A number of years ago we began moving our travel destinations further and further from home. Three of our grandchildren are the most adventurous in demanding the freedom to travel alone and as far afield as they desire. On the one hand I am thrilled and, yet, I closely follow their movements on a world-wide terrorist alert site. As I write this commentary, I realize that if there is a push-the-envelope travel gene imbedded in their psyche, in all probability they inherited it from me. At age 16, I couldn’t understand why I could not get a job working on international cargo ships. Forget that I looked like I was 12, had never been away from home and blamed by parents for my lack of success. In the mid-1950s, I and 3 other Americans “escaped “ from the violent chaos in Haiti as the only passengers on what turned out, for a long while, to be the last Pan Am flight out of Port a Prince, as rioting and political upheaval made the Island far too dangerous for us to remain. To complicate our trip, we were only able to fly as far as Kingston, Jamaica. Aside from the pandemic that is unsettling and complicating world, travel, there are parts of the world that I have happily visited and wished to have stayed, but in today’s world I would not return. India is racked with the virus and in a volatile and violent boarder dispute with China during which lives have been lost. There is nothing like a Pitu – Cachaca as you get closer to Brazil but South America is….. There is nothing like the sunset along the California coast, but aside from the fact that the coronavirus can provide an 89 percent jump in hospitalizations next month, the fires that are burning with a strange, dirty orange sky that are consuming the oxygen that our lungs thrive upon. And as I started writing this Commentary, there was an epic attempt to save the observatory on top of Mt. Wilson. And then there is Turkey. When we landed in Istanbul 15 years ago, our flight having been delayed, I had lost the opportunity to speak at length with a dear friend, Joe Serio, who had attended an international conference on national security and terrorism. This would have been an important briefing for me. His parting comments to me were: “I think things might change here.” How perceptive of today’s Turkey. At that moment, there was nothing to dampen our excitement for the coming holiday, as we moved toward our first stop: checking into a marvelous hotel that had once been a prison, quickly unpacking and walking the streets. The smells, sounds and color that flew past us immediately told us that we were going to have a marvelous holiday. We did and we still speak of certain events with nostalgia. Today, I think: not. Today, Turkey is on the opposite end of a very long national strategic fence of international partners–NATO. The history of Turkey has turned increasingly and dramatically ugly within the last decade. Some political history is necessary to understand the upheaval in Turkish political life and, in some instances, the overriding importance of its international aggressiveness: Its president is directly elected by the citizens for up to two five-year terms, but is eligible to run for a third term if the parliament calls for early elections. Strong man President Erdogan began his rise and tightened the reigns of his political position in the Turkish government within his time as prime minister and his aggressive move toward the presidency in 2014. A constitutional referendum passed in 2017, during the time of an aborted coup while the State was under emergency control, and he manipulated the political system and created a new presidential hierarchy. It expanded his role and effectively consolidated the president’s position and power. Then in an early election in June 2018, at Erdogan’s request to allegedly implement the new presidential system, the prime minister’s role was abolished, leaving him with full control over the government. He is eligible for a third term, and could hold office through 2028, if he is, as expected, be reelected again. Erdogan’s ruling political party, the AKP, has asserted control over the judiciary, the police and the media, and has aggressively manipulated national agencies either to eliminate or weaken his political opposition. The world has witnessed the Erdogan government arrest opposition leaders, educators, military personal and journalists, accusing them of crimes from terrorism to “insulting” the president. Non-Muslim religious groups are under tight government restraints regarding most of their activities. What was once a full secular state no longer exists. The separation of church and state, which was one of the historic foundations of what had become a vibrant modern Turkey, has been all but eradicated by Erdogan. Symbolically, this past July, in his attempt to reverse Turkish history, he began the process of converting the beautiful Hagia Sophia, a Byzantine church and then a popular secular museum, back into a mosque . Internationally, Erdogan’s actions mirror one who has long been attempting to put Turkey, and thus him, at the controlling center of a geo-political sphere of influence reaching as far as Greece, Italy, infuriating France and supporting those who threaten Israel, as he also backs the Muslim Brotherhood in their conflict with the President of Egypt. Erdogan’s government early condemned the Syrian regime, attacked its leaders and supported the country’s rebels with arms and tactical advice. He also supports Hamas and their aggression against Israel. Presently, we witness Turkey’s growing aggression toward Greece and others in a contentious fight for control and domination in the Mediterranean Sea. In July of this year, Dr. Ilan Fuchs wrote in a long analysis that Turkey’s Erdogan is trying to replicate a “neo-Ottoman” sphere of influence, or as he notes a “Pan-Turkism and Pan-Islamism empire”. Any of the labels one might choose is immaterial, with an increasingly presence of blinking red lights– the results are clearly evident on the ground in Turkey and to the east and west and to the United States, half-way around the globe. We are all involved. Turkey is aggressively placing itself squarely in the critical conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia in what is evolving into a full-blown out-and-out war. Mercenaries from various countries are pouring into the conflict. Erdogan has dispatched Jihadists in the Caucasus to aid Azerbaijan. European nations, practically France, who has long since had a voice in that region have let it been known to Turkey in a stern warning from its President that “France will play its role. Azerbaijan and Armenia then agreed to a “humanitarian ceasefire” in the conflict one week after a prior pause in fighting fell apart. Most Americans learned in grade school that Turkey is unique in that it is a country that geography has one foot in Europe and the other in Asia, and your mother wished she had a rug woven in that Country. What most Americans are not aware of is that the United States Air Force has a major airbase in Incirlik. It is a mere 500 miles from the capital Istanbul, This air base is rated high in our military/strategic importance not only because of its proximity to Russia and other strategic capitals of the Mideast, but its unequal importance as a storage facility for our regional nuclear weapons. Presently, the Turkish economy has been, as in all other countries decimated by the covid-19 virus pandemic, with spiraling double-digit inflation, soaring unemployment and a deep financial deficit. You might remember the uproar when Turkey announced that it would purchase its S-400 air defense system from Russia and not, as a NATO member, a NATO compatible system. The swords were rattled further after Erdogan announced: “The issue of the Aegean and the Mediterranean is one that Turkey will never take a step back from. We will resolutely continue to protect and defend our rights and interests at all times and under all circumstances.” In other words, notwithstanding his membership in NATO and our military presence in Turkey, he was moving toward a Russian partnership. Then at the beginning of this month, angering Greece, the Turkish government announced it is preparing live-fire exercises of the Russian tracking system in the Aegean Sea and has transported its Russian-made S-400 air defense system to international waters in the Black Sea. This past August, it has been widely reported (again in the back pages of the international news) that as Tukey planned for testing both its offensive and defensiveness of its Russian tracking system, it programed its surface-to air-missile launcher system to track U.S. made, Greek F-16 fighter planes. What I find amazing is how long it has taken for a bi-partisan group of United States’ Senators to speak out and address the issues of Turkey’s move not only toward a full dictatorship but their embrace of the Russian dictatorship as they seek the imposition of U.S. sanctions. Silence was the answer from the White House aside from the Secretary of State visiting Greece. The city he should have visited with a clear message was Istanbul not Athens. One can only wonder could the delay or stalling by the present Administration’s response to Erdogan internal and international power grab be that the President openly admires dictatorial leaders: Kim Jon, Putin, and the Philippine’s Duterte. Or could it be that unlike dealing with a world power like China, where to the person in the street, the issues are fairly clear cut– financial and political world dominance. Turkey‘s unique position– political and geographical –in the international community requires, as a member of NATO, a more delicate touch and nuanced skills that are presently lacking in the Trump Administration. There is not much time left on the clock before Turkey is lost, and that would be catastrophic. Richard Allan The Editor
It was a sunny morning, and I had arrived at my law school early and happy to do so. I had developed a blister where my new loafers were rubbing the back of my heel, and I knew that I had bandages somewhere buried in my desk. I never sit when I lectured — but pace and step on and off the lecture platform. No bandages found. My thought as I grabbed my lecture notes was: This I don’t need. The date was 9/11.
