American Elephants

And On The Day After the Boston Bombing… by The Elephant's Child

Today is the day of the Boston Marathon, and the terror and the victims of last year’s bombing are being solemnly remembered. Oddly enough, the terrorists—Chechnyan radicals allied with al Qaeda—are not mentioned. We seem to have a strange reluctance to say the word terrorism or terrorists in this country.

The massacre at Fort Hood is still classified as “workplace violence,” we have the TSA at the airports to check into a long list of supposedly dangerous things and to abuse old ladies and small children, but they may not “racially profile” nor mention the fact that their job is to search for potential terrorists. Journalists fall all over themselves to avoid the use of the word terrorism, the federal government simply does not acknowledge such events nor the intent of the perpetrators.

What’s the deal? Is terrorism to be considered just an aberration of the warmongers George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, and only mildly unpleasant things occasionally happen during the Obama administration, which never ever overreacts? Relegated to the old-news department.

Did you know that last April 16, the day after the Boston bombing, a group of terrorists attacked the Metcalf transmission substation, just outside of San Jose, in a military action aimed at disabling a part of America’s electrical infrastructure? The operation began at 1:00 a.m., when the attackers cut underground fiber optic cables, disabling communications and security systems. Thirty minutes later using high-powered rifles, they began a 20 minute assault on the substation’s extra-large transformer and the the cooling system that supports it. Police arrived at 1:50, but the shooters disappeared into the night. There has been no trace of them.

The political response to the attack ranged from an immediate dismissal by the FBI of the idea that it was a terrorist act—to recognition by a bipartisan but small group of U.S. Senators and Representatives that defending America’s electrical grid is an urgent priority. Although there are over 100,000 transformers of all sizes throughout the grid, the destruction of less than two dozen key large transformers—which weigh hundreds of tons, are transported on special rail cars, and are mostly produced in Korea—would cause a catastrophic failure that would blackout the United States. Such is the vulnerability of the system.

This was a professional operation by skilled marksmen—two to six gunmen— trained in reconnaissance, stealth and evasion, and with careful planning. The damage forced electricity to be rerouted to maintain the integrity of power transmission to Silicon Valley, and repairs took several months. One would think the politically connected in Silicon Valley might want to do some serious lobbying about protection of the grid.

We have heard about the potential of an electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) attack—a nuclear explosion in the high atmosphere, which would create a pulse that destroys electrical wiring and hardware across the affected area. This phenomenon has been well understood since the 1960s. It has recently been discovered that a massive solar storm could cause similar damage, but possibly less extensive. Those who think through the potential devastating consequences of failing to defend our sophisticated electrical grid might well wonder why the government is spending billions on frivolous projects but pays no attention to America’s physical vulnerability.

Do read the whole thing. This is a serious matter. The author, Brian Kennedy is president of the Claremont Institute, and the article is adapted from his speech at Hillsdale College, and reprinted in Imprimis, the monthly free publication from Hillsdale (sign up here).

Brian Kennedy outlines practical steps to be taken, and what we are currently doing to solve our vulnerability. (Not much). The attack on the Metcalf transmission substation was brushed aside by the media by the Boston Marathon bombing, and the extended search for the Tsarnaev brother perpetrators.

We really can’t depend on the media any more to keep Americans informed. But we also need to stop fooling ourselves and stop acceding to administration attempts to downplay anything that might interfere with the Obama administration’s efforts to avoid any negative publicity.


Homeland Security and Public Relations. by The Elephant's Child

The  controversy over new airport security regulations continues apace.  And as is usual in America, the anger also brings out American good humor.  Saturday Night Live has a great skit, there have been bumper stickers (funny but raunchy) and plenty of offensive pictures of stupid searches of little children and of course, nuns.

John Podhoretz pointed out at Commentary that the anger about the intrusive screening is due as much to the recent election as about the procedures themselves. We have a government that has been enormously high-handed, presuming to rule rather than serve.  The Democrat majority in Congress has forgotten that they are to represent us, to listen to us, rather than to control us.

The folks at Homeland Security essentially said ‘We’re going to do this intrusive search and feel you up, and if you don’t like it we will fine you thousands of dollars, and we’re going to do it at the busiest time of the year at the nation’s airports.’

They didn’t say, but what is obvious to everyone is that you have to take off your shoes now because Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, with an extensive criminal record, managed to get on an America-bound plane in spite of screeners suspicious of his disheveled appearance, and would have succeeded had not his shoes been wet and had not passengers subdued  him.

They didn’t say, but is obvious, that you must have this intrusive groping because Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab managed to get on a Detroit-bound plane with explosives in his underwear, in spite of the fact that his father had called the American embassy to warn that his youngest son was dangerous, the young man was not dressed for the winter weather in Detroit, did not have his own passport, bought a one-way ticket with cash, and had no luggage.  And he had been in Yemen studying with the Imam Anwar al Awlaki.

Homeland Security did not mention Major Nidal Malik Hassan, the Fort Hood shooter, who presented so many warning signs that they might as well have been flashing in neon lights.  He was investigated by the FBI which looked at his emails to the Imam Anwar al Awlaki, which said things like “I can’t wait to join you in the afterlife”  “When is jihad permissible” and asked how to transfer funds abroad without coming to the attention of authorities.

John Pistole who seems to be in charge of TSA didn’t feel that it was necessary to discuss the new screening procedures with the public in advance of putting them into effect.  Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security, wrote an op-ed in USA Today, in which she said “scanners are safe, pat-downs discreet.” Passengers reporting in indicate that the pat-downs are not only not discreet, but offensive.

We appreciate that Homeland Security is trying to keep the American people safe.  It would seem that international screening for planes bound for the US leaves something to be desired.  Their record of incompetence at public relations is breathtaking.    The idea of fining someone who refuses to be groped by screeners $11,000 for leaving the screening area without permission is ludicrous.  The TSA people need more training in public relations, and in plain old common sense.

The American people are sick of political correctness. Treat us like grownups — inform and ask before you order and demand — use some judgment.  Stop trying to pretend that Islamic radicals trained in Yemen and Afghanistan are just ordinary people whose origins and religious extremism cannot be mentioned. It is a dangerous world, and we appreciate efforts to protect the American people.  But to cope with a dangerous world, we need straight talk and sensible precautions addressed in a straightforward manner.  This one, once again, was a public relations disaster.

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