From the L.A. Daily News
Canoga Park veteran who helped free concentration camps returns to Europe
by Bob Strauss
David Cohen hasn't been back to Europe since his U.S. Army unit swept through Germany at the end of World War II.
This week, though, the Canoga Park veteran will celebrate his 88th birthday in Poland. At Auschwitz, the site of the infamous Nazi death camp.
Cohen is one of 16 concentration camp liberators joining Holocaust survivors and some 10,000 high school students from 35 countries on the 25th March of the Living. It's the first time U.S. WWII vets will be going on the march from Auschwitz to Birkenau, which takes place on Holocaust Remembrance Day, April 19.
Like the survivors who have done so for a quarter century, the vets will tell the teenagers their eyewitness accounts of the Nazis' genocidal horrors, in hopes that the aged generation's stories do not die out with them.
Cohen - a 19-year-old enlisted man from Brooklyn at the time - will speak of a growing astonishment as the 69th Infantry Division drove deeper into Germany in the winter of 1945.
"There were concentration camps all over, not just one or two," Cohen recalled in his roomy mobile home decorated with family photos, figurines from his late wife Edith's ceramic cat collection, and a framed, hand-drawn map of the 69th's route through Europe.
"I don't remember the names; the only one I remember, of course, was Buchenwald."
In west-central Germany, Cohen mainly found small work camps, where enslaved peoples from the Third Reich's former conquests labored for whatever war industries the Allies hadn't bombed to smithereens.
Cohen has a photograph of an Indian Sikh in an elaborate turban, who had obviously been captured from a British unit and was kept alone in a house Cohen called "his individual concentration camp." He also has several photos of a healthy-looking, freed young Polish couple, surreally smiling and all dressed up for their wedding in the war ruins.
However, when the 69th reached Buchenwald deep in what would soon become East Germany that April, the hard-bitten, Battle of the Bulge veterans encountered the truly unimaginable.
"This is a picture of Buchenwald," Cohen said as he shared a small but remarkable photo he'd taken. An emaciated corpse lay against barbed wire in the foreground, in the distance is the barracks the dead man spent his last shreds of life crawling from, and in between stand a gaggle of rather plump, decently dressed Hausfraus.
"Now, it's not to show you the dead body; there were bodies all over," Cohen explained. "This guy went to the fence because he wanted to wave hello to the Americans.
"But if you look in the background, you'll see civilians walking around. We had an order from Eisenhower ... He was horrified, and he said, `At gunpoint, I want you to take all the people that live nearby to see what a concentration camp is. I want as many as possible to see it, because somewhere in the future there will be people who say this never happened."'
One of the March of the Living's key goals is to ensure that the truth is never forgotten. Irving Roth, who'll essentially act as guide for the veterans at this year's event, tells another side of the Buchenwald story.
Born in Czechoslovakia, Roth and his family escaped to Hungary before Germans or Slovak fascists could transport them. But when the Wehrmacht swept through Hungary on its retreat from Russia in 1944, the 14-year-old Irving was caught and sent to Auschwitz, then force-marched to Buchenwald as the Red Army advanced across Poland.
Roth was in a young people's satellite camp on April 10, 1945, when another death march was postponed due to an extended American air raid. The next morning, Roth and several hundred other starving adolescents discovered that their guards had fled.
"There was a rumor a few days before that the Nazis might blow up the place," Roth recalled. "So there was fear; we knew that their objective was to destroy us.
"But by 3 in the afternoon, the first two American soldiers - one was black, one was white - walked into our camp," added Roth, who after the war immigrated to the U.S., became an engineer and now runs a Holocaust center on Long Island. "People often ask me, `What was it like?' Well, does anybody know what the messiah looks like? I do. I saw both of them."
Cohen wasn't one of those guys. But like them, as soon as he saw the skeletal survivors of Buchenwald, all he wanted to do was feed them - and try to understand.
"When you first saw that, you felt so sorry, so bad," the kid from Brooklyn remembered. "You couldn't conceive of anybody doing these kinds of things to people. That was the first feeling.
"We brought them food, we brought them water, anything we could. Actually, that was a bad thing. When a person has been starved like that, they have to be weaned back to eating. It was inadvertent, but some of them died because we gave them food."
