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All articles with the "Terrorism" tag.

Published: Sun, 19 Feb 2017 00:00:00 -0500

Last Build Date: Sun, 19 Feb 2017 22:31:08 -0500


How the Travel Ban Helps Terrorists

Mon, 13 Feb 2017 00:01:00 -0500

If you're afraid that terrorists from a particular country will come to kill your citizens, it makes sense to ban anyone from that place. So brace yourselves, Americans. Any day now, the Syrian government may impose a complete and total shutdown on travelers from the United States. Donald Trump thinks there is a pipeline of violent extremists from Syria and other predominantly Muslim countries. He's right, but he's wrong about the direction of the flow. Islamic State recruits aren't coming from Syria to the United States. They are going from the United States to Syria. Nora Ellingsen, who spent five years working on international counterterrorism investigations at the FBI, went through all the cases she could find over the past two years. Over that time, the agency "has arrested 34 Americans who aspired to leave, attempted to leave or actually left the United States to join a terrorist group overseas," she writes—compared with two refugees it has arrested from the seven countries included in Trump's travel ban. A report from Congress found that 250 U.S. nationals have gone to Syria or Iraq to fight for the Islamic State group, also known as ISIL and ISIS. "More Americans have snuck into Syria to join ISIL," she writes on the Lawfare blog, "than ISIL members have snuck into the United States." In ruling against the president's executive order, a panel of three judges for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals couldn't help noticing that "the government has pointed to no evidence that any alien from any of the countries named in the order has perpetrated a terrorist attack in the United States." Now we know why. The Trump administration portrays itself as the Dutch boy with his finger in the dike, trying to block a flood of militants disguised as Syrian kindergarteners. John Kelly, secretary of homeland security, explained the abruptness of the travel ban: "The thinking was to get it out quick so that potentially, people that might be coming here to harm us would not take advantage of some period of time that they could jump on an airplane." Even before the ban, though, Syrians couldn't just claim to be refugees and proceed to the airport. They had to spend 18 to 24 months being screened and processed. It's not an option for someone in a hurry. Kelly also left out the large, honking fact that the danger Americans face is less from without than from within. That's clear from a new study done by the Chicago Project on Security and Threats at the University of Chicago. "The American Face of ISIS" examines 112 cases of people known to have been involved in "ISIS-related offenses"—including carrying out attacks, plotting them, traveling to take part in them or helping other confederates. It reports that 83 percent are U.S. citizens, with 65 percent born here. None came as a refugee from Syria. Only three of the 112 were refugees, two from Bosnia and one from Iraq. CPOST Director Robert Pape said the researchers found "no evidence of ISIS smuggling in fighters into the United States alongside with refugees." Sniffing out incoming terrorists among those arriving from these nations is like scouting for future NHL stars in Jamaica. In the past two years, Ellingsen says, the FBI has arrested more Americans plotting violent attacks on Muslims in the U.S. than it has refugees from all the banned countries combined. Skittish sorts may figure it's better to be safe than sorry. But the travel ban doesn't enhance our safety even marginally. Just the opposite. Middle Eastern terrorists figured out long ago it was too hard to get their people into this country. What is easy is transmitting propaganda. As Pape points out, "ISIS terrorists in America are walk-in volunteers"—people living in the U.S. who have been radicalized by its online videos. What the travel ban does, by singling out Muslims in these seven countries, is to buttress the Islamic State claim that the West is at war with Islam. If the policy induces a small percentage of American Muslims—who number 3.3 million—to embrace the group, the risk of terrorism will multiply[...]

Shouldn't the DOJ Know About Terrorists From Countries Covered by Trump's Travel Ban?

Fri, 10 Feb 2017 09:15:00 -0500

At a hearing before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit on Tuesday, Justice Department lawyer August Flentje was repeatedly asked for evidence that President Trump's travel ban addresses "a real risk" of terrorism. Flentje came up short, as reflected in the 9th Circuit's explanation of its refusal to override a temporary restraining order against the ban. The appeals court says "the Government has pointed to no evidence that any alien from any of the countries named in the Order [Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen] has perpetrated a terrorist attack in the United States." That much is true, but it's not because there is no such evidence. Last September, for example, a Somali-American named Dahir Adan was shot and killed after attacking shoppers with a knife at a mall in St. Cloud, Minnesota. Ten people were injured. Two months later, a Somali refugee named Abdul Razak Ali Artan was shot and killed after ramming people with his car and stabbing them with a knife at Ohio State University in Columbus. Thirteen people were injured. In addition to those cases, Cato Institute immigration analyst Alex Nowrasteh has identified half a dozen people from Iran, Iraq, and Somalia who have been convicted in the United States of charges related to domestic terrorism since 9/11. Flentje should have known about these cases, and so should Michelle Bennett, the DOJ lawyer who represented the Trump administration at the U.S. District Court hearing last Friday that preceded the TRO. James Robart, the federal judge who issued the TRO later that day, asked Bennett, "How many arrests have there been of foreign nationals from those seven countries since 9/11?" She did not know. "I'm from the civil division, if that helps get me off the hook any," she said with a smile. Robart replied (incorrectly) that "the answer to that is none, as best I can tell." William Canby, one of the 9th Circuit judges, noted that exchange during Tuesday's hearing, giving Flentje a chance to set the record straight. He did not take it. "Yes, your honor," he replied, seeming to confirm Robart's inaccurate statement. "These proceedings have been moving quite fast, and we're doing the best we can." That is pretty shocking if true. It was inevitable that judges would ask this sort of question, and the answer is a matter of public record. Once Bennett was stumped, Flentje should have known the question would come up again in the appeals court. Yet both Bennett and Flentje left the impression that no one from the seven banned countries has been implicated in domestic terrorism, which is clearly not correct. While Robart and Canby overstated the case, it is accurate to say that people from the countries covered by Trump's travel ban have been responsible for only a small share of terrorist activity and zero deadly attacks in the United States since 1975. To my mind, those facts cast doubt on the logic of Trump's criteria, which supposedly are aimed at protecting Americans from terrorists. But the legal significance of those doubts is a matter of dispute. While Bennett argued that Robart should not examine the empirical basis for Trump's order, Robart insisted that "I have to find fact as opposed to fiction." The 9th Circuit also rejected Trump's contention that the risk assessment underlying his order is beyond judicial review. But it is not clear how logical the order must be to pass constitutional muster. The fit between Trump's ostensible goal and the means he chose is relevant in evaluating the argument that his order improperly discriminates against Muslims, which can be construed as an equal protection claim, an Establishment Clause claim, or a religious freedom claim. It also might be relevant in deciding what due process means for people affected by the order, assuming it means anything at all. At this stage of the case, the nature and magnitude of the danger addressed by the travel ban were relevant in assessing the government's claim that leaving the TRO in place would cause "irreparable harm." And that is where[...]

