Climate Change

The Fossil Fueled Military Battles Climate Change

“The responsibility of the Department of Defense is the security of our country.” Thus begins DOD’s 2014 Climate Change Adaption Road Map, released yesterday to much acclaim.

But then two paragraphs later, it refers to climate change as a “threat multiplier,” not a threat.

In our defense strategy, we refer to climate change as a “threat multiplier” because it has the potential to exacerbate many of
the challenges we are dealing with today – from infectious disease to terrorism. We are already beginning to see some of these
impacts.

A few more paragraphs later, it admits this report primarily looks at climate change’s impact on DOD, not its impact on the US.

Our first step in planning for these challenges is to identify the effects of climate change on the Department with tangible and
specific metrics, using the best available science.

I don’t mean to be churlish — and I do recognize that DOD is quite forward-thinking, among government agencies for its awareness of and initial preparations for climate change.

But that’s sort of the point. This is as good as it gets. And only secondarily does even one of the most progressive agencies in government, with respect to climate change, get to this kind of admission.

Maintaining stability within and among other nations is an important means of avoiding full-­scale military conflicts. The impacts of climate change may cause instability in other countries by impairing access to food and water, damaging infrastructure, spreading disease, uprooting and displacing large numbers of people, compelling mass migration, interrupting commercial activity, or restricting electricity availability. These developments could undermine already-fragile governments that are unable to respond effectively or challenge currently-stable governments, as well as increasing competition and tension between countries vying for limited resources.   These gaps in governance can create an avenue for extremist ideologies and conditions that foster terrorism. Here in the U.S., state and  local governments responding to the effects of extreme weather may seek increased [Defense Support of Civil Authorities].

Climate change is going to be hell. It’s going to cause wars. And it will even require addition DOD resources domestically, in the form of Reserve troops to help local authorities cope with emergencies. And — though DOD doesn’t say it, certainly not in its publicly released document — the US is one of the places that will struggle with governance of the internal effects of climate change, even if they’ll do better than, say, Bangladesh or some harder hit countries. Certainly the US is no model of proactive government preparing for these disasters!

Meanwhile, here’s what else DOD does in the name of fulfilling its responsibility for the security of the country. (h/t OTB)

To date, there have been approximately 240 coalition air strikes against ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria since air operations began nearly a month ago.

[snip]

What goes underreported and, hence, underappreciated, is the magnitude of the overall air operation being conducted in support of or in addition to the actual air strikes against targets on the ground. Simply put, behind every successful air strike is a massive supporting infrastructure of aircraft, ground operations and planning activities. Air strikes are not conducted in isolation. Every strike package consists not only of bomb-carrying aircraft but others providing the protection, electronic warfare support, aerial refueling, battle space management and intelligence. The 240 strikes in Iraq and Syria were supported by some 3,800 aircraft sorties, 1,700 tanker flights and over 700 ISR sorties. There have also been thousands of flights by transport aircraft, C-17s and C-130s making up the largest fraction, providing humanitarian relief but also moving personnel and essential supplies into the region.

Behind all these aircraft stands the supporting personnel and infrastructure necessary to any air operation. These range from ground crews and air traffic controllers to maintainers, armorers and intel personnel. Then there are the people in the air operations center who put together the air tasking order that details all the air activities for a 24-hour period. There are more people and more complexity when it is a joint and coalition operation.

Doing the math, this means there have been around 20 supporting sorties for each strike conducted. This is in a fairly benign environment.

That is, even while DOD notes — laudably, given how dysfunctional our government is — that climate change is going to destabilize countries and will even require deployment of the Reserve to limit instability in our own country, it is burning up fossil fuels at an alarming rate, even in its relatively circumscribed operation against ISIL.

This report edges us closer to the point where we call climate change a threat to the US, rather than just a threat multiplier to all the other things looming out there.

But until we’re there — until we recognize that climate change has killed far more people in the US since 9/11 than terrorism — we will continue to burn fossil fuel as a first or second response to threats on the other side of the world.

Day after Escalating Climate Damaging War, Obama Cites “Beyond Vietnam” on Climate Urgency

In a column at Salon, I compare two executive actions President Obama took this week: escalating the war against ISIL (and expanding it to “the Khorasan group”), and including climate resilience as one consideration in foreign aid projects.

