Honor Orlando with One Small Step toward Unity of Purpose

After I turn off the lights each night, I repeat the basic prayer of my faith followed by a brief, extemporaneous chat with God. It was just after 1 AM Sunday morning when I asked God to do what he can to achieve peace on earth.

At that very moment the largest mass shooting in the history of the United States was taking place across the country.

How can it be that 49 people were murdered in an Orlando, Florida, night club? How can it be that 53 people who went out for a good time on Saturday night – ended up fighting for their lives in Orlando hospitals on Sunday?

Then the “other shoe dropped”. The killer who pledged allegiance to ISIS — was known to the FBI but still was able to buy a military-style assault rifle from a legitimate gun dealer.

Massacres Have One Common Denominator

Watching the breaking news, I was struck by the sounds recorded by law enforcement. The rat-a-tat-tat – the speed and the volume or shots fired.

It sounded like a Hollywood war movie!

It’s the same sound we heard in the videos of Fort Hood, Sandy Hook, Tucson, San Bernardino, Charleston, Aurora and a dozen other instances in the last 8 years.

There is a common denominator: A semi-automatic, military-style assault rifle (AR-15). We learned after Aurora that you can buy this type of weapon at Wal-Mart!

To the best of my knowledge there are no wars going on in Aurora!

Democrats could not resist the urge to politicize the tragedy. They took to the Floor of the House of Representatives shouting “Shame” at the Republican Majority. They ignored the fact they failed to pass any meaningful gun control legislation when they were in the majority in both the House and the Senate. This is an Election Year and gun control is a perpetual issue to rouse voters.

Not a Time for Typical Politics

When I work on a new strategic direction with a corporate client I start with the facts. Focusing on facts avoids inter-personal tensions and political agendas from side-tracking the discussion.

All the participants are focused externally – listening more than talking — until they all come to a consensus about what to do with those facts. It is a first step in building the trust necessary to take more significant, risky actions.

People are scared.

What they want are solutions not posturing.

Our leaders must avoid political finger pointing and focus instead on quiet conversation that allows the evidence to lead us to constructive consensus, which would build a new multi-pronged strategy to combat all forms of domestic terrorism.

It is a fact – based on ample evidence – federal gun purchase background checks do not work to make us safer. 80 percent of Americans agree they must be strengthened.

Background Checks Are Not Gun Control

Congress passing legislation to expand and strengthen background checks could be a confidence building step toward a new homeland security strategy.

They have the facts:

  • The Charleston massacre last year demonstrated that an arbitrary three day maximum waiting period is not long enough for a thorough FBI background check.
  • The Orlando killer had been under FBI surveillance for nearly a year (2013-14) as a suspected terrorist but was able to walk into a gun store and walk out with a military assault rifle – no questions asked.
  • The Department of Homeland Security maintains a “no-fly list” of potential terrorists to prevent the use of an airplane as a weapon of mass destruction but Congress has refused – so far –to make it illegal for these people to buy a gun.
  • This policy is in fact: Crazy in its contradiction!

Congress has had more than a dozen opportunities to debate this subject over the last seven years. It’s time to stop talking and listen to the American people!

Amend the background check legislation this week with a simple amendment to the law that honors the memory of those who died in Orlando – while they were just out living their lives.

  • Remove the 72 hour restriction from the background process. The FBI completes the background check when they have all the data required – no matter how long it takes.
  • Integrate FBI interview records and the “no-fly list” with FBI gun background check system.
  • If someone who has been interviewed or surveilled as a potential terrorist attempts to purchase a gun they should be flagged for an FBI interview before any action is taken on the gun purchase application.
  • Similarly, anyone on the “no-fly list” who applies to purchase a gun must be subject to FBI interview and further investigation before any action is taken on the gun purchase application.

This legislation would be a small, politically safe step for Congress. It would be a huge step forward toward building a national consensus on steps that can make our homeland and our homes more secure by following the evidence the FBI and the ATF are developing in Orlando and across the country.

To do less dishonors the lives lost!

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USA Doesn’t Need More Security, It Needs Smarter Security

I never expected to find myself sitting on an airplane watching live footage from a police/terrorist shootout taking place in San Bernardino, California.

I was flying from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. — a business – then fun — trip.

I will admit that the ISIS videos promising attacks in Washington and New York gave me a moment of pause before the trip.

But my sense of adventure won out.

Washington streets were bustling. Restaurants were packed with Holiday Season celebrants.

New York was crowded with tourists, theater goers, shoppers from all around the world on the busiest shopping weekend of the year. It took me an hour to walk 10 blocks from 7th and 55 through Times Square to 45th- — on my way to a Broadway matinee — swept along on an ocean of humanity.

Reactions to Terrorist Acts

San Bernardino dominated the news but none of the travelers or “locals” I met seemed overly concerned. None where concerned enough to change their plans.

My random sampling of opinions found no widespread fear of foreigners or of Muslims in particular.

There were maudlin jokes – some mine — but no fear.

