New publication: “Introducing the Worldwide Incidents Tracking System (WITS)”

The Journal ‘Perspectives on Terrorism’ published on Volume IV (Issue 1) a paper on “Introducing the Worldwide Incidents Tracking System (WITS)”, by John Wigle.

Here is the abstract:

“For researchers looking for an authoritative data source on terrorist attacks: The Worldwide Incidents Tracking System (WITS) is the U.S. Government’s authoritative database on acts of terrorism, and is used to enumerate statistical data for the annual publications Country Reports on Terrorism (from the U.S. Department of State) and the NCTC Report on Terrorism.  This article provides a brief tutorial on WITS and, by way of example, a cursory look at trends in terrorism lethality.”

Jane Mayer on Marc Thiessen’s ‘Courting Disaster’

Thiessen’s book, whose subtitle is “How the C.I.A. Kept America Safe and How Barack Obama Is Inviting the Next Attack,” offers a relentless defense of the Bush Administration’s interrogation policies. While researching his book, he was granted extensive interviews with several of the program’s key architects and implementers, including Vice-President Dick Cheney; Michael McConnell, the former director of national intelligence; and Michael V. Hayden, the former C.I.A. director. The book, whose cover features a blurb from Cheney, has become the unofficial Bible of torture apologists, according to Jane Mayer.

Mayer does a good job in slapping down all Thiessen’s non-arguments, but the most interesting quote comes at the end of her article:

Thiessen’s effort to rewrite the history of the C.I.A.’s interrogation program comes not long after a Presidential race in which both the Republican and the Democratic nominees agreed that state-sponsored cruelty had damaged and dishonored America. The publication of “Courting Disaster” suggests that Obama’s avowed determination “to look forward, not back” has laid the recent past open to partisan reinterpretation. By holding no one accountable for past abuse, and by convening no commission on what did and didn’t protect the country, President Obama has left the telling of this dark chapter in American history to those who most want to whitewash it.

US may expand use Bagram

The White House is considering whether to detain international terrorism suspects at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan, senior U.S. officials said, an option that would lead to another prison with the same purpose as Guantanamo Bay, which it has promised to close.

The idea, which would require approval by President Obama, already has drawn resistance from within the government. Army Gen. Stanley A. McCrystal, the top commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, and other senior officials strongly oppose it, fearing that expansion of the U.S. detention facility at Bagram air base could make the job of stabilizing the country even tougher.

The option of detaining suspects captured outside Afghanistan at Bagram reflects a recognition by the Obama administration that it has few other places to hold and interrogate foreign prisoners without giving them access to the U.S. court system, the officials said. Without a location outside the United States for sending prisoners, the administration must resort to turning the suspects over to foreign governments, bringing them to the U.S. or even killing them.

U.S. officials find such options unappealing for handling suspects they want to question but lack the evidence to prosecute. For such suspects, a facility such as Bagram, north of Kabul, remains necessary, officials said, even as they acknowledged that having it in Afghanistan could complicate McCrystal’s mission.

With such a move certain to draw furious criticism by allies and human rights groups that the administration was re-creating the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, officials stressed that no final decisions have been made, and a White House spokesman declined to comment.

The idea of using Bagram emerged as the White House National Security Council solicited suggestions on how to handle detainees from the Justice Department, CIA and other government agencies.

McCrystal fears that a decision to expand Bagram could be used by extremists for propaganda purposes, as Guantanamo has been. In addition to the abuse cases, the prison has been criticized for the interrogation techniques used there and the amount of time suspects have been detained without trial.

There are about 800 prisoners at Bagram, but fewer than 10 are foreign fighters not captured in Afghanistan or in the Afghan-Pakistani border region, according to a Defense official. U.S. officials emphasized that the number of additional prisoners at Bagram would be modest. Bagram would hold lesser-known suspects, whom the U.S. government may not be able to prosecute but who would be deemed to remain a threat if released, the officials said.

The debate over detainees intensified in recent weeks after the military command in Afghanistan announced plans to turn the Bagram facility over to the Afghan government. That step surprised officials in Washington who want to preserve the option of using the prison to hold terrorism suspects.

McCrystal said last week that the prison would be handed over to the Afghans in January. It is unlikely the U.S. would send terrorism suspects to Bagram once it is under the control of the Afghan government. As a result, some officials in Washington want to slow down the hand-over, at least until other options are examined.

The Obama administration is hoping to buy a state prison in Thomson, Ill., to turn it into a federal facility to house some terrorism suspects. But the administration has indicated that any such suspects held at the prison would be limited to detainees facing prosecution and those currently at Guantanamo.

Thomson is not viewed as an option for suspected terrorists captured outside the U.S. because of near-certain resistance from Congress and the public. “Thomson is there to clean up a mistake, not to serve as a permanent model for future detentions,” said Tom Malinowski, the Washington advocacy director of Human Rights Watch.

In addition, any suspected terrorist held inside the U.S. would probably have the right to challenge his detention in federal courts. Bagram, for now, is outside the reach of U.S. courts.