The war escalation makes it quite clear that Obama believes he has expansive Executive Authority. Which makes it all the more pathetic that he’s still piddling around with using that authority to respond to a far more urgent threat, climate change.

Perhaps more appalling, however, is how he rolled these out. The day after escalating a war that will burn vast amounts of fossil fuel at a speech at the UN Climate Summit, Obama invoked Martin Luther King, Jr’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech to describe the urgency of the problem he is largely ignoring.

In his climate speech, the president rather ironically invoked Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech “Beyond Vietnam.” In it, the civil rights leader described how we did then what we still do now in the Middle East: “[W]e increased our troop commitments in support of governments which were singularly corrupt, inept, and without popular support.” The day after Obama escalated a war on the other side of the world, he cited King’s radically anti-war speech to invoke the urgency of fighting climate change, not terrorism. “We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now,” the original speech went. “[T]here is such a thing as being too late,” were the words the president cited.

And yet, having invoked that urgency, the president took executive action that — compared with his executive actions that expanded a war —  was timid and inadequate to the climate threat facing the nation and the globe.

The president clearly believes he has expansive authorities to protect the country. Given that’s the case, why isn’t he heeding Dr. King’s call to meet the urgency of the moment with appropriate action?

Obama is clearly making a choice to use his Executive Authority to respond to less urgent threats.

And all the while he’s invoking the words of King to put a gloss on his own inaction.

Click through for more.

Dick Cheney’s Interests: Not Ours

In Salon today, I’ve joined the chorus of people objecting to PapaDick Cheney and his spawn Liz BabyDick’s op-ed claiming of Obama that, “Rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many.” 

In addition to reviewing some of the so wrong things Cheney said 12 years ago to get us into Iraq, I look closely at two things few others have, both suggesting certain things about whose interests Cheney claims to represent.

First, while claiming to speak for America’s interests in Iraq, he actually cites the leaders of Middle Eastern countries.

Clearly, his temper tantrum serves, in part, to distract from his own culpability.

But note who else’s views Cheney cites? He claims he heard “a constant refrain in capitals from the Persian Gulf to Israel,” complaining about Obama’s actions. He describes a senior official in an Arab capital laying out ISIS’ aspirations on a map. He portrays those same figures in the Middle East demanding, “Why is he abandoning your friends?” “Why is he doing deals with your enemies?”

And he does so even while he mocks the notion of actually doing something about climate change, a threat that (in the form of extreme weather events) more immediately threatens Americans today.

Even while Cheney parrots the interests of Middle Eastern leaders and conflates their interests with America’s, he scoffs at Obama’s (belated) efforts to address a far more immediate risk for America, climate change. “Iraq is at risk of falling to a radical Islamic terror group and Mr. Obama is talking climate change,” Cheney complains.

ISIS may be overrunning Iraqi cities, but extreme weather events are endangering cities in the United States and across the world. Much of the American West is struggling with extreme drought. Cheney, however, would have the president ignore this threat and instead prioritize the concerns he heard from his friends in the Middle East.

ISIS’ actions in Iraq are troubling — though it’s not clear that the US can do anything to fix it, certainly not now.

But the US has real problems here at home that threaten American lives and well-being. We really need to spend time working on our own governance before we decide to re-govern another country on the other side of the world.

Republicans Refuse to Expand Climate Change Analysis in Intelligence Authorization

I will have a few posts on the Intelligence Authorization that passed the House Intelligence Committee last week.  (h/t Steven Aftergood)

But before I talked about what made it into the bill, I’d like to highlight what isn’t in it: language requiring the Intelligence Community to consider climate change. The minority views reveal,

One of the bill’s weaknesses is that it does not do enough to enhance analysis of the national security implications of climate change, which the Intelligence Community refers to as environmental indications and warning. Whether by driving competition for scare [sic] resources, by opening the Arctic, or by increasing sea level and storm surge near our naval installations, climate change will have profound, destabilizing effects which need to be understood, anticipated, and accounted for. There may be disagreement about the causes of climate change, but the national security consequences are so significant that they cannot be ignored.

