibouti or Oman. They hire local fishermen to take them out to the freighter that needs protection. After reaching the Suez canal, the men are flown back to the Gulf, or put on board a ship heading southward toward the Gulf of Aden.
The guards carry handguns, but the risk of a catastrophic escalation is minimal, says Maritime Asset Security & Training co-director Philip Cable. Pirates "are there to take the ship, not kill people." So far, MAST guards have helped fend off seven attacks, none involving weapons.
Despite the growing threat, some shipping companies are still worried about lawsuits, threats to crew members and the cost of armed security. Many shipowners and security companies fear that in the event of a firefight they could face costly litigation in a foreign country where their rights might not be respected or where they could be prevented from doing business in the future.
John Harris, CEO of Hollowpoint Protective Services in Ridgeland, Miss., says the company doesn't provide armed guards for ships. But his business of providing unarmed guards is up 40% this year, and more companies are inquiring about having guns aboard. "But there are too many gray legal issues right now," he says. Shipping is a notoriously murky, complicated business due to
multiple jurisdictions, says Mr. Harris. "A ship could be flagged in Liberia, crewed by Philippines, carrying German-owned cargo from Hong Kong to Rotterdam."
Security firms are developing alternatives to arms such as electrifying the ship rail, flooding the deck with slippery oil, and using long-range acoustic devices that make deafening noises.
Dutch consultancy Secure-Marine has developed hoses that project scalding-hot water. Still, says director Raphael Kahn, "armed guards are becoming more than incidental, especially for companies that can afford it."
A Salute to West Point
The school tries to build a military led by officers of character.
by WILLIAM MCGURN
Even in the age of emails, blogs and tweets, the formal letter can still command attention. Especially when it bears the signature of the Superintendent of the United States Military Academy at West Point—and congratulates the recipient on his appointment.
Along with hundreds of other anxious high-school seniors, my nephew opened such a letter over the Christmas holidays. For his family, it brought back many memories. Just about all of us live within an hour's drive of West Point. For most of our lives, the academy has been a beautiful backdrop: for football games, wedding receptions, the occasional drive up for lunch at the Thayer Hotel, and so on.
Now the beauty mixes with apprehension. For me it was brought home in 2006, when I attended the commencement as part of the president's entourage. Theirs was the first class to enter West Point after the attacks of Sept. 11. As I watched these happy graduates, I thought: In a few years, some of those celebrating today will not be with us. Thus far, alas, war has claimed two young men who received the gold bars of a second lieutenant that day: Lt. Nick A. Dewhirst, killed in Afghanistan; Lt. Timothy W. Cunningham, killed in Iraq.
Can my nephew comprehend the sacrifice he commits himself to? The critics say we romanticize war and hide the realities from those who will do the dying. I'm not so sure. At West Point this past autumn for a football game, I went to the refrigerator of a helicopter pilot-turned-instructor in search of a Diet Coke. On the door I found a yellow ribbon with the name of the officer's West Point roommate, an infantry captain named Doug DiCenzo who was killed by a roadside bomb in Baghdad when his son was just 16 months old.
On a campus where the cemetery includes the dead from two centuries of American wars, sobering reminders are everywhere: the young wife and children left behind, the good friends who do not make the trip home, the empty space at the reunion. The true glory of West Point is that all know the fear and cost of war but refuse to surrender to them.
Whether character can be taught is an age-old question; usually we refer to its being built. West Point does not pretend its cadets are immune from the normal temptations of our culture. After all, they come from the same towns and high schools other universities draw from. The difference is that at West Point, words such as duty, honor and country are spoken without irony—and a scandal is a scandal because behavior is still measured against standards.
A paper on the academy's Web site explains the honor code this way: "An officer who is not trustworthy cannot be tolerated; in some professions the cost of dishonesty is measured in dollars—in the Army, the cost is measured in human lives. The ability of West Point to educate, train and inspire outstanding leaders of character for our Army is predicated upon the functional necessity of honesty."
In other words, the promise is not that West Point will produce the next generation of Grants, MacArthurs, Eisenhowers or Petraeuses—though it will. The promise is more consequential. To the moms and dads of all those in uniform, West Point says: When America puts your sons and daughters in harm's way, they will be led by men and woman of character and ability.
In the days since my nephew's acceptance, the reaction has been interesting. Some are impressed. Others . . . well, let's just say the assumption often seems to be that a student chooses a service academy because he or she was not accepted anywhere better, or is going simply because it's free.
In my nephew's case, neither is true. His father and his father's father both served in the Navy; his other grandfather was a Marine. So his loved ones are a little saddened when we come across people apparently unable to process the idea that an intelligent young American with the world at his feet could be led by a sense of duty to West Point in a time of war.
When I look at my nephew, I can still see the baby I once lugged to the car in his carrier. A few springs from now, if he rises to this challenge as we know he will, I will sit in that stadium high above the Hudson as Timothy Dore, USMA Class of '14, takes his place in that long gray line. Around me that day will be thousands of other uncles, aunts, moms, dads, brothers, sisters and grandparents who are now, with great pride, passing around a letter from the West Point superintendent like the one my nephew received.
This academy is not for everyone. But the choice made by these young men and women makes this uncle want to salute.
A Crime Theory Demolished
If poverty is the root cause of lawlessness, why did crime rates fall when joblessness increased?
by HEATHER MAC DONALD
The recession of 2008-09 has undercut one of the most destructive social theories that came out of the 1960s: the idea that the root cause of crime lies in income inequality and social injustice. As the economy started shedding jobs in 2008, criminologists and pundits predicted that crime would shoot up, since poverty, as the "root causes" theory holds, begets criminals. Instead, the opposite happened. Over seven million lost jobs later, crime has plummeted to its lowest level since the early 1960s. The consequences of this drop for how we think about social order are significant.
The notion that crime is an understandable reaction to poverty and racism took hold in the early 1960s. Sociologists Richard Cloward and Lloyd Ohlin argued that juvenile delinquency was essentially a form of social criticism. Poor minority youth come to understand that the American promise of upward mobility is a sham, after a bigoted society denies them the opportunity to advance. These disillusioned teens then turn to crime out of thwarted expectations.
The theories put forward by Cloward, who spent his career at Columbia University, and Ohlin, who served presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Carter, provided an intellectual foundation for many Great Society-era programs. From the Mobilization for Youth on Manhattan's Lower East Side in 1963 through the federal Office of Economic Opportunity and a host of welfare, counseling and job initiatives, their ideas were turned into policy.
