Top of the Ticket

Political commentary from Andrew Malcolm

Category: Security

Robert Gates warns: 'We are now in uncharted waters' with our dysfunctional politics

Robert Gates speaks at the National constitution Center 9-22-11

Yes, we are a few days late getting through an accumulated pile of reading. But better late than never in this case.

These are the worthy remarks of Robert Gates, the newly-former secretary of Defense and former numerous other things in government and the intelligence community.

They are not very long, as Washington remarks go. But then Gates didn't give them in Washington. He spoke in Philadelphia on Sept. 22 at the National Constitution Center upon receiving its Liberty Medal.

You should read them because of the man's intelligence, thoughtfulness and long experience in our troubled national capitol. Freed from the team loyalty obligations of serving one administration or another, he speaks more candidly than we've seen him on the Sunday talk shows.

Gates, an Eagle Scout from Kansas who just turned 68, has some pointed observations to make about why Washington has become so dysfunctional. (You can skip over the divisive media part; he obviously doesn't know what he's talking about.)

-- Andrew Malcolm

Liberty Medal Acceptance Speech by Robert Gates, as provided by the National Constitution Center

First of all, I am deeply honored. Thank you, Captain Odierno and Sergeant Graham.

Captain, I’ve had some interaction with your father over time; you follow in a great tradition. And I thank you for both of your service to your country and for the outstanding work of the organizations you represent.

First of all, I would say that this evening is a reminder that astrology exists to give....

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Sunday shows: Netanyahu, Cameron, Ryan, Plouffe

British prime minister David Cameron inspects a Canadian Honor Guard 9-22-11

ABC's "This Week" with Christiane Amanpour: British Prime Minister David Cameron, Hanan Ashrawi of the Palestine Liberation Organization and Obama advisor David Plouffe, with George Will, Mary Matalin, Amy Walter and Donna Brazile

Bloomberg's "Political Capital with Al Hunt:" House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.)

CBS' "Face the Nation" with Bob Schieffer: Reince Priebus and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chairs of the Republican and Democratic National Committees, respectively, with Mark Zandi, John Dickerson and Norah O'Donnell

CNN Fareed Zakaria "GPS": Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barosso

CNN's "State of the Union" with Candy Crowley: Gov. Mitch Daniels (R-Ind.), Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.), and Plouffe

Fox News Channel "Fox News Sunday" with Chris Wallace: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Plouffe, with Brit Hume, Bill Kristol, A.B. Stoddard and Juan Williams

NBC's "Meet the Press" with David Gregory: Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, with William Bennett, Tim Shriver, Donna Shalala and Tavis Smiley

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo: British Prime Minister David Cameron inspects a Canadian Honor Guard in Ottawa on Thursday. Credit: Blair Gable / Reuters

9/11 a decade later: Most Americans now expect it to happen again

911 sunrise over washington capitol and damaged pentagon 2001 9-13-01

As most Americans pause at least a moment Sunday to remember 9/11/2001 and what they were doing on that deadly day that so fundamentally scarred the national psyche, an overwhelming majority have also told pollsters they think another mass attack will happen again before 9/11/2021.

Americans now believe that Al Qaeda as a global terrorist organization is weaker today, thanks to the extermination in May of Osama bin Laden and the less noticed elimination of hundreds of his associates by various violent means in recent years.

This year 50% of Americans say they believe Al Qaeda is weaker. That's double the percentage who thought that the previous two autumns.

Although, interestingly, a third (32%) still think the disparate terror group has managed to maintain its strength. Understandable. What's your first thought when you see an airliner low over any downtown?

However, according to this weekend's fresh Rasmussen Reports survey, despite all the country's sometimes controversial enhanced security precautions, a substantial majority of Americans (61%) still believe a similar-scale attack is at least somewhat likely to occur on the homeland during the next 10 years.

This includes nearly a third of Americans (29%) who think such a deadly repeat assault is very likely.

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911 New York City Smoke plume as seen from ISS astronaut Frank Culbertson NASA 250 miles up

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photos, from top: Sunrise on Sept. 13, 2001, on the U.S. Capitol and the damaged Pentagon; New York City 9/11 smoke plume as seen from the International Space Station, 250 miles altitude. Credits: Luke Frazza / AFP /Getty Images; Frank Culbertson / NASA.

Relax, America, California's not worried about terrorism

Mickey and Minnie in the happiest place on earth

With that awful anniversary of 9/11 arriving soon, the thought of terrorism might well be on the minds of many Americans.

But not to worry, not with sunny California setting the nation's trends.

According to a new Los Angeles Times/USC Dornsife poll, two out of three California voters aren't really concerned about a terror attack at all. So, why should anyone else be?

Californians, who know it's winter somewhere when they see football fans in stocking caps on TV, watched the 9/11 attacks like everyone else. But now, a decade later, fully a third are not at all concerned that they or family will be involved in a terror attack. Only 11% were very concerned, likely transplanted New Yorkers.

