Geopolitical Update

by Gordon Frisch at HSL
June 24, 2002

Big Brother's Mom and Dad

“I am willing to give up some of my personal
freedoms in order to stop 9/11 from ever
happening again. But the question
is, where do you draw the line?”

—Steven Spielberg

        We unquestionably live in a different world since 9/11. Spielberg expresses the sentiments of millions in this brave new world as our civil liberties and privacy are increasingly sacrificed on the altar of security. Few would argue the need for tighter security and better intelligence … but where are the limits?

        The opposite of a free and open society is a police state where terrorists (and everyone) are suffocated by government oppression. Out of necessity, and begrudgingly, we have little choice but to concede that government intelligence and law enforcement agencies must play a larger security role in our lives. That means the balance must move a bit from a completely open society towards a more closed one. But how far? Opinions vary widely.

        Danger lies in the fact that governments, like pendulums, always swing too far one way, then too far back the other. Finding the proper balance can be problematic at best and fatal at worst. This article intends to identify the extremes of the pendulum swings in order that we might figure out a middle ground where governments ought to be. Like Goldilocks, we don't want our (government) soup too hot or too cold, but “just right.”

        When Jimmy Carter was US president in the late 1970s, a major change in emphasis was made in intelligence gathering. Instead of primary reliance on Humint (human intelligence gathering), there was a major shift to Elint (electronic intelligence gathering). Spies were brought in from the cold, and primary reliance on Elint, especially satellite eavesdropping, continued until 9/11. On that fateful day hi-tech spy agencies realized with overwhelming dread that bringing spies in from the cold had introduced fatal handicaps to the successful completion of their missions. They were suddenly flying blind in much of the Third World, and they had been caught flat-footed by creative low-tech terrorists. Furthermore, while Humint was on ice, global terrorism infected the world, including cancerous al Qaeda cells in some 60 nations. 9/11 was an overdue wakeup call and catalyst for change.

        With time, all bureaucracies, government and private, outlive their usefulness and need reinvention, replacement or closure. Unlike private sector corporations, changing or closing a government bureaucracy is extremely difficult because there is often no penalty for inefficiency or failure. Bureaucrats become addicted to taxpayer welfare and are averse to putting themselves out of unneeded jobs. And they become slaves to systems instead of aspiring to worthwhile jobs and goals. In government there's rarely an earth-shattering event like 9/11 to serve as a wakeup call for change, so government bureaucracies often live perpetual existences of marginal use to anyone. There are exceptions to this rule, as there are some splendid civil servants, but I'm speaking in general.

        Due to the unforgiving nature of their work, and unlike other government bureaucracies, intelligence agencies and militaries do not indefinitely survive incompetence. The US military (and to some extent NATO) has made great strides in modernizing and reinventing itself, beginning with Desert Storm. However, US Defense Secretary Rumsfeld is among the few who realize that military changes of far greater magnitude are still needed. Predictably, he has to fight pork-barrel politicians and an entrenched military-industrial complex every step of the way to achieve his “Force Transformation.” He is the right man for that particular job.

        The Bush Administration clearly recognizes the need for sweeping changes in the intelligence community. Some of the most wasteful and unproductive action we've seen since 9/11 is the interagency posturing, bickering and finger pointing, most notably between the FBI and CIA. The public no longer cares about, “Who knew what?” or “When did they know it?” They want solutions, not blame, as they already know the ball was dropped and are beyond caring who did it and when. Overhaul of the intelligence community is long overdue, and the new cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security is the Bush answer. It will involve reorganization and consolidation of 22 federal agencies accompanied by the usual jockeying for power and turf. But on the one hand it was “perhaps” a stroke of genius to make the Department of Homeland Security a clearinghouse for all other Big Brother intelligence agencies. It inserts a “Dad” into the fray to exercise unquestioned authority over a bunch of bickering Big Brothers.

        On the other hand, creating a monstrous new federal bureaucracy with over 169,000 employees and startup funding of $37 billion should give taxpayers pause. Will there be a commensurate decrease in government spending elsewhere to balance a budget already headed for record deficits? It's doubtful, because government bureaucracies and Congress never function in such logical fashion. And should citizens be concerned about the massive concentration of intelligence in a single agency with historically unprecedented hi-tech tools at its disposal? This could be the Mother (and Dad) of all Big Brother intelligence agencies. But who controls the controller?

