Latest in National Security News

Get up-to-date national security news from our reporters

U.S. worries crypto currencies could weaken sanctions and dollar’s dominance

Digital currencies could threaten U.S. national security and undermine economic sanctions.

Biden’s Pacific Strategy needs more Manpower and new Embassies, Experts tell House Committee

To counter an assertive China, Biden admin needs to lean into existing programs and commit to stronger diplomatic strategy with more Pacific island nations, experts say.

Supreme Court considers excluded evidence in Boston Marathon bomber case

The Supreme Court heard arguments on a decision to overturn the death penalty for one of the Boston Marathon bombers.

One in three Afghanistan and Iraq vets sees extremism among their ranks

Amid rising numbers of domestic terrorist attacks by people with military backgrounds, politicians and experts in Washington exchanged verbal blows over “wrong” priorities Wednesday.

Taiwan’s independence at risk if domestic policy doesn’t change course, experts say

Taiwan risks losing its political independence from China if Washington and Taipei lawmakers don’t find a way to create a more comprehensive approach to security matters, going well beyond just military ties.

Holocaust survivor reflects on experiences 75 years after the end of World War II

WASHINGTON — “That’s when I said to Mom, ‘I don’t want to die.’”

Holocaust survivor Halina Yasharoff Peabody remembered her pleas to her mother as they stepped off a train and walked toward Gestapo in Jaroslaw, Poland. The jig was up — a German discovered they were Jewish and was forcing them to surrender.

Peabody was born in 1932, so she was a young child in what is now Ukraine when World War II broke out. Her father fled to Romania, thinking only men were in danger under Soviet occupation. When he tried to return home, he was accused of espionage and deported to Siberia. After the war ended, the four family members were reunited.

After her father was deported, Peabody, her mother Olga Litman, and younger sister Eva obtained false identity papers that identified them as Catholic and left to live in Jaroslaw, Poland.

“I understood that my life depended on it,” Peabody said. “So I got very good at pretending to be Catholic.”

On the train to Jaroslaw, a German discovered they were Jewish and said he would turn them in. Olga gave the man all of their belongings, asking in return that they be shot when handed over to the Gestapo so that they would not be separated. Olga feared her daughters would not survive. After Peabody’s pleas to her mother, Olga began bargaining with the German again, finally asking, “Why do you want us on your conscience?”

He let them go.

Today, Peabody volunteers at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, sharing her story to honor her mother and ensure that the Holocaust is not forgotten.

“I think that one of the things that our survivors — you hear from them all the time — is they feel a responsibility to share their history. In some ways it’s about remembering and honoring those that didn’t survive,” said Diane Saltzman, director of constituency engagement for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. “But it’s also to make sure that they share the lessons of what happened to them so that people today can learn from it.”

The number of anti-Semitic incidents recorded by the Anti-Defamation League has recently increased. In 2019, there were 2,103 recorded anti-Semitic incidents. In 2013, there were 751.

“If you’re not careful, it can happen to you,” Peabody said. “So please, watch out.”

Horrors of history recalled as white supremacist propaganda is on the rise

WASHINGTON – Gabriella Karin was eight the first time she heard Nazi propaganda. It was the day after Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, in Europe. Within four years, officials announced the plan to declare her home country “judenrein” — cleansed of Jews.

Karin, a Jewish woman born in Czechoslovakia, survived the Holocaust by adopting a Christian identity, taking a new name, attending daily mass and living in a convent. She then spent years in hiding with her mother in a house across the street from a Gestapo headquarters.

“What bothers me the most is how people can hate each other,” Karin said. “That people can turn against each other, I cannot understand.”

Nazi propaganda encouraged Europeans to adopt anti-Semitic views. According to Steve Luckert of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Nazi propaganda — including Adolf Hitler’s book Mein Kampf — led to the murder of 6 million Jews.

“The Nazis were ardent anti-Semites from the very start but they had to convince many Germans to support their radical agenda,” Luckert said.

Today, 75 years after the Nazi death camp Auschwitz was liberated, Nazi ideology still exists around the world.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, there were 2,713 cases of white supremacist propaganda documented in the United States in 2019. It’s the highest number the ADL has ever recorded.

“It’s upsetting me,” Karin said. Karin, a professional artist, shares her story through art at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust and in schools across the city.

The 2,713 incidences recorded by the ADL include only propaganda in physical spaces, including “the distribution of racist, anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQ fliers, stickers, banners and posters.” The ADL separately tracks hate speech posted online. 