If crime was a rational response to income inequality, the thinking went, government can best fight it through social services and wealth redistribution, not through arrests and incarceration. Even law enforcement officials came to embrace the root causes theory, which let them off the hook for rising lawlessness. Through the late 1980s, the FBI's annual national crime report included the disclaimer that "criminal homicide is largely a societal problem which is beyond the control of the police." Policing, it was understood, can only respond to crime after the fact; preventing it is the domain of government welfare programs.
The 1960s themselves offered a challenge to the poverty-causes-crime thesis. Homicides rose 43%, despite an expanding economy and a surge in government jobs for inner-city residents. The Great Depression also contradicted the idea that need breeds predation, since crime rates dropped during that prolonged crisis. The academy's commitment to root causes apologetics nevertheless persisted. Andrew Karmen of New York's John Jay College of Criminal Justice echoed Cloward and Ohlin in 2000 in his book "New York Murder Mystery." Crime, he wrote, is "a distorted form of social protest." And as the current recession deepened, liberal media outlets called for more government social programs to fight the coming crime wave. In late 2008, the New York Times urged President Barack Obama to crank up federal spending on after-school programs, social workers, and summer jobs. "The economic crisis," the paper's editorialists wrote, "has clearly created the conditions for more crime and more gangs—among hopeless, jobless young men in the inner cities."
Even then crime patterns were defying expectations. And by the end of 2009, the purported association between economic hardship and crime was in shambles. According to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports, homicide dropped 10% nationwide in the first six months of 2009; violent crime dropped 4.4% and property crime dropped 6.1%. Car thefts are down nearly 19%. The crime plunge is sharpest in many areas that have been hit the hardest by the housing collapse. Unemployment in California is 12.3%, but homicides in Los Angeles County, the Los Angeles Times reported recently, dropped 25% over the course of 2009. Car thefts there are down nearly 20%.
The recession crime free fall continues a trend of declining national crime rates that began in the 1990s, during a very different economy. The causes of that long-term drop are hotly disputed, but an increase in the number of people incarcerated had a large effect on crime in the last decade and continues to affect crime rates today, however much anti-incarceration activists deny it. The number of state and federal prisoners grew fivefold between 1977 and 2008, from 300,000 to 1.6 million.
The spread of data-driven policing has also contributed to the 2000s' crime drop. At the start of the recession, the two police chiefs who confidently announced that their cities' crime rates would remain recession-proof were Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton and New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. As New York Police Commissioner in the mid-1990s, Mr. Bratton pioneered the intensive use of crime data to determine policing strategies and to hold precinct commanders accountable—a process known as Compstat. Commissioner Kelly has continued Mr. Bratton's revolutionary policies, leading to New York's stunning 16-year 77% crime drop. The two police leaders were true to their word. In 2009, the city of L.A. saw a 17% drop in homicides, an 8% drop in property crimes, and a 10% drop in violent crimes. In New York, homicides fell 19%, to their lowest level since reliable records were first kept in 1963.
The Compstat mentality is the opposite of root causes excuse-making; it holds that policing can and must control crime for the sake of urban economic viability. More and more police chiefs have adopted the Compstat philosophy of crime-fighting and the information-based policing techniques that it spawned. Their success in lowering crime shows that the government can control antisocial behavior and provide public safety through enforcing the rule of law. Moreover, the state has the moral right and obligation to do so, regardless of economic conditions or income inequality.
The recession could still affect crime rates if cities cut their police forces and states start releasing prisoners early. Both forms of cost-saving would be self-defeating. Public safety is the precondition for thriving urban life. In 1990s New York, crime did not drop because the economy improved; rather, the city's economy revived because crime was cut in half. Keeping crime rates low now is the best guarantee that cities across the country will be able to exploit the inevitable economic recovery when it comes.
Ms. Mac Donald is a contributing editor at the Manhattan Institute's City Journal.
How to Fix The Doctor Shortage
Congress needs to ensure we're cared for by more than an insurance card and an answering machine.
by DARRELL G. KIRCH
Congress is poised to pass a health-care overhaul that would expand insurance coverage to 31 million Americans, but will the newly insured have a physician to care for them?
Our nation currently faces a shortage of physicians expected to worsen as the number of people over age 65 (who use more than twice the health care of younger adults) doubles. Even with significant changes to the health-care delivery system and improved prevention, the United States will face a shortage of more than 125,000 physicians in the next 15 years—a daunting problem considering that we only train about 27,000 new doctors a year. In addition, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) estimates that at least 16,000 more primary care physicians are needed today.
The shortage of primary care physicians and other health professionals is further complicated by an overall physician shortage in most areas of the country. In 2001, new patients were forced to wait an average of eight days to see a family or general practitioner. Overall wait times for all physicians reached almost 15 days that year. Without significant increases in the number of doctors, these delays will only get worse.
On average, it takes three to seven years to fully train a new physician through a process known as residency training (the graduate medical education that all physicians must undergo after eight years of college and medical school). While U.S. medical schools are working to increase their classes by 30%, these new medical school graduates will not increase the nation's overall supply of physicians, or even have a residency position in which to train, unless the government lifts the cap on residency training slots it pays for that was imposed as part of the Balanced Budget Act in 1997.
The doctor shortage affects primary care as well as many medical specialties, even without an expansion of health insurance. According to HHS, overall demand for physician services will increase an estimated 22% between 2005 and 2020, while the number of primary care physicians will increase by only 18% during this period. Worse, the supply of some doctors (such as urologists and general surgeons) is expected to shrink over this period despite the government's assessment that the need for almost all types of physicians will continue to grow. Researchers have suggested that only one specialty, general pediatrics, will have a supply of physicians greater than the demand for their care. But even this surplus seems highly improbable to those of us with children who already have difficulty obtaining timely appointments.
The U.S. health work force has been rightly criticized because the percentage of physicians in primary care is lower than in most of the developed nations to which we often compare our health system. This is a problem many see as directly related to poor reimbursement for primary care services. Yet the number of formally trained family physicians (doctors who care for patients of all ages) doubled between 1985 and 2004, and we still remain without enough doctors in primary care and many other medical fields.
