Assume the Position

Friday, November 15, 2002
 
MAD Myopia. I have long believed that most people have such a myopic concentration on MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) that they completely miss what has always been at the core of US nuclear doctrine. MAD is a game for near-equals and has little or nothing to do with vastly unequal opponents such as the US versus Iraq.

The core US nuclear doctrine could best be called "Must Use" — the US will only use nuclear weapons when it must, and the US has maintained large and competent conventional forces to reduce the number of Must Use situations to a minimum.

Nuclear retaliation for a dirty-nuke detonated in the port of Savannah or use of chemical weapons on or off the battlefield is NOT a Must Use situation. We would certainly retaliate and destroy any regime that committed such acts, but it would probably be through conventional means.

If Iraq were to use WMDs, the US is not going to drop a city-buster on Baghdad because we can, or because the traditional international law of right of reprisal would allow it. It would be tempting and a lot of people would call for it; but the standard view is that the Iraqi people are held hostage by a murderous regime and we are not likely to visit nuclear devastation upon them just to destroy the regime. Even the circumspect use of a small tactical nuke against a single, hardened, undoubtedly military target would be politically unacceptable as a reprisal. [It would be politically unpalatable but acceptable if the target were, say, a hardened launch control facility for WMD laden ballistic missiles and it was the only sure way to prevent their imminent launch. But that is a Must Use situation, and doesn't apply to Iraq and its mobile SCUD launchers.]

That Kandahar and Kabul (and even Baghdad) were still standing on the morning of 12 September, 2001 should have shut up all those who expect a "knee-jerk, reactionary, cowboy, overwhelming retaliation" response from the US.

Donald Sensing says says much the same and surprises with the statement that we don't have battlefield nukes for even a limited threat of reprisal:

First, the arsenal of US nuclear weapons has shrunk dramatically since September 1992, when Bush 41 denuclearized the US Army, which had a lock on small-yield atomic warheads. Since then, the Army has had none. Even the smallest Air Force warheads are many kilotons in design yield. Neither the Navy nor Marines ever stocked tactical warheads. (All this info is current as of my retirement from the Army in 1995, but you can bet that the Clinton administration didn't buy more nukes.)

So unless G. W. Bush decides that truly massive atomic retaliation is called for, we really have nothing to A-bomb Iraq with. That's the technical side of why we cannot retaliate in kind against Iraq. But those are not the only reasons.

In the immediately prior post he explains why "using WMDs against US troops is a no lose move for Saddam."

Both are well worth reading.



 
Everybody on the bandwagon. There they all go. Andrea Hudson's 'A supersnoop's dream' in the Washington Times is par for the course:
Language tucked inside the Homeland Security bill will allow the federal government to track the e-mail, Internet use, travel, credit-card purchases, phone and bank records of foreigners and U.S. citizens in its hunt for terrorists.

In what one critic has called "a supersnoop's dream," the Defense Department's Total Information Awareness program would be authorized to collect every type of available public and private data in what the Pentagon describes as one "centralized grand database."

Computers and analysts are supposed to use all this available information to determine patterns of people's behavior in order to detect and identify terrorists, decipher plans and enable the United States to pre-empt terrorist acts.

The project first appeared in the Senate Democratic proposal for the new Homeland Security Department, which was defeated Wednesday in a 50-47 vote. However it was included in the Republican-brokered agreement that passed the House later that night in a 299-121 vote and is on the fast track to pass the Senate by next week.

[Skipping over outraged reactions from the usual suspects and quotes from Safire's column…]

The bill establishes the Total Information Awareness program within a new agency — the Security Advanced Research Projects Agency (SARPA), which would be modeled on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the central research office for the Defense Department that pursues research and technology, and led to the creation of the Internet.

That is almost completely wrong and the part that is correct is basically meaningless.

The Total Information Awareness (TIA) program does NOT appear in either the Senate (S. Amend. 4471) or House (HR 5710 - PDF) versions of the bills. [The defeated Senate amendment is a little harder to get because THOMAS builds the files on the fly so links are temporary. Use this link, then click the link at "3 . TEXT OF AMENDMENTS," then click "Printer Friendly Display."]

The "project" did NOT "first appear" in any of those bills. It is an existing DARPA project.

What does appear in those versions of the Homeland Security bills is the creation of a DARPA counterpart. It was called SARPA in the defeated Senate amendment (Section 135), in the House version (Section 307) it is called HSARPA (Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency).

