Category: Defense

Terrorism in Latin America (Part One): The Infiltration of Islamic Extremists

“The threat from Islamic extremists in Latin America remains an overlooked aspect of U.S. national security strategy. And the threat is worsening – not “waning” as the Obama administration claimed about Iran in 2013. The Trump administration should shift U.S. priorities in Latin America to strategies that preemptively disrupt the financial networks of Islamists, aid allied governments with legal and law enforcement support, and increase intelligence-gathering capabilities in the region.

The Process Began Decades Ago. Islamic extremists have used Latin America as a base of political and financial support since the immediate years preceding the formation of Israel in May 1948:

  • A handful of Arab officials and Arab-Palestinian sympathizers began fundraising efforts and circulated anti-Israeli literature throughout parts of Latin America not long after the first Arab-Israeli war (1948- 1949).
  • As networks developed and diplomacy turned to violent activism, more militant groups moved in; for instance, in the 1960s, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) used established networks to build their own base of support among guerrilla factions, local anti-Semitic organizations and Arab civic groups in Argentina.
  • Furthermore, the PLO and others also collaborated with rebels in Nicaragua in the 1970s and with the Cuban government in the 1973 Arab-Israeli conflict.

Aided by these local networks, Iran began settling its agents in Latin America in the early 1980s and operatives from Hezbollah ‒‒ a militant Islamist group based in Lebanon and proxy force of Iran ‒‒ soon followed.

Latin America Is Important for Relationships and Money. Today, international Islamists, especially Iran and Hezbollah, employ much more sophisticated fundraising and recruitment operations that reach far and wide. Former U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States Roger Noriega told Congress in March 2012 that Iran now has 80 Hezbollah Islamist operatives in at least 12 Latin American nations –‒ including Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina and Chile. In fact, the U.S. Treasury Department froze the assets of Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami in February 2017 for his collaboration with drug organizations and terrorist groups such as Hezbollah.

Separately, author and senior Pentagon consultant Edward Luttwak describes the lawless triborder region of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, 800 miles north of Buenos Aires, as the most important base for Hezbollah outside of its headquarters in Lebanon. The $6 billion-a-year illicit economy in this Hezbollah stronghold has allowed a variety of terrorist organizations to earn an estimated $10 million to $20 million a year from arms trafficking, counterfeiting and drug distribution, among other illegal activities…”

See more here.

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America Should Be Ready, Venezuela Might Become the Next Syria

This originally appeared in Townhall. “Said former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill of Nazi buildup in Europe: “When the situation was manageable it was neglected, and now that it is thoroughly out of hand we apply too late the remedies which then might have effected a cure.” The unwillingness to act when such action would have been simple and effective constitutes the “endless repetition of history,” he concluded.

Today, observers would rightly associate this statement with Syria. But Churchill did not make this proclamation so future generations would seek out examples that affirmed his logic. He made the statement so future generations would break that dreadful repetition. This is not just a quote of self reflection – it’s a call to action.

Syria is thoroughly out of hand and late remedies are now being applied. The cycle of historical inaction will not be broken in Syria. Pundits, politicians and military officials would be wise to stop reliving what could have been done there, and start looking at what can be done elsewhere. Therefore, the American government must determine the likelihood of Venezuela becoming another Syria – this time in the western hemisphere. The United States and its Latin American allies must then collectively decide whether to do anything about it.

In their quest for more and more power, Chavez and then Maduro made reliable access to basic necessities a virtual impossibility. Maduro then had the Supreme Court dissolve the Congress after the Venezuelan people stocked the legislature with opposition members through democratic elections. Although international outcry forced him to partially rescind that order, Maduro continues to issue tyrannical edicts that will have the same effect at a slower pace. Now the Maduro regime has armed loyalists to seek out and kill dissenters. Over twenty people have died in riots over the last few weeks.

This administration would rather starve its people than relinquish power. Maduro would rather dismantle government and assassinate opponents than keep the country viable. History tells us that such despotism and subsequent international inaction can lead to Assad-like levels of oppression.

Making matters worse, this regime has allowed international criminal networks and terrorist organizations, like Hezbollah, to thrive within the country’s borders. This permissive environment has thoroughly compromised the upper echelons of the Venezuelan government and allowed illicit behavior to permeate the economy and society.

Most important, the same actors in Russia and Iran that prevent Assad’s demise are the same players underwriting Venezuelan tyranny. Remember that Vice President Tareck El Aissami is Hezbollah’s go-to guy in the administration. Experts should not be fooled into thinking that geographic distance will dissuade Russia or Iran from intervening on Maduro’s behalf. Neither country will so easily cede such a strategic and lucrative relationship – one that each country has spent years cultivating.

