From now through Barack Obama’s first year in office, the U.S. is at “high risk” of a terrorist attack, David Trulio, the former executive secretary of the White House’s Homeland Security Council, tells Newsmax.
In a wide-ranging interview about national security challenges Obama will face as president, Trulio warns, “Right now, this post-election, pre-inauguration period constitutes a period of high risk of attack, as does Inauguration Day and the first year of President Obama’s term.
"Terrorists may very well view America’s transition to a new administration as a chance to embarrass us, to test us, to weaken us, and to try to change the course of our policies.”
As executive secretary, Trulio was a special assistant to President Bush and Security Council chief of staff, which includes the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the FBI, the Defense Department, and the Department of Homeland Security. He left the White House in July.
Trulio notes that an attack in coming months could be carried out by al-Qaida or by terrorists inspired by Osama bin Laden.
“It’s worth remembering that the 1993 World Trade Center bombing took place in the first year of President Clinton’s term,” Trulio says. “And of course, the 9/11 attacks took place in the first year of President George W. Bush’s first term. In addition, in Gordon Brown’s first few days as prime minister in the U.K., two car bombs were discovered in central London, and the Glasgow airport came under attack.
"So this is a time to be particularly on guard. Folks across the different departments and agencies that deal with security issues have been very cognizant of this potential threat and have spent a lot of time and energy working to mitigate it as much as possible.”
Given his background, Trulio has kept a surprisingly low profile. A graduate of Princeton University, Trulio received a degree from Columbia University School of Law, where he was an editor of the Columbia Law Review. He later earned a masters degree from Harvard Business School.
Trulio practiced law at O’Melveny & Myers in Los Angeles before working in the Defense Department as a special assistant to the Pentagon’s comptroller. In 2005, he joined the Homeland Security Council staff.
Trulio points out that no matter how experienced Obama’s appointees may be in national security issues, they will lack hands-on experience in the new institutions of the post-9/11 executive branch and will face a learning curve at a time of heightened risk.
One of Obama’s first challenges will be how to deal with the threat from al-Qaida’s haven in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in Pakistan bordering Afghanistan. The Bush administration has been targeting terrorists in the area, causing tension with Pakistan. Broader incursions risk destabilizing Pakistan, which has nuclear arms.
“There are no good options, and continued working with the Pakistani government is going to be important,” Trulio says. “Ultimately, the new president and his team will have to decide on a course of action based on the latest information he receives in intelligence briefings.”
Obama will face the challenge of how to prevent attacks with weapons of mass destruction, Trulio says. Related to that issue is border security.
“We have doubled the number of border patrol agents since the president took office,” Trulio notes. “There have been substantial additions to the infrastructure and technology to secure the borders and the air, land, and sea ports of entry. Fewer people are trying to enter the U.S. illicitly. But despite all those substantial gains, hundreds of thousands of people per year continue to successfully enter our country illegally. That’s a very precarious situation.”
Trulio is concerned about how seriously Obama will take border security and interior enforcement issues. He cites Obama’s statement referring to communities being “terrorized” by immigration raids and nursing mothers being torn from their babies. Obama has said that system has to be changed.
“A terrorist who sneaks into the country with false papers or with no papers could get a job, could essentially try and blend in while a plot is hatched,” Trulio observes. “If that person has no credible concern that he or she will be caught by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, that’s a serious problem.”
Cyber attacks by terrorists or other enemies will be a big challenge for Obama.
“You’ve got Russia and China, which have been very active in this regard,” Trulio says. “You can look as recently as the conflict with Georgia this past summer where there were cyber attacks on Georgia coming out of Russia. Hamas, al-Qaida, and Hezbollah have expressed a desire to target the U.S. through cyber means. And of course there’s always ordinary criminal activity in cyber space.”
When it comes to information sharing, there is no comparison between the degree of cooperation among intelligence agencies before 9/11.
“We’ve built up some very important institutions and an architecture that makes what we have today look extremely different than what we had in 2001,” he says. “President Bush led the most extensive security overhaul of the federal government since 1947. Remember, there was no DHS, there was no Office of the Director of National Intelligence, no National Counterterrorism Center, to name a few.”
But Trulio says additional work needs to be done to make sure suspicious activity observed by local police or citizens is reported to the right people. Meanwhile, Congress must streamline the oversight process.
“Congress needs to reform itself,” Trulio says. “The current structure just fails to establish clear and consistent priorities that are necessary for providing optimal oversight.”
Today, al-Qaida is being rejected by Muslims, but Obama will have to address the public relations problem America has.
“Some hard-line religious leaders are speaking out against al-Qaida’s ideology and tactics,” he says. “Polling shows that support for al-Qaida and bin Laden has fallen in many Muslim countries. America liberated over 50 million Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq from horrific oppression, enabled free elections, and is heavily committed to those countries’ success,” Trulio says. “This has come at a considerable cost in terms of blood and treasure, and yet far too many Muslims around the world have negative views of the United States, and too many still sympathize with al-Qaida and other terrorists.
“Bridging the gap between the fundamental goodness of America and her actions on the one hand, and the way we are perceived on the other hand, is a crucial challenge for the Obama administration.”
Finally, “It’s critical that President Obama, as well as our nation as a whole, guard against complacency,” Trulio says. “We can’t lose sight of the fact that weakness invites attack, and that our economy will always be vulnerable if we do not have sound security.”
Urging Obama to address this issue early on, Trulio says, “I would encourage him to explain to the American people that while we’ve not been hit since 2001, numerous plots have been thwarted through the hard work of many, many people.”
Trulio advises, “The threat is real, and people need to be on guard about it — not to be scared, but to be mindful of it and to realize that as people who live in a free and open society, there’s a responsibility to be observant.”
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via
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