Next Steps in Immigration and National Security: The Global Response

Next Steps in Immigration and National Security: The Global Response
(James Carafano, March 29, 2017)

Transcript available below

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About the speaker

Dr. James Jay Carafano is the Heritage Foundation’s Vice President, Foreign and Defense Policy Studies. After the presidential election until the inauguration, he served as a leader of President-elect Trump’s transition team at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. From 2012 to 2014, Dr. Carafano served on the Homeland Security Advisory Council convened by the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

A graduate of West Point, Dr. Caravan is a 25-year Army veteran and holds a master’s degree and a doctorate from Georgetown University as well as a master’s degree in strategy from the U.S. Army War College. Before retiring, he was executive editor of Joint Force Quarterly, the Defense Department’s premiere professional military journal.

Dr. Carafano’s most recent publication is an e-book, Surviving the End, which addresses emergency preparedness. He also authored Wiki at War: Conflict in a Socially Networked World (Texas A&M University Press, 2012), a survey of the revolutionary impact of the Internet age on national security. He co-authored a textbook, Homeland Security (McGraw-Hill, second edition 2012), designed as a practical introduction to everyday life in the era of terrorism. He is co-author with Paul Rosenzweig of Winning the Long WarLessons from the Cold War for Defeating Terrorism and Preserving Freedom (2005). The authors, first to coin the term “the long war,” argue that a successful strategy requires a balance of prudent military and security measures, continued economic growth, zealous protection of civil liberties and prevailing in the “war of ideas” against terrorist ideologies.



Robert R. Reilly:

Dr. James Carafano is The Heritage Foundation’s Vice President of Foreign and Defense Policy Studies. Interestingly enough, he was a leader of the branding team, the transition team for the office of President-Elect Trump at the Department of Homeland Security, an institution he knows well. From 2012-2014, Dr. Carafano served on a Homeland Security Advisory council convened by the Secretary of that Department. Dr. Carafano was a career officer.

He’s a West Point graduate, a place where he has also taught. [He’s a] 25-year Army veteran. He has a Master’s degree from Georgetown University and a PhD from Georgetown, as well as a Master’s degree in strategic- a Master’s degree in strategy from the U.S. Army War College.

His most recent publication is Surviving the End, which addresses emergency preparedness. If you survive it, it’s not the end, is it, Jim? I mean, I don’t mean to quibble with you on that. That’s okay. He also authored Wiki at War: Conflict in a Socially Networked World, a survey of the revolutionary impact of the internet age on national security, and he co-authored a textbook, Homeland Security designed as a practical introduction to life in the era of terrorism. He’s co-authored with Paul Rosenzweig of Winning the Long War: Lessons from the Cold War for Defeating Terrorism and Preserving Freedom, which coined the term ‘the long war’, which we’ve all become accustomed to use in this long war.

As you know, tonight, he’s about- by the way, I wanted to say, of course, Jim is a wonderful writer and analyst. I was just reading his recent piece from National Review, which was also picked up by The Daily Signal, that pertains to his topic tonight. It is called “Assimilation, Not ‘Integration,’ Prevents Young Immigrants from Turning to Terrorism.” I recommend that article to you. His topic tonight is, “Next Steps in Immigration and National Security: The Global Response.” Please join me in welcoming Dr. Carafano.


James Carafano:

What I would like to do is touch on three things and then kind of throw it open and I didn’t actually think that I would ever have a career as a Trump-splainer, but apparently that’s my job these days, so I am happy to kind of talk about how the administration is settling in from my perspective and kind of what they’re doing or planning on doing and how things are shaping up, so I am happy to kind of talk about that because apparently that’s all people want to talk about these days.

We were in Fiji, right? Fiji is the end of the Earth, right? Because when you get there all you can do is start to come back and we were in a cab and a cab driver goes, “What is it with Trump? What’s his problem?” And were like, “Dude, we’re in Fiji. What- Why do you care? I mean, this is-,” so, you know, you can’t get away from it anywhere, but-

So I want to talk about three things. I want to offer up three propositions and then explain what I really mean, so I don’t think border security is really a terrorist-national security problem, I do not think immigration is really a terrorist-national security problem, and I do not think refugees are really a terrorist-national security problem. So why do I say that and does that mean I do not care about any of those things and doing them right? And the answer is no, actually I care a lot.

The Border

Start with the border and oftentimes since 9/11 when we frame the issue about border security – and we are really talking about the southern border – people say we have to secure our border because terrorists might walk across that and we have a lot of concerns at the southern border, but actually, we have not seen a tremendous amount of verified activity.

Essentially, what we have seen is terrorists try to come to the United States and you pick a way that somebody can try and come here and a terrorist has tried that, whether it is being smuggled in a shipping container or trying to traipse across a border or get a visa or anything else, right? So if your answer is well, we have to close that off, otherwise a terrorist might come here, then if you follow that logic, nobody could ever come to the United States.

We have actually known this for a long time and it is not even a post-9/11 phenomenon. If you look at the report that the 9/11 commission did, not the 9/11 report which everybody reads, which is the bestseller. But if you look at the supplemental report, which they did, which I think is more correctly framed, which is terrorist travel, how do terrorists travel, they did a very, very good job of kind of documenting how terrorists traveled up to 9/11. And the answer was lots of diverse, different ways. And what we have seen post-9/11 is exactly the same: lots of diverse, different ways of trying to travel because always looking for where is the weak spot, where to do this. And there is no constant. It is constantly evolving and changing and everything else.

There are lots of good reasons though, whether you are worried about terrorists traipsing across the U.S. southern border, why we ought to secure the southern border, and the primary driver of insecurity and danger on the southern border remains the criminal cartels. They feed everything.

You do not like illegal immigration? Blame the terrorist cartels because they are the engine that fuels that. We have this image in our head of kind of people walking up to the border and walking across. What really happens is you walk up to the river and grandma goes to the local cartel guy, and she pays him whatever, $5,000 for permission to cross the river. And then when you get there you pay some more, so the cartels are the vast economic engine that are driving a lot of that.

The other problem really is kind of just stupid because essentially the large part of traffic that we are seeing now is not people trying to illegally race across the border, they are people that essentially walk up to a point of entry and say I am a refugee, I am claiming asylum. Essentially, it is a policy, an interpretation of the law by the Obama administration, which basically says why are you paying somebody $10,000 when you can just walk up to the border and as long as you can claim you are a child or a family, we will let you in. We have a lot of stupid policy that is fueling it, but regardless of just the human migration, the cartels drive everything.