The intelligence community has been delving into this area in recent years (and appear to have renamed climate change “environmental indications and warning”). But thus far, the IC has stopped short of treating climate change as the threat to the US it clearly represents.

It appears Democrats on HPSCI tried to change that. And Republicans refused.

Someday the climate deniers will be held responsible for leaving our country vulnerable. And the Democrats will have left a record of those who should be held responsible.

Massive Wildfires in SoCal Months Ahead of Season, But Al Gore is Still Fat

I remember moving to Pasadena in September of 1979. I was told that our cheap student apartment had a good view of Mount Wilson out the living room window, but smoke and smog obscured it until nightfall, when flames on the ridge brought it into view. That was actually a very small fire, but the memory of those flames and the falling ash persist as my introduction to living in California. Throughout my years in California (we moved to the northern part of the state in 1983 and stayed there for ten years), I recall the rhythm of reliable late winter storms and spring showers giving way to dry summers that eventually turned into wildfire season late in the summer as the spring flush of growth in the hills dried out.

But that reliable rhythm in California faces serious disruption. The state is in its third year of extreme drought and fires are raging several months ahead of schedule. Consider this from the Governor’s Office, published on May 5, before the current outbreak of severe fires:

It is dry in the foothills and southern California as during a typical July or August, the peak of the fire season. Even in a region used to wildfires, this year appears poised to be especially destructive. California is facing its third dry year; thirsty grasses, parched brush and trees are more susceptible to burn, so fuel is ready.

/snip/

“The historic drought that is upon us makes Wildfire Preparedness more critical than ever,’ said  Cal OES Director Mark Ghilarducci. “There’s a very high likelihood of well-above-normal fires and perhaps a chance of longer-lasting fires, which require more resources in order to fight them.”

But it’s not just the current drought that is causing fires in California to be worse than ever:

So far this year, California has already experienced more wildfire activity than normal. As of April 26th, the state has recorded more than 1,100 fires; that’s more than double the average of the previous five years. Even before this year’s drought, forest officials were reporting a longer fire season and more catastrophic mega-fires in California and other western states. More than half of California’s worst fires in recorded history have occurred since 2002. 

Think about that. The state’s list of worst fires can be found here (pdf). The records go back to 1932, but in the more than 80 years of those records, 11 of the worst 20 have occurred in the 11 years from 2002 to 2013.

The current outbreak is worst around San Diego. From CNN:

San Diego County is hoping for a break Thursday, a day after wildfires ravaged the landscape, threatening homes, universities, a military base and a nuclear power plant.

“Let’s hope for a calm day,” said County Supervisor Dianne Jacob, who marveled at the outbreak that saw San Diego go from one wildfire to nine, charring more than 9,000 acres.

That hope for a calm day is unlikely to be met, as forecasters are saying today will be the hottest day this week. And yesterday was a flurry of activity for emergency services:

Alert San Diego, a countywide notification system, sent out nearly 122,000 emergency telephone notifications on Wednesday as the wildfires sprang up.

Carlsbad alone issued 23,000 evacuation notices. Thousands of students won’t have classes on Thursday due to the continuing threat; California State University-San Marcos canceled all activities through Friday, including commencement. Students in the San Diego Unified School District will also get a break from the books.

Numerous roads have been shut down while others have become clogged with people trying to escape.

/snip/

Another fire ignited around Camp Pendleton, a mammoth Marine base and training facility for multiple military branches, prompting evacuations of the O’Neill Heights Housing, the De Luz Child Development Center and Mary Fay Pendleton Elementary School, the Marines said.

Another blaze burned in the community of Fallbrook, adjacent to the military post, which is the West Coast boot camp for enlistees.

Cal Fire said the wildfire charred 6,000 acres around the military facilities.

A precautionary evacuation was ordered at the nearby San Onofre nuclear power plant, which has been offline for two years because of another wildfire. Southern California Edison spokeswoman Maureen Brown said “there is no safety threat,” though.

Isn’t that something? San Onofre got knocked offline over two years ago by another wildfire and is under attack again before it can get back up and running.

But don’t you dare blame these developments on climate change. Don’t you know how fat Al Gore is?

50 Years: That Day, JFK and Today

UnknownWhere were you fifty years ago today? If you were old enough to remember at all, then you undoubtedly remember where you were on Friday November 22, 1963 at 12:30 pm central standard time.

