Kevin makes a fairly good point here that I would extend slightly to say that it’s not only unpopular to argue that we should just give up looking for total security. That argument is also an incredibly lopsided risk. It costs almost nothing to argue for one more incremental security measure. If nothing happens, great! Take a little credit. If something terrible does happen then at least you tried. On the flip side arguing that we should rein some security measure back a bit pays off (barely) when nothing bad happens but will blow up in your face if a bad guy sneaks through the gap that you made.
Few people remember that Republicans spent most of recent history arguing against what we would now call the War on Terror. Bin Laden was a Clinton issue. Fighting ragtag bandits with police seemed beneath their attention when a grand wars could be won against swarthy, moustached Hitlers. These days nobody mentions Grover Norquist’s close ties to shady middle eastern power brokers, nor his quid-pro-quo advocating on their behalf. The media collectively agreed to forget that the hijackings forced Condoleeza Rice to cut short a summer-long speaking tour wherein she argued forcefully that, contra some pesky disgruntled loudmouth named Richard Clarke, America must focus her security attention on Iraq rather than some skinny Saudi in a cave.
One could say that Republicans embraced security with the zeal of a convert. One could even be ungenerous and say that they overcompensated a bit. And that is the risk when you argue against taking measures to deal with some problem. If the danger then catches you napping you can do the honorable thing, apologize and resign, but if that runs counter to your instincts then the only other real option is to go complete bloody-shirt apeshit and attack anyone who had it right if he or she declines to follow the herd to apeshitville.
None of this means that we should not try to keep the security state within sensible boundaries. We call it ‘terrorism’ and not something mundane like ‘murderism’ because the point is to scare us into overreacting. Fear makes people stupid. It makes strong countries weak by herding them into bad decisions. We really should step back and give the whole program (example: semi-random “suck on this” wars of occupation) a rational cost/benefit analysis. However, as I see it the security state, even idiotic and/or counterproductive parts of it, are most likely a one-way ratchet. To break out of that cycle you need one hell of a leader*, someone on the level of a Nelson Mandela or a Mohandas Gandhi, and I wish that I could say I saw one of those on the horizon.
(*) A crippling and near-total humbling, either economically or of the military kind, also tends to work; for selfish reasons I’d prefer to find an alternative.
Great post Tim.
I’d also recommend everyone read Bruce Schneier’s recent post:
Pardon me for rudely expressing my bewildered outrage again, Tim.
But there is a field test of a closed information systems killer RUNNING RIGHT NAOW!
And it looks like it is WAI.
I dont know if Assanges OODA loop killer will work, but if it does the security state is dead, and we wont have to worry about it anymore.
you missed me an CS and wyld talking about HOW IT SEEMS TO BE WORKING AS INTENDED.
People with clearances have gotten inhouse email telling them they could lose their clearances if they visit Wikileaks site.
wyld said: Major Defense Contractor Blocks Anything With ‘WikiLeaks’ In URL
The nation’s biggest defense contractors, who employ thousands of people with security clearances, are taking steps to restrict their access to Wikileaks, including one company which is blocking employees from accessing any website, including news stories, with “wikileaks” in the URL.
White House Tells All Federal Agencies To Prohibit Unauthorized Employees From Wikileaks Site:
The Office of Management and Budget today directed all federal agencies to bar unauthorized employees from accessing the Wikileaks web site and its leaked diplomatic cables.
The Library of Congress also blocked access to Wikileaks on its public access computers TPM reported yesterday. That’s a reasonably big deal if you know how librarians feel about information access.
What is next? Universities?
Meanwhile Assange is playing you assclowns AND the feds like a 10 pound brookie on 20 pound test.
The feds are running around like keystone cops trying to arrest him and giving him TONS of “maximum exposure” and the diplo cables are going drip drip drip one per hour.
Less than 700 of 250k have been released so far.
Because that is Assanges design– the feds havent stopped a thing.
AMG isnt that worth a FUCKING MENTION?
@BR: Why stop there? I think we should ban flying entirely, and driving too. Actually, we should probably just abandon the country altogether. Or maybe we could just ban living, because you know it leads to death and stuff.
oh yeah the security state is entirely stymied now… thanks for that cogent analysis, matoko_chan + wyldpyrate
Dear Tim F,
They won’t be a political person who needs votes to keep their job! Don’t expect an elected leader to try to undo the Security State. You need a dynamic leader like MLK or MalcomX who has a following. Nader? Ron Paul?