The physician shortage is, in part, a result of expectations in the 1990s that managed care and primary care would greatly drive down the need for physicians, particularly specialists. However, these expectations fell short against the rising needs of an aging, growing population that has high expectations of its health-care system.
Today, the overall number of physicians in the U.S. is lower than the average per capita number of doctors in other nations such as Sweden, Denmark, Spain and France, and we now "import" some 25% of our physicians from other countries. While expansions of U.S. medical schools can close this part of the gap, the overall per capita supply of doctors in the country will decline without an expansion in the number of residency training positions. This expansion will not occur unless Medicare resumes paying for its share of training costs.
Because it takes so long to train a new physician, Congress must lift the freeze on support for medical training now, as part of health-care reform. While the cost to add new physicians is significant, it is less than 1% of current Medicare expenditures and an essential investment if people are to have timely access to a physician's care, not just the promise of insurance coverage. Even those who expect the U.S. health-care system to be transformed in the next decade know that wishful thinking cannot provide the care they and their families will need.
Congress is right to expand insurance to as many Americans as possible. But it also has a responsibility to ensure that the nation is cared for by more than an insurance card and an answering machine.
Dr. Kirch is president and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges.
From the Washington Times
Native Hawaiian tribal rights bill spurs row
by Valerie Richardson
The next time President Obama vacations in his native Hawaii, there could be something new on the island: an Indian tribe.
Two weeks ago, House and Senate committees approved the Native Hawaiian Reorganization Act, which would create a separate government for Native Hawaiians. The legislation, better known as the Akaka bill after its sponsor, Democratic Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, originally stated that the new government's authority would be decided in negotiations with state and federal authorities.
At the last minute, however, Hawaii Democrats, working with the Justice and Interior departments, amended the bill to establish the Native Hawaiian governing entity as a sovereign Indian tribe.
The move ignited a furor in Honolulu. Gov. Linda Lingle and Attorney General Mark Bennett, who found out about the changes just hours before the Dec. 16 House vote, promptly reversed their support for the bill, saying the revisions could endanger Hawaii's economic and legal standing. Both officials are Republicans.
"The new bill explicitly states that it gives the state of Hawaii no authority to tax or regulate the new tribe, while ambiguously stating that nothing in the bill will itself pre-empt state authority over Native Hawaiians or their property," said Mr. Bennett in a statement. "Such a provision would guarantee years, if not decades, of litigation."
Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, the state's senior Democratic senator, told local reporters in Honolulu last week that differences were being "ironed out" with the governor's office and predicted the Senate would vote on the amended bill in February. But to date, no final deal has been announced.
One problem is that a Native Hawaiian tribe's lands are likely to be far more vast and valuable than those of the average North American tribe on the mainland. Nobody knows exactly how much property would go to the new government — that would be settled in negotiations — but it could be as much as 40 percent of the state's land mass.
That property, known as the "ceded lands," is spread throughout the state, and includes some of Hawaii's prime tourist destinations and military installations, such as Pearl Harbor. The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii and Beacon Hill Institute estimate that the Akaka bill would cost the state $689.7 million annually in lost state tax and land-lease revenues, not including the additional cost of setting up the new governing entity.
Supporters argue that Native Hawaiians need their own government in order to address the community's long-standing problems. Surveys show the average income and educational achievement of Native Hawaiians tends to be lower than that of other state residents.
Allowing Native Hawaiians to form an Indian tribe gives them "the exact same rights and protections afforded other native governments in prior federal reorganization legislation," said the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement in a Dec. 15 letter to the House Natural Resources Committee.
"The change … affirms the inherent authority of the Native Hawaiian government and puts it on an equal footing with other Native American governments," said the council.
Whether Native Hawaiians should be viewed in the same way as North American Indians is another topic of debate. Mr. Akaka and others argue that Native Hawaiians, like Indians, are an indigenous and conquered people. Critics say they were never conquered, they've never lived as a separate people, and they participated in the vote to grant Hawaii statehood in 1959.
The bill's foes also argue that the bill would balkanize the state, traditionally a harmonious mix of ethnicities and cultures, and create a race-based spoils system. The bill could also establish a precedent for other groups to try to organize.
"I wonder how long it will be before elements in the Muslim community demand to be separated by race and governed by Shariah law," said Rep. Tom McClintock, California Republican, at the House committee hearing.
At the Dec. 17 Senate Indian Affairs Committee vote, Mr. Akaka downplayed the revisions to the bill, saying the legislation's primary goal remained unchanged.
"While the bill has evolved over the years, it has maintained its true intent: to extend the policy of self-government and self-determination to Native Hawaiians, for the purposes of a federally recognized government-to-government relationship," said Mr. Akaka.
He also said he would be sure to keep the governor and attorney general in the loop in the future. Both of Hawaii's members of Congress, like their Senate counterparts, are Democrats.
The last-minute meddling may have endangered what was once viewed as a legislative slam-dunk. The bill languished for years under President Bush, who had vowed to veto it, but the election of Mr. Obama — who returned from a family holiday vacation to his native state Monday — appeared to remove the final obstacle.
While the bill enjoys the backing of Hawaii's most powerful leaders and institutions, the same can't be said of its popular support. A Zogby International poll commissioned by the Grassroot Institute and released Dec. 15 found that 51 percent of Hawaiians surveyed opposed the bill, while 34 percent supported it.
U.S. suspect in Pakistan defends 'jihad'
by Asif Shahzad
SARGODHA, Pakistan | One of five Americans detained in Pakistan said their aim was to go to Afghanistan to wage jihad against Western forces, defending their intention as justified under Islam.
But he denied any links to al Qaeda or plans to carry out terrorist attacks in Pakistan, as alleged by Pakistani authorities.
Monday was the first time the young Muslims from the Washington area have addressed a court after being arrested in early December in the eastern Pakistani city of Sargodha. The case has spurred fears that Westerners are traveling to Pakistan to join militant groups. Pakistani police have said they plan to seek life sentences for the men under the country's anti-terrorism law.
"We are not terrorists," one of the men, Ramy Zamzam, told Associated Press as he entered a courtroom in Sargodha on Monday. "We are jihadists, and jihad is not terrorism," he said.
Jihad has several different meanings in Islam, but Mr. Zamzam seemed to be referring to the duty to fight against foreign forces viewed as occupying a Muslim country.
