Category Archives: The War on Terror

The fallacy that 9/11 justifies government secrecy

Ok, let’s get one thing straight. 9/11 is not a justification for secret government operations. 9/11 was a retaliation for decades of secret (and not so secret) government operations. The U.S. initiated 29 regime change actions since the end of WWII, with many middle eastern and Muslim countries (Iraq, Syria, Iran, etc) being targeted multiple times. To think that the events of 9/11 were not a response to U.S. military and CIA operations in the middle east isn’t evidence of ignorance. It’s evidence of utter delusion.

That they finally retaliated should be no surprise. The surprise is that it took them so long.

U.S. government secrecy is not the answer to terrorism. It’s the cause of terrorism.

Snowden, the NSA, and the end of freedom

Just a couple observations regarding all this NSA stuff.

First of all, the main argument the government is using to justify vacuuming up massive amounts of personal communications is that they are only targeting communications where one party is a foreign national outside the country.  Oh, really?  Can someone please explain why I suddenly lose my 4th Amendment rights by simply talking to a citizen of another country?  For that matter, who in government made the decision that the ordinary citizens of other countries have no right to privacy?

If Snowden were a Russian spy, Russia would be protecting him.  If he were a Chinese spy, China would be protecting him.  But Snowden chose to spy for the American people and they don’t even care enough to stand up for him.  They’re more interested in what Justin Bieber is saying about Bill Clinton.

The reason European countries are not responding with anything beyond lip service to the revelations of NSA spying on its European allies is because they are all engaged in the same practice of domestic spying.  While intelligence agencies agencies may face legal restriction on domestic spying, they can circumvent those restrictions when the data is collected by an intelligence agency of a partnering country.  The last thing those countries want is for that capability to be exposed or interfered with.  So, you can be sure that Europe does not see Snowden as someone worthy of protection.

Ever since Obama proclaimed that the U.S. will not take extraordinary measures to capture or kill Snowden, he has indeed been taking extraordinary measures.  Of course, like most of Obama’s abuse of power, it is being done in secret, so we only see the clumsy outcomes after the fact.  Sending his VP to intimidate Ecuador’s president not to take Snowden was an extraordinary measure.  Telling European countries that the Bolivian President was smuggling Snowden out of Russia, ultimately leading to the forced landing the Bolivian President’s plane is an extraordinary measure.  Later today, in yet another extraordinary measure, President Obama will talk directly with Putin by phone about Snowden.  And those are only the ones we know about.  The point here is that Obama lies, as do his lackeys.

Let us understand that the war on terrorism is not a justification to spy on Americans.  It’s an excuse to spy on Americans.  Just like government is the biggest threat to liberty, an actively engaged citizenry is the biggest threat to government power.  Permitting government easy access to all domestic communications, makes effective activism virtually impossible because it subjects everyone to the potential for blackmail, a practice that the U.S. government has a history of engaging in.  It allows government advanced notice of activist activities or gatherings so as to be able to engage in countermeasures.

If the U.S. government were really interested in fighting terrorism, they wouldn’t be looking for ways to spy on American citizens.  They would target the root cause of terrorism which stems from perpetual U.S. military and espionage activities directed at other countries.  Since WWII ended, the U.S. government has conducted 29 regime change actions throughout the world.  It’s no coincidence that our government’s repeated targeting of middle eastern countries for these operations has sown powerful resentments in Muslim cultures.  The U.S. has developed a history of perpetuating corrupt despotic governments and helped to bring down legitimate democratically elected heads of state.  Terrorists don’t “hate us for our freedom”.  They attack us because they have been on the receiving end of our aggression and interference for decades.  What is surprising is not that they are retaliating.  What’s surprising is that they waited this long.  Terrorist attacks against the U.S. will continue to be a fact of life as long as the U.S. continues to engage in its own brand of terrorism around the world.  In maintaining our aggression against these countries, terrorists will continue to target the U.S. and they will eventually acquire the capacity to inflict mass casualties.  The only hope we have of avoiding that inevitability is to stop being their enemy, a strategy that neither democrats nor the republicans are willing to pursue.  Why should they, when terrorism provides them an excuse to grow their own governmental power?

