THE BLOG
02/02/2017 04:35 pm ET Updated Feb 03, 2018

America's Security Jeopardized By Unintended Consequences

Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

For all of our brilliance and strength as a nation, America has historically and consistently neglected to create long-term strategic plans for our international engagement. We have not considered the unintended consequences of our actions. The former gets us into situations that are not well thought out; the latter creates chaos, conflict and serious consequences that reverberate far beyond the initial action. And there are always unintended consequences.

For nearly 30 years, I safeguarded our nation's security as an FBI agent. I worked in the U.S. and overseas in more than 30 nations. I lived for more than five years in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, where I led and established FBI offices. I led the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force. I worked closely with all members of the U.S. Intelligence Community, the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Judiciary, and many international partners and organizations. I served five U.S. Presidents and was proud to work for each - regardless of whether I agreed with or voted for them. I love my country. Deeply.

That is why I am speaking up on its behalf. At times, our government has reacted in a reflexive manner to a real or perceived threat or problem. That is not to say these actions were without merit. But the ripple effects have profound impact. It results in a great deal of frustration and inefficiency among our career civil servants and members of our military on the ground -- particularly overseas -- who could easily foresee these outcomes. In too many cases their input was disregarded, and at times they were not even consulted.

A leader must have the maximum amount of information available to make a decision. It is crucial to seek that information from those we agree with and those with whom we disagree. It's imperative that we "know what we don't know." Intellectual humility, in concert with the insight of experienced day-to-day implementers of policy, will help in considering all consequences -- intended and unintended. It's also just smart.

No one knows better about what happens on the ground than those on the ground. Their wisdom is important because exigent circumstances arise which demand that leaders act quickly to make accurate decisions.

I've been there. Among them: 9/11; the terrorist attacks in Casablanca, Morocco in May 2003; and, while assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Paris, France, direct threats to airline carriers traveling between Paris and the U.S. over the Holiday season of 2003-04. The latter marked the nascent stages of the No-Fly list and the Terrorist Screening Center (TSC). The protocol was not yet fully established and we created it on the fly. It was not without some conflict, but it worked and we kept the nation safe.

What did matter is that we collaborated in a transparent environment. We kept our nation's leaders fully informed so that they could make the best decisions possible.

President Trump's Executive Order (E.O.) putting a temporary stop on all entering the U.S. from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen did not need to be executed immediately. ISIS is a very real threat, but there was no apparent intelligence to suggest that people from these nations had to be "banned" on January 27th. A few weeks' pause to seek input from all relevant players in the U.S. government at the Departments of State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security, both in the U.S. and abroad would have been a wise course of action.

I respect that President Trump didn't want to broadcast his decision to the world in advance.But it would make no difference if this E.O. was signed January 27th or February 27th. Additional time would ensure that the experts provided all relevant information and wisdom to the Commander in Chief. Their input maximizes the chances for success. Publicly available information tells us that didn't happen.

White House senior advisor Stephen Miller's reported belief that he didn't need to consult other agencies is also deeply troubling. It's worth remembering now that the 9/11 Commission Report stated that there were missed opportunities to thwart the 9/11 plot because "...information was not shared..." and "analysis was not pooled".

Consider these examples of past actions with unintended consequences:

When the United States made the decision to invade Iraq and topple Sadaam Hussein, one of the decisions made was to get rid of all the Ba'athists and remove virtually everyone in the military and in law enforcement as well as other government entities. The result: No one with any real experience in governing was left to govern as we, with the Iraqi people, attempted to rebuild Iraq. And those officials who were tossed out? Many of them formed the base of what became ISIS. The U.S. chose to create a governing council based on sectarian and ethnic identity, something, according to Iraqis, was not a major point of relevance in its past, yet "...making it part of the political identity was the first destructive force." The outcome should not have been a surprise.