“This is really significant because it’s the highest we have tracked,” ADL Investigative Researcher Amy Iandioro said. “We have this increase partly because of coordinated efforts by white supremacist groups.”

The 2,713 incidences include only propaganda in physical spaces, including “the distribution of racist, anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQ fliers, stickers, banners and posters.” The ADL separately tracks hate speech posted online.

To combat the distribution of hate speech, especially that of an anti-Semitic nature, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., sponsored a bill in the House of Representatives that would expand funding for Holocaust education programming. It passed the House 393-5 in January. The bill was then referred to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

“I feel that we not only need to be reactive to these attacks,” Maloney said, “but also be proactive in stopping them before they even occur – and that happens through education.”

Karin hopes Holocaust education will be sculpted around survivors’ stories.

“I don’t believe something can substitute the survivors,” Karin said.

Maloney recognizes the “tough truth” that Holocaust survivors will soon no longer be here to share their stories personally.

“We can at least make sure that all teachers have the tools they need to bring this hard-to-teach subject into their classrooms in a meaningful and appropriate way,” Maloney said.

Karin said in her experience Holocaust education can make young people more empathetic and help them grapple with issues they face in their own lives, like racism or trouble at home.“Many, many times kids come up to me and say, ‘You can do it, I can do it too,’” Karin said.

More than 600 of the 2,713 incidents tracked by the ADL in 2019 took place on college campuses. At Northwestern University, a series of stickers bearing a white supremacist logo were discovered around campus last spring.

“It makes me feel like I shouldn’t be in these spaces,” said student Rishi Mahesh, who was the first to find a sticker.

Luckert said there are elements of white supremacist distribution today that are reminiscent of the 1930s. For example, the Nazis technology like radio to spread propaganda across borders is akin to internet usage today.

“The idea for the Nazis is to expand their messages, tailor to those particular audiences abroad to promote anti-Semitism,” he said. “The Nazis saw that as an important tool as propaganda.” Nazis also targeted campuses with Hitler Youth and book burnings even before they came to power, according to Luckert. “Essentially the student youth organizations had become Nazified.”

Luckert said the threat posed by distribution of white supremacist propaganda today is “a very real one,” citing violence incited by white supremacists, including the synagogue shootings in Poway, California, and Pittsburgh. 

However, unlike the rise of Nazism, he said, white supremacists today don’t have the massive base of followers that the Nazis built before coming into power.

Scott Blackburn, research director at the Institute for Free Speech, said the government cannot and should not regulate political speech. He said existing regulations limiting freedom of speech should stay in place, but remain narrow. Hate speech is protected under the First Amendment.

“It’s much harder for hate speech because it’s so context-dependent,” Blackburn said. “I think it’s important in debates about speech restrictions and debates about hate speech specifically to remember that applications of these laws will never be done perfectly.” 

Said Luckert: “It’s really up to all of us to counter these messages of hate.” Iandioro with the ADL said reporting white supremacist propaganda to the appropriate authorities is paramount.

Karin said she has been a victim of white supremacist propaganda and harassment. Prior to a speaking engagement at a Los Angeles bookstore, a white supremacist organization threatened to disrupt the event.

“Very upsetting, I can’t tell you how upsetting,” said Karin. “I am worrying about the next generation a lot.”

Ending an endless conflict: efforts beyond the White House to bring peace to Israel and Palestine

Ending an endless conflict: efforts beyond the White House to bring peace to Israel and Palestine from Medill Washington on Vimeo.

WASHINGTON – In the Israeli settlement of Shiloh, located where the ancient Biblical city of the same name is rumored to have been situated, a Jewish woman defends her decision to move to there.

“We can have different views about who this land can belong to,” Eliana Passentin said, “but if we want to teach the next generation to move together, we don’t teach hatred.”

About 60 miles north, a Palestinian artist runs a gallery in the Israeli town of Umm al-Fahm, which borders the Green Line separating the State of Israel from the West Bank. Said Abu Shakra said he hopes his gallery can attract Arab-Israelis, Jewish-Israelis and Palestinians.

“We started to collect our pieces and to create again our identity,” Abu Shakra said.

Despite some efforts in Israel and the Palestinian territories to live peacefully, peace has not prevailed. Since the Carter administration, the United States has repeatedly attempted to broker peace in the region. Some efforts have nearly succeeded, but ultimately come up short.

