Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Stay Calm and Carry On

With news of a downed Russian plane over Turkish airspace, opinions have begun to surface of possible conflict between Russia and NATO. Vladimir Putin has responded with strong rhetoric warning of "serious consequences". He added the incident was a stab in the back perpetrated by "the accomplices to terror". While French President Hollande and American President Obama responded against any escalation, NATO secretary general Stoltenberg has stated the military alliance stands in solidarity with Turkey. With such strong rhetoric and the history of Russian-Turkey relations, perhaps people should have something to worry about.

But, let's step back. We recognize the need for deconfliction and the respect for each others airspace. It is a tragedy that Russia has lost troops not only in the initial shooting down of the plane but also in the rescue operation in which a Russian helicopter was destroyed with a TOW missile by Syrian rebels. But should this incident escalate into greater conflict?

The reality is Russia and the other NATO nations have little to gain from escalation. In fact, they have too much to lose. Europe and the US clearly want Russia to be a part of the solution in Syria. Russia has strong ties to the Assad regime and can be highly influential in aiding peace negotiations. At the same time, Russia cannot fight too many diplomatic fronts. Considering the events of Ukraine, Russia has limited options to make anything more out of the incident.

But this is Russia that we are talking about. They aren't renown for being diplomatic and in some cases they can be quite reckless. Russia could engage in some covert actions, possibly supporting the Kurds or reducing Turkey influence and regional ambitions. With heightened tensions, it will be important to see what response Russia takes.

For US interests, it is extremely important to urge de-escalation. Turkey is a member of NATO and had the right to shoot down a foreign warplane over their airspace. But many feel some sympathy to Russia because even if they did fly over their airspace, it was only for about 5 seconds. It is difficult to unequivocally support the Turkish side without giving some consideration to Russia. As both countries believe they have serious grievances, it will take a multilateral effort to ease tensions. America and its allies in Europe must take steps to find a tranquil solution and work to deconflict airspace in and around Syria. This incident has the possibility to unravel and disrupt any effort in Syria as well as incite future tension and conflict. Preventing this starts with staying calm and carrying on.

Russian Response to Turkey Downing Russian Jet

Russia describes the attack by Turkey on one of its jets flying near the Tukey/Syrian border as a “stab in the back” by “accomplices of terrorists.” Despite statements from Turkey that the aircraft encroached into their territory, Russia has committed that they were flying within Syrian borders. This incident has already shown signs of further consequences for Turkey/Russia relations. Putin has cancelled a trip to Turkey meant for this week and warned Russian citizens not to travel to the country. It is possible that Russia will also follow these actions with economic sanctions, which is problematic due to their already significant economic relationship. Turkey imports around 60 percent of its natural gas from Russia and had a deal with a Russian-owned firm to build their own nuclear plant.

          One of the biggest questions following the incident is how this will affect the already complicated situation in Syria and Iraq. Because of the involvement of Turkey, who is a member of NATO, NATO has already called an emergency meeting concerning the incident. And while the likelihood of war following the event is very low, there are likely to be serious repercussions. In addition, it will be interesting to see how this attack affects the opinion of Russian citizens back home. Russia was already victim to a previous attack when a place carrying several Russian citizens to Russia from Egypt was bombed weeks ago. With domestic support for involvement in the region low already, this could have a more negative impact. However, it is likely that Putin could spin it in a way that Russia needs to be even more aggressive in the region as their reputation has been hurt by the incident.

          With many experts pushing for a more united front against the spread of ISIS in the region, conflict between external states that are already involved could prove counter-productive in efforts to achieve regional stability. As this event increases the diplomatic rift between Turkey and Russia, this could possibly lead to increased obstacles for US/Russian cooperation in the conflict, as well.



Monday, November 23, 2015

Department of Homeland Security's Approach to Refugee Immigration

Post-Cold war threats forced the United States government to change the way government agencies function.  The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was created to adjust to the changing dynamics of national security threats post-9/11.  DHS now plays a lead role in the refugee situation facing the United States and the world today.