When I first started talking about this stuff when I came to Heritage fifteen years ago, I said this is a $40 billion a year industry. After the recession I said they are the only business that did not ask for TARP money. Today, the cartels have transformed and it is an $80 billion a year industry and it is growing. And it is even not just us anymore.

People said well, let us just legalize drugs and have amnesty and the cartels will go away, and that is so not true because they have created so many different venues for fundraising. There is a tremendously powerful pipeline now that goes through North Africa, taking drugs into Western Europe, and taking arms from South Asia into Mexico.

So like any good company that has a lot of prophet to plow back into it – there is not much difference between Google and the cartels, right? They are diversifying to kind of secure their income, so this is a major, massively powerful thing that is the number one threat to the border.

Taking down the cartels is the number one most important thing. To this administration’s credit, they are actually doing several things that the last administration did not. One is they are not stupid. I worked in the State Department Transition Team up to the election, and from the election to the inauguration I worked on the Department of Homeland Security Transition Team.

It was really interesting doing two different departments because they were both screwed up, but they were both screwed up in different ways. In the Department of State that Department is largely screwed up because under the eight years under Obama they added a massive amount of programs which were designed to do things that Obama thought were fun, but actually were not terribly useful for the hardcore interests of statecraft. So there I think you have a massive kind of structural issue in terms of programs and how you are spending money and wiring diagrams and everything else, so it is how the place is put together. That is the problem.

In DHS, you had exactly a different kind of problem. It was not DHS per se, it is that they were operating under a bunch of policies which were actually designed to make it impossible for them to do their job. So in many ways, fixing DHS, particularly in the immigration and border security issues has been a lot easier because it has just been stop being stupid, stop having incredibly weird interpretations of the refugee law that is actually encouraging people to flood into the country rather than discouraging them from risking their lives and destabilizing countries. So just adapting a much more sensible approach to the border I think is the right answer, and the other thing is a comprehensive approach to the border.

One of the problems is not just Obama, but Bush. They could always say, well, we are making progress because they would look at a place [and say], oh, look, it has gotten better here, right? Well, I can show you twenty years of that, right? As a matter of fact, we have a reporter that is going down to El Paso, which is now rated one of the safest cities in America. Well, how did that happen?

Well, the answer is simple. The bad guys just moved on because that is what bad guys do, right? So, when you have an area of the border that gets so intolerably bad, the political pressure of the federal and state [levels lead to] people just going in there. And what happens is what the cartels do is they fight back, they push back, then it is pretty clear that it is just easy to make money someplace else. And then they just kind of leave, right? So El Paso has quieted down, but the cartels moved elsewhere. Twenty years ago, I could have walked into Juárez, and have a great afternoon, and buy a piñata, and everything was fine. A number of years ago, I could walk into Juárez, and you would never see me again, right, because it was the most violent place on earth.

Now, it is a little quieter. Why is that? It is because the smuggling routes move to where it is easiest to make money. If you do not actually interdict them across the operating space, right, then you never disrupt the model. Forcing them to change their business practices, preventing them in a sense from delivering their product, whether it is people, guns, money, or drugs, that crimps the cartels. Addressing security across the border comprehensively in a way in which their business practices just cannot keep up is the right answer, so actually enforce the laws, comprehensively address it across the border.

And then the third component is actually working with the Mexicans. When you put aside the kind of bad rhetoric back and forth on both sides, this administration actually does want to work with Mexico. Mexico actually has a vested interest in this because much of the illegal migration we are seeing right now is not starting in Mexico, it is actually starting in Central America, and it is coming through Mexico. And why that is bad is it is creating additional stress on the Mexicans, and it is also feeding more cartels into the money, so it is a struggle for them. Mexico’s problem is not that we are building a wall. Mexico’s problem is it has a crappy economy, it has a lot of corruption, it has a lot of public safety issues, and the only answer to that is a better Mexico.

And this is an administration that actually is not interested in walling off Mexico or destroying Mexico, it wants Mexico to be a better partner in the hemisphere. So, while the public rhetoric is bad, I think behind the scenes there is actually interest on both sides, within the limits of what is going to happen with the elections in Mexico, about doing things in the U.S.-Mexican relationship that are actually constructive and positive for both.

So, when I say I do not worry about terrorists at the border, it is a way that they could come here, but like dealing with everything else, the answer is a better border. So, whether we worry about terrorists or not, we need a better border, and the only way we are going to get a better border is if we are better at addressing the end-to-end problem, which takes me to I do not worry about immigration, I do not worry about it domestically.

So one of the things we do at The Heritage Foundation is we have a database of every known Islamist plot aimed at the United States since 9/11. It is a good story how this came about. [Does] anybody know Mike Frank? Mike Frank used to be at Heritage. Mike Frank came to me in the hall one day. He was a VP, and I was not at that time, and he says, “How many terrorist attacks have there been since 9/11?”

So, this was just like a couple years after 9/11, and I thought, oh, Mike, what a stupid question. Of course, I would not say that because he was a Vice President, right? But in my head, I am going, this is stupid, because I am the homeland security guy. I deal with this stuff every day. And I am like I know all of this. I do not know, maybe eleven. Everyone remembers Richard Reid, right? It was right after 9/11, and there were a couple of other yahoos. And I said I do not know, maybe eleven. He goes, “I think that would be interesting, right? We should do a paper on that. People should know that. I do not think people know that.”

Since Mike was a Vice President rather than saying, Mike, do not make work for me, just go away, dude, I said, ‘Ah, Mike, great idea, let me get right on that’ because I figured, well, this is not hard, I will just go back and have my research interns go through the thing. And actually, they came back, and they surprised me because it was actually like seventeen. So, there actually were Islamist plots and these are just publicly known plots, obviously not stuff that was covertly thwarted or the CIA killed [someone], but stuff that we know because there is a court or a police record where we can document that there was an actual plot that was thwarted in one way or another, so I thought man, that is actually more than I thought. Mike is not a dumb guy after all.