Two bloody Intifadas plagued the region between 1987-1993 and 2000-2005. Over the past five years, violence has continued to escalate. The Palestinian militant group Hamas governs the Gaza strip, and over the course of 2019, fired hundreds of rockets into Israel, according to the Israel Defense Forces. Between March and November 2018, Israeli military forces killed 189 Palestinian demonstrators, according to Human Rights Watch.

In January, the Trump administration released its own Mideast peace plan. The 181-page plan proposes giving control of Jerusalem to Israel and allows Israel to oversee security of the West Bank. It also calls for Hamas to disarm. It does not discuss the right of return, referring to the approximately 7 million Palestinians displaced around the world.

It was applauded by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and rejected by Palestinian leadership. The plan also was criticized by Democratic members of Congress and former diplomats.

“It’s not a peace process,” said Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-Calif. “It does not call for the two sides to come together and talk about it.”

Before the Trump administration unveiled its proposal, Lowenthal sponsored a resolution approved by the House of Representatives in December that puts forth a different proposal. It calls for a two-state solution: “that enhances stability and security for Israel, Palestinians, and their neighbors can both ensure the state of Israel’s survival as a Jewish and democratic state and fulfill the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people for a state of their own.”

The bill passed 226-188, with four Democrats voting against it and five Republicans voting for it.

Trump’s proposal is the right approach and “marks an historic opportunity that must be seized upon,” said Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C.

Lowenthal said the resolution was not drafted with the intention of immediately establishing peace in the region. In fact, he said, language in the resolution makes it clear it is ultimately up to the Israelis and Palestinians to make a peace deal. The U.S. can help set the stage.

“Time is not on our side,” Lowenthal said, urging Israelis and Palestinians to come to the negotiating table. “How you deal with the settlements, national security, the rights of return, all those have to be discussed in negotiations between the two sides.”

And while Congress and the White House attempt to mediate peace in different ways, think tanks and nonprofits are working on less grand issues, known as “track two” discussions, like bringing clean water to the West Bank.

“We need to do something that’s highly practical, that sends a message that when you cooperate, something good comes out of it,” former ambassador Dennis Ross said. Ross worked in Middle Eastern diplomacy from the Reagan administration through the Obama administration before stepping down to become a distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Working at a think tank, Ross said, “you can do things formal officials can’t do.”

These “highly practical” efforts work best when they involve Israelis and Palestinians on the ground, Ross said. Citizens like Passentin and Abu Shakra are affected by the conflict on a daily basis and can offer ideas that would make their day-to-day existence easier.

“If I didn’t see Israelis and Palestinians who were willing to work together,” Ross said, “it wouldn’t matter what I wanted to do.”

Even the coronavirus could offer an opportunity for collaboration.

“Here’s an area where an operation is unmistakably in mutual interest,” Ross said. “How do you take advantage of a crisis to advance a larger cause?”

At the Center for Strategic and International Studies, another Washington think tank, attention has been diverted from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in recent years. Will Todman, who works in the center’s Middle East Program, cites fatigue and pessimism.

“There’s probably been a sense that nothing is shifting,” Todman said, “or at least that nothing is shifting in a positive direction.”

Todman said another bout of violence could reignite interest in the conflict.

The dynamics in the region have shifted in recent years, as Israel demonstrated its military and economic prowess and formed alliances with Arab countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Ross said the United States should take advantage of its diplomatic relationships with these nations to help bring peace to Israel and Palestine.

“If Arab leaders say, ‘Here’s a serious basis for negotiations,’” Ross said, “Palestinians cannot say no.”

Ultimately, Ross said, a two-state solution is the only solution. A one-state solution is, he said, “a prescription for an endless conflict, not ending the conflict.”

Former government terrorism experts call for an increase in oversight of law enforcement agencies

WASHINGTON— Former government terrorism experts say stricter oversight of federal agencies is needed to ensure anti-terrorism surveillance and monitoring don’t violate people’s privacy and civil liberties in response to a Department of Homeland Security report labeling two environmental activists as “suspected environmental rights extremists.”

“We have to use all the forces we can [to increase oversight of federal agencies]— direct action, litigation, legislation, public education,” said Carlton E. Williams, former executive director of the Water Protector Legal Collective, an organization offering legal support to environmental activists.

An internal report from the DHS obtained by Property of the People, an organization dedicated to uncovering censored government documents, and published by The Guardian in January place two environmental activists alongside white supremacists in a list of “extremists” posing a threat to national security.

White supremacists listed in the document include James Fields, who ran over protesters with his car in Charlottesville, Virginia, and Dylann Roof, who killed nine people in a 2017 shooting targeting black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina.