I think Bruce means it as a symbolic gesture, since going up the Washington Monument isn’t a functional thing anyway.
And not even effective security attention at that. Rice was focused primarily on ballistic missile defense, otherwise known as the military’s greatest boondoggle. IIRC, she was actually scheduled to give a speech on missile defense on 9/11.
I agree with absolutely everything you’ve said here, Tim. Absolute security is an impossibility, no matter how many resources one expends.
The kind of ratcheting back you speak of is not, however, solely dependent upon a single strong visionary leader or upon the national humiliation of which you speak. It could very easily be gotten if both sides of the political equation were honest with the American public about the impossibility of total safety, but they aren’t. There’s no short-term political upside to that honesty, and plenty of opportunity for branding your opponent soft on terrorism WHEN the next attack happens.
It won’t be until the privledged classes themselves are constantly inconvenienced and terrorized by the state that things will change. That this blog’s denizens are themselves mostly white privledged people (we’re the only ones who have the kind of time and education and sense of self privledge to sit around and bloviate about this at will) isn’t a good indicator that we’re headed in the right direction.
That’s because those of us who really get up in arms about this kind of stuff prefer to use language and terminology that is rather off-putting to the rest of society. The majority of people out there don’t have the time or the interest to sit around talking about shit like this all the time, and when they do pay attention, they don’t like being preached to or told that they are stupid or unworthy whatever other irritating shit that half-assed wannabe-activist-types like to spew. “Americans are dumb” and “they deserve bad shit to happen” and other such aren’t the kinds of things that get people to listen to you (and I’m not referring to you, personally, Tim). “Well, fuck you, too” is the response that kind of crap usually generates.
It would be nice to see some actual solutions proposed which address the security issue and the freedom issue, instead of the usual, which is nothing but bitching and complaining. We could start with the admission that most people don’t care about airport security being invasive because most people can’t afford an airline ticket to go somewhere. IF they can take a trip at all, it’s by car. Those people, the majority of the country, don’t care if you’re inconvenienced a little bit in a way they will never be. They just don’t want the plane being flown into their house.
@xian: its working cudlip.
the system is WAI.
You know, you raise a interesting question I’ve wondered about for some time. What would our foreign policy look like if someone like Kucinich teamed up with someone like Ron Paul? What would the national security state look like?
In general though, I’m not sure I’m that optimistic about it. For one, this is how many bureaucracies function, the national security apparatus (including the MIC) especially:
Chalmers Johnson was right.
and that is EXACTLY what Assange is doing, Tim.
he is going to try to tighten the rachet until it breaks off.
It was put in an internment camp in 1942. Just sayin’.
Bin Ladin’s stroke of genius was to hit the people at the top: Wall Street masters of the universe and the Pentagon. They’re the ones who panicked. Or at least decided that they’re willing to throw away everybody’s civil liberties to protect their own hides.
Once you realize that our elite consists of cowards, greed-heads and ill-informed, upper-class twits, this country makes a lot more sense.
Davis X. Machina
@Scamp Dog: The Germans bombed the wrong end of London in the Blitz, in other words…
how about an OODA loop killer infection of our classified data systems?
Is the WAI you’re referring the Web Accessibility Initiative?
The goals of the WAI are laid out HERE.
If you read the links from that page you’ll find that the WAI is aimed at making websites more accessible to people with disabilities – and that’s it.
@Dennis SGMM: WAI.
Working As Intended.
Jay in Oregon
I think she meant “working as intended”.
joe from Lowell
The problem I see is that people take the “we can’t have total security, we shouldn’t give up our freedom in the quest for it” argument as an absolute, used to argue against any action intended to respond to or prevent terrorism, when it’s more reasonably and effectively considered as a counter-argument against an absolutist position (namely, that anything done in the cause of counter-terrorism is wrong).
I guess failure to see shades of grey is human nature, rather than a partisan problem, too.
joe from Lowell
I’d just like to point out that both Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich voted for the 2001 AUMF authorizing the war in Afghanistan.
that meme is currently being tested.
by Assanges closed information systems killer.
This, a zillionty times.
