Posts Tagged “anti-terror”

rainbow peace warrior flag : harvey milk plaza, castro, san francisco (2013)This is the fourth in a series of posts I plan about the recent Orlando gay-nightclub shooting, by an American Muslim who appears to have been influenced by ISIS and other violent Islamists. By now my readers will surely know a great deal about this horrific event. The topic of this post is:

The FBI Blew It … Again!

I’ve blogged previously about the clusterfuck which is the US anti-terror effort. As I’ve said, it’s mostly all just “security theater,” pointless exercises intended to make people think they’re being kept safe, when in fact, they’re not. White-powder freakouts do nothing for anyone except cause needless anxiety and inconvenience.

You may recall the background of the Boston Marathon bombers. Russian intelligence had found the elder of the two was likely radicalized; they contacted the FBI, which ostensibly “investigated” him, but closed the book without doing anything. He and his brother subsequently carried out a devastating terror attack. Well, as many outlets — including the New York Times — have reported, the Orlando shooter had been on the FBI’s radar too … not just once, but twice (WebCite cached article):

Two years after [the shooter’s divorce], the Federal Bureau of Investigation was called in after reports from [his] co-workers that he, the American-born son of Afghan immigrants, had suggested he may have had terrorist ties. The F.B.I. interviewed him twice, but after surveillance, records checks and witness interviews, agents were unable to verify any terrorist links and closed their investigation.

Then, in 2014, the F.B.I. discovered a possible tie between [the Orlando shooter] and Moner Mohammad Abusalha, who had grown up in nearby Vero Beach and then became the first American suicide bomber in Syria, where he fought with the Nusra Front, a Qaeda-aligned militant group. Again, the F.B.I. closed its inquiry after finding “minimal” contact between the two men.

After the terrorist investigations cleared [the shooter], he maintained both his Florida security-officer license and his job. He also kept his Florida firearms license, and within the last few days he legally purchased a handgun and a “long gun.”

In the cases of both the Boston bomber and the Orlando shooter, the FBI had been handed leads on proverbial silver platters: Others had already done some work (in the case of one, the Russian government; in the latter, his own co-workers) and provided evidence of potential radicalization. And in both cases the FBI went through the motions of “investigating” — whatever that may have entailed. But also, in both cases, the FBI decided nothing was afoot and did nothing. Clearly, however, they were demonstrably wrong — both times. Something was, indeed, afoot with both of these terrorists … even so, the FBI, after looking into them, apparently never noticed any of it.

How could that be? The US has the most pervasive and comprehensive intelligence operation the world has ever known. They have the benefit of laws that permit them warrantless access to information during anti-terror investigations. There are virtually no limits to how deeply they can dive into a person’s life, if that person is suspected of having even a minor connection to terrorism.

Think about this the next time you’re in an airport and are asked to take your belt and shoes off, or if you see a frail 90-year-old lady being wanded by TSA agents. Just think about it. Think about the hurdles they make every American jump through, in the name of keeping us safe from terror … yet, when they actually have evidence someone might be a terrorist, they turn away and do nothing.

Just think about it, and wonder how rational all of this is. I suggest it’s not rational at all. If anything, it’s pointless and maybe even counter-productive (because it gives everyone a sense of security we don’t actually have).

I had expected there to be an investigation into why the FBI never caught onto the elder of the Boston Marathon bombers a few years ago, but that never materialized. So I don’t expect there will be any investigation into how the Orlando shooter squeezed out from under them, either. More’s the pity.

Photo credit: torbakhopper, via Flickr.

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'Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under.' -H.L. Mencken (PsiCop original graphic)I’d assumed I wouldn’t be addressing the NSA domestic-spying scandal (which, as the (UK) Guardian has reported, includes telephonic data-collection as well as direct Internet surveillance). As a critical thinker I know that anti-terror efforts are much more security theater than anything else; that hyperreactions are all too common; and that successes can be, and have been, vastly overstated.

It’s all an insane joke, from the idiotic dance of having to remove one’s shoes and belt in order to get on a plane, to courthouses being closed for a week at a time because someone spilled Coffeemate on the floor and didn’t clean it up. It would be funny, except for the fact that sometimes, these ridiculous exercises in purposeful futility don’t help at all.

At any rate, so much has been said about this, that I hardly thought my remarks could add to it. However, today I read something that I’d been thinking, right from the start, but hadn’t heard anyone mention until now. Hartford Courant columnist Kevin Rennie penned a piece today that hit the nail on the head (WebCite cached article). About the NSA’s data-mining operation, he said:

More than 800,000 people, including [whistleblower Edward] Snowden, have some type of top secret clearance. Many more are allowed to view other types of classified documents.