Of course, Californians being Californians, they overwhelmingly approve of President Obama's handling of the war on terror, by a 2-1 margin, in fact.

However, when it comes to the decade-long war in Afghanistan, the most visible anti-terror battleground and now the nation's longest military conflict, Californians disapprove of Obama's leadership there, 52% to 41%.

Forty-six percent of voters in the most populous state have somehow convinced themselves that the United States is winning the war on terrorism. Fifteen percent are unsure, but they're probably from Arizona.

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-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo: Minnie Mouse and Mickey Mouse, two carefree California rodents, appear in a parade at Disneyland. Credit: Yoshikazu Tsuno / AFP/Getty Images

Listen up! Here's how Obama wants 9/11 observed

Ground Zero the new World Trade Center tower rises 8-30-11

You may have thought as a regular American citizen you were capable of marking the upcoming 10th anniversary of the deadly 9/11 attacks in your own quiet, sad way as you and your family choose.

However, in its infinite federal wisdom and one-size-fits-all philosophy, the Obama White House has drafted a set of detailed orders for how it wants the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks observed, both at home and abroad.

We're not kidding.

After weeks of quiet internal planning, two sets of guidelines were dispatched by the Democratic administration, one for American representatives to use abroad and another to all federal agencies at home.

Suggestions for elaborate programs including speeches and other ceremonies to mark the murder of nearly 3,000 Americans on Sept. 11, 2001, were discarded by the administration in favor of low-key appearances by President Obama and a few other officials.

They are to emphasize that the day's observances are "not just about us," an unidentified administration source told the N.Y. Times, which obtained copies of the plans ...

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Rick Perry bills Obama administration for $350 million in illegal immigrant costs

Republican Texas Governor Rick Perry campaigns in Iowa 8-15-11

Under the Don't Hold Your Breath Department, we learned over the weekend that Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry has sent a bill to the federal government.

The frontrunner for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination thinks the Department of Homeland Security should reimburse Texas for $350 million, give or take.

With the help of state Comptroller Susan Combs, Perry developed a formula to determine how much his state has had to spend on housing and feeding illegal immigrants that should have been taken care of by federal authorities.

The issue of securing the border with Mexico is a contentious one between numerous states and the Obama administration, which wants to first address the overall illegal immigrant issue, not just closing the border. The Democratic White House has sued states over their enforcement of immigration laws.

Perry has come under criticism in recent days from some conservatives who suggest  he is soft on the issue of immigrant law enforcement. But his letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, herself a former border state governor, obtained by the Associated Press, was dated Aug. 10, several days before Perry announced his candidacy in South Carolina.

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Rick Perry: Use Predators to track illegal border drug traffic

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-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo: Scott Olson / Getty Images (Perry campaigns in Iowa).

Rick Perry: Use Predators to track illegal drug traffic on U.S. border

Predator Drone flight over Southern California

Two themes have already emerged in the still-early 2012 presidential contest:

Republicans are running against Washington and President Obama is running against part of Washington, the Congress that gave him his early legislative achievements.

The newest entrant to the GOP race is Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who touched on one of the most emotional and volatile issues sitting on the nation's debate table: border security, illegal drugs from Mexico and illegal immigrants.

In his announcement speech in South Carolina on Saturday, Perry said:

America’s standing in the world is in peril, not only because of disastrous economic policies, but from the incoherent muddle that they call foreign policy. Our president has insulted our friends and he’s encouraged our enemies, thumbing his nose at traditional allies like Israel.

He seeks to dictate new borders for the Middle East and the oldest democracy there, Israel, while he is an abject failure in his constitutional duty to protect our borders in the United States.

And the nation's longest-serving governor waved his right hand toward Mexico as he said it before a national TV audience and an enthusiastic crowd of conservative online writers at the RedState Gathering.

Now comes word that the border-state governor thinks as long as the U.S. is using unmanned aircraft so effectively in Afghanistan and Pakistan, why not use the same Air Force surveillance assets to protect the homeland?

The feds, former Air Force pilot Perry told a campaign gathering in New Hampshire, should use unarmed Predator drones to monitor the flow of illegal drugs coming from Mexico. Predators can fly for up to 20 hours undetected and are equipped with sophisticated video and tracking technology.

We know that there are Predator drones being flown for practice every day because we're seeing them; we're preparing these young people to fly missions in these war zones that we have. But some of those, they have all the equipment, they're obviously unarmed, they've got the downward-looking radar, they've got the ability to do night work and through clouds.

Why not be flying those missions and using (that) real-time information to help our law enforcement?

Such double use of military assets is not unprecedented, using training flight hours for real-time law enforcement work.

National Guard helicopter pilots, who need to log regular flight hours each month to maintain proficiency, were for a time tasked to do that over national parks. There, they'd scout for illegal drug operations using pockets of those vast public acreages as free farm land for marijuana growing. Some were well-guarded and even mined against poachers and authorities.

