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The Nuclear Option

peacefinder (469349) writes | more than 8 years ago

Privacy 8

The current debacle over warrantless NSA wiretaps is kinda interesting. It's started some spirited discussions over the proper limits of executive authority. One argument I keep seeing is... well, let me quote an example:

"... anyone who [...] would rather be killed than allow the government to intercept the subject communications, they need to check into the nearest funny farm."

The current debacle over warrantless NSA wiretaps is kinda interesting. It's started some spirited discussions over the proper limits of executive authority. One argument I keep seeing is... well, let me quote an example:

"... anyone who [...] would rather be killed than allow the government to intercept the subject communications, they need to check into the nearest funny farm."

It's a pretty basic emotional argument, and I had all sorts of arguments undercutting the fear propping that argument up. I did blog battle and I am happy to report that I prevailed.

After it was over, though, I realized that I was using a whole bunch of lesser arguments when I could have just dropped the Big One. Here it is:

---

People seem not to remember the cold war anymore, but there was a clash of civilizations. The godless commies had thousands of nuclear warheads, hundreds of ICBMs, the full array of biological and chemical weapons, and a vast conventional force. For at least thirty years we assumed that they had the will to destroy us, that they would be only too happy to nuke Washington D.C. and maybe the rest of our nation without warning. All this was backed up by the KGB, a first-rate intelligence service that regularly snookered both the CIA and FBI. This was the conflict which underlay all of our foreign policy choices for fourty-five years, and this threat led to the creation of both the NSA and FISA.

But if we ever used warrantless domestic wiretaps in response to this threat, it has yet to be made public. We apparently preserved the warrant requirement for domestic wiretaps during the whole of the cold war. Why give it up now?

Is this administration seriously contending that al-qeida is a worse threat than the Evil Empire?

---

Use it well.

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Wow (1)

Stargoat (658863) | more than 8 years ago | (#14381350)

I think this is one of the best journal articles you've ever written. Nice job.

Furthering the Argument (1)

Shadow Wrought (586631) | more than 8 years ago | (#14385692)

You could also point out the Godless Commies used "State Security" as a justification to secretly surveil their own people. Guess we're Godless Commies now...

Re:Furthering the Argument (1)

peacefinder (469349) | more than 8 years ago | (#14386410)

Yeah, but I don't see the profit in it. This is one issue where indirect comparisons are made irrelevant (and possibly counterproductive) by the wealth of available direct comparisons. Comparing the two threats and our behavior in response to each is a simple way to show just how odd the current administration's choices are.

Before I hit on this strategy, I was fooling around with offering some perspective on the daily threats to our lives, and asking why we're so disproportionately scared of terrorism at al, let alone so scared that we'll do away with some warrant requirements. Some stats [cdc.gov] I found follow.

In the US during 2001:
* Tobacco use killed about 400,000 [cdc.gov]
* Auto accidents killed about 40,000
* Accidental poisoning killed 14,078
* Firearms killed about 12,000 (about 800 accidentally)
* Accidental suffocation killed 5,555
* Fires killed 3,423
* Drowning killed 3,281
* Terrorism killed 2,922

What the hell are we so scared of?

Re:Furthering the Argument (1)

Shadow Wrought (586631) | more than 8 years ago | (#14386781)

Which, as I have often said, no one is better at killing Americans than Americans. You have to enjoy the irony of someone worrying about the Terrorists while smoking a cigarette and drinking a beer. Which one of those three will get you first? Alcohol, Tabacco, or Terrorist?

Directed vs Accidental (1)

DG (989) | more than 8 years ago | (#14403421)

Well of all the example you sited, all of them (save maybe "fires", where a certain percentage may be arson) are accidents where there is little (save tobacco use, but that is self-inflicted) one can do about them.

Terrorism is a willful act with another human being behind it. Unlike the other examples, it has *purpose*, and an author, and as such, it can be thwarted.

I'd also argue that the damage inflicted by terrorism is much larger than a simple body count. Successful, large-scale acts of terrorism can do damage to the national psyche in excess of what may be warranted by a pure statistical accounting - especially in a nation so consumed by a culture of fear as the USA.