Two former Homeland Security Secretaries wrote President Obama on how to safely welcome Syrian refugees.  Their comments reflected the heated debate on refugee immigration into the United States.  Referring to the process by which refugees undergo to be cleared, Janet Napolitano and Michael Chertoff stated:

"The process for any refugee seeking entry to the United States requires the highest level of scrutiny from a law enforcement and national security perspective. The process takes place while the refugees are still overseas, and it is lengthy and deliberate…The process that is currently in place is thorough and robust and, so long as it is fully implemented and not diluted, it will allow us to safely admit the most vulnerable refugees while protecting the American people."

The recent debate about refugee immigration in the United States has been intense.  Should they be admitted?  How many should be admitted?  What are the requirements/restrictions? Napolitano and Chertoff reaffirm why refugee flow into the United States is appropriate and necessary.  The truth is that we can’t keep the threat out and the threat is already here.  Anti-refugee backlash created from the Paris attacks only assists ISIS in recruiting efforts and potentially creates more problems than it solves.  Terrorists in the 2005 London attacks were British citizens, the Boston Marathon bombings were carried out by a US citizen and a permanent US resident, and the Paris attacks seemed to involve mainly French citizens and other European residents. 

Furthermore, we may keep out a few potential threats by disallowing refugee influx, but the backlash from refusing innocent people will create a greater threat to national security. The world seeing the Unites States and others refusing refugees could drive people to extremist organizations. Evidence of this could be seen in the Assad regime’s mistreatment of citizens, which drove them to ISIS.  The process for refugee immigration described by the Napolitano and Chertoff shows a detailed approach for immigration.  It is in the Unites States’ national security interest to continue this process and be vigilant in every step of the clearance procedure.  The Department of Homeland Security must adapt for this circumstance, which may be new territory for the agency. The same can be said for other government agencies dealing with new threats and circumstances in the changing environment of national security post-9/11.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Intelligence Community Culture Shift

On 27 October the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) released a detailed plan for increased transparency for the intelligence community (IC). The IC model must make this shift in order to garner public trust. This model will also aim to improve public education on IC issues and demystify government work. This change comes in accord with a continued push for a adapted bureaucratic model post 9/11. the IC saw many failures prior to 9/11 primarily due to lack of adaptation to new threats. 

Today's IC faces complex threats like cybersecurity issues and extensive terrorist networks. This will create several new issues when paired with the massive refugee migration. Currently, Europe faces the largest security threats due to the dated model of international refugee management policies. These policies make it difficult to manage the massive flow of refugees while ensuring that proper vetting is possible in a cost and time efficient manner. 

These issues aside, the US IC must learn from its failures pre-9/11 and adapt to the new challenges of our time. The ODNI quietly announced in February 2015 that the IC would be making a culture shift towards a more open and transparent environment. The change comes a year and a half after infamous Edward Snowden leaked national security secrets and fled the country. The directive is also supported by this year's USA Freedom Act, which was passed this year and seeks to ensure civil liberties are respected and government transparency is made possible.

This shift is outlined by the ODNI in four major principles:

1) Provide appropriate transparency to enhance public understanding of the IC 
2) Be proactive and clear in making information publicly available 
3) Protect information about intelligence sources, methods, and activities 
4) Align IC roles, resources, processes, and policies to support transparency implementation
These efforts not only include declassifying over five thousand documents, reports on steps taken for reform since the executive directive for an open IC in January 2014, the publication of statistical transparency reports, as well as increased public engagement opportunities. While the plan is ambitious, it also touches on several key gaps and challenges it will face. The IC is inherently a culture of secrets. This culture has been ingrained since the inception of all US intelligence organizations. The move towards a more open environment will be a struggle for the IC, as it is largely a bureaucratic beast. Reform does not come easy, but the ambitious plan leaves room for flexibility in making these important adjustments. This shift is a crucial change in operations of the US government and will be extremely important in the following months and years with respect to the modern warfare and national security threats the United States faces. 