This is a large and expensive army of public and private employees dedicated to watching all of us in the pursuit of detecting, identifying and thwarting people who would set off bombs. We are learning that it routinely reaches into the details of all our lives. It looks for potential terrorists by scrutinizing patterns and obscure clues. We have to wonder how these huge organizations dedicated to thwarting attacks somehow missed Boston’s Tsarnaev brothers before they struck twice in April.

In 2011, Russian officials, according to U.S. Rep. William R. Keating, D-Mass., notified the FBI of a drift into radical Islam by Tamerlan Tsarnaev, a political refugee from the Chechen region of Russia. This seems to have prompted at least one visit to Tsarnaev in his Cambridge apartment.

Rival law enforcement organizations dispute who else knew about Tsarnaev, but they cannot deny that in the world of potential terrorists, he stood out among millions of, say, Verizon cellphone customers. We know he visited al-Qaida-related websites, which was probably no surprise to the Muslim worshippers at a local mosque who threw him out after he ranted about his radical vision of Islam.

Law enforcement, however, seems to have lost track of him and his murderous brother.

Rennie is absolutely right. The U.S. government happily collected and sifted through vast amounts of data on hundreds of millions of people who had absolutely no connection whatever with terrorism. Their hope — presumably — was to use all this data to develop leads that might, somehow, magically, someday, some way, point them in the direction of terrorism. But at the same time, they’d been handed a specific lead on a potential terrorist — i.e. Tamerlan Tsarnaev — by the Russian government, but they never really pursued it (not beyond going to speak to him once).

Americans seriously need to ask what the fuck the NSA, the CIA, the FBI, Homeland Security, et al are doing, straining petabytes of non-terror-related data for mere-potential leads, while outright rejecting meaningful and investigatable leads that had been handed to them on a silver platter by another government which had already done some work on the matter. Clearly they’re all so enamored of their power to collect all that data, that they can no longer be bothered doing any serious investigation work. They had a chance to have derailed the Boston Marathon bombings before they happened … but chose not to do so.

Lastly, President Obama rather famously stated, “Nobody is listening to your telephone calls” (cached). Well, as CNet reports, this turns out to have been a lie, too (cached). The NSA was, in fact, listening in on phone calls — routinely, without warrants, using a system that had been set up to grant them live access to phone calls at all times, and even to archive those calls.

Lest anyone think I’m singling out Obama, his administration, Democrats, or the Left for criticism over this, I’m not. I’ve been on the record as opposing these measures ever since they became part of American life, with the Patriot Act, passed by a split Congress and signed by President G.W. Bush. The bipartisan and bi-ideological nature of this scandal is only one of hundreds of reasons why I’m a Cynicalist and an anti-ideologue.

Photo credit: PsiCop original graphic based on H.L. Mencken.

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'Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under.' -H.L. Mencken (PsiCop original graphic)I’ve blogged a few times about the ongoing scam that is anti-terror security in the US. Their actions are frequently extreme and misdirected, and often absurdly out of proportion with the risk being dealt with. The government’s excuses for all of this ridiculousness are legion: “An abundance of caution” is typically cited as being necessary, as well as the need to be vigilant because the terrorists are everywhere.

I concede there are terrorists working to attack Americans … as well as people all over the planet. It would be insane to say there’s absolutely no danger. What I’ve consistently questioned is whether what’s being done, actually diminishes that risk, as well as whether or not the measures that are taken, are worth the small increase in safety they might provide. I’ve long agreed with experts like Bruce Schneier that it’s all just “security theater,” or useless exercises intended to make people feel safer, without actually doing anything to make them safter.

In its review of New York City’s claim of success in contending with the threat of terrorism, ProPublica has examined the city’s record, and found its claims disingenuous (WebCite cached article):

The NYPD is regularly held up as one of the most sophisticated and significant counterterrorism operations in the country. As evidence of the NYPD’s excellence, the department, its allies and the media have repeatedly said the department has thwarted or helped thwart 14 terrorist plots against New York since Sept 11.

In a glowing profile of Commissioner Ray Kelly published in Newsweek last month, for example, journalist Christopher Dickey wrote of the commissioner’s tenure since taking office in 2002: The record “is hard to argue with: at least 14 full-blown terrorist attacks have been prevented or failed on Kelly’s watch.”

The figure has been cited repeatedly in the media, by New York congressmen, and by Kelly himself. The NYPD itself has published the full list, saying terrorists have “attempted to kill New Yorkers in 14 different plots.”…

Is it true?