Trump’s Belief That Terrorist Attacks Have Been Concealed Has Implications Beyond Media Feud

Mon, 06 Feb 2017 17:15:00 -0500

Today in eye-popping comments by President Donald Trump: In a speech at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, Trump said terror attacks have gotten so bad that the media is not reporting it. This is a deliberate choice by the media, he seems to argue, to mislead people. From The Hill: "It's gotten to a point where it's not even being reported," he told a group of senior commanders. "And in many cases, the very, very dishonest press doesn't want to report it." The president implied that media organizations have an ulterior motive to bury coverage of the attacks. "They have their reasons and you understand that," he said. Trump provided no evidence to back up his comments. Terror attacks both at home and abroad often spark blanket coverage on cable news networks, newspapers and online outlets. These comments are immediately being cast as the latest salvo in Trump's war on the media. Stephanie Slade noted this morning Trump's Twitter blitz against negative polls that indicate popular opposition to his leadership so far. While Trump's obsession with the media's portrayal of him may have influenced these comments, it's probably more important to take a step back and take a look at the bigger picture here. We should worry less about the implications on a free press here and more about the implications on other civil liberties. Trump has consistently argued that the world is much more dangerous than the data represents to those who pay attention. The White House website pointed out its law enforcement section that murders jumped 50 percent in in 2015, but ignored that they dropped in 2016. His immigration crime and terror fear-mongering is heavily influenced by the idea that there are unforeseen threats. Trump's response to having his executive action overruled as an abridgement to due process is to claim that the judge responsible is putting "our country in such peril." If something "bad" happens (and something bad is ultimately going to happen at some point because security is not a perfectible thing), he says it will be the judge's fault. Damon Root noted on Sunday Trump's attack on judicial review. Trump is using a belief that the world is hostile, violent, and dangerous to justify measures that ignore the constitutional restraints that give people protection from too much government power. To insist that we are in danger is to give credence to an argument that we must take any measure to become more safe, protections of the Fourth and Fifth Amendment be damned. The data doesn't support the argument that the United States is in an increasing amount of danger. Implicating the press as having an active, conspirational role in concealing threats is a way to rhetorically get around that barrier. Ironically, many Americans believe they're in more danger of crime than they actually are and that's because the media covers violent crime and terrorism so much and so extensively. In an even further irony, to the extent that crimes are concealed from the public, it can frequently be the result of secrecy or spin from the government itself, not the press at all. It wasn't the press responsible for trying to present the Fort Hood shooting by Nidal Hassan as "workplace violence." (One my more frustrating experiences as a small town newspaper editor was having to explain to people that journalists actually have little leverage at making government agencies give up information at the snap of our fingers, regardless of what the open records laws say.) When we look at Trump's war with the press, it's easy but also superficial to worry just about the implications on free speech. The effort to suggest that there are more terrorist attacks than have been reported by the media is an attempt to use fear to diminish support for important constitutional protections that value liberty over the security state. Worry less about what these rants mean for the likes of Anderson Cooper and more about what it might mean for you and your neighbors. (Update: The White House has provided a "list" of[...]

Justin Amash: ‘We cannot prevent every terrorist attack…we have to at some point trust some people.’

