Posts Tagged terrorism

book review: Security Mom

security mom

Security Mom by Juliette Kayyem. Simon & Schuster| April 5, 2016| 260 pages | $25.99| ISBN: 978-1-4767-3374-6

RATING: ***/5*

In the last Massachusetts gubernatorial race, I volunteered early on for Juliette Kayyem and I’m convinced she now has me on a watch list. It’s not the easiest thing to take orders from millennials as a GenXer who has volunteered on political campaigns since they were babies. Things didn’t go well with these young ones and I’m pretty sure they held my mental health against me and then I found Juliette Kayyem had even blocked me on twitter and I’m not quite sure why. I chose to work with her. I picked her as my candidate. Unfortunately she did not receive enough caucus votes to secure a place on the ballot. Also interestingly Emily’s List—an organization devoted to putting women in political office—would only support ONE female candidate in Massachusetts and that was then Attorney General Martha Coakley, who as we know went on to lose against Republican Charlie Baker. That’s my connection with Juliette Kayyem.

“The warning that keeps sounding, year after year, generation after generation, is this: NO government ought to guarantee perfect security, because no government can provide it. There has never been a time of perfect peace. Indeed, there is only one promise that government should make: that it will invest in creating a more resilient nation. And that promise begins with acknowledging that citizens must be a part of this plan.”

Her new book Security Mom focuses more on the memoir part than the how-to part. Kayyem’s worked for the Department of Justice, she’s taught at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and worked as assistant secretary of Homeland Security and as the homeland security advisor for Massachusetts under Governor Deval Patrick. She does include tips we’ve all heard before disasters and after 9/11 such as keep a stocked first-aid kit; stock up on water and canned goods and flashlights and batteries; know your exit plan. One smart thing is to photocopy all essential paperwork—birth certificates, social security cards, passports and mail to someone out-of-state. Kayyem stresses: “We don’t need to live in fear of catastrophic disaster striking at any time. Preparedness means taking responsibility in the event that it might. When more people are prepared, fewer people will need help. That will minimize the possibility of greater catastrophe.”

Kayyem discusses The Boston Marathon bombing, the H1N1 pandemic, the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake, anthrax scare and the BP oil spill. It’s a chronological account to her career as an attorney and terrorism expert. Her career began as an attorney in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. Former governor Deval Patrick served as Assistant Attorney General and her direct supervisor under Attorney General Janet Reno. She notes she was the only high-ranking Arab-American [she’s part Lebanese] at the Justice Department. Soon Janet Reno placed Kayyem on a team that reviewed “secret evidence” cases. The task: to examine how the FBI investigated certain individuals. This work started to make her a terrorism expert. She notes: “As my work drew me deeper into the national security apparatus, I became privy to information about the threats to our nation from various terrorist organizations thriving abroad and at home, as well as about the amount of activity—surveillance, intelligence operations, military actions, law enforcement raids—being performed to protect the country.”

In the 90s Congress appointed her to the National Commission on Terrorism. Of the appointment, Kayyem wrote: “The Democrats needed to show that I was a safe appointment, qualified and also acceptable to all of the religious, political, and ethnic groups invested in the issue: a Christian Arab-American terrorist expert born in California and married to a Jewish Law professor—a Harvard law professor, no less!” No slacker herself, Kayyem graduated from both Harvard College and Harvard Law School. That’s where she met her husband. No doubt Kayyem’s career fascinates and impresses and she details much of it within these pages. Might lead you to feel you’ve accomplished little with your own career. Although you’ll notice that each career appointment connects to her last. Politics subsists by who you know. If you are interested in homeland security, counter-terrorism and safety, it’s a book you should read. I’d rather not give out too many details. Watch list and all.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Simon & Schuster.

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book review: ISIS: The State of Terror


ISIS: The State of Terror By Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger.
Ecco| March 2015| 385 pages |$34.99| ISBN: 978-0-06-239554-2

rating: 3.5/5*

“Terrorism is psychological warfare. Its most immediate goals are to bolster the morale of its supporters and demoralize and frighten its victims and their sympathizers. For the audience, the radius of fear dwarfs that of injury and death. Terrorists also aim to make us overreact in fear. While they don’t always get what they want, terrorists often succeed at two vital goals: spreading fear and provoking negative policies.”

