Wednesday, May 24, 2006

What's that again?

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said something intriguing in today's USA Today interview. In response to the question, "Have you caught any known or suspected terrorists under the US-VISIT program?," the Secretary replied, "We have sent people back who have connections to terrorism. It's rare you have a card-carrying terrorist because most of the ones we know about are either dead or in jail. But when you see somebody who has links to al-Qaeda, the evidence may not be sufficient to convict them of a crime, but it is sufficient to say this is a person we should be worried about for terrorism. We have certainly sent back people with such links." (emphasis added).

Exactly what "links" to terrorism is the Secretary talking about? Isn't aiding and abetting terrorism a crime? If that's the link he's talking about, why weren't those people detained and tried by our criminal justice system? If he's talking about other kinds of links, shouldn't any link to terrorism be a crime? Shouldn't the last thing for us to do with someone we suspect of being linked to terror be to send that person back to wherever he came from? What assurance do we have that the authorities in whatever country he came from will keep watch over him when he returns?

And, one more thing. I find it hard to believe that most of the terrorists our government knows of are either dead or in jail. It seems to me that USA Today should have asked a follow up question or two.

Trojan Horses

Will our government ever learn? Yesterday's New York Times reported that, thanks to pressure from Congressman Frank Wolf, the State Department agreed not to allow computers purchased from a company linked to the Chinese government to access the department's classified information systems. Wolf was right to fear that the Chinese might have used such access to spy on some of the most sensitive information available to the United States government. That such access might have been granted but for this congressional pressure shows how unserious our government remains about countering even obvious threats to the national security.

This story comes on top of the news that the personal information of 26 million veterans was recently stolen from the home of a Department of Veterans Affairs employee. There is nothing to indicate that the thief was a terrorist or anyone connected to terrorists. But, likewise, for all we know, the thief could well be a terrorist or someone linked to terrorism. How is it that employees are able to take such sensitive information out of government buildings undetected anyway? If the VA is this lax with sensitive information in its possession, can we have any confidence that the Department of Homeland Security's even more sensitive information is any better protected?