Five areas in need of immediate attention and serious scrutiny.
Korea, Russia, Jerusalem, Iran — what about national security right here at home?
The Trump administration should abolish the arguably unconstitutional TSA, itself immune from security. Recent scandals included staff linked to terrorism. Indeed, a Somali warlord passed a TSA background check to work at a DC airport while TSA battles the scourge of breast milk. TSA’s outdated restrictions are reactionary; sneaking in weapons and explosives is doable. Most terror acts, even if inspired by foreign propaganda, are planned locally.
Second, one of our top priorities should be securing national and state electric grids and other sources of power, and not just against EMT attacks: as we now know, our electric grid has already been compromised. Suspicious Russian “diplomats” were seen studying our telecommunications infrastructure in Kansas; Russia likewise launched attacks on Ukrainian grid in a dry run against U.S. Physical attacks, cyberattacks, and EMTs can render our infrastructure defunct, disrupting our lives, damaging the economy, causing mass panic, and distracting from more serious terrorist attacks elsewhere. The military is in the vanguard of reviewing both physical and cyber vulnerabilities; states have fallen behind except for addressing the impact of natural disasters. It is a miracle terrorists have not used the opportunity to cause damage to utilities, given almost no physical oversight. Infrastructure security is an underappreciated issue except when disrupted. Without taking prophylactic measures, we will regret the inevitable consequences of neglect.
Third, we should prioritize clearing our agencies of infiltrators and raising timely red flags over unregistered foreign lobbyists and other agents with insidious agendas. Keeping closer track of FARA (Foreign Agent Registration Act) enforcement is a good first step towards knowing which lobbyists are pursuing goals under the influence of foreign governments and possibly inimical to U.S. interests; however, that requires review and accounting of existing nonprofits, which have lobbying-related limitations as part of their tax exempt status, yet may violate these rules in pursuit of their agendas. NIAC (National Iranian American Council) for instance, was forced to reregister as a 501(c)(4), a civic engagement organization, from its original status as a 501(c)(3), an educational/social/religious not-for-profit. Various Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated entities, Russian and Chinese shill companies, and Turkish “cultural institutes” also come to mind.
But that’s only part of the story. It seems that career officials with connections to radical groups may be covering up for the recent visa-related violations that have exposed entries by spies and radicals that should never have been authorized. One such story is an Iranian Basiji-linked agent, Dr. Mohsen Behnavi, who had traveled to Boston under the guise of being a cancer researcher and was eventually uncovered and deported. How was this individual able to enter the country despite the existing restrictions on non-green card entrants from Iran? More recently, a jihadist imam from Pakistan received a visa to enter the U.S. and to conduct a conference propagating genocide against Ahmadiyya Muslims. Someone in DHS or DOJ had to have been providing assistance or cover.
Fourth, we should commit to investigating various nonprofit organizations with respect to the foreign sources of their funding, as well as their connections of extremist or otherwise adversarial organizations abroad. Unindicted co-conspirators in prior investigations, such as CAIR, ISNA, and other such entities, which may have taken steps to scrub their public image yet likely retain connections to Muslim Brotherhood ideology and networks, would be primary targets. The co-founder of CAIR, Nihad Awad, who recently received a prestigious award from a Harvard University student group, has allowed that organization to employ a number of individuals later convicted of terrorism-related offenses. To wit:
Under Awad’s leadership, CAIR has employed terrorism-connected individuals. Randall Royer, a former CAIR spokesperson, was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2004 for helping recruit members to Pakistani terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba. Ghassan Elashi, co-founder of CAIR-Texas, was convicted in 2005 for funneling money to senior Hamas official Mousa Abu Marzook. And Rabih Haddad, a CAIR fundraiser, was arrested in 2001 (and deported in 2003) for funneling money to Al-Qaeda through his “charity”, the Global Relief Foundation—which was later designated by the U.S. Treasury as providing support to foreign terrorist organizations.
