In 2011, I presented a question to then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates during a budget hearing with the House Armed Services Committee. To get to zero threat, I asked, what would be the annual cost of the defense budget — $1 trillion, $2 trillion or more?
Gates scoffed. He responded with no estimate and made no attempt to justify why such a figure could be difficult to determine. Instead, he said that, “nobody lives in that world” and dismissed the question on the basis that America is “never going to get to zero threat.”
True. Threats will always exist, and it is near impossible to predict the full extent of global security threats that could emerge years from now. Three years ago, Gates could not have predicted the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria’s (ISIS) advance in Iraq or even the situation in the Ukraine.
In one sense, the world is different than it was three years ago. In another, not much has changed: China, Iran and North Korea are no less dangerous; the terrorist threat still exists; and cyber intrusions are a regular occurrence.
Regardless of the lens through which the world is viewed, there is one single and indistinguishable similarity: The U.S. will continue to face an array of global threats.
Will China halt its militarization? No. Will North Korea suddenly change course? Don’t count on it. Will Iran acknowledge it is better to be in the good graces of the international community than pursue its nuclear ambitions? Wishful thinking. And will terrorism at the hands of Islamic radicals suddenly wane because that is what Americans want? Not a chance.
Achieving zero threat is not feasible, clearly. That is not to say, however, that the simple act of fully assessing risk should be avoided.
Determining America’s national security priorities should not be treated as a budget-driven exercise, as is currently the case year-in and year-out. In other words, our strategic objectives are adjusted and condensed to conform to the availability of defense dollars. More appropriately, determining strategic goals should be the first order of business, ahead of budgetary goals. Not only is it a more effective way to determine costs over the long term, it allows for better prioritization.
America will always need a Navy, but the size of the naval fleet matters for force projection. Right now, the Navy is more than 200 ships undersized. Naval officials are on record that a fleet of over 500 ships is needed to meet global mission requirements.
America will always need an Army and Marine Corps, but resources are stretched dangerously thin and end strength is declining. Top military brass has repeatedly warned about the encroaching difficulty and potential inability of the Army and the Marine Corps to engage on more than a single front.
And America will be relying even more on air power, while the broader inventory of airframes is both shrinking and aging. American air power is sure to remain a ferocious and trustworthy weapon, regardless. It’s the ground lost to China and other nations in development and technological advancement that is most worrisome.
Each of these illustrates choices and trade-offs. Do we choose more ships over bombers? How about fighter aircraft? How many soldiers and Marines are enough to meet full operational demands in two theaters or three theaters? To know for certain, it helps to understand the match between threats and cost.
There are many reasons for a strong national defense. Budget cuts should not create gaping holes in U.S. security, as long as they are done with precision and forethought. The across-the-board cuts brought on by sequestration are creating long-term consequences that, over the remaining years of reductions mandated by law, could be disastrous. So too is the notion that assessing the full scale of risk, in order to put in proper perspective both current and future defense needs, is illogical.
The improbability of achieving zero threat cannot be mistaken for the necessity to understand what that takes. Maybe once the concept is fully grasped, we can begin the process of developing smarter budgets that account for current and long-term threats and guarantee the U.S. military is always at its most prepared and effective.Read More
The deaths of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff give good reason why the Islamic State group must be crushed. Though less apparent in these tragedies is what the U.S. government must do differently to support Americans in captivity – specifically those held in hostile territory.
At this very moment, there are Americans in the custody of extremist organizations from Iraq and Syria, to Afghanistan and Pakistan. No different than what Foley and Sotloff experienced, these individuals are under constant threat and their lives are at risk every day.
The U.S. does not pay ransoms and is unwilling to make concessions with terrorist organizations. There is sometimes an opportunity for a rescue mission, but not always. And when a rescue is not feasible or unsuccessful, there is a presumption that other options are generally within reach to bring these Americans home. That assumption is wrong.
The unfortunate reality is that alternate efforts are not systematically developed and rarely exhausted when introduced. The problem is not a shortage of creative thinking – there is plenty of that already. The real problem is the lack of leadership and the fact that no single institution or line of authority exists within the federal government to support captives.