But I was a little nervous because we are going to publish this report, and then somebody is going to go oh, your statistics are off or whatever and everything. But at the time since it was the Bush administration, actually, there were people in the Justice Department who would return my phone call. I called the counterterrorism guy at the FBI, and I said, hey, we just did this study on Islamist terror plots since 9/11. Can we look at your [list] and compare it to your list because I do not want to put out something that is incredible, and he looks at me (through the phone) and he goes, you have a list? Can you fax me your list? And I am like, you do not have a list? You are the FBI.

And every time there was a new plot, we would periodically update it to the point where, I do not know if you have noticed it, but the number of Islamist terror plots aimed at the United States in the last eight years has skyrocketed. It has grown dramatically since 2010, which was right around the time that Obama had declared that we had won the War on Terror, so we actually just created an interactive, online database where we keep the data, and you can go on our website at and tap into it. It is great. It tells you [what] is the plot, where they, [the suspects], came from, all kinds of interesting things. The Indian Embassy recently came to us and said, hey, do you realize how many of these plots actually have a Pakistan connection?

Only an Indian would think of that, right?

And we went through it. It was actually a not insignificant percentage of the Islamist plots aimed against the United States have a Pakistan connection, which is one of the interesting things you can do with the database. And we are up to, I am pretty sure, it is 94, so we have had 94 Islamist-related terror plots since 9/11. Of course, that is not all attacks. A lot of those were thwarted.

What have we seen?

So we have seen an increasingly dramatic increase in the number of plots in the last eight years, and virtually every plot we have seen, not every one but the vast majority, are what we would call homegrown in the sense that even if there was some kind of connection overseas, that by and large, operationally, it was put together and organized within the United States almost exclusively. Okay, so when you add up every person involved in that, that is less than 200 people. Actually, it is a little over a hundred-some-odd people who are actively involved in all the plots.

Then if you want to throw in every known case of material support, and you probably heard the FBI Director before say every FBI Joint Task Force in the country has an ongoing ISIS investigation at one point. So we have a hundred-something FBI Joint Task Forces, and there have been hundreds of cases. And then you probably remember the statistic that I think they put out for the last CO about the number of refugee cases where there had been a terrorism investigation either involving a terrorist activity or a known case of material support.

So if you want to add up every case of material support where somebody has been convicted of something, that is a population of about 1,000, so that means the radicalized population of the United States, not people who have wacky, crazy thoughts, [like] “let us put Sharia in every community” or something, but the people who have actually taken up arms or supported the taking up of arms against the United States or its allies, that is a population of somewhere about 1200. Last time I checked we have a population of about 320 million.

So I am not saying we do not have an Islamic political threat in the United States. I think there are lots of groups in the United States that have bad politics, that are inconsistent with the United States and the Constitution. I would not argue that, but in terms of the number of people we have in the United States who are interested or are working on actual terrorist activities compared to the size of our population, it is pretty tiny.

And it is not consistent, right?

One of the things we try to do is do a database of where these plots are coming from, so not where they are attacking, but where are they coming from, where do they start, and there is not, actually, a clear pattern. I can find you cases where somebody got radicalized in a mosque. I can find you a case where they were not. I can find you a case where they were an immigrant. I can find you a case where they were a refugee. I can find you a case where they were Christian that converted to Islam.

I mean the problem with these numbers and increasingly, actually, what we are finding is people are just radicalizing where they are and attacking other homes, so it is not necessarily in the Somali community in Minnesota. It is actually kind of spread all over the country, so I have my line, which is terrorists are a very small percentage of any database other than other terrorists.

So when you look at the radicalized terrorist threat that is in the United States domestically, my argument is the way you find them is you go look for terrorists, right? So we have this notion about where terrorists come from. Do they come out of prisons, or do they come out of mosques, or do they come out of whatever, or what are they going to do? Is there going to be a car bomb or a dirty bomb?

And my answer is do not look for who you think they might be, and do not look for what you think they might do, go and look for them because like 99 percent of terrorist activity, whether it is the process of who they connect operationally looks the same. What looks different is kind of the front end and the back end, who they are, how they get started, and what they do at the other end, right, whether it is going into a workplace and shooting everybody up, or attacking a nightclub, or running somebody over with a car, so focus on the things that are indicators of actual terrorist activity.

And that is why the vast number of plots that we have [found] since 9/11 have actually been thwarted. They have been thwarted because people actually went out and they did the kind of law enforcement investigations, intelligence sharing, information sharing, penetrating communities, flipping people, doing honeypot traps, and stuff that actually catch people and terrorists. If you are doing counter radicalization, my argument is you stay very close to the line of where people are working between kind of suspicious activity and clearly terrorist activity, as opposed to saying I have got a message that tells everybody in the country that they should not be terrorists, or something like that.

And my main concern, my greatest fear that I had the last eight years was really – and there is probably a better word for it, just political correctness. Essentially, what we were doing was we were laying on policy after policy which were more concerned about not being offensive or antagonizing anybody, right, except demonizing people who were concerned about this, that was okay. And what you were doing is actually beginning to kind of inhibit the practical practice of good counterterrorism activities, traditional law enforcement activities that have community engagement, [like] intelligence-led policing, that actually stop and prevent terrorist acts, just like they stop and prevent criminal acts. So, again, I am hoping that is something that is going to disappear. I think certainly from the federal level there is a concerted effort about getting rid of political correctness.

It is not about demonizing any community or any group, or even necessarily getting into an ideological debate in general. It is about enabling law enforcement throughout the country to do the things that we know work. I mean we have been at this business for a couple of decades now. And we in the United States actually know what works and what does not, and it is like really obvious as you do the things work and you stop doing the stupid things that do not [work].

The last part is refugees, or immigrants, or whatever, people coming from other countries. I do not necessarily think that is a terrorist problem, but, as I said, if there is a way to get to the United States, terrorists will try to do that. The United States has been a much harder target after 9/11 than it was before it. You can see that in the nature of [the] plots. It is harder for people to get here, so in turn what they have done is just kind of lob something over the door and say hey, go kill somebody for us. It is encouraging or incentivizing a domestic threat, and they have had a modicum of success. I mean we saw that in Orlando, we saw it in San Bernardino in California, but actually getting here and doing it oneself is kind of harder.