Expanding a culture of openness will gain public support and confidence for the IC, and will additionally bolster international support when working multilaterally with agencies abroad. Intelligence sharing has already proven to be beneficial in times of crisis, with respect to the tragic attacks in Paris, France. The US must all be prepared to work with allies to meet the unprecedented challenges created by sprawling terrorist networks. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

China sees Opportunity Following Paris Attacks

            As terrorism became the main focus at the G20 summit, following the preceding attacks on Paris the day before, China used that opportunity to focus on their own terrorism problem: the ETIM (East Turkistan Islamic Movement). The ETIM is primarily comprised of the Uyghur minority in the Xianjiang Province, and seeks to recreate the province as a separate country. Following the attacks on Paris, the Foreign Minister Wang Yi called for the ETIM to be included within the global war on terror. Within that same period, the state-owned People’s Daily posted an article describing current efforts by the military against the ETIM.
            There has been some debate as to the validity of Chinese attacks against the terrorists in Xinjiang and whether or not they use their efforts instead to justify further violence and oppression against the Uyghur minority population in the region. Although China cites the recent levels of violence in the area as a result of the terrorist group within the region, it often discounts how much of it is a response to the tight control by the government. However, it is difficult to ascertain the exact situation in the province as there is strict control of foreign journalist access to the region.
            It will be interesting to see how China acts in the future in response to how other nations deal with terrorist organizations, especially ISIS. Other nations appear to be suspicious of China’s motives in the region, but the Chinese government is likely to continue its actions and the push to be included in the united global front against terrorism. The increased amount of control and policing by the government will probably result in further push back from the Uyghur community in the form of increased violence, only perpetuating the cycle.


The South Caucasus: The Sleeper Crisis

          There is no doubt that the terrible events that happened on Friday, November 13th in Paris, France were devastating.  The crisis that has enveloped Europe and the rest of the world surrounding the attacks certainly has changed the course of how the United States, France, and other states plan to combat ISIS.  However, amidst this tragedy lies another situation that is just waiting to explode.  Enter the sleeper crisis. 
            It is no secret that the South Caucasus has always been riddled with historical ethnic tensions and territory disputes, but what should worry those in national security is the boiling water that Armenia and Azerbaijan have found themselves in.  Internally, the conflict deals with Nagorno-Karabakh, "an area populated and militarily controlled by Armenians but located within Azerbaijan."  In essence, the Armenians believe that they have a historical, sovereign right in the region, while Azerbaijan is more concerned with the infringement of their territorial integrity.
            All previous attempts for negotiations have not resulted in any improvement as the leaders of both Armenia and Azerbaijan have made it clear that they have no intention of sitting down to compromise.  With peace efforts frozen, the plot thickens as Moscow puts pressure on both regions to expand, all the while providing weapons to both sides.  Due to the fact that Armenia is a landlocked country in the South Caucasus, its borders of Turkey, Russia Georgia, Iran, and the Middle East, this developing crisis should worry the United States.  As developments of this crisis become more complicated, so too will the relationships between the United States and these larger players.  Therefore, "this requires the West pay more policy level attention to the South Caucasus."  This is why peacemaking in this region should be one of our top priorities, not to take away from our combat of ISIS, but to instead "reduce the risk that the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh will erupt into a hot war," plummeting some of the United States' greatest threats into more complex and untested tensions---Which we can all agree is the last thing the world needs right now.


Saturday, November 14, 2015

Code Red: Paris

Explosions and gunfire reverberated through the streets of Paris on a Friday night. A series of six attacks yesterday inflicted terror upon the entire world. This coordinated attack with 3 different teams resulted in at least 129 dead, 352 injured with 99 in critical condition. It reminded everyone of their vulnerability, even when going about everyday life in the West. Targets included a soccer stadium, where a friendly match between France and Germany was occurring, a concert hall, and five different streets. The goal was clearly to kill or injure as many civilians as possible at once, as seen by the coordination behind the attack and the volatile type of explosive that was used.

But what was the main motivator for imposing such terror on the world? The Islamic State (IS) has claimed that they perpetrated the attack, with the targeted locations “accurately chosen” and this operation as the “first of the storm”. They did not include any proof of their involvement in the attack, and this attack is out of character for the group. While they have primarily focused on maintaining and expanding their territorial reach in Iraq and Syria in the past, this type of coordinated attack on foreign soil is more of al-Qaeda’s expertise. If the Islamic State is indeed behind the attack, it signals a shift in strategy that directly targets the West.

Previous foreign attacks claimed by the Islamic State were thought to be perpetrated by “lone wolf” style attackers. Analysts have long thought that these attacks in Tunisia, Kuwait, France, Egypt, and other places were perpetuated by supporters of the Islamic State, not directly planned and orchestrated by IS’s central leadership. Becoming more deliberate about planning foreign attacks could allow IS to become more like al-Qaeda: externally and not internally focused.