This often results in recovery operations with limited organization and difficulties due to the involvement of multiple government entities with varying degrees of interest and purview. The White House, the State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the FBI, the Pentagon and the military services are almost always uniquely involved in some way. Mostly, for non-uniformed individuals, it is the State Department and the FBI that lead operations despite possessing limited assets and access to the captor network.
One of the most vivid illustrations of this dynamic involves Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. To compete with the State Department-focused prisoner swap and to disassociate from infighting, a separate cell was created within the Pentagon – led by experienced and battle-tested individuals – to develop non-combat oriented solutions, more formally known as non-kinetic options, to do more than just recover Bergdahl. The objective was to recover all Americans held in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region.
The planning produced viable options that included no ransom payments to terrorists or disproportionate trades. The cell focused on Pakistan as the key element and presented ideas that leveraged Pakistan’s security apparatus and its influence with various captors.
The proposals were briefed, only to be passed over and ignored by mid-level bureaucrats. The ideas never reached the secretary of defense and they most certainly never reached the president, who approved the prisoner swap without knowledge of additional efforts under consideration within the Pentagon. The proposals were shelved and there has been no attempt or interest to reintroduce them. Some have application beyond Afghanistan-Pakistan and could prove useful for Americans held by the Islamic State group.
In the case of Foley, Sotloff and others, the Defense Department has taken a backseat the State Department and FBI. But as proven by the cell that developed non-combat options for Bergdahl, it is the Defense Department that is best positioned to lead these efforts.
This starts with directing a single line of authority through the Defense Department, empowered by the president, to maintain control and oversight, and guarantee efforts are properly developed, coordinated and sufficiently resourced. Further, the authority would pursue the full range of options – military and diplomatic. And a process should also be established to determine the most appropriate lead-department or agency for cases in non-contested areas.
The U.S. cannot stop the Islamic State and other organizations from taking Americans captive, unless these groups are decimated altogether. That day may come, but until it does the U.S. should not sit around and wait while there are Americans in enemy hands and the threat exists that more might be taken captive.Read More
In a jail cell in Mexico sits Andrew Tahmooressi, a former Marine Corps Sergeant who served honorably and survived two combat tours in Afghanistan. For almost five months, Andrew has languished in prison for simply taking a wrong turn into Mexico.
In past months, President Obama has found enough time to respond to the proposed deportation of Justin Bieber, talk up the White House beer recipe and offer insights into a wide variety of topics that are comparatively insignificant. His own online petition page collected more than the 120,000 signatures, thereby requiring a response from the White House. But Obama has yet to utter a single word on behalf of Tahmooressi.
As a combat Marine, Andrew saved lives on at least two occasions and survived a roadside bomb blast that destroyed his vehicle and injured himself and others. His promotion to Sergeant came meritoriously and either on the battlefield or off, his commitment to his fellow Marines was unbreakable. In every sense, Andrew was a top-notch.
The alleged crime by no means presents any real shock value: Andrew entered Mexico with three legally owned firearms. He did not conceal the weapons or attempt to mislead Mexican border officials, who happened to deny his initial request to turn around. They confiscated his firearms and the rest of his possessions. That night and into the next day, he endured a period of detention that exceeded the permissible limits, and he was denied the appropriate translation services.
The accusation was that Andrew was trafficking weapons but the facts support a far different version of events. The night he was arrested, Andrew was visiting friends near the border area. He was relatively new to San Diego, California, seeking treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder at the recommendation and instance of friends who lived in the region, which is home to some of the best treatment and care facilities in the country. For area residents, some of whom have lived in San Diego their entire lives, the border is a complicated place, day or night, and wrong turns are quite common.
For whatever reason, Mexican officials violated Andrew's rights. In fact, my office recovered audio of the 911 phone call Andrew made immediately after he was directed into secondary screening. He tells the dispatcher that he took a wrong turn, that he didn't intend to enter Mexico and that he presumed turning around was possible. The dispatcher informed him that he missed the turnaround and proceeded to say there was nothing that could be done to help.
The 911 audio is critical to Andrew's defense, among other key pieces of evidence revealed through several evidentiary hearings. The tape verifies Andrew's intent not to enter Mexico while other violations, including the prolonged detention and failure to contact U.S. counterparts and provide a suitable translator, invalidate actions on the Mexican side of the border.