As a matter of fact, one of the big criticisms of the president’s executive order was, well, that is stupid because terrorists are not coming here, they are here. That is true, but the threat is dynamic and changing, and we have said that if there is a way to get here, terrorists have tried it before, and they will try it again. We have very clear evidence that agents of ISIS have through visas and the refugee flow gone into Western Europe with the goal of doing terrorist attacks. I was just talking to the Hungarians the other day, who have clear [evidence] of people coming into the Hungarian refugee camp in Hungary, connecting with people in France and Paris, and organizing a terrorist attack, so we have seen this before. Only an idiot would say, well, this is just not realistic, that a terrorist is going to try to get a visa or come in as a refugee.

We have seen them try to do it in other countries. Why would they not try to do it here?

I think the argument for the executive order really had nothing to do with the campaign rhetoric, so whatever Mr. Trump might have said on the campaign trail about banning this or barring that, or whatever rhetoric people might have thought they heard or interpreted, the impulse for the executive order came out of looking at the strategic environment, and where the future threat might come from, and trying to be preemptive, and block that before it happened.

And one of the things that, again, I was very frustrated with in the last eight years is, having declared victory in the War on Terrorism in 2010 – because he went to Cairo, and he made a speech. He said we do not have a problem with you. I told him we have a problem with this. Obviously, they will not come after us anymore, right? The problem only metastasized.

I mean by the end of the president’s term there were more terrorists than when he came in, there were more deaths from terrorism than when he came in, [and] terrorists controlled more territory than when he came in. By every objective measure, the threat of transnational terrorism was far greater at the end of President Obama’s term than it was at the beginning.

And part of that I attribute to [the fact that] everything we did in the Obama years was largely reactive. We backed away from everything, and then we only went back in and did something when we saw there was a problem. So we walked away from Iraq, and we only went back when it looked like ISIS was going to walk into Baghdad. We tried to walk out of Afghanistan, and it got so bad we had to walk back. We did not do anything about ISIS until they declared themselves a caliphate. They never did anything about Al Qaeda, and as most of you know, because this is a pretty wise crowd, Al Qaeda’s global footprint today is bigger than it was on 9/11, and all of that growth has come in the last several years.

Everything we did was reactive because we were afraid to do anything proactively because we did not want to be offensive to anyone. We did not want to hurt anyone’s opinion (unless they were conservative, then we were okay with that). And we wanted to withdraw from the world, we wanted to engage and enable people in order to do less, not more. But it being reactive, we created this enormous space and opportunity for ISIS and Al Qaeda, and to date they have done that.

So what I actually liked about the executive order dealing with travel coming out of the Middle East is that it was trying to be proactive and anticipate because there are two significant shifts in the threat environment that we have seen coming out of the Middle East. One is that we had tens of thousands of foreign fighters flow into the Middle East, into Iraq [and] Syria to fight on behalf of ISIS. As ISIS loses physical space, those guys, the ones that are left, are going to go somewhere, and they are going to go largely to the six countries that are named in the executive order. We think that is where they are going to go. And why should we presume that they are just going to sit there, and not try to leave from there to go to the West or come to the United States and attack us?

So having extra concerns about screening people out of those countries makes perfect sense. And to be honest, the Obama administration saw that coming. They were adding restrictions. Congress added restrictions. And if you talk to the Europeans and say give me a list of countries you are really concerned about in the region, they are going to give you the exact same list of countries, so it is the natural list of countries to be concerned about.

The second thing that has changed in the environment is we still do not know what ISIS 2.0 is going to look like. I have not talked to anybody yet that does not agree that taking down the black flag in Raqqa and Mosul is a good idea, because what it does is it physically destroys the myth of the caliphate, this notion that somehow a new, historical epoch is upon us, and we did something that Al Qaeda did not [do], we, [ISIS], have actually, physically established the caliphate.

ISIS has now been degraded and dishonored because their caliphate is being wiped off the face of the earth. I do not think that means ISIS goes quietly into the night. There is lots of space in the region that they can operate from, and we do not know exactly what ISIS 2.0 is going to look like, but here is what we do know. One way for them to get back into the game is the way Al Qaeda originally got into the game, which was to do something spectacular to show that they are a powerful force to be reckoned with, that they still have honor, and they demand respect, and honor, and allegiance.

Will ISIS go from kind of what they have been doing [for] the last several years, which is basically just cheerleading for terrorism? As many of you know, in many of the cases and plots we have seen around the world, it is more than ISIS just saying go do a terrorist attack, I mean they have actually gone online, and talked people through this, and provided them [with] guidance and operational control, if not necessarily material support and training, but they have been more proactive and more engaged than just saying go forth and kill. But largely what they have done is in a sense to demonstrate their global reach as they have encouraged global attacks.

Okay, that is probably not good enough for ISIS 2.0. I mean ISIS 2.0 may have to go from just encouraging terrorist attacks to actually directing and orchestrating terrorist attacks to show that they are still in the game. [And this is] because we do not know, are they going to fade back into Al Qaeda, are they going to compete with Al Qaeda. And we have already seen them aggressive in a number of areas.

We used to say a couple of years ago ISIS had a global [presence], but it did not look the same everywhere, and you did not treat it the same way everywhere. So people who are more sophisticated would say you have to look at every little case on its own merit, but when we looked at places like Afghanistan, for example, and we said, oh, there is ISIS in Afghanistan, [they said], oh, yeah, but what that really is that is just splinter factions of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and they are just rebranding to kind of show their independence. We are not sure that is true anymore, right? I mean increasingly we are thinking that there is ISIS in Afghanistan, and they are separate and distinct from Al Qaeda and the Taliban. And they are trying a new power center.

India: if we sat down and talked three or four years ago and said do you have an ISIS problem in India, [the answer would have been no], so something that is not necessarily directed or related to support for transnational terrorism from Pakistan. You would largely say, well, kind of no, right? I mean we have ISIS in India, but it is a couple of yahoos in their garage, saying let us go be ISIS today, right? Now, even the Indians are trying to say, you know, we may actually have a threat that goes beyond that.

We had a case in Singapore (correct me if I am wrong if it is Hong Kong), but we actually had local women who were nannies who self-radicalized and organized their own material support network to bring terrorists from Southeast Asia to there, and then over to Iraq and Syria. We have seen a serious effort in recent years to develop an ISIS base in The Philippines. We know about problems we have in Libya. We have got problems in Yemen. We see ISIS competing with Al Qaeda in Yemen.