The Customs and Border Protection arm of the Department of Homeland Security says on its website it has been using unmanned aerial craft for several years, although the agency is vague on the crafts' specific missions other than "support of disaster relief efforts."

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-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times (A California National Guard chase plane monitors a Predator  flight over populous Southern California.)

Secret Service captures second White House intruder in 48 hours

White House Guard and dog patrol during apprehension 8-2-11

For the second time since Sunday an intruder made it onto the White House grounds Tuesday night before being captured by Secret Service agents with guns drawn. It was not Joe Biden.

The incident occurred during a live CNN show, "John King USA." The capture was captured on video. Scroll down to watch.

The incident began when a man threw a backpack onto the lawn and then climbed over the fence.

Although the Salahis and before them Kevin Kline in "Dave" made entering and exiting the White House look easy, truth is it's a very secure place. Those wide open grassy areas may look empty, but they are not.

Within seconds, Secret Service agents with pistols and automatic weapons were cautiously approaching and shouting at the man to lie face down on the ground. He complied. He was frisked, handcuffed and led away under arrest.

Officials identified Tuesday's intruder as James Crudup, a 41-year-old homeless man. Due to previous incidents there, he was charged with violating a court order to stay away from the presidential residence and with unlawful entry.

Sunday night another intruder made it onto the grounds before apprehension. But she was a 6-year-old girl who slipped through the bars of the fence.

The youngster is still undergoing interrogation. No, just kidding. She was returned to her parents outside the fence. 

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-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press (guards came from everywhere during the intrusion on the White House grounds).

Joe Biden update: He's now charging the Secret Service rent for a cottage to protect him

Democrat vice president Joe Biden 6-13-11

He's not a Chicago politician by birth, but Vice President Joe Biden is sure learning their ways well.

Like all recent vice presidents, Biden and his wife have a rent-free government home at the Naval Observatory in Washington.

He also has his own home back in Delaware. You remember, the one he commuted on Amtrak from most days all those years he was a senator, which go back to, wow, when Barack Obama was a sixth-grader.

Biden likes his own home, as anyone would. He spends many weekends and some weekdays there. It's in a Wilmington suburb on the water.

He also owns another house next door, described as a cottage. For years Biden's mother lived there. When she passed away, he began renting it out.Democrat joe Biden incognito indoors 6-15-11

After the most recent tenant left, Biden generously offered the cottage to the Secret Service, which provides around-the-clock protection to Biden and Obama. And all their predecessors. And the folks who'd like to be their successors.

So the agents could be close at hand for his own safety's sake, Biden generously offered to charge his bodyguards only $2,200 a month. He said that's the same rent as the previous tenant.

The vice president's already been paid $13,200 so far this year and the contract looks to pay him $66,000 into 2013.

We are learning about this sweetheart arrangement now because eagle-eyed Jim McElhatton over at the Washington Times noticed a Joseph R. Biden listed as a vendor on a federal purchase order. And the reporter wondered if this was the same guy who's so vociferously denounced government waste and no-bid contracts over the years.

The same Democrat who in June helped launch an Obama administration anti-waste campaign by saying: "The President and I are committed to changing the way government works and we are stepping up the hunt for misspent dollars."

In addition to the free Washington house and Secret Service transportation everywhere, the vice president gets those free weekly lunches with Obama at the White House.

Biden's only paid $230,700 a year by taxpayers, plus $10G's in entertainment expenses. And last year the Bidens reported $130,000 or so in other income, including $11,000 from the rental.

When McElhatton asked the Secret Service if it normally pays rent to the people it protects, the agent didn't answer it this way: "It’s a rental property, so we pay rent there.”

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images; Alex Wong / Getty Images (Biden indoors incognito).

Is al Qaeda really dying? The birth of a news meme

armed Reaper drone maneuvers on the ground in Afghanistan

Washington Post news story, 7:01 p.m. Tuesday:

U.S. counterterrorism officials are increasingly convinced that the killing of Osama bin Laden and the toll of seven years of CIA drone strikes have pushed al ­Qaeda to the brink of collapse.

The assessment reflects a widespread view at the CIA and other agencies that a relatively small number of additional blows could effectively extinguish the Pakistan-based organization that carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks — an outcome that was seen as a distant prospect for much of the past decade.

Do you want to believe this? Wouldn't that be nice to think that the worst bad guys in our worst nightmares from the last decade are near extinction? Brought to justice by SEALs, Special Forces and armed drones as swiftly and violently as they delivered their unjust death sentences on innocents?

(For a primer on armed drones in Afghanistan, scroll down for an interesting C-SPAN video.)

Now, ask yourself as a regular news reader why do you think the newspaper's unidentified sources are saying this? More importantly, why are they saying this now? And why, if things are going so swimmingly in the terrorist eradication business, these officials feel the need to hide their identities?

Wasn't it this President Obama and his Democratic administration that denied all but....

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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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