The five men — Umar Farooq, Waqar Khan, Ahmed Minni, Aman Hassan Yemer and Mr. Zamzam, ages 19 to 25 — denied they had ties with al Qaeda or other militant groups during a court appearance Monday in Sargodha, their attorney, Ameer Abdullah Rokri said.
"They told the court that they did not have any plan to carry out any terrorist act inside or outside Pakistan," Mr. Rokri said. "They said that they only intended to travel to Afghanistan to help their Muslim brothers who are in trouble, who are bleeding and who are being victimized by Western forces."
The court ordered the release of one of the suspects' fathers, Khalid Farooq, because of a lack of evidence that he had committed any crime, police officer Tahir Shirazai said.
It was not clear if Mr. Farooq, also a U.S. citizen, was still in custody since authorities said they had released him more than two weeks ago.
The Americans arrived amid tight security. About a dozen police cars escorted the prison van inside the court premises as officers manned the rooftops of surrounding buildings. The men wore handcuffs as they walked into the courthouse for their hearing.
The court remanded the men to prison for 14 days to give police time to prepare their case, Mr. Rokri said.
Police have not said what the group's intended target was, but authorities say the men had a map of Chashma Barrage — a complex located near nuclear power facilities that includes a water reservoir and other structures. It lies in the populous province of Punjab, about 125 miles southwest of the capital, Islamabad.
Pakistani police and government officials have made a series of escalating and, at times, seemingly contradictory allegations about the men's intentions, while U.S. officials have been far more cautious. The U.S. is also looking at charging the men.
Officials in both countries have said they expect the men to eventually be deported back to the United States, though charging them in Pakistan could delay that process.
The U.S. Embassy has declined to comment on the potential charges the men face in Pakistan.
Las Vegas underground
by Oskar Garcia
LAS VEGAS | Underneath its glitzy casinos, far from the bright marquees, there is another Las Vegas, a pitch-black, dank underworld virtually unknown and unseen by those who live, work and play above.
About 300 people — mostly men battling demons of various addictions — live in the underground storm system built to protect the desert playground from the infrequent cloudburst.
There's no sign or word of welcome down here. Drug use is nearly universal. Most people carry makeshift weapons and the police don't often come unless they are called.
But the denizens have found a haven in the labyrinth of concrete tunnels that snake beneath the city and its suburbs.
In a place where total darkness can be just one bend away, visitors to this urban netherworld stumble across the unexplainable. A beat-up teddy bear lies next to a dirty chef's knife propped up against a wall. Graffiti turns into murals near sparse pockets of light.
A scruffy black cat's meow is startling as it scrambles in a pile of junk to escape a flashlight's beam. The echoes of footsteps change as boots hit standing water, or accidentally kick empty beer bottles as they tiptoe past midday sleepers. Fetid smells of garbage, dirty water and wet cloth waft through the corridors.
Each subterranean encampment can be as spartan as a few worn blankets, or as elaborate as an apartment fitted with queen-size beds, dining utensils and knickknacks.
One camp just west of the Las Vegas Strip is wallpapered with hardcore pornography, a collage of magazine pages modified with hand-drawn comic booklike dialogue bubbles giving voice to naked women.
"You'd be surprised the things that wash down in this channel … it's hard to even describe," said Rick "Iron" Cobble, a 45-year-old Oklahoma native, who sleeps in a 5-foot-high tunnel near the south end of the glittering Strip, not far from the "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" sign.
Mr. Cobble, battling severe drug addiction while living near a mound of washed up garbage, said his only belongings are a small mound of blankets and his clothes.
"Right now I'm just trying to survive," Mr. Cobble said. "That's the only way you can put it."
Rich Penksa, a retired correctional sergeant who began traversing the tunnels earlier this year for a nonprofit's homeless outreach, said he first heard about the tunnels years ago from prison inmates who told tales of living under Sin City when not behind bars.
"I don't think I've ever felt odder than when I'm down in that tunnel environment," said Mr. Penksa, who once encountered thousands of spiders feasting on the baby mosquitoes multiplying in standing water. Mr. Penksa frequents the tunnels for HELP of southern Nevada, which is working to place tunnel residents into more conventional homes.
What started as a piecemeal set of individual drains is now part of a 500-mile maze of pipes, washes, basins and open channels, said Betty Hollister, spokeswoman for the Clark County Regional Flood Control District that built the system. Local jurisdictions maintain it using sales tax money at a cost of $7.9 million last fiscal year.
About 200 miles of the system — mostly built since 1986 — are underground drains ranging from 2-foot pipes to 12-foot-high, 20-foot-wide reinforced concrete boxes that shape channels, Miss Hollister said.
The people who call these tunnels home — mostly men ages 35 to 50, are a distinct breed, Mr. Penksa said.
"Even the folks that are homeless above ground are very leery of the inhabitants of the tunnels. They're kind of feared," he said.
Annie Wilson, homeless liaison for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, said officers usually only go into the tunnels when they are called or if they are doing homeless outreach.
Mr. Penksa said he has encountered a few children and women living alone below, but no families.
The drains and 82 basins work together like bathtubs, with rainwater filling basins then draining through large output pipes, Hollister said. The system, driven by gravity, propels water east to Lake Mead. The change in elevation from Red Rock Canyon — 2,800 feet, or twice the height of the Stratosphere Tower — means water can travel as fast as 30 mph through the tunnels with levels rising as much as a foot per minute, Hollister said.
"When the water comes, if you're not ready for it, it'll take you," Mr. Cobble said. "It's not like a little trickle."
Fortunately, Las Vegas went 347 days without any rainfall in 2009, and had only five days when at least 0.10 of an inch of precipitation fell. Still, since 1960, there have been 31 flood deaths in the city, according to the flood district, including five deaths since 1992 believed to be homeless people.
Matthew O'Brien, a writer who began exploring the tunnels in 2002 and wrote a book about them published in 2007, said people live in the tunnels for a wide range of reasons, including to get out of the desert summer heat that easily exceeds 100 degrees.
Mr. O'Brien said the vast majority are addicted to either drugs, alcohol, gambling or some combination of the vices. The tunnel residents, he said, largely live off the excesses of the casino corridor by panhandling or cashing out unplayed slot machines — a practice known as the credit hustle.
Mr. Penksa said the majority of tunnel dwellers don't want assistance.
Still, HELP has placed 18 tunnel residents into permanent housing since March.