Until recently, resolution seemed distant and sometimes uncertain. But new developments in the case could produce a ruling as early as next week thanks in part to a range of legal options that are under serious consideration. The expectation is that Mexico will do the right thing and release Andrew.
Through this entire episode, it is worth noting that Mexico-despite maintaining the belief that its justice system should be given a chance to work-has been relatively direct and open to conversation on Andrew's detention. Conversely, the President, his Administration and State Department have been silent. And for the most part, any support provided by the State Department has been routine under the circumstances.
A Marine of Andrew's caliber deserves more from his government. By now, the President and his Administration probably won't make a difference in Andrew's case but out of respect to our veterans and our military, the President should try to make an effort at least. Andrew is owed that much from the Commander in Chief he courageously served as a U.S. Marine.Read More
Within the complicated universe of military acquisition is a relatively new method of decision-making that forces the US Department of Defense and the military services to make choices that balance want versus need.
A reversal of sequestration is still needed — specifically in the area of national defense — to sustain adequate investment in the military systems of the future. But if there is one silver lining, two years after the sequester was triggered, it is that the Pentagon for the first time in a long while is being forced to prioritize and make tough choices.
None of the military services is off-limits. The Navy is learning its limitations with the littoral combat ship. The Marine Corps is cautiously eyeing a redesigned fighting vehicle. The Air Force is attempting to cut its A-10 attack aircraft while the Army has made deep program cuts of its own.
For the Army, which has shown to be the least resourceful at times, there is at least one example of something being done right. The initiative to retrofit and upgrade the engines of the workhorse Black Hawk and Apache helicopter fleets via the improved turbine engine program is a testament to intelligent decision-making in the new budget era.
The Black Hawk and Apache are some of the most tested and capable airframes in the Army’s rotary-wing inventory. Despite carrying engines that are 30 years old, these airframes have a lot more life left in them, and upgrading the propulsion systems will vastly increase operational capability and save billions in precious defense dollars. Over time, the program will deliver an engine that will double the range, provide 50 percent greater power and 25 percent more fuel efficiency than the existing engines.
When combined with reduced maintenance and logistics costs, the Defense Department calculates these new engines will save the Army as much as $1 billion a year. That is not only a major benefit to the Army, but it is a significant cost-savings to taxpayers — a definitive win-win.
But overall, it’s the war fighter who stands to gain the most. One of the hard lessons of Afghanistan is the need to operate at higher altitudes, in hotter temperatures and for longer missions. A new engine means that rather than using two Black Hawks to fly 11 soldiers to a distant outpost, the same mission can be accomplished with just one.
A new engine will also permit the Apache to carry more ammunition and operate for an additional hour. For a soldier or Marine on the ground, the Apache is already a lifeline that can deliver a devastating blow to the enemy. An additional hour of flight time will only make the Apache more lethal and an even better friend to the Marines and soldiers who rely on its firepower.
Retrofitting the Black Hawk and Apache will require a continued Army commitment and congressional support. The program already supports Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s call for a “smaller and more capable military,” but it’s increasingly more important for lawmakers to look carefully at all of the programs in the Pentagon’s budget and determine what is working and what is not. As they do, they are sure to see the improved engine program as an example of an investment that needs to be preserved to increase America’s combat capability and effectiveness.
There is not much good with sequestration, and the military services have already paid a heavy price. But as we have learned lessons in Afghanistan, including the importance of more durable airframes, sequestration is also providing lessons of its own. In the case of the Black Hawk and Apache retrofit programs, the Army has shown it can adapt.
Even if sequestration is alleviated over the long term — and let’s hope it is — the sound judgments on display within the Army and the other services must continue. Whether the budget is considered too large or too small, that should not take away from the military’s duty to be smart as it prepares for the future.Read More
Washington DC—U.S. Representative Duncan Hunter said today that Mexican officials violated the rights of Andrew Tahmooressi in the hours and days immediately following his arrest for mistakenly crossing the border with three legally-owned firearms. Hunter indicated that the violations might be enough to fast-track Andrew’s case.
