Breaking News: We Now Have the Official Numbers of People on the Terrorism Watchlist Stopped by Customs & Border Patrol at the Border

Julia Ainsley at NBC has the scoop:

U.S. Customs and Border Protection encountered only six immigrants on the U.S-Mexico border in the first half of fiscal year 2018 whose names were on a federal government list of known or suspected terrorists, according to CBP data as of May 2018 obtained by NBC News.

The low number contradicts statements by Trump administration officials, including White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, who said Friday that CBP stopped nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists from crossing the southern border in fiscal year 2018.

Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen told reporters on Monday the exact number, which NBC News is first to report, was classified but that she was working on making it public.

Overall, 41 people on the Terrorist Screening Database were encountered at the southern border from Oct. 1, 2017, to March 31, 2018, but 35 of them were U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. Six were classified as non-U.S. persons.

On the northern border, CBP stopped 91 people listed in the database, including 41 who were not American citizens or residents.

Border patrol agents, separate from CBP officers, stopped five immigrants on the database over the same time period, but it was unclear from the data which ones were stopped at the northern border versus the southern border.

The White House has used the 4,000 figure to make its case for building a wall on the southwest border and for closing the government until Congress funds it. They have also threatened to call a national emergency in order to get over $5 billion in funding for the wall.

It is important to remember that the Terrorist Screening Database may not be as reliable as the government claims.

What’s the Criteria for Getting on the Watch List?

According to a 2013 watch list guideline produced by the Terrorist Screening Center and obtained by The Intercept, engaging in terrorism or having a direct connection to a terrorist organization is not necessary for inclusion on the list. Parents, spouses, siblings, children and “associates” of a suspected terrorist can appear on the list without any suspicion of terrorist involvement. “Irrefutable evidence” of terrorist activity and connections is also not necessary, the document states. Reasonable suspicion is sufficient, though this isn’t clearly defined.

“These lists are horribly imprecise,” a former federal prosecutor, who asked to remain anonymous, told WIRED. “They are based on rumor and innuendo, and it’s incredibly easy to get on the list and incredibly difficult to get off the list. There’s no due process for getting off the list.”

The guidelines also reveal that the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism can temporarily authorize placing entire “categories” of people on to the No-Fly and Selectee lists based on “credible intelligence” that indicates a certain category of individuals may be used to conduct an act of terrorism.

“Instead of a watch list limited to actual, known terrorists, the government has built a vast system based on the unproven and flawed premise that it can predict if a person will commit a terrorist act in the future,” Hina Shamsi, head of the ACLU’s National Security Project, told The Intercept. “On that dangerous theory, the government is secretly blacklisting people as suspected terrorists and giving them the impossible task of proving themselves innocent of a threat they haven’t carried out.”

It doesn’t necessarily take a lot to get a positive match. It is basically the flying while David Nelson problem.

Also, beware the Maple Peril!!!!

On the northern border, CBP stopped 91 people listed in the database, including 41 who were not American citizens or residents.

So that’s 41 on the northern border with Canada versus 6 on the southern Border with Mexico. So if the President wants $5.7 billion for a wall across the southern border with Mexico to keep terrorists out, that’s $950 million per suspected terrorist. That’s certainly a fiscally conservative position that any Republican could support…

And that doesn’t count the violent, white supremacist extremists from Canada living among us. Especially those who have started their own terrorist groups. Everyone be on the lookout for:

I expect that burning smell in DC is the fact that the fire from the White House Spokeswoman’s britches has set her tuchas alight.

Open thread.

A Reformed US Immigration Policy

On Christmas Day, Pogonip asked:

Can you post your view of the ideal immigration policy? I’d like to read it.

Pogonip asked for it and now you all will have to suffer… This post will, as a result of the topic, be long, so a lot of it will be after the jump.