Fri, 03 Feb 2017 15:19:00 -0500

Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) is widely considered to be the most consistently libertarian member of Congress. He is also the son of a Syrian immigrant and a Palestinian refugee. So it didn't exactly come as a surprise when Amash became one of the first Republican politicians to criticize President Donald Trump's refugee/immigration executive order of one week ago. But Amash is also unsatisfied with America's existing process for screening potentially dangerous refugees from Syria and other unstable, terrorist-producing countries. In an interview with me one year ago, the congressman said, "I went to one of these briefings put on by the administration, and was frankly stunned at the poor vetting process. It is a long process, but contrary to what I at first believed, it is not a very rigorous process. The important thing to me at the end of the day is making sure that we can identify who the person is when they're coming over." I spoke with Amash again for SiriusXM Insight on Wednesday, at a time when it seemed (to me anyway) that the EO's controversial provisions affecting green-card holders who live in the U.S. had been reversed. Since then the State Department has disclosed that 60,000 visas have been revoked as a result of the order, though if this week is any guide, the reporting on that could soon change a great deal. The bottom line, according to the congressman, is that this policy trend won't change until Republican attitudes change, and that doesn't seem immediately likely: "Right now we are going through a period where we are sort of closing up a little bit." The following is an edited transcript of our conversation; at the bottom of it you can listen to the first three minutes: Reason: The green card element of it, which was many people's…lead objection to the executive order…that one seems to be resolved. What are your remaining objections to the executive order as they stand today? Amash: Well, I wouldn't call that one resolved…. Reason: Oh, okay.… Amash: I've talked to some of my colleagues in the House Freedom Caucus to send the word back up to the administration: They're letting green-card holders in on a case-by-case basis but they are going to receive additional screening and all the rest. And it's my opinion, and certainly the opinion of a lot of people in Congress, including a lot of Republicans, that people who have been living here for a long time, who are lawful permanent residents−these are legal immigrants who live among us, who serve in our armed forces, who pay taxes−they shouldn't be treated like they are some kind of suspect every time they want to come back into the country. Reason: As far as you know, are they being pulled aside for questioning routinely at airports still, even after the clarification from the Department of Homeland Security on Sunday? Amash: So I don't have any anecdotal evidence of that, but I can say that based on the statements we have heard from the administration, whether it's DHS or Sean Spicer, Reince Priebus or anyone else, they are going to receive additional scrutiny when they come in. Now, they are going to be let in on a case-by-case basis, but they are going to receive additional scrutiny; in other words, the executive order will still cover them. I think that's not the way to handle people who have been living here as lawful permanent residents and are well-vetted. We cannot prevent every terrorist attack that is going to happen in the world, and we have to at some point trust some people. And I think the people who live here and serve in our armed forces, we are going to have to trust. That's just how the world has to work, and life has to work. Reason: And just for people who aren't really aware of how the green card process works, there is vetting—you have to get fingerprinted and you have to go to some interviews. Amash: Yes absolutely. Reason: You have to say that you're not allegiant to a foreign totalitarian system of thought. Amash: That's right, that's rig[...]

Terrorism and Liberty in the Trump Era

Fri, 03 Feb 2017 13:30:00 -0500

After the atrocities of September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush's approval rating soared from 50 to 90 percent. A month after the attacks, nearly 60 percent of Americans said they trusted the government in Washington to do what is right almost always or most of the time; that was the highest it had been in 40 years. In the weeks after 9/11, more than 50 percent were very to somewhat worried that they or a family member would be a victim in a terrorist attack. Keying off of these fears, various commentators stepped forward to sagely intone that the "Constitution is not a suicide pact." (I prefer "Give me liberty or give me death.") Evidently averse to potentially committing suicide, 74 percent of the country agreed that "Americans will have to give up some of their personal freedoms in order to make the country safe from terrorist attacks." In 2002, an ABC News/Washington Post poll reported that 79 percent of Americans agreed that it was "more important right now for the federal government to investigate terrorist threats even if that intrudes on personal privacy." Support for intrusive investigations purportedly aimed at preventing terrorist attacks fell to only 57 percent in 2013, shortly after Edward Snowden's revelations of extensive domestic spying by the National Security Agency (NSA). In the most recent poll, it has ticked back up to 72 percent. Instead of urging Americans to exercise bravery and defend their liberty, our political leaders fanned fears and argued that we must surrender freedoms. The consequences included the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the proliferation of metal detectors at the entrances of public buildings, the requirement to show government-issued IDs at more and more public venues, the increased militarization of our police forces, and tightened travel restrictions to neighboring countries where passports were once not required. In October 2001, the House of Representatives passed the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT) Act just 15 minutes after its 315 pages of text were made available to members. This law eviscerated the Fourth Amendment's privacy protections, and a massive secret domestic spying operation run by the NSA was set up. (Years later, numerous reports by outside and government analysts found that surrendering our civil liberties had been useless, since NSA domestic spying had had "no discernible impact on preventing acts of terrorism.") The Central Intelligence Agency was authorized to torture suspected terrorists; that too proved not just illiberal but ineffective. According to a recent Brown University study, the Global War on Terror (*) has cost $3.2 trillion, in addition to leaving nearly 7,000 American military personnel dead and scores of thousands wounded. How would President Donald Trump react to a significant terrorist attack, especially one motivated by radical jihadist beliefs? In a rally-around-the-flag reaction, his approval rating could surge. It is theoretically possible that such a crisis would reveal Trump as a fierce defender of American liberties, but the signs all point in a more authoritarian direction. In a 2015 speech at the U.S.S. Yorktown, Trump argued for "closing that internet in some way" to prevent ISIS from recruiting people. "Somebody will say, 'Oh freedom of speech, freedom of speech,'" he said. "These are foolish people. We have a lot of foolish people." When Apple refused the FBI's demand that it provide a backdoor to San Bernardino terrorist Syed Farook's iPhone, Trump asked, "Who do they [Apple] think they are? No, we have to open it up." He urged Americans to boycott Apple until it complied with the FBI's demand to decrypt the phone. More generally speaking, Trump has said that he tends "to err on the side of security" and that he thinks the NSA should collect Americans' phone records. He added, "I assume when I pick up my t[...]