As I walked into the classroom a bit before 9 AM, one of my law students, a highly decorated army officer, waved me over to his seat, in our amphitheater type classrooms, and pointed to the screen of his army issues laptop. What I saw was startling. “What’s happened?” he asked. I told him: “We’ve been attacked.”
That happened 19 years ago and killed 2,976 people in New York, Pennsylvania and Arlington, Va. Although there are no percolating headlines today, that event still occupies the time and close attention of many people. A trial of the captured, suspected masterminds of the attack has yet to take place, and an overwhelming portion of the population has long since forgotten about these defendants. We mark the date of the event and move on. In France, they marked the date of the horrific attack on a satirical magazine and kosher supermarket that roiled Paris and the Country in 2015 by going to trial.
On the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 attack, some two dozen relatives of those who had died in the attack attended a solemn meeting with President Trump in the formal Blue Room of the White House. After each family had a hushed individual moment with the President and the First Lady, the families pointedly asked the President to release sealed documents, tightly held within the possession of the F.B.I., of their very comprehensive investigation into attack. Significantly, the Justice Department has continually refused to reveal that information under the last two presidents—one a Republican and one a Democrat. This time, the request was embraced and articulated as a desperate “need for closure”…they had “waited long enough”. They needed to know the truth. Some of the relatives reminded Trump that Presidents Bush and Obama blocked them from seeing the files, as did some of the F.B.I. bureaucrats Trump so reviled and openly detested. The visitors did not mention, and was reported by those covering the event, that they hoped to use the documents in a current federal lawsuit that accuses the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia — an American ally that has grown suspiciously closer under Trump — of complicity in the attacks. The President, it was reported and recorded said: “It’s done.” The families were later informed that the President had directed the attorney general to release the name of a Saudi diplomat who was linked to the 9/11 plot. Justice Department attorneys revealed the Saudi official’s name in a protected court filing that could be read only by lawyers for the plaintiffs. Unfortunately, as was reported in the back pages of the press, the AG toppled the families’ hopes: in a statement to the court, the AG insisted that other documents that might be relevant to the case had to be protected as state secrets. Their disclosure, he wrote, risked “significant harm to the national security.” An overused and abused “legal phase” employed by the Government to hide so-called important and relevant information.
A little over a year ago, and for the first time, a U.S. military court judge in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, set a trial date for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the other four men charged with plotting the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Judge W. Shane Cohen, an Air Force colonel, said the trial should begin on Jan. 11, 2021, though a number of other procedural deadlines would need to be met for the long-awaited trial to attempt to lurch forward.
Beginning in May of 2012, with any new military criminal charges, new laws were adopted. War crimes defendants were to be provided the same protections offered in national security trials in federal court. Due process now requires that the government turn over all evidence normally required to criminal defense attorneys. Lawyers for the 9/11 five terrorist defendants say prosecutors have not been totally forthcoming. That claim is not uncommon.
Many trial experts have suggested that the scheduled trial date is unrealistic, and they say Guantánamo isn’t physically ready or convenient for a trial of that scale or magnitude. Prosecutors, it’s claimed, have been asking for a trial date for several years and say that finally scheduling one will motivate all parties. At this writing there is a hearing scheduled for this month at a date that has not been released, at which time it has been signaled that the defense attorneys will argue that the confessions obtained by the government are tainted and inadmissible because of the harsh interrogations conducted by the CIA during the early stages of detention. The stakes in the upcoming trail are obviously high for the defendants. The defendants are charged with war crimes that are punishable by death, for their alleged role in helping the airline hijackers in executing the attack.
Fascinating, and I had no idea until I started to research this topic, that the alleged mastermind defendant in this case, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed had also has been linked to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the murder of journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002, and the 2003 Jakarta Marriott bombing, as well as other attacks by the al-Qaida network. This man is not new to his profession.
You might remember, if you lived in New York City, the uproar during the opening days of the Obama Administration, when he announced that he will fulfill his promise that he would close the infamous Guantanamo base and suspend military trials. The AG then decided to move the trial of these defendants to federal court house in Foley Square in Manhattan. The public and local government reaction was nothing less than a firestorm of protests. The trial would “put a terrorist target on New York City”, and there would not be any vehicular traffic because it would all come to a halt in downtown Manhattan. The headlines were relentless until that idea was quietly abandoned.
Some important background to why this case has taken so long to come to trial and has complicated the prosecutions difficulty in mounting its case: the defendants, after their captures in Pakistan in 2002 and 2003 were held out of the States and of reach by the courts for years in the belief (hope) that they might, if pressured sufficiently (tortured?), have information that could stop another attack and help interrupt the work of the Qaeda terrorist network. To accomplish that, they were sent to secret networks of prisons run overseas by the C.I.A. Some claim, in their reporting that the C.I.A’s intent was to never to bring them to trial, but to forestall and disrupt any further terrorists attacks. Obviously, that was a strategy that never was going to work, and only increased the demands for a trial that would reveal, in the normal course of events, the C.I.A’s illegal methods of interrogation. It took five years for President George W. Bush to order that the defendants be transferred to Guantanamo for trial. During that time the defendants were held incommunicado. Mohammed was water boarded 183 times. It was alleged that the five defendants were “brutalized, isolated and kept incommunicado.” For years into their custody, the defendants were denied contact with any attorneys, and it took five years after their capture to formally charge the defendants in a death penalty case. In the interim, there have been a revolving number of military judges and defenses counselors, each being subject to in-depth security clearance.
Two important points come to mind: Because of the years spent in custody without benefit of council, aside from the claim of “torture”, the admissibility of the evidence the C.I.A collected is placed in serious jeopardy. Second, and unlike the “traditional” criminal trial in state and federal courts, a military judge in a national security case cannot direct the government to disclose information requested by the defendants. The only option, if the government refuses to divulge the information demanded, is to suspend the trial until such time the government complies or in the alternative dismiss the case. In the first instance to place the trial on hold waiting for the government to respond is useless, and the stonewalling could go on indefinitely. Second, if the military court were to dismiss all charges because of the government’s rejection of an information demand, there would be a national outcry that could not be contained.
Each year the names of those who were killed on 9/11 are read aloud. Each year I remember where I was; I remember a person– a friend of a friend who died; I remember a person who took the wrong train to work, arrived late and ran as the buildings came down around her. Will these trials, if they ever take place, change anything in the lives of the persons in the street? You and me. I doubt that very much. The date will be remembered. And that’s about all. To the legal historian, the review of these events might make a good case history or maybe a seminar course at a law school. I still look up in the sky when a plane flies close over the city. To most: it’s just a date.
It’s now July 9th, the days are getting much warmer, and I wish I were on the holiday my wife and I had planned. On my desk calendar the notation for today: Leave for London. Instead, I am in my pajama bottoms and a dress shirt top, thinking about the last few months. America was attacked in a park across the street from the White House, and the pandemic virus killed thousands more. We met our grandson, not in our apartment, but in a small neighborhood pocket park. Releasing myself from self –detention and heading home after a short walk, my temperature was taken by the people who guard the front door of my apartment house. I try not to think of “what next”.
Merging one into the other, the pandemic and national protesting has created the impression of a nation in suspended animation. There appeared to be nothing else occupying our attention. There should have been, and there will be a price to be paid.
Being so narrowly focused and preoccupied, our national security concerns are overtaken by others who seek to inflict harm. There are those who wait for and thrive on the chaos of others. And the present chaos has provided a wide window of opportunity for the domestic and international terrorist.
In the UK, Detective Superintendent Matthew Davison, Coordinator at Counter Terrorism Policing, noted with the uncertainty generated by the pandemic that young people are potentially more vulnerable to negative influences and exploitation, as they explore their concerns online. The terrorist/extremist groups troll in the same cyber space, looking to use our apprehension, fear and uncertainty of the pandemic as a vehicle to spread disinformation, fear and to encourage violence. We certainly see an unsettling uptick in violence in the U.S… The Department of Homeland Security uncovered plans that white radically motivated extremists, the followers of Neo-Nazi James Mason, are planning to use the COVID-19 as a bioweapon. This reminds me of the saran gas attack in the Tokyo subway systems many years ago.