I was at a desk, two from the rear, in the left most row, in Mrs. Hollingshead’s first grade class. Each kid had their own desk, and they were big, made out of solid wood and heavy. They had to be heavy, of course, because they were going to protect us when we ducked and covered from a Soviet nuclear strike. There were, as there were in most elementary school classrooms of the day, a large clock and a big speaker on the wall up above the teacher’s desk.

I can’t remember what subject we were working on, but the principal’s voice suddenly came over the loudspeaker. This alone meant there was something important up, because that only usually occurred for morning announcements at the start of the school day and for special occasions. The voice of Mr. Flake, the principal, was somber, halting and different; perhaps detached is the word. There was a prelude to the effect that this was a serious moment and that the teachers should make sure that all students were at their desks and that all, both young and old, were to pay attention.

There had occurred a tragic and shocking event that we all needed to know about. Our attention was required.

Then the hammer fell and our little world literally caved in.

President John Fitzgerald Kennedy had been assassinated. Shot and killed in Dallas Texas. Then without a moment’s pause, we were told that the nation was safe, Vice-President Johnson was in charge, the government was functioning and that we need not have any concerns about our own safety. We were not at war.

Twenty four some odd little hearts stopped, plus one from Mrs. Hollingshead. You could literally feel the life being sucked out of the room like air lost to a vacuum. Many of us began looking out the window, because no matter what Mr. Flake said, if our President was dead, we were at war and the warheads were coming. They had to be in the sky. They were going to be there.

Unlike the hokey color coded terror alerts, ginned up fear mongering of Bush/Cheney, Ashcroft and Ridge, and today the terroristic fearmongering of Keith Alexander, James Clapper, Mike Rogers and Dianne Feinstein, things were dead nuts serious at the height of the cold war. If President Kennedy had been killed, we were at war; the missiles were on their way. Had to be. Looking back, the school officials and teachers had to have been as devastated and afraid as we were, yet they were remarkable. They kept themselves in one piece, held us together, talked and comforted us into calm.

We had not been back in class from lunch break for long; it was still early afternoon in the west. Before the announcement was made, the decision by the school officials had been made to send us home. The busses would be lined up and ready to go in twenty minutes. Until then there would be a brief quiet period and then the teachers would talk to us and further calm the situation. Then off we would go to try to forge a path with our families, who would need us as much as we Continue reading

Fat Al Gore Menaces the Homeland and Homeland Security Experts Don’t Care

Six days ago, Fat Al Gore (my shorthand for climate change) attacked the Philippines, killing as many 10,000 and leaving 250,000 homeless.

It was Fat Al Gore’s most successful attack thus far.

With Fat Al Gore’s growing success in mind, consider these data points.

Senate Homeland Security Committee doesn’t recognize Fat Al Gore as a threat

The Senate Homeland Security Committee is holding a hearing on “Threats to the Homeland.” It is focused almost entirely on what witnesses describe a dispersed Al Qaeda threat (which doesn’t have the ability to attack in the US), self-radicalized extremists who don’t have the ability to conduct large-scale attacks, and cybersecurity (though Carl Levin did bring up corporate anonymity as a threat, and Republicans brought up Benghazi, which isn’t the “Homeland” at all; also, Ron Johnson leaked that Secret Service officers have proven unable to keep their dick in their pants in 17 countries).

None of the three witnesses even mentioned climate change in their testimony.

Obama’s Chief of Staff threatened to “kill” Steven Chu for admitting islands would disappear because of climate change

Meanwhile, the lead anecdote of this mostly interesting (but in parts obviously bullshit) profile of how Obama disempowered his cabinet ministers tells how Rahm went ballistic because Steven Chu (whose energy initiative created a bunch of jobs) publicly admitted that some islands will disappear because of climate change.

In April 2009, Chu joined Obama’s entourage for one of the administration’s first overseas trips, to Trinidad and Tobago for a Summit of the Americas focused on economic development. Chu was not scheduled to address the media, but reporters kept bugging Josh Earnest, a young staffer, who sheepishly approached his boss, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, with the ask. “No way,” Gibbs told him.

“Come on,” Earnest said. “The guy came all the way down here. Why don’t we just have him talk about all the stuff he’s doing?”