When they meet, Roth may tell Cohen not to feel guilty. Barely 75 pounds at the time, Roth spent his first night of freedom in the latrine, but laughs that that was a small price to pay for his first real meal in nearly a year.
Being Jewish, Cohen was certainly aware of the Nazis' anti-Semitism. But like most of the rest of the free world, he'd had no idea how far their efforts to wipe out European Jewry had gone.
Today, Cohen doesn't seem capable of holding a mean thought in his head. One wonders, though, if he despised the Germans 67 years ago.
"Inwardly you do," Cohen shrugged. "But you have to realize, everywhere you went there were dead bodies, and since we were in Germany they were mostly German. So a certain hardness comes in, it's like part of our training."
Cohen will also be accompanied to Poland by his granddaughter, Paige Stern, a 25-year-old volunteer staffer with MOTL's Los Angeles delegation. She previously made the trip in 2010.
"He wasn't in Poland, but to go back to the camps and see how they've memorialized it a little bit, I think it'll be real interesting for him," Stern said of her grandfather.
Two weeks after they entered Buchenwald, Cohen's unit met the Russians many miles to the east in Torgau, Germany.
War over, he returned to New York, married the fiancee he'd left there, went to work in the grocery business and had a couple of kids, including Paige's mom Susan. The elder Cohens moved to California in the late 1970s in order to be closer to their family.
And they traveled widely.
"We went to Hawaii, I even went to China," Cohen said. "But I had no desire to ever go back to the continent."
He doesn't know what to expect on this trip. One thing is definitely in store for him, though.
"As a group and as individuals, I'll be speaking to the liberators," Roth said. "Really, telling them the appreciation we feel, the emotional attachment that I and, I think, most survivors feel. The gratitude to these individuals.
"They're real people. You can touch the real person who was there, who walked into your camp, who said, `You no longer are going to die.' They need to hear that from us because it's important for them to know that they did not waste their youth on frivolous fighting.
"They came there with the purpose of fighting Nazism, and specifically, through that, I am alive!"
From the Washington Times
Obama: ‘I'll be angry' if Secret Service allegations are true
by Dave Boyer
President Obama said Sunday that he would be “angry” if accusations prove true that his Secret Service agents hired prostitutes, while congressional Republicans called for investigations of the scandal that exploded over the weekend and overshadowed the president's three-day Summit of the Americas trip to Colombia .
In a news conference in Cartagena before he departed, Mr. Obama said the charges, if true, would dishonor both the U.S. and the agency charged with his protection.
“If it turns out some of the allegations that have been made in the press are confirmed, then, of course, I'll be angry,” Mr. Obama said in his first public comments on the incident.
“We represent the United States,” the president said. “When we travel to another country, I expect them to observe the highest standards because we're not just representing ourselves. We're here on behalf of our people. … Obviously, what's been reported does not match up with those standards.”
Republicans went further Sunday, saying the reports of agents' bringing hookers to their hotel before Mr. Obama's arrival made the agents vulnerable to blackmail and could still be threatening the president's security.
Rep. Peter T. King , New York Republican and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee , said he has directed his staff to launch an “immediate investigation” and likely will hold a hearing on the matter.
“They leave themselves open to threats, to blackmail,” Mr. King told “Fox News Sunday.”
The Secret Service relieved 11 agents from duty in Colombia and sent them home amid accusations that some of them brought prostitutes to their rooms at the Hotel Caribe, a luxury beachfront hotel, prior to Mr. Obama's arrival on Friday. Prostitution is legal in Colombia in what are called “tolerated zones,” where the hotel was located.
Rep. Darrell E. Issa , chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee , said the agency's leadership needs to be held accountable and intimated that the weekend incident wasn't the first.
“The investigation will not be about the 11 to 20 or more involved; it will be about how has this happened and how often has this happened before,” Mr. Issa , California Republican, said on CBS ‘ “Face the Nation.” “Things like this don't happen once.”
