Feb 09 2010
I have worked many years in the government and I can tell you that radical, reckless or illegal policies cannot be dictated from on high and then executed mindlessly. It is the reason why America was never really at risk of Bush/Cheney eavesdropping on Americans instead of chasing down NSA leads when the Bush administration changed the FIS Court rules concerning NSA intercepts. The left went ape over the false charges in the NY Times mainly because people do not realize there are too many career government workers who are just normal citizens who would never participate or allow someone to brazenly break the law or risk American lives or freedoms.
Team Bush had to establish a solid rational and allow for checks and balances to be established to thwart any mischief or divert the purpose of the changes from their goal – track down potential terrorist threats. The people in government had to be convinced the actions were necessary and on the up and up. The details had to be comfortable to most (not all, as was clear in the traitors who ran to the NY Times and lied about what had happened) in order to be adopted by the bureaucracy without an uprising ensuing.
The same is true for President Obama and his plans. As much as he and Holder and Brennan wanted to end the FISA-NSA changes that Bush put in place, they could not since these are now established and tested law. All they could do is to roll back some activities they felt crossed the line, while allowing the community to watch known risks as they had for years.
The new administration could not sell to our nation’s defenders taking our eyes and ears off al Qaeda and turning a blind 4th Amendment eye to their threat. This would cause massive upheaval and rejection. But Team Obama could probably sell incremental adjustments, if handled right.
I have asked many times since the Ft Hood Massacre and the Christmas Day BombingÂ how far did the Obama administration lower our guard because both incidents indicated changes were made that allowed these known threats to sneak past our defenses.
In the case of the of the Ft Hood Massacre,Â ongoing terrorist task force investigations into Major Hasan were mysteriously shut down around the time a 3rd FIS Court request would be needed by the FBI to ascertain if the man was a threat to America. In the end the administration used some lame excuse to not continue to monitor Hasan – and he went on to kill 13 people and injure 30 more.
In the case of the Christmas Day Bomber on Flight 253, the administration was unable to connect a large number of visible dots, as if some new barrier had been erected that did not allow information to come together so the threat could be detected.
I knew these failures had to do with policies pushed by Holder, Brennan and Obama. All are on record opposing the hair trigger concerns of the Bush administration when alarms went off in the NSA. Their consistent claim was we could protect our nation and our civil liberties – as if we have a false choice between the right to privacy or right to life – and life loses!
But I could not put my finger on what exactly changed, until I went back to an August 2009 speech by the civi liberty ideologue who is pretending to be the President’s national terrorism advisor – John Brennan (H/T Daniel Pipes via Powerline). Last summer Team Obama was putting the final touches on their new and improved strategy to supposedly keep America safe. Including a lame national security plan that put Global Warming right up there with al Qaeda. Brennan was out touting these changes, with no clue about the disasters that were building – disasters they had just taken their eyes off of.
In reading Brennan’s speech the pieces fell into place. Daniel Pipes and other could not understand one segment of the speech, and it reminded me of some other strange word choices by this administration in the aftermath of the Ft Hood Massacre and Christmas Day Bomber. Pipes could not understand the distinction between terrorists and extremists:
And so, as he [President Obama] has said on many occasions, he rejects the false choice between ensuring our national security and upholding civil liberties.
The United States of America has done both for centuries and must do so again. As we move ahead, the president feels strongly that we maintain a robust dialogue with the American people, indeed, with the world, about the full range of our efforts to prevent terrorist attacks. With that in mind, I want to sketch out how the president sees this challenge and how the president is confronting it.
And I want to distinguish between two related, but very distinct challenges: the immediate, near-term challenge of destroying al-Qaida and its allies, those who are willing and ready to kill innocent civilians and the longer-term challenge of confronting violent extremism generally.
Emphasis mine. Notice that the Obama administration has classified the threat (and therefore the responses to the threat) into two categories. First is al Qaeda and known allies. This is the known and established threat. These are the people the intelligence community has high confidence and supporting evidence as being in the al Qaeda camp.
But note the second category, the amorphous ‘violent extremists’, which assumes an even lesser ‘extremists’ category as well. These would be people not yet in the ‘confirmed al Qaeda and allies’ camp. These are people like radical cleric al-Aulaqi who is connected to both recent incidents and is a vocal supporter of al Qaeda. But he had not been proven to be a more than a cheer leader around August of last year. He is especially complex given the fact he is an American citizen, supposedly covered by all the rights and protections of the US Constitution. He would be a classic ‘extremist’, with differing rules of engagement.