I think that there are several policy changes that could and should be made to US immigration policy to bring the overall US immigration policy into the 21st century. Right now, like so much of US foreign and domestic policy, US immigration policy is a hodgepodge of specific policies on each issue or set of issues that are rooted in both statutory and presidential/executive branch decision making. Often the latter, executive branch policies are both built onto the statutory derived policy in an attempt to keep the policy relevant to what has both changed and is actually occurring in the years since the legislation on the issue was passed. And while these policies may be coherent and make sense individually or within selected sets, they are not necessarily working well overall. The last major and comprehensive legislative adjustment to US immigration policy was the US Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. Since then there have been both large and small adjustments, such as both the Reagan and Bush 41 amnesties for undocumented workers in the US, as well as several attempts at comprehensive reform, including attempts supported by both the Bush 43 and Obama administrations. These latter two attempts at comprehensive reform were killed off by the most extreme nativists within the GOP Caucuses in the House and the Senate.

Given this history, here are four policy changes that would make progress in improving how the US deals with immigration in the second decade of the 21st century.

Establish a Guest Worker Registry

The creation of a guest worker registry, specifically to get those who are in the US and working in an undocumented status. This would also provide the guest worker or workers the ability to move not just themselves, but also their families and dependents who are with them, into a documented status. There are several advantages to instituting a guest worker registry and begin its implementation for those who are already in the US and functioning in this capacity. The most important one is that it gets them out of the shadow economy. Having undocumented immigrants, whether they entered the US without proper immigration papers in search of work or they overstayed their entry visits and are working without the appropriate paperwork, on the licit economy will have several benefits.It will create the economic benefits of being able to properly account for their labor in the tax rolls at all levels of government. This way guest workers will contribute to the municipal, state, and Federal tax base and be able to draw appropriate social services – from attendance of children in public schools to healthcare – without being considered tax cheats.  There inclusion within the licit economy will also bring in needed revenue for social security, medicare, and medicaid. A guest worker program and registry will also reduce crime. Undocumented immigrants are easy prey. They are easy prey for employers that would exploit them, just as they are tempting targets for criminals who know that they are unlikely to go to the police for fear of being detained and deported.

A properly established guest worker registry would include a vetting process to determine which undocumented immigrants and workers already in the US should be eligible for and awarded guest worker status, as well as eligibility for those not currently here, but wishing to come to the US and work without seeking permanent resident status or citizenship. For instance, convictions for violent and serious non-violent crimes should and would be cause for rejection of an application. And since we know that the vast majority of undocumented immigrants and workers in the US commit far fewer crimes, including violent crimes, a guest worker program would establish a more equitable system for dealing with undocumented immigrants and workers currently in the US instead of whipsawing back and forth from one presidential administration to the next’s determination of what makes an undocumented immigrant eligible for detention and deportation.

Adjust Grants of Asylum and Awards of Refugee Status

While the US has both congressionally originated legislation, as well as treaty obligations that function as if they are US statutory requirements, regarding who is and is not eligible for grants of asylum and being awarded refugee status, the reality is that each presidential administration adjusts both the who and the how many. Currently, Stephen Miller and the fellow travelers he’s salted away across several executive branch departments and agencies, have managed to short circuit the normal, State Department led annual determination of how many foreigners qualify for refugee status and resettlement in the US. And Miller, as well as his fellow travelers, have also been attempting to rewrite US asylum laws and treaty obligations pertaining to asylum through executive orders issued by the President. While some adjustment from one administration to the next is normal, what Miller has been able to orchestrate is both something completely different and, frankly, un-American in terms of America’s ideals. It is, unfortunately, all to American in actual application. And, I fear, will be used by Miller’s fellow travelers in both the nativist, anti-immigration community as a whole and in the Republican Party to scream bloody murder when the next Democratic administration seeks to return the annual totals back to normalcy. Miller and his fellow travelers ability to severely restrict the quota numbers create a ticket time bomb for them to exploit when a future administration seeks to reestablish appropriate numbers regarding refugees.

Read more

A Nativity for Our Times

Sometime last year, right around Christmas, I came across the following drawing:

(Jose y Maria by Everett Patterson)

The drawing was done in 2014 by comics artist Everett Patterson. Since I came across this in a tweet or someone’s blog post after last Christmas had come and gone, I saved the image knowing I’d likely, and unfortunately, have a chance to use it this year. Here’s Patterson’s description of his drawing (emphasis mine):

This was our Christmas card for 2014, depicting Jesus’s parents in a modern setting. I was inspired by a number of evocative “imagine what it would have been like”-type sermons I heard earlier this year, and also (as usual) by the work of Will Eisner, who so often depicted, with religious reverence, noble individuals enduring the many minor discomforts and petty indignities of urban America.

