The Cable

Rand Paul lashes out at TSA, Iraq refugees

In remarks at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies on Wednesday morning, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) attacked the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for refusing to profile travelers and pledged to call for hearings on why so many Iraqi refugees are being granted asylum in the United States.

Paul, the founder of the Senate Tea Party Caucus and the author of the Tea Party Goes to Washington, was making a broader point about the impossibility of fixing the country's dismal fiscal situation without significant cuts to defense spending when he launched into an attack on the TSA. "I think you could just about put the money in a box and burn it and get as much as we're getting from the TSA," he said.

The TSA came in for the senator's ire because of what he described as its unwillingness to profile people based on the likelihood that they represent a terrorist threat. "They say that to be fair to everybody … the 6-year-old girl has to be treated the same as the boy who's coming from Nigeria whose dad said he was a potential threat, he'd been to Yemen twice, he bought a one-way ticket with cash the day before he left or the day he left," said Paul, in reference to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, perhaps better known as the "underwear bomber," who attempted to blow up an airplane over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009. "Should we treat him the same as the 6-year-old girl? That's what our policy is right now."

TSA begs to differ. TSA press secretary Nick Kimball told The Cable that Paul's account "is not an accurate characterization of current policy." He said that the agency has developed "a flexible system of aviation security that provides us with the best opportunity currently available to detect and disrupt potential threats."

TSA affirms on its website that it does not profile passengers based on religious or ethnic grounds, but it is permitted to consider evidence of radicalization or any unusual travel in its screening procedures. In the case of Abdulmutallab, President Barack Obama blamed a "systemic failure" in U.S. national security that allowed him to board a plane despite having been placed in a terrorist database.

On a separate note, Paul also took exception to the number of Iraqi refugees who have been granted asylum in the United States. "There's a democratic government over there, and I think they need to be staying and helping rebuild their country," he said. "We don't need them over here on government welfare."

"I'm going to try to have hearings on the political asylum: Why are we admitting 18,000 people [per year] for political asylum from Iraq, which is an ally of ours?"

The United States has resettled more than 54,000 Iraqi refugees since 2006 and has given over $2 billion in assistance to displaced Iraqis, according to the State Department. Resettlement is only an option for "the most vulnerable groups of refugees." The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, which determines whether a person qualifies for refugee status and is thereby eligible for resettlement in the United States, has established 11 "priority profiles" of refugees prioritized for resettlement, including women at risk of honor killings, children and adolescents separated from their families, and Iraqis at risk due to their work with U.S. forces or international authorities.

Paul, however, called for basing resettlement on the Iraqis' ability to find work in the United States. "I kind of believe in the old-fashioned notion as long as you've got your job you can stay; if you don't keep your job you go back home," he said.

On his broader views toward foreign policy, Paul tried to enunciate a vision that charted a middle way between what he described as indiscriminate interventionism and complete isolationism. "I sometimes like to tell people that I'm really a moderate -- for some reason they don't seem to believe me," he said. "But what about a foreign policy of moderation? A foreign policy that argues maybe we should be somewhere some of the time … and do so while respecting our Constitution and the legal powers of Congress and the presidency."

According to Paul, the United States is now leaning too dramatically in the direction of interventionism, most notably with the war in Libya. Former U.S. Ambassador to NATO Kurt Volker asked a question that noted Iraq's progress toward establishing democratic institutions and inquired about his views about whether U.S. foreign policy should also promote its values. "Well, you know war with China -- we could maybe try to get them to have a constitution just like Iraq. Is anyone here in favor of war with China? No."

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The Cable

F1 fact-finding report finds "NO indication of any problems" in Bahrain

UPDATE: Ecclestone now says the race is a no-go due to the opposition of the racing teams. "Of course it's not on," the BBC quotes him saying.

On Friday, the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile, the governing body for the world of motor sports, announced its decision to return the Bahrain Grand Prix to the island Gulf nation, which has been rocked by unrest, brutal human rights abuses, and a deepening sectarian divide since protests broke out on Feb. 14.

In making its decision, the FIA sent a "fact-finding mission" to Bahrain in late May to determine whether it would be safe to hold the race, which was canceled earlier this year amid the violence. According to Formula 1 chief Bernie Ecclestone, quoted in the Guardian, "The FIA sent people out there to check on the situation, they came back and reported everything is fine."

The report, a copy of which was provided to FP by the New York-based human rights group Avaaz, was signed by FIA Vice President Carlos Gracia, who traveled to Bahrain on May 30 and May 31 along with an assistant, Carlos Abella.

It appears to be a complete whitewash.

According to the report, Gracia and Abella met with several government officials, including Minister of Culture Mai bint Mohammed al-Khalifa, Interior Minister Rashid bin Abdullah al-Khalifa, Public Security Chief Maj. Gen. Tariq bin Dana, Bahrain International Circuit Chairman Zayed R. al-Zayani, and BIC CEO Salman bin Eissa al-Khalifa -- and seem to have accepted their views uncritically.

They also met with Tariq al-Saffar of the pro-grovernment National Institute of Human Rights, who was appointed in 2010 by King Hamad. (Saffar is also managing director of advertising firm Fortune Promoseven, which lists the F1 Grand Prix as a client.)

Gracia and Abella did dine with several unnamed foreign business leaders -- a dinner arranged by their government host -- but met with zero members of the opposition or with independent rights groups, and did not tour Shiite neighborhoods that have reportedly been under siege for weeks, though they did visit a shopping mall.

Nonetheless, they concluded, "Life in Bahrain is completely normal again" -- an observation at odds with copious reporting on the state of fear that has gripped the country since Saudi troops intervened in late March.

Other questionable assertions: "Security is guaranteed" ... "visitor figures have returned to the same level -- and are even increasing -- when compared against figures in previous years" ... "atmosphere of total calm and stability" ... "the presence of military forces was limited to a few, certain, strategic points."

In perhaps their most ludicrous claim, the fact-finders found "NO indication of any problems or reason why Bahrain's F1 Grand Prix should not return to the 2011 Calendar."

No problems?

Human Rights Watch Deputy Director Tom Porteous, in a May 26 letter to FIA chairman Jean Todt, urged the FIA to consider the government's harsh crackdown in making its decision.

"The government's violent suppression of all protests in mid-March, in which some two dozen persons were killed, mostly protesters or bystanders at the hands of security forces, has featured large-scale arbitrary arrests, protracted incommunicado detention, and credible allegations of torture or ill-treatment of persons in custody," Porteous wrote.

That advice seems to have been ignored.

"Formula 1 wanted to be told that everything is fine, and that's the answer they got," said Rutgers University assistant professor Toby Jones, an expert on Bahrain.

The Bahraini regime has presented the return of the Grand Prix as a major victory, a stamp of approval from an international community that has largely condemned the crackdown.

But holding the race may have been a miscalculation, warned Jones, "because it gives the protesters a date to rally around."

The race is now scheduled for October 30, but a change of heart by Ecclestone and growing opposition from racing teams could see it canceled yet again.

President Obama was due to meet Bahrain's crown prince on Tuesday.