My Dear Readers,
Happy New Year, and I hope you all have a blessed 2010.
I wrote the following article and it deals with one of the most crucial issues of our day. I may have been excessive in supplying some background, and I may digress from time to time, but it is the security of our nation that is at hand. Please take a bit of this journey with me.
God Bless and God Bless America,
In 1988 there was a television movie called, Terrorist on Trial: The United States of America vs. Salim Ajami.
It received terrific reviews. The film was written by the legendary writing team of Richard Levinson
and William Link
. It was their last script together as Richard Levinson died before it was completed. Another legendary figure involved was the Executive Producer. It was he who brought the idea to them. His name is George Englund
. He had produced and directed the Marlon Brando film “The Ugly American” in the sixties. He also produced “Shoes of the Fisherman.” Both films are favorites of mine. George Englund was best friends with Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, and even ran their companies for a time. He is quite a remarkable fellow and was always ahead of the curve when it came to ideas for movies and being able to crack a difficult book. I had known of him but had never met him -- that is until I was cast in the title role of Salim Ajami in Terrorist on Trial.
After filming, George and I became good friends and we were going to do a film on Noriega and were developing other things but that’s another interesting story. Anyway, Terrorist on Trial
was a CBS special. It starred myself as Salim Ajami, a Palestinian terrorist kidnapped by the United States Government to stand trial for acts of terrorism. Ron Leibman was the Jewish defense attorney initially coerced into defending the Arab, and Sam Waterston played the prosecutor (pre-Law and Order
days). Alan Dershowitz
was the technical advisor.
The film dealt with due process as well as the obvious. It was way ahead of its time,
and I suggest that if you haven’t seen it, please do. It is absolutely uncanny how it mirrors what’s happening today: the coming terrorist trials in New York, homegrown cells, etc… For that matter, CBS or some other station should rerun it. It would get ratings, and for a time, HBO used it as a benchmark for the kind of films they wanted to do.
Now, please indulge me and try and go back to your pre-1988 mindset -– 13 years prior to 2001. A far different world to some. I am a New York actor, so what did I know about the Israeli–Palestinian conflict? What did I know about terrorism? I had a superficial understanding of it all. This changed quickly, a baptism by fire so to speak, while researching the role. I will not go into detail, but through playing this character my worldview matured. I became more involved in what I now saw as a threat to us all. I read extensively, spoke to many people, and put together as clear an understanding of what terrorism could result in. There were several voices in the wilderness, Steve Emerson
being one of the best known. But we were all unaffected; the problems were on the other side of the world and John Gotti was the real domestic threat. But while the Rico Act
was putting away underworld figures, terrorism went unchecked -- until the Patriot Act, which many have a shit fit over even though it’s similar to Rico. But the mob didn’t want to destroy America, so I guess Rico was okay.
Let’s skip to 1994… I’m in Jordan filming Blake Edwards “Son of Pink Panther
,” and from the moment I stepped off the plane I was approached by many fans and I wondered what had made me so popular in the Middle East. Well, it was Terrorist on Trial.
You see, my character was the first time an Arab character had a voice besides just being a figure blowing something up. During the film’s courtroom defense and prosecution, much was learned about Salim Ajami –- things that gave a sympathy to him and an understanding as to why he did what he did -- all of which made the character relatable and human (sound familiar?).
So, because of this, many of the Middle Eastern people were open and friendly with me, and my being genuinely interested in them and wanting to know more, I took the time to get know some of them. Remember, this is 1994 and the first Gulf War had already been fought, and the place where we filmed was in Petra not far from the Iraqi border.
I learned much. I had many discussions in Bedouin tents where I was treated with respect. Our conversations were very candid (but that is also for another time, another article, perhaps), but I will tell you this: while some seemed to want a peaceful co-existence, there were those who said, We will PUSH Israel into the sea. They will KISS the bottoms of our feet.
Others would say. Don’t listen to that. That is not how we all feel”
Then, in 1996, I was cast in a lead role in a series called Profiler,
another groundbreaking show at the time. I played the man who created profiling: Special Agent Bailey Malone. After being cast, I called my old friend George Englund (remember him?), and I asked George who we might know high up in the F.B.I. He happened to have just had dinner with the number three guy who recently retired: Agent Jim Greenleaf. So, I meet Jim, we become friends, and he takes me to Quantico. I was able to get Jim hired on as the show’s Tech Advisor and now I have a very close relationship with the F.B.I., which allows me a unique peak into what challenges befall American law enforcement.
