Archive for the ‘terror’ Category

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The puppy dog theory of terrorism

April 27, 2007

Of all the dumbed-down slogans used to sell the invasion of Iraq, and now to sell Bush’s plan to stall and bleed until it’s some other President’s problem, none is quite so blindingly, obviously moronic as “We’re fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here.”

One thing and one thing only has prevented another major Al Qaeda attack in America: the scale of Usama bin Laden’s success on September 11 took him by surprise. He never dreamed the towers would actually collapse. Now, just blowing up a truck bomb in Boise, or offing a few carsfull of subway commuters with poison gas, would constitute a PR setback for him. It would make his movement look less powerful. He accidentally gave himself a supremely hard act to follow, and has no present means to inflict damage on the same scale. He needs kilodeaths, not the hundred or two he knows how to reliably produce. So – for now – he holds back.

On Wednesday Richard Clarke nailed the silliiness of that slogan with the derisive rephrasing it deserves (and the fact that his op-ed was granted space in the New York Daily News, of all places, shows how weak a half a leg the war’s popularity now wobbles on):

Does the President think terrorists are puppy dogs? He keeps saying that terrorists will “follow us home” like lost dogs. This will only happen, however, he says, if we “lose” in Iraq.

The puppy dog theory is the corollary to earlier sloganeering that proved the President had never studied logic: “We are fighting terrorists in Iraq so that we will not have to face them and fight them in the streets of our own cities.”

Remarkably, in his attempt to embrace the failed Iraqi adventure even more than the President, Sen. John McCain is now parroting the line. “We lose this war and come home, they’ll follow us home,” he says.

How is this odd terrorist puppy dog behavior supposed to work? The President must believe that terrorists are playing by some odd rules of chivalry. Would this be the “only one slaughter ground at a time” rule of terrorism?

Whoever contemplates 9/11 for three seconds will recall what it took in resources: half a million dollars altogether (one day’s poppy crop in Afghanistan more than covers it), 19 volunteers, and 19 boxcutters. Bush’s war has, by the military’s own estimates, created at least 10,000 active recruits for the jihadist cause. Chancellor Bush asks you to believe that, so long as our soldiers keep dying, so long as fresh unavenged Iraqi deaths keep creating thousands of new Islamicist recruits, UBL will never be able to find 19 extra pairs of hands to spare. Has there ever been a balder-faced line of hooey than that?

It is the American Gulliver who is tied down unable to budge from Iraq, not bin Laden’s swelling Lilliputian horde. It’s long past time to put the puppy dog theory of terrorism to sleep.

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Cheney’s pre-4/19 mindset

March 6, 2007

I will be out of Internet range until Sunday. Boston seems to have interchanged January with March this year, and some downtime with pelicans, flamingos, Madame Bovary, and Lie algebras will be welcome.

Before soaring trustingly off (Jet Blue can’t be that bad, can it?), I do want to record links to a couple radio interviews with Seymour Hersh about his Redirection article. The first was with Christopher Leyden, and I link it here because I haven’t listened yet, and want to. The second was with Terry Gross, and well worth the listen.

What particularly struck me about the TG interview, definitely not present in the New Yorker article, was Sy’s assertion (paraphrasing here from memory) that, according to several people who knew Cheney well, the Veep is profoundly convinced that the moment Iran gets a few nuclear weapons, it is going to hand off a couple to Hamas, who already have cells in the USA, and they will explode them in major American cities.

That’s a crazily paranoid misreading of the Iranian government’s nature and intent; and Hamas has never historically shown any interest in attacking the US, only Israel. But it fits in with Cheney/Bush’s most central disconnect with the realities of terrorism: they are mired not only in a pre-9/11 mindset, but in a pre-4/19 mindset. For them, nothing whatsoever changed the day the towers went down, except for their sudden ability to use the terror card to get away with anything.

The lesson of September 11th is the same as the lesson of Oklahoma City on April 19: modern technology is an amplifier. It permits individuals to wreak the kind of havoc that once was the province of marauding bands of warriors; and hands to small groups the destructive powers once peculiar to nation states. And the amplifier displays ever greater gain. The day will come – within decades – when biotechnology will permit one bright high school kid to wipe out millions.

But the neocons see all events in the world as state-driven. Richard Clarke told us in Against All Enemies that he was confidently informed (IIRC by Wolfowitz) on September 12 that the previous day’s attack could not possibly have been carried out except under the aegis of a rogue government. The Administration was happy to let bin Laden slip away, because they believed it was only his connection to the “government” of Afghanistan that had made him dangerous. With the Taliban state dismantled, Al Qaeda, which the neocon cabal had never taken seriously, became the merest nuisance. Changing regimes was where the action was.

The new, unique threat comes from small, fanatical actors, who cannot be deterred because they care nothing for self preservation. In the history of the world, I know of no government that has not been deeply committed to its self preservation, and consequently subject to deterrence. With its near-suicidal refusal to grasp any of the realities America is actually facing, the Bush administration may come closest to matching that description.