The main goal of this illustration was to pack as many clever biblical references into the scene as possible. I won’t list every one (there are at least a dozen), but a few that I’m proudest of are: the verse from the prophet Ezekiel in the graffiti on the phone kiosk, the way the “Save More!” behind Mary’s head looks kinda like “Ave Maria!,” and the two ads for “Glad” and “Tide” on the newspaper (get it?).

A word on perspective: for this image, I chose very, very wide vanishing points. The result is what I occasionally call “middle-class white people perspective.” Rather than feeling immersed in the scene, the viewer is looking at it as if from across the street or from the warmth and safety of his or her passing car. I have a small hope that this Christmas image will come to mind when we see other “down and out” people huddling outside of gas stations, reminding us that our Savior’s parents (and indeed, Jesus himself) were at one time similarly troubled.

As I’m sure everyone is aware by now, I’m not a Christian, but it seems to me that all of the winter holidays – Diwali, Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa – of 2018 are being celebrated by many in what seems to be the twilight of America. A twilight that has brought the rudest, meanest, smallest in terms of their ethical and moral stature, small minded, and bigoted people to power who seek, for a variety of reasons, to rule not to govern. Some, like the President, his family, the Secretary of Commerce, and the former Secretaries of HHS and Interior, and the Director of the EPA, seek merely to enrich themselves. Some, like the Vice President, the Secretaries of Education and HUD, the former Attorney General, the Acting Attorney General, and the White House Press Secretary, seek to impose a white, largely evangelical* Christian herrenvolk democracy. Some, like Senator McConnell, Leonard Leo, Stephen Miller, John Bolton, and far too many others, seek to manipulate the President into fulfilling their own personal revanchist, anti-liberal democracy agendas. These men and women, some true believers, some merely opportunists, would have turned away Joseph, Mary, and Jesus as they fled from the danger of Herod through the dangers of the desert to the dangers of being strangers in the Land of Egypt even though most of them profess to be the most devoted followers of Jesus and his teachings.

There is, however, always hope. There are people who are doing good things for others. Who are trying to make a difference one good act, act of kindness, and/or act of charity at a time. Who are doing their best to embody the real meaning and ethic of the Christmas holiday season.

Hope is not a strategy, but it is essential for survival. And America is not simply an outline on a map, it is an ideal. So keep the faith and hold the line.

Merry Christmas to all those Juicers and jackals who observe it!

Open thread!

* The coalition of religious conservatives is, of course, larger than just those from the evangelical Christian denominations that we refer to as Evangelicals, Charismatics, and Fundamentalists. It also includes traditionalist Catholics, some members of the Church of Latter Day Saints, and some ultra-Orthodox Jews. The reality, however, is that if the goals of religious conservatives are ever achieved in the US, the evangelical Christians will turn on the traditionalist Catholics, the Mormons, and the ultra-Orthodox Jews. Then they will turn on each other as the Evangelicals, the Charismatics, and the Fundamentalists don’t actually agree on matters of theology and dogma. The pursuit of doctrinal purity can only lead to purge after purge.

Secretary Mattis’s Resignation Letter: That’s Going to Leave a Mark!

Here’s Secretary Mattis’s resignation letter. Professional, polite, cutting.

If we’re very, very lucky we’ll get GEN (ret) Keane as the next Secretary of Defense. If we’re not, we’ll get Senator Cotton.

Edited to Add: I have never seen a Marine sign a letter without either “Semper Fi” or “S/F” over their signature. I have former Marine teammates from when I was at USAWC who finish their informal emails to me with “S/F”. This is a tell!

Open thread!

A Few Thoughts on The President’s Announced Withdrawal of US Forces and Personnel from Syria

I want to share a few thoughts on the President’s announcement this morning that US Forces and personnel will be immediately, or as immediate as is ever possible when the military is involved, withdrawn from Syria. Some of you are aware that I was involved with, and provided inputs for, the development of the US’s theater strategy for combatting ISIS in Syria and Iraq specifically through pre-deployment strategic analysis and assessment, and have provided remote reachback support to senior personnel (both a former boss and a number of my former students) deployed at Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve and its subordinate elements. I have also either been asked if I would be willing to deploy back to Iraq or have offered to do so several times since 2013. None of those potential deployments materialized. Please keep all of this in mind when you read this post. I clearly have some subjective involvement in and attachment to what we’re currently doing, even with the changes that were made once the current administration came into office in January 2017. I’m going to keep this as brief as possible to avoid potential problems related to my past work on this problem set.