Combat against terrorists is a Good Thing.

However, what has happened in the last few years since 9/11 isn't "combat vs terrorists". To be honest, I'm not sure *what* it is.

The proper thing to do in the wake of 9/11 was to invade Afganistan (as a state that, if it had not outright sponsored the terrorists, at least permitted them to operate on their soil), clear out and capture all the terrorists and their allies, publiclly try, convict, and (dare I say it) execute the masterminds, and then - this is the important part - move heaven and earth to convert Afganistan into a garden spot and turn it back over to a legitmate, independant, local government.

The model to follow here is Germany and Japan following WW2. The task is not complete without successful execution of the Marshall Plan - the part that was, by the way, the stroke of pure genius and outright goodness in the wake of all the evil that happened during WW2.

That's not what happened. Yes, Afganistan was invaded. Yes, most of the terrorists nesting there were cleared out, and a local government established. But from that point, the ball was dropped; OBL has not been captured and tried, and the rebuilding of Afganistan has received short shrift (most of it is coming from Canadian and other NATO members' efforts)

Instead, the Yanks invaded Iraq with the Afgan mission not even half done. Pointless, counterproductive, and WRONG. The only conclusion I can draw from this that makes ANY sense whatsoever is that the current administration used 9/11 to justify something completely unrelated that they wanted to do - and that's a betrayal of the American public of the highest order. I'm amazed that Bush, Cheny, and Rumsfelds' heads aren't stuck on pikes on the White House lawn.

DG

Re:Directed vs Accidental (1)

peacefinder (469349) | more than 8 years ago | (#14404030)

I so completely agree with the latter two-thirds of your post that it's uncanny.

With regards to the "willful act" part, that's absolutely true. The thing is, though, that the acts are committed to pressure us by inspiring terror. If we allow ourselves to be terrorized disproportionately to the actual damage done, that means we have handed them a... well, a force-multiplier, for lack of a better term. They killed 3,000 people that day, but we tend to behave as if they had killed several times that number. We have chosen to be terrorized. Or at any rate, we have not chosen collectively to be even a little bit courageous.

(Absolutely we should take action to reduce the likelihood that such a thing will happen again. But my thought is that the scale of that action should bear some relation to the level of the threat. Is stopping al qeida from nuking Washington today any more critical than stopping a KGB agent from doing the same was in 1985? If we did not need warrantless wiretaps to stop KGB agents then, why do we need them now?)

Re:Directed vs Accidental (1)

DG (989) | more than 8 years ago | (#14408588)

Warrantless wiretaps, as far as I can see, are just a power grab; I don't support them at all, and Americans should be howling for blood over them.

But there is a historical perspective here that you may find interesting:

The KGB were always very, very good at traditional "James Bond" style espionage - spies, moles, and the like. The CIA, on the other hand, were never very good at it, especially counter-espionage.

But WW2 and the interception and decoding of first the German (Enigma) codes, and then the Japanese codes, taught the Americans the value of being able to listen in on the other guy's supposedly secure communications. The Yanks got very, very good at being able to wiretap the supposedly untappable, including submarine comms cables (they had a series of special subs able to physically tap into underwater cables)

You can pretty much expect that every major telephone cable network in the world has an American wiretap in it somewhere.

They have a positive fetish for wiretaps in the US; the majority of their intelligence collection revolves around it. And for good reason - it has served them very well in the past.

I suspect that the explosion of alternate communication techniques and the proliferation of powerful, publically-availible crypto must be driving them absolutely batty. The stream must be drying up.

Here's an interesting fact: I spent last evening with a comrade of mine who is on leave from Afganistan. He told me that things are starting to heat up, because the lessons learned in Iraq on "how to run a successful insurgency" are making it back to Taliban supporters in Afganistan.

O, the Universe does have a sense of humour....

DG

Re:Directed vs Accidental (1)

peacefinder (469349) | more than 8 years ago | (#14409732)

" [...] the lessons learned in Iraq on "how to run a successful insurgency" are making it back to Taliban supporters in Afganistan."

Oh, that's just great. Terrorist training grounds indeed.
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