Friday, December 5, 2014

Police Need More Choices

Regrettably, Thinking Enemy has been off line for several weeks. Writing strategic analysis of major long term issues with a minimum of political commentary, is a difficult job. Recently, the combined burden of teaching graduate courses in homeland security and working out some family health issues at home has prevented me from delivering a high quality essay on a regular basis. I will try to return to regular publication now that the semester is drawing to a close.

            I did not anticipate that my first posted essay in several months would concern the highly politicized issue of police use of force. But the issue has been manipulated into a national debate. And as it happens, I have a unique perspective on the recent death of NYC resident Eric Garner, apparently stemming from the inappropriate use of a choke hold by police.

            As research for a novel I am writing, I began two years ago to train toward a Black Belt in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). I quickly learned that street fights almost always go straight to the ground, and that the most effective move to control an opponent is “the Sleeper.” With a slight variation, that move becomes a killer called “the Choke Hold.”

            The Sleeper is applied by wrapping your right arm around your opponent’s neck from behind, placing his chin and neck in the crook of your elbow, with the bicep on one side of the neck and the forearm on the other side. Your right hand goes on your left bicep, and your left arm is bent behind the opponent's head, with the left hand pressing the head and neck down and into the V made by the right elbow. Tightening the muscles of your right arm while pressing the head forward with the left squeezes the carotid artery on the sides of the opponent’s neck, restricting blood flow to the brain. The air passage remains unobstructed, and seven seconds later the opponent passes out. Release the hold and the opponent awakens without injury. It is a good move for subduing a dangerous threat without permanent damage.

            But move the encircling arm slightly to the side and the bone of the forearm passes directly across the windpipe. This is the Choke. Tighten the arm muscles and the opponent begins choking. A bit more pressure and the windpipe collapses – the opponent dies.

            In a desperate struggle on the ground it is hard to distinguish the submission move from the killing move. This is why a referee watches MMA fights closely. There are no referees to judge police and citizens wrestling on the ground.

            Several months ago, I had a chance to try the Sleeper while sparring with an off duty policeman  who was 6’ 3’ and weighed 320 pounds.  (Sound familiar?) I’m an average sized guy (185, 5’ 10”). Even when he cooperated I could barely reach around his neck. My arms were too short to apply the Sleeper – I could only go straight to the Choke.

I’m also in pretty good shape – each week I lift weights 5 days and spend 8 hours in the MMA studio. My 300+ pound opponent treated me like a rag doll. He brushed me off, then rolled on top of me. He didn’t need any special moves – he just crushed me to the floor. I could not move or breathe. If he had not relented, I would have died. When he rolled off, he laughed.  “I was just playing with you,” he said.

All this is not to defend the seven policemen who swarmed Eric Garner while he cried, “I can’t breathe!” I don’t know what happened. I can only imagine the fear and adrenaline that coursed through both Mr. Garner and the police. The incident deserves another close investigation.

But I do know that even when several police take a huge subject to the ground, it is a life and death situation for all concerned. And so, based on my personal experience, my question is this:  With all the technology available today, why are police engaging potentially dangerous opponents in a wrestling match on the ground? Is there no way to immobilize a threat and return to talking? Must the choice always be stun guns, pistols, or mano-a-mano?

I see why it benefits politicians to turn such issues into passionate arguments that divide and energize political bases. But wouldn’t it benefit the rest of us to look for a technical solution to this problem?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Just for the Record – ISIS and the US Texas Border

            Recently I was asked on a TV interview to comment on the threat posed by ISIS crossing the southern border of the US (specifically in Texas). If you have not ever done such an interview (I have done more than 1000 since 9/11), you usually get 3-4 questions and 3-4 sentences to answer each one. Prep time, travel time, return time – all together it usually takes 4-6 hours to do a 9-16 sentence interview. If the interview is taped, they may use a single sentence.  Which is what happened to my recently taped comments about ISIS and the border.
            So just for the record – and before knowing what ISIS might have in store for the anniversary of 9/11 – here are my thoughts on the subject.
1) ISIS is really dangerous. They are vicious killers, driven by religious fervor, who see innocents as the enemies of God, and especially hope to hurt America and Americans. They will kill a lot of us in this country if they get a chance.
2) Our open southern border is really dangerous. Despite efforts by dedicated Border Patrol agents (frequently working under the handicap of senior officials hostile to the idea of US security), and extensive assistance from the governor of Texas, the Department of Public Safety, and other agencies ranging from the Texas National Guard to local police and sheriffs – the efforts (and especially the federal efforts) to close and protect our border are totally inadequate. The border is constantly penetrated by thousands of illegals, led by professional human smugglers.
3) The danger that ISIS might cross illegally and enter the US to murder and destroy is serious.
4) BUT – if I were ISIS, I would not risk sending agents through US border defenses, in the hands of cartel guides. I would take the easier route of sending radicals with US or European passports through regular ports of entry (by air or sea).  Less dangerous, less chance of discovery, greater chance of success.
That’s my answer in ten sentences.
And now a brief explanation. The cartels own every inch of the US border to the south. Nothing crosses without their permission and participation. So if you were trying to get terrorists into the country, would you
·       Option A – put your operatives, who do not know the language, culture or geography, into the hands of cartel smugglers for transport?  Or . . .
·       Option B – send operatives who know the language and culture, through safe crossings with legal documentation?
            Well, I pick “B”. 
Of course I think those who guard the borders should be on tiptoe as we approach 9/11.  An unsecure border is inherently dangerous, and we can’t afford to ignore any possibility. But I would focus priority on the air ports and sea ports in the weeks leading up to 9/11.
            Today I would focus most of all on safe houses, and radicals who might be harboring attackers within the US – as well as venues where they might attack (business sites, shopping malls, etc.). If international or homegrown terrorists are here, they have been present, training and conducting surveillance for weeks.
            Those who attacked us on the original 9/11 entered the country legally. I think that is still the most likely way for bad guys to breech our defenses today.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Weekly Radio Topics

