By Their Fruits Shall Ye Know Them

A New Year’s wake-up call from the International Business Times: “In their annual End of Year poll, researchers for WIN and Gallup International surveyed more than 66,000 people across 65 nations and found that 24 percent of all respondents answered that the United States “is the greatest threat to peace in the world today.” Pakistan and China fell significantly behind the United States on the poll, with 8 and 6 percent, respectively. Afghanistan, Iran, Israel and North Korea all tied for fourth place with 4 percent.”

This confirms what international travelers sense: whereas not so long ago foreigners saw Americans as the embodiment of peace and freedom, a plurality now see us as a source of trouble for themselves. For more people than not, being on America’s side now means being on the side of trouble. Why? And what is that to us?

As ever in human history, the reputation of “dangerous to peace” does not attach itself to nations that trample over others as victorious aggressors, or whose power looms ominously. Rather, it is yet one more dangerous indignity heaped upon those who are perceived as weak and inept. That perception means that more and more people are likely to deprive us of our peace.

The question for us Americans to ponder as we enter into yet another election year is: how, since 9/11, did our leaders manage to use this country’s mighty military; how did they manage to sacrifice some 10,000 American dead and 30,000 crippled for life, to kill several hundred thousand foreigners while spending between two and three Trillion dollars, in a way that earned us no peace abroad or at home and the title of “greatest threat to peace in the world” to boot? How has all this effort made more and more people hostile to us?

We may see part of the answer in a December 29 Wall Street Journal feature by Philip Mudd, deputy director of CIA’s counterterrorism center 2003-6 and senior intelligence adviser at FBI 2009-10.

We should take Mr. Mudd at his word that our Best And Brightest have been in charge since the beginning, and have followed a consistent plan: “We met every afternoon in the CIA director’s conference room at 5. At the FBI director’s conference room, we met every morning shortly after 7.” Nose to the grindstone, early and late.

iStock_000025154172SmallThese high officials believe that America is beset by a shadowy spider-web of international rogues, and that the path to our peace lies in mapping that network. “How best can we clarify the blurry picture of an emerging terror conspiracy overseas or in the United States? How can we identify the key players and the broader network of fundraisers, radicalizers, travel facilitators and others quickly enough so they can’t succeed? And how do we ensure that we’ve mapped the network enough to dismantle—and not merely disrupt—it?”

Their answer, since they pretend to be agnostic about that network’s composition, is to gather as much data about what everyone in the world is doing and then to sort it by sophisticated mathematical algorithms to isolate “gossamer contacts…in an ocean of seemingly disconnected data,” and then to focus their investigations. To do otherwise – to start from openly available facts about who wants to do what to whom would be “profiling” of the racist kind.

But, technology has enabled our wizards to combine socio-political agnosticism with effectiveness: “The fastest, most efficient solution to mapping a network of conspirators lies in following digital connections among people. And as digital trails expand, digital network mapping will increase in value…link cellphones, email contacts, financial transactions, travel and visa information, add in whatever else you can find, and …Bingo! Within a day, you can have the beginnings of an understanding of a complex network. Even so, an analyst has to ask other questions. Where did the conspirators travel a year ago? Five years ago? Who did they live with? Who did they sit next to on an airplane? [for that] Investigators need an historical pool of data.”

That data must cover as much of mankind as possible because we all know, we all must know, that any human being is as likely as any other to be a terrorist. Repeat that. We must all know that, unless we are racists. And the data must be kept forever, ready to be re-analyzed by whatever new theory and algorithm comes along.

Note well that Mr. Mudd is not proposing anything new. He is describing accurately the manner in which the US government has proceeded in the War On Terror, using fully and freely all the technological tools the effectiveness of which he and the rest of our Best and Brightest tout as the key to our safety and peace.

