Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Let the Finger-Pointing, Circular Firing Squad Begin …

That’s Just What Al-Qaeda is Counting On ...

The off with her head calls came barely 24 hours after the attempted bombing of the Detroit flight. DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano’s head, that is. 

What a great idea! Fire the head of homeland security, and wait for the nomination and vetting process to start from scratch with a new candidate.  Which, of course, can’t be done in days, or weeks, but months because you know – the candidate has to be scrupulously scrutinized to ensure there are no skeletons in his/her closets or no unpaid jaywalking tickets. Oh, and god forbid, a nanny problem!

And when all that is done, the new nominee, unless deminted in Congress like the TSA nominee must transition into his/her new role as top honcho of homeland security, and provide leadership to 225,000 employees in 7 sub-agencies, and 11 other components, plus tackle its $52 billion budget. 

I don’t care if that candidate is a genius. The fact is, transitioning into that leadership role won’t happen overnight as we might like to think. And while he/she is transitioning, Al Qaeda is rolling in their caves, laughing at how quickly we pick up their bait and diversion.  They will send their agents of chaos on to our commercial airlines (we’re not even talking about the land borders yet!) and expect these knee jerk emotional reactions from us. Why else would they claim ownership over Mr. Underpant’s failed attack? To sow fear and terror, and more fear and terror; and to watch us, most especially our politicians as they tear each other down -- until we get so foul and twisted in our fears, we won’t know our heads from our tails.


The politicians who are using this incident as rocket boosters for their own ambitions should be lined up on the steps of the Capitol; and we should call on their mothers to publicly scold them for such shameful behavior.                       

In a related note,
Thomas Lipscomb, a Senior Fellow at the Annenberg Center for the Digital Future also pens,  The Trouser Bomber Effect: Watching Government Cure Incompetence with Idiocy for Huffington Post: “Incompetent State Department consular officials and poor enforcement of visa procedures that have been in place long before the personal computer, the Xerox machine or even the jet airliner are the problem here.”


I supposed that is the easiest trick in the book -- to scream “incompetence” when something like this happens.  But it shows a deep misunderstanding of the consular trade.  There are over 1500 consular officers in the Foreign Service. They are some of the hardest working folks I know. Most work more than 8 hours or weekends and are on call 24/7 with no additional compensation.  Perhaps, more than anyone else in a US mission, consular officers are dictated by manuals, guidelines, SOPs, and regulations. They are not freelancers, and the work that they do have almost zero optional parts. 

I wonder what he meant by “poor enforcement of visa procedures?”  That the suspect was issued a visa two years before his Detroit attack? That State did not know the Brits did not renew the suspect’s visa? US visa sections in over 200 embassies and consulate refuse visa applications every single work day, and as far as I know, we don’t tell the Brits about them. Why should they tell us about their refusals or nonrenewals? Now, it would have been much simpler if the father’s report was transmitted with an automatic “arrest” or "kill" button, right? But we still live by the rule of law.  

As one the U.S. intelligence official puts it to Spencer Ackerman -- “Realistically, a lot of guys call every day and say their relative or former friend is dangerous,” the official explained. To use that level of information to revoke someone’s visa or stop someone from flying would be “unmanageable. We’d probably shut down air traffic.”

I don’t think folks really have an idea how much poison pen letters visa sections overseas get. If you take every single poison pen letter from jealous neighbors, ex-spouses, cranky relatives, broken families, old lovers, ditched boyfriends, mistresses, third wives, business competitors, etc, etc. as “word from god”  commercial travel as we know it would stop. Really.  No more Disneyland trips, no more shopping in New York, no more students for American universities and colleges, etc. etc. And congressional constituencies, even those still unable to vote would run to "their" representatives to complain, and senators and congressmen would send out congressional inquiries to embassies and consulates as to why so and so was refused a visa.