In a word, no.

A review of the list shows a much more complicated reality — that the 14 figure overstates both the number of serious, developed terrorist plots against New York and exaggerates the NYPD’s role in stopping attacks.

ProPublica goes over this list of NYC anti-terror successes, and points how they’re really failures. I’ll leave the details up to them to explain, but I do urge you to look at them and see it for yourself.

I’m disappointed the mass media have reported on government anti-terror activities as uncritically as they have. It’s not as though the record on a lot of these matters can’t be verified … as ProPublica demonstrated. But it seems the mass media generally aren’t interested in checking it out.

Now, if I were a committed ideologue, I’d chalk this up to some sort of “media bias” (of whichever direction). But I need not appeal to anything that subjective. I think the reason the mass media have refused to examine the government’s anti-terror track record, is because reporters (outside of ProPublica!) are — quite simply — too lazy or too incompetent to bother doing it. This is not the only field they’re uncritical about … for instance, I’ve caught media outlets reporting uncritically on the paranormal. A lack of critical thinking on the part of reporters, is just one of many aspects of modern journalism that’s severely lacking.

Photo credit: PsiCop original, containing the wisdom of H.L. Mencken.

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Gustave Doré (1832-1883), The Crusaders war machinery, via Wikimedia CommonsThis issue isn’t really new. Wired magazine has been reporting on this particular issue for quite some time (cached). It seems anti-terror instruction in the US military has been taken over by Neocrusaders who’ve made any number of outrageous claims about Islam as a whole and are trying to inculcate hatred of Muslims generally among the ranks. I blogged about this particular influence within the FBI when Wired reported on it last year. But the influence of the Neocrusade in the military seems to be worse, more pervasive, and more extensive.

Last year the Pentagon began a review of its anti-terror training materials, and the results of that review are starting to emerge. MSNBC elaborates on an Al Jazeera report on aspects that have come to light already (WebCite cached article):

As the Pentagon reviews all military classes following the disclosure of one that advocated “total war” against Muslims, the news website Al-Jazeera reported Saturday that it had received materials from a similar course and that both were put together by the same group, a nonprofit that offers classes and workshops to military and government officials.

Al-Jazeera said [cached] it received course slides from an unnamed military officer who said “this bigoted conspiracy cabal is both disgusting and so deeply un-American.”

The slides leave the impression that Hamas extremists have infiltrated the U.S. government, media and education via U.S. Islamic groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Al-Jazeera said. …

The documents indicated the two courses were prepared by the consulting firm Strategic Engagement Group, Inc., Al-Jazeera said. The website for Strategic Engagement [cached] does include statements similar to those in the materials cited by Al-Jazeera, msnbc.com found.

I decided to nose around in Strategic Engagement’s Web site to see what they offer. The first link I clicked on was this PDF version of a Powerpoint presentation entitled “CAIR Is Hamas” (cached). It didn’t take long for me to discover that these people are spewing factual errors. For instance, slide 3 of the presentation says:

In the 1920’s, after WWI and the Turkish Revolution, Mustafa Kemal “Ataturk” became the leader of the new nation-state Turkey. He dissolved the nearly 700 old Islamic State (Caliphate) known as the “Ottoman Empire,” outlawed the wearing of hijab, the growing of Islamic beards, the call to prayer, replaced Arabic with Latin, did away with Shariah (Islamic Law) and replaced it with secular law, and built an army to protect secular Turkey.

First, while it’s true that Ataturk did establish a new, and secular, government in Turkey, his new state did not encompass all of what had once been the Ottoman Empire. That dismantled state was succeeded, in those other regions, by other less secular states, or they became colonies of western powers and only later became independent states. So it’s factually incorrect to state that “the Ottoman Empire” was succeeded uniformly by the “secular” state of Turkey.

Second, the Ottoman Empire was not really a “Caliphate.” While some of its rulers did use that title, sporadically, even when they did, it was not universally recognized across Islam. Moreover, that they did so, doesn’t really mean a lot: Ottoman rulers sometimes arrogated other titles, such as “Roman Emperor,” and that’s also difficult to take very seriously. The title that best applies to the Ottoman rulers was “sultan,” not “caliph,” making the Ottoman Empire a “sultanate” rather than a “caliphate.”

Third, Ataturk did not “replace Arabic with Latin.” Within Ataturk’s new state of Turkey, the dominant language had been Turkish, not Arabic, and it remains so. While Turkish had long been written mostly using the Arabic alphabet, it was less than ideal; Ataturk did encourage the use of a Latin-based alphabet instead. But it is simply not true that Turkey went from speaking Arabic to speaking Latin.