The environmental activists were part of the group often referred to as the “Valve Turners” who in 2016 closed the valves on pipelines carrying oil to four states. The activists warned the energy companies before closing the valves and waited for their arrest at the site.

“The use of these kinds of labels is intended to demonize political movements and particularly when these law enforcement agencies have been repeatedly criticized both throughout history and recently in treating civil disobedience as terrorism,” said Michael German, a former FBI agent and fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice.

Federal agencies have been surveilling activists for decades. In the 1960s, the FBI monitored leaders of political movements, including Martin Luther King Jr. Congress later criticized the agency for “abridging First Amendment rights,” according to the FBI website.

In a document released in 2010, the FBI inspector general acknowledged that “in some cases, the FBI extended the duration of investigations involving advocacy groups or their members without sufficient basis.”

Documents obtained by civil rights groups Color of Change and the Center of Constitutional Rights showed that the FBI tracked the whereabouts of civil rights activists traveling to protest at a multinational agrochemical company in 2014.

DHS is responsible for monitoring a wide spectrum of national security threats, including threats to critical infrastructure. The Valve Turners’ protest posed a threat to national security because they disrupted an important pipeline, said Daryl Johnson, former senior analyst for domestic terrorism at the DHS.

DHS should have differentiated environmental activists from white supremacists and categorized them as a lower threat to national security, Johnson said.

“People that sabotage a pipeline— yeah, it’s a big deal to the company and yeah, it may disrupt the economy somewhat— but they’re not going to kill people,” said Johnson. “You need to prioritize the threat.”

Being listed as an “extremist” by a federal agency can mean an activist will face surveillance and also can deter supporters and funders who fear their activities are dangerous, said Basav Sen, a climate justice expert at the liberal think tank Institute for Policy Studies.

“Part of the intent of [monitoring activists] is to silence the leadership of these movements and therefore to incapacitate them,” said Sen.

But James Carafano, a national security expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said the Valve Turners qualify as extremists because terrorism is a threat against innocents for political purposes and the Valve Turners threatened the activity of an oil company for political motives. Their action should be considered extreme because it can foment more serious acts that can threaten national security, he said.

“Just because people do not intend to do incredibly violent acts or they don’t intend to hurt people [doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be categorized as extremists,]” said Carafano. “But if humans can be injured [because of that activity], then authorities have to take that seriously.”

Sen and Johnson said Congress should pass legislation to require more oversight of law enforcement and anti-terrorism agencies to require stricter oversight and tougher punishments for abusing the law in an attempt to crack down on civilian dissent.

Johnson also said that Americans can file Freedom of Information Act requests to access censored documents that might expose wrongdoings in law enforcement, which could lead to legal proceedings against federal agencies.


Congress should try to block funds for Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” program and require more oversight, say immigration experts

WASHINGTON—While some Democrats in Congress have criticized the Trump administration’s program requiring asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for a ruling on their claims, some experts say lawmakers should attempt to block funds for the program and require more oversight.

Doing so will be difficult because of the Republican-controlled Senate, which is likely to block attempts to limit President Donald Trump’s immigration policies.

“I think what’s happening right now is that the political moment is creating a sort of situation in which lawmakers don’t see legislation as being particularly effective,” said Eladio Bobadilla, assistant professor of history at the University of Kentucky.

Democrats are hoping to regain the White House and gain more congressional Senate seats before pushing for serious immigration reform. Meanwhile, they should attempt to defund the program and require more oversight, which will give a better indication of what is happening to asylum seekers in Mexico and allow Congress to pass legislation addressing migrants’ needs, said Bobadilla.

“[The “Remain in Mexico” program] is so secretive,” said Bobadilla. “We don’t actually know how it’s functioning on the ground other than some of the horror stories we do know about.”

There have been more than 800 reports of rape, kidnapping, torture and other violent attacks against asylum seeker sunder Trump’s program, according to the Latin America Working Group.

Democrats in Congress could approve funding to improve housing conditions and provide basic health and safety to migrants and pass legislation to force the Trump administration to hire more judges to expedite asylum claims, said Ernesto Castañeda, assistant sociology professor at American University.

To some conservatives, American authorities are not responsible for migrants’ conditions in Mexico because they are in foreign territory. Under a U.S.-Mexico agreement, Mexico must provide work visas to asylum seekers so they can meet basic standards of living while U.S. courts process their claims, according to a Mexican government press release.

