September 23, 2007

The Human Touch

Hatched by Dafydd

This post began life as a comment on Patterico's Pontifications; but as it grew and grew, it hatched into a full-blown post for Big Lizards instead. (Sorry, Patterico!) I was reading a post by PP guest poster DRJ about Colin Powell privileging "diversity" over national security in visa applications:

The State Department under Secretary of State Colin Powell refused to implement a 2003 anti-terror recommendation that would have barred aliens from states that support terrorism from obtaining diversity visas....

America must show compassion for people in need of asylum but, after 9/11, I hoped the American government would show compassion for the home folks, too.

One commenter named Steve took issue with the tone of the post, which seemed to favor a blanket restriction on visa applications under the "diversity" category for immigrants from countries that sponsor terrorism. He wrote:

I work next to one of those 3,100 Iranians, M-F.

Should I tell her something for you?

We also let in many thousands more during the Shah’s regime, and probably didn’t check their politics in any meaningful way.

The argument boiled down to a procedural difference: Should immigrants from terrorist-sponsoring countries be barred from "diversity" visas, forcing them to tread the more heavily restricted route of "asylum" applications? (Cf., some months ago, during the great immigration-reform debate, Hughitt opined that illegal immigrants from terrorist-supporting countries be banned from obtaining the so-called "parole cards" that would prevent them being deported while they attempted to legalize. Reading over my response, I see that I made essentially the same suggestion in that case as in this... so it turns out I'm consistent. Go figure.)

But the particular policy itself is not the issue, says I; it really doesn't matter which category we admit or reject them under, or even how many such immigrants we allow into the country. As with virtually everything else in the world, what matters is not so much the policy but how it's applied: We should admit all those applicants, no matter where from, who will benefit the United States... and keep out all those who will hurt us.

The question, then, is how to discriminate between the two. Humanitarians make a good point that immigrants fleeing from terrorist-sponsoring states -- think of Jews escaping from Lebanon and Christians fleeing Sudan -- are often exactly the sort of assimilable immigrant to whom we should grant asylum, and that many -- those who fled Communism in the past -- have made some of the best Americans.

In addition, I would note that they make excellent intelligence and linguistic sources, since few native-born Americans have native-level facility with Farsi, Urdu, Pashtun, Turkish, or even Arabic. (We have many more who can speak Korean, of course.) And not many of us know what it's like to live in countries like Indonesia, Yemen, or Somalia... what the mood of the people is, how they might respond to clandestine American operations, and how close to revolution they might be.

But conservatives also have a strong argument: Immigrants from terrorist-sponsoring nations are a potential threat; I can easily imagine Ahmadinejad mocking up a refugee background for a Qods Force operative who then "flees" to America to escape "persecution," preparing to attack us instead.

But perhaps the problem is that, as usual, we're looking for a one-size-fits-all policy for a multifaceted situation. We're trying to set up the perfect set of procedures, from airline security to visa applications, that will keep us safe.

But it's a fool's errand; our strength is not in our procedures but our people... and today, I think it unquestionable that America has the most experienced military and civilian-defense workers in the world. Those who have actually worked on the ground in the hell-holes of the world are particularly asute at distinguishing between someone who is sincere about wanting to help and a terrorist trying to infiltrate the ranks. It's a tremendous national resource, and we're letting it lie fallow.

For a long time now, Israel has urged us to follow their lead on interdicting terrorism. Rather than rely upon "foolproof" procedures, like x-raying everyone's shoes at the airport, Israel relies instead upon her own people. The government has trained a huge bunch of human agents to be extraordinarily good at two tasks:

  • Recognizing any one of some number of faces they have memorized, the faces of known or suspected terrorists;
  • Spotting suspicious behavior, demeanor, or conversation, even among people not on the watch list.

These agents roam around anywhere that terrorists are likely to congregate: airports, bus stations, malls, theaters, government buildings, and so forth. They look like ordinary people... but like cops, they're very, very good at noticing either weird behavior or spotting someone on a watch or wanted list.

The Israelis say that real, live, well-trained human beings do a better job of preventing terrorism than any number of passive procedures. Of course, they don't have to worry so much about, e.g., allegations of racial profiling; even so, American police officers rely heavily on their own and other officers' intuition... which is one-word shorthand for a cop's ability to notice aberrant situations and investigate more thoroughly, calling in backup as necessary.

I think we should evaluate each visa application, whether under the "asylum" or "diversity" category, on an individual basis; and that the evaluation be performed not by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) alone, but by a group within the wider Department of Homeland Security, each of whose members has personal experience both recruiting agents within terrorist-sponsoring countries and spotting terrorists trying to weasel their way into local or American projects.

By personal experience, I mean people who have confronted terrorists on the ground in Iraq, Afghanistan, or elsewhere. Both soldiers and civilians, government and private, operating in such terrorist killing fields either quickly develop the ability to accurately evaluate the intentions of those with whom they interact... or else they quickly die.

I suggest that each of the thousands of members of this "visa evaluation group," male or female, be a "boots on the ground" military or civilian veteran of counterterrorism or counterinsurgency operations. I would include not only government employees but former private security employees, oil riggers, truck drivers, bankers, and even journalists -- if they actually moved out of the Green Zone and embedded with a military unit.