Note well, however, what the results have been: Whereas on the night of September 11 2001 the Muslim world’s governments suppressed joyous dancing in the streets, fearful of how America might hold them responsible, on the eleventh anniversary of that horror they sided with crowds that attacked US embassies shouting “Obama, Obama, there are a billion Osamas.”

And, as our Best And Brightest tinker with algorithms to sort the communications of billions of innocents, hundreds of millions of these have come to regard America as a threat to themselves.

That is more reasonable than what our Best And Brightest are doing.

Angelo M. Codevilla is professor emeritus of international relations at Boston University. He served as a U.S. Senate Staff member dealing with oversight of the intelligence services. His new book Peace Among Ourselves and With All Nations was published by Hoover Institution Press.

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Comments

  1. Kevin R. Hardwick says

    The implication here, at least as I read the post above, is that our various intelligence agencies have abandoned what the CIA used to call “human intelligence” (which makes discriminating judgments about actual people) in favor of catch-all data mining. We certainly know that the various intelligence agencies, or at least some of them, practice data mining. But do we know that the various agencies have abandoned human intelligence? My guess is that they have not.

    Do we have any evidence that the reason that agencies like the NSA have implemented data mining programs is because they are concerned one way or the other that the public might perceive them as racist? Or even that they might perceive themselves as racist? My guess is that to the extent that the various agencies have replaced reliance on discriminating human judgment in favor of catch-all data mining, worries about racism have little to do with it. My sense is that more pragmatic and instrumental concerns motivate them–they do what they think necessary, within the law as they understand it anyway, to enhance the security of the US. That concern trumps most others–so, at least, it seems to me. I am open to being persuaded otherwise, but some evidence here would be nice.

  2. gabe says

    Kevin:

    Like you, I also would like to see some specific facts regarding this assertion.

    However, I do believe that the author is quite accurate in making such a claim. One need only look at some of the more obvious “security” protocols that impinge upon our daily lives. The TSA for example is famous for “strip searching” 80 year old grannies from Des Moines. Now, why would that be so? why must every traveler be considered a threat when we KNOW that 80 years old american grannies do not typically waltz about with explosives concealed in their girdles. Compare this to the Israeli airport / security practices which is targeted and rational and one can begin to see that something else is at work here.
    The same is true in many areas of law enforcement AND most regrettably in the US Armed Forces (re: the Mad Muslim Major from Fort Hood). An unwillingness to recognize that certain “types” are more likely to commit offenses has not served us well.

  3. Kevin R. Hardwick says

    Gabe–

    I don’t doubt for an instant that concerns for racism factor in to decision making. But I am not at all persuaded that racism accounts for 100% of decision making, or even the major portion of it. I think the post makes too strong of a generalization. The issue is not the assertion that racism accounts for some decisions–it is rather that it accounts for everything. That strikes me as very much unlikely, although I am open to being persuaded.

    • gabe says

      Kevin: Hope I can express this thought properly.

      While concerns for “profiling” do not, in fact, account for 100% of the motivating rationale for policy , it nevertheless accounts for an overwhelming effect on PRACTICE. That is to say, that because such a concern exists, and is acted upon (or in this case, not acted upon), then numerous other decisions / actions must be taken. Thus, we end up examining the lives of every little purple haired Upper West Side granny from Manhattan and the little old cherub from Des Moines rather than a type that more closely fits the target – we do this because we have the technology to do so – in fact given the initial “profiling” premise, we can not do anything other than use the far reaching sweep of communications intercept to capture the target elements – even if we means we must sort through mountains of metadata, the preponderance of which would lead to Aunt Bessie’s recipe for double chocolate brownies.
      In short, to rule out the one option commands the alternative.

      take care
      gabe

  4. Kevin R. Hardwick says

    Gabe–

    The American Intelligence apparatus is spread across an insanely and dysfunctionally large number of bureaucratic entities. Within some, probably all, of these bureaucracies, various programs are “siloed”, which means that decision making in one program is functionally insulated from decision making in others. I find it a priori to be highly unlikely that practice in one agency, on in one silo of an agency, has all that much influence on practice in others. So sure–some of the most publicly visible programs do function as you say. And I am willing to believe that within those particular programs, ruling out the one option commands the alternative. But I am not at all persuaded that just because some programs work this way, all of them do. That runs counter to everything I know about how bureaucracies actually function.