The incident came to light when one of the agents reportedly had a prostitute in his room past the hotel's 7 a.m. curfew for overnight “guests.” It's unclear whether the agent got into a dispute with the prostitute over her fee, or got into an argument with a hotel employee over paying an extra charge for an overnight guest. Police were called, and the U.S. Embassy was notified.
Cavorting with prostitutes and other forms of illicit sex or vice have long been considered unacceptable behavior for men in security-sensitive jobs, with terms such as “honey trap” and “mata hari” entering the lexicon.
Three Hotel Caribe waiters told the Associated Press in Colombia that about a dozen U.S. government workers, who they presumed were the Secret Service agents, had been drinking heavily for a week. One waiter said their apparent supervisor scolded the team on the hotel's back terrace Thursday, after which the men left the hotel.
The scandal also widened Sunday, when U.S. Southern Command took disciplinary action against five U.S. service members in relation to the incident for violating curfew.
Gen. Douglas Fraser, commander of the Southern Command, said in a statement that he was “disappointed by the entire incident and that this behavior is not in keeping with the professional standards expected of members of the United States military.”
A spokesman for the Secret Service said the president's security was never affected, but Mr. Issa said the incident has exposed serious flaws in the protective service 's operations.
Mr. Issa stopped short of saying he would hold his own hearings on the matter, but said questions need to be answered and possible security threats may already exist.
“In this particular case, the president may not have been in danger,” Mr. Issa said. “But that begs the question: What happens if somebody six months ago, six years ago, became the victim of their own misconduct and is now being blackmailed? The question is, is the whole organization in need of some soul-searching, some changes before the president, the vice president, members of the Cabinet are in danger?”
The Secret Service said the agents involved have been interviewed and placed on administrative leave pending an internal investigation. They were in Cartagena performing advance work for the president's visit and were not assigned to Mr. Obama's personal security detail.
“The Secret Service demands more from its employees, and these expectations are met and exceeded every day by the vast majority of our workforce,” Paul Morrissey, assistant director of the U.S. Secret Service 's office of government and public affairs, said in a statement. “This incident is not reflective of the behavior of our personnel as they travel every day throughout the country and the world performing their duties in a dedicated, professional manner. We regret any distraction from the Summit of the Americas this situation has caused.”
White House press secretary Jay Carney said Mr. Obama is confident that the agency can deal with the matter properly.
From Google News
Why Airport Security Is Broken-And How To Fix It
Airport security in America is broken. I should know. For 3½ years—from my confirmation in July 2005 to President Barack Obama's inauguration in January 2009—I served as the head of the Transportation Security Administration.
You know the TSA. We're the ones who make you take off your shoes before padding through a metal detector in your socks (hopefully without holes in them). We're the ones who make you throw out your water bottles. We're the ones who end up on the evening news when someone's grandma gets patted down or a child's toy gets confiscated as a security risk. If you're a frequent traveler, you probably hate us.
More than a decade after 9/11, it is a national embarrassment that our airport security system remains so hopelessly bureaucratic and disconnected from the people whom it is meant to protect. Preventing terrorist attacks on air travel demands flexibility and the constant reassessment of threats. It also demands strong public support, which the current system has plainly failed to achieve.
The crux of the problem, as I learned in my years at the helm, is our wrongheaded approach to risk. In attempting to eliminate all risk from flying, we have made air travel an unending nightmare for U.S. passengers and visitors from overseas, while at the same time creating a security system that is brittle where it needs to be supple.
Any effort to rebuild TSA and get airport security right in the U.S. has to start with two basic principles:
First, the TSA's mission is to prevent a catastrophic attack on the transportation system, not to ensure that every single passenger can avoid harm while traveling. Much of the friction in the system today results from rules that are direct responses to how we were attacked on 9/11. But it's simply no longer the case that killing a few people on board a plane could lead to a hijacking. Never again will a terrorist be able to breach the cockpit simply with a box cutter or a knife. The cockpit doors have been reinforced, and passengers, flight crews and air marshals would intervene.
Second, the TSA's job is to manage risk, not to enforce regulations. Terrorists are adaptive, and we need to be adaptive, too. Regulations are always playing catch-up, because terrorists design their plots around the loopholes.