"In these tunnels, no one bothers you, no one harasses you — there's a permanence," he said. "When you leave and come back, you know your home's going to be there in the tunnel."
Buglers volunteer to honor vets
by Sara A. Carter
Thomas Day calls taps "the hardest 24 notes," and he has been playing them — and recruiting others to play them — at military funerals to honor American veterans.
Now 70, the self-styled "bugle man" from Chicago organized Bugles Across America in 2000, when Congress enacted a law allowing recordings of taps to be played at veterans' funerals because of a shortage of buglers.
The recordings are just not the same, said Mr. Day, who started playing taps at funerals 60 years ago.
"I just love doing this stuff, and I know God put me here to do things like this and keep the memory of our veterans alive," Mr. Day told The Washington Times. "We call it the hardest 24 notes there is, and it really is. When you finish and lower the horn, bringing your right arm up to a salute, it's an unbelievable feeling. Later, the handshakes, hugs that you get, there is no amount of money that can buy that feeling."
Playing taps live "gives the families closure and something to remember their heroes and the sacrifices they have made," he said.
Mr. Day started with only a handful of buglers in 2000. Since then, his organization has grown to more than 7,000 volunteers from children to old-timers. About 2,000 of the volunteers are women.
Gerald Pallesen, 80, from Marcus, Iowa — who is known by the buglers in the organization as "Ol' Gezzer" — said he will brave any type of weather to attend a service. He began playing the bugle in 1943 and said he has lived his life playing taps in honor of veterans.
"I'm a World War II veteran," Mr. Pallesen said proudly. "My father was a veteran of World War I. I guess my reason for doing this is, it gives me an opportunity to participate in honoring our true heroes of this nation, to be a part of that. I consider it an extreme privilege to do this, and I don't mind the time it takes or the weather. When I need to get to a service, I get there."
Mr. Day said too many funerals still depend on recordings. That is a "sad situation," he said, when more than 39 percent of the nation's 23.4 million living veterans are 65 or older, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Since the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than 5,300 American troops have been killed in action or died of other causes during their service.
More than 656,000 veterans — predominantly those from World War II, Korea and Vietnam — died in 2009, according to estimates from the Census Bureau.
The Defense Department employs about 500 buglers, Mr. Day said, so the services his organization provides are important to veterans' families, Mr. Day said.
Because of his efforts, a new generation of buglers is learning that the "real thing is much better than a recording, especially for the families," said Kelly Kilbride, 13, from Sac City, Iowa.
Kelly, who was born with an inherited form of rickets — an ailment that causes bones to weaken and fracture — has dedicated her free time to playing for families of deceased veterans since she was 11 and heard about Mr. Day's group from a news program.
The girl, who has gone through two painful surgeries and wears braces on both her legs, travels to funerals with her mother, Sandy Kilbride.
"When people first see me, they think, 'Oh, she's so small — how can she play taps?' and then when they hear me play, it's a completely different reaction," said Kelly, who began playing the bugle in the fourth grade. "I play vibrato. I lay on the notes a little bit, so it's sweeter. The families are just so grateful that I volunteer my time. One family was so grateful that they sent me $10, and I gave it right back to the veterans."
Despite the time and money her family invests to get Kelly to the funeral services, she said, she accepts no payment. She opened a special bank account for donations that are given back to veterans and their families, Mrs. Kilbride said.
"She really is a remarkable person," Mr. Day said of Kelly. "She is the youngest female bugler in our group."
"I hope more young buglers volunteer their time to the men and women who've given so much to us," Kelly said. "Sometimes I can't make a funeral service because it's too far, and it would require me missing too much school. I try to make as many as I can, but I mostly do the funeral services in our area."
Kelly, whose dream is to become a pediatrician, said she plans on playing taps throughout high school and college.
"Knowing what I've been through after surgery, the pain, you feel like you want to crawl under a rock," she said. "Then I think the pain is only temporary. But the men and women who give their lives for our country because they volunteered, now that's real sacrifice."
Kelly's brother-in-law, Nicholas Rohmiller, who serves with the Iowa Air National Guard, just returned from a three-month deployment to Iraq.
"I feel like what they've done for our country is so good that we should at least give back to them, because some have even died for us," Kelly said. "We need as many volunteers as we can get. All people have to realize is that the satisfaction of giving back is the greatest gift of all."
The forgotten virtue of firearms
During Christmas week, a registered sex offender with a conviction for attempted murder used a gun to take three hostages at a Wytheville, Va., post office. Not too surprisingly, the national media gave the crime extensive news coverage. Such sensationalism leaves a distorted image about what happens with guns every day in the United States. When guns work to stop crime, there's not nearly as much drama to sensationalize and, as a result, that much less coverage.
In Oklahoma City the previous week, an armed citizen singlehandedly stopped an attack that surely would have resulted in a multiple-victim public shooting. The media gave the event scant attention. The scene went down when a Marine, who was on leave and came home for the holidays, started firing in an apartment parking lot. Before anyone was harmed, another man aimed his permitted concealed handgun at the attacker and ordered him to put down his weapon. The shooter dropped his gun and ran into his father's apartment, barricading himself in. Three-and-a-half hours later, the man surrendered to the police.
A Marine with a gun who wanted to cause harm would surely be able to maim or kill a lot of people. Those dead bodies would have attracted exhaustive coverage. Of course, corpses are newsworthy in our sensational culture, but when an armed citizen stops an attack, the heroism rates barely a blip on the national radar screen. In this case, a search found just one television news story on the incident, and it left out the identity of the man who saved the day. In our confused times, murderers, it seems, are more interesting than heroes.
An important detail that is neglected in news coverage is that all the multiple-victim public shootings in America - crimes in which more than three people were killed - happened where legal concealed handguns are banned. The Wytheville post office is such a gun-free zone, not to mention that the felon who committed the crime was banned from possessing a firearm anywhere. The Oklahoma City attack was stopped because the man who stopped it could carry a concealed handgun.
Often what's true and what makes good TV are two different things. But either way, news standards don't give people any idea about the costs and benefits of people owning guns. Police are extremely important in stopping crimes, but police understand that they almost always arrive on the scene after a crime has occurred. Heroic actions of citizens who stop attacks deserve a lot more attention.