New York finds new uses for anti-terrorism surveillance

New York’s Big Brother surveillance systems justified through fear-mongering after the 9/11 attacks and funded with federal anti-terrorism dollars is now being used to target ordinary crime.  After the 9/11 attacks, governments at all levels helped fuel the hysteria by pouring fear-mongering fuel on an already chaotic and uncertain situation.  Federal, state, and local officials helped racket up the panic and leverage off of public fear in order to acquire more government police powers.  Almost universally, it was claimed that the new powers would be used to fight terrorism and would not be used to bypass protections that ordinary citizens are guaranteed under the Bill of Rights.  Those promises immediately became more and more watered down to the point where they are now forgotten.

New York City police now have access to some 6000 surveillance cameras and 120 license plate readers with plans to more than double that number.  The courts have declared that attaching a GPS locator to someone’s car without a warrant constitutes a violation of their 4th Amendment rights, being able to track their position using license plate readers essentially guts that ruling.

Now, New York has openly stated that the technology that Americans tolerated as a necessary evil to fight terrorism is being turned on New York residents for purposes having absolutely nothing to do with terrorism.  New York has established a reputation for dragnet style tactics where they simply dispense with 4th Amendment protections conducting wholesale searches of people on the street in hopes of catching them doing something they’re no supposed to be doing.  Imagine an expansion of that strategy to encompass all the new technological tools developed and installed under the excuse that they were needed to fight terrorism.

This reminds me of the trend of local law enforcement agencies to acquire military equipment for ordinary policing.  Even tiny towns now have SWAT teams and armored vehicles.  Once a department has that equipment, they’re going to find a use for it and, as a result, storm trooper style raids are routinely used to serve warrants on non-violent offenders.

Expanding power and surveillance available to police departments notorious for abusing existing powers can only lead to even more abuse.

NSA director promises more details on surveillance

From the New York Times:

“We have pledged to be as transparent as possible,” he said after emerging from a classified briefing with House members. “I think it’s important that you have that information. But we don’t want to risk American lives in doing that. So what we’re being is very deliberate in this process so that we don’t end up causing a terrorist attack by giving out too much information.”

I think the director of the NSA is a little confused.  Providing details on NSA surveillance of Americans does not cause terrorist attacks.  I’m no expert, but my guess is that the terrorist threat stems more from our military involvement in a number of middle eastern countries, including a couple of invasions, multiple wars, trade sanctions (which themselves would constitute an act of war were they directed at any western country), support for despotic and corrupt governments, the stationing of huge numbers of troops there, and the continued killing of innocent people (including children) with drone attacks.  Apparently Muslims have a very low tolerance for that kind of thing and it makes them want to retaliate.

But, repeatedly telling people that the truth constitutes a security risk while all of the above makes us safer may just be a big enough lie that most people will believe it.

As Joseph Goebbels used to say…

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”

The NSA claims it only spies on foreigners. And those foreigners are pissed.

In order to defuse the huge embarrassment caused by the recent leaks about the NSA Prism program by Edward Snowden, President Obama assured Americans that the NSA’s massive communications dragnet targets only those in other countries, not U.S. citizens.  While that might sooth the concerns of most Americans, it’s of little comfort to the citizens of other countries, many of whom tend to think of the U.S. as an ally sharing similar values on things like, say, communications privacy.

From Reuters:

[R]evelations of a huge, secret U.S. Internet spying program have raised awkward questions for allies, forced to explain whether they let Washington spy on their citizens or benefited from snooping that would be illegal at home.

U.S. law puts limits on the government’s authority to snoop at home but virtually no restrictions on American spies eavesdropping on the communications of foreigners, including in allied countries with which Washington shares intelligence. That means Washington could provide friendly governments with virtually unlimited information about their own citizens’ private communication on the Internet.

If that weren’t enough, this story has made enough of an international splash to cause some citizens of those other countries to have second thoughts about allowing their own governments more power to invade their privacy.