Let’s see how Brennan classifies the threats and the required national posture for each:
First, the immediate challenge: the persistent and evolving threat from al-Qaida and its allies.
President Obama is under no illusions about the imminence and severity of this threat. Indeed, he has repeatedly and forcefully challenged those who suggest that this threat has passed. To Americans who ask why our forces still fight and die in Afghanistan, he has made it clear that al-Qaida is actively plotting to attack us again and that he will not tolerate Afghanistan or any other country being a base for terrorists determined to kill Americans
As expected this group is give no mercy, no leeway, no benefit of the doubt. So, now what about this other category, the extremists?
At the same time, the president understands that military power, intelligence operations and law enforcement alone will never solve the second long-term challenge we face — the threat of violent extremism generally, including the political, economic and social factors that help put so many individuals on the path to violence. And here is where I believe President Obama is bringing a fundamentally new and more effective approach to the long-term obligation of safeguarding the American people.
It seems here this category of people are victims terrorists. These people are driven to kill I guess under some kind of rationale. They get different treatment:
This new approach has five key elements. First, and perhaps most significantly, the fight against terrorists and violent extremists has been returned to its right and proper place, no longer defining, indeed distorting, our entire national security and foreign policy, but rather serving as a vital part of those larger policies. President Obama has made it clear that the United States will not be defined simply by what we are against, but by what we are for — the opportunity, the liberties, prosperity and common aspirations we share with the rest of the world.
Indeed, it was telling that the president was actually criticized in certain quarters in this country for not using words like terror, terrorist and terrorism in that speech. This goes to the heart of this new approach. Why should a great and powerful nation like the United States allow its relationship with more than a billion Muslims around the world be defined by the narrow hatred and nihilistic actions of an exceptionally small minority of Muslims?
Woah! This is a very different posture. It hints at a much higher standard of probable cause. It seems to imply there will be a different standard for dealing with leads that are connected to less established international characters. Being tied to firebrand Islam is not enough to trigger concern. Fresh faces (like Hasan and Abdulmutallab) will not be automatically suspect.
And in fact Brennan goes on to confirm ‘extremists’ is not just a new catch phrase, but a new definition inside the intelligence community which dictates different rules of engagement:
This leads directly to the second element of the president’s approach — a clear, more precise definition of the challenge. This is critically important. How you define a problem shapes how you address it.
Finally, as I described, we will harness our greatest asset of all — the power of America’s moral example. Even as we aggressively pursue terrorists and extremists, we will uphold the values of justice, liberty, dignity and rule of law that make people want to work with us and other governments want to partner with us. Taken together, the policies and priorities I’ve described constitute the contours of a new strategic approach — a new way of seeing this challenge and a new way of confronting it in a more comprehensive manner.
It became clear to me as I read this speech, aimed more to the inside of the intelligence community than to the public, we are seeing the outlines of the grand trade off, the deal. Obama promised more diplomacy and money and feel good programs in return for relaxing how we respond to ‘extremists’, which are clearly NOT the same as terrorists or al Qaeda.
The light bulb clicked on! The new guidelines for ‘extremists’ is why team Obama kept calling Hasan and Abdulmutallab ‘extremists’ and not ‘terrorists’ after the incidents. To admit they had binned these threats in the wrong threat pool, and thereby ignored the warning signs as directed by guidelines for ‘extremists’, they would be admitting the dirty little secret. Obama has to LEGALLY call these people extremists because that is what they defined them in the rules of engagement. To call them terrorists imposed different rules.
While this is mostly speculation and conjecture, I still maintain Hasan and Abdulmutallab were ‘missed’ because of policies enacted by team Obama that changed the urgency of our response to certain intelligence leads. Changes Brennan is on record advocating and apparently confirming in this speech.
If an NSA lead points back to a proven al Qaeda entity then things proceeded as under Bush. But if the lead led to someone in the gray area (like Hasan and Abdumutallab), then the urgency was dialed way down – per the new guidelines.
I would suspect there has been an update to the rules of engagement and surveillance that treat known terrorists different from ‘extremists’ – which means as long as AQ engages new recruits they will operate under the radar screen of this distracted and confused administration. And I would suspect there is a paper trail of these new rules all over the intelligence community, department of justice, FIS Court and elsewhere.