Gibbs reluctantly assented. Then Chu took the podium to tell the tiny island nation that it might soon, sorry to say, be underwater—which not only insulted the good people of Trinidad and Tobago but also raised the climate issue at a time when the White House wanted the economy, and the economy only, on the front burner. “I think the Caribbean countries face rising oceans, and they face increase in the severity of hurricanes,” Chu said. “This is something that is very, very scary to all of us. … The island states … some of them will disappear.”

Earnest slunk backstage. “OK, we’ll never do that again,” he said as Gibbs glared. A phone rang. It was White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel calling Messina to snarl, “If you don’t kill [Chu], I’m going to.”

Much later the story notes that Heather Zichal is on her way out too.

Even blue-chip West Wingers such as economic adviser Gene Sperling and climate czar Heather Zichal are heading for the exits.

Washington insiders applaud fracking while ignoring climate change

Meanwhile, also as part of its big new magazine spread, Politico has two related pieces on DC insiders views.

There’s this “Real Game Changers” piece capturing the “big forces they see shaking up U.S. politics.” David Petraeus talks about “the ongoing energy revolution in the U.S.” Jeb Bush promises, “With natural gas as an exponentially growing source, we can re-industrialize.” And while several thinkers describe the problem of economic inequality, only Al Gore talks about Fat Al Gore.

Carbon pollution from burning fossil fuels is changing our climate and transforming our world. From more destructive and more frequent climate-related extreme weather events, floods and droughts, melting ice and rising sea levels, to climate refugees, crop failure, higher asthma rates and water scarcity, the consequences are profound. As citizens, we’re already paying the high costs. Billions of dollars to clean up after extreme weather events. Rising insurance bills. Lives lost.

Meanwhile, former respectable energy historian turned shill Daniel Yergin congratulates America on being almost energy independent.

Here’s his only mention of the word “climate.”

In a major climate speech this past June, he declared, “We should strengthen our position as the top natural gas producer because, in the medium term at least, it not only can provide safe, cheap power, but it can also help reduce our carbon emissions.”

Yes, we’re going to fight climate change by burning carbon (gas) instead of carbon (coal).

To be fair to the DC elite, the reason we’re embracing fracking is to give ourselves space to ditch the terrorist funding Saudis. So there is a real national security purpose to it.

But of course, it’s a purpose that addresses a far less urgent threat than that terrorist Fat Al Gore, who just killed 10,000 people.

The Opportunity Cost of the Global Dragnet

Back in 2006-7, I wrote a series of posts in which I considered the opportunity cost of the Iraq War at a time when our hegemonic position was already clearly in decline. In the years leading up to the Iraq War, I believe Dick Cheney assessed the current energy regime on which our global power was based, and chose to reinvest in that already-crumbling basis of power: oil, reserve currency, global policeman by invading Iraq. What could have happened if we invested the trillion dollars we spent on losing a war in Iraq and instead invested in alternative energy? (An earlier, lost to history version of the post also considered fostering new leadership to deal with climate change.)

As the elites slowly realize we failed on a similarly catastrophic scale in our 5-year bailout of banks, we might expand the earlier question and ask what could have happened if we had invested those trillions, too, rather than propping up the banks that cement our global financial hegemony.

The debate over international privacy rights still ignores domestic privacy rights

It’s from that perspective that I read with interest the debate between David Cole, Orin Kerr, Kenneth Roth, and Ben Wittes over whether we ought to extend the privacy protections Americans enjoy to the rest of the world (or, at least, to citizens of allied countries). (See Cole, Kerr, Cole, Kerr, Roth, Wittes)

As a threshold matter, I think all are missing a key point. I believe the dragnet surveillance we conduct overseas right now clearly violates the Constitution. The NSA is knowingly collecting vast amounts of US person data (that it refuses to count even the domestically acquired dragnet collection hints at how much it’s collecting). And once they collect that vast, uncounted quantity of US person data, the NSA and FBI do not even require RAS before accessing the content of Americans’ communications.

In short, because the government didn’t make the same adjustments for increasingly globalized technology internationally they made in 2008 for domestic collection (the FISA Amendments Act permitted foreign collection domestically, but didn’t deal with the increasing amounts of domestic collection internationally it was doing), the NSA has basically eliminated all privacy protections for any of the significant amounts of US person communications that transit outside of the country.