There is ample evidence that terrorists are looking at new approaches and techniques, being inspired by the confusion and slaughtering statistics caused by the virus. They also see that professional sports around the globe are grappling with suspending or limiting their playing seasons. The stock market collapsed after being in the bull territory for 11 years, and the WHO declared a global pandemic as the President cut off travel from Europe. And those were the events only until March 11 of this year. All of this has duly been noted by the terrorist abroad and at home as they incorporate COVID “fear” as an additional tool, along with explosive material to be planted in the minds of the civil population. One command from the James Mason Neo Nazi group was quite clever directing its followers to fill their contaminated saliva in spray bottles and use the spray bottle as a weapon in particularly non-white areas.
The Turkistan Islamic Party is a known terrorist group with close ties to Al Qaeda, and it is looking to the pandemic to ravage its enemies. While Most of Hezbollah’s topmost commanders have been diagnosed with the COVID-19 virus, it hasn’t impeded its activities. The New Jersey Governor said violent Islamist extremists have used propaganda about the racial and political tensions in the country “to discredit the United States and motivate residents to accept their violent extremism and encourage supporters to conduct terrorist attacks.” There have been concerted efforts to disrupt police radios and take down websites in Minnesota, Illinois and Texas. Federal intelligence agents warned that law enforcement should be ready for such tactics as protests continue. The Department of Homeland Security issued a separate warning reporting that personal information of police officers nationwide is being leaked online, a practice known as “doxxing.” Last year was, in terms of domestic terrorism, the worst since the Oklahoma City truck bombing of a federal building on April 19, 1995, that killed 168 people, including 19 children– hundreds of others were injured. All this as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and signed by Iran, to contain its nuclear development and arsenal— has been unraveling as the world focuses on COVID-19.
On July 5, front page headline in the New York Times, a story that has been percolating for some weeks that a sergeant major in the German elite Special Forces, was arrested. This member of the selected forces was hiding kilograms of PETN, an explosive which is very similar to nitroglycerin, along with AK47 rifles, silences and thousands of rounds of ammunition along with a trove of stolen material from the German army. Found, also, were reams of SS neo-Nazi material. Clearly, this was an issue that had been present far too long, and too dangerous for Germany to ignore any further both domestically and internationally. The problem has deepened beyond what had been anticipated by the German Republic and more important the far-right has probably infiltrated its national security services.
As I was preparing to end this Commentary, it was reported that essential nuclear centrifuges in Iran’s uranium development program were severely damaged or destroyed in a fire of unknown origin. A number of high ranking Iranian officials have suggested such attacks could have been launched in a cyberspace attack by the United States or Israel. Iran, in today’s global tension, may last out with a cyberspace attack where it faces a level playing field compared to a conventional military conflict.
As noted in my last Commentary, the South China Sea is becoming more dangerous as the U.S. is steadily increasing its naval presence with massive naval war games.
And lastly, words do matter when they attack our national and cultural values as a nation, and are spoken by the President of the United States. On 4 July, the President signaled that as part of his reelection message, it is his intention to rally his base of white supporters with an ominous and dangerous depiction of the recent national protests. He darkly predicted that the country will be attacked by throngs of “angry mobs, sought to unleash a wave of violent crimes in our cities.” The statistics indicate that those “angry mobs” have been embraced by an overwhelming portion of the nation and major corporate enterprises.
I find myself in what seems like a lockdown that is lasting forever, obsessing about China.
When I was in my first year at college, my hope/dream was to become a doctor and move to China. There was something very mystical about its people and culture. At some point in my adult life (married with two children) I tried to teach myself one of the many dialects of Chinese. That lasted one week. And now I am back again, reading all I can about a country that is becoming more threatening to our national security. And by that I mean that China is a threat not merely to our economic wellbeing but also our physical security. Although China, like the rest of the world, is fighting the coronavirus, it is also experiencing a severe economic crisis. Notwithstanding these daunting domestic issues, it sluffs off international condemnation as it moves aggressively in escalating military tension between China, its neighbors and United States.
Hong Kong, one of several thorns of conflict in China’s mission to lead the world, will not precipitate a war-like international conflict, but will precipitate and escalate the economic conflict between the U.S. and China. The second prong, Taiwan, has been on the Chinese radar screen to be folded into mainland by the year 2030, and that might well precipitate a war between us. There is a treaty that we have with that island nation. Will India and China go to war over a long simmering border dispute that has erupted in gun fire across their common border? I doubt that very much. Air travel between the two nations was banned and tensions increase, and then the ban was loosened. Our focus should be The South China Sea. Tensions there might very well precipitate an armed conflict within the immediate future.
The South China Sea and its control is a critical military and economic component not merely for the wellbeing and support of the Chinese economy and its neighboring nations, but also the world. If there is a military confrontation between the United States and China are we ready to go to war? Don’t answer that question too quickly.
One given in life is that nothing remains a secret forever. For example–scientists might have just witnessed the birth of a new planet for the first time in mankind’s memory. That is exciting news. Another secret just uncovered, is the Pentagon has been conducting secret in house war games against China. The scenarios were different and diverse. Some involved clashes in the South and East China Seas. One – the worst-case scenario – was an out-and-out war in 2030. The results were devastating—we lost at every turn. The conclusions drawn from those military operations have opened a Pandora’s Box– why are we in that untenable military situation.
In a long “REVIEW” article in the recent weekend edition of the WSJ the headline is “The End of U.S. Military Primacy”. Note—there is no question mark at the end of the title. My online dictionary defines “Primacy” as “the state of being first (as in importance, order, or rank)”. My initial reaction when I read the WSJ headline was– could this be true? I had recently learned that the United States presently spends over 1 Trillion Dollars each and every year on our defense– why then is there that headline. My research seeking our “world standing” — our “national security”, “our national defense” has only heightened my anxiety.
Let me begin with two items: The first is date-marked three years ago (May 2017). Keep in mind that this is a three years old report by Air Force General Frank Gorenc. He maintained that “the airpower advantage the United States has enjoyed over Russia and China is shrinking… (This) comes as part of a deluge of commentary on the waning international position of the United States. The U.S. military, it would seem, is at risk of no longer being able to go where it wants, and do what it wants to whomever it wants. Diplomatically, the United States has struggled, as of late, to assemble ‘coalitions of the willing’ interested in following Washington into the maw of every waiting crisis.” This is a daunting statement and was published three years ago. Clearly nothing has changed this stark picture. Our air force now ranks marginally ahead of China.
The Second, currently from the pen of the China Power Project director, Bonnie Glaser at The Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a think-tank in Washington: “Every simulation (pentagon war game simulation) that has been conducted looking at the threat from China by 2030 have all ended up with the defeat of the US,” The war-games revealed that the U.S. risked “capital losses” even under our present defense efforts. Capital loses is a reference to both our major fighting ships, such as our enormous nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, and advanced operational military bases such as those entrenched in Guam and Okinawa (the southernmost of 5 islands that constitute the Japanese nation.)
The results of the Pentagon war games were startling in that in every one of the various war simulations– China won—we lost! How could that be? And this at a time when we may lose the fight to control the future of communications, and the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi accuses the United States of pushing China to the brink of a new Cold War.