In Africa, specifically in North Africa and the Sahel, those of us working in the region began to see evidence of growing Islamic extremism in several places. In one instance a Minister of Culture who was a member of a minority tribe asked to meet. He said that "foreigners", "Arabs" were arriving in the north of the nation. This turned out to be part of the regional expansion of what became Al Qa'eda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

The area was ripe for their development and expansion for many reasons. And when this was reported back to DC by multiple agencies, one response was, "You don't get it. The problem is in the Middle East, not Africa." That was in 2003. Since then, hundreds of citizens, dozens of Westerners, and U.N personnel in this region have been held hostage, injured, and lost their lives to terrorism. ISIS established a presence in Libya, Egypt, Algeria and Nigeria. The most recent action? A terrorist attack on January 18th of this year in Gao, Mali, where I worked periodically.

It's clear that the President intends to do all he can to keep our nation safe. That's exactly what we all want. And I do not suggest that something dire will happen as a result of this E.O. But issuing executive orders, memoranda, and legislation will always have consequences that are unintended. No decision will please everyone, but this particular Executive Order provokes just too many unintended consequences.

Clear and coherent guidance to the dedicated employees of Customs and Border Protection would have eliminated much of the weekend's confusion . It created unnecessary angst for green card holders who are, in the eyes of many aspects of our laws and policies, treated as U.S. citizens. Both were unintended and completely avoidable.

Here are more serious unintended consequences:

• First and foremost, it has created an immediate increased threat to the lives of U.S. personnel overseas: government employees, private individuals, the business sector, international organizations, and not just in combat theaters. I know first-hand that the threat level jumped for all of us while assigned overseas based on some U.S. actions. It was well known fact that there were, and are, "bounties" on the heads of U.S. government employees, civilian and military.

• The ISIS foothold in Libya, Iraq, and Syria and efforts to gain a foothold in Somalia are real. The U.S. has been assisting the fragile governments in three of these nations. This E.O. undermines our own work to bring about good governance, including through the U.S. Department of State's Partnership for Regional East Africa Counterterrorism (PREACT) and other programs. There is a very real impact on U.S. policy and activities in each of these nations. Was consideration given to the impact on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and private sector businesses and the safety of their employees in these nations?

• Alienation and fear within our own population. Although it's been derided by some in the Administration and Congress, it's real. Statements regarding "extreme vetting" suggest there has been insufficient vetting up to this time. Can it be better? Always. But everyone should know there is an existing and comprehensive protocol for vetting.

• Alienation of our partners and the population of the very nations we need to combat ISIS. There are many citizens of Iraq who have risked their lives to help the U.S. and their ability to enter the U.S. is now jeopardized. Jordan's King Abdullah II, one of our staunchest allies, is in Washington, DC, for meetings with, among others, members of the Armed Services Committee, and according to Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA, Iraq veteran), on CNN with Wolf Blitzer, the tension in the room was palpable. And, with this E.O. we gave great ammunition to ISIS and contravened our own efforts to counter the ISIS message.

• On a humanitarian level, the refugees and others who seek to enter our country have paid fees to the U.S. Government to come into our country legally. The U.S. took their money. Who is going to reimburse them now that we've voided their legal entry? And how quickly will they pay them back? If they had any belongings -- and in the Kenyan refugee camp Dadaab, for Somalis, that's very meager -- they've sold them for passage to the U.S. and housing in the U.S. There are an estimated 26,000 Somalis who have been waiting 7 to 10 years to enter the U.S. as refugees; 13,000 have been interviewed and approved for entry by U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services; 286 had already left the camps for departure to the U.S. and have now been told they cannot travel because of the ban. Their money is gone as is their temporary housing in the camps.

2017-02-01-1485991109-1952184-Refugeeswaitingforbasicsupplieswater.jpg Waiting to receive essential items including food, jerry cans, blankets, soap and plastic sheeting at Kenya's Dadaab refugee camp. Credit: Jo Harrison, Oxfam

Some people will dispute or say they don't care about these consequences. That's unfortunate because they are all serious consequences -- whether intended or not. They impact our security and our standing in the world; they are a mirror on the democratic values we hold so dear.

To President Trump and to our Congress: It's in everyone's interest to see you succeed in your respective roles, so do your job. Ask for and listen to all points of view. Consider all consequences, intended and unintended. You're going to have enough challenges. Why create more?