While it is obvious to think that the TIA project would transfer from DARPA to HSARPA, it is equally obvious that killing HSARPA would do nothing to TIA—it would just remain a DARPA project.

More important is the fact that the Homeland Security bill does NOT do what Hudson's first two scary grafs says it would. Hudson herself gives the lie away in the third-to-last graf:

Authorizing the project would require amending the Privacy Act of 1974. The language contained in the homeland security bill does not address the act directly, but authorizes the creation of the agency.
And even there she is basically wrong. The TIA project can proceed regardless of which agency it falls under and the Privacy Act need not be amended unless the project actually produces a successful universal-schema-parser and the government wants to then interface it into various private sector datastreams or other uses which would require Privacy Act exemption.

To put this kind of "reporting" into perspective, I'll address another portion of the Homeland Security bill:

Language tucked inside the Homeland Security bill will allow airline employees to indiscriminately kill, cripple and maim foreigners and U.S. citizens in the course of their routine duties.

In what one critic has called "a psychopath's dream," the Federal Flight Deck Officer Program will authorize airline personnel to shoot anyone they wish at any time for any reason.

[Several paragraphs of outraged reactions…]

Authorizing indiscriminate shooting on aircraft and in airports would require amending the murder statutes. The language contained in the homeland security bill does not address the murder statutes directly, but authorizes pilots to carry firearms.

However, this type of misleading scare tactic does get results, which is shown by Section 880 of HR 5710 - Homeland Security Act of 2002:
SEC. 880. PROHIBITION OF THE TERRORISM INFORMATION AND PREVENTION SYSTEM.
Any and all activities of the Federal Government to implement the proposed component program of the Citizen Corps known as Operation TIPS (Terrorism Information and Prevention System) are hereby prohibited.
Thus we can expect some new amendment to become Section XXXX of the Homeland Security Act next week:
SEC. XXXX. PROHIBITION OF THE TOTAL INFORMATION AWARENESS PROGRAM.
Any and all activities of the Federal Government to implement the proposed Total Information Awareness program are hereby prohibited.
And everybody will be happy, until the next major incident when they will all scream "Why didn't you connect the dots! Why don't your databases interface with each other!" And no one will dare point a finger at Mr. Safire, or Phil Kent, president of the Southeastern Legal Foundation, or Marc Rotenberg, director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, or Barbara Simon, a computer scientist who is past president of the Association of Computing Machinery, or Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU’s Washington National Office and Katie Corrigan, an ACLU Legislative Counsel.


Thursday, November 14, 2002
 
Oh, give me a home
Where the tinfoil hats roam,
And paranoids
Quake in their boots;

Where often is heard
The hysterical word
From pundits
And snarky old coots.

Information on the research program that William Safire wants stopped from the BAA 02-08 (Broad Agency Announcement) Proposer Information Pamphlet (PDF) for proposals for Information Awareness projects.

GOAL:

Elements of an effective counter-terrorism solution include gathering a much broader array of data than we are currently capable of doing, discovering information from elements of the data, creating models of hypotheses, and analyzing these models in a collaborative environment to determine the most probable current or future scenario. DARPA has sponsored research in some of these technology areas. The Information Awareness Office intends to conduct additional research and development to accelerate, integrate, broaden, and automate current approaches to be able to predict and hence preempt future terrorist actions against us.
PROGRAM IMPLEMENTATION:
The Government anticipates multiple awards in each of three technical areas. A multi-phase approach will be needed to achieve program goals. Proposers should note that approaches with eclectic ideas from multiple technical specialties or communities are actively sought. The degree of advances will vary among the three technical areas of interest, but the goal is to create a series of prototype systems that add value quickly and improves rapidly over the program schedule -- the primary goal is a series of leave-behind prototypes with limited set of proof-of-concept demonstrations in very high risk areas.
DURATION:
Research under this BAA is expected to last for five years. During the first 36 months a range of ideas will be developed via limited demonstrations and preliminary prototypes. During the final 24 months the most promising research avenues will be extended to support production of a scalable leave-behind system prototype.
Of course, the government must be lying about the schedule to all the potential proposers because Safire says that all the evils of this system will happen "in the next few weeks" unless your "public outrage" gets it shot down.

And this requirement

To protect the privacy of individuals not affiliated with terrorism, DARPA seeks technologies for controlling automated search and exploitation algorithms and for purging data structures appropriately. Business rules are required to enforce security policy and views appropriate for the viewer's role.
is obviously a sham, because Safire says the goal is "to create computer dossiers on 300 million Americans."