A common theme was a desire for smarter government security rather than just more government security – i.e. heavily armed police on every corner.

Smarter Security Requires Exercising Imagination

The San Bernardino attack, the Boston Marathon bombing, the thwarted Times Square bombing, and the thwarted Fort Dix attack all share three common characteristics: inadequate research into visa applications, polite, political correctness, and — most frighteningly — an amazing lack of imagination.

These are exactly the same conditions that made the 9/11 attacks possible.

The 9/11 hijackers entered the US on student and tourist visas. All of these terrorists had been background checked and interviewed before the visas were granted; yet it took extensive post 9/11 investigation to piece together their true identities.

Has the US Consular Service (http://www.travel.state.gov/content/visas/en.html) put any of the “lessons learned” from the 9/11 post-event investigation into practice to “plug the holes”?

When a seemingly assimilated American citizen of Pakistani descent orders a mail-order bride from Pakistan and that fiancée shows up for her K-1 interview in a black hijab – it is a failure of the visa approval process, plus political correctness (PC), and a failure of imagination not to wonder “why” and perhaps to think “what if” — to not look a little harder into the applicants’ backgrounds.

Traveler Tracking Loophole Must Be Closed

Several of the 9/11 hijackers had over stayed their 90 day U.S. visas, but U.S. Immigration and Border Patrol officials as well as law enforcement had no process, no technical tools to track foreign travelers’ movements within the United States in order to detain and deport them.

The 9/11 Commission pointed to the urgent need for a foreign traveler tracking system more than 10 years ago.

The US government has spent $50 Billion to “harden the homeland” during that time but the tracking system still does not exist.

My iPhone and – consequentially — my car know where I am – latitude and longitude – and pop up the correct time and weather information unbidden.

My iPhone is able to track my every move – literally my every step — without any action on my part.

Congress should invite executives from Apple, Google, Microsoft, IBM etc. plus executives from Fed Ex and UPS to educate them on tracking technology.

Working with the private sector, the government should be able to test a prototype visitor passport tracking system in 30 days or 60 days – 90 days at the most!

Last, but not least, Congress must explain to you and me, the American people, why they have failed to exercise their oversight responsibility for homeland security over the past decade?

It took the deaths of 130 people in Paris to raise concerns. Fourteen Americans died in San Bernardino to focus their attention. That is shameful.

Congress, Action is Urgent.

Technology cannot immunize us against the threat of terrorism but it can aid our law enforcement officials to “level the playing field” against the unknown, unseen, unsuspected would-be terrorist.

It can, also, be a measurable “down payment” on stemming the flow of illegal immigration. Fully 40% of the estimated 11 million undocumented/illegal immigrants in the United States today are “tourists” who overstayed their visas and just blended into the population.

The clock is ticking!

NSA Leak Case = Metaphor For US Government – Incompetent

The NSA leak case is just a metaphor that describes the entire US Government in a single word – incompetent. USA – the Super Power more like the Super Mouse!

Super Mouse – the entire diplomatic, law enforcement and intelligence community of the United States cannot corral one 30 year old computer hacker! If news reports are to be believed, the NSA, the CIA, the Justice Department and the State Department – none of them are certain about Edward Snowden’s whereabouts.

The Chinese, the Russians and globally insignificant dictators in Latin America are nonchalantly helping this self-styled vigilante to stay one-step ahead of US law enforcement! The mighty mouse squeaked to the Russian bear plaintively: “We extradited yours. Please extradite ours”.

How did this global game of (crumpled) cat and (super) mouse ever get airborne? The Justice Department claims it took the State Department 10 days to process its request to cancel Snowden’s passport – allowing China to get rid of the hot potato claiming his passport was still valid. Please! The distance between the headquarters of Justice and State Departments can’t be more than 2 miles? A couple of hours by carrier pigeon! Less than 10 minutes with lights and sirens flashing!! Less than 2 minutes by telephone call from Attorney General to Secretary of State. The only explanation is total incompetence brought on by bureaucratic paralysis – paperwork trumping purpose!

Back to the beginning – how did a 30 year old man without either a high school diploma or a GED, but with a web history of anti-government statements and a less than honorable discharge from the Army get a top secret security clearance as an intelligence agency computer analyst in the first place? Two words: Bureaucratic incompetence!

The Department of (Federal) Personnel Management (OPM) has been routinely outsourcing background checks since 1996 when President Clinton privatized that function of OPM. Average cost $500. I agree. It’s not necessary to use highly trained investigative talent to do background checks on applicants for janitorial jobs or Smithsonian tour guides and various agency accountants. But when it comes to intelligence agents and the personnel that support them – Americans have an expectation of higher standards. Aren’t you surprised to learn that these background checks are not conducted by the FBI or military investigators?

More shocking – OMP is still accepting top-secret background checks done by the contractor their own Inspector General is investigating for fraud.  Negligent and incompetent!