Finally, one more former Bushie has called for the visa function to be removed from the State Department to DHS saying that: “Granting visas is a function that most people at State relegate to the margins of their activities. State’s mandarins — foreign service officers or “FSOs” — look down at the consular officials who handle visas. This is considered a third-rate assignment, something young FSOs have to suffer through for a few years at the very start of their careers.”

He added that “Moving visa functions to DHS is no panacea, obviously, but the case of the would-be airline bomber Abdul Mutallab is perhaps suggestive. His multiple-entry visa to the U.S. was not cancelled by State, not even after his own father alerted U.S. Embassy officials in Nigeria of the danger he might present. His visa to enter the United Kingdom was cancelled, however, months ago.”

Of course, DHS is responsible for American’s homeland security and border control. Maybe DHS wants the visa adjudication function, maybe not.  No offense to our friends at DHS but I understand that there are 12 million illegal aliens in the United States that we have not caught or deported yet.  DHS has records of aliens entering the United States but there’s no one out there who actually knows when or if these aliens depart because DHS has no tracking system for them. Further, according to the Center for Immigration Studies, USCIS, one of DHS’s sub-agencies that deal with immigration is “actually still deep in the weeds and unable to keep up with the existing workload”. CIS reports that as of the end of June 2009, the agency had a backlog of nearly 2.7 million applications and petitions that were pending review, above and beyond the 1.8 million that had been completed that quarter. 

So yes -- instead of figuring out what went wrong this time, so it won’t happen again next time -- let’s just forgettaboutallthat and shuffle the decks, move this function from here to there. It's all rather very simple, isn't it?  We would, of course, all sleep like babies at night knowing that the same agency that could not get a handle on 12 million illegal aliens within our borders would now be tasked with issuing visas to all foreigners coming into the United States. You would find that exceptionally comforting, yes?      

Let’s pretend for a moment that the visa function was with DHS this past year. That when the suspect’s father went to the US Embassy to report his concern about his son, he talked to a DHS officer. As I understand it under current regulations, the DHS officer would have brought this to the attention to the Visas Viper Committee normally chaired by the Deputy Ambassador. A Visas Viper cable would be transmitted to the US as it happened in this case. The information would go to NTC, and an interagency committee decides to put the suspects name in the half-a million name database.  Would it have made a difference in the airport screening of this case? Given the same information, provided by DHS this time, instead of State, would they have decided to revoke the suspect’s visa?  If the information was not significant enough to put subject in the more restrictive “No-Fly” list, would it have been significant enough for visa revocation? 

Let’s presume that the revocation occurred. It is not as simple as stamping the visa “revoked” or “cancelled.” A report has to be made out, a "lookout" created and submitted, actual revocation documents drafted and approved by a responsible official, the subject of revocation had to be notified and asked to present his visa at the embassy for physical cancellation, the information had to be sent by DHS to other agencies including its child agency, CBP to warn them of possible entry, and its other child agency, ICE to locate, apprehend and remove subject if he was inside the United States. 

In an alternate universe this might work, in a real world, I doubt it. 

We need to find out what happened in this case without the hysteria or the urge to convene the circular firing squad. We need everyone’s help to get to the bottom of this, without the constant fear that their jobs are on the line -- whether in the airports, the airlines, or any of our relevant agencies, including the CIA and other intel agencies. We must refuse to let mob mentality drive this issue, let our people do their work and hope that they are now, learning more quickly to connect the dots before another incident happens. What we don't want to happen is for officials to lower the threshold for inclusion as CYA, and in so doing presents our analysts with more haystack than they can manage.       

As Peter Feaver  writes in FP, Off with her head? I'd rather know what's on Napolitano's mind first: “It may well be that there were lapses of judgment and oversight that rise to firing offenses. But let's investigate the alleged crime before we execute the sentence.”


hannah said...

Thanks for being so pro-active in covering State's role in this. I've been forwarding every one of your pieces on to anyone who'll listen.

diplopundit said...

Thanks, Hannah!