This morning the President announced that he was ordering an immediate withdrawal of US military and civilian personnel from Syria. We now know what that means, provided it is not changed, adjusted, and/or cancelled given that DOD, State, and the National Security Council and Staff appear to have been blindsided by the President’s announcement.

The immediate, within 24 hour removal of State Department personnel, while not logistically difficult, is a huge issue. The personnel being withdrawn were working on the civilian side of the Stability Operations we are conducting. This includes the USAID personnel who are working with internally displaced Syrians, as well as refugees in the region and coordinating humanitarian relief and assistance with local NGOs and other local groups. The military withdrawal will, of course, take longer because it isn’t just removing personnel, but equipment, which will obviously take longer than 24 hours.

So what, exactly, are we actually doing in Syria? What is it that will stop as a result of this withdrawal order? We are basically doing two things in Syria. The first is a train, advise, and assist mission with our local Syrian partners who are predominantly Kurdish, but some are Arabs, who are fighting ISIS. This is a Special Forces mission supported by a some Marine Corps artillery. The second thing we’re doing is, as an extension of the train, advise, and assist mission, conducting stability operations among the Syrian population where we are partnered with and training our local Syrian partners. This is being done within a “by, with, and through” strategy of partnering with vetted local groups. If we pull out there will be four immediate effects.

  1. The collapse of the local stabilization we’re contributing to. This will result in increased internally displaced Syrians and Syrian refugees who will flee ahead of both Syrian and ISIS efforts to fill the vacuum the withdrawal will create.
  2. As a result of the first effect, we will see an increased humanitarian crisis in the areas we withdraw from.
  3. We will once again have abandoned the Kurds despite the promises we’ve made to them, which further diminishes the United States ability to exercise any form of national power (Diplomatic, Information, Military, Economic), because it further demonstrates that we can’t be trusted, won’t keep our word, and can’t be counted on.
  4. The vacuum and destabilization created by the withdrawal will be filled by both Syrian forces and ISIS. They will move to occupy and control the areas we’ve left, will fight each other in them, and this will lead to further destabilization in Syria and, potentially, throughout the Levant. It creates new stresses, challenges, and threats for Iraq and Lebanon, as well as for Israel and Turkey even though both of those states have been pursuing their own interests in Syria. And because of increased refugee outflows, it will increase pressures and problems for our allies in the EU.

We have not, no matter what the President has said, defeated ISIS. While it is true that ISIS has lost its physical holdings – the self declared caliphate – this actually makes them more dangerous, not less. They are no longer required to try to hold their territorial gains, nor are they required to provide the functions of a state within the self declared caliphate. As a result they have actually been liberated to focus on a low intensity irregular and asymmetric war to achieve their objective: the spread and imposition of their extreme understanding of tawheed/the radical unity of the Deity on their fellow Muslims. This includes forcefully and, if necessary, violently cracking down on what they define as innovation in Islam/Islamic practice (bidda), unbelief (kufr), apostasy (ridda), and polytheism (shirk). Freed of having to create and administer a state – the self declared caliphate – ISIS has been freed up to actually become more dangerous and more lethal. ISIS fighters are now free to go anywhere and fight everywhere. Destroying the physical caliphate, while an important step in reducing ISIS and its ability to do harm within and without the Levant, is not itself a defeat of ISIS. And, as counterintuitive as it may seem, it actually increases ISIS’s lethality within and without the Levant in the short term. This is not something that US policymakers, as well as the senior military and civilian leaders tasked with reducing ISIS were unaware of. As is always the case when pursuing strategic objectives, achieving one creates new problems that require new, or at least adjusted, strategies to resolve.