Is it possible to actually record and store that much communications data?  Apparently the answer is yes.

Former NSA employees Thomas Drake and Bill Binney told SPIEGEL in March that the facility would soon store personal data on people from all over the world and keep it for decades. This includes emails, Skype conversations, Google searches, YouTube videos, Facebook posts, bank transfers — electronic data of every kind.

Binney, a mathematician who was previously an influential analyst at the NSA, calculates that the servers are large enough to store the entirety of humanity’s electronic communications for the next 100 years — and that, of course, gives his former colleagues plenty of opportunity to read along and listen in.

Despite the role of instant communications in the various uprisings throughout the Arab world, most western people aren’t aware of the threat to all governments posed by today’s access to mass communications.  Cell phones and the internet provide the means for an unhappy populace to organize an almost instant insurrection.  A revolution that would take weeks and months to build in the past can accelerate in hours given the right trigger event.   It’s not a matter of “if”.  It’s a matter of “when”.

Glenn Greenwald joins the ranks of whistle blowers targeted by the U.S. government

Yesterday, Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, a personage frequently referenced on this website, released an article exposing how the NSA has technology giving them direct real time access to the servers of the nation’s largest internet networks, essentially permitting them to collect the private communications of millions of people both internationally and domestically.  From the sound of it, the NSA has the technology to reach into servers and gather the information it wants without the permission or intervention by the service providers.  The only assurance that the agency won’t abuse this power is based on their promise not to do so.

From the New York Times:

The article, which included a link to the order, is expected to attract an investigation from the Justice Department, which has aggressively pursued leakers.

That, all by itself is a stunning revelation, not only confirming what many already suspected, but clearly exposing the denials on the part of Obama officials as blatant lies.  But, the story is just beginning.  As a result of yesterday’s article, Greenwald is rightly anticipating an aggressive response on the part of the Obama Justice Department.   The Obama administration has already established himself as the leader in pursuing whistleblowers, having already charging more whistleblowers than all previous presidents combined.  This puts Greenwald on the same U.S. government shit list as Bradley Manning, Julian Assange, and others.

While whistleblowers are heavily demonized as being self-interested traitors by government officials, Greenwald makes this point:

They could easily enrich themselves by selling those documents for huge sums of money to foreign intelligence services. They could seek to harm the US government by acting at the direction of a foreign adversary and covertly pass those secrets to them. They could gratuitously expose the identity of covert agents.

None of the whistleblowers persecuted by the Obama administration as part of its unprecedented attack on whistleblowers has done any of that: not one of them. Nor have those who are responsible for these current disclosures.

They did not act with any self-interest in mind. The opposite is true: they undertook great personal risk and sacrifice for one overarching reason: to make their fellow citizens aware of what their government is doing in the dark. Their objective is to educate, to democratize, to create accountability for those in power.

Governments rely on secrecy to give them the power to dominate any narrative about what government does.  And, just like a cop who routinely fabricates a story to cover up his abuses of power, the government likes to control what citizens know.  But, just as abusive cops are increasingly being exposed with video evidence, government abuses are being exposed by leaks from whistle-blowers.

In a democracy, where people are supposed to wield the ultimate control over government, transparency is critical.  It is virtually impossible for a citizen to cast a meaningful vote on election day if his government is intentionally keeping him ignorant.  When the U.S. government fires a missile from a drone and kills eleven children, it is doing so in the name of and under the authority of the people of the United States.  And retaliation for those kinds of attacks can be expected to fall on ordinary American citizens.  This is not rocket science.  The power to watch what people say and do its the power to control what they say and do.  Governmental harassment of activist groups is always preceded by surveillance.

Since the U.S. government is increasingly relying on secrecy in order to avoid oversight or challenge, the role of the whistle blower becomes increasingly more critical.  Furthermore, the government, now having more to lose from leaks, cracks down on whistle blowers, making it far more dangerous to be one.  And that’s what makes people like Manning, Assange, and Greenwald heroes.  There is no doubt it takes an immense amount of courage to challenge an entity as powerful as the U.S. government.  What’s worse is knowing that the evidence so far uncovered by whistle blowers shows the U.S. government to be an unscrupulous and ruthless opponent.