“Andrew has a knowledgeable and effective legal team that is capable of doing what his previous two lawyers couldn’t—and that’s getting this case moving in the right direction,” said Rep. Hunter. “The legally-permitted window of time to dismiss the case—or ask for a dismissal—passed in the first weeks of Andrew’s incarceration. Why? His first lawyer never made the request. And the second lawyer never filed a single piece of paper. Now, at least, Andrew’s case is back on track and the days after the August 4 hearing could present the first real opportunity for dismissal due to the violation of Andrew’s rights—including the failure to appropriately provide Andrew with a translator among other missteps.
“The one person who can address these violations right now and dismiss the charges against Andrew is the Mexican Attorney General. Over the next several days, I will be working with other members of the House to bring these issues to the attention of the Attorney General in the hope that Mexico will ultimately do the right thing and release Andrew to his family.”
Rep. Hunter is also circulating a letter among his House colleagues. Text follows:
Every day, I am asked about former Marine Corps Sergeant Andrew Tahmooressi, who was arrested by Mexican officials on April 1, 2014, at a checkpoint on the U.S.-Mexico border. In Andrew’s vehicle were three legally-owned firearms, which he disclosed to border officials as soon as he was directed to secondary screening.
After several postponed proceedings, a first evidentiary hearing was held on July 9 and Andrew’s next hearing is set for August 4. The upcoming hearing is the first real opportunity for things to change for Andrew and possibly represent the first step toward his official release.
The reason this process has taken so long is because Andrew’s two previous lawyers weren’t up to the task—but now, Andrew has a legal team—led by Fernando Benitez—that knows the law and knows how to win… And win in Mexico, where the legal system presents a different set of challenges.
It was the first attorney who missed the lawfully permitted window of time to request dismissal of the case. The second attorney never even filed paperwork. So Mr. Benitez is working to fix things and he has both the evidence and strategy to get Andrew home.
At the first evidentiary hearing, important details emerged that Andrew was held in violation of the law. Among the missteps were clear “humanitarian violations,” including the inability to appropriately provide Andrew a translator. There is also a 911 audio recording that my office recovered, where Andrew states he had made a mistake entering Mexico. Of course, on the basis of intent, Andrew had no intention of driving into Mexico—and his emergency phone call indicates that fact.
Much of this will come to light in the August hearing. And if there a chance at dismissal, the opportunity will be in the days immediately following that hearing.
But there is one person who can do what the court cannot. Mexico’s Attorney General can move to dismiss the charges against Andrew—something he can do today. So in the coming days, I will be sending a letter to Mexico’s Attorney General outlining specific information and asking for Andrew’s release.
I ask that you consider joining me in writing to the Mexican Attorney General.
Thank you.Read More
WASHINGTON – U.S. Representatives Lee Terry (R-NE) and Duncan Hunter (R-CA) today wrote to Mexican Judge Victor Octavio Luna Escobedo who today is presiding over the hearing of Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi, the U.S. Marine who despite having served honorably, is being held in jail for mistakenly crossing the Mexican border with legally owned firearms.
After working in consultation with Sgt. Tahmooressi’s attorney, Reps. Terry and Hunter submitted the letter as evidence of political support in the United States.
“Sgt. Tahmooresi has honorably served our country; having been there when we’ve asked him,” said Terry. “It’s only appropriate Congress voice that he’s held in good standing by his own country. I’m pleased to work with Duncan and other members of the House and give Andrew that voice.”
“After more than 100 days in prison for taking a wrong turn at the border, Andrew has shown immense strength and resolve, and it’s important that he’s reminded that he has unwavering support here at home,” said Hunter. “The Court must also be reminded that Andrew is a Marine Corps veteran who risked his life for his nation and his fellow Marines, and he deserves to have his case quickly and favorable resolved on the basis that he made a simple mistake at the border.”
“We believe the evidence supports Andrew’s claim that he mistakenly entered into Mexico. One of the most compelling pieces of evidence is a 911 call Andrew made at the border checkpoint, where he stated he was unaware of his location” the letter reads.
The bipartisan letter was signed and sent today by 74 members of the House of Representatives.