In April 2009, U.S. District Judge John D. Bates ruled that detainees captured outside Afghanistan and shipped to Bagram could seek court review of their detention, like prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Bates’ ruling allowed the detainees to file habeas corpus petitions seeking their freedom. Bates put his ruling on hold after the administration filed an appeal, to the chagrin of human rights groups who said it conflicted with Obama’s pledge to overhaul George W. Bush-era detention policies. If the original ruling is upheld, it would undermine a key legal justification for using Bagram.

Homeland Security Intelligence

An updated description of the intelligence function of the Department of Homeland Security was produced last week by the Congressional Research Service.  See “The Department of Homeland Security Intelligence Enterprise: Operational Overview and Oversight Challenges for Congress”, 19 March 2010.

Last month, the record of a 18 March 2009 hearing of the House Homeland Security Committee on the topic of “Homeland Security Intelligence: Its Relevance and Limitations”  was published.

Security centre to scan for terrorism threats from the sea

A monitoring centre involving the navy, customs, the UK Border Agency, the Serious Organised Crime Agency and the coastguards is to be set up aimed at combating threats to Britain from the sea.

The National Maritime Information Centre, will be based at the Ministry of Defence joint operations centre at Northwood, Middlesex, Lord West, minister for security at the Home Office and former head of the navy, said  on 22 March .

Its role will be to tackle terrorism, piracy, drug smuggling, and illegal immigration, he said. According to Lord West, there was a “crying need” for better intelligence sharing by police, the navy, the coastguard and other bodies. He added that efforts to monitor the hundreds of thousands of vessels around Britain’s coastline had been “pretty ropey” in the past.

The £350,000 centre would aim to create a “single picture” of maritime activity once it starts operating at the end of this year. Concerns about the danger of an attack from the sea – such as the 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai – and the need to protect sailing events at the 2012 Olympics had pushed the issue up the agenda, West said.

He said: “Things like the attack on Mumbai and the forthcoming Olympics in 2012 made us realise we needed to look at the maritime domain more closely. We have this mass of agencies all of whom have a certain responsibility for affairs at sea, particularly close to our coasts.”

The British economy is highly dependent on sea ports: more than 90% of all freight by tonnage enters or leaves Britain by sea, according to the British Ports Association industry association.

West said: “The sharing of information has not been as good as it should be. I think the British public would be surprised to realise that we don’t know what every single contact is off our coast – and the reason is the number of people who are looking at these things. I believe this is a huge step forward that will really enable us to get to grips with this issue.”

German Ministre of Interior on pre-empting homegrown terrorism

Open ed in The Guardian here.

Quote on the balancing metaphor:

The debates across Europe on new security laws to fight terrorism have sometimes created the false image that states threaten rather than protect their citizens’ freedom. In fact, the often-assumed conflict between freedom and public security does not exist.

Freedom and public security are not irreconcilable opposites. They complement and even depend on each other. Public security is a prerequisite for freedom, and protecting freedom is at the core of a democratic state’s responsibility for public security.

Quote on radicalisation:

Parents, friends, and imams can spot signs of radicalisation earlier than security officials can, and they act responsibly by contacting the relevant state agencies in such cases. Security authorities are responsible for monitoring the more visible signs of radicalisation, and other state agencies can help potential terrorism recruits to leave extremist environments and become reintegrated into society. Nothing, though, can replace support and help within these young people’s immediate environment.

Spain identified ‘terrorists’ on surveillance video were firemen on holiday

Spanish authorities admitted Saturday that five men on a surveillance video they had identified as Basque “terrorists” were in fact Spanish firemen on holiday.

France and Spain on Friday released images of the five taken on a closed-circuit television camera at a supermarket outside Paris, saying they were members of the Basque separatist group ETA and suspected of involvement in the killing of a French policeman on Tuesday.

“This morning (Saturday) we contacted the French authorities to tell them that the images were those of people working as firemen for the Catalan regional government,” said a spokeswoman for the police and fire service in the northeastern region of Catalonia.

She said the men were in France on a climbing holiday and were recognised by colleagues in Spain who alerted authorities to the mistake.

Spanish Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba admitted an “error” and said the authorities “could probably have done things better.”

A Spanish police statement on Friday had described the five as “ETA terrorists” and called for “cooperation from the public to identify them and find them.”

Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega admitted that the “confusion” was regrettable but said it was vital “to continue to work as we have done” to combat ETA.

One of the five firemen shown on the video said he was stunned by the affair.

“What bothers me is that we saw on the Internet that we were considered, not suspects, but actual members of ETA. That’s the problem, that we were faced with an unwarranted accusation,” he told Spanish national radio by telephone.

“We are going to file a complaint… because of all the harm that this has caused, the worry to our families.”

The men returned to Barcelona late on Saturday.

“If it wasn’t for the Catalan government, we would not be here now,” one of the firemen, Oscar Llop, told reporters in a brief statement at Barcelona airport.

“We were well treated by the French authorities,” he said, but added that they had had a “bad night” after first discovering they were on the video.