Now, you can start screeching about the evils of Total Information Awareness projects along with Safire, or read the IAO BAA and other IAO project info to try to get a clue. Certainly there are dangers of abuse in any large system.

The National Security Community has a need for very large scale databases covering comprehensive information about all potential terrorist threats; those who are planning, supporting or preparing to carry out such events; potential plans; and potential targets. In the context of this BAA, the term "database" is intended to convey a new kind of extremely large, omni-media, virtually-centralized, and semantically-rich information repository that is not constrained by today’s limited commercial database products -- we use "database" for lack of a more descriptive term. DARPA seeks innovative technologies needed to architect, populate, and exploit such a database for combating terrorism. Key metrics include the amount of total information that is potentially covered, the utility of its data structures for data entry and use by humans and machines in searching and browsing, data integration, and capability to automatically populate, and the completeness, correctness, and timeliness of the information when used for predictive analysis and modeling in exploiting the information in these repositories. It is anticipated this will require revolutionary new technology.

The database envisioned is of an unprecedented scale, will most likely be distributed, must be capable of being continuously updated, and must support both autonomous and semi-automated analysis. The latter requirement implies that the representation used must, to the greatest extent possible, be interpretable by both algorithms and human analysts. The database must support change detection and be able to execute automated procedures implied by new information. Because of expected growth and adaptation needs, the effective schema must be adaptable by the user so that as new sources of information, analytical methods, or representations arise, the representation of data may be re-structured without great cost. If distributed, the database may require new search methods to answer complex, less than specific queries across physical implementations and new automated methods for maintaining consistency. The reduced signature and misinformation introduced by terrorists who are attempting to hide and deceive imply that uncertainty must be represented in some way. To protect the privacy of individuals not affiliated with terrorism, DARPA seeks technologies for controlling automated search and exploitation algorithms and for purging data structures appropriately. Business rules are required to enforce security policy and views appropriate for the viewer's role.

The potential sources of information about possible terrorist activities will include extensive existing databases. Innovative technologies are sought for treating these databases as a virtual, centralized, grand database. This will require technologies for automatically determining schemas, access methods and controls, and translation of complex English language queries into the appropriate language for the relevant databases.

DARPA currently has on-going research programs aimed at language translation, information extraction from text, and multi-modal biometric technologies. These component technologies will be used to feed the Information Awareness database but must be augmented by other technologies and new sources of information to dramatically increase the coverage of counter-terrorism information. These other technologies include but are not limited to innovative new methods of database integration, structured information authoring, and exploitation of integrated data streams. Non-traditional methods of identifying and monitoring terrorist activity are anticipated. Populating a database with information derived from masked or deceptive behavior by an adversary is a challenging technical problem. DARPA invites new ideas for novel information sources and methods that amplify terrorist signatures and enable appropriate response.

However, one key thing to remember is found in Robert O'Harrow Jr.'s Washington Post article:
But he [Poindexter] added that his mission [at DARPA] is to develop the technology, not the policy. It would be up to Congress and policymakers to debate the issue and establish the limits that would make the system politically acceptable.

"We can develop the best technology in the world and unless there is public acceptance and understanding of the necessity, it will never be implemented," he said.

Of course, Safire and you know the TRUTH—why bother having discussions about appropriate data access when it's easier to whip up enough "public outrage" to prevent the technological developments that would make such discussions necessary in the first place.


 
And so it begins again. Having discredited and derailed Operation TIPS without knowing much of anything about it, the North East Media has now decided to go after the Total Information Awareness (TIA) System research project. William Safire explains (link via Glenn Reynolds):
Political awareness can overcome "Total Information Awareness," the combined force of commercial and government snooping. In a similar overreach, Attorney General Ashcroft tried his Terrorism Information and Prevention System (TIPS), but public outrage at the use of gossips and postal workers as snoops caused the House to shoot it down. The Senate should now do the same to this other exploitation of fear.
You can expect to see Ritt "The Git" Goldstein have a hysterical editorial passed off as news in the Sydney Morning Herald any day now.

Why don't these folks just come right out and say what they want?

  1. The US government must be forbidden from collecting any dots.
  2. If any dots come into US government possession by any means, the government must be forbidden from connecting them.
There, wasn't that simple?

