Posts Tagged “antiterror”

'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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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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