Christian Brose who had been a staff director of the Senate Armed Services has written in his latest book that the Chinese are not focused on projecting power but rather preventing U.S .world domination and preventing its ascendency. I don’t agree. China is flexing their muscle to expand their economic influence and military power starting in the Pacific Ocean. They are developing precisions weapons to prevent us from mobilizing our armed forces in any action against them as I will discuss later in this commentary. There are two major truths to keep in mind: first, in attacking China, its mainland does not begin and end at Beijing but runs for an additional 2500 miles west toward its heart (more of this later). Two, as David Ignatius has written in reviewing Christian Broses’ book, our military hardware and planning has for years been compromised by political/lobbyist/bureaucratic inertia all compounded by powerful entrenched interests. “The Pentagon is good at doing what it did yesterday, and Congress insists on precisely that. We have been so busy buffing our legacy systems.” The then Defense Secretary, Jim Mattis and then-Navy Secretary, Richard Spencer attempted to have an aircraft removed from service in 2019, because these supercarriers are becoming the relics of the modern era – like the battleships of WW II era. Congress refused. “A lot of (aircraft carrier) capabilities, which excel in attacking low-level non-state threats, don’t survive that well against an opponent with advanced anti-access and area denial capabilities,” wrote Australian Strategic Policy Institute analyst Dr Malcolm Davis.
Why are parts of our fighter jet, the F-35, built in every state in the Union? Political pork barreling practiced at its worst. Not merely unacceptable but dangerous to our national security.
In any armed confrontation, we learned from the Pentagon war games, that China has the ability to deploy hypersonic weapons. There are additional survivability issues that come clear:
*our spy and communications satellites would immediately be disabled;
* our forward military bases in Guam and Japan would be “inundated” by China’s precise missiles;
*our aircraft carriers would have to sail away from China to escape attack by their DF-21 missiles , the world’s first anti-ship missile which Brose tags as “the carrier killer”;
* our carrier-borne F-35 fighter jets couldn’t reach their targets because the refueling tankers they need would be shot down, and they have an unrefueled combat radius of about 685 miles. Keep in mind that Beijing is physically located at the eastern end of mainland China with its area defense “envelope” (A2AD), extending to about 2500 miles west from that nation’s capital.
The evidence leads to a number of conclusions:
We need inexpensive autonomous weapons at the edge of the fighting perimeter, rather than a few sexy, eye catching ones (the aircraft carriers and marine assault ships) that are vulnerable to successful military attack. Davis also noted, we need to be “spreading offensive capability across greater numbers of smaller vessels.”
There are systems that we already possess, but not in satisfactory numbers and not fully deployed, to make a significant impression in our military force –-the Air Force unmanned XQ-58A, better known as the “Valkyrie” which cost roughly 45 times less than the F-35 fighter jet. We have an unmanned underwater system known as the “Orca” which is amazingly 300 times less in cost as our Virginia-class attack submarine. There should be additional investment in our bomber capabilities in long distance strike platforms– a larger B-21 Raider force, adapting B-1Bs to carry hypersonic weapons.
To underscore these points, China, within the last weeks, conducted an 11 week combat exercise in the Yellow Sea, which is very closer to mainland China than is the South China Sea, so not nearly as provocative. Their message is they are getting ready for a military confrontation with the U.S. and telling us so.
But our robust robot forces, along with other smaller lethal attack forces, are neither sufficient in number nor sufficiently deployed. We should be spreading our offensive strike capability and strength across a larger number of smaller vessels and larger platform bombers. One problem of serious consequences is that we, as a nation, do not have a lobby forceful enough to rival the giant defense contractors allied with political interests in Congress. Jamie Seidel, a military analyst, wrote that “China is not moving slowly” as we are in the development of its modern navy and air force (in addition to cyberspace). That is not a statement that
cat be contradicted. It’s a fact and these truths only exacerbate our lack of readiness to meet China on the world stage in the coming decades.
Dr. Davis noticed a simple truth: “We have the money, the technological base, and the human talent,” What we lack is the will to change.
On Monday night I witnessed the President of the United States and his Attorney General order an attack on the American people. The citizens who were attacked were unarmed and a no threat to any person or property either civilian or governmental. Their crime was simple. They stood on a path in a park the President wished to use to walk to a church to which he had not been invited to hold a bible aloft and be photographed. Without warning of the President’s desires, the Attorney General ordered those people in combat gear to fire tear gas and stun grenades and then charge the milling crowed as one would charge an enemy on a battle field. The United States, at that very moment, declared war on the American people.
In no way can this event be compared to the American Civil War, when opposing Americans fired their weapons at one another. Two armies, uniformed, armed and prepared for engagement. The Americans attacked Monday night were civilians. No arms, no bricks, no batons. Only their voices. Anger and despair.
On Tuesday evening, I watched how army black hawk helicopters had been employed the evening before against the peaceful crowd. The helicopters were flown low, in a threating manner that simulates their use against enemy ground insurgents. Their large rotary blades were used to create fierce winds to attack and disorient all those in a wide perimeter on the ground. The army attacked unarmed American civilians.
At no time were those Monday night protestors aggressive. At no time did they raise their arms other than in the universal sign of surrender. Their only weapons were their voices. Their only defense was their own bodies. Their only demand on that blindfolded lady that holds the scales of justice was that all people be included in the embrace of impartially and fairness.
With lockdown and unbridled fear of covy-19, I have done little else but sit at the computer—most of the time staring at a screen filed with stories of “death and dying”. I have been intentionally hiding away from late cable news because all it does is tells us in graphic detail how slow or fast we are dying. I frankly have enough disturbing dreams.
So today, notwithstanding my intentional hiding, the first thing I notice, while the world swings blindly at our pandemic threat, is that there is an increase of hostility in our geopolitical world that doesn’t pause for a vaccine or virus test. Buried behind the last pages of the news, three days ago, we find that the leader of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, has once again announced to the world in his warning to Israel that he will tear up their bilateral agreements if the Jewish state should attempt to extend its sovereignty over parts of the West Bank. Then yesterday, Abbas upped the rhetoric, warning of the rise of violence at a time the U.S. had done little to damp down that tinderbox. And, then today, Iran promised to supply arms to Abbas. Washington may have underestimated the international consequences and direct impact on our national security interest, if that threat is carried forward.
It is particularly important for us to be fully engaged with all sides of the international community while in the midst of an international virus attack, a sharp international economic free-fall and most important, China’s increasingly aggressive activities.
China, once again, looms code red on our radar. As I have written previously, I view China as a greater threat to our wellbeing than Russia. China is the second largest holder of our national debt; we owe it trillions of dollars, and they clearly do not cower or recoil from threats or condemnation from the U.S. To the contrary, whenever we throw a barb at them, they respond twice-fold in flipping us off. They have just begun the end of a long history of democracy in Hong Kong.
I have written that China has aggressively increased not merely its presence in the South China Sea but also in the Indian Ocean. It is in territorial conflict with six nations in that region. The United States has informed the India government to resist China’s aggression on their common Himalayan boarder. China’s neighbors, other than India, do not have either the military or economic capacity to confront them on an equal footing. The area depends upon the ability and desire of the United States to place a steady and even hand on the region.
Each day brings greater revelations, most often reported in the small print at the end of a story, of the Chinese building and expanding their military infrastructure and power. Their intentions are obvious –to position themselves as the world’s most influential nation—economically and militarily. We, for a number of reasons, are increasingly removing ourselves from that leadership position. I argue that we will pay a heavy price for that action.
I am not an arms hawk, but I am aware that one cannot unilaterally reduce ones military strength and withdraw from arms agreements. To do so would be utter folly and would defeat our ability to fully defend ourselves not merely at home but in those buffer zones we have developed with friends and enemies abroad. I recognize, at this time of a severe economic turndown, that there are urgent domestic needs seeking economic fairness among all our citizens. There need not be a question of building another aircraft carrier vs housing for the needy. We need not stifle a crucial food program to replenish outdated fighter jets. It is reckless and irrational to put our nation’s needs in an either/or conundrum.
China is not merely a political and economic threat –it is a clear military threat to the United States and our interests. It can better withstand a virus attack on its population than either Russia or the U.S. Although, the political opposition in Russia is closely monitored, it doesn’t compare to the harsh methods used by Beijing to suppress and eliminate opposing voices. And so when China, in the face of a virus pandemic, pulled back on its economic forecasts and closed down Hong Kong’s democracy, while in the process of building its third aircraft carrier, (after illegally enlarging and militarizing “coral reefs”) we should sit up and pay close attention.
