Alexander's Column

U.S. National Security -- Homeland Defense

By Mark Alexander · Jul. 22, 2005

“A universal peace, it is to be feared, is in the catalogue of events, which will never exist but in the imaginations of visionary philosophers, or in the breasts of benevolent enthusiasts.” –James Madison

In Part I of this series, we identified the primary asymmetric national-security threat to the U.S. and its interests and allies around the world: Zealots of Jihadistan, that borderless nation of Islamic extremists constituted by al-Qa'ida and other Muslim terrorist groups, calling for jihad, or “holy war,” against “all the enemies of Allah” – that’s you.

As Congress debated the merits of the USA Patriot Act earlier this week, Jihadis reminded U.K. citizens, and the free world (again) that they have deep-cover terrorist cells in the West which are determined to do us harm. To date, none of the attacks have been as devastating as 9/11, but Jihadis will strike the U.S. again, and hard.

As first noted by The Patriot three years ago, the FBI calculates there is a high probability that homicide bombers, like those who hit London two weeks ago, will target U.S. commercial centers. However, both our military and intelligence sources estimate that far more devastating attacks are on the horizon, indicating it is only a matter of time until domestic Jihadi cells take delivery of fissile weapons (if they have not already) using Russian cores and Iraqi or Iranian technology previously acquired with assistance from Syria by al-Qa'ida. Those estimates indicate Jihadi targets are urban centers in the Northeast and/or in Southern California. Make no mistake, time is on their side.

How do we defend against this imminent threat?

Given that Jihadistan defies the tangible elements and definable characteristics of symmetric threats like uniformed leagues fighting for clear geographic and economic interests, the best defense against this ideological enemy is an effective offense in an attempt to define a warfront. President George Bush’s doctrine of preemption in Afghanistan and Iraq, and precision strikes against Jihadis in numerous other locations, which remain classified, has done that, to the degree possible. Creating a warfront on their turf is essential – “taking the fight to the enemy,” as Mr. Bush says. (The doctrine of preemption is the subject of Part III of this series, “The Long War,” next week.)

Given the fact that there are Jihadis already staged in American urban centers (like those who struck on 9/11), terrorists who will take, or already have taken, delivery of devastating fissile weapons, the U.S. must have a capable tactical and strategic homeland defense, one that is not hamstrung by obsolete constraints instituted when the primary national-security threats were external and symmetric – the USSR and China.

To interdict this internal threat, President Bush created the Department of Homeland Security, reorganized the intelligence community, re-directed certain military assets to supplement homeland defense, and enlisted the support of Congress to pass the USA Patriot Act, which enhanced the ability of law enforcement and intelligence agencies to investigate and track potential terrorists.

Additionally, the administration has enhanced security at coastlines, borders and ports of entry, but (despite a relentless chorus to the contrary) our borders cannot be made sufficiently secure to stop the infiltration of terrorists and their weapons; thus “border security” is not a panacea for containing this threat.

Domestic Jihadi sleeper cells in the U.S., many of which were seeded prior to 9/11, are virtually invisible, supported by hordes of Islamists in domestic mosques, Islamic schools and associations, and other domestic breeding grounds for Islamist hatred. The two most important tools in our domestic inventory to detect and prosecute these cells are DHS and law-enforcement agencies empowered by the Patriot Act – though neither, ultimately, will provide complete protection from the Jihadi threat.

To that end, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff has completed his “Second Stage Review,” a comprehensive assessment of the Department’s missions, organization and resources, and he has outlined plans to restructure the Department based on this review. Implementation of these plans will allow DHS to implement protocols more effectively to protect commerce, transportation and infrastructure. “Our department must drive improvement with a sense of urgency,” Chertoff says. “Our enemy constantly changes and adapts, so we as a department must be nimble and decisive.”

Mr. Chertoff plans to create an intelligence directorate to aggregate terrorism analysis from law-enforcement and intelligence agencies and will focus DHS resources primarily on prevention of catastrophic nuclear, chemical or biological threats as outlined above. DHS will also launch the Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN-Secret) to share pertinent classified information with state and local homeland-security and law-enforcement agencies. DHS will also implement more stringent immigration and worker-permit procedures.

The most critical defense against the Jihadi threat is the ability of law-enforcement agencies to function within the full limits of their constitutional authority when investigating and prosecuting these terrorist threats. The Patriot Act, as passed by overwhelming majorities of the House and Senate in 2001, clearly defines that authority and removes obstacles which prevented law-enforcement and intelligence agencies from cooperating in these investigations.

Since its passage, more than 400 suspects have been arrested as a result of federal terrorism investigations, and most of them were convicted. Terrorist cells have been dismantled in New York, Oregon, Virginia and Florida, and their support groups have been prosecuted in California, Texas, New Jersey, Illinois, North Carolina and Ohio.

In December of this year, 16 critical provisions of the Patriot Act are set to expire. Fortunately, the House has reauthorized 14 of those provisions with 10-year sunset provisions on the remaining two. The Senate will take up this measure in the fall.

Congressional debate is needed because there are legitimate civil-liberty concerns and, accordingly, The Patriot supports the sunset provisions, but in the estimation of our legal scholars and national-security analysts, stalling legislation over those concerns does not outweigh the risk of catastrophic terrorist attacks.

President Bush, calling on the Senate to renew these provisions, warned, “As we wage the war on terror overseas, we’ll remember where the war began – right here on American soil. In our free and open society, there is no such thing as perfect security. To protect our country, we have to be right 100 percent of the time. To hurt us, the terrorists have to be right only once.”

Deputy Attorney General James Comey testified before Congress: “You want to catch a terrorist with his hands on the check instead of his hands on the bomb. You want to be many steps ahead of the devastating event. The way we do that is through preventive and disruptive measures, by using investigative tools to learn as much as we can, as quickly as we can, and then incapacitating a target at the right moment.”

The Senate should not delay renewal of all these provisions because they enable investigators to use the same methods to investigate terrorists that are now used in routine criminal investigations, and they authorize investigators to track computer espionage and cyber-terrorism. To address civil-liberty concerns, the Patriot Act comports with constitutional constraints, requiring, for example, a federal judge’s approval to wiretap a foreign terrorist’s phone, to track his calls, or to search his property.

Congressional Democrats have attempted to hold critical Patriot Act provisions hostage as political fodder, and the consequences of their folly could be catastrophic.