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In the News: Homeland Security Project, February 5

The Bipartisan Policy Center’s (BPC) Homeland Security Project (HSP) leaders and members regularly comment on security issues facing our nation. The views expressed in these articles do not necessarily represent the views of the project, its members or the BPC.


John Avlon in The Daily Beast

Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions doggedly focused on a report by the anti-nuke group Global Zero, which advocates the elimination of nuclear weapons. The report was co-authored by Hagel, four generals, and a number of ambassadors. The organization itself has hundreds of international leaders who have signed on to its recommendations, including Reagan’s secretary of defense Frank Carlucci, Carter national security adviser Zbignew Brezinksi, 9/11 Commission co-chair Lee Hamilton, and Gen. Anthony Zinni. Sessions and other Republican senators kept cherry-picking phrases from the report and ignoring substantive subtlety, despite Hagel’s repeated assurance and demonstrated record in opposing unilateral disarmament and support for modernizing the U.S. nuclear program. This clarification by the authors might help calm any genuine concerns, if they exist.

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Fran Townsend on CNN’s Starting Point

HSP Leader and BPC Board Member Fran Townsend and CNN’s Barbara Starr discuss a suicide bombing at U.S. Embassy in Ankara, Turkey. Follow Fran Townsend on Twitter here.

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Congressman Lee Hamilton in National Journal

In part, Wyden is just a recent victim of a shift in constitutional power that has been going on for decades, back to when President Truman ordered forces into Korea without congressional approval. But today’s covert war?in which spies and soldiers kill people without trial?establishes new terrain somewhere between military and intelligence activities. Here, the executive branch feels compelled to protect its security interests at the same time that Congress has the constitutional power to declare and oversee war. And rather than explain why it considers its tactics legal even off the battlefield, the White House simply claims authority to do as it pleases under the Authorization of Use of Military Force passed by Congress after the Sept. 11 attacks. “Without real public accountability,” says former Rep. Lee Hamilton, a co-chairman of the 9/11 commission who now directs Indiana University’s Center on Congress, “the president has the power to kill people any time, based on a secret process. That, as far as I’m aware, is unprecedented.”

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Peter Bergen for CNN

The attack in January on a gas facility in Algeria by an al Qaeda-linked group that resulted in at least 37 dead hostages has sparked an outpouring of dire warnings from leading Western politicians.

British Prime Minister David Cameron described a “large and existential threat” emanating from North Africa. Tony Blair, his predecessor as prime minister, agreed saying, “David Cameron is right to warn that this is a battle for our values and way of life which will take years, even decades.”

Hang on chaps! Before we all get our knickers in a tremendous twist: How exactly does an attack on an undefended gas facility in the remotest depths of the Algerian desert become an “existential threat” to our “way of life”?

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Fran Townsend on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360

HSP Leader and BPC Board Member Fran Townsend and Bob Baer discuss the man who detonated a bomb at the U.S. Embassy in Turkey and why he attacked. Follow Fran Townsend on Twitter here.

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Michael Leiter for NBC News

That group, started in the late 1970s, “has periodically targeted both Turkish officials and been virulently anti-U.S. and anti-NATO during the Gulf War and continuing to today,” Michael Leiter, former director of the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, said in an interview with NBC News.

“During the past several months Turkish officials have targeted the DHKPC and it is possible that this was in retaliation for those police raids,” he said, adding that the group’s reach was believed to be limited to Turkey and the immediate region.

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Michael Leiter in The Daily Beast

But Obama’s fast bond with Brennan was not enough to get him the CIA job. As soon as Brennan’s name was floated, the liberal blogosphere lit up with accusations that he had been involved in the Bush administration’s torture program while working as a top aide to then-CIA director George Tenet after Sept. 11. Though much about his role during the aftermath of 9/11 remains murky, Brennan has said he did, in fact, object to harsh interrogation techniques; and after he left government in 2005, he publicly equated waterboarding with torture. But Brennan’s critics were not to be mollified. Obama got cold feet, and Brennan withdrew his name.

His supporters say the episode stung, but also emboldened him to become a more forceful voice in support of civil liberties and the rule of law. “It strengthened his resolve,” says David Boren, a former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and a co-chair of President Obama’s Intelligence Advisory Board.

Brennan, whose grave countenance masks a warm and generous side (“the scowl on his face turns into a smile pretty quickly,” says one colleague), settled for a job as Obama’s chief adviser on counterterrorism and homeland security. Working from a windowless bunker in the basement of the West Wing, Brennan acted as Obama’s guide to the shadowy world of intelligence and counterterrorism. But, according to administration sources, the two men did not just talk about how to kill terrorists; they also talked about how to pursue the enemy without further compromising America’s international reputation, already eroded by torture and Guantánamo. And befitting their lawyerly instincts, they would, time and again over the years, search for ways to establish rules, standards, and constraints?to ensure that the war on terror was ultimately governed by laws, not men. “These past four years have brought out John’s natural desires to dive more deeply into the legalities and ethical nature of these counterterrorism challenges,” says Michael Leiter, who worked closely with Brennan as the former head of the National Counterterrorism Center. “These weren’t questions he had to grapple with in the same way at the CIA.”

2013-02-04 00:00:00

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