“There is very little the United States can and ought to be doing [about] things that are occurring [to asylum seekers] in Mexico because these are things that are occurring inside the Mexican territory,” said Ana Quintana, senior policy analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

To Castañeda, the U.S. is responsible for asylum seekers in Mexico since they are seeking refuge in American soil. He said that despite leaving their home countries, asylum seekers might still fear persecution in Mexico.

“The U.S. is an active participant [in this agreement], even if [those seeking asylum in the U.S.] are in another country,” said Castañeda.

In 2008, the Obama administration launched a program that sent illegal immigrants back to cities in Mexico. The program sought to prevent human smuggling and discourage future border crossings by placing migrants in unfamiliar locations in Mexico.

“We’ve been asking Mexico to do our dirty work for many years in terms of slowing down migrants, arresting them and deporting them,” said Jason De Léon, professor of anthropology and Chicano studies at UCLA. “This is just one more in a long line of policy decisions that we’ve done to make things difficult for migrants in Mexico and at the same time absolving the U.S. government of any blame.”

Pompeo testifies on the assassination of Soleimani and the coronavirus

WASHINGTON– Secretary of State Mike Pompeo clashed with members of the House Committee of Foreign Affairs on Friday over the reasons given for killing Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani and President Donald Trump’s handling of the spread of the coronavirus.

After delaying his testimony for over two months, Pompeo appeared before Congress to address the Trump administration’s use of force in Iran and Iraq. Democrats peppered him with barbed questions.

“Removing Soleimani from the battlefield was a de-escalatory measure. His death reduced risk to our personnel overseas,” said Pompeo.

Virginia Rep.Abigail Spanberger, a Democrat questioned the Trumps administration’s justification that killing Soleimani was necessary because he was about to order an attack on a U.S. embassy. Spanberger said that evidence of imminent danger was not given during a classified briefing to Congress and in a report provided by Trump to Congress.

Pompeo said that Iran could not have been surprised by Trump’s actions and that the U.S. made sure Iran understood what action would be taken if more Americans were killed.

The hearing had a rocky start as protesters, part of an anti-war group Code Pink, were removed from the hearing by Capitol police. Protesters wearing “peace with Iran” T-shirts held up signs that read, “No war, no sanctions on Iran” as Pompeo entered the room.

Throughout the hearing, lawmakers expressed their dissatisfaction with Pompeo’s delay in appearing before Congress.

“It shouldn’t have been this difficult to get you here… While we had to wait for you, the world does not wait for anyone. Now, we are facing another potential crisis — coronavirus,” said Committee Chairman Elliot Engel.

Democratic New York Rep. Gregory Meeks recalled Pompeo “thundering away” at former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during an eleven-hour committee hearing on Benghazi when Republicans controlled the House and Pompeo was a Kansas congressman.

“But with you sir, we had to move heaven and earth to get you here today for just two hours,” said Meeks.

While the hearing centered around the Trump administration’s policies in Iran and Iraq, committee members also questioned Pompeo repeatedly on the administration’s response to the spread of coronavirus.

“We agreed that I would come here today to talk about Iran but the first question today is not about Iran,” said Pompeo, when asked by Democratic Rep. David Cicillline of Rhode Island about the U.S. response to the spread of coronavirus.

California Rep.Brad Sherman, also a Democrat, sarcastically asked, “Will you come here next week and explain our international efforts to deal with the coronavirus or will it take us two and a half months to have you back here?”

Pompeo responded that Congress was briefed over 70 times on Iran before the hearing Friday.

As new cases of the coronavirus are confirmed in the U.S. and as the stock market plummets over fears of the spread of coronavirus, Democratic New York Rep. Adriano Espaillat asked if the U.S. should divert funding for building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border to combat coronavirus.

“America has enough resources,” said Pompeo.

Trump should use more pressure against North Korea, senators and experts say

WASHINGTON –President Donald Trump’s meetings with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in 2018 and 2019 did nothing to limit North Korea ‘s nuclear program and instead gave North Korea legitimacy, an expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies told a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing on Tuesday.

Kim and Trump held a summit this time last year in Hanoi, Vietnam to negotiate the North’s denuclearization. The summit ended abruptly without any progress on efforts to dismantle North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. A year earlier Trump met with Kim in Singapore to open denuclearization talks.

East Asia Subcommittee Chairman Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado said the U.S. should get tougher with Kim.

“It is time to go back to plan A on North Korea: the successful policy of maximum pressure that was adopted early in the Trump administration but since has been abandoned in an earnest effort of diplomatic engagement with Pyongyang,” he said.