Trump, Terrorism, and Freedom: New at Reason

Fri, 03 Feb 2017 13:30:00 -0500

(image) A month after the September 11, 2001 atrocities, nearly 60 percent of Americans said they trusted the government in Washington to do what is right almost always or most of the time; that was the highest it had been in 40 years. More than 50 percent were very to somewhat worried that they or a family member would be a victim in a terrorist attack. Keying off of these fears, various commentators stepped forward to sagely intone that the "Constitution is not a suicide pact." (I prefer "Give me liberty or give me death.")

Instead of urging Americans to exercise bravery and defend their liberty, our political leaders fanned fears and argued that we must surrender freedoms. The consequences included the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the proliferation of metal detectors at the entrances of public buildings, the requirement to show government-issued IDs at more and more public venues, the increased militarization of our police forces, tightened travel restrictions to neighboring countries where passports were once not required, and the establishment of a vast program of domestic spying.

How would President Donald Trump react to a significant terrorist attack, especially one motivated by radical jihadist beliefs? It is possible that such a crisis would reveal President Trump as a fierce defender of American constitutional liberties, but the signs all point in a more authoritarian direction.

In Bowling Green 'Massacre,' FBI Agents Foiled an FBI Terror Plot

Fri, 03 Feb 2017 11:28:00 -0500

Fresh off of making-up a massacre on national television, Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway has been trying to rationalize her rhetoric—a rant about how the media didn't cover Obama's refugee ban after the "Bowling Green Massacre" of 2011—by claiming that what she meant to say was "Bowling Green terrorists." While there may not have been a terrorist "massacre"—or any terrorist violence at all—in Bowling Green, Kentucky, there was a terrorist plot uncovered, Conway noted Friday on Twitter, quickly shifting the spotlight back to the supposed danger posed by Islamic refugees. Conway is correct about a few things: there were two Bowling Green men arrested for terrorism; they were Iraqis who had come to the U.S. through a refugee resettlement program; and their story did prompt then-President Obama to slow or suspend Iraqi-refugee immigration for around six months. But there are a few other key things to keep in mind about this Bowling Green "terrorist plot"... 1. It was concocted entirely by the FBI. The young men involved, Waad Ramadan Alwan and Mohanad Shareef Hammadi, had come to the U.S. in 2009 as part of a program for displaced Iraqis. Once settled in Kentucky, the men were solicited by undercover FBI agents to help them send money and weapons to militants back in Iraq. In August 2010, a confidential FBI informant first met with Alwan and "represented to Alwan that he was working with a group to ship money and weapons to Mujahadeen in Iraq," according to an FBI statement. From that fall through the following spring, the FBI informant invited Alwan to participate in 10 operations to send weapons or money to Iraq. Hammadi joined in the efforts, recruited by Alwan, in January 2011. Throughout the operations, the FBI supplied all materials and took care of all logistics for the imaginary operation, with Alwan and Hammadi merely offering manpower. Despite the FBI's then-assertion that Alwan and Hammadi were just the tip of the terrorist-cell iceberg in small-town Kentucky, the agency never found additional terrorist agents in the area. 2. It did not involve plans to attack in the U.S. Back in Iraq, Alwan and Hammadi had been involved efforts to fight off invading U.S. soldiers during the early days of the Iraq war, according to what they told undercover officials. But throughout their interactions with undercover FBI agents in 2010 and 2011, Alwan and Hammadi never discussed plans to attack anyone or cause destruction on U.S. soil. And while they were found guilty of attempting to provide material support to al Qaeda militants back in Iraq, the men never indicated that they were personally in contact with any militants, attempted to procure weapons for such individuals, or attempted to provide any of their own money to such individuals. Rather, they showed up when and where the FBI informant told them to and helped physically load decoy supplies into whatever they were allegedly being shipped from. (For more on the FBI's history of manufacturing terrorists like this, see here.) 3. It's in rare company. According to the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute, only three of the 784,000 refugees cleared for U.S. resettlement since 2001—the two Bowling Green men and a male refugee from Uzbekistan—have been arrested for terrorism or plotting terrorist acts. The Uzbek man, Fazliddin Kurbanov, had come here with his parents as Christian refugees who were being persecuted for their religion in Uzbekistan. But once in the U.S. for a few years, Kurbanov converted to Islam. He was convicted in 2015 for possessing unregistered explosives and attempting to provide money and computer support to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Kurbanov was sentenced to 25 years in federal prison. Hammadi was sentenced to life in prison, and Alwan to 40 years. As Ronald Bailey noted here in 2015, there have been several other terrorism arrests attributed to refugees, such as the Tsa[...]