Four global crisis spots
by Michael O'Hanlon
Of course, any American president has umpteen international issues to address in any given year - including those that can be foreseen as well as those that pop up. Managing the three big wars (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan), the three additional major crisis spots (North Korea, Iran, the Arab-Israeli "peace process"), and the three big, new rising or declining powers of the early 21st century (Russia, China, India) takes a huge amount of time and effort. So do other broad transnational issues including energy and climate change, nuclear nonproliferation, international crime, immigration. And the global economy continues to be perhaps the most important issue of all in many ways.
But for my money, four specific security issues will reach crucial and predictable milestones in 2010 - and for all of them, the role of American policy will have a major influence on outcomes. They are the following:
Afghanistan . Although some worry that his timeline to start bringing U.S. troops home in mid-2011 suggests wavering commitment, President Obama has in fact been very tough and resolute in regards to this war. He will effectively triple U.S. combat forces in the war in his first 18 months in office, ultimately siding with Gen. Stanley McChrystal and Pentagon leadership over some major doubters in the White House and the Democratic Party. But as commendable as this decision was, it reflected only our inputs to policy, and should not be confused with results.
In the course of 2010 we will see if the strategy, now that it is properly resourced (with Gen. McChrystal soon to have at least 95 percent of all the troops he requested), can really work. This will require among other things continued engagement with President Hamid Karzai, including a friendly but firm sort of pressure to improve his governance, and constant attention to the civilian side of the policy, starting with the need for a strong international aid coordinator as counterpart to Gen. McChrystal in his military role. Look for growing areas of the country in which violence begins to subside gradually, and Afghans increasingly show confidence in NATO and their own government, if things go as we hope.
Pakistan . Here the U.S. role is less direct, of course, but the stakes are even higher. The dynamics are not totally dissimilar. Again, we need to help prop up the legitimacy and improve the performance of an indigenous government of questionable standing among its own people. We also need to help in continuing to reverse battlefield trends that were going the wrong way into at least part of 2009. The government has gained greater resolve in recent months but there is a long ways to go. And the nation's economy went into a funk along with most of the rest of the globe in late 2008 and 2009, jeopardizing efforts to bring Pakistan's huge youth demographics into the labor force.
U.S. policy went in the right direction in 2009 with more security and economic aid flowing to Islamabad. But we need to work with Pakistanis to be sure the money gets to the right places, including the nation's northwest and its school system and its underclasses. And we need to continue our long, slow efforts to bolster America's relationship with the country after years of neglect and distrust on both sides. More aid resources may be needed, if Pakistan's policies improve enough to warrant further investment.
Iran . Alas Tehran is headed towards a nuclear bomb in all likelihood, and it is dubious that even a military strike could do more than delay the inevitable. But we can make the costs so high that Iran's leaders either think twice about their pursuit of a bomb, or further jeopardize their moral and political authority with their own people. This requires patient application of sanctions, a policy begun under President Bush and increasingly intensified under Mr. Obama as he realized that leaders in Tehran in fact were not interested in "unclenching their fist," to use the line from his inaugural address.
2010 will likely be the year when any Israeli military strike would occur; my own hope is that it will not happen, and that instead we will continue to harness international indignation with Tehran to put pressure on its leaders. Even if we fail to prevent Iran from getting the bomb in this way, we can move seamlessly into a policy of containment that limits the size of Iran's arsenal while making clear to future leaders of the country that they can only rejoin the international community through verifiable disarmament in the future.
Nuclear nonproliferation and nuclear weapons testing. Finally, 2010 is the year when the U.S. Senate may consider ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) on nuclear weapons, signed under Bill Clinton but previously rejected by the Senate during his administration. Since then, our nuclear arsenal has held up even better than expected, more alternatives to nuclear testing to preserve confidence in the arsenal have been devised, and verification methods have been honed (allowing us for example to detect North Korea's sub-kiloton test of 2006). The case for ratification is strong. If it occurs here, that will be a good boost in the arm for the broader international effort to delegitimize nuclear weapons - not necessarily stopping Iran from getting the bomb, alas, but making it easier to pressure Tehran as well as leaders in Pyongyang if they move in provocative nuclear directions.
So battlefield trends in Afghanistan and Pakistan, sanctions trends towards Iran, and the fate of the CTBT in the U.S. Senate would be among my most important indicators to watch on the international front in 2010.
Michael O'Hanlon is author of "The Science of War," (Princeton University Press, 2009) and is senior fellow and director of research in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution.
Underwear bomber uncovers opportunities (part 1)
by Frank J. Gaffney Jr.
Harry Truman kept on his desk a sign that read "The Buck Stops Here." As President Obama gathers with his national security team Tuesday to ensure that, as he put it last week, "there is accountability at every level" for the latest in a rising tide of terrorist attacks inside the United States, Mr. Truman's successor must accept responsibility for his own role in the growing danger.
I am not suggesting that Mr. Obama was directly complicit in the failure to keep Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab and his explosive-laden underwear off Northwest 253 on Christmas Day. As is often the case with these things, there were lots of red flags "in the system" about this would-be terrorist that should have kept him off that plane. Such "dots" are easily connected with hindsight, after the attack is launched. The trick is for people well south of the president to act on them beforehand.
The fact that the trick was not performed in this instance or, for that matter, in connection with the penultimate attack - the one perpetrated by Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan at Fort Hood last November - does indeed constitute, in President Obama's words, a "systemic failure." It is entirely appropriate to try to find out who dropped which ball, less to assign blame than in the hope of preventing a repeat.
One thing is already obvious, though.What Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano famously called "the system" has been trying with increasing difficulty to prevent terrorism here at home within impossible policy and programmatic constraints. Mr. Obama must take a measure of responsibility for those constraints.
The most important of these has been the systematic and deliberate dumbing down of U.S. government efforts to understand, characterize and, therefore, act against the enemy.For example, terms like "man-caused disasters," "oversees contingency operations," "isolated extremists" have been coined to obscure, rather than illuminate, the fact that we are under assault by Muslims who adhere to the supremacist program and ideology that authoritative Islam calls Shariah.
Adherents to Shariah are explicitly obliged to engage in holy war, or "jihad." Muhammad showed that the preferred way to wage jihad is through terrifying violence. Only where violent jihad would be impracticable or counterproductive does Shariah grant its followers the latitude to engage in jihad in non-violent and stealthy ways.
While the tactics may differ, the goal, however, is absolutely the same: the submission of the non-Muslim world to Islam and, ultimately, the triumph of a global Islamic theocracy.
