And that is precisely why most Americans were surprised when a bunch of Afghan soldiers went missing from an Air Force base in Texas the same week as the FBI arrested ten Russian spies who lived “supposedly” normal lives amongst us for at least the past tenyears? I think it is worth looking into the details of both incidents from a perspective of national security and what these events mean to us as Americans.
The ten Russian spies were allegedly “long term, deep cover” agents who spent years adopting American identities. They gathered intelligence on diverse subjects as nuclear weapons, personnel changes at the CIA after elections, and the Gold market. Some of the agents lived as married couples and even had children who grew up as Americans unaware that their parents were Russian spies. Their neighbors had no idea that their neighbors were Russians. Some of these spies even posted their photos on Facebook with details of their daily lives. Their educations, bank accounts, cars, houses, et cetera, were all paid for by Moscow. These spies barbequed with their neighbors and discussed their children’s schools with them.
In mid-June, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) issued a “Be on the Lookout” bulletin for seventeen members of the Afghan military, who had gone AWOL from the Defense Language Institute at Lackland AFB. Some of the Afghans had been missing for more than a year. Each of the missing Afghans was issued a Department of Defense Common Access Card (an identification card used to gain access to secure military installations) with whichthey “could attempt to enter DOD installations.” At the time, a Defense Department spokesman claimed that most of the Afghans had already been accounted for and a law enforcement source described the issue as “more of an immigration problem” than a security risk, despite the Afghans’ ability to access military installations. Actually, the numbers of AWOL Afghans were much higher than it was originally announced. A HYPERLINK “http://www.foxnews.com/us/2010/07/07/exclusive-number-of-awol-afghans-reaches-46/”t least forty-six Afghan military members had gone missing over a two year period, during or after language training in the United States; roughly one out of every fifteen assigned to the program over the last five years.
Why, then, did both these two seemingly unrelated events “surprise” most Americans, and why should we worry about these events?
We live in a free society. We believe in living our daily lives as good, productive American citizens. We expect our government to protect us from spies and terrorists. We do not want to turn our homes into fortified castles, or be confronted by Al Qaida terrorists in our daily lives, or live next door to Russian spies. That is precisely why we start to worry when we hear that our neighbor may turn out to be a Russian spy or the nice Afghani cab driver, who picked us upat the airport in New York City, may turn out to be a an Al Qaida operative AWOL Afghan soldier with possible access to high security military installations.
Many of us have a difficult time believing that there may be Russian spies amongst us. With all the space age technology that surrounds us; why would the Russians send over real people to spy on us? How can forty-six Afghan soldiers, some of whom are pilots, walk away from an Air Force facility and disappear? Why haven’t we been informed about this event earlier? It was reported that since 2002, 745 Afghan students have passed through this program and forty-six have gone AWOL. As of this writing twenty-five of the forty-six have not been accounted for; at least eighteen of the missing men were believed to be in Canada.
With all the daily talk on radio, TV and print media about “border security” and “illegal aliens” living and working amongst us, it is not too difficult to understand why most Americans are “surprised” to hear about spies and missing foreign soldiers from a country where terrorists roam the streets and our armed forces fight insurgents on a daily basis. How carefully were these Afghans vetted before joining the Afghan Army? Who are they contacting now thatthey are on the run? What kinds of visas were issued to the Russians when they came over to live in the USA? How were they able to buy homes? Send their children to our schools?
It is a known fact that screening of Afghans before they entered the military was really poor and this allowed a number of Taliban and Al Qaida members to infiltrate the military ranks. With that being entirely possible, it is hard to believe that some in our government are now suggesting that these Afghan soldiers may have joined this program to get away from their impoverished, war torn country with no intention of ever returning; therefore we should treat this as an “immigration” problem! I guess some in our government did not learn anything from our September 11 experience.
Russian spies in suburbia and missing Afghan soldiers with military access cards and uncontrolled entry into our country are important issues which will confront us in the months and years to come. We must think about these issues in terms of what they mean to us as Americans and not in terms of politics and elections for politicians. Border security and illegal immigration are American issues. Unless we treat them as American issues, we will forever be fair game to those who are focused on hurting us.