Does no one (outside of the MSM – who are useless slugs) remember when Clinton targeting Bin Laden was “wag the dog” and only worthy of scorn? Does no one remember when the whole “Osama Bin Laden determined to strike at the US” was an actual paper from the intelligence agency designated to prevent such? Does no one remember that the PARTY IN CHARGE during an unprecedented attack on US soil was COMPLETELY AND UTTERLY INCOMPETENT AND CLUELESS and so more than 3k people died for trusting assholes, and for no other reason?”
a bunch of things that are the truth?
No one who sits in front of a camera, or behind a keyboard for a living, certainly.
I really want to thank you for writing this, old bean.
Indeed, everyone forgets that Bush ran on a platform that criticized Clinton for being too engaged on foreign policy – and in that, he was simply following in the footsteps left by Gingrich’s Congress.
To the extent that Republicans 1991-2001 cared about foreign policy, it was only about great power relations with Russia and China (good excuse to re-start SDI and spend billions on other high-tech, costly hardware). But as far as the rise of Salafism, the Middle East peace process, all those burning identity politics issues in the third world – they couldn’t give a rat’s ass.
So, whether or not there’s any truth to the claim that “9/11 was Clinton’s fault” – it wasn’t – to claim that we could have avoided it by electing Republicans is to ignore absolutely every part of their foreign policy up until 9/10/2001. I’m still mildly stunned that they managed to fucking rewrite history that completely and there’s virtually no one to dispute it.
@Jay in Oregon:
Oh. I think that the closed information systems are still in place. Assange is simply exploiting, and being exploited by, people who want to release certain categories of information for their own ends.
Don’t forget missile defense. Repigs in 2001 had a hard-on for Saint Reagan’s $100 billion Star Wars military-industrial welfare program. Won’t someone please think of the defense contractors and their campaign contributions?
Terrorism and port security just weren’t manly enough for the insecure little men of the GOP. Chimp’s concern was his “fuck you” month-long vacations just because I can and you can’t, and stop annoying me with your poopyhead security alerts, I’m gonna go clear brush.
@Dennis SGMM: Assange is field testing a closed informations system killer. it will not displace anything if it works.
Assange is dripping the diplo cables out one per hour. Why?
the field test is WAI so far, the US gov is responding to paranoia infection by layering more security protocols on and breaking the OODA loops by terminating access.
Assanges system-killer is WAI. (that is a popculture reference to WoW, btw)
So you guys have finally tumbled to the Ratchet Effect, but your response is to shrug your shoulders and say we need to wait for our Nelson Mandela. And you’ve finally tumbled to the fact that Democrats are just as bad as Republicans when it comes to expanding the military-industrial complex, but you somehow still manage to derive a partisan conclusion from this.
Thanks for once again confirming that the Democratic Party runs the full spectrum from uselessness to malevolence.
They also forgot the reaction when Clinton ordered a cruise missile strike on a Sudanese pharmaceutical plant back in 1998. The Clintonistas were convinced that it was making chemical WMD’s and that its owner was a front man for OBL. Turned out that neither was true and Clinton was roundly criticized and mocked by the GOP for ordering the strike.
OTOH, the GOP managed to start a war with a nation that hadn’t attacked us on the trumped-up grounds that it had WMD’s. When it was found that it didn’t have them, the justification changed (Almost daily for a while) and the press continued to go along with the charades.
joe from Lowell
I remember that John Ashcroft took FBI agents off of counterterrorism in order to free up manpower for obscenity prosecutions.
I remember that the position of Director of Counter-terrorism (Richard Clarke’s office) was demoted to subcabinet level in 2001.
Interesting idea. The reason that I missed the WoW reference is that I’m still playing Warcraft II: Battle.net edition in SP. Better I should take up heroin than to jump into WoW.
joe from Lowell
And even after 9/11 gave them a wake-up call, they continued to misunderstand the threat, and to cling to a national security strategy that revolved around the concept of friendly and hostile states. Hence, the 30,000 American troops garrisoned in and around Kabul while the Talibuddies we had to hire to watch the back door at Tora Bora escorted the top al Qaeda and Taliban leadership to freedom.
Hence, George Bush stating, six months after 9/11, that he didn’t think about bin Laden very much anymore.
After all, we’d toppled the government.