I hardly need to investigate these Neocrusading wingnuts any further, given their loose command of basic history. Listen, I get it. Really I do. I get that the United States has been attacked by Islamic terrorists who feel compelled to kill others — and themselves — out of a violent religiofascistic impulse. I also get that there are immature, violent Muslims who are prone to explode in insane fury at the slightest provocation. I concede there are still some dangerously fanatical Muslims out there who think their religion orders them to maim and kill. That’s very much in evidence, and only a fool would say otherwise. What concerns me are these two basic premises of the Neocrusade:

  1. Islamofascist terrorists are not the “fringe” of Islam, they are its heart; which means that all Muslims, not just some, are murderous fanatics.
  2. Only Islam has any murderous impulses; other religions, particularly Christianity, do not.

The former premise is just not true, as witnessed by the fact that there are plenty of “moderate,” non-terrorist Muslims around the world, who at this moment are fighting the terrorist element of their religion. And other religions, including Christianity, most certainly also have their own terrorizing, murderous extremists. Eradicating Islam completely — which is the Neocrusade’s ultimate goal — cannot and will never end terrorism. To assume so is not only irrational, it’s delusional. The cold fact is that nearly any religion, anywhere, is capable of inciting violence and even terrorism in its followers. None is immune to it. The sooner we understand this, the better off we’ll all be.

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Privacy, health, fears over airport X-rayA couple weeks ago I blogged about the laughable fraud of “anti-terror security” which is inflicted on non-terrorist Americans every day, a post that was triggered by an asinine overreaction to something in my home state of Connecticut (cached article). Scams such as this depend on Americans’ inability to think critically. If we actually paid attention to what our leaders are saying, and took the time to really think about it, the fraudulent nature of TSA’s “security theater” would be obvious, and it would never be tolerated. However, Americans are easy to swindle and easily swayed by stupid platitudes and empty promises. So the scam continues.

I bring this up again because of TSA’s new, stricter and more invasive airport-security measures that have been implemented recently, and I’m gratified to see something of a backlash emerge against it.

In an op-ed which appeared in USA Today, Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano ostensibly addressed the pushback (WebCite cached article). In the process she revealed the fraud for what it is, when she opened it with this paragraph:

Nearly a year after a thwarted terrorist attack on a Detroit-bound airliner last Christmas Day, the recent attempt by terrorists to conceal and ship explosive devices aboard aircraft bound for the United States reminds us that al-Qaeda and those inspired by its ideology are determined to strike our global aviation system and are constantly adapting their tactics for doing so.

Here is where Napolitano’s lie is most evident: The event to which she alludes took place on December 25, 2009. That was nearly 11 months ago. If these new measures were truly intended to prevent that kind of attack, putting new measures in 11 months later is a lot like closing the barn door after the horses have gone loose. That the TSA — and the DHS to which it belongs — took 11 months to implement something to prevent it, demonstrates absolutely that there was no urgency behind it.

In other words, the 12/25/2009 attempted bombing literally cannot have been the real impetus behind this. It just can’t. So the secretary is lying when she suggests this is the case.

Napolitano goes on to lie again about what the TSA is doing:

Rigorous privacy safeguards are also in place to protect the traveling public. All images generated by imaging technology are viewed in a walled-off location not visible to the public. The officer assisting the passenger never sees the image, and the officer viewing the image never interacts with the passenger. The imaging technology that we use cannot store, export, print or transmit images.

Now, why do I say this is a lie? Because as CNET reported in August, officials and contractors have already been caught storing images of passengers which they were not supposed to have stored (cached article):

William Bordley, an associate general counsel with the Marshals Service, acknowledged in the letter that “approximately 35,314 images…have been stored on the Brijot Gen2 machine” used in the Orlando, Fla. federal courthouse. In addition, Bordley wrote, a Millivision machine was tested in the Washington, D.C. federal courthouse but it was sent back to the manufacturer, which now apparently possesses the image database.

Napolitano claims storage of these images is somehow “impossible,” but fails to admit that it has already, demonstrably, happened.

Napolitano compounds her lies in her closing paragraph:

Each and every one of the security measures we implement serves an important goal: providing safe and efficient air travel for the millions of people who rely on our aviation system every day.

If this were true, these measures would have been implemented back on December 26, 2009 … not now, close to 11 months later.

In this single op-ed, the secretary exposes the scam of “airport security” for what it is. I’m sure she didn’t intend this to be an exposé … she very likely assumes Americans will simply buy into her lies … but that’s precisely what she penned: a big lie.

Photo credit: publik16.

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