 

The CIA often doesn’t know who their drones are killing, but they are certain about them being enemy combatants

NBC News has received classified documents that apparently show that one in four of those killed in drone attacks are not necessarily affiliated with any enemy group.   Apparently, they are classified as “other militants” based solely on the fact that they were killed by U.S. drone attacks.  This harkens back to the days of the Vietnam war when the U.S. gauged its success by the number of Vietnamese they killed, classifying them all as enemy simply on the basis of having killed them.

Though the Obama administration has previously said it targets al Qaeda leaders and senior Taliban officials plotting attacks against the U.S. and U.S. troops, officials are sometimes unsure of the targets’ affiliations. About half of the targets in the documents are described as al Qaeda. But in 26 of the attacks, accounting for about a quarter of the fatalities, those killed are described only as “other militants.” In four others, the dead are described as “foreign fighters.”

In some cases, U.S. officials also seem unsure how many people died. One entry says that a drone attack killed seven to 10 people, while another says that an attack killed 20 to 22.

Yet officials seem certain that however many people died, and whoever they were, none of them were non-combatants. In fact, of the approximately 600 people listed as killed in the documents, only one is described as a civilian. The individual was identified to NBC News as the wife or girlfriend of an al Qaeda leader.

Given that teh U.S. is not exactly at war with Pakistan, one would think that the CIA would be a little more careful about indiscriminate killing.  Of course, if the mission is to perpetuate the war on terror by creating as much ill will toward the U.S. as possible, then the CIA is doing a commendable job.  The beneficiaries of perpetual war are probably quite pleased.

According to the NYT article there are two kinds of drone attacks.  “Personality” strikes target known targets. “Signature” strikes are different:

In so-called “signature” strikes, intelligence officers and drone operators kill suspects based on their patterns of behavior — but without positive identification. With signature strikes, the CIA doesn’t necessarily know who it is killing. One former senior intelligence official said that at the height of the drone program in Pakistan in 2009 and 2010, as many as half of the strikes were classified as signature strikes.

FBI shoots and kills unarmed interviewee while investigating Boston bombing

From the Washington Post:

A Chechen man who was fatally shot by an FBI agent last week during an interview about one of the Boston bombing suspects was unarmed, law enforcement officials said Wednesday.

An air of mystery has surrounded the FBI shooting of Ibragim Todashev, 27, since it occurred in Todashev’s apartment early on the morning of May 22. The FBI said in a news release that day that Todashev, a former Boston resident who knew bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was killed during an interview with several law enforcement officers.

The FBI isn’t saying much about it until they can all get their stories straight pending an investigation of itself which will not be completed until the incident is forgotten by the public for months.

The war on terror = perpetual war

Glenn Greenwald discusses the administration position that the war on terror is expect to continue for and, in terms of importance, why that should be teh lead story in the news instead of the Benghazi, IRS, or DOJ/AP scandals.

It is hard to resist the conclusion that this war has no purpose other than its own eternal perpetuation. This war is not a means to any end but rather is the end in itself. Not only is it the end itself, but it is also its own fuel: it is precisely this endless war – justified in the name of stopping the threat of terrorism – that is the single greatest cause of that threat.

He makes a good point.  Attacks on the U.S. by foreign terror organizations have universally been in response to perpetual Western (especially U.S.) interference in the affairs of middle eastern countries.  The U.S. then uses that as an excuse to further ramp up and broaden that interference which leads to broader foreign support for the very terrorist organizations we claim to be fighting.  Contrary to the common belief that wars happen to the U.S., the real fact of the matter is that the U.S. pursues war.

Greenwald continues:

…the “war on terror” cannot and will not end on its own for two reasons: (1) it is designed by its very terms to be permanent, incapable of ending, since the war itself ironically ensures that there will never come a time when people stop wanting to bring violence back to the US (the operational definition of “terrorism”), and (2) the nation’s most powerful political and economic factions reap a bonanza of benefits from its phentermine continuation. Whatever else is true, it is now beyond doubt that ending this war is the last thing on the mind of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner and those who work at the highest levels of his administration. Is there any way they can make that clearer beyond declaring that it will continue for “at least” another 10-20 years?