The change in style to increased attacks on foreign soil could be motivated by the current situation on the ground in Iraq and Syria. Key supply routes and cities have been taken, especially in Iraq, by new Sunni militias and Kurdish forces. These losses could have motivated the IS attack on Paris. Every overt spectacle of an attack showcases their power and can be used to draw in more foreign fighters. Islamophobic blowback is typical following such attacks, and could potentially spur others to fight for jihad no matter where they are located. The reaction of France and the rest of the West will be instrumental in whether such an attack is deemed a success for IS in terms of its recruitment.

Thus far, the dust has not yet settled from the attacks in Paris. It is impossible to know all of the policy implications in the fight against IS that will be implemented in the coming weeks. However, France’s Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier was already scheduled to go to the Mediterranean to help stage French airstrikes against IS. This allows France to have the resources necessary to strike back. French President Fran├žois Hollande has made some notable statements about the attacks, including that they constituted an “act of war”. His statement points to the possibility of invoking Chapter 5 of NATO, which could force increased military involvement from NATO members. Until more information is known, we must prepare ourselves for all of the consequences that a terrorist attack can bring.

A Model for Future Drone Campaigns?

On September 1st, the Washington Post featured a story revealing the start of a joint drone campaign between the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in Syria. Two days ago, it was reported that this joint campaign successfully targeted and struck the infamous Jihadi John. The British militant, whose actual name is Mohammad Emwazi, became well-known after appearing in a series of Islamic State videos depicting the beheadings of US, British, and Japanese citizens. While it’s highly improbable to confirm the death of Emwazi with DNA samples, US officials believe confirmation can come from intercepted militant communications.

This strike, while being perhaps a large victory in the fight against the Islamic State, is also interesting in the manner it was carried out. Currently, the US operates drones strikes under both the Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency. Both groups operate in a number of countries, with different levels of overlap and cooperation.

For several years, US officials have suggested, proposed, argued, and debated which program should control the use of drones. John Brennan, current director of the CIA, during his Senate confirmation hearing in 2013 stated that the CIA “should not be doing traditional military activities and operations.” In March of 2013, reports surfaced of the Obama administration contemplating changes to the drone program that would shift all CIA use over to the Pentagon. Eventually, those plans died.

Yet, they were revived earlier this year when the administration confirmed CIA drone strikes accidentally killed two Western hostages in January. In response to the revelation, Republican Senator John McCain and Ohio GOP governor John Kasich publicly called for the end of CIA drone strikes. Obama responded by ordering an internal review of the CIA’s drone operations.

So the question is; if the Director of the CIA doesn’t want to use drones, if Republican leaders believe the CIA shouldn’t use drones, and the Democratic President and his administration have considered for several years at shifting the program over to the DOD, then why hasn’t this happened? The answer may be bureaucracy.

Renewed opposition on Capital Hill has reduced the political will of any proposed changes. Leading this opposition are both the Senate Intelligence Committee and the House intelligence and armed services panel. Senator Diane Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee remains skeptical of the DOD’s drone performance. She has now become a strong proponent for keeping a drone program under the CIA.

Therefore, it seems this new hybrid drone approach may be the result of a revised Obama plan. However, this Syrian model is not intended to serve as a template in Yemen or Pakistan. Primarily, if it works well, it could serve as a future model. With the news of a successful strike against Jihadi John, perhaps this model is trending in the right direction.

-Additional Links
CFR Backgrounder on Targeted Killings - Here
CFR Policy Memorandum on Transferring CIA Drone Strikes to the Pentagon - Here
FP Argument doubting a transfer of the CIA program would improve transparency - Here