So we do not know what ISIS 2.0 is going to look like, but I think trying to be proactive, trying to get ahead of the threat, and look beyond just taking down the black flag in Mosul and Raqqa, how do we take away their space to operate in the Middle East, how do we prevent new flareups from rising, these are things the administration is thinking about. And I give them kudos for trying to be proactive on that front.


So people ask me [if] I care about border security. I say damn straight. Do I care about immigration? I say yeah. Do I care about refugees [coming in]? Yeah. Maybe not primarily because of the terrorist threat, but if there is a network or a thing that terrorists might exploit, only an idiot would not due diligence and make sure that we have thought about that and addressed that. And I give this administration credit for at least being a little more forward thinking and a little more creative, and for once trying to get ahead of a threat and start the trend back in the opposite direction than trying to figure out how to ignore the threat even as it went in the upward direction. So I want to thank everybody for coming. I want to talk about whatever you guys want to talk about until you get tired of talking.


Audience member:

There are a couple of things that seem contradictory to me that I would like you to respond to. One was you rightly observed that if we really want to ensure that no terrorists cross the border, even though most are homegrown anyway, that we [would] have to close the border to everybody. Obviously, that is a ridiculous policy. The costs to the economy and so on would be overwhelming. That was exactly my reaction to the travel ban. How does that pass a cost-benefit assessment?

James Carafano:

It is a great question. Those countries were chosen because those are the countries where the foreign fighter flow is likely to dump into and will likely try to dump out of. The other thing that all of those countries had in common, except for Iran, which is a state sponsor of terrorism, which is why Iran is on the list, is they have weak governance, and exit control on the confidence that the government itself can actually do much to ensure that their contributions to the screening and exit process are adequate. Actually, one of the reasons why Iraq came off the list, which demonstrates even if you want to say seven countries is a Muslim ban, even though we know there are a lot more countries that have a lot bigger Muslim populations that are not even close to being banned, Iraq coming off the list, I think, clearly demonstrates it is not a Muslim ban. [And this is] because [if] you look at the reason Iraq came off the list, [it is in response to actions taken by the Iraqi government].

Now, of those countries, again with the exception of Iran, which is a case unto itself, the Iraqis do have some superior level of governance, and in terms of people that could come through an official channel through Iraq to the United States, they have a good degree of control over that. And the Iraqis got so freaked out on the first travel ban that basically all of the things that they were not doing for us, they came to the table and said we will do these things, and so that created a level of confidence in the Iraqi system that said, okay, we do not have to ban you. The other countries, even if they said I will do that for you, I think our level of confidence that they had the capacity to do that is pretty low.

The other thing I would say is what the government did was not unreasonable. As a matter of fact, the people that really track this stuff actually came to me and said what is the big deal here? The restrictions on visas now are so severe coming out of these countries, how much freaking harder can you make it? And so, the criticism of the people that actually do this stuff was not that it was draconian and harsh, it was much ado about nothing because there was not much more that you could do. My response to them was, okay, maybe that is a fair argument.

On the refugee thing, I think the challenge for the incoming administration is pretty simple. There was a very clear effort on the part of the last administration to take more refugees as a political statement. It was not about solving the refugee flow because we could have tripled, quadrupled, or whatever our refugee flow and that was not going to dent it. I mean there were millions going into Europe. I mean unless we are going to start taking a million people. A million have gone to Europe so far. They think there is about another six million in the pipeline, so unless we are going to take two or three million people, we are not going to [make a dent in this problem]. It is largely a political statement about trying to up the numbers. It was not about actually dealing with the problem.

And the administration came in from the perspective of what is the maximum number of people we can push through, as opposed to what is the appropriate number of people that we can actually screen appropriately and handle. And I think the incoming administration had no confidence that the outgoing administration was saying are we vetting appropriately and correctly for the capacity and the ability we have to do that or are we just force-feeding people through the system to get the numbers up.

And in fairness to them, there are not a lot of ways they could determine that the day before the inauguration because even during the transition period, a lot of what is done is classified, and unless you have a clearance, which a lot of people in the transition did not, you could not even talk about it. You could not talk about it, so there is really no way in a transition to really deal with a classified manner of screening stuff. That can only happen after the inauguration.

And the challenge for the incoming administration is, look, if there is a terrorist attack the day after the inauguration, nobody is going to say the defense of, well, we just did what the Obama guy did. [That] is not an adequate defense, right? The guy got elected to protect America against transnational terrorism. His clock starts on day one. He is responsible, so I do think the administration felt extra pressure, because they did see this threat emerging, to make sure that they had policies and procedures in place that were suitable and adequate on day one.

And again, kind of in fairness to the refugee processing, refugee processing to come to the United States is not quick now, so an imposition of a couple of additional months is not a threat to an individual or a person. [And remember this is] because these people are not in conflict zones. They have already moved to a place where they are in a refugee camp, so under the Geneva Convention, in a sense, the international community has already given those people everything it is required to [give].

The first place they get to where they are not physically in danger anymore in a host country is where [they have] refugee status. For them to then leave that country and go someplace else is between those countries, and that country and the refugee. There is no humanitarian requirement to take them from a refugee camp and bring them to the United States. We choose to do that. It is hard to make the argument that that refugee’s life is in danger, right, because they are already in a refugee camp. That means they are already in a place where they have food, and water, and theoretically they are not going to get killed.

And since the process takes months anyway, to say, well, we are going to add a couple of months to that, if you are trying to prevent a known threat, which is we have actually seen people try to go through refugee things as a terrorist, when you do that balance, I do not think it is an unreasonable risk assessment to do that, to say let us add a couple of months and make sure that we are confident in a system that we did not create and we know has been politicized for years. But I am not a judge in Hawaii, so what do I know?

Audience member:

Thank you, Dr., for being with us this evening. I appreciate your comments. I understood you to imply that what we needed to do was more police work investigation type of things, identify terrorists in advance. Maybe I am mistaken in that, but that was my understanding. I know that the New York Police Department had a capability to identify, and track, and monitor, and try and do preventive police work, and I believe that was disestablished and required to be stripped down. There are other areas such as some of the training that is being done in some of our military places and some of our Homeland Security people and so forth and whatever. And I know that some politically correct changes were made to some of that material, and some of the people who were involved in teaching who were really knowledgeable were relieved of their duties because they were taking a line that was not politically correct. How is that faring now that there is a different administration?