The Chinese state owned and controlled Jiangnan shipyard, is building China’s newest aircraft carrier, and has just launched its first large floating work dock. The significance is that China now has the capacity to launch and transport large and ultra large ship modules. This is a momentous breakthrough. Its size is breathtaking. For years this shipyard had been building China’s destroyers and warships. Its ability now expands its capacity to deliver a wider, diverse and enlarged naval force. Second only to the U.S. and Russia, the Chinese military continues to grow alongside a domestic, mushrooming military-industrial complex. And probably more important, China’s fighter jets’ strength is second only to the United States.
Unlike some in our Congress who can be bellicose in rattling the sword of war, I do have a stake in how we take our stance in world politics. I have four grandsons whom I do not want to see sent to war. China is an economic and military bully. And perhaps because it has one billion more in population than the United States, it feels that, it can, in the long run, outlast and overpower its hemisphere neighbors first and then the world. In 1938-39 the world had the power to stop Hitler. It didn’t. We felt that the Atlantic Ocean protected us from the war in Europe and it didn’t. The United States had the power to stop the Soviet Union from implanting its missiles in Cuba. And it did. The Pacific Ocean, notwithstanding that San Francisco is over 5,000 miles away from Beijing, we are not protected from China’s aggression.
We have the power, without firing a shot or short changing the real and obtainable needs of all Americans at home, to stop China’s expansion. To understand the importance of the South China Sea (SCS) and its place in the world’s economy, it is estimated that over 3 trillion dollars of global trade ships through the SCS, and that accounts for at least one third of all the global maritime trade. China’s economy thrives in the SCS.
Because China has no “boots on the ground” in territory where it is seeking to expand its control, one may not view this as a sign of China’s lack of military determination to control the region far beyond its physical boarders. It is a useful lesson in defining the meaning of “territorial aggression” and “foreign occupation”. When a foreign nation’s ship intrudes into your territorial waters without prior permission, that is an aggressive military act. When a foreign nation’s warships patrolled your sovereign water, that is territorial aggression; when a foreign nation sends surveyor ships, uninvited, into your territorial water, that is an aggressive military act. And it is not just in the SCS that China is moving aggressively. The Heritage Foundation reports that China has quietly embarked on government building projects across Africa that add up to a counterintelligence nightmare for the United States and its partners.
The China tariff war, started by the current President, was misdirected and did more economic harm than good. Our naval presence and patrolling of the South Asia Sea is both appropriate and necessary. But that is clearly not enough to stop and reverse China’s territorial aggression. We must engage in an aggressive economic program specifically aimed at China’s hostile territorial claims, so that China will feel more than verbal internal condemnation. Time is not on our side.
These commentaries were created and developed many decades ago, after I spent some time on a sabbatical away from my law school teaching duties. My mission was to address the increasing issues surrounding our national security. It was during my time as an American Scholar-in-Residence at the EastWest Institute that it began to be clear to a small number of us on a national scale that there were indications that the future held the probability of increased violence due to international terrorism. Upon returning to my law school faculty, my focus became, first, the international terrorist and then, years later the domestic terrorist as a new “innovation” in that type of violence. What became very clear was that the interdiction of such criminal behavior required a different approach that also maintained and protected our civil rights.
From time to time I have deviated off my chosen path and ventured, gingerly, into the political ramifications of the actions of some of our political leaders and their effect on our national security.
National security has, over time, become an umbrella term to cover not only our well-being here at home but also the protection of our interests abroad. The interest “abroad” focus is not just on the individual American or U.S. corporate interest and facilities that happen to be beyond the lower48 states, but encompasses foreign countries. If the operations of a foreign country are disrupted or attacked, would there be a negative impact on our own domestic security interests and values? That issue is especially important when our nation is faced with an international crisis or war. For example: Military relations between the U.S. and Israel have been historically close. Israel has provided the U.S. with a decisive and strategic platform in that very hostile region. While being a major purchaser of our military equipment, Israel and the U.S. have engaged in regular joint military exercises. The two countries have maintained a high level of defense cooperation with joint military exercises, military and weapons research and development. I recall, some years ago, a Russian fighter pilot deflected from his squadron on an ordinary flight mission in the Mid-East who landed in Israel. The Israelis did their own research on the plane and then immediately turned the fighter jet over to the U.S.. This was an important coup for our own defense capabilities.
An attack on Israel would be an attack on our own national security interests. If that occasion should arise in the future, it is abundantly clear to me we would see the phenomena called “rally round the flag”. Most often, notwithstanding internal domestic political differences and the advent of a national crisis, U.S. citizens would rally around the flag, which means support for the president escalates. At times it is short run and at other times the effect lasts longer.
Our entry into direct conflict in WWII was less than stellar. The world was in flames for years prior to the attack on December 7th, and I was surprised to learn that even after we were attacked, there was a sizeable portion of the nation that did not want us to go to war and did not immediately rally round the flag. When Europe was in conflagration prior to December 7, 1941, there were Nazi bund meetings, with enormous banners embossed with the swastika, hanging over a crowed that filled every seat in Madison Square Garden in New York City. I would have thought that rally round the flag would have begun much earlier.
We don’t read much about the concept of “rallying round the flag” in world news, but it has crept into today’s pandemic reports. Thus far, “Trump has not gotten the expected bump that comes from national catastrophes, as Americans typically rally around the flag and the president”, says Bernard Baumohl, chief economist at The Economic Outlook Group.
• “These are times when the nation as a whole, the American people, will look to the president and the White House for policies that will get them out of this mess and all they’re seeing is rhetoric designed to get Trump re-elected,” he tells Axios.
• “He wants to see the economy be revived again but before it’s safe to do so. That I think is going to become somewhat catastrophic when the numbers start to pick up for that second wave” of infections.”
For years, the symbol employed by the press to identify our international enemy, was a standing Big Brown Bear with a hammer and sickle embossed on its massive stomach. That formative bear, the Soviet Union, has been reshaped by economics to a smaller Soviet Republic, and has been in semi-hibernation, hampered by economic woes at home.
Today, the United States has two decisive international enemies. Both are dangerous, and both are unpredictable. Both have a potential for impact on our political system; both the potential for manipulation to impact on our democratic process. In no particular order one is the Virus19, and the other is China.
The President is attempting to manipulate both issues, with an eye on the November election. There is nothing subtle about his maneuvers; there is nothing subtle with his goals.
The November election is likely to be a referendum on how Trump handles the pandemic and whether his push to restart the economy pushes the U.S. back on its economic track or drives a second wave of infections that does even greater damage than what we are experiencing.
While a majority of Americans believe that the virus “is a sign from God”, there is a second aspect to this goal and that comes in the form of his son-in-law Jared who floated the idea this week that if we are in a pandemic situation (as determined by whom? Trump?) that the national election should be postponed. Who, then, determines when the threat is over? Trump? What a marvelous invitation to a soft coup. The idea is so very simplistic, that even the least analytical person (a diehard Trump additive) would accept the idea without a second thought, let alone, any analysis. The claim that we should rally round the flag in this situation is very inviting. The fear of the virus is very personal, imminent and a daily remainder that it might be right next door…”stay at home and let the President do his great work.” What better slogan to upend our democratic institutions and way of life. My thought though about this scenario is that it the lesser of the two President Trump’s ploys to succeed in effecting the outcome of the November election.
The second scenario is the more likely to succeed, considering the parties involved: China and Trump. As I write this Commentary, China has alleged that the United States has escalated its cold war mentality, reminds us that it holds in excess of 1.11 trillion dollars of our national debt, that we owe millions of dollars to the UN peace keeping obligations, all the while the President has floated the idea that the U.S. “could cut off the whole (economic) relationship” with China in the aftermath of the virus attacks we are experiencing.
In a move that is sure to ramp up international pressure between China and the U.S., the Trump administration moved to block global chipmakers from shipping semiconductors to China’s Huawei. He also argued that the economic toll of the pandemic attack offered further proof that the United States needed to do more to disconnect and separate itself from global supply chains that included China as an essential move for our economy. This, in addition to Trump’s continued instance that the virus19 was manufactured in China, then released thru its negligence or that it began its global march in China, and they lied about its origin. Blame, blame, blame. Step one.