Each Wednesday I get 20 minutes (5:05-5:25 pm) on the Dan Cofall show (1190 am, in DFW ) to talk about Homeland and National Security issues.  Here are the notes I provided Dan for possible topics of discussion this week. (click on the podcast button on Dan’s  web site to hear recordings of his shows.)

My top strategic priority this week is Russia. Nothing ISIS can do can imperil the survival of the US. Stumbling into a war with Russia can do that. 
Eastern Europe is Russia’s back yard. We went to war, overt and covert, when the Russians tried to establish military bases off our shores in Cuba, Grenada, and Nicaragua. In case you missed it, each of those was to be the site of a 10,000 ft runway that could accommodate fully loaded Backfire bombers. These locations would have allowed control of our oil shipping lanes across the Gulf of Mexico, and to/from our petrochemical complex stretching from Corpus Christi to Florida. Of course we were ready to fight to prevent that eventually.
Estonia, Poland, Bulgaria, Ukraine – this is the invasion route used to cost 20 million (or more) Russian lives in the last 100 years.  And we think they are just going to lie down and watch a hostile power put forces and airfields in place there? This shows astonishing arrogance and hubris on our part.
So the President is in Europe to write a blank check to East European countries, and to discuss establishing a new NATO reaction force of 4000 troops  (just enough to build themselves a good POW camp), and new bases.  So what will we put on those new bases?  Every jet we put at an airbase in Estonia is one jet we cannot move elsewhere in time of crisis.  Will we buy new forces, or simply spread our weak military even more thinly?
BTW – does everybody remember that WE STARTED THIS by covertly encouraging the toppling of a democratically elected head of government in the Ukraine? I am no fan of Russia or Putin. But neither do I think military posturing with mostly imaginary forces is likely to produce a positive outcome.
(See this link for Senator Sam Nunn's similar call for diplomacy in the Ukraine, and NATO military improvements to back up their bellicose language. ( )

Here is a place where the President’s approach to the situation is paying off.  I just wish he would be a bit more aggressive in doing it.
The strike this week that attacked and killed an al-Shabaab commander (Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr) and some of his deputies was no fluke. It was a well-planned, long term effort to properly position forces, and then kill some especially nasty borderline human beings who threatened US personnel.
Before anyone gets bent out of shape about my slur – this group planned and executed the murder of 60+ innocents in a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya. They picked this target because Kenya has worked with the US, the African Union, and other governments to retake cities, towns and the countryside previously conquered by murderous Islamic Radicals. The extended operation to get them has been a big success in President’s Obama’s policy of “Leading from Behind.”
To complete the thought – what al-Shabaad did to civilians, many of them European -- in the mall defies my ability to describe in an open blog. Read some European press reports to learn, for example, about the condition of the children’s bodies that were found in the freezers at the Food Court. ( ) Many specifics are unclear, but the central point is clear. As one friend who has been in this fight told me, “We are at war with cave men.”
Given the many previous statements and policy pronouncements from the White House, I have no doubt that the President personally issued the strike order. Good for him.  Good for the men and women who carried it out.
I also have no doubt that military, intel, and other assets have many more such sub-humans in their sights.  I wish the President would take a few more risks, and pull that trigger against very bad people more often.

From a global perspective . . .
For months now I have been telling the patient listeners of the Dan Cofall show that our entire approach to national security – to include our diplomatic, intelligence, informational, military, and economic elements of power – is based on academic theories about how to build a liberal (small “l”) world order.  Those theories have been taking shape (especially on the left) since the end of the First World War.  They were embraced by many on the right after the fall of the Iron Curtain. They formed part of the rationale for our invasion of Iraq.
And now they are all failing.  All of them. Financers and markets won’t behave the way theories predict. Neither will religious fanatics. Or conquered populations. Or opponents like Putin. Or Edward Snowden.  Or hackers, or illegal immigrants.
It is not just President Obama’s policies that are failing. It is the academic foundation on which they are built. Because the theories that underlie the modern concept of world order do not accurately account for the nature of man.
   And now somebody important is saying the same thing with greater legitimacy than I can provide. See this article by Henry Kissinger, writing in the Wall Street Journal:  . 
The end of a 100 year old intellectual order is a big, big deal . . . even if, like “the Walking Dead,” the elite do not yet understand that they are dead, and why.