James Carafano:

Yeah, it is a great question. The administration has come in with a very skeptical eye, and rather than just kind of throw the baby out with the bathwater on day one, they actually, I think, have been very interested in kind of assessing what is being done and whether it makes sense or not before we move forward. I will give you a couple of examples.

One is there is a multimillion-dollar grant program for combating domestic radicalization. And shockingly and coincidentally, all of that money was kind of programmed to go right out the door like in December right before the inauguration, and so one of the things the incoming administration is [doing] is kind of putting a time-out. They said, look, we want to review this process to see if that makes sense.

So they were not saying we are going to throw this away, they were saying we want to evaluate this. There is a big discussion about do you call it CVE and is the term ‘Islamic radical terrorism’ okay. There is a thoughtful discussion. Nobody in the White House has said, okay, you will do this, but what they have done is say, look, show me the books, let us go through these programs, and explain to me why this makes sense.

Another good example is the global engagement project or whatever it is called in the Department of State, which is supposed to be the external venue for the U.S. contribution [to] fighting global extremism or radicalization. It grew up out of nowhere, has independent hiring authorities almost no other federal agency has. They have a pipeline of money that comes from DOD through the National Defense Authorization Act. And it was like, wow, time out here, so people are looking at that program and saying does this make sense? Is this how we are doing things?

I think they have been very deliberative, and you can see the difference. You can tell what we worked on in the transition team because it was an executive order like the day after. In the transition, they did everything that you could do before actually running the government to kind of put your policies in place. If it did not happen in the first couple of weeks, it is because it is not something you can really do in the transition, or it was not necessarily a presidential priority. Now what you are seeing is there are things which have to go through the system, so they might take a little longer, but I think that is actually good.

Audience member:

Could [Michael] Bloomberg and [Bill] de Blasio come back online?

James Carafano:

Oh, I doubt it. I mean I think they are just yahoos, but I think this is part of the concern about sanctuary cities. I mean one of the problems with sanctuary cities is [that they are] divorcing [federal] law enforcement cooperation from the state and local [police departments]. There is nothing in enforcing immigration law that says cities and states have to enforce immigration law, but in a sense, not cooperating, or in the case where we have cities withdrawing from a Joint Terrorism Task Force, you are creating a space for criminal activity to operate. Nobody is asking you to do the federal government’s job, but by not cooperating, you are creating space for people to get killed. And how much that will continue and endure, I do not know.

Audience member:

You mentioned the need for us to get to a better Mexico. Is there a plan for that? And what can we expect from Trump in the war on drugs?

James Carafano:

Both are good questions. I do not know if there is a plan because this takes two sides, and the challenge here is you have a Mexican government that is extremely unpopular, that is really worrying about getting reelected, that has an electorate that is kind of anti-American right now. And you have a socialist government, which would be even worse, right, so they have got some stuff to negotiate their way through. And we are about a year after the election, so what can the two sides actually accomplish? I do not know if you can have a plan for that. I think what you have is an engagement and then you see what you can constructively do.

What are they going to do about the epidemic of OxyContin and heroin and the war on drugs? I do not know. I know that Secretary [John F.] Kelly, as someone who is a former Southern Command commander who saw the problem from both ends, both the push from the cartels in the south, and the destructive influence that had on Latin America, and on creating a threat here, but also on the pull here on the demand side, that that is something that he personally is really concerned about. How this administration is going to engage in that, I do not know. Are they going to do a kind of narrow PR-focused campaign or are they going to do something [else]? I mean people like me would argue if you had families, people are educated, people of faith, if communities did not have parentless children, there might be a lot less drugs there. But I do not know what kind of approach they are going to take, but it is something I think they want to be serious about. I am not sure the decision is made how [to do that] because I think there are probably different ideas.

Audience member:

Like this gentleman, I was very impressed by your discussion of police work, and I was impressed by your decision to cite Bush, Obama, [and] Trump, and I would carry it back further [to] Clinton and the two Janets, [Janet Reno and Janet Napolitano]. They demonized profiling. They demonized proper police work, not to the extent that Obama did, but they started that. And when [the man responsible for the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing] turned out to be Timothy McVeigh, they went to town demonizing the American people for supposing it was radical Islam, or [for] having the very practical common-sense assumption that it was probably Islamic terrorism. It just turned out that time not to be. That set the stage for 9/11. It certainly helped to contribute to it.

Bush takes us into another cycle, but it seems to me the ideology, which the Clinton administration established, remained prevalent in the mass media throughout the Bush administration. The primary pressure should be on the American people for being Islamophobic, and making sure that they trust Muslims, rather than on the Islamic community to show that it is loyal. That set the stage for Obama once again to bring that ideology to power and enforce it much more substantially.

The question to me is how can we get out of this cycle? How can we have a consistent policy that will survive throughout an entire eight years? It was already weakening under Bush. Why did they let people out of Guantanamo? Because they were under such pressure. Can it work under Trump and survive after? Can it be done if Trump communicates better on this issue? It has got to go beyond just saying radical Islamic terrorism. He has got to really explain that, or would the entire mass media of the United States have to collapse because of his political organization for putting pressure on the Arabs?

James Carafano:

I would rephrase that question as to how we can have law enforcement and public safety communities that is actually responsive to the needs of the community, and not driven by the political agenda of the community leaders. And one way in which Clinton is responsible for that kind of destructive behavior is one of the things that happened under Clinton if you remember correctly, is when Gingrich had his heyday and Clinton was trying to get reelected, and he kind of got into the mode of, okay, we are going to be fiscally conservative and rein in federal spending, and it was Clinton who famously said the era of big government is over.

Here is what he meant. He did not mean that he did not want big government. What he meant was I do not have a lot of money to grow government anymore, so I have to get creative and innovative in finding other ways to grow government.

And one of the small ways that they found to increase federal influence in state and local government was through the COPS program and the fire partner grants. They were relatively small amounts of money, but what they were doing is funneling money directly into state and local governments to put cops on the payroll, put firemen in the field.

And conservatives and everybody went along with that because who does not think we need more cops? But what you were doing is creating a new space of entitlement programs, which now become incredibly difficult for anybody to turn off. I mean if you go to conservatives and say I want to cut out grant programs for COPS or grant programs for firefighters, forget it, it is not going to happen.