Are you confused between Sunni and Shi’a branches of Islam? “Though the comparison is imperfect for a number of reasons, it can be helpful to think of Shi’a Islam as being analogous to Roman Catholicism and Sunni Islam as being analogous to Protestantism.” ISIS is anti-Sunni Muslim. Do you understand the appeal of ISIS for many radical Muslims? Are you confused by a caliphate? Do you want to know why Al Queda distanced itself from ISIS? For one reason, Osama bin Laden studied business in college while former ISIS leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi dropped out of school in the ninth grade. Zarqawi “a Jordanian thug-turned-terrorist brought a particularly brutal and sectarian approach to his understanding of jihad.” Current ISIS leader Abu Omar al Baghdadi holds a doctorate in Islamic culture and Shariah law. Do you wonder how ISIS recruits, particularly Westerners? What can the United States and other Western nations do to stop or suppress ISIS? The authors suggest: “Rather than trying to displace ISIS with an external force, we should consider efforts to cut off its ability to move fighters, propaganda, and money in and out of the regions it controls, weakening its ability to use brute force and extreme violence to keep the local population in check.”

Author Jessica Stern lectures on terrorism at Harvard University. She is a member of the Hoover Institution Task Force on National Security and Law and served on the Clinton administration’s National Security Council staff. She wrote Denial: A Memoir in Terror, Terror in the Name of God, Why Religious Militants Kill and The Ultimate Terrorists. Author J.M. Berger is a nonresident fellow with the Brookings Institution and wrote Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam.

This exhaustively researched and expertly written book chronicles the beginning of ISIS, what its followers and members believe and its messages and plans. This detailed account should enlighten those confused by the terrorist group. I wish there’d been a bit more on how ISIS recruits using Twitter. That chapter disappointed me. I wanted to know how and why Westerners are drawn to such a brutal group. I wanted interviews or information on more Westerners in ISIS or formally in ISIS. That’s what fell short for me. Despite majoring in Political Science in college, ISIS and other Islamic and religious terrorist organizations perplex me. This book helped me to understand a bit more.

Some highlights:

–“Bin Laden and his early followers were mostly members of an intellectual, educated elite, while Zarqawi was a barely educated ruffian with an attitude.” [pg. 16]

–“The Sunni and Shi’a branches of Islam had split soon after the death of Muhammad over the issue of who should succeed the Prophet of Islam as leader of the Muslims, or caliph. Sunnis believe that the caliph can be chosen by Muslim authorities. Shi’ites believe that the caliph must be a direct descendant of the Prophet through his son-in-law and cousin Ali.” [pg. 19]

–“Jihadists who get out of U.S. detention develop a kind of aura when reintegrated into their home communities . . . making it easier for them to recruit others, or to symbolize defiance against a Western power.” [pg. 36]

–ISIS is well-funded. “Most agreed its cash reserves ran into the hundreds of milions of dollars, perhaps even a billion, and by November, some estimated it was generating $1 million to $3 million per day . . .” [pg. 46] Most of ISIS’s revenue came from taxing local populations, looting, sale of antiquities and oil smuggling.

–The coalition to fight ISIS in Syria includes: United States, France, Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands and Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates—all Sunni-majority countries.

–17, 000 foreign fighters have traveled to Syria and Iraq to join jihadi groups. Supporters of ISIS span the globe and include those in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, India, Afghanistan and Pakistan. [pg. 200]

–“Western returnees have been horrified by what they saw in the Islamic State and appear to have little interest in attacking their home countries, at least for now.” [pg. 201]

–ISIS is obsessed and driven by the end of days. Over 50% of Muslims believe in this end time/ Day of Judgment. Mostly in Afghanistan, Iraq, Tunisia and Malaysia. “Why is ISIS’s obsession with the end of the world so important for us to understand? For one thing, violent apocalyptic groups tend to see themselves as participating in a cosmic war between good and evil, in which ordinary moral rules do not apply.” [pg. 224]

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Ecco.

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Zero Dark Thirty: film review


Maya: “I’m gonna smoke everybody involved in this op and then I’m going to kill Bin Laden.”

It ends with the death of brutal Al-Qaeda terrorist leader and 9/11 mastermind Osama Bin Laden during the covert mission in Abbottabad, Pakistan by Navy S.E.A.L. Team Six. Director Kathryn Bigelow [Point Break, Strange Days, The Hurt Locker] –who has made her career directing male-centric action films– and writer Mark Boal provide an edge-of-seat thriller chronicling the most phenomenal and intense decade-long manhunt. The film opens to a black screen and recorded calls on 9/11.