I tried to follow these principles as the head of the TSA, and I believe that the agency made strides during my tenure. But I readily acknowledge my share of failures as well. I arrived in 2005 with naive notions of wrangling the organization into shape, only to discover the power of the TSA's bureaucratic momentum and political pressures.
There is a way out of this mess—below, I'll set out five specific ideas for reform—but it helps to understand how we got here in the first place.
The airport checkpoint as we know it today sprang into existence in spring 2002, over a month and a half at Baltimore/Washington International airport. New demands on the system after 9/11, like an exhaustive manual check of all carry-on bags, had left checkpoints overwhelmed by long lines and backlogs. A team of management consultants from Accenture delved into the minutiae of checkpoint activity at BWI: How long did it take to pass from one point to another? How did the behavior of travelers affect line speed? How were people interacting with the equipment?
The consultants had a million ideas for improvement, but with no infrastructure, acquiring even the most ordinary items became a quest. For example, before passengers walked through the metal detectors, they needed to place their keys, jewelry and change into a container. But the long, skinny plastic dishes in use at the time tipped over. So a team member went to PetSmart, bought a bunch of different dog bowls and tested each one. The result was the white bowl with a rubber bottom that's still in use at many airports. (Please, no jokes about the TSA treating passengers like dogs.)
One brilliant bit of streamlining from the consultants: It turned out that if the outline of two footprints was drawn on a mat in the area for using metal-detecting wands, most people stepped on the feet with no prompting and spread their legs in the most efficient stance. Every second counts when you're processing thousands of passengers a day.
Members of Congress, who often fly home to their districts for the weekend, had begun demanding wait times of no longer than 10 minutes. But security is always about trade-offs: A two-minute standard would delight passengers but cost billions more in staffing; ignoring wait times would choke the system.
After I was confirmed as TSA administrator in 2005, one of the first things I did in office was to attend screener training at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
I sat down at a computer with Gary, a solidly built guy in his 40s with a mustache and a shaved head. Gary pointed at a screen that simulated the carry-on bag monitors at checkpoints. "What do you see?" he asked, a half smile on his face.
I stared at the series of colorful, ghostly images that Gary froze on the screen and tried to pick an easy one. "Well, that's a computer or some electronic, there are wires, maybe a battery." The sharp edges were easy to pick out, and the recognizable pattern of a motherboard jumped out. "But I don't know about that big orange blob on top of it."
"Right," said Gary. "The orange-colored part…. That means it's organic. Anything made of organic material—clothes, shoes, food—it's all going to register orange here."
As a confidence boost, Gary gave me a series of images with guns and knives in various positions. Knives lying flat were giveaways, but when viewed lengthwise, they had very little visible surface. Explosives were a whole different story. A plastic explosive like C4 is organic and dense. It appears as a heavy orange mass. Unfortunately, a block of cheddar cheese looks roughly the same.
As we started testing with a moving scanner, Gary warned me that too many false positives would be a big problem. A "hair-trigger" strategy would get me flunked. Images with guns took about one second to identify. Clear bags took roughly five seconds to double check for blade edges. It was cluttered bags—with their multihued oranges, blues, greens and grays jumbled together—that were the killers.
I wish that more of our passengers could see the system from the perspective of a screener. It is here, at the front lines, where the conundrum of airport security is in sharpest relief: the fear of missing even the smallest thing, versus the likelihood that you'll miss the big picture when you're focused on the small stuff.
Clearly, things needed to change. By the time of my arrival, the agency was focused almost entirely on finding prohibited items. Constant positive reinforcement on finding items like lighters had turned our checkpoint operations into an Easter-egg hunt. When we ran a test, putting dummy bomb components near lighters in bags at checkpoints, officers caught the lighters, not the bomb parts.
I wanted to reduce the amount of time that officers spent searching for low-risk objects, but politics intervened at every turn. Lighters were untouchable, having been banned by an act of Congress. And despite the radically reduced risk that knives and box cutters presented in the post-9/11 world, allowing them back on board was considered too emotionally charged for the American public.