North Korea continues to exploit gaps in U.S. enforcement of its sanction policy, said Gardner.

Center for Strategic and International Studies Senior Fellow Sue Mi Terry agreed.

“We should extend pressure on North Korea’s money launderers, facilitators and enablers,” she said. “We are currently well positioned to build on existing North Korean nuclear sanctions.”

She supported the idea of meetings between Trump and Kim but added, “we have not gained anything since Singapore two years ago. We’ve only given North Korea legitimacy.

The top Democrat on the subcommittee expressed disappointment that the Trump administration had not provided a witness for the hearing.

“It’s a snub to this committee,” said Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey. “North Korean ballistic missile tests have rattled our allies. The Trump administration should put pen to paper. The U.S. will not tolerate nuclear tests of any range.”

“Since Hanoi, North Korea has more material for nuclear weapons and more confidence in their sea and land base ballistic missiles that put the continental United States and its allies in their cross hair”, said Sen. Markey.

CSIS Senior Fellow Robert R. King criticized the U.S. timidity in criticizing North Korea’s human rights abuses.

“Our foreign policy on North Korea should reflect our national commitments on human rights,” King said.

Activists demand Trump administration prevent deaths of American detainees in Egypt

WASHINGTON— The Trump administration should impose sanctions on Egyptian officials to prevent the deaths of at least four American citizens detained in Egypt, said human rights activists and members of Congress. Mustafa Kassem, an American citizen, died in an Egyptian prison last month after being detained for seven years.

“If we don’t acknowledge … [the] dire prison conditions that affect thousands of Egyptians and the need to make better efforts for Americans imprisoned abroad, this will happen again,” said Praveen Madhiraju, a lawyer at Pretrial Rights International who represented Kassem.

Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have called on the Trump administration to impose sanctions on Egyptian officials responsible for imprisoning Kassem. He was arrested during a military crackdown in 2013 and imprisoned. At one point he wrote to President Donald Trump asking for help. Leading up to his death, he was on a hunger strike.

“We have an obligation to defend Americans anywhere in the world,” said Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., at an event honoring Kassem in January. “We have the absolute obligation to do what we can do to bring Americans home. [This is] especially true when the country [imprisoning American citizens] involves an ally.”

Some members of Congress have criticized Trump for being too lenient on Egypt’s human rights violations. The U.S. sent Egypt $1.4 billion in assistance in 2019, according to the Congressional Research Service.

“There has to be a consequence [for Kassem’s death]— a consequence that serves as a strong reminder that President (Abdel-Fattah El-)Sissi can no longer fight the rule of law with impunity,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. “[American citizens detained in Egypt] should be released immediately.”

American Haled Hassan was detained by Egypt in January 2018 and accused of being a member of el-Sissi’s political opposition. Reem Desouky is an art teacher from Pennsylvania who was arrested at the Cairo airport when returning to the U.S. in July 2019. She was detained for criticizing el-Sissi on social media. Mohamed Hashem and Mohamed Amash are another two Americans detained in Egypt, although little is known about their arrests and current circumstances.

While some reports indicate that seven Americans are detained in Egypt, Human Rights Watch could only confirm four of them. It is hard for human rights organizations to confirm the identities of Egyptian-American detainees because they might be scared to reveal their dual nationalities, said Ahmed Benchemsi, communications and advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.

“There might be more American citizens in jail in Egypt but the reason that we don’t know about them is that they’re dual citizens and they are afraid to inform the authorities that they have other passports [other] than the Egyptian one,” said Benchemsi. “They believe they will be subjected to more harassment if they do.”


Medical neglect is one of the primary concerns for Americans detained in Egypt; the Egyptian government has repeatedly blocked the International Committee on the Red Cross from visiting prisoners. The U.S. should withhold security assistance to Egypt until the ICRS can routinely access American detainees, said Allison McManus, a fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.

McManus also called for improved communication between the U.S. government and the families of Americans imprisoned in Egypt to help inform families about the status of American detainees and facilitate their release.

The Trump administration secured the release of Egyptian-American detainees in the past. In 2017, aid worker Aya Hijazi was released after Trump met with el-Sissi. Student Ahmed Etiwy was released in 2018 after Vice President Mike Pence pressured Egyptian officials. Still, the administration’s current efforts to release other American detainees in Egypt are insufficient, said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn.