A woman’s voice to a 911 operator: “the floor is filled with smoke . . . I don’t think we can get out. Is someone coming to get us? I’m not sure we’re going to make it . . .” operator: “don’t say that. Someone is coming to help you.” Then silence. I got chills and tears in my eyes. Cut to Guantanamo. Cut to a black ops site where Dan [Jason Clarke–Public Enemies] brings in new team member Maya [Jessica Chastain– Take Shelter, The Help] for an interrogation.

Waterboarding, dog collar, loud music, withholding food and water, time in a box for suppressing information. Harsh and tense. Particularly the waterboarding scenes. Just terrifying. Holding down the detainee, putting a cloth over his face and pouring water over his nose and mouth. Drowning. How many lives might be saved if these agents can prevent further terrorist activity? Time passes and more attacks happen. Correlation that these techniques don’t work? Bigelow staggeringly showcases attacks in Saudi Arabia, London and Islamabad. Although I knew every terrorist attack I still cringed or screamed. There is so much death and destruction, blood and devastation, that you cannot help but think about the reasons behind the violence. It’s so upsetting and incomprehensible why anyone would want to continue to commit these acts of terror.


I didn’t even recognize Jennifer Ehle right away as seasoned CIA operative Jessica. She’s a bit skeptical of the youthful Maya from the start but after Maya’s found sleeping in her office enough times, she proves how dedicated she is to the Islamabad office despite insisting she didn’t choose it. The two women bond in a sisterly way. Jason Clarke excels as the super-charged field agent tasked to use any means necessary to get answers. As the head of the Islamabad C.I.A. bureau Kyle Chandler played it very Coach Taylor-lite which worked. Aussie Joel Edgerton and Parks and Recreation’s Chris Pratt stalwart and proud as Navy Seals. There are other familiar faces in smaller. roles—James Gandolfini as C.I.A. Director, Stephen Dillane as NSA Advisor and Mark Duplass as a C.I.A. tech.

Chastain does a remarkable job as Maya. Emotional when warranted– visibly shaken by a disastrous asset meeting. Confident when needed– steely at the top Washington brass meeting to vote on S.E.A.L. Team Six action. And the final few scenes. Amazing. Maya is the heart and compass of Zero Dark Thirty. She’s a strong, focused and determined woman. Never faltering from her end-goal despite losing team members. Maya continues the quest for Bin Laden undeterred by others who want to give up or believe intel might be weak.

–review by Amy Steele

Starring: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Reda Kateb, Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Ehle, Harold Perrineau, Chris Pratt
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Screenplay: Mark Boal
Rating: R
Release Date: January 4, 2013 [limited], January 11, 2013 [wide]

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Divorce Islamic Style: book review

Divorce Islamic Style by Amara Lakhous. Publisher: Europa (April 2012). Literary fiction. Trade paperback. 144 pages. 978-1-60945-066-3.

“I have to constantly remind myself that I’m Tunisian, and this neighborhood is full of Egyptians. Many people don’t know that there are rivalries among the Arabs. For example, it’s not smooth sailing between Syrians and Lebanese, between Iraqis and Kuwaitis, between Saudis and Yemenis, and so on and so on. It’s why they can’t come up with a plan for unity, in spite of common history, geography, Arabic, Islam, and oil. The model of the European Union will have to wait!”

In the superb novel Divorce Islamic Style, two characters narrate and propel the events in Rome: Christian, a Sicilian who speaks fluent Arabic and works as an operative for the Italian government; and Sofia, an Egyptian immigrant who runs a hair salon in defiance of her strict Muslim husband.

Christian’s assignment is to uncover a terrorist cell in the Viale Marconi neighborhood. Going by the name of Issa and changing his appearance and mannerisms he infiltrates “Little Cairo” as a Tunisian. He rooms at a boarding house with numerous other immigrants and takes a job washing dishes at an Italian restaurant run by an Egyptian, who turns out to be Sofia’s husband.

I’ve acquired certain habits, like sleeping nude, temperature permitting, or reading before I go to sleep; I love biographies of famous people. Here it is not a good idea to be the self-taught immigrant and passionate reader.

