Danzig R.,Center for a New American Security
Biosecurity and Bioterrorism | Year: 2012
The fear and disruption caused by the 2001 anthrax attacks understandably led Americans to seek enhanced biodefenses. However, the path followed since those attacks has left the country inadequately prepared to face further risks from biological attacks. Why has security against these threats been only partially achieved? This article suggests that our responses over the past decade can be sorted into 4 levels in order of increasing difficulty. First, we rapidly appropriated funds, augmented personnel, and mandated reorganization of agencies. Though not easy to accomplish, these steps were easily conceptualized and, whatever their imperfections, could rather assuredly be achieved. A second level was more demanding, but also quite achievable. It involved the amplification of ongoing efforts. These efforts sometimes suffered as they scaled up, but, though they were qualified by delays and uncertainties, we can point to real achievements at this level. A third level was more difficult: It required evolving new strategies to deal with this largely unprecedented problem. In this regard, we have so far had only glimmers of possibility. At a fourth level, our performance and our prospects are worse still. At this level, our problems stem from resistances inherent in our country's cultural and political framework. This article identifies some of these problems and suggests, regrettably, that they are not likely to be resolved until change is catalyzed by further, and more dramatically traumatic, attacks or natural disasters. If this situational assessment is correct, what remedial strategies should we pursue? The article distinguishes 3 strategic approaches: an evolutionary one in which the U.S. continues advancing along its present path; a radical approach that attempts to address the fourth-level issues; and a third approach that prepares for punctuated evolution. This third approach accepts the improbability of level 4 change either by gradual evolution or by radical argument, but asserts that it is possible to lay the conceptual groundwork now for the radical changes that will be possible, even demanded, after a catastrophic incident. This approach, neglected at present, would be a valuable addition to our present efforts. © 2012 Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.
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News Article | August 26, 2008
Iraq’s government and Sunni militias appear to be headed for a showdown. One of the things that just might keep a full-blown insurgency from erupting again, a leading expert in the region says, is a set of databases of fingerprints and irises, built by the U.S. military — and fed with data from Saddam. The extra troops get all the credit, in the dumbed-down political debate. But one of the biggest reasons for Iraq’s turnaround was the decision by Sunnis — many of them former insurgents — to begin backing the U.S., instead. They were organized into local militias, called "Sons of Iraq," and promised government jobs, in return for the service. And just to convince the Sunnis that American forces had their best interests at heart, we they fed ’em a steady diet of anti-Shi’a propaganda. But the jobs never completely materialized. And Iraq’s largely Shi’ite national government is slamming down on the Sons of Iraq, with apparently American backing. "Our goal is that by June 2009, the Sons of Iraq are out of business," Lt. Col. Jeffrey Kulmayer said over the weekend. "It is obvious where this road might end," Shawn Brimley and Colin Kahl write in today’s Los Angeles Times. "The last time tens of thousands of armed Sunni men were humiliated in Iraq — by disbanding the Baath Party and Iraqi army in May 2003 — an insurgency began, costing thousands of U.S. lives and throwing Iraq into chaos. Yet Maliki and his advisors risk provoking Iraq’s Sunni community into another round of violence." So what’s to stop another Sunni insurgency from boiling over? After all, "it doesn’t take 100,000 of these guys to revert to insurgents to cause big trouble. Remember, at the height of the insurgency, the U.S. estimated that there were 8,000-20,000 fighters," Kahl — a Georgetown professor and a Center for a New American Security senior fellow — tells DANGER ROOM. Well, The Government of Iraq can make good on its promises to hire these militiamen. Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki can hold provincial elections that give Sunnis a bigger stake in the political process. And Maliki can hope that the "high degree of ‘conflict exhaustion’ among Sunnis" stays high. The Iraqi government has one other card to play, says Kahl, just back from the Middle East. Over the years, the American military in Iraq has assembled a series of biometric databases; hundreds of thousands of Iraqis’ fingerprints and irises are stored inside. In Fallujah and other Sunni-dominated cities, the only way to get in or out is within a U.S.-issued badge, complete with this biometric info; that restricts potential insurgents’ freedom of movement. The Sons of Iraq have also been iris- and fingerprint-scanned; that makes them easier to identify, if they’re caught rejoining the insurgent team. Finally, the databases — partially built on the backs on Saddam’s crminal records — "provides a useful enemies list to the Government of Iraq, if they chose to use it," Kahl says. That echoes what U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel John Velliquette told DANGER ROOM last year, when he said that the biometric info becomes "a hit list if it gets in the wrong hands." Or the right ones.