Hence, George Bush thinking that putting a friendly government in place in Iraq was central to our efforts to prevent terrorism.
Hence, his plans to follow up OIF with regime-change operations in Iran and – gulp – North Korea.
And have you heard a single Republican criticize him for any of these things? They still view national security in terms of great-game competition.
joe from Lowell
Whoops. The WereBear quote I meant to use was this:
@Dennis SGMM: why do juicers want to rehash what clinton did or wat Bush said?
who the fuck cares?
you can never travel to the past because of closed form time curves, Carroll and Hawking both said.
we are right in the middle of a field test of a systems-killer right out of a scifi novel.
it looks to me like its WAI so far.
Assange laid out exactly what he wants to do, the feds have been spectacularily unable to stop him, and the systemskiller is having the first stage effects Assange theorized in his manifesto.
Why dont people care about this?
Don’t they understand it?
There, you’ve gone and uttered the Kryptonite Phrase to the entrie rotten edifice of Republicanism. Virtually every major nonsensical, destructive policy, from security state intrusions, to knee-jerk support of Israel, bloated defense budgets, the Cuba embargo, the push for creationism and school prayer, invading Iraq and tax-cuts-boost-revenues economic fantasies, is based on shutting down any rational assessment of costs and benefits through an appeal to unquestionable moral authority and condemnation of the very idea of discussion.
You can’t even begin to rationally debate costs and benefits because the party of authoritarianism and magical thinking rejects the very concept of discussing such things.
Well Drum’s argument seems to be that an irrational reaction to terrorism is human nature and so attempts to address that irrationality are inherently condescending, ineffective and ultimately counterproductive. There may be some truth in that but it is not what I would call a “good” point. It seems, to me at least, to suggest that rationality and evidence based analysis is pointless in the face of “human nature.” But aside from the fact that reason is also part of human nature, that is not ground that we would or should normally concede when considering a vast array of what also counts as human nature. Racism, rioting, the sort of avarice that prioritizes destroying natural resources for personal wealth, these are all typical human failings as well. Our response to the progressive who says that racism is irrational is not typically to accuse him/her of condescension.
@matoko_chan: Perhaps it is not that people don’t care, it is that they are not obsessed and don’t feel the need to make every thread about Wikileaks.
All it takes is a new wrinkle on “how many ridiculous failed mass-murder techniques can the CIA/FBI dream up” to produce the next escalation in the futile gadget arms race pursuing the illusion of complete safety for a segment of the traveling public. Pretty soon they will have to branch out to train and bus stations. Of course the public highways are still much more dangerous with apparently no assistance at all from the shadowy boogiemen of Al CIAda required, thank you very much!
We need a clean break from that. Maybe a good start would be to recognize that the 9/11 attacks were just theater (very lethal theater) for political purposes, and to start discussing in public the mountains of evidence that it WAS theater, and demanding some accountability. The Clinton years were prologue – establishing the cast of characters – that set the stage for the actual crazies who took over the government in 2001.
As long as we are invading and occupying countries that are no threat to us, there will be enough pissed-off ethnics to provide that aroma of ill-defined threat to keep the security state well funded by a government only too eager to cough up a few billion for the next boondoggle dreamed up by a former Bush staffer who helped run the scam.
@joe from Lowell:
Yep. That’s what the Axis of Evil was all about – give the public an easily identifiable and (in Iraq’s case) beatable enemy rather than address the real one.
Some Republican authors went even further in clinging to the pre-9/11 era. Remember the strategic overview that came out of the Pentagon the summer before 9/11, which identified China as our biggest rival and structured its recommendations around that?
As late as 2003, when I was browsing books in Borders, I could still find some Republican authors arguing “9/11 proves that America’s at risk and that’s why we need a massive arms buildup against China,” or better yet questions about how China could have been involved in 9/11. Somebody ran out of kool aid and moved onto crack, methinks…
Mike in NC
Really not such a stretch for a bunch of authoritarians…
Neocons are ideologues. They have one simple idea and they apply it to every situation regardless of reality.
The demise of the Soviet Union, a single big scary boogeyman, must have been very sad and confusing for the adherents of an ideology so dependent on having a scapegoat to fear and hate.
@Omnes Omnibus: may this is the most important thing right naow.
have you considered what happens if America’s closed information system (classified data system) either turns to stone or collapses?