Our withdrawal, especially an immediate one, also creates openings for the regional powers that have been using the Syrian Civil War as a proxy war to achieve their own regional objectives. The Syrian Civil War, of which the fight against ISIS is only one facet, has been facilitated and worsened because the Saudis, the Iranians, and the Turks have all used the civil war itself, as well as the proxies they are funding and supporting within it, to try to become the regional hegemon. These three regional powers are largely pursuing a religio-political hegemony.

The Saudis seek to establish themselves as the leaders of a Sunni Muslim Middle East, rooted in their state sanctioned form of Islam – Salafism. Salafism, meaning fundamentalism, is really tawheed – Muhammed ibn Abdul Wahhab’s doctrine of the radical unity of the Deity as the focus of Islam. The Iranians seek to consolidate and maintain the sphere of influence they have created in and through Iraq and Lebanon, both Twelver Shi’a majority states, and Syria, which is controlled by the Alawites a Shi’a offshoot that the Supreme Religious Authority in Iran has declared is actually Shi’a. Erdogan in Turkey seeks to return the Turks to their historic role of influencing and dominating the Middle East, the trans-Caucusus, and Central Asia as the East/West and North/South gateway in the region.

The Israelis are also trying to manipulate the Syrian Civil War to create and achieve their long standing goal of creating strategic depth between themselves and the Iranians. Which is why Netanyahu has been dealing directly with Putin in regard to just how far Iranian regular and irregular forces are allowed to proceed in Syria. This deal between Netanyahu and Putin also appears to be why the President ordered a partial withdrawal of US military and civilian personnel who were supporting rebel groups and helping to provide local stability in Syria near the Israeli border earlier this year.

Finally, Russia has its own interests in Syria. They need to maintain their warm water port at Latakia. But they also need the Syrian Civil War, as well as the threat posed by ISIS, for as long as possible. Putin’s strategic objective here is to keep the Levant unstable for as long as possible in order to maximize refugee flows into Europe and thereby provide the nationalist and neo-fascist movements, political parties, and politicians he’s supporting with an ongoing divisive issue in his ongoing attempt to exacerbate domestic political issues within Europe in order to rip apart the European Union and NATO.

If the President’s announcement of an immediate withdrawal was part of a well developed strategy to achieve the US’s policy objectives of defeating ISIS and stabilizing the Levant, then I would be very supportive. We shouldn’t have personnel deployed where despite their tactical successes, they are unable to achieve the larger US and allied strategic objectives. This dynamic has been the case in Afghanistan for years, which is why the best thing that can happen in the Afghan theater of operations is a negotiated settlement and a withdrawal of almost all US military personnel. Any ongoing mission in Afghanistan, provided the Afghans would be interested, should be all about political and economic development, which can be accomplished a lot more effectively by civilian subject matter experts from the civilian agencies of the US government and our coalition partners and allies. This, however, is not the case in Syria. ISIS is not defeated and, if anything, is even more dangerous as it is now freed from having to defend actual physical territory. And the Syrian Civil War is still ongoing and destabilizing the Levant as well as Europe. The limited/light footprint train, advise, and assist strategy we are currently pursuing still has merit. It should not be abandoned on a whim.

Open thread.

Breaking News: LTG Flynn’s Sentencing Is????

This morning’s sentencing hearing are not going well for LTG Flynn or his lawyers. Judge Sullivan, a jurist whose rise to the Federal bench would be impossible in today’s politics, is not amused!

Judge Sullivan started off displeased and moved to furious over the course of the morning’s hearing.

Also, Eli Lake is still an idiot and a useless idiot to boot:

Don’t lie to the FBI, its rude and upsets their feelings. Don’t have your lawyers play silly semantic games in their sentencing recommendation memos, its rude and upsets the judge’s feelings.

Unfortunately we are now doomed to three more months and dozens more posts at The Federalist; hot takes by Flynn’s conspiratorial minded supporters led by Flynn Jr, who is also a useless idiot; and Fox News hosts and commentators, like the Blue Footed Booby of Budapest (also a useless idiot) asking if Flynn was set up, if he actually committed a crime, if this is not part of the actual “real” investigation that will bring down the Deep State and the global pedophile ring they’re running.

Open thread!

Update at 1:15 PM

If anyone is interested, I’ve uploaded the Flynn 302s, which the Special Counsel’s Office released with redactions last night.