President Trump must be prepared for the possibility of a Syria in the western hemisphere. The administration has already taken steps to sanction high-level Venezuelan officials for their work with cartels and known terrorist organizations. But they must also be prepared for preemptive action:

  • Anticipate and be prepared for the possibility that Russia, Iran and/or Hezbollah will help Maduro crush dissent, covertly or otherwise. Do not be caught off guard when they block U.N. resolutions, cripple Maduro’s adversaries through cyber attacks, or, in an extreme situation, deploy military assets.
  • Consider how and where to erect safe zones because a failing state may create a refugee crisis in a region already plagued by economic and social instability.
  • Work with Latin American allies to demand a democratic resolution. Don’t wait for collapse to be spurred into action.

This is not a call for military intervention. It is merely a reminder that the arc of history bends toward inaction – something we often come to regret.”

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Do World Leaders Actually Know How to Respond to Terrorism?

This first appeared in Townhall: “A vehicle attack in London. Another in Sweden. A subway bombing in Russia and attacks against Christians in Egypt. The attacks by jihadists just continue.

It seems like world leaders are completely out of ideas.

Here in America, Republican policymakers and terror experts told the public that we just needed a president willing to identify the threat. The Obama administration was the only obstacle to ultimate victory.

Now that the threat has been named (radical Islam), officials have been forced to fall back on their preferred method for action: engineer a solution that contains the exact ingredients necessary to please opposing opinions and inspire their political base – an answer that will lead to decisive action everywhere and avoid unintended consequences anywhere. An impossible standard that can never be met.

The war against radical Islam might well become Obamacare for national security. Americans will continue to suffer, while elected officials dither.

War hawks try to explain away the absence of a plan by claiming that delicate geniuses are test-tubing the most complete, well-rounded approach to defeating jihadists. Leaders bicker over who can render the broadest definition of terrorism – one that offends no one and saves everyone. When that’s settled, “allies” in the Middle East will act offended at what the government believes to be the most inoffensive title possible.

Meanwhile, this hubris then manifests itself in the defense sector, where experts and industry claim they can build weaponry that will literally sniff out a jihadist among civilians and explode the bad guy dead, all the while dispersing candy to the innocent within the blast zone. They just need $50 billion and a 20 year contract.

The modern liberal, especially the European variety, is even more useless in this regard. These secular overlords have the audacity to determine that a jihadist cannot be a Muslim or identify as one, but a 10-year-old boy can become a girl. Their only solution is to facilitate behavior that reflects their preconceived notions. Save Bill Maher, the progressive seems incapable of even admitting the threat might even be related to Islam, bastardized interpretation or otherwise. Instead, they draw moral equivalencies among all belief systems, only to lead us down another path of worthless strategy. No one can expect adequate protection from those that would cling to a conviction in the face of devastating evidence to the contrary.

Those willing to fight this war, regardless of party affiliation, should consider several things.

First, we must know our values and apply them without compromise. Strategy can change. Principles do not. Nikki Haley has put this practice to good use at the United Nations where the United States rightly refuses to continue to play along with the hypocrisy of those bashing Israel. The same unbalanced minds that attack the Jewish state for “human rights abuses,” are some of the same that fund, support or otherwise endorse Islamic terror. Standing firm here will have positive effects downstream.

Second, especially for Republican establishment types, appreciate the nuances but don’t fall into analysis paralysis. The two attacks against Christians in Egypt, for instance, are rooted in the Islamic State’s hyper-Sunni identity and its mission to spark wars along religious lines. They know that this puts western officials in a pinch because either the west responds and faces the inevitable accusations of being the crusades revisited. Or it responds tacitly, which allows terrorism to grow.

Do not concern yourself with trying to disprove an untrue statement. Do not respond to the frame that others create. Instead, just say you are the martyr-maker they’ve asked for, and be on your way.

Lastly, stop fighting the last war. Yes, it’s similar to communism but it cannot be addressed in the same way. The enemy requires quick, decisive action, applied relentlessly on multiple fronts. It requires investment in the less sexy areas of psychological warfare, financial interdiction, and intelligence gathering and requires a vision of what success looks like.

At least for now, President Trump cannot be held responsible for bringing in experts who claimed to have solutions or listening to elected officials who crowed for the past eight years. In fact, unsaddled by the typical worries of political careerists, President Trump has already made major changes to the national security team, clearly unfazed that some will call these early adjustments a sign of a troubled presidency.