If the past is any measure, public opposition to war is only roused by flag-draped caskets of American soldiers, the institution of the draft, and burdens that bring the actual cost of war directly to their front to in a highly visible way.  Neither political party is against war.  Blind patriotism is becoming just as widely embraced by the left as the right.

Another factor affecting the public reaction to the permanent war on terror is the stunning lack of understanding of (or interest in ) how U.S. military activities in the Middle East provoke a terrorist response.  Furthermore, Americans think that terrorism violates the ethics of war, so it’s easy to demonize the terrorists who are simply retaliating with the only methods that make sense against an opponent that could easily crush them in a conventional conflict.

The U.S. is engaged in a global war with objectives that have never been defined  against an enemy that is perpetually being redefined and with no idea what constitutes winning or losing or how to know when it’s over.  If war is the health of the state, then this state has truly arrived.

A single vote against the Authorization to Use Military Force

Mere days after 9/11, Congress passed the Authorization to Use military Force (AUMF).  Now, 12 years later, we’re still at war bombing multiple countries and some Senators, Dick Durban for one, are complaining that military force has gone way past the scope of the AUMF.  They are saying, no one could possibly have known this would happen.  But, it’s pretty clear at least one member of Congress knew exactly would could happen and was the only person to vote against AUMF cautioning Congress a mere three days after 9/11:

“[W]e must be careful not to embark on an open-ended war with neither an exit strategy nor a focused target. We cannot repeat past mistakes.

“In 1964, Congress gave President Lyndon Johnson the power to ‘take all necessary measures’ to repel attacks and prevent further aggression. In so doing, this House abandoned its own constitutional responsibilities and launched our country into years of undeclared war in Vietnam.

“At this time, Senator Wayne Morse, one of the two lonely votes against the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, declared, ‘I believe that history will record that we have made a grave mistake in subverting and circumventing the Constitution of the United States. I believe that with the next century, future generations will look with dismay and great disappointment upon a Congress which is now about to make such a historic mistake.’

“Senator Morse was correct, and I fear we make the same mistake today.”

And what was the reaction to her stand against the AUMF?  Greenwald explains:

To say that Lee was vilified for her warnings is a serious understatement. She was deluged with so many death threats that she was given around-the-clock police protection.

For Congress to suggest that no one could have known the risk posed by the AUMF is ludicrous.  They only need look at their own history to realize the predictability of their behavior in time of crisis and the disastrous results that follow.  Of course, Congress rarely acknowledges it’s mistakes, especially when those mistakes result in thousands of dead bodies.  And the media does nothing to take up the slack.  Last night, Stephen Colbert was fondly remembering the great LBJ who is responsible for about 30,000 dead U.S. bodies.  Oopsy.  Just a mistake.  Who could have known?

Greenwald sums it up nicely:

Barbara Lee’s lone vote against the 2001 AUMF – three days after the 9/11 attack – was an act of incredible and rare courage that is worth commemorating in its own right. But it was also prescient and wise, using America’s past bad acts to warn of the dangers likely to be unleashed by enacting it. If Dick Durbin wants to acknowledge his gross error in voting in favor of such a blank check for presidential war-making – one that led to 12 years of war in numerous nations with no end in sight – he should do so honestly. Instead of pretending that nobody could possibly have known this would happen as a deceitful means of excusing his bad acts, he should instead acknowledge that there were people who did know and tried to warn the nation about it, but those weren’t the types of voices to which he paid any attention because they weren’t emanating from the Pentagon, the Brookings Institution and the columns of Tom Friedman. That is the mistake he should acknowledge and learn to rectify.

Congress doesn’t attract the kind of people with the integrity to acknowledge their own culpability for what government does.  It’s always someone else’s fault.

There are no bad people in Congress, just people with a great capacity to rationalize.