“Fear” changing us…”What the Olympics tell you about terrorism | Stephen M. Walt”

 

We are being allowing our civil liberties to be eroded close to the vanishing point, we are privatizing our military and defense (two governmental functions at base) at great cost economically and socially in that we are creating interest groups that thrive on war and covert operations, and most people seem unconcerned.

Key to this is the creation and manipulation of “fear.”  Think of it, fear exists in endless supply, accompanied by secrecy it is nearly impossible for citizens to to know whether or not there is a factual basis for it, and it can be used to justify the expenditure of billions on activities which,  because secret, are not subject to public audit and democratic oversight.  Congressional oversight, if it really exists at all, is so constrained by the executive branch that it might as well not exist.  This is changing our system of government fundamentally without our knowledge or consent.

Please read the whole article from which this is quoted.

“The second lesson is that we continue to over-react to the “terrorist threat.” Here I recommend you read John Mueller and Mark G. Stewart’s The Terrorism Delusion: America’s Overwrought Response to September 11, in the latest issue of International Security.   Mueller and Stewart analyze 50 cases of supposed “Islamic terrorist plots” against the United States, and show how virtually all of the perpetrators were (in their words) “incompetent, ineffective, unintelligent, idiotic, ignorant, unorganized, misguided, muddled, amateurish, dopey, unrealistic, moronic, irrational and foolish.” They quote former Glenn Carle, former deputy national intelligence officer for transnational threats saying “we must see jihadists for the small, lethal, disjointed and miserable opponents that they are,” noting further that al Qaeda’s “capabilities are far inferior to its desires.”

via What the Olympics tell you about terrorism | Stephen M. Walt.

 

Assassination by Executive…A slippery slope we are already sliding down rapidly

The New York Times carries a story on the legal justification for killing rather than capturing al-Awlaki.  Link below I hope but I’m not sure.  If not, search Times for “Secret US Memo Made Legal Case to Kill a Citizen, it is worth reading.

While the legal case determines that capture would be impossible or at least highly impractical and the story emphasizes that this was a one-time, one person opinion, who can doubt the appeal of the rationale for killing people determined to be “bad guys” by a president and his key advisers?

Consider:

The Patriot Act and subsequent legislation when being considered by Congress included a multitude of ways in which established legal principles protecting individuals’ rights were diminished or eliminated.  These diminished protections required the police and intelligence agencies to meet high standards for carrying out their activities against you.  The 9/11 attack and the justifiable public fear and outrage provided enough public support to assure the Patriot Act’s prompt passage without serious review and discussion.  The police and agencies took advantage of that environment to seek and obtain lower standards in areas that made adherence to the standards highly inconvenient for them.  At the time, no one knew if any of them were of any importance in the ill-defined conflict that had begun on 9/11, but they were of general “convenience” to police and the agencies.

Thus far, there has been no public appetite to look carefully at the implications of these laws and more that are proposed.  Civil libertarians are a group at the margin of legal debate currently (although there do seem to be a few more voices of concern lately).

Drone and missile technology advances apace with precision increasing dramatically from what it was early in the Afghanistan War.  How precise it can be is, I’m almost certain, both classified and increasing rapidly.

One might easily enough make the case that the risks to the SEALS associated with killing Bin Laden were justified by his prominence in the events of 9/11 and the same case for his successor who was then his deputy, if or when that happens, as necessary for the public to satisfy its retributive passion as well as be satisfied that he is not out there somewhere planning another big attack on us.

What becomes more difficult as time passes and the identity of significant terrorist leaders is less well-known generally is the risk of American lives to capture and/or kill them if capture is impossible at the point of engagement.

If a drone can simply remove completely the risk of American (and allied) casualties and the leaders are many, distributed, and having information to yield about their small group only, well, send the drone to kill them.

At this point killing them becomes purely convenient and unrelated to capture.  And, if they are Americans, the justification for killing them remains in the hands of the executive and secret from the public.

We have seen the new “convenience” powers of the government divorced from exclusively “terrorist” suspicions and made available for more general criminal use against Americans domestically without suspicion.

Who can imagine that, with a few tweaks here and there, the “one-time-only” opinion can permit killing of people domestically, for no better reason than capturing risks police casualties?  Police casualties are risks and police operations are often “inconvenient.”

I think it can be “tweaked” and, unless Americans show greater concern about these issues, if not sooner, then later, it will be.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/09/world/middleeast/secret-us-memo-made-legal-case-to-kill-a-citizen.html?_r=1&seid=auto&smid=tw-nytimes&pagewanted=all

Wake-up call to Homeland Security and TSA, FBI, and all your colleagues in D.C. land —

Pew Research Number of the Day for November 18, 2010:

“43% – Why Has the U.S. Not Been Attacked?
A 43%-plurality says that the reason there has not been another terrorist attack in America since 2001 is mostly the result of luck.”

There is no doubt that the scanners and gropes (thought by some to be intimidating, not security related)  at the airport have become a focal point with many of the public as they give everyone who flies, even rarely, the expectation of this invasion of personal privacy.  Before this, airport security was annoying but didn’t intrude on “personal space.”  Now, no matter which option one chooses, it will.  Possibility has become certainty and the issue is no longer “I don’t care what they do to ‘those’ people because I’m not one of them,” but has become “I am ‘one of them.'”

The issue is partisan and the government gets much credit (http://bit.ly/cW33j3) But underlying that is that a plurality of 43% of those surveyed by Pew believe “there has not been another terrorist attack in America since 2001 is mostly the result of luck.”  Your equipment, staff and activities are not thought of as being key to our safety.  Bombers get on planes with materials neither your new scanners nor your gropers can detect; “terrorists” are acquitted or given light sentences because you appear to be entrapping poor people; getting on or off one of your databases is an opaque process leading to the suspicion that it is subjective and possibly a matter of someone else’s disliking one personally; fusion centers can’t seem to distinguish political dissent from potential for terrorist activity.  If instruction on the Bill of Rights and their interpretation since adoption is a part of the training of your people who deal with the public, that is not plain to anyone with an undergraduate degree in political science and probably less so to people whose interests lie primarily in other subject areas.

So luck, not design and certainly not the activities of any of the agencies charged with security that once held, if not public confidence, at least public hopes, for their effectiveness.

Lest anyone misunderstand, luck often, if not always, plays a part in important outcomes.  But, where the government takes on a task, secures huge resources for it, and finds that nine years later a respectable survey indicates a large plurality attribute a favorable outcome to luck, it ought to be an alarm signal to those agencies and to their boss–and that doesn’t mean more vigorous “entrapment” either.