Step two: China’s aggression in the South China Sea: while the Department of Homeland Security will shorten the visa length for Chinese journalists working for non-American news organizations in the ongoing media war between the two nations, the pandemic crises can only play into the continued aggression of the Chinese in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean. An internal Chinese report obtained by American intelligence has warned Chinese leaders over the possibility (not probability) of a military confrontation with the U.S. stemming from our allegations that the Chinese have mishandled and lied regarding the coronavirus outbreak in China. The New York Times has reported that the White House is putting pressure on American intelligence agencies to provide evidence in support of Trump’s claims that the deadly virus was laboratory construct although all indications is that this did not occur. It is my belief that any military confrontation with China will not erupt over the virus but a misstep by either party more than likely in the South China Sea than in the Indian Ocean, and used as an excuse by Trump to lead to hostilities. Let me explain.
Any hostiles sufficient to have the voting public rally round the flag and not want to change current administrations during a shooting confrontation has to strike at the heart of viable American interests and that we were not the aggressor. Within the last days on the 1200 mile border between India and China, both sides have for the first time in years, fired live ammunition at each other, causing some minor casualties. While this is a serious development, it would not be used by the current U.S. administration to become involved in that conflict. Too far afield to reap any popular support from the person in the street to “rally round the flag”. On the other hand, the continued very aggressive behavior by the Chinese in the South China Sea has only escalated the probability of a confrontation, that I believe Trump is looking for, to start a diversion from the horrendous handling of the virus and our abysmal economic situation. The South China Sea and their nearby closely connected Straits are home to what is probably the world’s busiest and most important commercial trade lifelines. It connects wide portions of the world’s trade, and it is considered one of the chief devices of global economic growth. Some 80% of China’s world trade, including vital oil imports, passes through its waters. At the same moment, surrounding Asian nations have territorial disputes with China which are increasingly hostile, as China attempts, thru its creation of fake armed islands, the sinking of foreign fishing vessels and the placement of surveying ships with armed escorts in the territorial waters of its smaller neighbors. Two issues are at stake: the free international movement thru the SCS and the mining and recovery of vital natural resources below the sea level. The United States has sent its fleet to that area to maintain the integratory of the freedom of the sea and the independence of the rights of China’s neighbors. What might happen can almost be anticipated.
A Chinese naval captain, with little or no experience, faced with a U.S. naval fleet might panic and shoot at an American warship. Little if any damage would occur. Instead of logging a complaint as is the customary diplomatic response (as when Russian fighter jets come dangerously close to our non-combat planes in international air space), Trump will once again claim the role of victim and will use that as an excuse to start a military confrontation with China. “Let’s Rally Round The Flag—can’t let those virus deceivers who are killing your love ones, along with those crooked financial manipulators in Beijing, ruin the world. Look how they have been ripping us off. You can’t change political ships in the middle of hostilities and give the reins to save us to those without my enormous experience and capabilities.”
Implausible? No. Improbable?
I am one step away, in my ordered lockdown ritual, from moving from my desk to hiding in a closet. What better way to hide from an unseen virus. I watch Rachel at night, but when she starts her rendition of the nightly statistics of death and dying, it is enough for me to quickly turn her and the night light off. As fate dictates, one headline buried deep in the day’s news caught my eye. That, in turn, led me down the path to a world without a virus, but nonetheless was as aggressive with potentially deadly consequences. I had written about this issue in the past and had thought that the villain had stopped or at least slowed its bold moves. But no, China, with the world focused on an attacking virus, was continuing its attempts to gobble up vast chunks of the South China Sea and the Bengal Sea as they flow into the Indian Ocean with a maze of Straits that connect the two bodies of water, providing access to a number of smaller counties. Those bodies of water are not merely the water-rails that supply the world with the sea routes of commercial importance, but in vast areas they have very recently been found to be rich in minerals to be explored and extracted. Keep in mind when viewing China’s maritime aggression in South East Asia that it was implicated in 90 percent of all espionage and industrial secrets theft from 2011-2018. Let me explain further.
In August of 2019, I described in a long Commentary how China had the capacity to employ its vast military complex as it sought to expand its influence over vast areas of the South China Sea, by quietly ramping up its naval and air incursions around Taiwan and pushing its operations into territory it disputes with Japan and others in the vast East China Sea. They began by enlarging and arming nothing more than uninhabitable rock formations, the Paracel and Spraty Islands, in the South China Sea into formidable military installations. Their present deployment of Chinese war ships comes after China’s Foreign Ministry asserted China’s claim to those rock formations by calling a March 2020 submission by Vietnam to the U.N. over its own territorial rights as “illegal and invalid.” Today, we understand the reason for the massive and provocative moves of Beijing to dominate the area. It is seeking to control not only the commercial routes but much of the mineral-rich areas that lie beneath the South China Sea, including areas that reach the shores of its smaller neighbors: Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan, all of whom have claims in the region. They have blanketed the South China Sea with their commercial vessels, surveying fleet, and warships and aircraft carriers. China is now also in direct conflict with India both on land and in the Indian Ocean. We learn now that China has had live fighter-fire drills, as a border dispute with India enters its fifth week.
Four months ago the Indian naval chief confirmed what appeared to be the constant presence of a significant number of China’s surveying and warships in the Indian Ocean. This coincides with a Chinese aircraft carrier and its warships sailing through the Miyako Strait in addition to its tracking Chinese war vessels near its strategic Andaman Islands, after it passed through the Strait of Malacca. I have sailed thru the Andaman Sea and visited the area and had assumed that because of their very close proximity to mainland Indonesia they were under the control of that government, when in fact they belong to a strategic military setting for India.
When the entire picture is viewed it becomes clear that all these aggressive moves by Beijing are an obvious attempt to shore up it’s never ending claim of dominance of exploration and commercial routes in the area. What underlines this overt military threat is unsettling, as Forbes reported; China has deployed at least 12 underwater “Sea Wing” drones – which can play a crucial and dangerous role in submarine warfare in the Indian Ocean.
Which brings us to the present — as of April 2020, with the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt sidelined in Guam because of the corona virus, the USS America (along with a guided-missile destroyer the USS Barry)is heading towards the South China Sea where a Chinese government survey ship and its armed Coast Guard escorts are in the midst of an international maritime dispute with Malaysia. The America has at least five Marine F-35B Lightning II fighters, as well as tiltrotors (a plane capable of landing vertically like a helicopter while having a range and speed in excess of the conventional rotorcraft), and CH-53 helicopters as part of what could easily be described as a typical Marine air combat formation but aboard an amphibious warship. Things would be much better in terms of our military confrontation with China, had our coronavirus sidelined aircraft carrier been part of the flotilla. China has announced in the state run Global News, that it “considers using” its electromagnetic and laser weapons against our fleet to force them out of the area. At the same moment the Philippines’ defense chief as I write this commentary downplayed Beijing’s latest aggressive move in the South China Sea, saying it appeared that Chinese sailors “had no real intention of hurting Filipinos” when they pointed a laser gun at a Philippine navy ship. These weapons are non-lethal but dangerous and have been employed by the Chinese in the past against U.S. forces.
In April of this year, China also deployed survey vessels in a standoff in a Vietnamese exclusive economic zone; this move will only exacerbate tensions between the two countries over their rival claims in the South China Sea. The deployment comes less than two weeks after a Vietnamese fishing boat sank in a confrontation with a Chinese vessel near the disputed, armed Paracel Islands, which prompted international criticism of Beijing.
The U.S. military has been carrying out freedom of navigation rights and sailing missions throughout the disputed region since last year, as part of a deterrent force to keep international sailing lanes free of Chinese interference. Washington has also assured the Philippines (who have been trying to cozy up to Beijing with seemingly no success) and other regional allies that it was prepared to back them up in case of Chinese aggression.