Friday, November 13, 2015

Cooperation between French and American Intelligence

When one thinks of bureaucracy, the first thing that comes to mind is ineffectiveness and rigidity. These are not really two qualities that one wants to have when it comes to the National Security Apparatus in the United States.  However, forget the difficulties that actors in one nation state may have when working together to create a uniform policy. Imagine the difficulties that two nations may have on a bureaucratic scale when working together to combat terrorism. A failed example of this is highlighted by the lack of response by American intelligence services with regards to the participants in the Boston Marathon Bombings, after being warned repeatedly by Russian intelligence services.
After seeing the news regarding the attacks today in Paris, where even at this point suspects are being sought, I thought it prudent to talk about the United States-French intelligence cooperation, or possibly lack thereof.  France, unlike other close allies such as the United Kingdom, is not a member of the “Five Eyes” agreement, where participating countries share SIGINT with one another. It is, however, a country that is part of the expanded “Nine Eyes” group, where intelligence is shared, but countries do not promise not to spy on one another.  One of the key problems between American and French intelligence services is the perceived or actual scope of spying of the two countries on one another, hampering cooperation. After all, the United States and France have competing interests and do not wish to cede ground on these.
                All the same, France can be considered one of the most steadfast allies that Washington has in the war on terror, and commits resources to areas that the United States has not had the same degree of involvement, such as Mali. Especially after the previous attacks in Paris this past year, the collaboration has only increased and reached a spearhead with the French involvement in airstrikes in Iraq against the Islamic State. When dealing with bilateral intelligence sharing, following the revelations about scope of American collections in Europe, there were large portions of the general populace that were firmly against the scope. Just last week a Facebook lost a court case where it had stored European data in the United States. However, France also recently passed a law creating what is seen as much further reaching than current American laws in terms of data collection. With the increased amount of data that must be analyzed, the French might be more likely to rely on the American services to sift through the information.
                The French bureaucracy has also, even with some in the press worried about the implications for civil rights, not resisted the implementation of new terror legislation. With events in the country seeming somewhat out of control, there is a push for more security, even if it may be at the cost of personal freedoms.

                The failures of the intelligence services to hamper the attack in Paris will unequivocally be examined as the investigation into the attacks unfolds. Perhaps the opportunity for the two countries to further develop their cooperation will present itself, increasing the overall preventative measures of the intelligence agencies.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

A Zero-Sum Government

One of the biggest issues with the Obama Administration is the inability to deal with the legislative branch and the political games dished out by the bureaucracy. Just about every promise made during his presidential campaign has been blocked, altered, or negated in some manner. Closing Guantanamo Bay detention facility (GTMO) in Cuba is no stranger to this. President Obama stands by the use of fair treatment and US courts to either convict and sentence, or free the detainees currently held at GTMO.  Congress has consistently argued against the use of US courts and prisons, blocking funds to prosecute and relocate detainees, and to close the camp. The President and the Congress seem to be stuck in a holding pattern.

In 2009, GTMO was supposed to be closed according to President Obama. Blocked by the Senate with the Defense Authorization Bill, this never happened. Obama didn’t put up much of a fight at this point; he simply signed the bill while vocalizing dissent. Instead, he collected and organized all documentation on every single detainee in the facility. In doing so, it became apparent that the documentation was severely lacking and Obama implemented steps to fill in the information gaps.  This led to the freeing of many detainees, sent back to the countries in which they maintained citizenship. Obama then calls for the fair prosecution of the remaining detainees, releasing a statement that GTMO would be close in 2010. Again, this date came and went and GTMO remained open. Obama, in an attempt to fight back against Congress, released a Presidential memo closing the facility, only to be blocked this time by the defense attorneys for the detainees. The defense attorneys claimed the detainees would rather stay at GTMO than be transported to an older, less accommodating prison located in Illinois.

In 2011, President Obama signed another Defense Authorization Bill. Again, the Senate forced the Presidents hand by augmenting the defense budget, but caveating the bill with the restriction of funds to close GTMO. This happened again in 2012. In 2014, the restriction of funding to close GTMO and relocate the detainees was once again extended, but President Obama attached a signing statement calling for the relaxing of the funds restrictions. Between 2009 and 2014 the Senate blocked the President at least 5 times.

The President has signed this year’s Defense Authorization Bill. In this bill, Congress has again restricted funds for closing GTMO. It is likely we will see President Obama take a substantially different route than he has in the past. This year, nearing the end of his second term, it is speculated that the President will issue an executive order to close GTMO, attempting to bypass Congress. This will be the only way the President is able to continue defense spending to support the efforts overseas, and make good on his 2008 campaign promise of closing GTMO. Is this what the framers meant to happen when they set up “checks and balances” or is this is a product of vying for power in a zero-sum government?