Text of the letter is below:
The Honorable Víctor Octavio Luna Escobedo
Juez Sexto de Distrito de Procedimientos Penales Federales XV Circuito
Ave Paseo De Los Heroes #10540 6TO. Piso, Zona Rio
Tijuana, Baja California 22010
Dear Judge Escobedo:
We appreciate your careful consideration of the Andrew Tahmooressi case. As Members of the U.S. House of Representatives, we stand behind Andrew and believe the specific circumstances of this case require Andrew to be returned to the U.S. immediately.
We believe the evidence supports Andrew’s claim that he mistakenly entered into Mexico. One of the most compelling pieces of evidence is a 911 call Andrew made at the border checkpoint, where he stated that he was unaware of his location. It’s also important to take into account that Andrew was new to the San Diego area, without permanent housing, and had many of his possessions in his car. Like many of those new to the area, he was unfamiliar with the often confusing roads along the border and was unable to turn around before entering Mexico.
Andrew’s character and service should also be taken into account. Andrew is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served his country honorably, enduring two combat tours in Afghanistan, and earning a promotion to Sergeant on the battlefield—a high honor for any service member. Further, he saved lives on the battlefield in several instances, showing both courage and commitment to his fellow Marines. Andrew suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of his time in combat and moved to the San Diego area to seek treatment. Regrettably, his incarceration prevents him from getting the treatment that he deserves. The Marine Corps has stood by Andrew, and has pledged its assistance to resolve this case.
As this case moves forward, we urge you to consider the specific circumstances of this case, and hope that you will arrive at the same conclusion we have—that Andrew should be reunited with his family as soon as possible.
Duncan Hunter Member of Congress
Lee Terry Member of CongressRead More
No different from many areas throughout Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, San Diego County is on the front line of the illegal immigration fight. The difference is that experience and results make San Diego one of the most effectively secured border regions in the country.
This success is not a coincidence or due to luck. It’s because San Diego has in place the infrastructure and resources that create an enforceable border that actively discourages and prevents illegal foot and vehicle traffic. Often, San Diego is viewed as a bellwether for border security and federal officials — in particular, the Obama Administration — would be wise to take note of what’s been done locally.
One of San Diego’s greatest assets is the double-layered border fence that extends inland from the Pacific Ocean. Fencing and infrastructure alone are by no means enough to stop illegal crossings, but the presence of physical impediments at the border, when supported by manpower and technology, create barriers that make entry increasingly more difficult and sometimes impossible. The last remaining hole in San Diego’s defense is the ocean route. The Coast Guard does not have the technology or the manpower to protect against the ocean threat and the narco-terrorists are using the ocean more.
But on land, infrastructure is a force multiplier. Fewer agents are needed in fenced areas than unfenced sections of the border. With the addition of cameras and sensors, border agents are not only better protected, but also more effective.
Also worth noting is the humanitarian benefit that infrastructure delivers. The danger of crossing desert areas, where dehydration and exhaustion are serious risks, is minimized when there is no clear corridor for entry. The San Diego border fence has forced some migrants to attempt crossing over less inviting terrain, but within these areas a greater manpower presence is capable of covering larger spaces and responding more quickly.
In 2006, the Secure Fence Act was signed into law, requiring the Department of Homeland Security to build upward of 700 miles of double layered fencing along the U. S-Mexico border. While the Obama administration is quick to state that the targets have been met, only a small fraction — in fact, less than 40 miles — of the newly implemented infrastructure is double-layered. The single-layer pedestrian fencing and vehicle barriers that fill the remaining mileage might be better than nothing, but the opportunity to build on San Diego’s success continues to be missed in the absence of adding secondary fencing where necessary.
Either the mandates of the Secure Fence Act should be reinstated, which I have proposed, or the Obama administration should utilize existing authority to finish the job that the Bush Administration halfheartedly started. Either way, this is one initiative that, after almost 10 years since the Secure Fence Act was enacted, needs to be completed — the way it was intended.
Though even with the advantages delivered from enhanced security, new challenges are routinely presented, often through exploited legal forms of entry. This is something the San Diego region will continue to deal with despite having an enforceable border.