At a hangout spot where people watch Al Jazeera and make calls home, Christian meets Sofia who attracts him with her striking looks and mannerisms. Surprising to Christian, she wears a veil, uncommon in Rome, in Italy, in many Western countries. He discovers that Sofia neither acts conventionally or predictably. Several days before her wedding, Sofia’s husband asked her to wear the veil.

“Put on the veil? Maybe I hadn’t understood. Were we going to live in Italy or Iran? Is the veil compulsory in Rome?
The real problem is that we live in a society where the male is both the opponent and, at the same time, the referee.”

In writing about Sofia’s plight, author Amara Lakhous astutely provides a feminist perspective to this novel in a natural and provocative manner. He brilliantly depicts Rome’s Arab community “Little Cairo.” He satirizes the immigrant community as deftly as modern day Rome and its idiosyncrasies and fears.

I understand the comfort level of creating one’s own community after immigrating to another country. Beyond that though I don’t understand why some immigrants do not assimilate more by learning the new language or befriending natives. Lakhous explains the minutiae within the Arab community and what motivates many to move to other countries. Much can be explained in looking at opportunities in Western countries versus Arab countries where rules might be stricter and prospects fewer. Some Arabs stay in these Western countries and become citizens while others work for a while to better their family situations in their home country.

Born in Algiers in 1970, Amara Lakhous earned degrees in philosophy and cultural anthropology. He now lives in Italy. I adore Divorce Islamic Style so much that I’ve mentioned it several times in casual conversation. I want to recommend it to everyone. It’s fantastic. Snappy. Sharp. Intelligent. Humorous.

–Amy Steele

purchase at Amazon: Divorce Islamic Style

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Guest Post: Christopher Coppola, M.D. [Coppola: A Pediatric Surgeon in Iraq]

Guest Post by Dr. Christopher Coppola
Author: Coppola: Pediatric Surgeon in Iraq

It is difficult to select the most memorable operation from my time in Iraq, for several reasons. On the one hand, so many of the operations have blurred together in my mind. Night after night we were treating so many people who had been seriously injured in explosions. It seemed like I was endlessly scrubbing burned flesh, digging out hundreds of embedded fragments of shrapnel, and cutting away more and more dead tissue. There were also so many striking operations — things I had never done before, like removing destroyed eyes, bizarre pieces of shrapnel, six-foot lengths of rebar or shards of human bone; simply horrifying combinations of injuries.

But the operation that is most memorable from both of my deployments was barely an operation at all. One afternoon, we received several victims from a shooting. Insurgents had opened fire on a busload of women going to worship. One of the victims was a woman who was eight months pregnant. She had been shot through the right hip, and one of the bullets had pierced her uterus near her unborn baby’s head. The mother was bleeding internally and slowly dying. None of us were obstetricians, and we were quite nervous about taking care of her. We called a few friends at home for some quick advice, and called on the help of one of our ICU nurses who was an OB nurse back home. In the OR, we had her anesthetized and her abdomen prepped with iodine liquid. I cut across her lower abdomen and found several liters of blood in her belly. Her uterus was stretched thin over her baby’s body, and there were tattered edges where the bullet had torn the muscle. I opened the uterus, and reached in to feel the baby’s head. The cord was wrapped around his neck, so I carefully worked my fingers under it and pulled the cord up over his head. I delivered the baby boy, clamped and cut the cord, and quickly carried him over to the infant warmer. My friend stayed with the injured woman to control her bleeding and get her safely to the ICU. On the warmer, I suctioned the child’s mouth and nose, gave him a flow of oxygen across his face, and listened to his breathing. He coughed twice, took a deep breath, and let out a loud healthy cry. I am pleased to report that both mother and child left our hospital in excellent health.

The most difficult operation I performed in Iraq was not for trauma at all. Even though I am a pediatric surgeon, I was deployed to Iraq as a general trauma surgeon. After I had been at the hospital in Balad for a while, word got out that there was a pediatric surgeon available, and I started to get consultations from the surrounding cities and other military bases. A surgeon in Tikrit sent a child and her parents to see me. She was a one-and-a-half-year-old who had a congenital illness of her liver called biliary atresia in which the liver becomes scarred and cannot pass bile into the intestine. It is a rare illness, and I had only treated a few cases in the United States — but I was honestly the only pediatric surgeon the family had available to them. It was unfortunate that she was as old as she was, because the best chance for these children to survive long term is if they get the operation before they are two months old.