Let’s just hope this war doesn’t become the “you can keep your doctor” moment for Republicans. The consequences are far more deadly.”

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Trump Admin Has Opportunity to Rebuild Military, Shrink Bloated Government

This post originally appeared in CNS News, co-authored by Allen West. “Washington D.C. is all about politics, policy and procedure. The Department of Defense receives plenty of political and policy attention, but few care to look at the procedures. It’s not sexy. It doesn’t raise campaign funds. But that is precisely what needs fixing. The incoming Trump administration needs to begin shifting the defense budget away from baseline budgeting to a zero-based budgeting model.

Defense advisors recently voiced plans to rebuild the military with reallocated funds earned by cutting bureaucracy and wasteful spending within the DoD. But American Enterprise Institute defense analyst Mackenzie Eaglen rightly calls this plan a fantasy. There is simply not enough fraud, waste and abuse to yield the $55 to $60 billion per year in new money needed for Trump’s ambitious reinvestment plans, she argues. This historically inadequate snark-hunt approach to the budget process too often defines how elected officials try to balance a budget.

Zero-based budgeting is an alternative system proven to decrease expenditures and improve efficiency within private sector companies and public institutions. This budget method identifies wasteful spending and helps purge unnecessary expenses by obligating each department to justify its proposed spending each and every year. This method automatically eliminates the practice of carrying over the budget from the previous year. And that’s important since the current baseline budgeting system requires the government to set the previous year’s spending as the starting point for the next year’s budget.

Under the current system, preparers assume all of the same programs and operating procedures, and only adjust the following year’s expenditures to account for actual spending in the current year, inflation and population growth. Since inflation and population growth are almost always positive, the budget almost always rises.

This automatic carryover of expenses under baseline budgeting actually encourages spending. Defense officials regularly exhaust their funds in a period known as “use it or lose it” so as to ensure they do not lose money in future budgets. Researchers found that federal procurement spending was five times higher in the last week of the fiscal year than the weekly average for the rest of the year, and the quality of the projects was scored well below average.

Zero-based budgeting, while initially time-consuming, has saved large corporations 10 percent to 25 percent, according to independent studies. And those savings are more sustainable over a longer period than traditional cost reduction methods, such as lower level workforce reduction and outsourcing. If the DoD achieved just a 10 percent savings over the entire organization, those savings would amount to $53 billion.

The zero-based budgeting model could be tested within the DoD by applying it first to the bloated bureaucracy. The growth in civilian and staff numbers continues to exceed what is necessary, while the number of general and flag officers positions has increased disproportionately to the personnel they oversee:

  • Roughly 2,000 GFOs oversaw 12 million military personnel in 1945.
  • Now, nearly 900 GFOs oversee 1.3 million active duty personnel.
  • In fact, over the past 30 years, the military’s end-strength deployable/fieldable forces has decreased 38 percent, but the ratio of four-star officers to the overall force has increased by 65 percent.

A 10 percent cut among general and flag officers and their staffs alone could save nearly $11.5 billion over 5 years.

Now critics will say that other sectors of government should be forced to adopt such a procedure. And we agree. But a successful annual or even biannual implementation in the DoD first would provide the bipartisan incentive necessary for officials to adopt the process elsewhere. After all, imagine the impact of a stringent budget process that required all government agencies to justify everything they spend. The annual requirement to defend each and every expenditure as necessary and worthwhile would cause an agency like the EPA to collapse under the weight of its own uselessness.

The traditional government budgeting system is simply not working. Zero-based budgeting could specifically help refocus defense priorities by ensuring money is spent in areas that promote readiness. A biannual application may also improve the outcome. Successful implementation in the DoD would encourage Congress to target other departments of government that would have a difficult time justifying their existence.

Based on a recently released NCPA study “A New Budgeting Approach for the Defense Department.”

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Cyber Threats to the Texas Electric Grid

“Texas plays a unique role in America’s infrastructure as the only state with a self-contained electric grid. The entire U.S. electric power system is a prime target of cyberattacks from hostile governments and terrorist organizations, but the Lone Star State is in a unique position to act.

The Consequences of a Vulnerable Grid. The Northeast blackout in 2003 left nearly 55 million residents of the United States and Canada temporarily without power. Crews traced the cause to a software error at a utility control room in Ohio and restored power after two days to most of those affected. But the blackout disrupted transportation in many areas, cut off city water in several locations, and hampered emergency services. Experts attributed 10 deaths to the blackout, which cost more than $10 billion.