Gregory Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative in Washington, said “If a global pandemic doesn’t cause China to calm things down in the South China Sea, there’s not much that will….They (China) are operating on the same policy framework which is go out, assert rights, harass neighbors, do whatever you want”.
Our radar screens are filled with the devastation caused by the coronavirus and rightfully so. The viral attack will in time abate, and we will adjust to a new norm. Hopefully, the scientific community will provide us with a vaccine sooner rather than later. But, we, as a nation, must be vigilant in attacking the virus as well as recognizing that there will be nations that will attempt to take advantage of the pandemic attack. China’s attack, and it is an attack, in attempting to snatch territory whether it be land or water must be stopped at its inception, and not delayed until a time when their aggressive mission has been almost completed. We have, within the last year entered an economically driven tariff war with Beijing, having nothing to do with their present aggression, to seize vital mineral rights belonging to others and to control international water routes. Beijing must be stopped and our freedom of navigation missions and push back on mineral grab must be backed up with new dedicated economic sanctions now.
I remember years ago, my wife and I had been roaming across the southern tier of Canada when we decided to go home, We were on a backroad in the middle of nowhere heading south when on the right hand side of the road up popped a large sign indicating that we were about to leave Canada. I looked for a Mountie or Canadian border patrol but there were none. Then, within seconds, there was a large sign on the left hand side of the road sitting next to what looked like a super large telephone booth. The sign read that I was about to enter the U.S. and that I should use the telephone in the booth to announce my presence. No one was present to make sure I used the phone. I had a cousin that lived in Vermont whose bedroom was in the U.S. but her living room was in Canada. That is not uncommon. If you want to enter the U.S. you need not present yourself at a ladder at the President’s wall or any official entry point in the South nor need you try to swim the Rio Grande River. The immigrant/security problem in the south today is that the poorest of the poor are crossing the immigration bridge not the terrorist. The terrorist and budding terrorist are not having that much trouble, for the truth be it told, many of them are already here. The Domestic Terrorist living next door to you. This is unsettling because for two successive sessions of Congress, a bill has been introduced by Senator Dick Dubin–called the Domestic Terrorism Prevention act of 2020, to authorize dedicated domestic terrorism offices within the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to analyze and monitor domestic terrorist activity and require the Federal Government to take steps to prevent domestic terrorism. It remains mired in politics.
If you look internationally, the marvelous information site Memri, founded by my old friend Yiagl Carmon, reported that the Hizbullah Brigades issued a communique that read: “America, the first country of terrorism in the world, still violates the sovereignty of Iraq, demeans its dignity, and belittles its people and national [political] powers.” The Hizbulla statement said the group will continue “to pursue the path of resistance to humiliate America, its proxies and supporters,” pledging “not to allow the American occupation to stay in the land of the sacred sites as long as we [the Hizbullah Brigades] are alive.” That threat has not reached our shores. According to the Washington Post terrorist violence is escalating across a broad portion of West Africa. The Pentagon announced it forces have been pushed into the defensive, while France has dispatched more troops and asked its European allies for help. That threat has not reached our shores. The threat posed by returning foreign ISIS fighters to their countries of origin has been lower than anticipated, but there is still a significant number of militants unaccounted for. The question remains of what will happen to Islamic State members being held in detention camps throughout northeast Syria and elsewhere. Note all these conditions –the threats and activates do not indicate any threat in the lower 48 states. The threat we face today is from the domestic terrorist.
As I started to type this commentary, I read of those on the extreme left (yes, the left) who have entered the presidential political battle with threats of physical violence against those who don’t accept their ideology. As noted by my son-in-law we have advanced to a form of “ideological terrorism”– not fact based. I have stopped (sort of) noting my political thoughts on Facebook because of the remarks that have been left in response. What caught my attention was a bold, unsettling headline in the New York Times that read: U.S. Faces Thorny Task: Halting Domestic Terrorists As They Outpace Jihadists.
What seems to becoming a more and more accurate statement is that homegrown extremists or domestic terrorism has become pervasive throughout the United States. A regional office of Homeland Security reported that the domestic terrorist, especially the white supremacist, ranks the highest on their threat level while those from across the oceans rank the lowest of threat levels. Bidget Johnson noted in her article that “as of late America has bled more from the growing menace of domestic extremism.” And Brian Levin, from California State University testified before Congress that “more people were murdered domestically in 2019 by a handful of white supremacists than all of those killed in the whole calendar year 2018 in every extremist homicide event.”
Suzanne Gamboa of NBC news reviewed a report by the Southern Poverty Law Center that found an increase in the number of white nationalist groups in the United States for the second straight year. The report, she reviewed, tracked the actions of the white nationalism movement, the white supremacy and hates groups and reported that there were 155 white nationalist groups in the U.S. last year, up from 148 in 2018. That is an immense 55 percent increase since 2017.
These groups have a common grievance—ethnic displacement, race mixing and their defining the immigrants as the invaders. Their overriding theme is that there is a demographic change in the U.S. and a white genocide is in progress. I came across a new word that I had not encountered before –“accelerationists”. It describes those who have come to believe that violence is the only instrument that can confront our common enemy — our “increasingly pluralistic, democratic governments.”
Surprisingly, during the increase in white nationalist groups, there was a dip in the number of hate groups from 1,020 to 940 last year, largely due to a collapse in the number of Neo Nazi groups and a decline in the Ku Klux Klan, Christian identity and neo-Confederate groups, reported SPLC senior researcher Howard Graves. But Mr. Graves notes that decline in the numbers of those groups and been substituted with a broader acceptance of white nationalist ideas under President Donald Trump’s administration. The FBI reported that 1 in 5 crimes were motivated by anti-LGBTO bias. And that number appears to be increasing.
The exacerbated problems we face from domestic terrorism was noted in an article by Matt Zapotosky “The Justice Department inspector general chided the FBI for failing to fully address weaknesses in how it assesses possible homegrown terrorists” More than 20 homegrown terrorist attacks in the United States have created havoc since Sept. 11, 2001. Several of those terrorists involved had been previously evaluated by the bureau as a potential threat but not fully investigated. In a 41 page report, Inspector General Michael Horowitz wrote “that while the Bureau seemed to recognize its failings, it had “not taken sufficient action” to fix the problems. Of special concern are those areas in which officials have been attempting to improve their rate of successes at interdiction after several attacks by suspects previously known to law enforcement. The DHS reported “in addition to mainstream social media platforms, white supremacist violent extremists use lesser-known sites like Gab, 8chan, and EndChan, as well as encrypted channels” to expand and increase the intensity of their hate or broadcast their intents, such as we all read when Pittsburgh shooter Robert Bowers posted on line: “I’m going in” before his deadly attack.
But the white supremacist is not the only group on the FBI radar screen. In preparing this commentary, my targeting the white supremacist and domestic terrorism moments, I came across those misogynistic men who identify themselves as part of the “Involuntary Celibate” (Incel). “Incel” means “involuntary celibate,” referring to online misogynists who blame women for denying them sex. They, surprisingly to me, are not a new movement.— there was Elliot Rodger, who stabbed and shot to death six in 2014 in California before killing himself leaving us his self-styled “manifesto”, the “ incels bible”, describing his hatred of women and incomprehension at their refusing him sex. The Texas Department of Public Safety assessment of terrorism in 2020 included a warning of the Intels. “Once viewed as a criminal threat by many law enforcement authorities, Incels are now seen as a growing domestic terrorism concern due to the ideological nature of their recent attacks internationally, nationwide, and in Texas” of all places.
What presents itself to those who follow the terrorist world, is the realization that there is an enormous leap in attempting to understand the scope and enormity of the terrorist movements. It is not just the usual actors but those many other groups that have been flying under our usual radar screen. It is important to be able to distinguish between foreign and domestic terrorism and where they overlap. Horowitz wrote that an internal FBI document said the bureau had a “fundamentally incomplete understanding” of the threat posed by such extremists, and that deciphering whether suspects are merely consuming terrorist propaganda or planning an attack “is extremely complex.” He noted, that some FBI field offices “may not be fully aware of the investigative tools and techniques that can be used to thoroughly investigate counterterrorism assessment subjects.” That is upsetting.