So what has that done?

Well, like always, you have given a cashflow to these political leaders at the state and local government [level], which essentially allows them [enjoy a] kind of degree of independence from the voters that they work for, and I think it has damaged the level of responsiveness, so it is not about more effective law enforcement at the state and local levels, it is not about the federal government taking over local law enforcement, and it is not about us giving them dumps of money. It is about each doing its role appropriately, and each being responsible to the voters with its resources.

I think we have helped create this unhealthy [relationship]. We do not like what the mayor in New York is doing. We give many tens of millions of dollars to New York to help police themselves and protect themselves because it is a big target and everything else, but that is also allowing the mayor to do what he wants.

Look, I do not think sanctuary cities are the answer to solving illegal immigration in the United States. I think there are other things that are much, much more important, but I do think that sanctuary cities are a symptom of a serious disease where we are giving Bill Clinton exactly what he wanted, right? We are making people dependent on the federal government in ways that they like, so now we have mayors who are snubbing federal laws and ignoring federal laws while we are paying them and making it easier for them to do that.

So for Jeff Sessions to say look, we are not going to give you money if you are going to scoff at the federal laws, I kind of applaud that. Actually, I would say let us not give money at all, but that is me.

Audience member:

Great presentation! Thank you, Mr. Carafano. Some years ago, I attended a series of conferences put on by some military types, generals and others, and at a certain point it became pretty clear it had to do with the Colombian guerilla narcotrafficking problem. And it was extremely complicated, and it was very depressing. And in one of the periods between different sessions, I spoke with someone who was from the State Department. I did not ask his name. I said what is it going to take to stop this? And he said it is not going to happen because there is too much money. He said the banks are in this [up] to their eyeballs. Was that a wrong assessment? And you talked about the cartels. Could you say something about the cartels?

James Carafano:

Well, there are two things there that I think are really noteworthy. One thing that is different in this administration is they are interested in a much more robust strategy in dealing with the pipelines that fuel [violence], whether it is terrorist activity or criminal activity in the transnational world. We see the well-publicized things like, well, we are stopping the oil flow to ISIS or something, but these guys are using enormous amounts of different instruments to raise and move cash. ISIS, for example, was doing currency manipulation. Cigarette smuggling is something that terrorists use just as much as criminal [networks] and countries like North Korea.

And people can give you a thousand reasons why we do not go after that, and a thousand reasons why [you] do not [want to] go after that bank. We know they are doing business with North Korea, but I can give you five thousand reasons why that is not a good idea, and so there is more interest in this administration in going after the spectrum of vehicles that are being used to fund transnational criminal activities, and state sponsorship of terrorism, and terrorist activities, and I think that is all for the good, so I am excited to see if that comes to fruition. There is a lot of interest on that in the transition and in the presidency. It is a complicated, difficult thing, but we will see if it is operational.

I think we will get an early signal on that when the administration comes out with its North Korea policy because sanctioning North Korea [is important]. Everybody thinks North Korea is the most sanctioned place on earth, and it is really not. One of my guys ran the numbers, and there are more people in Zimbabwe that are sanctioned than there are entities in North Korea that are sanctioned. And the reason for that is there are a lot of Chinese banks that you would have to make very upset, and I think this administration is willing to potentially do that. So I think how we ramp up North Korean sanctions will be an early indicator.

The other thing again where hopefully there is a difference between this administration and the last administration is the last administration was supportive and pushed and rushed the peace deal in Colombia with the FARC. And rather than ensuring that it would never let the FARC rise again, it was much more important that we got a deal and that we could all run off and get our Nobel Peace Prize, and so I think that we have created a space for that to come back, and that is bad because we need Colombia to be a success. We do not need another resurgence of that, and I think our work in Colombia is not done yet, and that is unfortunate because we need Colombia to be a positive and constructive force in the region.

And again, the good thing, I think, about [Secretary of Homeland Security John F.] Kelly is, as a former Southern Command commander, he gets a lot of this, and he instinctively understands the need for [the federal departments of] Homeland, Defense, and State to work together to kind of cover some of these gaps and seams. I think we will see more of that. I think the most exciting time I had in the transition team was when I heard (because none of them were cabinet secretaries at that point, but they were all nominees) when I would brief somebody on something, [and they would say], yeah, I am going to talk to what’s-his-name about that, or we talked about that. I mean they were already cross-talking even before [inauguration], and that is very promising.

I do not know if it will actually transcend into the thing, but we do wacky, stupid things in Latin America because the State Department will not let the Defense Department do something, and they will not tolerate Homeland [Security] doing something, instead of just getting together and figuring out how to get the job done.

Audience member:

Thank you for coming to share your insights. We have seen in the news a habit in European countries as a result of liberal immigration programs in such places as Paris, France, England, The Netherlands, and others. What do you think the prospects are in the future here in the United States as to what might result in so far as the extent to which we have had similar immigration policies in the past?

James Carafano:

Our challenge is not on the scale of the Europeans. Their demographics are much slower growing. The impact of immigrant populations is on balance much more quickly than the United States. We have always had very different paths to assimilation. Traditionally, in the United States, Muslims are actually a typical immigrant population in the modern era in that they were geographically dispersed. There are a few, but they are kind of [from] everywhere. They vary in socioeconomic levels. Even in Muslim communities, you find Sunni and Shia, a guy from Iran and a guy from [elsewhere]. The European model, as you all know, is very, very different. People tend to clump in specific areas. They tend to be in the same lower economic order. They tend not to assimilate very quickly. All of the people from one village all go to one place and everything, so the Europeans have a horrible assimilation model, and it has caused a real problem.

One of the reasons why Mike Gonalez, my partner, and I wrote that article for National Review is we are screwing up our assimilation model. It is not about making everybody the same, but our model is designed to not be Europe. Our model is to not bake into society, ethnic, sectarian, and socioeconomic divisions, which are going to cause you problems later on. And what we are doing is, for the sake of identity politics, we are throwing that model out the window. So we have concerns over the long term with assimilation in the United States because essentially what we did [for] the last eight years and what progressive policies will do is take us to where Europe is, which we know does not work.