So their debate should not just consider whether we ought to extend privacy protections to the French in France, but whether Americans retain their constitutional protections as their communications transit France.

The squandered opportunity of American Internet hegemony

But I also think the terms of debate International law (Cole and Roth) versus domestic sovereignty (Kerr) miss an equally important point. What obligations and best practices should the US have adopted as the world’s Internet hegemon?

Kerr sums up the International/domestic split this way:

I suspect that our differences reflect our priors, which in turn are based on two different conceptions of government. I tend to see governments as having legitimacy because of the consent of the governed, which triggers rights and obligations to and from its citizens and those in its territorial borders. As I understand David, he has more of a global view of government, by which governments are accountable to all humans worldwide. I suspect that difference leads us to talk past each other a bit. Consider David’s question: “Would we be satisfied to give the French authority to pick up all of our communications simply on a showing that we were not French and not living in France?” Under my conception of government, the question doesn’t make sense. Because we don’t have any rights vis-a-vis the French government, we can’t “give the French authority” to do anything or have any valid claim to satisfy.

While I’m sympathetic to both perspectives, to a point, I actually think they miss something. The US is not just any country. It has been, for the last 20 years, the world’s sole hegemon. And being the hegemon — as opposed to the coercive world empire, which is a much more expensive proposition — requires a similar kind of consent as that of your garden variety nation-state.

This is the point laid out in Henry Farrell and Martha Finnemore’s brilliant essay on American hypocrisy.

Of course, the United States is far from the only hypocrite in international politics. But the United States’ hypocrisy matters more than that of other countries. That’s because most of the world today lives within an order that the United States built, one that is both underwritten by U.S. power and legitimated by liberal ideas. Continue reading

Badly Broken: We Are Walter White

BreakingBad_logophotoI’ll bet tonight’s blog traffic will drop sharply, and explode on Twitter — and at 9:00 p.m. EDT exactly. That’s when the last episode of AMC’s Breaking Bad will air, following a 61-hour marathon of all preceding episodes from the last five years.

A friend expressed concern and astonishment at the public’s investment in this cable TV program, versus the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report published Friday, expressing heightened confidence in anthropogenic climate change:

“The report increases the degree of certainty that human activities are driving the warming the world has experienced, from “very likely” or 90% confidence in 2007, to “extremely likely” or 95% confidence now.” [source]

He’s right; we’ll be utterly absorbed by the conclusion of former high school chemistry teacher and cancer patient Walter White’s tale. We’ll have spent a fraction of intellectual energy on our own existential threat, in comparison to the mental wattage we’ll expend on a fictional character’s programming mortality.

But perhaps Breaking Bad’s very nature offers clues to our state of mind. Viewers are addicted to a program that upends perspectives and forces greater examination.

— The entire story of Walter White, a middle class white guy with a good education whose cancer threatens his life and his family’s long-term financial well-being, would not be viable were it not for the dismal state of health care in America. There are no Walter Whites in Canada, for example; the U.S. has become little better than a third world narco-state, our health and shelter dependent on ugly choices like crime because our system of governance cannot respond appropriately under pressure for corporate profitability.

We cling to White, though he has become the very thing we pay our law enforcement to battle, because he is us — morally conflicted, trying to safeguard our lives and our families in a deeply corrupt system. At the end of each Breaking Bad episode the distortion of our values is evident in viewers’ failure to reject a criminal character depicting a drug lord manufacturing and selling a controlled substance, while guilty of conspiracy, murder, and racketeering in the process.

In the background as we watch this program, we permit corporate-owned congresspersons to shut down our government in a fit of pique over the illusion of better health care for all. Continue reading

The Ooga Booga* Continues to Wear Off

Two and a half years ago, I noted how TSA head John Pistole pointed to a plot the FBI created while he was still its Deputy Director to justify the use of VIPR teams to stop people on non-aviation public transportation.

A couple of weeks back, I pointed to John Pistole’s testimony that directly justified the expansion of VIPR checkpoints to mass transport locations by pointing to a recent FBI-entrapment facilitated arrest.