Don't Rebrand the 'Countering Violent Extremism' Program—Just End It

Thu, 02 Feb 2017 14:57:00 -0500

For the Southern Poverty Law Center, the move suggests that "President Trump wants the government to stop its efforts to prevent terrorism by far-right extremists." For Jezebel, it's "another victory in a long series of wins for Neo Nazis, the KKK, and other violent and terroristic groups." Salon calls it "pandering to white supremacists." The target of their ire: a plan to rebrand the federal government's Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) program. According to Reuters, which cites "five people briefed on the matter," the Trump administration wants to rename it "Countering Radical Islamic Extremism," or maybe just "Countering Islamic Extremism," and to focus its attention on Muslim terrorists rather than the various domestic right-wing kinds. In practice, CVE's efforts are already focused overwhelmingly on Muslims. But the big question here shouldn't be which groups ought to be the program's targets. It's whether the program should exist at all. No matter whether it's aimed at Islamists, white nationalists, or anyone else, the CVE approach has two big problems. First: It rests on the idea that the best way to root out terrorism is to fight "radicalization." This idea has support among both Democrats and Republicans, but the evidence supporting it is sparse. When investigators at the British think tank Demos (not to be confused with the U.S.-based liberal group of the same name) spent two years studying the differences between violent and nonviolent radicals, they found that while nonviolent radicalism can be a stepping stone to terrorism, it can draw people away from terrorism too. Meanwhile, there were other forces pulling people into terrorism that didn't have much to do with ideology at all. Other probes have reached similar conclusions. So the focus here is all wrong: Radical ideas do not usually lead to violent tactics, and violent tactics do not emerge only from radical ideas. Second: That focus can lead to some serious civil liberties problems. "Even though the agencies running the programs promised that they wouldn't use CVE for intelligence purposes (as they did in earlier iterations of it), the program itself is designed to teach community members, teachers, police, social workers, and religious leaders to identify and report to law enforcement people showing signs of 'radicalization,'" comments Michael German, a former FBI agent who now hangs his hat at the Brennan Center for Justice. So in practice, he argues, you get "soft surveillance," and that surveillance "is intended to suppress ideas, which is likely to cause more problems than solve them. It encourages the identification, reporting, and 'treatment' of people with bad ideas, which will only lead to misuse of security resources and deprivation of civil liberties." Needless to say, that sort of surveillance can itself radicalize people. So CVE also runs the risk of contributing to the very process it's meant to stop. Rebranding "Countering Violent Extremism" as "Countering Radical Islamic Extremism" won't solve any of these issues. Indeed, it could conceivably make the effort even less effective. (German points out that the new name could alienate many of the Muslim groups whose cooperation the program relies on, since they could construe it as a sign the program is "antagonistic to the community.") But neither would it be a good idea to expend more CVE attention on the radical right; all the same problems would be in place there too. Better to drop the approach. End it, don't mend it.[...]

Trump's Irrational Immigration Crackdown

Wed, 01 Feb 2017 00:01:00 -0500

Give Donald Trump credit where it's due: He promised an irrational crackdown on immigrants, and he delivered it the first week of his administration. Trump began his presidential campaign with a speech in which he described most Mexican immigrants as rapists, drug dealers, and other criminals, adding that "some, I assume, are good people." During his campaign, he repeatedly said that as president he would deport all 11 million people who live in the United States without the government's permission. Last August, Trump signaled what he described as a "softening" of that position. "We are not looking to hurt people," he told Sean Hannity on Fox News. "We have some great people in this country." Trump suggested he was open to legalizing unauthorized immigrants, a policy supported by most Americans. If they "pay back taxes," he said, he would be willing to "work with them," although there would be "no citizenship" and "no amnesty as such." Less than a week after he was elected president, Trump again indicated he did not plan to carry out the sort of mass deportation he had advocated during the campaign. "After the border is secured and after everything gets normalized," he told Lesley Stahl on 60 Minutes, "we're going to make a determination on the people that you're talking about, who are terrific people." An executive order that Trump signed last week contradicts these assurances. The order instructs the Department of Homeland Security to "prioritize for removal" not only unauthorized residents who "have been convicted of any criminal offense" (including misdemeanors and nonviolent drug offenses) but also those who "have committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense" (meaning a conviction is not required) and those who "have engaged in fraud or willful misrepresentation in connection with any official matter or application before a governmental agency." That last category includes anyone who has falsely claimed to be a legal resident on an official form or used a fake Social Security number to obtain a job. For good measure, the order also approves removal of anyone else whom an immigration officer deems "a risk to public safety or national security." The order thus lays the ground for ejecting virtually all illegal residents, regardless of how long they have lived in the United States, how peaceful and productive they have been, or how much they have paid in taxes. Trump seems bent on deporting millions of "terrific people." Another immigration-related executive order that Trump signed last week suspended admission of all refugees for 120 days, blocked Syrian refugees indefinitely, cut this year's refugee cap in half, and banned travelers with passports from any of seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days. It fell short of Trump's 2015 recommendation urging "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on." But what the order lacked in scope it made up for in casual cruelty, arbitrarily disrupting and endangering thousands of lives. It separated parents from children, kept students from returning to school, put the kibosh to new jobs, stopped patients from obtaining treatment, and blocked war refugees from settling in the United States. It even prevented legal permanent residents from returning to their homes, until the Trump administration reversed that part of the policy. The official justification for Trump's half-baked order—protecting Americans from terrorists—is hard to take seriously. Refugees and green-card holders are already subject to extensive screening, refugees very rarely carry out terrorist attacks in the United States, and since 2001 no American has been killed in the U.S. by a terrorist from any of the seven countries covered by Trump's order. As in the speech that launched his pre[...]