We did succeed in getting some items (small scissors, ice skates) off the list of prohibited items. And we had explosives experts retrain the entire work force in terrorist tradecraft and bomb-making. Most important, Charlie Allen, the chief of intelligence for the Department of Homeland Security, tied the TSA into the wider world of U.S. intelligence, arranging for our leadership to participate in the daily counterterrorism video conference chaired from the White House. With a constant stream of live threat reporting to start each day, I was done with playing defense.
But the frustrations outweighed the progress. I had hoped to advance the idea of a Registered Traveler program, but the second that you create a population of travelers who are considered "trusted," that category of fliers moves to the top of al Qaeda's training list, whether they are old, young, white, Asian, military, civilian, male or female. The men who bombed the London Underground in July 2005 would all have been eligible for the Registered Traveler cards we were developing at the time. No realistic amount of prescreening can alleviate this threat when al Qaeda is working to recruit "clean" agents. TSA dropped the idea on my watch—though new versions of it continue to pop up.
Taking your shoes off for security is probably your least favorite part of flying these days. Mine, too. I came into office dead set on allowing people to keep their shoes on during screening. But, contrary to popular belief, it isn't just Richard Reid's failed shoe-bomb attempt in December 2001 that is responsible for the shoe rule. For years, the TSA has received intelligence on the terrorists' footwear-related innovations. Some very capable engineer on the other side is spending a lot of time improving shoe bombs, which can now be completely nonmetallic and concealed in a normal street shoe. There's still no quick way to detect them without an X-ray.
I was initially against a ban on liquids as well, because I thought that, with proper briefing, TSA officers could stop al Qaeda's new liquid bombs. Unfortunately, al Qaeda's advancing skill with hydrogen-peroxide-based bombs made a total liquid ban necessary for a brief period and a restriction on the amount of liquid one could carry on a plane necessary thereafter.
Existing scanners could allow passengers to carry on any amount of liquid they want, so long as they put it in the gray bins. The scanners have yet to be used in this way because of concern for the large number of false alarms and delays that they could cause. When I left TSA in 2009, the plan was to designate "liquid lanes" where waits might be longer but passengers could board with snow globes, beauty products or booze. That plan is still sitting on someone's desk.
The hijackings of the 1960s gave us magnetometers, to keep guns off planes. After the Pan Am 103 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, a small amount of international checked baggage was scanned and people were required to fly with their luggage. After 9/11, the TSA was created and blades were banned.
Looking at the airport security system that we have today, each measure has a reason—and each one provides some security value. But taken together they tell the story of an agency that, while effective at stopping anticipated threats, is too reactive and always finds itself fighting the last war.
Airport security has to change. The relationship between the public and the TSA has become too poisonous to be sustained. And the way that we use TSA officers—as little more than human versions of our scanners—is a tremendous waste of well-trained, engaged brains that could be evaluating risk rather than looking for violations of the Standard Operating Procedure.
What would a better system look like? If politicians gave the TSA some political cover, the agency could institute the following changes before the start of the summer travel season:
1. No more banned items: Aside from obvious weapons capable of fast, multiple killings—such as guns, toxins and explosive devices—it is time to end the TSA's use of well-trained security officers as kindergarten teachers to millions of passengers a day. The list of banned items has created an "Easter-egg hunt" mentality at the TSA. Worse, banning certain items gives terrorists a complete list of what not to use in their next attack. Lighters are banned? The next attack will use an electric trigger.
2. Allow all liquids: Simple checkpoint signage, a small software update and some traffic management are all that stand between you and bringing all your liquids on every U.S. flight. Really.
3. Give TSA officers more flexibility and rewards for initiative, and hold them accountable: No security agency on earth has the experience and pattern-recognition skills of TSA officers. We need to leverage that ability. TSA officers should have more discretion to interact with passengers and to work in looser teams throughout airports. And TSA's leaders must be prepared to support initiative even when officers make mistakes. Currently, independence on the ground is more likely to lead to discipline than reward.
4. Eliminate baggage fees: Much of the pain at TSA checkpoints these days can be attributed to passengers overstuffing their carry-on luggage to avoid baggage fees. The airlines had their reasons for implementing these fees, but the result has been a checkpoint nightmare. Airlines might increase ticket prices slightly to compensate for the lost revenue, but the main impact would be that checkpoint screening for everybody will be faster and safer.