The numbers thing, the challenge in Europe, is just staggering. I mean it is not just the million that they took, it is the six or seven million that might come in after that. I was just in Brussels, and it is interesting what you see. And what you see is not what you hear. The rhetoric is still we need to be welcoming. We need to take all of these immigrants in. It is going to be great. We are going to get them jobs. It is going to be awesome. We are the best people. They are all going to become good Europeans. We hate those Hungarians. They put up a fence. They are horrible, terrible people. Those Poles are awful people. How dare they do that. They are so un-European. Shame on you. We hate you.

But if you actually look at the policy that the Europeans are moving towards, they are starting to look a lot more like Hungary and Poland. Germany is trying to figure out how to get people out again. They are trying to figure out how not to take in another million refugees. So while the rhetoric has not changed, their policies have actually become much more unwelcoming, and much more afraid, and [with] much more scrutiny. But they have still got a huge problem, and they are in massive denial on how to deal with it there.

And the other challenge is the way they do law enforcement. By and large across Western Europe, they do not have the capacity, the capabilities, and the skillsets that we have in terms of information-led, intelligence-led policing, community-policing, getting into communities, accessing communities, language skills, and everything else. Those are new things in Europe, and they are just racing to catchup. They built these kinds of radicalized fortresses, and now they are trying to figure out how to penetrate them because they just cannot put them under siege. It is not good to be a European.

Audience member:

It seems to me that this discussion is about terrorism before and after 9/11. Europeans have a general concept of an acceptable level of terrorism, terrorist violence, and that seems to have carried on today. The United States, it seems to me, or the people at least have not accepted it, the allowable level of terrorist violence is zero. Although the last administration seemed to be more open. Do you think I have that dichotomy right? The investment to keep it at zero extremely high. Is it one that you see us willing to bear?

James Carafano:

Yeah, so it is a bit more muddled than that. I will tell you about my Freaky Friday moment. It is so nice to speak to an audience old enough to have seen Freaky Friday, or maybe your kids saw it. After 9/11, the general European narrative was you Americans, you just do not know how to deal with terrorism. We, Europeans, know how to deal with this. This is a law enforcement problem. It is something you tolerate. We kind of get through this. You Americans, you way overreact. This war thing, the War on Terrorism, that is ridiculous. What is wrong with you people?

A couple of years ago, I had lunch with a French Interior Minister, which was very unusual. It was a small group. There was only like four of us. And it was on the record, which was very unusual. And it was right after he had a meeting with the Director of the CIA, and the head of the FBI, and the National Security Advisor. He was basically having an on the record [conversation] with me because he just wanted to get this out. I want to say it was about a year before ISIS had really gone big time, and at the time between Belgium and France, they had the majority of the foreign fighters that had flown in, gone into the theater, and the numbers were two hundred, two hundred fifty, which at the time seemed staggering.

And this French Minister looked me in the eyes and said what is wrong with you Americans? We are at war with these terrorists. Why are you guys treating this like [it is not a war]? What is wrong with Obama? I was like, oh my God! Did we just like switch places? Did you just become Dick Cheney, and now I am like Barack Obama? What is going on here? Clearly, the French government has been freaking out for years on this. Some places are still in denial, I mean the Germans are kind of still in denial because they have not had their [equivalent of the] Brussels or Paris [terrorist attacks].

You have a mixture throughout Europe. Some people are apoplectic, and they think they are at war, and they think that they are in an existential mode of survival. And there are some places which are kind of completely in denial and want to ignore it. And there are some places like in Central Europe where they do not have that problem yet, and they are like, dude, it is not going to happen here. We want to be part of the EU, we want to be free, whole, and whatever, except we do not want the terrorist thing. So Europeans are kind of all over. It is a mess. They are kind of all over the place on this, and that is kind of the way we are here.

And that is the sad thing. Terrorism has become a political issue. It has not become a security issue. If you worry about terrorism, you are a racist, xenophobic, conservative. If you do not worry about terrorism, you are a weak knee liberal. Really? When people’s politics, when their position on a security issue begins to get defined by their politics, that is the time to hit the red button. When a judge who is issuing an injunction against the executive order is parroting the exact same language as the ACLU, who is parroting the exact same language and words as the Democratic opponents to the president and the Congress, we should all say well, that is funny. What a coincidence. How did that happen? Unfortunately, [the issue of] terrorism has gotten involved in this kind of hyper partisan, political environment that we are in.

I think we are lucky. I think we have an administration that is going to do the right thing regardless of whether they get attacked for being mean and evil and everything else, so I think we are in a better space than the Europeans right now.

Robert R. Reilly:

If I could take the privilege, first of all, of thanking you for a wonderful presentation and ask you the last question. You said that we need to take down the black flag over Raqqa and Mosul. That will teach a lesson, certainly, but it certainly does not solve the problem in that ISIS is just the latest manifestation of an underlying problem that goes much, much deeper. First there was Al Qaeda, then ISIS. There are others, the whack-a-moles. To what extent did you see, either in the State [Department] transition [team] or DHS, any comprehension of the nature of the underlying problem?

James Carafano:

Well, a lot, actually. I mean Katie Gorka, who is somebody that has been affiliated with this institution for a long time, was on the transition team, and she is in the Department of Homeland Security now. And I think there is an enormous amount of common vision within the incoming people that were involved in national security, including [Secretary of Homeland Security John F.] Kelly and [Secretary of Defense] Jim Mattis. And I do not know H.R. McMaster very well, but if you go through his testimony, which I had to do because we had to answer a lot of the questions before and after the hearing, and knowing H.R., I think there is an enormous amount of understanding.

So how does that manifest itself? One, I think, certainly in a regional strategy that is going to not just looking to defeat ISIS and Al Qaeda, not by invading countries but by helping finding ways to eliminate spaces of instability and operation that give them a space to go in the region, which is important. The second, I think, is paying as much attention to Shia-inspired terrorism in Iran as they are to ISIS and Al Qaeda, which I think is important.

And the third thing is I do not think that there is going to be this notion that reflexively gives support to Islamist political movements. I mean we actually had an administration, particularly in the case of Egypt, that actually thought that the answer to ending terrorism in the future Middle East was just turn the Middle East over to the moderate Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood, and that was going to solve our problem. I do not think there is anybody in this administration that thinks that is a good idea. I do not think you are going to see any supporter for hardcore Islamist governments or political movements. So that is not a bad start.