Because of my friendships in law enforcement, I become the National Spokesman for I-Safe
in 1997, an Internet safety program for schools in Fork City, Utah. I was asked to come on board by I-Safe’s head, Teri Schroder, who had a dream. To help it come true, I brought in the F.B.I. and all my other law enforcement and political contacts. Today it’s the most expansive of all Internet safety programs in the world, and this experience helped me to see how our government works up close and personal. Trips to Capitol Hill taught me about how back-biting, trade-offs, and yes, corruption occurs -- because man is imperfect and bureaucracy in action is terrifyingly corrupt and wasteful. (Wait till the government runs our health care!)
Later I was honored to receive an award as F.B. I. Man of the Year by the Peace Officers Association by then head of the Los Angeles F.B.I. Office, Special Agent Jim Desarno. By now, all of this work in law enforcement had given me an insight into terrorism someone wouldn’t normally have. I know of bin Laden and I know of terrorist threats. But what to do with this knowledge?
Then 9/11 hits.
We are frozen as a people. Angry, scared, we want to do something, and we want to help. I feel this myself and I hear it from people all over. Go back to your own mindset the week after 9/11. I read a Wall Street Journal column written by Peggy Noonan about how she was walking with friends when they saw some -- yes -- Middle Eastern men taking pictures and video of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. She wrote of her fear and frustration -- what if?
We were all hyper-vigilant at the time. Friends of mine, from my daughter’s softball team to strangers would come up to me saying they saw this or that suspicious action (after all I am Special Agent Bailey Malone). I myself observed many things that would make me wonder. I also heard many of our Arab-American brothers who said they didn’t agree with bin Laden but still respect him. I imagine if German-Americans had said the same of Hitler. "I don't agree but I respect what he did." This kind of thinking is out there. Remember, in some quarters, America is perceived as the bully and bin Laden as some guy running from cave to cave who took on America the oppressor. This is the mindset of too many who live here or who are counting on our porous borders to gain entry.
During those terrible days we heard many different ideas and thoughts and theories. Then it came clearly into view. I came up with the answer. Remember, we were told to go shopping -- told to go back to our normal lives. Okay, I understand that, but what about the threat levels: Orange – Yellow – Red. What do I do? How can I help? Go back to the malls and movies? Bullshit! People want to help –- we want to protect our country, like the passengers did on Flight 93 -- God rest their souls -- the ones who said. “Let’s roll.”
Then it comes to me…
A more extensive neighborhood watch; each community throughout the country will have volunteers where each goes through a background check to weed out those with too much zeal, and if accepted, enters a short but extensive workshop given by the F.B.I., followed by a short but extensive briefing by the local police. After being sworn in, you are now available whenever there’s an alert or any kind of danger looms. These individuals would be on the ground assisting law enforcement; they would be given some necessary intelligence -– the kind you don’t hear on the six o’clock news.
I called it Civilian Patrol 93. To put it into action, I canvassed over a thousand people of every age and background, talked on several radio shows, called friends in government – whoever would listen -- and met with the head of Los Angeles F.B.I.
I was obsessed that this was exactly what our country needed.
This was the month after 9/11, but finally after a year of trying to get the program some traction, a very close friend set up an impromptu meeting with Tom Ridge. I think, “Wait till he hears this!” and imagine President Bush, Tom Ridge and myself on the lawn of the White House announcing Civilian Patrol 93. But that was not to be. Ridge didn’t adopt it for Homeland Security. He thought it would be best served through a different organization and referred me there.
I didn’t give up. I kept trying, and finally I met a group of counter-terrorism guys and was invited to the Steering Committee of George Washington University’s Homeland Security Policy Institute. It was here I met ex-journalist John Miller (an engaging guy) who was Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton’s
head of counter-terrorism at the time. He asks what I'm currently working on and so I tell him about Civilian Patrol 93 and several other things -- including a new television series I created dealing with the F.B.I. in a post-9/11 world. (John Miller is now the spokesman for the F.B.I.)
Ron Iden, the head of the L.A. office and I become friends, and he likes the idea and tells me Civilian Patrol 93 should be done. From there I met with someone who must go nameless but who helped further develop the program they were working on in L.A. -- what later became known as Operation Archangel
(this was all between 2001 and 2004)
Later, I meet Dave DeAngeles, from Homeland Security, I give him the Civilian Patrol white paper, explain a bit of my vision (see below),
he loves it, recommends it, and sends it to Los Angeles -- to Chief Bratton’s office. Newsmax does an article
on me that talks about Civilian Patrol 93 and I meet with my old friend (who is now the Governor of California, yes Arnold), I tell him about CP93 and he likes the idea very much and introduces me to the new California head of Homeland Security, Matt Bettenhausen
. He also likes the idea and we talk about where to begin.