        Here are some examples of swinging pendulums in our Brave New (post-9/11) World along with Big Brother and privacy considerations:
There has been much emphasis on secrecy, but it was recently discovered that sensitive, unencrypted, US military, live spy plane photos monitoring Balkans anti-terrorist operations were accessible to anyone with a satellite TV receiver. And a few days ago, an Austrian teenager hacked into secret Pentagon plans including US nuclear missile locations. It's difficult to trust government assurances that it will protect our sensitive personal information if it can't protect its own vital defense information.

        Political correctness (PC), to include racial profiling, now resides in the realm of the absurd. It is undisputed that all nineteen 9/11 hijackers were Moslem Arabs, yet airport security people have clear orders not to profile passengers. Al Qaeda had no respect for racial diversity and equal opportunity when it used only healthy, Moslem, Arab males for its suicide missions. Such discrimination! Someone tell Ted Kennedy and the ACLU. Meanwhile, PC airport security people cannot profile, but must evenly target everyone, including little old Norwegian grandmothers from Iowa who might be as dangerous (in a million years) as an Arab passenger fitting a hijacker profile. Does anyone in the PC world understand the basic premise that when trying to find members of a Colombian drug cartel you should look for Colombians?

        E.V. Kontorovich, Assistant Professor of Law, George Mason University Law School, advocates using truth serum on captive terrorists who won't talk. He says it's akin to wiretaps and surveillance and no more invasive than body cavity searches or polygraphs, which are legal. Those sitting at the other end of the pendulum cry “torture!”

        Everyone knows that clever 9/11 terrorists brilliantly executed a simple plan under the nose of intelligence agencies tuned to the wrong frequencies and looking in the wrong direction. This was not entirely the fault of intelligence agencies, which have been severely curtailed for years by laws that blocked certain types of investigation. For example, it has been illegal for the FBI to access online research that is available to cub reporters and salesmen. Meanwhile, reports indicate spying by foreigners in the US, friends and foes alike, is increasing enormously. Those opposed to granting the FBI more authority and jurisdiction point to Waco and Ruby Ridge. CBS humorist Andy Rooney was entirely serious recently when he said that Attorney General John Ashcroft's rules are “how dictatorships get started.”

        Atlanta-based Internet Security Systems recently held a meeting on cyber security. CEO Tom Noonan said, “This is the first national security threat the government can't handle alone.” Former US Senator Sam Nunn, a panelist, said: “The critical infrastructure of this country may be the most vulnerable to cyber attack. Waiting for disaster to happen is not a strategy.” “The panelists agreed (Washington Post, Jun 19) that fighting cyberterrorism requires large corporations, the government, international governments, small businesses and consumers to work together.” It's a virtual certainty that the borderless Internet will be a future terrorism battlefield.

        The New York Times reports (Jun 17): “President Bush has directed his top national security aides to make a doctrine of pre-emptive action against states and terrorist groups trying to develop weapons of mass destruction.” This directly contradicts fundamental US Cold War strategies of defense and détente. In short, the US will not wait for terrorist strikes before acting; it will undertake offensive first strikes at suspected terrorists. Indeed, this isn't the Cold War.

        Offensive first strikes against terrorists are understandable in the aftermath of 9/11, but there will inevitably come a day when a decision to strike suspected terrorists is widely viewed by the world as arbitrary and bullying. Then, cries of Yankee imperialism and the ghosts of Vietnam will return to haunt. The Bush Administration really has little choice, it is forced to run a gauntlet not of its choosing. It will be sniped at from left and right, from foreign allies, and from the media. It will take great courage to stay the course while walking a tightrope.

        On May 23rd, President Bush spoke to the German Parliament in Berlin's newly reconstructed Reichstag and said: “September the 11th, 2001, cut a deep dividing line in our history, a change of eras as sharp and clear as Pearl Harbor.” The burning of the Reichstag in Berlin in 1933 marked the beginning of Hitler's rise to power. Bush told Parliament that “wishful thinking” would not get rid of “the new totalitarian threat.” Déjà vu.

        A week later, in his West Point commencement address, President Bush told graduating cadets: “The US will take pre-emptive action when necessary to defend our liberty and to defend our lives. Since the only path to safety is the path of action, this nation will act.” Like it or not, pre-emptive action is the new US policy du jour … externally and internally.

“The guilty are arrested before the law is broken.”
—advert for Steven Spielberg film Minority Report

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