Why did the Repugs suddenly get religion? It should properly be called ‘Total $ecurity®’ The money spigot at the Pentagon had to find a way to keep its $inecure, in the wake of the Soviet Union crumbling, and, lo and behold, here we are, and it’s a biparti$an $y$tem with the support of most of Congre$$.
They don’t really care about our security, just our perception of security. It also justifies the land grab of civil rights they’ve been usurping. This also explains why they’re not really interested in real security, like the kind that Schneier does. It also explains why Janet Neopolitan is flying to Spain to threaten Spanish pols and judges against prosecuting Bush-era war crimes.
It also explains the MacGuffin known as Osama Bin Laden, who, after all, was a creation of the CIA.
We have been the targets of terror, not only the approved 9/11™ kind, but the Long War we are forced to pay for, with money and civil liberties, watching as torture and domestic spying and psyops are conducted against us, all while telling us it’s *for* ‘our’ own good. (as the diplo cables indicate, ‘our’ is much more narrowly defined in private, and it doesn’t include anybody reading this blog)
Assange and Wikileaks are turning the tables, and subjecting our downpressors to terror, and they don’t like it. They, and their supporters are furious that the figleaf is being removed from the naked emperor, piece by piece. Even if it makes it worse on the rest of us, that’s the price we have to pay on the back end, to expose the parasites that have been sucking our blood.
@matoko_chan: Even if that were true, it doesn’t mean that no can speak of other topics. Monomania is not healthy.
Then cut off the world wide web.
Install a national firewall if you are so worried.
You can block access to dangerous overseas websites.
You can prevent people from uploading data – but still permit downloading.
Spock you know what TAS nazis just did– they deleted every comment i made on Dr. Manzis thread.
i mailed him but hes in france.
i dunno what time it is there.
its too late for your firewall– Assanges fifth column is american citizen hacktivists and supporters…and people with dual citizenship in both America and the Hacker Nation..
Very true. And still the case today.
Dude, do you read technothrillers?
It’s a guilty pleasure of mine, that and spy fiction. If you’ve ever read Tom Clancy, Dale Brown or the like, look at the plotlines they came up with in the 1990s – it’s the decade when everybody goes ape-shit looking for a new “evil enemy” to replace the Soviets, and the results are surreal. China’s the most popular pick, Iran and North Korea too – but also Russia, India, Japan, United Korea, a united fascist Europe, a resurgent Iraq, and several variations of united Islam, and that’s just off the top of my head.
Yeah, the end of the Cold War made the neocons’ minds fly completely off the map and never return. Some of the stuff it yielded’s pretty fun to read, though.
More on this supposition please.
I don’t see anything that scary in the current leaks. You are getting hysterical. Sure there may be high level secret stuff that could do a lot of harm to national security, but there is no reason to believe that is not secure.
It also occurs to me that the USA may have to raise the penalties for hacking to the same level as espionage.
In the worst cases, you may need to start prosecuting for treason.
Edit: As far as I can see the TAS thread is still there.
@THE: that is the point.
the current leaks are part of the system-killer design that is being field tested.
Dont you read anything i say?
Assange is field testing a closed informations system killer. it will not displace anything if it works.
Assange is dripping the diplo cables out one per hour. Why?
when i last looked all my comments were gone and commenting was closed on that thread. mebbe Jim made them put them back, who can say?
I think maybe you clicked on the wrong thread with your comments.
I too feel after watching the leaks that it is more the potential that is scary than anything that has happened so far.
Many of the leaks are really quite reassuring.
They actually do make the US look good.
You know it’s not just Assange that is checking his system.
It’s also an interesting opportunity for US security experts to develop some new theories and ideas of their own.
In a way it’s good that it is nothing too harmful because it is an interesting test of US cybersecurity systems.
It will probably be studied for years, for what can be learned from it to improve security.
Does it ever occur to you that the whole thing may be a whacky kind of realistic training exercise?
@Dennis SGMM: See, and for that, I’d like people like Mark Halperin and David Broder and the rest of the Washington press corps to explain themselves.
I don’t want or need an explanation from Republicans because their behavior was completely consistent with their political beliefs. But the press people are supposed to be (or at least they tell themselves) that they are neutral observers.
I see the problem. There are two threads at TAS with the same Heading. You must have clicked on the wrong one.