Friday, January 08, 2010

Combating terrorists while preserving our liberties; way of life?

President Obama offered a fairly good speech yesterday in regards to the recent terrorist attempt by Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab on Dec. 25, 2009.

Here are some highlights and some personal assesments I have of them:
"In our ever-changing world, America's first line of defense is timely, accurate intelligence that is shared, integrated, analyzed and acted upon quickly and effectively. That's what the intelligence reforms after the 9/11 attacks largely achieved. That's what our intelligence community does every day.But, unfortunately, that's not what happened in the lead-up to Christmas Day. It's now clear that shortcomings occurred in three broad and compounding ways.

"First, although our intelligence community had learned a great deal about the al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen, called al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, that we knew that they sought to strike the United States and that they were recruiting operatives to do so, the intelligence community did not aggressively follow up on and prioritize particular streams of intelligence related to a possible attack against the homeland.
"Second, this contributed to a larger failure of analysis, a failure to connect the dots of intelligence that existed across our intelligence community and which together could have revealed that [Umar Farouk] AbdulMutallab was planning an attack.

"Third, this in turn fed into shortcomings in the watch-listing system which resulted in this person not being placed on the no-fly list, thereby allowing him to board that plane in Amsterdam for Detroit.

"In sum, the U.S. government had the information scattered throughout the system to potentially uncover this plot and disrupt the attack. Rather than a failure to collect or share intelligence, this was a failure to connect and understand the intelligence that we already had.


"Moreover, I am less interested in passing out blame than I am in learning from and correcting these mistakes to make us safer, for ultimately the buck stops with me. As president, I have a solemn responsibility to protect our nation and our people, and when the system fails, it is my responsibility."
Accountability. A refreshing change.

"Today, I'm directing a series of additional corrective steps across multiple agencies. Broadly speaking, they fall into four areas.

"First, I'm directing that our intelligence community immediately begin assigning specific responsibility for investigating all leads on high-priority threats so that these leads are pursued and acted upon aggressively not just most of the time, but all of the time.

"We must follow the leads that we get, and we must pursue them until plots are disrupted. And that means assigning clear lines of responsibility.

"Second, I'm directing that intelligence reports, especially those involving potential threats to the United States, be distributed more rapidly and more widely. We can't sit on information that could protect the American people.

"Third, I'm directing that we strengthen the analytical process, how our analysis -- how our analysts process and integrate the intelligence that they receive.

"My director of national intelligence, Denny Blair, will take the lead in improving our day-to-day efforts. My Intelligence Advisory Board will examine the longer term challenge of sifting through vast universes of -- of intelligence and data in our information age.

"And, finally, I'm ordering an immediate effort to strengthen the criteria used to add individuals to our terrorist watch lists, especially the no-fly list. We must do better in keeping dangerous people off airplanes, while still facilitating air travel.


... "in addition to the corrective efforts that I've ordered, I've directed agency heads to establish internal accountability reviews and directed my national security staff to monitor their efforts.

"We will measure progress, and John Brennan will report back to me within 30 days and on a regular basis after that."
Corrective action. Also refreshing.

"We are at war. We are at war against al Qaeda, a far-reaching network of violence and hatred that attacked us on 9/11, that killed nearly 3,000 innocent people, and that is plotting to strike us again. And we will do whatever it takes to defeat them."
And yet for this, we can all expect there will be zero credit from partisan liars like Dick Cheney, Peter King, Pete Hoekstra, et al.

"Here at home, we will strengthen our defenses, but we will not succumb to a siege mentality that sacrifices the open society and liberties and values that we cherish as Americans, because great and proud nations don't hunker down and hide behind walls of suspicion and mistrust. That is exactly what our adversaries want. And so long as I am president, we will never hand them that victory.

"We will define the character of our country, not some band of small men intent on killing innocent men, women and children."
This part of the speech I found particularly reassuring, coming from the President. At least the sentiment of it. This was a huge departure from President George W. Bush. But it remains to be seen whether the Obama administration is actually going to adopt such a stance.

For too long we have been forced to sacrifice liberties (including a right to privacy; 4th Amendment protections against unreasonable search & seizure; 5th Amendment protections of innocence until proven guilty; 6th Amendment protections of being given a speedy trial rather than being detained indefinitately). We were forced after 9/11, under the Bush administration, to sacrifice many basic liberties in the name of safety — national security. And under the Obama administration, most of this has continued. And in light of this recent terrorist attempt and fresh calls to implement all sorts of new draconian measures at airports to prevent the inevitable, it strongly appears that the envelope is going to be pushed forward yet again.

I can understand that the Obama administration cannot very well remove many of the overzealous security measure put in place by the Bush administration because the Republicans would have a field-day with it, particularly if a future terrorist attempt were successful. Still, the Obama administration can be smart about this. They don't need to continue in the path we were on; they could get smarter about how we combat terrorist attacks.

I sincerely hope that Mr. Obama holds true to his word here. Many of us, myself including, will be holding him to them...
"And in this cause, every one of us -- every American, every elected official -- can do our part. Instead of giving in to cynicism and division, let's move forward with the confidence and optimism and unity that defines us as a people, for now is not a time for partisanship, it's a time for citizenship, a time to come together and work together with the seriousness of purpose that our national security demands."
Can you manage that Dick Cheney, Peter King, Pete Hoekstra, Jim DeMint, Michael Steele? Can you manage that GOP, Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Tea Baggers, Obama haters?

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