“When this administration allows for that kind of treatment to happen over and over and over again by our allies, it’s understandable why people like President (el-) Sissi perceive that there will be no consequences if they continue to take a harder and harder line on political dissent,” said Murphy.

Many administrations have failed to hold Egypt accountable for its human rights abuses because they are too distracted with other countries in the region, said Michele Dunne, director of the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“People in the United States and in Europe just really aren’t aware of the magnitude of human rights abuses in Egypt,” said Dunne. “There is just so much else going on in the world and in the Middle East— it gets lost. This story gets lost.”

Published in conjunction with Sojourners

New U.S.-Taliban agreement suggests possible end of the longest war in American history

WASHINGTON—The Institute of Peace on Tuesday welcomed former U.S. Government senior officials to discuss recent developments in U.S.-Taliban negotiations.

“We believe we are close to executing a period of a significant and lasting reduction in violence,” said former U.S. Ambassador to South Sudan Molly Phee.

The new agreement followed an attack that killed two American soldiers by an Afghan national on Feb. 8. The insider attack displays a constant threat to American servicemen coming not only from the Taliban.

Trump has repeatedly admitted his desire to withdraw troops. Now, he says, this will be dependent on the Taliban to uphold their promise to reduce violence. U.S. officials hope that once American troops leave Afghanistan the Taliban will sit down with the Afghan government to develop a final peace plan.


U.S. security assistance to Mexico not working, say House Subcommitee members

WASHINGTON – Despite U.S. programs aimed at helping Mexico fight organized crime, the country is still plagued by a soaring homicide rate and there are few signs that conditions are improving, members of a House subcommittee said Thursday.

“We have put so much money into these programs, yet the results aren’t there,” said Rep. Ted Yoho, R- Fla., at the hearing.

Under the U.S.-Mexican cooperation agreement known as the Merida Initiative, the United States helped develop programs to fight transnational organized crime and increase security in Mexico. These programs assist Mexico in spearheading judicial reform, improving law enforcement operations and helping civilians.

Despite these efforts, the security situation in Mexico remains dire. In 2019, there were more than 17,000 homicides between January and June, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who took office in 2018, offers new hope for using U.S. assistance to improve security in the area, said Richard Glenn, the deputy assistant secretary of State for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs.

Obrador, Glenn said, repeatedly said during his campaign that he would fight transnational criminal organizations, corruption and arms trafficking.

Rep. Juan Vargas, D- Calif., whose district is on the U.S.-Mexican border, said he is not convinced by the Mexican president’s commitment to fight organized crime and added that current statistics show that U.S.-led initiatives in Mexico are not making progress.

“I’m not so sure about this hugs thing that the new president says,” said Vargas referring to Obrador’s comment that his administration will use “hugs not bullets” in their security strategy.

Mexico is not paying to build a wall on the border with the United States, despite President Trump’s claim that Mexico would do so, Glenn said in a response to a question by Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo.

Asylum seekers stuck in Mexico as part of Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” program are living in “inhumane conditions,” said Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas.  “Mexican border towns have become increasingly dangerous and migrants have become victims of violent crime, including kidnapping, robbery and rape as they languish at the border.”

The U.S. government is trying to alleviate conditions in the area through a partnership with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said Hugo Rodriguez, deputy assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs. Still, Rodriguez acknowledged, the conditions in those border areas remains so unsafe that the U.S. government advises Americans not to travel to the towns where migrants are placed.

Rodriguez also said American courts are doing their best to expedite migrants’ waiting period in Mexico. Castro rebutted by saying that American courts consistently reset court dates in hopes that migrants will either remain in Mexico or return to their home countries, encouraging them to remain at the dangerous border towns.

Democrats Murphy, Khanna discuss progressive foreign policy ahead of 2020 election

WASHINGTON — National security will likely be an important issue for Democrats during the 2020 presidential election cycle, Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said Wednesday at a panel discussion on foreign policy.

“We just went through an impeachment crisis that was all about foreign policy,” Murphy said. “This is not a domestic policy impeachment trial. This was about a president trying to use the foreign policy of the nation to gain political personal benefit.”

The senator, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, gave a keynote address before The Century Foundation’s panel discussion on progressive U.S. policies in the Middle East during the post-Trump era. Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., — who has partnered with Murphy on legislation that seeks to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen — also addressed the audience.

It seems, Murphy added, that President Donald Trump stumbles into a near disaster “somewhere around the world” almost every month. Because of this incoherent approach, Murphy said the country could foreseeably be in the middle of another crisis when fall comes.

