Commentary Series

The Commentary Series is intended to promote better policy by fostering constructive debate among leading policymakers, academics, and observers.  Designed to be timely and relevant, these commentaries seek to illuminate the issues of the day by raising important questions and challenging underpinning assumptions.  Opinions expressed in Commentaries are those of the author(s) alone. Comments should be directed to cchs@gwu.edu.

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Homeland Defense: Policy Judgments and Lessons Learned

December 17, 2015

After twenty-seven years of federal service, including the last six as a senior official at the Departments of Homeland Security and Defense, I am now able to reflect and offer lessons learned from the experience. It is daunting to help lead complex national efforts on homeland security, homeland defense, and defense support of civil authorities – issues that are central to central to national security. My experiences also provide examples of how disparate groups can come together in defense of the nation.

Time for the United States and Russia to Take on ISIS Together in Syria

November 13, 2015

The conflict zone that is Syria continues to fester to the benefit of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). As evidence mounts suggesting the Russian-operated Airbus A321M was brought down in Egypt by an explosion possibly planted by the Sinai affiliate of ISIS—and as a recent Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) report suggests the use of mustard gas by ISIS in August near Aleppo, we seem to be moving into an even more dangerous phase of ISIS capability to conduct terror and combat operations.

How California’s Drought Exacerbates the Terrorism Threat

May 12, 2015

Terrorist organizations including ISIS, Hezbollah, and al‐Qa’ida have openly promulgated a strategy of ecological jihad. In contrast to other methods employed by terrorists, environmental tactics, such as contaminating water supplies or starting fires, can be quickly planned, require little technical expertise to execute, and have lower risk of detection. Water shortages due to drought increase vulnerability to these terror methods with significant consequences for people, infrastructure, and the economy.

Counterterrorism in France: Key Questions after Charlie Hebdo

January 16, 2015

Recent terrorist attacks in Paris leave France in a difficult position - one that is at once both common to the West and yet particular to France itself. Although there must be international cooperation, each country must also chart its own course by formulating, implementing and refining a strategy that best tackles the problem as manifested locally. Our Commentary, written by CCHS Associate Director Sharon Cardash and CCHS Scholar in Residence Rhea Siers, raises a series of questions and issues that offer the beginnings of a framework for understanding the conundrum facing French officials.

AQAP Loses Its Chief of External Operations: Counterterrorism Implications (PDF)

July 29, 2013

Awlaki’s demise improves U.S. security for several reasons. Awlaki’s elimination marks another in a recent series of setbacks for al Qaeda globally. More specifically, it immediately degrades AQAP’s operational planning capacity — especially with respect to plots against the U.S. homeland. Yet, killing Awlaki by no means signals the death knell of al Qaeda generally or even of AQAP specifically.

The FY 2014 Budget Request For The Department Of Homeland Security: An Initial Assessment (PDF)

April 11, 2013

On April 10, 2013, the White House released its annual budget request for Fiscal Year 2014 (FY 2014). This paper provides initial commentary on the budget requested for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for FY 2014, as described in the DHS Budget-in-Brief report and the detailed Congressional Justifications (CJ’s) for all of the offices and components within the Department.

Beyond Benghazi: A Powerful New Counterterrorism Strategy? (PDF)

October 19, 2012

As the Arab spring gives way to another winter, and hope continues to recede into uncertainty and challenge, many observers are asking how do we best move ahead? Bringing to justice the perpetrators of the attacks in Benghazi would certainly be a good start, but it is not enough. The United States has important interests at stake and thus requires a strategy that will mitigate the possibility, or at least the effects, of the next Benghazi.

The Tragedy in Toulouse: When Kinetic Counterterrorism Tactics Aren't Enough (PDF)

March 29, 2012

To prevent the next jihadist-inspired shooting spree, authorities – whether in France, the United States, or elsewhere – must make a conscious decision to expand their focus from only the expressly violent to even non-violent extremism. Contesting the ideologies that drive extremism is a critical, but still overlooked, element in the overall effort to prevent and defeat the violence that emerges from it.

Hammami’s Plight Amidst al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda’s Game of Thrones (PDF)

March 19, 2012

American al-Shabaab commander Omar Hammami, known as Abu Mansur al-Amriki, on Friday sat alone in front of a flag commonly associated with al-Qaeda and said that the organization for which he’d fought for much of the last five years, al-Shabaab, might be trying to kill him. The video, the first public message from Hammami since last October, caught many counterterrorism analysts off guard.

Whatever Happened to the A-Team of Terrorism?: A Brief Assessment of Hizballah and Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (PDF)

February 22, 2012

Since at least May 2011, the Islamic Republic of Iran seems to have been engaged in a high-risk, high-profile, and not entirely successful campaign to murder perceived enemies of the regime of Ayatollah Khamenei. These plots and their frequently lackluster outcomes have caused many to ask, whatever happened to the A-Team of Terrorism?

After bin Laden the Threat Remains: Drones, CIA and SOF Still the Only Game in Town (PDF)

May 02, 2011

Usama bin Laden is dead, a significant blow to al Qaeda. Yet on this first day after his death, much remains to be done — al Qaeda and legions of jihadists remain a threat. As President Obama announced the outcome of American actions in the Abbottabad Valley, he was correct in his assessment that, 'The cause of securing our country is not complete…

Tumult in the Middle East: When and Where Will the Next Shoe Drop? (PDF)

February 11, 2011

As change rings through the Arab world, one of the most critical unresolved questions is what will become of cooperative bilateral counterterrorism partnerships, not only with Egypt, but also with Yemen, Jordan, Tunisia, Bahrain and Algeria. The U.S. relationship with each has varied and has been far from perfect, more so in certain instances than others. Yet the United States has to some extent relied on each to maintain critical intelligence coverage of the region.

Managing Complexity in a WikiLeaks World (PDF)

December 13, 2010

In a virtual world with multiplicity of threat and seeming absence of control, the playing field is leveled and the few can take on the many or the once mighty. In response, a thoughtful national dialogue is needed to help recalibrate for today's world our notions of ethics, privacy, economic competitiveness and national security.

Eurovision? Let's Hope It's Farsighted (PDF)

October 08, 2010

As news of an alleged plot to stage a number of coordinated “Mumbai-style” attacks in Europe and possibly the United States continues to unfold, there looms in the background an important but complex matter between the United States and the European Union (EU) that is neither well understood nor resolved: the sharing of Passenger Name Record (PNR) data. What is PNR and why does it matter?

Supply and Demand: The Case for Community Medical Resiliency (PDF)

September 17, 2010

Events such as 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and pandemic flu have led emergency response professionals to recognize the urgent need to plan for catastrophic medical events. How could the medical system deal with a large number of casualties—due to a nuclear detonation, massive earthquake, biological disease (intentional or novel), etc.—when the majority of hospitals operate at peak capacity normally and overcrowding is common during the normal flu season?

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