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How the Grownups Do It

October 18, 2006

Below: Shiny happy people clapping hands.

Yesterday, Chancellor Bush signed into law the “Yes, Virginia, America Stands for Kidnapping, Rendition, Life Imprisonment Without Charges, Torture, and Amnesty for War Crimes Act of 2006”, more affectionately known to its friends as the Military Commissions Act. The full text of the bill as signed may be found on the GPO site. (That was pdf, the plaintext is here.) I’ve slogged through all the pages of depressing verbiage, and no one sums it up more clearly or succinctly than T Bogg:

Torture.
Secret prisons.
Hearsay evidence.
No habeas petitions.
Kangaroo courts.
Star chambers.

None of these things, of course, are remotely necessary in order to “protect us from terrorists”. Over in the state of Israel, which in the face of enormous security pressures and despite the general dominance of its hawkish party, has managed to remain a vibrant democracy and to harbor a press expressing a far wider range of views than the USA permits, they don’t do any of this. Prisoners are charged with crimes, or they’re released. Judges insist on respect for the constitution. The executive branch submits to and respects judicial decisions.

According to Israeli government figures, terrorists killed 1,123 of its citizens between September of 2000 and May of 2006 – the equivalent, in that country of just over six million, of around 54,0000 American deaths. That’s 20 September 11s. And that doesn’t even count the bloodshed of the preceding five decades. Israelis know terrorism. They know what it takes to deal with it, face it down, and survive it. What do our more experienced, and more freedom-loving, allies have to teach us?

Israel enacted its own Unlawful Combatants Law in 2002, with the purpose of providing a domestic legal framework for the prolonged detention of terrorists. Rejecting the terrorists’ status as prisoners of war, the law instead provides for holding them “until the end of hostilities.” …Unlike the US bill , the Israeli law provides for a first hearing of the detainee before a high-ranking officer immediately upon his detention; a detainee has a right to legal representation; a first judicial review of the detention warrant has to take place in a district court no longer than 14 days after the first arrest, and every six months thereafter; and the detainee can appeal his detention before a Supreme Court j udge. The court must revoke the detention order if it finds that the release of the detainee would not threaten national security or if there are other special reasons that justify it.

Regulations promulgated under the law stipulate conditions for detention. These include provisions on medical treatment, clothing, food (including the right to purchase items in a canteen), outdoor exercises, religious practices, correspondence with the outside world, and even cigarettes. Unlike the US bill, in Israel, the detainee also has a right to meet with representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

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How the Brits pinched the plotters

August 11, 2006

Reputable news agencies have been agreed that the unraveling of the plane-bombing network in the UK was the fruit of good old fashioned police work. Today, I went scouring a dozen major news outlets in Britain and the U.S., with one question in mind: where did it start? What was the first loose thread on which MI5 was able to begin tugging?

Perhaps it was all there in previous days’ reports. Today, many sources were trumpeting the great value of NSA wiretaps in catching the communique from Pakistan bosses to the bombers, who, freaked by the arrest of two British conspirators on Pakistani soil, to begin operations right away. There’s legitimate drama in that story, which also explains the timing of the sweep-up. And of course most of the accounts did a roundup and summary of the previous week’s news.

But only CNN answered my question. The whole investigation began with a tipoff to the British cops by a concerned Muslim citizen:

The original information about the plan came from the Muslim community in Britain, according to a British intelligence official.”The plotters intended this to be a second September 11th,” said U.S. Homeland Security adviser Frances Townsend. “It’s a frightening example of multiple, simultaneous attacks for explosions of planes that would have caused the death of thousands.”

The tip was from a person who had been concerned about the activities of an acquaintance after the July 7, 2005, terror attacks in London, the official said.

Let this be noted, then. At no point did the police operation depend on warrantless wiretaps.

  • The initial tip came from a concerned citizen. In the U.S., this would have given ample probable cause for the government to go to the FISA court and obtain a warrant. The court has rejected only two requests out of more than 5,000 since its inception.
  • The wiretap which caught the “do it now” message was also legal under the standard FISA law. As a Pakistan to UK call, it did not involve a “United States person” and the sternest critic of Bush’s illegal wiretapping programs would agree the FISA framework already allows such calls to be monitored without warrants. But even if the same scenario had played out in America rather than in the UK, cops already knew about the callers and the called through normal police work, and there would have been no difficulty whatsoever in obtaining a FISA warrant.

The acolytes of Dubya’s New World Ordure will be leaning hard in coming weeks on the notion that “NSA wiretaps” were crucial to breaking this case. They will fail to mention that it was not illegal wiretappers, but alert citizens, who provided the real break, and they will fail to mention that every wiretap involved was one for which the normal warrant procedure would have worked just as efficiently.