5. Randomize security: Predictability is deadly. Banned-item lists, rigid protocols—if terrorists know what to expect at the airport, they have a greater chance of evading our system.
In Richmond, Va., we tested a system that randomized the security procedures encountered by passengers (additional upper-torso pat-downs, a thorough bag search, a swab test of carry-ons, etc.), while not subjecting everyone to the full gamut. At other airports, we tried out a system called "Playbook," which gave airports a virtual encyclopedia of possible security actions and let local law-enforcement, airport and TSA officials choose a customized set of counterterror measures.
Implemented nationally, this approach would give to the system as a whole a value greater than the sum of its parts—making it much harder for terrorists to learn how to evade our security protocols.
To be effective, airport security needs to embrace flexibility and risk management—principles that it is difficult for both the bureaucracy and the public to accept. The public wants the airport experience to be predictable, hassle-free and airtight and for it to keep us 100% safe. But 100% safety is unattainable. Embracing a bit of risk could reduce the hassle of today's airport experience while making us safer at the same time.
Over the past 10 years, most Americans have had extensive personal experience with the TSA, and this familiarity has bred contempt. People often suggest that the U.S. should adopt the "Israeli method" of airport security—which relies on less screening of banned items and more interviewing of passengers. But Israeli citizens accept the continued existence of a common enemy that requires them to tolerate necessary inconveniences, and they know that terror plots are ongoing.
In America, any successful attack—no matter how small—is likely to lead to a series of public recriminations and witch hunts. But security is a series of trade-offs. We've made it through the 10 years after 9/11 without another attack, something that was not a given. But no security system can be maintained over the long term without public support and cooperation. If Americans are ready to embrace risk, it is time to strike a new balance.
Fort Collins community policing to offer more than 'Band-Aids'
by Robert Allen
A more noticeable police presence is coming to Fort Collins neighborhoods this summer as a community policing unit rolls out to tackle quality-of-life issues from party houses to code enforcement.
The Neighborhood Enforcement Team expands police officers' role "so we can solve problems and not just apply Band-Aids to them," Fort Collins Police Chief John Hutto said.
The six officers and a sergeant are financed through the Keep Fort Collins Great ballot item approved in 2010. No other police resources will lose support as a result, he said.
Depending on an area's needs, police may be in a cruiser, on foot or riding a bicycle. They'll attend community meetings and work with and advise neighborhood watch organizations.
"We've seen what can go horribly wrong with neighborhood watches in Florida, for instance," Hutto said.
In that case, the fatal shooting of an unarmed 17-year-old boy by a non-police citizen in Sanford, Fla., led to national headlines with questions about the state's Stand Your Ground law.
Sgt. Kevin Cronin, who'll be running the Fort Collins unit, said he intends to cater to specific needs in each area of the community, in part through crime-trend analysis and becoming "highly engaged" through face-to-face interaction with neighborhoods.
He said the unit is expected to begin July 9. It will serve six of the city's seven districts. District 1, the Old Town area, already has a committed unit to handle its unique set of issues.
Hutto said the "proactive" NET unit will address issues such as parking in neighborhoods or where there's friction between residential and business interests. The patrol unit will continue to handle 911 calls in the districts, while the NET unit addresses "things that are not 15-minute quick fixes," he said.
"It's not just about enforcement, tickets or throwing people in jail," he said. "I absolutely support officers walking up (and starting) discussions ... Sometimes that's all it takes to fix problems."
Eventually, Hutto said he hopes to establish a base for the unit's operation out of a storefront in the Campus West part of Fort Collins. City officials in 2006 had discussed such a substation, but at the time found there wasn't enough money to support it.
Hutto is hosting a series of community forums this year to further address local issues and needs. The first one is set for 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Thursday at Dunn Elementary School Flex Room, 501 S. Washington St.
It's intended for residents north of Drake Road and west of College Avenue, as well as people north of Mulberry Street and east of College Avenue.
"City staff will provide brief presentations on neighborhood crime activity data, website on-line tools, followed by break out sessions with city police, neighborhood services and transportation services staff to discuss what is working well and how services can improve," according to a police news release.