Because of that possibility, Murphy said the Democratic Party should be ready to campaign “in whole or in part” on national security matters.

Murphy said while pundits suggest an election cycle focused on national security will benefit Republican candidates, that doesn’t have to be the case. The senator argued that a progressive foreign policy is an “internationalist-looking” foreign policy.

Some progressives, Murphy said, argue that U.S. involvement in foreign entanglements distracts from economic priorities at home. Others, he said, suggest it is “old-fashioned, imperialistic American hubris” to believe the U.S. can solve any global conflicts.

But Murphy argued there is no domestic priority that does not involve foreign policy. The failure to contest foreign nations attacking American democracy leaves the nation vulnerable to more attacks, Murphy added. Combating climate change and protecting American’s wages require a global presence, he said.

In June 2017, Trump announced the U.S. would stop participating in the Paris climate agreement. Nearly 200 countries — including the U.S. — signed the agreement in 2015, pledging to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Murphy said re-entering the agreement would be the easy part.

“The hard part is then building an international consensus to actually get countries to meet those goals,” Murphy said. “That involves an America that is everywhere, in order to protect our environmental interests.”

Dina Esfandiary, a fellow at The Century Foundation, echoed concerns about the Trump administration’s broken agreements with foreign countries. In May 2018 Trump broke from the Iran nuclear deal. Under the Obama-era agreement, reached by seven countries, Iran agreed to limit sensitive nuclear activities and permit inspections in return for lifted economic sanctions.

Esfandiary, an international security program research fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School, said Iranian leadership might be less willing to engage diplomatically with a Democratic administration because they know a Republican administration might undo any progress made.

Khanna — who represents California’s 17th District, the heart of Silicon Valley — also criticized the U.S. relationship with Iran. He said the U.S. has been “bogged down” in over 40 conflicts since 1979, the last year China went to war. During that period, he said China invested in infrastructure, higher education, high-speed internet and clean energy. Meanwhile, Khanna said the U.S. has been obsessed with the threat posed by Iran, a country that only makes up .44% of the gross domestic product.

“Future historians, I guess the first question they’ll ask is, ‘What were we thinking?’” Khanna said. “‘What were we thinking, the world’s greatest superpower, in a 21st century that’s going to be defined by the rise of China and the rise of India and possibly the European Union, worrying about a country that was .44 percent of GDP?’”

U.S.S. Fitzgerald returns to sea after accident, House subcommittees look to prevent future mishaps

WASHINGTON — The USS Fitzgerald returns to sea this week after its 2017 collision with a tanker off the coast of Japan in which seven service members were killed.

On Wednesday, Navy Vice Admiral Richard A. Brown and Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Steven R. Rudder told a joint hearing by two House Armed Services subcommittees that the Navy is making progress in preventing future mishaps.

Rep. Joe Courtney, chairman of the Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces, emphasized the need for “systemic” changes in order to avoid future mishaps.

Courtney’s subcommittee and the Subcommittee on Readiness were reviewing three incidents involving U.S. forces in the Pacific: the Fitzgerald incident; a collision between the USS John McCain and a merchant ship that killed seven; and a collision of a fighter plane and a tanker plane that killed six Marines.

Reports commissioned after the accidents demonstrated flaws throughout the military units involved in the accidents.

The incidents were particularly troubling because they happened “in one of the most active spheres of the world,” Courtney said.

Many of the subcommittee members, including Reps. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., and Austin Scott, R-Ga., pressed Rudder on the December 2018 fighter jet collision. A Marine F/A 18D Hornet collided with a tanker when the two were attempting a midair refueling at night. Rudder said that the pilot of the jet was “qualified” to attempt the maneuver but not necessarily “proficient.”

There was a glitch in the computer system that said the pilot had completed the necessary trainings to attempt a nighttime refueling: that glitch proved to be fatal.

Regarding the Fitzgerald and McCain accidents, committee members were concerned that shortcomings in navigational training and a lack of oversight from senior officers created the underlying conditions for tragedies.

Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Texas, asked Brown what the Navy had changed since the accidents.

“We put risk management at the right level now,” Brown said.

Brown and Rudder reported that their forces were making progress under the oversight of the House subcommittees. They said they were placing renewed emphasis on training and preparation for service members to ensure that U.S. forces are ready for action. The Marines and the Navy are standardizing benchmarks for readiness within their branches and changing procedures for amending training when necessary, the officers said.

“We’re not there yet,” Lt. Gen. Rudder said. “We’re not satisfied by any means.”



Medill Today // October 21, 2021