From the National Counterterrorism Center, a new travel guide

Actually, it’s more of a counter-travel guide for counter-terrorism. The NCTC recently published a document – National Strategy to Combat Terrorist Travel (note the document name in the link) – that “proposes specific actions aimed at strengthening our efforts at home and abroad to constrain terrorist mobility.”

The document’s filename, “Terrorist Travel Book”, brought to mind Calvin Trillin, who authored A Heckuva Job: More of the Bush Administration in Rhyme. Calvin was on the Jon Stewart show and his very dry wit was classic:

“I think the whole shoe bomber thing was a prank… the guy was an obvious bozo… he practically asked the flight attendant for a match… as I see it, there is one Arab terrorist with a sense of humor, known in his cell as Khalid the Drool. He said, “I bet I can get them all to take their shoes off in airports. Some people disagree with me, but, if the next one is called… the Underwear Bomber, you’ll know I’m on to something.”

Back to the handbook. This document seems to a) restate the obvious, b) rely on technical means, c) sees the value of multilateralism, d) and focuses on law enforcement and police mechanisms over military interdiction.

The document’s emphasis on fixing problems, such as human trafficking, focus on “terrorist” use and not the whole channel. This is short-sighted and fails to acknowledge that allowing this criminal behavior allows the conduit to function.

The need for a comprehensive and inclusive multilateral strategy is evident in the closing of this document:

We seek to deny safe harbor to terrorists wherever they are or seek to move. This strategy demonstrates the resolve of the US Government to strengthen international and US travel systems and make them as inhospitable as possible to our terrorist enemies. Building on the progress we have made in the years since 9/11, we will see continuing successes in constraining terrorist movements and in fortifying the will of the international community to devote increased attention and resources to this critical front in the War on Terror.

The reality and the expressed position of other documents, chiefly the National Security Strategy, state something far less than this “fortifying the will of the international community”. The NSS states we will operate independently when required:

The second pillar of our strategy is confronting the challenges of our time by leading a growing community of democracies. Many of the problems we face - from the threat of pandemic disease, to proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, to terrorism, to human trafficking, to natural disasters - reach across borders. Effective multinational efforts are essential to solve these problems. Yet history has shown that only when we do our part will others do theirs. America must continue to lead.

The “terrorist travel book” is more understanding of the need to collaborate. It’s sensible, really. To build detection systems, technical or human, you need everybody working together. If we look at the role of public diplomacy as a tool to facilitate macro agreements, understandings, and the desire for protection as the “terrorist travel book” describes as the micro level (restricting individuals is rather granular), there is a huge disconnect. American public diplomacy programs lack fundamental requisites of “public diplomacy” as critical report after critical report describes.

An interesting and quick read.

Lastly, if there is a micro level and a macro level, there must be a meso level….