People finally get it (especially Great Britain) concerning the threat that radical citizens will return from overseas with a jihadist vision and domestic targets in mind.
Since the afternoon of 9/11 the US government (in both the Bush and Obama administrations) has been scrambling to assure us that no single part of our population poses any greater threat than any other part.  Despite the fact that we have not seen a terrorist attack by a radical Catholic faction since . . . oh . . . EVER . . . the TSA  still searches nuns in habits with mind numbing regularity.
But following the rise of ISIS, the Prime Minister of Britain has just outlined how he plans to direct special focus against people who indicate a desire to travel overseas to train and fight, and those who actually do so.  It would be great to have our President, or Secretary of Homeland Security, or Attorney General address this issue.

This week I would really rather talk about Libya than ISIS. 
The Mideast did not begin to unravel when President Obama brought troops home from Iraq. It began to come apart when the US organized support to “lead from behind” in overthrowing Gadhafi in Libya – a brutal dictator who was non-the-less able to keep even more vicious forces under control. In the aftermath of our decisive support, instead of becoming an “Arab Spring” with a moderate democracy, Libya has been engulfed by radicals, lunatics and bandits. And the virus has spread to other countries. ISIS is just the latest such disaster.
Many news articles this week  address the anarchy that has developed there, to include the rise of some of the most extreme radical groups – armed with weapons we could not secure when our actions threw open the doors to Gadhafi’s military storehouses.
Note, for example, this article about the loss of several commercial airliners in the recent fighting.  I wonder where and when we will see them again.

And finally – saved for last, a story that rivals Russia as our #1 strategic focus this week . . .
The Washington Post has posted a disturbing story about the danger that Ebola will break out of the area in West Africa where it is presently contained.
The head of the US Centers for Disease Control is just back from seeing the situation first hand, and he is shocked at conditions and the danger the disease presents. The Washington Post article describes
“overwhelmed isolation centers, riots breaking out over controversial quarantines, infected bodies lying in the streets, medical workers dying in shocking numbers, entire health systems crumbling and Ebola wards with such scant resources that they are little more than where ‘people go to die alone.’ ”
This is the most alarmist report I have seen, coming from a paper with a reputation for measured language. To borrow from an earlier point, looks like our theories about the positive  benefits of globalization are about to be tested.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Domestic Terrorism – Words Matter

Sometimes the government is not as stupid as it seems.  It just seems to be as stupid as it seems.   A number of (mostly conservative – example ) media sources have objected to the just released National Threat Assessment for Domestic Extremism because it does not list Muslim radicals as a threat. They are wrong. The omission is not as grave as it seems.
Domestic Terrorism is an act of terrorism conducted by a domestic resident over a domestic issue.  White separatists, Black Power advocates, animal rights extremists, some work place attackers -- all are domestic actors upset about purely domestic issues. This was the subject of the disputed report.
            International Terrorism is an act of terrorism by an international actor over an international issue. The 9/11 attackers were foreign nationals unhappy about US actions overseas.
            Homegrown Terrorism is an act of terrorism by a domestic resident over an international issue. The Boston Bombing was an act of Homegrown Terrorism. 
            So the FBI report is correct -- I do not know of any Muslim radicals or Muslim groups who are threatening to mount terrorist attacks in the US over purely domestic issues.
            Is there a reason to make such distinctions?  Yes.  If the motivations and capabilities are different, then the analysis and counter actions must be different. The Cosa Nostra’s deliberate murder of a judge, and an individual’s impulsive of murder a spouse are both murders, but should be approached quite differently.  The same is true of terrorism.
            Are the definitions really as clear as I have suggested?  No.  The Department of State  and Department of Justice are still using different definitions of terrorism in their programs, so it is no surprise that there is confusion even among experts.
            And by the way -- this distinction is going to get sticky in the near future.  What should we call the crime in England where a radical Muslim murdered a member of the British Army band in the street?  The attacker was a domestic resident. But was he motivated by unhappiness about Britain's involvement overseas, or the role of Muslims in British society at home?  That's not clear, maybe even to him. So was he a homegrown terrorist or domestic terrorist? 
            Here is one final question. It should have been clear to anyone who works these issues that the American press and the American people would be confused by the new report. Why not explain this distinction up front?
Great question.  I have no answer.  But this seems to be in the tradition of saying and doing things destined to alarm the public, then refusing to explain the action.  Like buying billions of rounds of hollow point ammunition, then claiming it is to protect post offices. Seems pretty stupid.  Maybe it's not. But it sure seems that way.