If You Disapprove of Trump's Refugee/Travel Ban, You're in the Minority

Tue, 31 Jan 2017 17:19:00 -0500

(image) A poll of 1,200 Americans over the past two days finds that a plurality of Americans—49 percent—approve "strongly" or "somewhat" of Donald Trump's ban on all refugees and travelers from seven majority-Muslim countries. Just 41 percent oppose the action, part of which the administration has already walked back.

According to Reuters, the split runs tightly along partisan lines, with 51 percent of Republicans strongly agreeing with the executive order and 53 percent of Democrats strongly disagreeing. And how's this for feels?

The Reuters/Ipsos poll found 31 percent of Americans feel "more safe" because of the ban, compared with 26 percent who said they felt "less safe." Some 38 percent said they felt the United States was setting "a good example" of how best to confront terrorism, while 41 percent said the country was setting "a bad example."

Democrats were more than three times as likely as Republicans to say that the "U.S. should continue to take in immigrants and refugees," and Republicans were more than three times as likely as Democrats to agree that "banning people from Muslim countries is necessary to prevent terrorism."

We're already safer, despite the fact that since 1980, zero Americans have been killed in the United States by people admitted as refugees! More of us support the ban than abjure it, but more of us believe we're setting a "bad example." America, do you contradict yourself? Very well, then, you contradict yourself!

More results, and discussion of methodology, are here.

The executive order, which went into effect on Saturday at midnight, provoked demonstrations around the country and, as Reuters notes, a dozen states are looking into files lawsuits against it. Additionally, the acting attorney general was fired after stating she wouldn't enforce the law.

In Congress, most Democrats have spoken out against the ban; they've been joined by 40 or more Republicans. That number is likely to go down if and when more people watch this awful video (courtesy of Fox News) of Nancy Pelosi and Charles Schumer working a crowd to sing "This Land Is Your Land" and attempting to show "the real people" affected by the ban.

This is one of those moments when I'd rather be right than popular. Trump's order is based on hysteria and panders to the worst sort of xenophobia at work in the dark night of the American psyche. As important, it hurts our efforts in fighting Islamic terrorism by alienating allies in the Middle East.

Incompetence and Cronyism Plague U.S. Attempts to Counter ISIS Online

Tue, 31 Jan 2017 16:45:00 -0500

A new report by the Associated Press claims that the U.S. counter-propaganda program WebOps is failing in its mission to thwart terrorist recruitment due to incompetence, corruption, and cronyism. The program was launched several years ago by a small group of civilian contractors and military officers assigned to the information operations division at U.S. Central Command's headquarters in Tampa, Florida. It is run by an Alabama-based company called Colsa Corp., which provides specialized computer programs to mine social media accounts of terrorist propaganda. WebOps is supposed to use Arabic-speaking analysts to sift through social media looking for individuals deemed vulnerable to terrorist recruitment. It's then supposed to contact them using fictionalized identities and urge them not to join organizations like ISIS. The reality, as reported by the Chicago Tribune, is that some of the analysts employed by WebOps lack counter-propaganda experience, cannot speak Arabic fluently, and don't understand Islam well enough to combat ISIS' recruitment efforts. The Tribune noted that WebOps "experts" often mess up language that is specific to a region or sect of Islam. "People can tell whether you are local, or whether you are Sunni or Shia," a former WebOps worker claimed. And as Fox News put it, "It's hard to establish rapport with a potential terror recruit when--as one former worker told the AP--translators repeatedly mix up the Arabic words for 'salad' and 'authority.'" The mistake has resulted in open ridicule over "Palestinian salad" on social media. The Associated Press was informed by workers wishing to remain anonymous that data was being manipulated to create the appearance that the counter-propaganda operation was working. "The boss told [one worker] that the scoring reports should show progress, but not too much, so that the metrics would still indicate a dangerous level of militancy online to justify continued funding for WebOps," the Tribune reported. The government opened bidding on a new counter-propaganda operation worth at least $500 million early last year, but after a few months the Naval Criminal Investigative Services began looking into allegations that corruption was influencing the contract award process. A whistleblower said information operations division officers were being treated to expensive dinners paid for by a contractor, and that there's a heavy drinking culture at the office where classified work takes place. CBS News reported that "the drinking was confirmed by multiple contractors, who spoke to AP, and described a frat house atmosphere where happy hour started at 3 p.m." The whistleblower also accused Army Col. Victor Garcia, who led the division until July 2016, of using his influence to direct the $500 million contract to a group of vendors that included his close friend's firm. A bid for the contract by the global security company Northrop Grumman was assisted by M&C Saatchi, an advertising agency where Garcia's friend Simon Bergman is an executive. According to the Chicago Tribune, the whistleblower alleges Garcia informed him that "any team must include Simon Bergman." Northrop won the bid. Garcia denies any wrongdoing. "Because I was aware of these conflicts of interest, I intentionally kept myself out of that process, with any of these contract processes," he explained to AP. The bipartisan Commission on Wartime Contracting found that in 2011, anywhere from $31 billion to $60 billion was lost to waste and fraud during contingency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.[...]