Remember: For many, this blackout only lasted a few days. And there was no significant damage to sensitive infrastructure. However:

  • Any serious injury to important power equipment could create a blackout lasting for at least one year “given the nation’s current state of unpreparedness,” argues Peter Pry, a former executive of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security.
  • The Obama administration remains “unwilling to empower competent authorities to combat the adversaries within the grid environment,” according to the assessment of George Cotter, the founding director of Department of Defense Computer Security Center.
  • The Pentagon’s current information security strategy is nothing more than “patch and pray,” said Arati Prabhakar, the Director of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), in 2015.”

To continue reading, click here.

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Part Two – Discussing global terrorism with General Michael Flynn

Part Two of my discussion with Lt. General Michael Flynn regarding the threat of global terrorism.

You can view the interview here.

You can view Part One here: 

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How Defense Dollars Are Wasted on Security Assistance

“The House and Senate versions of the fiscal year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act would give the Pentagon greater control over security assistance to other countries — oversight now generally reserved to the State Department. A larger issue than the administration of funds, however, is that current security assistance programs are ineffective and often undermine American security.

In July 2016, the president announced that 8,400 American troops would remain in Afghanistan. A few days later, he announced the deployment of an additional 560 U.S. troops to Iraq. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) reminded the president that the added deployments were not funded under the current budget. Defense dollars channeled to ineffective security assistance programs –‒ a centerpiece of Obama administration defense policy –‒ could instead be used to fund these deployments.

Indeed, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) concluded that “it remains unclear whether building the capacity of foreign security forces is an effective way to accomplish U.S. strategic objectives.”

Read the full report here.

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Lt. Gen. (ret.) Michael Flynn visits the NCPA

I had the distinct honor of sitting down with Lt. General Michael Flynn recently to discuss the threat of global terrorism during his recent visit to the National Center for Policy Analysis.

You can view the interview here: 

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Is the Air Force seriously talking about another plane?

A recent DefenseNews article recounts ongoing discussions about how the Air Force would achieve air superiority by 2030 and outlines the newest ideas regarding Air Force platforms. The piece reminds me of discussions I encountered years ago. When I was on active duty, Chief of Staff of the Air Force General John Jumper always stressed that our branch would never aim for parity in warfare — meaning, the Air Force would always strive to outpace our adversaries in both technology and strategy. I appreciated the unrelenting push for excellence. And Brig. General Alexus Grynkewich appears to have some worthwhile arguments for a 2030 platform, which I will address momentarily.

Unfortunately, the current quagmire with the F-35 and the move away from the F-22 has created enormous skepticism about future aircraft – and rightfully so. Trotting out news that the Air Force is already pushing ideas for new aircraft will undoubtedly frustrate readers already puzzled by the current situation of cost overruns and meaningless deadlines.

The F-35/F-22 problems stem from an instance where influencers essentially told the government what the military “needed” and the government agreed. After all, Lockheed — a solid and reputable company, to be sure — earned contracts for the F-22 and F-35. That’s quite a feat. The military has since had to push back on several stupid congressional ideas as a result of those contracts, such as the goal of retiring the A-10. Fellow NCPA blogger Chris Wiley explains here why the retirement of the A-10 would be a tactical and strategic mistake.

The problems have now compounded. The F-22 is an American-only aircraft. It has an incredible array of capabilities and was ready to use until the Pentagon halted its manufacturing. In comparison, the F-35 is spread between Air Force, Navy and Marines AND 12 different countries. It has become the European Union of aircraft: slow to service, incredibly expensive and responds to setbacks with demands for more money. In concept, the F-35 was unmatched. In reality, it is a flying computer that no general officer in their right mind would fly in Close Air Support (CAS) like an A-10, lest it get shot down by a cheap jihadi rocket. This thing is so technologically advanced and so expensive, few will risk using it.

The Air Force has moved the way of the cell phone, where everything anyone could need can be found in one platform. That is good for consumer-driven technology and very bad for warfare. You never want all your eggs-in-one-basket.  That’s why I find Gen. Grynkewich’s comments about the next fighter a bit more palatable than I had expected.

The general mentions this newest idea may not be a fighter and makes convincing arguments for changing the nomenclature from “sixth” generation fighter to “next” generation fighter. “You start to have an argument over what does ‘sixth gen’ mean. Does it have laser beams, is it hypersonic? What is it? What does it look like? That’s not a useful conversation,” he explained. “The more useful conversation is, what are the key attributes we need in order to gain and maintain air superiority in 2030?”