Is legitimizing terrorism and violence the kind of “public service” that Harvard, the PBHA, and Gene Corbin wish to reward? They don’t seem to mind partnering with extremists. One of the sponsors of the event itself — the Islamic Society of Boston — has long established Muslim Brotherhood ties. Its trustees have included the Muslim Brotherhood’s spiritual leader Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, who has claimed that Hitler was “divine punishment” for the Jews and has expressed support for suicide bombings.
Background research into MSA, ISNA, and other such organizations, available through DOJ, will yield additional treasure troves of similarly adversarial connections and agendas. Although none of these organizations have been directly responsible for violence, many of their alumni had links to terrorism, and were inspired by the ideology of these organizations.
It is up to law enforcement and Congressional investigations to assess threats. Their work for should be based in the same objective criteria as the vetting structure used for incoming immigrants: ideology, activities/associations, and goals.
Proclivity for violence, the spread of subversive or seditious propaganda, engagement in lawfare and other tactics aimed to shut down opposition should all be part of the evaluation. Such assessment will go a long way towards understanding the funding of anti-Western and illiberal agendas, formalized education, and political structure and backing of candidates, Congressional speakers, and educators with radical ties.
Fifth, the Department of Education, along with Congressional investigators, should review K-12, as well as higher education financing. Many of our public schools, as well as universities, have, in recent years, received funding or endowments from Gulf States, Turkey, and other foreign entities, frequently towards History, Middle East Studies programs, languages, and, in the case of universities, even theological programs. The result is self-evident — one-sided and inaccurate accounts of history, political components to Arabic language programs, strong resistance towards the study of minority cultures and languages, such as Kurdish (you will find an organized department teaching that language in no more than U.S. universities due to strong opposition from Arabic-speaking faculty on campuses).
Wahhabi-sponsored Middle East Studies departments do not translate moderate and open-minded medieval philosophers, nor expose students to the rich tradition of religious debates within the various schools of Islam; rather, the student body generally gets only one perspective of Islam, which is presented as “mainstream,” though it has been mainstreamed through a mixture of force, funding, and authoritarianism throughout Muslim-majority countries, and now, through exclusion of all other perspectives, gains an audience inside the U.S. among impressionable young minds with no access to reputable translations that show the diversity of thought in Middle Eastern and other Muslim societies. Students end up being brainwashed by enemy propaganda. Furthermore, Congress willingly funds extreme, anti-American, anti-Israel, and hateful professors and education on campuses. At the very least, the relevant committees should consider withdrawing U.S. taxpayer funding from such programs or universities.
We are faced with a number of long-term problems, which require immediate action, thorough understanding, and painstakingly careful and ethical review. Taking firm committed steps in the direction of understanding the underlying problems will send a strong message to every source of threat that seeks to undermine our security that the US is serious about protecting its citizens, residents, and visitors, and while welcoming and open to friends and allies, is resourceful and dedicated to defending its greatness.
The attempted suicide bombing in New York yesterday is a stark illustration of some of the domestic concerns. While the failure to vet the suspect speaks to the legitimate criticism of our immigration system, once the individual arrives in the United States, the concerns do not magically disappear. Failure to monitor newly arrived immigrants, some of whom may become disaffected or coopted by local radical community groups, is one concern. Access to propaganda combined with the inability to integrate into the American culture is another. Not the least of these concerns is the failure by neighbors to detect and report the red flags, which, in this latest case were apparently available. Situational awareness is key in preventing crime, as well as terrorist attacks.
Yet previously, even when such suspicions were reported, the authorities did not always act on them for a plethora of reasons, whether political correctness, bureaucratic intrasingence, or lack of interagency communication that would allow relevant conclusions to be drawn quickly. One such example was the Orlando bombing, where the terrorist was interviewed by the FBI on multiple occasions after being turned in by people who knew him but always released with no consequence, not even surveillance. This combination of lack of clarity on the ideological and mental state of each new entrant into the United States, coupled with a lack of focus on integration, poor community preparation for dealing with active threats, and in many cases, institutional indifference or politicking by authorities, creates an increased proliferation of local threats. These may not have strong international connections or good preparation to make their attacks successful, but they may still cause injuries, wreak havoc, and spread a sense of fear and helplessness in densely populated areas.
The author is a human rights and national security attorney based in New York.