For instance, one way that illegal immigrants are entering the country is through the process whereby anybody can claim “credible fear.” And right now, U.S. Customs and Border Protection does not keep track of who overstays on the basis credible fear is initially cited.
In fact, credible fear is the new buzzword that lawyers are spreading throughout Mexico and other countries. By law, migrants must be allowed entrance and await their day in court. Many, if not most just disappear and there is no way for CBP to find them later.
Now in San Diego County, it’s easier to present oneself at the Otay Mesa processing center than to sneak across the border. Go down to the border and take a look. The problem here is no longer a lack of infrastructure but a process that is basically a form of admittance into the U.S. for migrants as long as no criminal record shows up for that person. Unbelievably, CBP processes these admittances then cannot account for a migrant’s whereabouts or if they left the country on time.
Addressing security exposures starts at the border — and San Diego County has a great handle on things because of an infrastructure system, technology and personnel that work together so well. But the broader challenges with illegal immigration will continue to exist.
Only when there is consistent enforcement along the entire border will the federal government be in a position to collectively assess the vulnerabilities created by the existing immigration system. Until then, San Diego will continue doing its part, leading by example where it can, and exposing aspects of the immigration process that desperately need a fix.Read More
In a letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel today, Rep. Duncan Hunter, a veteran of the war in Iraq and member of the House Armed Services Committee, recommended six steps that should be taken quickly to retrieve Iraq from its current state of collapse. Hunter specifically urged Secretary Hagel to bring back the “old hands” to utilize existing relationships and experience in Iraq.
A copy of Hunter's letter can be found here.Read More
Rep. Duncan Hunter issued two letters in recent days to the City of Escondido expressing firm opposition to the establishment of a facility for unaccompanied minors. The Department of Health and Human Services applied for a 5-year lease for an existing health care facility to support increased numbers of illegal entries into the United States.
Read Rep. Duncan Hunter's letter to the Mayor of Escondido on June 20, 2014.
Read Rep. Duncan Hunter's letter to the Mayor of Escondido on June 24, 2014.Read More
223 Cannon HOB
Washington, DC 20515
Congressman Duncan D. Hunter represents California’s 50th Congressional District consisting of East and Northern County San Diego. In 2008, Hunter was elected to his first term in the House of Representatives, succeeding his father, Duncan L. Hunter, who retired after serving 14 consecutive terms in Congress.
Hunter is a native of San Diego. He graduated from Granite Hills High School in El Cajon and earned a degree in Business Administration from San Diego State University. Hunter worked to pay for his education by creating websites and programming databases and ecommerce systems for high-tech companies. Immediately after graduation, he went to work full time in San Diego as a Business Analyst.
Soon after our nation was attacked on September 11, 2001, Hunter quit his job and joined the United States Marine Corps. Hunter entered active service as a Lieutenant in 2002 and excelled in the area of field artillery, much like his grandfather, Robert O. Hunter, who was a Marine Corps artillery officer in World War II.
Over the course of his service career, Hunter served three combat tours overseas: two in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. In 2003, Hunter deployed to Iraq with the 1st Marine Division. Hunter completed his second tour in 2004, where he and his fellow Marines were at the center of combat operations in Fallujah, Iraq.
In September 2005, four years after he quit his job and joined the Marine Corps, Hunter was honorably discharged from active military service and started a successful residential development company. Still a Marine Reservist, he was promoted to the rank of Captain in 2006, and to the rank of Major in 2012.
Less than two years before Hunter was elected, he was recalled to active duty and deployed to Afghanistan. Hunter returned home after more than six months on the front lines and, with the support of the San Diego community, became the first Marine combat veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan elected to Congress.
Hunter is a strong conservative who is committed to strengthening national security, enforcing our borders, creating opportunities for American workers and protecting the interests of taxpayers. He is also a strong proponent of the Second Amendment, protecting traditional marriage and the rights of the unborn.
Congressman Hunter and his wife live in Alpine, California. They are the proud parents of three children: Duncan, Elizabeth and Sarah.
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9-11-2001. 9-11-2012. Today we remember the thousands of Americans who died in 2001 and the four Americans who died 11 years later in the attack
From my commentary today: "In 2011, I presented a question to then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates during a budget hearing with the House Armed