Here Is What Republican Critics of Trump's Immigration Order Are Saying

Tue, 31 Jan 2017 11:00:00 -0500

Last week House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) welcomed President Trump's executive order suspending admission of all refugees for 120 days, blocking Syrian refugees indefinitely, cutting this year's refugee cap in half, and banning travelers with passports from any of seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days. "It's time to reevaluate and strengthen the visa vetting process," Ryan said on Friday. "President Trump is right to make sure we are doing everything possible to know exactly who is entering our country." Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was somewhat less supportive. "I don't want to criticize them for improving vetting," McConnell told ABC News on Sunday. "It's going to be decided in the courts as to whether or not this has gone too far." Those comments by Republican leaders leave a misleading impression of the views among GOP legislators, which include criticism ranging from mild to harsh as well as support ranging from lukewarm to enthusiastic. As Nick Gillespie noted yesterday, opposition from Republicans is especially significant, since it shows that even members of the president's party who may agree that vetting of visitors to the U.S. should be improved think Trump has gone too far. On this subject, descriptions like "embarrassing" and "completely misses the mark" (see below) carry more weight when they come from conservative Republicans than when they come from Democrats who can be expected to denounce nearly everything Trump does. Last night Washington Post reporter Aaron Blake counted 84 Republican members of Congress who have publicly supported Trump's order, and this statement from Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) makes it 85. Blake lists Rand Paul, the libertarian-leaning Kentucky senator who briefly ran for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination against Trump, as a legislator who has not taken a position on Trump's order. But judging from comments Paul made in an interview with talk radio host Andrew Wilkow yesterday, he should also be counted as a supporter. "If you want to be an immigrant into our country, the Constitution doesn't apply to you, and we have every right to make any immigration law we want," said Paul, who in 2015 sponsored legislation that would have temporarily banned admission of refugees from 34 "high-risk countries," almost all of them with large Muslim majorities. "Now a lot of us have the sensibility, myself included, that it shouldn't be based on religion who is admitted to the country." Trump argues that his order is based on national origin, not religion, which was also how Paul's bill was framed. More striking is the number of Republican legislators who have criticized Trump's order: at least 41, by my count, including 14 senators and 27 representatives. The most common themes in the critical comments are that the formulation and implementation of the order were unnecessarily rushed (a point also made by some legislators who otherwise support the order), that the order was vague and should not have been applied to legal permanent residents (a policy that the Trump administration reversed on Sunday), that Trump should revise the vetting process for visitors and refugees in collaboration with Congress, that the order resembles a religious test for immigration, that the order will alienate potential Muslim allies around the world, and that Iraqis granted special visas because of the assistance they or their relatives provided to American forces could be forced to stay in a country where their lives are in danger. Here is what Republican critics of Trump's order have said, arranged alphabetically by chamber. I have marked the strongest criticism—going beyond complaints about haste, vagueness, and the order's impact on green-card holders—with asterisks. SENATORS *Sen.[...]

Trump's First Counter-Terrorism Operation Leads to U.S. Combat Death in Yemen

Mon, 30 Jan 2017 15:45:00 -0500

A U.S. commando died yesterday during the first counter-terrorism operation authorized by President Trump, The New York Times is reporting. The death marks the first combat death under the new administration. Three other Americans were wounded during the early morning raid against Al-Qaeda in the Bayda Province of Yemen. More than a dozen Al-Qaeda fighters are believed to be dead, including the brother-in-law of Anwar al-Awlaki, the late leader of Al-Qaeda in Yemen, and Abdulrauf al Dhahab, a top Al-Qaeda leader. "In a successful raid against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) headquarters, brave U.S. forces were instrumental in killing an estimated 14 AQAP members and capturing important intelligence that will assist the U.S. in preventing terrorism against its citizens and people around the world," Trump said in a statement. "Americans are saddened this morning with news that a life of a heroic service member has been taken in our fight against the evil of radical Islamic terrorism. My deepest thoughts and humblest prayers are with the family of this fallen service member. I also pray for a quick and complete recovery for the brave service members who sustained injuries." The military's Joint Special Operations Command had been planning a counter-terrorism operation for months under the Obama administration, but the decision to execute the mission was passed on to the presidential successor, according to the Times. Computer materials that might contain information about future terrorist plots were the main targets of the mission. Per The Washington Post, reports of civilian casualties are being investigated. U.S. officials initially indicated that no civilian deaths could be confirmed, but a Yenemi official claims that at least eight women and seven children were killed during the raid, including the 8-year-old daughter of the late Anwar al-Awlaki. Yemen has been embroiled in a civil war since 2015 between the Houthi rebels, a minority Shia group from the Northern region of Yemen, and President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. Saudi Arabia has been leading a military coalition in support of President Hadi, with logistical and intelligence support from the United States, the United Kingdom, and France. The U.S. has conducted several drone strikes on AQAP targets in the past. According to the United Nations' Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 7,469 casualties and 40,483 injuries have occurred because of the conflict, though the number is likely higher due to underreporting caused by a lack of functioning health facilities. Saudi Arabia has been accused of violations by Human Rights Watch, which also condemned the United States in a recent report. Meanwhile, Fox News reports that Trump has signed a directive ordering the U.S. military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, to devise a plan within 30 days to defeat ISIS.[...]

Is Trump's #MuslimBan a Muslim Ban?