A historical footnote: twenty-five years ago this month, Japanese terrorist attacked the Tokyo subway system with the extremely deadly saran gas. Many were killed, many more injured. The Japanese government at the time called it “urban terrorism”. The only thing that has changed in the ensuing years has been the title of the type of terrorism. In the process of defending us from any terrorist act, recognizing that the domestic terrorist is the most difficult to spot, we come down to the methods to be employed for interdiction. Solving a terrorist act after its commission is fairly simple but understanding the damage is irreversible–it’s been inflicted. To be able to foil the attack is, whatever the congratulatory headline, the prime goal. With this axiom we must employ the most effective tools at our disposal. At this moment the state and federal governments are imposing conditions limiting our movements in order to combat the coronavirus. None of us (with the very rare exception of those without an ounce of logic) are thinking that these rules are impinging upon their civil rights. None of us are claiming that these rules are a slippery slope to more stringent draconian measures. The prayer is: save me, protect me and my family, and friends. We don’t seem to take the same position when it comes to domestic terrorism and its deadly consequences.
For as long as I can remember I had an uncanny ability to remember faces but was incapable of recalling names, even those of my relatives. I employed an alphabet method going from A to Z in the hope that when a particular letter came up, it would trigger the person’s name. My next line of attack was the woman who became my wife, who would invariably supply the missing name. The biggest problem was when “this person”– walking down the street, right at me with a big smile and arms outstretched—who were they. Now if I had an app on my I Phone that could read that persons face and give me a name — what a relief.
But Bernie Sanders would say— you’re entitled to a free state run college education but you’re not entitled to know my name. And he’d be right with a” But”. Privacy insures are not an all- in or an all-out conundrum. By making all facial recognition ability too great a privacy violation, we lose a marvelous potential tool for law enforcement. And as I write that you in turn will sing the words to the slippery slope song. I am sure it was sung to Columbus, as he headed out into the unknown and the edge of the world: “Chris—can you really depend on those maps– they may be flawed?” Let us not forget there are multiple methods of recognition systems that are in play currently. They are already a fabric of our daily lives.
I venture to guess that most people in the United States have heard something of facial recognition ability, but they are unsure if “it’s good or bad”. The usual complaints are it is an unreliable tool, biased and a threat to our basic civil rights and safety. Put simply it is alleged that it invades our privacy which contains a whole bundle of different protect rights.
The conversation starts not with facial recognition but with Biometrics. Biometrics data collecting is a means or method of collecting and verifying an individual’s personal identity. Said another way, it is a measurement and an analysis of an individuals’ unique physical attributes. For example: your DNA, your fingerprints, voice patterns along with possible behavioral characteristics. In other words –what makes you—Zazu Pitts– different from everybody else in the world. Your identity, yours only (your biometrics) is totally different from mine and everyone else. We have, until this moment lived with biometrics for a long time and probably not realized it. When we access our locked I phone with the ‘reading’ of one of our fingers, that is biometrics recognition. So has voice and iris recognition been part of our life for a long while. I don’t know how many times that instead of waiting on a long passport line arriving home at an airport, I put my face toward a common looking machine and it scans my iris and allows my entrance back into the United States. (President Trump wants to take away this right because I live in New York.) In the UK you can unlock your car with voice recognition. Some blood banks rely on biometrics to identify past donors and their blood type. But someone behind me just snarled: “Big Brother”. But that has not changed the penchant for greater and greater invasion of our privacy. Banks have been quietly rolling out biometrics to identify its customers: verifying them by their fingerprint, voice or eye scan. The bottom line is that companies are collecting massive amounts of our most intimate information. I was not shocked to learn that one company was not only collecting data on how we hold our cellphone but how I type on this computer.
London’s Metropolitan Police has announced what has been described as controversial plans to use live facial recognition technology to improve officers’ ability to identify suspects in the British capital. The London Police said that the technology will be deployed to places where the data recognizes people responsible for serious and violent crimes, such as gun and knife attacks and child sexual exploitation. They announced that the cameras, clearly identifiable, will be trained on small, targeted areas to scan people’s faces as they walk by. The Met police say the technology has been tried and tested. Others take issue with this conclusion. There are other studies that have flagged evidence that the technology discriminates against women and people of color — an issue that’s been documented by Federal researchers in the United States, where several cities have banned use of the technology. In one state, Maryland, in 2013 defied federal guidelines when it created a driver’s license program for undocumented immigrants, has been accused of a “betrayal of trust” when it was discovered that in recent years, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials have had direct access to those records. The access, which does not require the approval of any Maryland state official or court, is far greater than other states permit. The state legislature will begin hearings on a law restricting such searches.
India is trying to build the world’s biggest facial recognition system. But it is claimed by Elizabeth Denham, the UK’s Information Commissioner that the system is “Moving too quickly to deploy technologies that can be overly invasive in people’s lawful daily lives risks damaging trust not only in the technology but in the fundamental model of policing by consent.” On the other hand India has used the technology to find missing children and wants to build the world’s largest facial recognition system.
In the United States, some California cities including San Francisco and Oakland as well as Somerville, Massachusetts, have decided the risks of facial recognition technology outweigh the benefits and banned its use .
What really started the intense discussion by the pubic into the issue of facial profiling or recognition was the outing of a New York startup corporation called Clearview, generally unknown to the average person whose actives were exposed. The paper revealed how Clearview was “scraping” social media networks for people’s photos thereby creating one of the biggest facial recognition databases in the world and selling access to its “faceprints”, or facial recognition software, to law enforcement agencies across the US. The startup claimed it could identify a person based on a single photo, revealing their real name, general location, and other identifiers. Clearview has convinced some cities such as Chicago, who are paying almost $50,000 for a two-year Clearview “pilot”.
Some cities and states have come to the conclusion that the risks of facial recognition technology outweigh the benefits and banned its use. In a recent face recognition study by the National Institute of Science and Technology it was determined that false positives disproportionately affect people of East and West African and East Asian descent, the elderly and children. India, as I previously noted relies heavily on the technology to find children missing and wants to build the world’s largest facial recognition system.
Does this remind you of NYC’s stop and frisk debacle? A well-considered idea, but ended being horribly and dangerously executed. Another policing concept that is under increased fire and I find it hard to not to shake my head in disbelief, is those seeking to ban the use of red light cameras and speeding detectors. I am referring to those cameras on street corners that catch you when you pass a red light or you are caught speeding. South Dakota and sixteen other states will stamp out the use of red light cameras and speed cameras by statute. Other states, including Missouri, Ohio and Florida, are considering similar prohibitions.
It boggles the mind when lawmakers succumb to the concept that everything, without any nuanced thinking, that will make our lives safer and more secure is immediately lumped under the same outcry that one’s privacy has been invaded. If you are run down by a careless driver while crossing the street, is it better to have no red light cameras that might slow a reckless driver in fear of getting a traffic ticket? Am I safer on the parkway when someone decides to see how fast they can get from point A to B and drive 30 miles over the speed limit with no inhibitions that might give them pause and stop them?
I can fully appreciate the concerns with facial recognition technology use until its use it is totally reliable. But let’s not place it in the trash bin because it is not yet 100 percent accurate. Put it to the tests we have for all other law enforcement tools, and as it progress in its reliability, be able to accept its value and not the knee jerk reaction in the use of the term “privacy”. I am more concerned that Macys’ might have my biometrics than the police if I am diagnosed with a cognitive disability, and I am roaming the streets. I am reminded of two events. The first was when my son was stabbed and the police had archaic mug shots that were useless. Second, I am reminded of the time when London experienced five simultaneous bombings. The terrorists were apprehended within hours, if not a few days, because London has cameras that blanket the City and the terrorists were identified. You can’t expect privacy when you walk the streets. You can’t expect privacy when you use a dangerous instrumentality namely, a car. And I expect all law enforcement to use all the technology possible to protect me and to apprehend those who might harm me or my family. Period.