Civilian Patrol 93 -
But throughout all of this, I keep hearing there’s no money. Where will the money come from? Well, first off, it’s a volunteer program -- so a lot of money is not needed. But I also keep hearing that another domestic attack is inevitable and about these homegrown terrorists; which leaves me to wonder why no one is adopting this program. By now I’ve talked to Senators, Congressman, Homeland Security heads -- including Michael Chertoff
(Tom Ridge’s replacement) -- and I hope it doesn’t take a disaster to get everyone moving.
Finally in July of 2008 there’s a breakthrough: my friend Arthur.
Arthur Kassel invites me to his home for dinner. My friend Burt Boeckman will be there with his wife Jane, along with Sheriff Lee Baca
, his wife, several other terrific people and Chief Bratton and his lovely wife, Rikki. This is great, I can mention Civilian Patrol directly to the Chief, and if he’s interested, explain it to him.
Remember, a few years earlier, I had sent the plan to the LAPD. But every time I asked to meet with the Chief, it was like he was some kind of deity. I respect everyone, but this fear of ego in our country must stop when it concerns our public servants. Why were so many afraid of approaching or mentioning me to Chief Bratton? I’m all for healthy egos and I had met the Chief before and while he was not warm and fuzzy, he certainly was coolly nice -– which is in direct contrast to Sheriff Lee Baca, who is one of the nicest, most approachable and helpful and sincere public officials I have met.
So it was with just a touch of trepidation that I started my pitch for Civilian Patrol 93 to Chief Bratton. I laid it out beautifully, and like Ralph Kramden, I expect to be Chef of the Future. Well, let me tell you, the response from Chief Bratton was worse than the discovery Ralph had when he discovered he had just fed dog food to his boss instead of pate’ -- and the look on the Chief’s face was clearly one of distaste.
He was more than dismissive of the idea (and me). It was a curiously negative reaction lacking social grace. More like a visceral head butt. The rest of the table sat aghast because his response was so over the top. His wife Rikki tried to ease the tension by explaining that sometimes he tells you what he thinks with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, and I let it go with one of those polite I-am-not-affected grins. After the Chief left many apologized to me for his curiously negative response. The odd thing is they all loved the idea, Sheriff Baca included.
Now, let’s jump ahead to July 2009 … I receive a call from a close friend in DC who tells me they thought I had told them Chief Bratton didn’t like Civilian Patrol 93. I tell my friend that’s correct, the Chief didn’t like it. Imagine my surprise when my friend tells me that Bratton just announced my program under a different name: iWATCH.
I’m stunned, to say the least. This kind of thing has happened to me in Hollywood, but not by a government official.
Yes, I was still naïve.
I call my friend Arthur. He’s just as surprised. Me? I’m both happy and pissed off. I’m the little guy; in the club, but not of it. Did this happen because I’m conservative? Or, perhaps, not a big enough name to receive respect If, say, Cint Eastwood or Matt Damon had brought the idea to Bratton would he have called Clint or Matt and said said, “Hey, I was thinking it over and your idea is great.” Or, would they have found out like I did? I think not.
I went to several friends wondering what to do and all suggested I let it go. But I can’t…
One of my favorite films is “The Fountainhead
,” and Gary Cooper’s speech in his own defense
you must watch. It gets to the heart of which I speak. If I am to stand for anything, it is the truth and to not be intimidated by a man’s position. Again, I respect the position but not what was done. Remember, Civilian Patrol 93 had been brought up and sent to LAPD back in 2004, so iWATCH is not a coincidence.
Our most important assets are the people, and I decided to write this article because of the recent incidents that remind all of us that we must be involved. I still envision a Civilian Patrol 93. It is VITAL to our Homeland Security. Yes, there are civil liberty issues but they can be easily worked out.
I am an Italian American; I have been racially profiled my whole life, so I am both sympathetic to, and, more importantly, a firm believer in the effectiveness of “behavior profiling.” But let’s stop the PC crap and secure our country. Let’s understand that in this age of globalization more foreigners enter our nation each year -- legally
. A good friend of mine told me of a trip he took to Ellis Island. There you will see something like chips that signify each ethnic group that has come here. Well, he told me, it’s shocking the number of legal
immigrants who come here each year from countries with oppressive governments, and how that number dwarfs the number of European immigrants who arrived at our shores up until 1970.
My grandparents HAD to learn English. They were connected to and immersed into America. They were Americans, not European-Americans. The politically correct have done everything they can to stop this immersion and regardless of the race, color or creed of the newly arrived, this is cultural suicide.
Our citizens and Civilian Patrol 93 really should be our first line of defense. So whether it’s iWATCH or Info-Guard or any other name, Homeland Security should get off its ass and let Civilian Patrol thrive … before the chickens start roosting (a dumb phrase but I had to use it).