News Article | September 2, 2008
The Iraqi government is taking over responsibility for the local militias that helped break the back of the country’s Sunni insurgency. But these fighters — known as "Awakening Councils" and "Sons of Iraq" — are largely hostile to the Shi’ite-dominated administration in Baghdad. So what happens next? No one is really quite sure. Over the past eighteen months, U.S. forces in Iraq have put on the payroll more than 100,000 militiamen — many of whom are former insurgents themselves. That’s the main reason why American troops were able on Monday to hand off control of Anbar Province to the Iraqis. But Nouri Al-Mailiki’s largely-Shi’ite administration has never been too keen on the mostly-Sunni fighters. The Awakening Councils were promised government jobs by the tends of thousands. But Baghdad "has approved only 600 applicants thus far," Gareth Porter noted, "and most of those have turned out to be Shi’a rather than Sunni militiamen." Meanwhile, Maliki has been slamming down on the Sons of Iraq, with apparently American backing. "Our goal is that by June 2009, the Sons of Iraq are out of business," Lt. Col. Jeffrey Kulmayer recently said. And that was before the central government’s takeover. The New York Times says it’s "not clear whether the Iraqi government… had given the Americans or the Awakening forces assurances about how long, or even whether, it would keep the patrols intact." A senior American military official said Monday that persuading the Iraqi government to absorb the Awakening forces had gone in “fits and starts” and had been far from smooth. But he noted that Prime Minister Maliki had now made a commitment to incorporate about 20 percent of the men into the Iraqi Army, national police or other security forces. He conceded, however, that if the Iraqi government decided to disband the Awakening patrols, the American government would have little leverage to dissuade it other than by diplomacy or by applying pressure at “senior levels.” Which is a serious deal, as Center for a New American Security fellows Shawn Brimley and Colin Kahl recently noted in the Los Angeles Times. "The last time tens of thousands of armed Sunni men were humiliated in Iraq — by disbanding the Baath Party and Iraqi army in May 2003 — an insurgency began, costing thousands of U.S. lives and throwing Iraq into chaos. Yet Maliki and his advisors risk provoking Iraq’s Sunni community into another round of violence."
News Article | December 23, 2009
Writing for Danger Room has been a liberating experience, especially for someone who comes from the rather stodgy world of defense trade reporting. It’s fun to try out a new format, even if it sometimes means playing bratty younger brother to serious-minded national-security reporters. But my post on the relationship between reporters and think tanks — particularly the Center for a New American Security, or CNAS, which has helped fund book projects by some prominent journalists — seems to have touched a nerve. In part, some people read the post as implying that there was something, well, improper about journalists taking book leave at a think tank. Greg Jaffe, a Washington Post reporter and co-author of The Fourth Star, said the tone of the post may have created the wrong impression. “CNAS had zero control or influence over the book’s content,” he wrote me in an e-mail. “We got a small travel stipend ($5,000 each) and office space, but that was it.” That’s a fair point to add. I respect Jaffe’s work, and his integrity isn’t in question. In fact, I think reporters need to be more entrepreneurial, so good on him for persuading CNAS to help support his project. In an era of declining newsroom budgets, journalists have to look for all kinds of ways to fund in-depth reporting, from travel grants (been there) to book advances (done that). Tom Ricks, now a senior fellow at CNAS, also weighed in on my comment about the potentially awkward situation of reporters sharing cubicles with policy wonks. “I wasn’t sure what the argument of the piece was,” he wrote. “Your ‘awkward’ seems to imply that reporters (which I am not anymore) might curtail comments or criticisms for fear of crossing the person in the next office. That’s hardly the case at CNAS, where we have had some pretty robust disagreements about Iraq, Afghanistan, and other issues. CNAS doesn’t take institutional positions, so that is hardly a problem.” I think I know what Ricks means when he says he’s not a reporter anymore: It means he’s not a newspaper reporter, which requires rigorous separation from opinion writing. But like it or not, Ricks still breaks news on his blog, which is also laced with commentary, humor and dog stories. Which gets to my second point: Our process. I was also scolded for not doing the “reporterly” thing and contacting every journo I mentioned in the post. That approach works for a newspaper or a magazine, not so much for web 2.0. We put something out there, get reactions, then refine. Take the case of my first post on think tanks: It provoked an outpouring of responses, including a very thoughtful reaction from Andrew Exum, CNAS blogger emeritus. The whole point was to start a conversation, not provide all the answers. That’s the marvelous thing about the blog format. Sometimes we get to write deeply researched, heavily documented stories. Other times, we’ll post a quick hit — occasionally with a splash of haterade. But most importantly, we get to write in a way that is free of what the late, lamented eXile referred to as the “Bigfoot exists/Bigfoot my ass” style of news writing that often seems to make newspapers as bland and neutral as a Congressional Research Service report.