It took some convincing to get our OR nurses and anesthesiologists to participate in the operation. The only way I was able to get them on board was to find a pediatric anesthesiologist who happened to be stationed at a nearby base and convince him to fly in. Over the next six hours, we worked as a team to carefully bypass the scarred tissue at the base of her liver with a healthy length of intestine. It was difficult, especially in a hospital designed for combat support, but we were able to get her through her recovery. It is a sad ending to her story, she died a year later; but I try to take some comfort from the fact that her parents told me they appreciated having another year with her before she passed away.

I think the child with whom I developed the greatest bond was a two- year-old girl named Leila. She was the daughter of a local commander in the Iraqi National Guard. One of the insurgents in our city threw an incendiary device like a Molotov cocktail through the window of their home and burned the man’s wife and two daughters. For a month I worked so hard to get Leila through her burns. I operated on her nearly every other day, and even got skin grafts to grow over a portion of the burns on her legs. Every day I would speak with her parents and discuss her progress. I could see the anguish in their eyes as they watched their daughter cry out in pain as I changed her dressings. At first she showed some hints of promise that she might pull through, but in the end she succumbed to an overwhelming infection. I had become so attached to her and so hopeful she would make it that her death was just a terrible blow. I still think of her often and wish I could have found some way to get her through.

–Christopher Coppola, M.D.

Visit website to purchase book.
On February 1, 2009 Coppola: A Pediatric Surgeon in Iraq is available at online and other booksellers.



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book review: The War on Privacy


Title: The War on Privacy
Author: Jacqueline Klosek
ISBN: 978-0275988913
Pages: 248
Publisher: Praeger Publishers (November 30, 2006)
Category: non-fiction
Review source: author
Rating: 4/5

Terrorism is not a new creation; however, it is also undeniable that the current terrorist threat presents new and special challenges to our society. Indeed, the recent wave of terrorist activity has been particularly damaging and profound. The effects of the terrorism of the past few years have transformed and will long continue to influence the way we live for decades, if not centuries, to come. While many of these changes have occurred as a direct result of the acts of terrorists themselves, others have followed and will continue to grow out of our collective response to the acts of the terrorists.

The War on Privacy is densely packed with information about privacy issues around the globe. Author Jacqueline Klosek, a Certified Information Privacy Professional and attorney with Goodwin Procter LLP in New York City, has divided the book into sections which focus on each region of the world. She analyzes how the United States, Africa, the Middle East, Europe, Northern and Southern Neighbors (of the U.S.), South America, Australia, New Zealand, and Asia handle privacy rights, particularly after 9/11. I’ll admit it wasn’t the easiest read for someone who wanted to go to law school but got dismal LSAT scores. Klosek’s intensive research and thorough appraisal of privacy in every region is so complete that The War on Privacy is the ideal reference for privacy issues.

Jacqueline Klosek has answered an arsenal of questions from me. Her writing and interest in this topic’s importance shines through in the book. I have listed what I learned from reading The War on Privacy.

European Data Protection Directive—prohibits export of any personal data from European Union [EU] to third countries without sufficient protection to personal data.

Patriot Act [the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001]—“data mining” efforts of the government. The Government has help from corporations, educational institutions, and other private entities. “Such draft has, of course, put many such entities in the impossible position of having to choose between responding to governmental demands for information on the one hand and honoring privacy commitments made to individuals and complying with privacy laws on the other.”

United Nations Security Council, on September 28, 2001 adopted Resolution 1373—this called upon member states to follow many rules to fight terrorism e.g. “deny safe haven to those who finance, plan, support, or commit terrorist acts or provide safe havens;” and “exchange information in accordance with international and domestic law and cooperate on administrative and judicial matters to prevent the commission of terrorist acts;”

Electronic Communications Privacy Act [ECPA]: “places restrictions on the interception of electronic communications and creates privacy protections for stored electronic communications.”

–Arabic has no equivalent to the English word privacy. Privacy in the Middle East relates to women and family.

Tunisia (where one of my closest friends from high school has lived with her Tunisian husband and two children for nearly 20 years) became the first Arab country to enact a comprehensive data privacy law.

Europe “has a longer history and greater experience with both efforts to protect privacy rights and efforts to counteract the threat of terrorism. Therefore, the jurisdiction may be able to offer some points of guidance for other countries that are dealing with these challenges.”

This is part of the Pump up the Volume Book tour.

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