The "systemic failure" of Christmas Day and before that at Ft. Hood arose because, at least until now, government personnel have been effectively proscribed from addressing the threat in these terms. They have not been allowed to call it what it is or to give prioritized attention (read "profiling") to those who adhere to this seditious program. Needless to say, with few exceptions, officials have been discouraged from resisting demands for various accommodations and preferential treatment for the Shariah faithful, let alone from trying to shut down the latters' operations in America (Shariah-adherent mosques, penetration of Wall Street, Muslim Brotherhood front organizations and even jihadist training camps).
Moreover, few in the military, intelligence or law enforcement communities have missed what has happened under this administration (and, in fairness, under the previous one) to patriots like the Joint Chiefs of Staff's erstwhile Shariah specialist, Steven Coughlin, or an FBI special agent with deep expertise in counterterrorism and jihad, John Guandolo.For courageously challenging the official orthodoxy on the ideological wellspring of the threats we face, namely Shariah, they lost their jobs.
Not surprisingly, those who have, in Mr. Coughlin's words, "a professional duty to know" the nature of the enemy and its threat doctrine have generally been unwilling to jeopardize their careers and reputations by accurately understanding and depicting such things. As long as our protectors rightly fear being treated as "racists," "bigots" and "Islamophobes" - not just by the Muslim Brotherhood types, but by their own government - we are assuredly condemned to more systemic failures.
If Mr. Obama really means to hold "every level accountable," then he must make clear that he is prepared to fix the contributing factors for which he has been responsible. The best way to proceed may be to take a page from the playbook of two other of his predecessors.During the presidency of Gerald Ford, the then-Director of Central Intelligence (and future President) George H.W. Bush was bedeviled by concerns that "the system" was not accurately understanding the magnitude of the threat posed by the last great totalitarian ideology: Soviet communism.
Mr. Bush took the unprecedented step of commissioning an outside group of highly skilled and known skeptics to provide him with a second opinion informed by full access to all the relevant classified data and analyses. This so-called "Team B" provided a far more accurate assessment, one that ultimately informed the measures President Ronald Reagan took to destroy the Soviet Union.
Unfortunately, we don't have several decades to find and fix the systemic failures afflicting American policy towards today's ideological menace, Shariah. Convening and heeding a Team B made up of the likes of Messrs. Coughlin and Guandolo would give President Obama a chance to defeat today's enemies - and avoid the buck that will otherwise ultimately and unavoidably stop at his desk: the needless loss of large numbers of American lives at the hands of jihadists bent on our destruction.
Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. is president of the Center for Security Policy, a columnist for The Washington Times and host of the nationally syndicated program, "Secure Freedom Radio."
Underwear bomber uncovers opportunities (part 2)
by Mark Steyn
On Christmas Day, a gentleman from Nigeria succeeded (effortlessly) in boarding a flight to Detroit with a bomb in his underwear. Pretty funny, huh?
But the Pantybomber wasn't the big joke. The real laugh was the United States government. The global hyperpower spent the next week making itself a laughingstock to the entire planet. First, the bureaucrats at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) swung into action with a whole new range of restrictions. Against radical Yemen-trained Muslims wearing weaponized briefs? Of course not. That would be too obvious. So instead they imposed a slew of constraints against you. At Heathrow last week, they were permitting only one item of carry-on on U.S. flights. In Toronto, no large purses.
Um, the Pantybomber didn't have a purse. He brought the bomb on board under his private parts, and his private parts weren't part of his carry-on (although, if reports of injuries sustained in his failed mission are correct, they may well have been part of his carry-off). But no matter. If in doubt, blame the victim. The TSA announced that for the last hour of the flight no passenger can use the toilets or have anything on his lap - not a laptop, not a blanket, not a stewardess, not even a paperback book. I can't wait for the first lawsuit after an infidel flight attendant confiscates a litigious imam's Koran as they're coming into Los Angeles International.
You're still free to read a paperback if you're flying from Paris to Sydney, or Stockholm to Beijing, or Kuala Lumpur to Heathrow. But not to LAX or JFK. The TSA were responding as bonehead bureaucracies do: Don't just stand there, do something. And every time the TSA does something, you'll have to stand there, longer and longer, suffering ever more pointless indignities. Last week, guest-hosting The Rush Limbaugh Show, I took a call from a lady who said that, if it helps keep her safe, she's happy to get to the airport "four, five, whatever hours" before the flight. Try to put a figure on "whatever" and you'll get a sense of where America's transportation system is headed. Ten years ago, you got to the airport 45 minutes, an hour before the flight. Now, thanks to the ever more demanding choreographers of the homeland security kabuki, it's two, three, four, whatever. Look at O'Hare and imagine the size of airport we'll need. And by then the Pantybomber won't even need to get on the plane; he can kill more people blowing up the check-in line.
And remember, this was a bombing mission that "failed." With failures like this, who needs victories?
Joke, joke, joke. The only good news was that the derision was so universal that the TSA promptly reined in some of their wackier impositions a couple of days later. But by then Janet "Incompetano," the Homeland Security, had gone on TV and declared to the world that there was nothing to worry about: "The system worked." Indeed, it worked "smoothly". The al Qaeda trainee on a terrorist watch list, a man banned from the United Kingdom and reported to the CIA by his own father, got on board the plane, assembled the bomb, and attempted to detonate it. But don't worry about a thing; the system worked.
Twenty-four hours later, Secretary Incompetano was back on TV to protest that her words had been taken "out of context." No doubt, the al Qaeda-trained CIA-reported cash-paying crotch-stuffed watch-list member's smooth progress through check-in was also taken "out of context."
But by then the president of the United States had also taken to the airwaves. For three days, he had remained silent - which I believed is a world record for the 44th president. Since January 20th 2009, it's been difficult to switch on the TV and not find him yakking - accepting an award in Oslo for not being George W Bush, doing Special Olympics gags with Jay Leno, apologizing for America to some dictator or other. But across the electric wires an eerie still had descended. And when the president finally spoke, even making allowances for his usual detached cool, he sounded less like a commander-in-chief addressing the nation after an attempted attack than an assistant district attorney at a Cook County press conference announcing a drugs bust: "Here's what we know so far. ... As the plane made its final approach to Detroit Metropolitan Airport, a passenger allegedly tried to ignite an explosive device. ... The suspect was immediately subdued. ... The suspect is now in custody and has been charged. ..."
