Tuesday, May 4, 2010

I Hate To Say This, But...

...The United States should be screening people who have extended stays in certain targeted countries. As unfortunate as that might sound, I think it might be necessary. Too many foiled terrorist attacks have been linked to oversees connections. We cannot allow idealogical uneasiness to get in the way of common sense.

At this point, we have little information about the Times Square SUV bombing attempt. The chief suspect, Faisal Shahzad, has been detained after trying to fly to Dubai out of JFK airport. The FBI is actively interrogating Shahzad to establish a possible linkage to the Pakistani Taliban. Shahzad, a naturalized US citizen, had recently returned from a 5-month visit to Pakistan.

Many of you might be worried about gradual tendencies toward a police state, which I think is a warranted concern. However, I do not think it is too much to ask people to file basic reports or undergo brief interviews after extended stays (over 1 month?) abroad in countries that harbor or work with our enemies. It might inconvenience certain travelers and cost the country a little extra in homeland security expenses, but it could help our intelligence efforts and keep us safer.

There is no easy way to stop terrorism, especially when attacks are planned and executed within our borders by our own citizens. Nevertheless, we should continue to employ smart policies like the following (mentioned previously on Lefty's) in the interest of national security.

(photo courtesy of the New York Times)

16 comments:

Rabi Abonour said...

I'm sorry Henry, but I cannot get behind this. There is no reason to assume that someone born in Pakistan who spends 5 months there is engaged in anything nefarious.
And what kind of screening are you talking about. Should we ask people "While abroad, did you engage in any conspiracy against the United States?"

I just see neither justification for nor benefit of doing this.

Henry Vasquez said...

It doesn't need to be overly invasive or complicated, maybe just filling out extra forms describing what you were doing and names of some of the people you interacted with, something more detailed than our current customs paperwork you and I file on international flights.

I honestly don't know enough about current policies to say what exact measures should be taken. I just think extended stays in conspicuous countries is a small red flag, albeit common practice for many immigrants from larger nations like Pakistan and Nigeria.

John said...

What should constitute an extended stay? Does it really take a month to conspire with our enemies?

Rabi Abonour said...

Nigeria? Before Adbulmutallab, would you have considered Nigeria a suspicious country?

ShamRockNRoll said...

There has to be a better way to screen people than just what countries they've spent time in. Besides, with modern communication any such conspiracy could have taken place from this guy's basement in the states.

Anonymous said...

Rabi is right. There is nothing inherently suspicious about visiting Pakistan, and the length of stay doesn't necessarily give you any insight into the intentions of the visit.

Abdulmuttalab was overlooked in part because intelligence agencies have been swamped with too much information. Implementing a policy such as this would increase the information flood even more, and I don't really see how any of that information would be especially useful. So setting aside the implications for civil liberties, I don't think this policy would actually help at all, and in fact it might be counterproductive.

Going back a few months, the policy of profiling people from fourteen countries isn't a great idea either. Terrorist organizations could easily adapt, attempting to recruit from countries that aren't on the list. And because of the extra security resources going into profiling from those fourteen countries, the chances of someone with malevolent intentions who is not from those countries getting through security might actually increase.

Bill said...

^^It actually might have been a good idea to NOT RELEASE the list of the 14 countries to the general public, to avoid just that problem. I'm not sure why anyone thought it was a good idea to announce, "Here's some activity that we think is suspicious. If you don't do any of these things, you'll look like a terrorist".

As far as Henry's main argument: I won't either agree or disagree with your proposal without more knowledge of our existing policies. However, I am concerned that this might contribute to the already restrictive nature of our security policies. Remember how Tariq Ramadan wasn't able to teach at Notre Dame because his visa was revoked? Imagine how many other intellectuals we could potentially lose by penalizing people for visiting our "enemies" (Pakistan is an enemy now?)

Rabi Abonour said...

Exactly. Intelligence agencies knew about Abdulmutallab, just like they knew about the possibility of planes slamming into buildings. The issue is not that we don't have information, the issue is that we have a ton of useless information.

Bill said...

In the above quote I intended to say "You'll look less like a terrorist."

Anonymous said...

Bill - I'm guessing they released the fourteen countries for political reasons. The policy was intended to show that we're doing something, even if that something isn't all that useful.

Sarah Jones said...

I've always disliked the idea that certain countries should be deemed "off limits" due to terrorist activity. I mean, political climates change all the time. Many of the countries that we've listed probably wouldn't have become such hotbeds if we didn't single them out as soon as there was activity. Anti-American sentiments are what's fueling many of today's terror attacks. Is it really the best idea to continue to single countries and their citizens out?

The "war on terror" should be based on terrorist organizations and not countries. By forgetting that, we're just helping the cycle go along. I realize that there are countries that work with terror organizations but it just seems counter-productive to me in the grand scheme of things.

Sebastian said...

Henry, I think one of the problems with your proposal is the cost that would come with extensive additional screening. As it is, the US has multiple restriction lists (terrorist watch etc.), but they are so large that it is impossible to follow up on everyone that's on them. Abdulmutallah was on the list, but didn't get called out.
Putting everyone who travels extensively to such countries (which are TONS of people) would make the lists even more unwieldy and make any type of effective additional screening impossible. The only thing that would do is make authorities look bad in hindsight, when they didn't screen a guy who was on the list.

Anonymous said...

Wow, so much for being a "Progressive," Mr. Vasquez. This post sounds like something a right wing nut job would say.

Henry Vasquez said...

It's interesting seeing the reaction on Lefty's from a more conservative post. I imagine our conservative readers, without the protection of anonymity, are generally cautious about commenting.

I'm glad the criticisms about my proposal have been mostly based in the nuances of the intelligence gathering and analyzing process instead of cries of civil liberties and broad fear of security measures.

Since I'm not ideologically committed to any type of security measure, because ultimately I want effective results more than anything, I'm glad to hear your proposals for security measures.

Saying no is easier and much more defensible than coming up with your own solutions. So- What do you guys think? What should we be doing to protect national security?

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure we actually need to make any drastic changes. Security officials should of course be analyzing whether mistakes were made and adjustments are needed, but there's no need to engage in a collective freak out after every attempted attack.

I think it would be very fair to say that the security record has been strong in recent years. Yes, attempted attacks have breached security measures, but no matter what policies we implement, there will always be attacks that break through. We need to accept that fact, and to be thankful that the recent attempts seem to reveal an utter incompetence on the part of the perpetrators.

Thomas Wachtel said...

I don't hate this idea, but I don't love it either. I wish I had something more intelligent to say, but alas, I do not.