Mr. Snowden was an employee of Booz Allen working under a contract at the NSA. A contract employee is, by IRS regulation, defined as a temporary worker. It is inexplicable that a temporary employee – in his first month at NSA – gained top-secret, compartmentalized access to live intelligence databases and applications? According to his former chief of staff, not even Leon Panetta enjoyed that access as CIA Director.

The NSA still hasn’t explained to Congress or the American people why NO alarm bells went off while Snowden was downloading FOUR LAPTOPS worth of live intelligence information. NSA does not need to tell the public the details of corrective action. But at least Senator Feinstein and Representative Rogers, as respective Senate and House Intelligence Committee Chairs, should be able to assure the American people that that the problem is understood and corrected.

A bigger question is why doesn’t the NSA routinely exercise at least the same level of intellectual property security as, for example, Apple Inc.? At Apple, employee bags, purses and laptops are subject to search by security, and passwords watched, to prevent the theft of intellectual property. At NSA, lax security is an example of incompetence nurtured by an environment of anonymity and a lack of accountability.

And Booz Allen is still on the job at the NSA! Booz Allen should have been immediately suspended and all their personnel rescreened.

President Obama has been out and about talking about almost anything else since the Snowden story first broke. He is in an awkward position. I wonder if he named the balls during his golf game last Saturday – as an alternative to actually firing managers at NSA, State, Justice, CIA, and OPM. But, of course, the score is a “state secret”!

If you agree with this blog, forward it to your representative with your own comments.

$1 billion a year to conduct 2 million investigations of people seeking security clearances for jobs doing everything from cleaning offices at the State Department to working as covert operatives overseas. Most of that money goes to contractors like USIS.

Photo Credit: Kacper Pempel/Reuters

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Marco Rubio Says “Enforce Existing Gun Control Laws”

I had the privilege of meeting Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) a couple of days ago.   He is gracious, engaging and even more youthful in person than on TV.  He has the practiced charm of a politician who can look you straight in the eye while delivering a non-answer to a simple question.

In the couple of moments I had with him, I told the Senator how disappointed I was that he had voted against the Manchin/Toomey gun safety background check amendment.  The Senator’s response, delivered with a straight face, “We need to enforce the gun control laws on the books today.  That will help to stop gun violence.”   Huh?  With all due respect, Senator, are you serious?

On an average day in America, the sort of day that does not result in a Presidential condolence call or 24 hour news coverage; the Center for Disease Control reports

  • 30 gun related murders
  • 162 survivable gun shot wounds and
  • 53 suicides by gun

That’s about 30,000 gun related deaths a year in the United States even if there are no unthinkable large scale events like Newtown, Aurora and Tucson.

If that’s not a public health emergency, then I don’t know what is!

If there were a flu outbreak that killed a fraction of 30,000 people most Americans would clamor for the government to do something to insure public safety!

Since the December, 2012, Newtown, Connecticut, shootings every single public opinion poll shows that is exactly what the American people are clamoring for in the form of common sense gun licensing laws.  They want stiffer background checks as a matter of public safety – a vaccine – if you will!

  • Even 85% of NRA (National Rifle Association) members believe that stronger and broader background checks are a matter of public safety!

Current federal gun safety law relies on data provided by the states as well as federal records. An applicant must provide proof of identity, proof of American citizenship, and proof that they are at least 21 years old. The background check also verifies that the applicant has never been Takes as little as 5 minutes to complete.

But the background check only applies to federal licensed gun dealers and federal licensed internet dealers (who deliver only through the licensed dealer nearest the customer – for purposes of identification). The background check is not required at gun shows or on private sales between two unlicensed individuals over the Internet.

Manchin/Toomey proposed to strengthened the background check by including all gun show sales and all internet sales between two private individuals (ala Craigslist)

The amendment would, also, strengthen requirements on the states to provide more and more timely data to keep the federal “no sale” data base up-to-date.

Nothing more.

There are no restrictions on – gun model or gun type or ammunition magazines. The amendment specifically forbids the federal government from establishing any sort of registry of the applicants or the results.

Senator Rubio’s staff explains his position as consistent with the phone calls and e-mails to his office – overwhelmingly opposed to the amendment.  When asked, they acknowledge they never stopped counting the calls to wonder why their numbers were so inconsistent with the polling data.

Call me naive, but I assume a smart politician would want to reconcile such widely different numbers before committing.  That’s what a smart business man or woman would do.

Of course, reconciling the perplexing discontinuity should have happened before he voted last week but there is still time.

Public outrage, militant advocates and the terrorizing gun battle on Boston streets will only raise the national drumbeat for sensible gun safety legislation.

Next time, instead of filling the campaign coffers in Nevada, Senator Rubio should take a listening tour through Florida!

Photo Credit: Bradford Thomas/Truth Revolt

  • It is up to YOU

    Get Involved

    In the coming weeks, Reimagineamerica.org will do what our Presidential Candidates and other politicians are not - throw out some positive and plausible ideas to "right the ship of state".

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