Etc., etc., piling up one desiccated legalism on another: "allegedly," "suspect," "charged." The president can't tell an allegedly alleged suspect (which is what he is in Obama fantasy-land) from an enemy combatant (which is what he is in cold hard reality). But worse than the complacent cop-show jargonizing was a phrase it's hard to read as anything other than a deliberate attempt to mislead the public: The president referred to the Knickerbomber as an "isolated extremist." By this time, it was already clear that young Umar had been radicalized by jihadist networks in London and fast-tracked to training in Yemen by terror operatives who understood the potentially high value of a westernized Muslim with excellent English from a respectable family. Yet President Obama tried to pass him off as some sort of lone misfit who wakes up one morning and goes bananas. Could happen to anyone.
But, if it takes the White House three days to react to an attack on the United States, their rapid-response unit can fire back in nothing flat when Dick Cheney speaks. "It is telling," huffed the president's communications director Dan Pfeiffer, "that Vice President Cheney and others seem to be more focused on criticizing the administration than condemning the attackers."
"Condemning the attackers"? What happened to all the allegedly alleged stuff? Shouldn't that be "condemning the alleged isolated attacker"? The communications director seems to be wandering a bit off-message here, whatever the message is: The system worked, so we're inconveniencing you even more. The system failed, but the alleged suspect is an isolated extremist, so why won't that cowardly squish Mr. Cheney have the guts to condemn the attacker and his vast network of associates?
The real message was conveyed by Fouad Ajami, discussing the new administration's foreign policy in the Wall Street Journal: "No despot fears Mr. Obama, and no blogger in Cairo or Damascus or Tehran, no demonstrator in those cruel Iranian streets, expects Mr. Obama to ride to the rescue." True. Another Iranian deadline passed on New Year's Eve, but the United States will set a new one for Groundhog Day or whenever. And, just as the thug states understand they now have the run of the planet, so do the terror cells. A thwarted terror attack at Christmas is bad enough. Spending the following week making yourself a global joke is worse. Every A-list despot and dimestore jihadist got that message loud and clear - and so did American allies already feeling semi-abandoned by this most parochial of presidents. Expect a bumpy 12 months ahead. Happy New Year.
Mark Steyn is the author of the New York Times best-seller "America Alone" (Regnery, 2006).
From the Department of Homeland Security
TSA Statement on New Security Measures for International Flights to the U.S.
News & Happenings
January 3, 2010
Today, the Transportation Security Administration issued new security directives to all United States and international air carriers with inbound flights to the U.S. effective January 4, 2010.
The new directive includes long-term, sustainable security measures developed in consultation with law enforcement officials and our domestic and international partners.
Because effective aviation security must begin beyond our borders, and as a result of extraordinary cooperation from our global aviation partners, TSA is mandating that every individual flying into the U.S. from anywhere in the world traveling from or through nations that are state sponsors of terrorism or other countries of interest will be required to go through enhanced screening. The directive also increases the use of enhanced screening technologies and mandates threat-based and random screening for passengers on U.S. bound international flights.
From the FBI
|WHEN OFF-LINE IS BETTER
Another Way to Search Crime Records
Almost six million times a day, law enforcement officers from around the country conduct online searches of our electronic repository of criminal justice records called the National Crime Information Center (NCIC). They're looking for information and possible leads on fugitives, missing persons, terrorists, convicted sex offenders, violent gang members, stolen property, and more.
Sometimes, though, agencies don't have enough data for an electronic search or need additional information no longer available. So we offer another investigative tool—the off-line search—which searches information in the database a different way or looks through records no longer available on the NCIC server.
During the past fiscal year, CJIS ran more than 22,000 off-line searches for law enforcement.
Kinds of off-line searches include:
|NCIC: A Quick Rundown
- I nitially created in 1967 to help find fugitives and stolen property.
- Over the years, additional capabilities and categories added (i.e., missing/unidentified persons, violent gangs/terrorist organizations, identity theft victims, immigration violators).
- Over the years, additional capabilities and categories added (i.e., missing/unidentified persons, violent gangs/terrorist organizations, identity theft victims, immigration violators).
- 11.7 million records currently in NCIC
- Records come from FBI, other federal agencies, state/local law enforcement, authorized courts.
- Accessed by more than 18,000 law enforcement agencies from squad cars, squad rooms, and increasingly, PDAs.
- First year of operation, handled 2 million transactions
- Fiscal Year 2009, handled almost 2.5 billion.
- Averages 6.7 million transactions a day.
- Average response time is 0.06 seconds. .
~ Use of non-unique personal descriptors, like sex, height, estimated age, and hair color (these descriptors can be used in online searches but only in conjunction with other identifiers, like a person's name and date of birth);
~ Partial information searches (i.e., an officer only has three or four characters of a license plate or only half of a vehicle identification number);
~ Checking purged records (records that have been removed by law enforcement, or as result of varying retention schedules); and
~ Searches of NCIC's transaction logs, which may uncover other queries on the same suspect made by another law enforcement agency (can help establish a suspect's whereabouts).
Perhaps one of the more well-known examples of an off-line NCIC search involved Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh .
~ After identifying McVeigh as the renter of the explosives-laden Ryder truck, investigators passed us his name for all available information on him. An off-line search of NCIC's transaction log showed that about 90 minutes after the bombing, the Oklahoma State Highway Patrol made an inquiry on McVeigh. Armed with this information, investigators contacted the highway patrol and found that McVeigh was sitting—two days after the bombing—in a nearby jail cell on unrelated weapons charges.
A more recent example of how off-line searches can make a difference :
~ On September 26, 2009, a 13-year-old girl was reported missing from Daviess County, Kentucky, and her information—including details about the convicted sex offender she was last seen with—was entered into NCIC. That night, an agent from our Louisville office, working with local authorities, contacted CJIS and requested an off-line search of the suspect's license plate. Very quickly, we discovered that the Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, Sheriff's Office had run a check on the license plate earlier that day (before Kentucky officials had a chance to enter the suspect's plate number into NCIC). Officials in Wisconsin were notified, and the man was located by 4 a.m. the next day in a Wisconsin hotel. The girl was recovered safely.
Both online and off-line NCIC searches are just another example of how we're leveraging technology and information-sharing to track down criminals.
- More on NCIC