Hire enough of them to do a thorough job with every applicant; it's expensive, but it's an urgent national-security issue. Pay them enough to lure them away from their previous employment, if necessary. Give them enough authority to make their decisions stick, at least until the president or a federal court overrules them. And give them enough oversight that they don't become petty tyrants: Make it a prestige, career-enhancing assignment from which you can get bounced for acts of neglect, partisanship, or stupidity... more like the "Special Forces" than the heavily politicized CIA.

I agree with the Israeli approach, and I think this would resolve our conundrum: We should welcome immigrants from terror-sponsoring countries with open arms -- and stretched ears. We should rely for our security on investigatory interviews and background checks by men and women whose very lives, in the past, have depended upon their ability to make accurate judgments about people's real motivations.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, September 23, 2007, at the time of 3:41 PM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this hissing:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference The Human Touch:

» Watcher's Council Results from Rhymes With Right
The winning entries in the Watcher's Council vote for this week are Cosmic Ironies by Bookworm Room, and Rafael Medoff: Columbia "Invites Hitler to Campus" -- As it Did in 1933 by History News Network.  Here are the full results... [Read More]

Tracked on September 29, 2007 12:45 PM

» All Along the Watcher Tower from Big Lizards
We didn't win last week's Council vote; which isn't surprising, as we plum forgot to send in any nominations. But in a cosmic irony, the Big Lizards post that the Watcher of Weasels nominated on our behalf, The Human Touch,... [Read More]

Tracked on January 25, 2008 11:59 PM


The following hissed in response by: cdquarles


Amen, bro. This makes way too much sense to *ever* be approved by bureaucrats *or* power mad politicians.

The above hissed in response by: cdquarles [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 23, 2007 4:41 PM

The following hissed in response by: LarryD

The State Dept. (indeed most of the US Gov.) are bureaucracies, they love procedures because of the CYA factor ("but I followed procedure"). Procedures also appeal to the lawyer types, using people with the background and experience to make accurate discriminations just goes against the grain.

And, of course, there is the political correctness of "diversity" visas themselves.

The above hissed in response by: LarryD [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 24, 2007 6:27 AM

The following hissed in response by: David M

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 09/24/2007
A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the check back often.

The above hissed in response by: David M [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 24, 2007 8:20 AM

The following hissed in response by: Mutt

A great post that goes into how we should do it, but it doesn’t get to in depth about why we should. I’m not sure if this is the reason but does America have a better understanding of the word because of our vast diversity? I’m not talking about individual knowledge about the world but a cultural understanding.

There were 1,266,264 immigrants who were granted legal residence in 2006, up from 601,516 in 1987, 849,807 in 2000, and 1,122,373 in 2005. (Source).

The US receives a lot of people from around the world, each of them bring their culture to the states. A little bit of their culture spreads and changes the US culture hence the “Melting Pot”. The culture in America has been called many things including said not to exist. There have been attempts to define it and mock it but American culture is everywhere a McDonalds, Pepsi/Coke and Levi’s are. It is a common culture, not very refined because it is a culture of common every day people. It takes things from other countries and puts an American spin on it, mass markets it and then sends it back. The spin comes not originally from America but from the “Melting Pot” filter of other countries. That is why it spreads (like a disease according to some) across the world. Because no matter where the American culture goes, it carries something known, it carries something familiar to everyone. American culture is made up of little bits of other cultures. Does that patchwork culture mean we, as a country, can find common ground quick and have a better understanding of the world in general?

If this idea is true then we actually need to bring in more people from the ME into the American Borg Culture. Of course there is one thing that always needs to be done. They must become functional Americans, not foreigners living in America. I’m not talking about forcing them to abandon their culture with legal measures; I am talking about not making special rules that allow them to maintain their independence (like many are trying to do with Hispanic immigrants such as teaching in Spanish). It should be made quite clear to anybody wanting to immigrate to the US that they are expected to become Americans. They are expected to add what it is to be an American not subtract.

It has been said that we cannot win against the terrorist win military might alone, some say we must understand our enemies but what if they understand us because they can now identify with us a little more.

The above hissed in response by: Mutt [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 24, 2007 8:22 AM

The following hissed in response by: Laer

Thanks for ignoring the obvious and going to the obviously better. This aligns with my idea of a cabinet level Secretary of Global Freedom. Were global democracy a core, well funded, prioritized objective of our nation (instead of UN patter for the prez), it's obvious that the Christians from Darfur and Lebanon would be let in, preserved, and used to help liberate their homelands and protect ours.

The above hissed in response by: Laer [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 27, 2007 1:39 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh


Huh, I just voted for that very post a couple of hours ago.


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 27, 2007 4:39 PM

Post a comment

Thanks for hissing in, . Now you can slither in with a comment, o wise. (sign out)

(If you haven't hissed a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Hang loose; don't shed your skin!)

Remember me unto the end of days?

© 2005-2009 by Dafydd ab Hugh - All Rights Reserved