Flynn 302

An Answer to Adam Weinstein’s Question Regarding Mariia Butina

In Anne Laurie’s post earlier today, one of the embedded tweets is from Adam Weinstein. As is the case for those doubly blessed to be named Adam and from Florida, he asks an excellent question:

While Mig Greengard’s response below was good, I think there is, if not a better explanation/answer, a complementary one.

As some of you are aware, I have something of a hobby of staying current with the “armed intelligentsia”. This is a combination of two things. The first is they do really good gear reviews for outdoors equipment. The second is left over from my early, first career in academia where I did comparative research into domestic American extremists, contrasting them with those in other countries. These days I’m just largely interested in how Americans understand the history of and around the 2nd amendment and how it has changed over time. As I’ve indicated several times in comments, the best real history book on the topic is Saul Cornell’s A Well Regulated Militia. I also highly recommend his edited volume dealing with the history of modern American 2nd amendment jurisprudence. However, if you want to see what gun enthusiasts – from sport shooters to hardcore 2nd amendment absolutists – you need to read the comments. It may come as a surprise to some people reading this, but it is amazing what people will write and post as a comment when using a pseudonym. I know you’re all just shocked, shocked that such a thing could happen…

I’m not looking to pick a fight with anyone, but here are the links to the heaviest trafficked firearms website/blog on the Internet and how they covered Mariia Butina, her organization Right to Bear Arms, and gun rights/issues in Russia. Take a gander into the comments, do you notice anything? A lot of wishful thinking about how “the natural, civil, and constitutional” right to keep and bear arms might just be catching on and spreading to Russia. The truth is it isn’t. But what these comments tell provide us with an answer to Adam’s excellent question. It points us back to what Rick Perlstein wrote about several years ago in The Baffler (emphasis mine).

It would be interesting, that is, to ask Coulter about the reflex of lying that’s now sutured into the modern conservative movement’s DNA—and to get her candid assessment of why conservative leaders treat their constituents like suckers.

The history of that movement echoes with the sonorous names of long-dead Austrian economists, of indefatigable door-knocking cadres, of soaring perorations on a nation finally poised to realize its rendezvous with destiny. Search high and low, however, and there’s no mention of oilfields in the placenta. Nor anything about, say, the massive intersection between the culture of “network” or “multilevel” marketing—where ordinary folks try to get rich via pyramid schemes that leave their neighbors holding the bag—and the institutions of both evangelical Christianity and Mitt Romney’s Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

And yet this stuff is as important to understanding the conservative ascendancy as are the internecine organizational and ideological struggles that make up its official history—if not, indeed, more so. The strategic alliance of snake-oil vendors and conservative true believers points up evidence of another successful long march, of tactics designed to corral fleeceable multitudes all in one place—and the formation of a cast of mind that makes it hard for either them or us to discern where the ideological con ended and the money con began.

The conservative movement, and the political party that it is currently attached to, have so closed their informational system – from what sources are acceptable to what information is automatically deemed incorrect – that they are basically propagandizing themselves at this point. They only speak to each other, whether it is on Fox News, talk radio, social media, comments sections, what have you; they have imbued the language and terminology of American civic discourse with a special meaning that only really makes sense to themselves; and, as a result, they are susceptible to a variety of grifts. Once you’ve convinced yourself that the real reason for the 2nd amendment was to explicitly enumerate the natural and civil right for self defense – against both individuals and the state – in order to protect and safeguard all the other enumerated and unenumerated rights, you’ve also made yourself susceptible to believing that everyone else should be doing this too. And so when a somewhat attractive young woman shows up and tells you that a movement to establish the right that you think is the most important is taking root in Russia, you’ve already set yourself up to buy into the con. Because all of the resources that would quickly disabuse you of this notion are outside of the informational sources that you have been conditioned to find acceptable, all of the actual information that could be used for a reality check is going to be ignored, if it was even looked for at all. This is why Ben Carson thinks the 2nd Amendment has something to do with the Holocaust. It doesn’t. It is why the “armed intelligentsia” is convinced that Israeli teachers are armed. They’re not. The reason that conservatives in general, and the 2nd amendment absolutist community in specific, fell for this Russian active measure is that like with so much else, they’ve conned themselves.

Open thread.