According to him, the United States gains and maintains air superiority in 2030 by focusing primarily on range and payload. He explains any future platform would have to be responsive to probable areas of future engagement, such as the Pacific theater. For that reason, increased payload and the ability to overcome the “tyranny of distance” remain so crucial. This is an important distinction since the F-35 responds to “whiz-bang” technologies, rather than mission.

I am not completely sold on moving into yet another discussion about aircraft. But the Pentagon must remain forward-thinking, despite past decisions. And it seems like the discussion is headed in the right direction.

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How New Cold World Order Threatens Humanity

This originally appeared in Townhall:

“An ancient proverb says, ‘When elephants fight, it’s the grass that suffers.’

By now you have seen the heart-wrenching video of a 5-year old Syrian child pulled from the rubble of a house destroyed during another indiscriminate bombing campaign over the city of Aleppo. No tears. No wailing. He sits there unflinching, caked in soot and a face half-covered in blood from a nasty gash atop his head.

It’s hard to stomach as a human. Nearly unwatchable as a father.

While many remain deeply divided over how America should respond to the growing number of atrocities, the same audience seethes at knowing this evil is up against a routinely unprepared and seemingly impotent U.S. administration. The greater concentration of power in the hands of those cold to human suffering may bring the world to a humanitarian tipping point.

The tyrannical cooperation between Iran and Russia, and now perhaps Turkey, is shaping up to Biblical proportions. The dictatorial instincts of those invested in this three-way marriage of convenience and their collective disregard for innocent life when it stands in the way of their insatiable thirst for power serves to affirm the United States as the last great hope for human flourishing. Warts and all, America still stands as the counterweight to the inevitable despotism that overwhelms the world in its absence.

Yet, this critical moment in international history elicits little more than a soundbite from the current administration while it passes from the fairway to the green. World leaders are now disinclined to consult the United States. Instead, they begrudgingly phone Putin, believing him to be the de-facto maestro of world events.

Russian warships carrying Kalibr cruise missiles are gathering in the Caspian and Mediterranean seas. Media outlets report 40,000 Russian troops, tanks and armored vehicles amassed along the Ukrainian border. The administration and NATO feel 4,000 troops to the Baltic States and Poland adequately serves as a “trip wire” against Russian aggression. A force that RAND analysts say would be overrun in 60 hours.

Meanwhile, Russia continues to assist Syria in its heartless war against dissidents. And Iran quite literally reconfigured runways and hangers so that Russia could relocate aircraft to a resident base. This marks the first time since Iran’s 1979 revolution that a foreign military has used the Islamic Republic to launch attacks elsewhere.

The U.S. government’s claim that the revelation took them by surprise leaves Americans to wonder if leadership honestly missed such a visible military maneuver or whether leaders are hiding the truth. There’s no other option. It all comes just as the White House admitted that the $400 million cash payment to Iran was essentially ransom. The habitual I-confess-because-you-caught-me routine is maddening.

The Turkish president’s snuggling up to Putin in the wake of his crackdown in Turkey could be perhaps the most frightening element of all. A NATO member pulls closer to the very country that inspired the organization’s creation. The same NATO ally cut power to U.S. airbases during the alleged coup without cause, leaving operations and facilities without adequate electrically for weeks; 1,500 U.S. airmen stationed at Incirlik Air Base remain quarantined.

At the time, all the administration could muster was a public pronouncement for the Turkish public to recognize Erdogan as their leader. Now the administration is allegedly moving tactical nuclear weapons stockpiled at Incirlik into Europe, presumably over fears of Erdogan’s next move with Russia. But again, the administration says things are under control.

To borrow from Michael Corleone, “Can’t you give me a straight answer anymore?!?”

The strategic alignment among three major powers who share a disdain for liberty and a disregard for human suffering creates a remarkable bloc of authoritarianism. The next president will hold one of the worst hands ever dealt an incoming administration. But a comprehensive and imaginative strategy that treats traditional areas non-traditionally would be a good first step.

For instance, help draw U.S. allies into an unprecedented alliance against the emerging group, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel. Also, begin to treat traditional criminal enterprises as national security concerns. The illicit market of goods, whether drugs, pirated movies or looted antiquities, funds everything from the Russian economy to terrorist organizations. Likewise, emphasize the use of financial strategists and analysts to follow the money.

View the cyber threat as one capable of physical injury rather than primarily data manipulation. Employ strategies that presume malicious codes contain physically destructive capabilities. Finally, return to a greater reliance on human intelligence. One co-opted person in the right place can literally change the course of world events.

This isn’t a call for war. It’s more like a prediction that America will eventually have to confront the emerging Cold World Order or succumb to its barbarism.”

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