    If we had a centralized intelligence apparatus, then I would be more persuaded. But we do not. What happens in some programs at the NSA has relatively little import for what happens at the CIA–or in the intelligence programs of the NYPD–or any of numerous other decentralized intelligence programs spread across the federal, state, and municipal governments.

    This logic, anyway, is the source of my skepticism. For what that’s worth–likely not all that much :)

    Well wishes,
    Kevin

  5. gabe says

    Kevin;

    You are correct about the structure of our “intelligence” apparatus. it is not monolithic and there will be variations in methodology / approach.
    However, i would contend that they are more variations upon a central theme and are still reflective of a self imposed limitation on target specificity.

    Recall, the clinton era functionary, Jamie gorelick and her imposition of the “Wall” in intelligence sharing operations. This had a profound effect on the effectiveness of our intelligence operations and affected all departments to include the sharing of information with local law enforcement.

    If the head(s)of our intelligence operations make known that we “shall not” profile and wehn someone as highly positioned as James Clapper (he should be doing automatic light bulb commercials) declares that “Radical Islam” is not a concern, then what does one suppose the effect will be throughout the intel community. I think we see the results in the subsequent overly broad data collection. could this have happened otherwise? Perhaps – but one can not deny that given the “profiling” limitation such a broad approach became inevitable – and it is quite costly in terms of resources and liberty.
    This is not to say that all agencies operate in lock step – but all are subject to the overall restriction – even the US Armed forces.
    The more conspiratorial minded would argue that this is part of the master plan to appease Islam and point to various “smart diplomacy” follies (and there are many) as proof of this assertion. Me – I don’t have a clue! However, i suspect it has more to do with the same liberal mindset that beset intel operations during the Clinton era – Political Correctness run amok and a refusal to recognize that we in fact do have real enemies and no amount of playing “kissy face” with our enemies will change that.

    take care
    gabe
    BTW: Are you snowed under?

  6. gabe says

    And then there is this about a 1971 break-in at FBI satellite office in Pennsylvania.
    The crucial point in this story is the fact that the intel ops were “targeted” not random. Yes, one can argue the merits of this and / or whether the targeting was proper – nevertheless, it was target specific and my favorite purple haired matrons from the Upper West side had nothing to fear.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/07/us/burglars-who-took-on-fbi-abandon-shadows.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all&

  7. Kevin R. Hardwick says

    Gabe–

    No snow–just bone-chilling cold (that is, for the American Southland anyway, even the northernmost reaches of it–our good friends in places like Minnesota no doubt think we are wusses). Of course, what counts as “south” has been receding, well, south, for some time now. The Mason-Dixon Line used to mean something, but no longer–Maryland and Delaware now count as “Mid-Atlantic.” Here in the Great Valley of Stonewall Jackson yore is, people root for the Pittsburgh Steelers or that wretched team from the Nation’s Capitol. It is all rather sad, actually. Still–the wind chill was well below zero last night, and that’s unusual for these parts.

    Anyway, with regard to the topic at hand you may well be right. Even so, the laudable impulse to squash racism wherever one finds it should not prevent use of discriminating judgment. Octogenerian grand-mothers should have little to fear from law enforcement, regardless of their ethnicity–Israel has well developed profiles for islamic terrorism, and octogenerians, male or female, pretty much off that particular spectrum. I guess you could argue that anxieties about racism bleed over into anxieties about agism and so on. That’s a leap I’d like to see warranted though.

    Good stuff, as always. I hope you are staying warm this evening!

    Well wishes,
    Kevin

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