Mon, 30 Jan 2017 10:00:00 -0500

President Trump says Twitter is wrong about the executive order he signed on Friday. "This is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting," he said in a statement yesterday. "This is not about religion—this is about terror and keeping our country safe." Trump is right in the sense that his order does not ban all Muslim visitors, as he suggested during his presidential campaign. The order nevertheless will mainly affect Muslims. The seven countries covered by Trump's 90-day ban on visitors—Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen—all have overwhelmingly Muslim majorities, ranging from 90 percent (Syria) to nearly 100 percent (Somalia). The people covered by Trump's 120-day ban on refugees (and his reduction in the maximum number of refugees to be accepted this year from 110,000 to 50,000) are more religiously mixed. Muslims accounted for 46 percent of the 85,000 refugees admitted to the U.S. last year. But almost all of the people affected by Trump's indefinite ban on Syrian refugees are Muslims, who accounted for 99 percent of refugees from that country in 2016. The religious bias of Trump's order is compounded by its preference for refugees who face persecution as members of religious minorities. People who fit that description get a leg up in case-by-case exemptions from the refugee moratorium and in admission after the refugee program resumes. That group would consist mainly of Christians in the case of Muslim-majority countries, although it also might include Muslims from countries such as Burma. As Matt Welch noted on Saturday, Trump himself emphasizes that he is trying to help Christians. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who criticized Trump's order yesterday, said it is "not explicitly a religious test" but "comes close to one," which "is inconsistent with our American character." Still, Trump's #MuslimBan is a far cry from his recommendation following the 2015 terrorist attack in San Bernardino, when he called for "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on." Trump reiterated that idea after the deadly attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando last June. But a month later, his "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States" became a suspension of "immigration from any nation that has been compromised by terrorism until such time as proven vetting mechanisms have been put in place." That language was both narrower, in that it did not cover Muslims from countries not "compromised by terrorism," and broader, in that it covered everyone from countries "compromised by terrorism," regardless of religion. Since it was not clear what "compromised by terrorism" meant, it was anybody's guess whether the net effect was to decrease or increase the number of people affected. In a July 24 interview on Meet the Press, Trump presented the switch as if it were more rhetorical than real: I actually don't think it's a rollback. In fact, you could say it's an expansion. I'm looking now at territories. People were so upset when I used the word Muslim. "Oh, you can't use the word Muslim!" Remember this. And I'm OK with that, because I'm talking territory instead of Muslim. Given his own admission that he wanted to achieve his Muslim ban by a different name, Trump's critics can perhaps be forgiven for concluding that is what he is doing now. But compared to the ban he was urging a year ago, his executive order is both overinclusive (since half of the refugees it covers are not Muslims) and underinclusive (since it does not cover Muslims who are not refugees and do not come from any of the seven specified countries). The ACLU nevertheless thinks the order c[...]

Reversal on Green-Card Holders Highlights Casual Cruelty of Trump's Immigration Order

Mon, 30 Jan 2017 08:00:00 -0500

The most revealing thing about the executive order that President Trump signed on Friday, which suspended admission of all refugees for 120 days, blocked Syrian refugees indefinitely, and banned travelers with passports from any of seven Muslim-majority countries, is how casually he hurt innocent people to score political points. Over the weekend, hundreds of people who had permission to enter the United States as students, researchers, tourists, refugees, immigrants, and legal permanent residents were stopped from boarding their flights or detained after arriving at U.S. airports because of the new restrictions. Thousands more were left in limbo, their plans to move, visit children or ailing parents, take a job, or attend school suddenly canceled or on hold, all based on one man's whim. The Trump administration's shifting position on the order's implications for legal permanent residents from the seven designated countries shows how little thought went into a policy that has upended and endangered so many lives. Trump's executive order bars entry, except with special permission, of all "aliens" from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. The New York Times, citing "two American officials," reports that Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly "had suggested green card holders be exempted from the order," but presidential advisers Stephen Bannon and Stephen Miller "overruled him." Hence legal permanent residents, including at least a few who were on the verge of becoming American citizens, were among the travelers who were stopped from flying to the U.S. or detained after arriving. By Sunday criticism of that policy had prompted an embarrassing reversal. "The order is not affecting green card holders moving forward," Trump's chief of staff, Reince Priebus, announced on Meet the Press yesterday. Also on Sunday, Secretary Kelly issued this statement: In applying the provisions of the president's executive order, I hereby deem the entry of lawful permanent residents to be in the national interest. Accordingly, absent the receipt of significant derogatory information indicating a serious threat to public safety and welfare, lawful permanent resident status will be a dispositive factor in our case-by-case determinations. Whether legal permanent residents were covered by Trump's ban was no small detail, since they include half a million people who would either be stranded abroad or forced to remain in the United States for the next three months. Furthermore, excluding green-card holders is more legally problematic than excluding refugees or visitors, and it was especially controversial among critics of the order, including members of Trump's party. "It's unacceptable when even legal permanent residents are being detained or turned away at airports and ports of entry," Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said on Saturday. Yesterday Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) agreed. "This vetting proposal itself needed more vetting," he said in a press release. "More scrutiny of those traveling from war-torn countries to the United States is wise. But this broad and confusing order seems to ban legal, permanent residents with 'green cards,' and might turn away Iraqis, for example, who were translators and helped save lives of Americans troops and who could be killed if they stay in Iraq." Since Trump's avowed aim is preventing terrorist attacks in the United States by improving the vetting of foreign visitors, including legal permanent residents in the order never made much sense, given the formidable process required to obtain a green card. It is also hard to justify the ban on refugees, who undergo a rigorous screening process that takes up to two years. That[...]