Another recent case highlights the importance of mass transit security. On October 27, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) arrested a Pakistan-born naturalized U.S. citizen for attempting to assist others whom he believed to be members of al Qaida in planning multiple bombings at Metrorail stations in the Washington, D.C., area. During a sting operation, Farooque Ahmed allegedly conducted surveillance of the Arlington National Cemetery, Courthouse, and Pentagon City Metro stations, indicated that he would travel overseas for jihad, and agreed to donate $10,000 to terrorist causes. A federal grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia, returned a three-count indictment against Ahmed, charging him with attempting to provide material support to a designated terrorist organization, collecting information to assist in planning a terrorist attack on a transit facility, and attempting to provide material support to help carry out multiple bombings to cause mass casualties at D.C.-area Metrorail stations.

While the public was never in danger, Ahmed’s intentions provide a reminder of the terrorist attacks on other mass transit systems: Madrid in March 2004, London in July 2005, and Moscow earlier this year. Our ability to protect mass transit and other surface transportation venues from evolving threats of terrorism requires us to explore ways to improve the partnerships between TSA and state, local, tribal, and territorial law enforcement, and other mass transit stakeholders. These partnerships include measures such as Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) teams we have put in place with the support of the Congress. [my emphasis]

Now to be clear, as with Mohamed Mohamud’s alleged plot, Ahmed’s plot never existed except as it was performed by FBI undercover employees. In fact, at the time the FBI invented this plot, now TSA-head Pistole was the Deputy Director of FBI, so in some ways, Ahmed’s plot is Pistole’s plot. Nevertheless, Pistole had no problem pointing to a plot invented by his then-subordinates at the FBI to justify increased VIPR surveillance on “mass transit and other surface transportation venues.” As if the fake FBI plot represented a real threat.

Today, a NYT piece raises questions about VIPR’s efficacy (without, however, noting how TSA has pointed to FBI-generated plots to justify it).

T.S.A. and local law enforcement officials say the teams are a critical component of the nation’s counterterrorism efforts, but some members of Congress, auditors at the Department of Homeland Security and civil liberties groups are sounding alarms. The teams are also raising hackles among passengers who call them unnecessary and intrusive.

“Our mandate is to provide security and counterterrorism operations for all high-risk transportation targets, not just airports and aviation,” said John S. Pistole, the administrator of the agency. “The VIPR teams are a big part of that.”

Some in Congress, however, say the T.S.A. has not demonstrated that the teams are effective. Auditors at the Department of Homeland Security are asking questions about whether the teams are properly trained and deployed based on actual security threats.

It’d really be nice if NYT had named the “some” in Congress who had raised concerns. Continue reading

Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz @gracels Naw, I have sat with @dcbigjohn My bet is you would actually like him quite a bit! Seriously. And he has passion for border stories
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bmaz @KanysLupin @emptywheel @MonaHol Not sure of context or question, but I would imagine prior statuses or placements on a list. Sorry, dunno.
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bmaz @dcbigjohn This is fucking outrageous.
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bmaz @kdrum Yeah. This is just ugly. I am turning to the Boise State game on ESPN2 I think. Or Netflix and a beer.
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bmaz @cody_k You are NOT doing very well quarterbacking the USC Trojans tonight. Not very helpful for the ASU Sun Devils. Please do better!
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bmaz Will NOBODY rid me of these pesky Bruins?? Jeez. This is what I get for needing help from, and rooting for, ONE TIME, the USC Trojans. #Ugly
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bmaz @gracels @21law @jacklgoldsmith As much as I hate it, yeah, they are their own little fiefdoms. Again, I go off what I see where I practice.
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bmaz @21law @gracels @jacklgoldsmith If properly charged and within boundaries of state, yes amenable to process for Rule 8 state speedy trial
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bmaz @gracels @21law @jacklgoldsmith well, want the conviction for that purpose+willing to lock em up here even if no deport. thats my concern.
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bmaz @21law @gracels @jacklgoldsmith In fact, willfully itinerant and belligerent to Fed policy when they can be. Think lot of GOP places may be.
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bmaz @21law @gracels @jacklgoldsmith Ah, thanks. We shall see. But my experience here is county prosecutors are undeterred by Fed policies.
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