Over on the Volokh Conspiracy, however, Orin Kerr, who pointed to the Markoff and TIA links, actually asks reasonable questions such as, "is it actually what many civil libertarians have been saying the government needs to do to fight terrorism?" and makes the following point:

It's hard to evaluate these arguments, I think. The article spends a lot more time discussing reactions to TIA than explaining what TIA actually is or does. But it seems worth noting that, at least based on the available descriptions of what TIA does, it's unclear why the opposite view (TIA as something civil libertarians have been calling for) isn't correct. As best I can tell, TIA is notable in one very important respect: it is essentially a database, rather than a means of collecting information. In other words, TIA doesn't actually gather information, "peek" anywhere, or "spy" on anything. Instead, it is a program that takes information collected elsewhere and looks for trends in the data that might point out something suspicious. It's a database of databases, not a tool for collecting evidence.
Unfortunately, I don't expect to see many other reasonable questions, or many people accept reasonable answers once the storm of editorials and ACLU press releases hits.


Wednesday, November 13, 2002
 
The worm has turned and European officialdom hasn't caught on, yet.
Europeans do not yet get this, the great sea change that has taken place in the American foreign policy establishment. It would be easy to date this from the terrorist attack on 9/11, but it goes back further. I can recall hearing the first faint notes of this leitmotif of American contempt, like the distant hunting call in some Wagnerian opera that foreshadows the musical thunder to come, during the Bosnian crisis in 1993-95.

Perhaps we should have recognized hints of it back in the 1980s, over the sanctions against the Siberian gas pipeline and over 'Star Wars.' Most European diplomats dismissed these arguments at the time as clumsy Reaganism, the embarrassing kinds of excess to be expected from provincial American politicians. Doubtless, they smugly assured one another, Reagan's crudities would soon be tamed by their good friends in the foreign policy establishment: the State Department; the Council on Foreign Relations; and the Op-Ed pages of The New York Times and The Washington Post.

Well, the Europeans may still be able to count on the sympathies and cultural deference of many East Coast journalists, but something has shifted among the diplomats, the think tanks and even many of the academics. At a think-tank meeting last week, when a European diplomat asked rather patronizingly what all these American weapons were actually for, a renowned liberal academic simply quoted Kipling's line about "Making mock of uniforms that guard you while you sleep." And then he turned on his heel and walked away.


(link via LGF)
When "a professional and highly experienced Foreign Service officer with a wide range of friends and contacts across Europe" says, "You want to know what I really think of the Europeans? I think they have been wrong on just about every major international issue for the past 20 years," and then reels off a list of half-a-dozen examples, you can guess that Washington is really growing tired of nagging and whining from the impotent and irrelevant councils of the Continent.


Tuesday, November 12, 2002
 
Dead man talking. Al-Jazeera has broadcast a new audiotape purported to be from Osama bin Laden.
People who have listened to hours of bin Laden tapes said the voice sounds like that of the al Qaeda leader. It is not known when the tape was recorded, but it refers to events as recent as October.
-- CNN
The BBC's security correspondent Frank Gardner said the audio tape carried a message true to al-Qaeda's style.

Our correspondent says it is certainly characteristic of Bin Laden to praise attacks blamed on al-Qaeda without directly taking responsibility.

-- BBC
The BBC also provides the full text of the statement.


Sunday, November 10, 2002
 
Where does much of the aid money go? To the "real cultural imperialists." There is an Associated Press "exclusive interview" with Afghan president Hamid Karzai. At the end of the article is the following (emphasis added):
Karzai complained that promised aide and development money was not reaching his poor country's 21 million people, struggling to emerge from 23 years of war.

Money has come to Afghanistan but so far it has not reached the people, he said. According to United Nations figures more than half of the $1.8 billion pledged for this year has been delivered.

But analysts and economists in the Afghan capital said much of the money has been used to finance offices of international aid organizations and the multitude of United Nations offices. In the year since the ouster of the Taliban, nearly 2,000 foreign aid workers have converged on the Afghan capital. The accompanying expense has been in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

The initial funds get sucked dry setting up those John Kelly, recently returned from Afghanistan, calls the "Toyota Taliban©" in an email to The Angry Cyclist where he further debunks Marc Herold's dubious and duplicitous calculations of American caused civilian deaths (emphasis added).
For many Afghans, anyone wearing an ISAAF green uniform (ranging from troops from Ireland and Great Britain to Australia, New Zealand and Turkey) is de-facto 'American' and eye-witness reports of casualties are always attributed to these generic Americans. There is a substantial case to be made that the great majority of total casualties in Afghanistan in the past year are not American at all. I know: I spent the summer in Afghanistan working (interviewing and filming) hundreds, maybe thousands, of people from every province and every walk of life and party affiliation, from peasants and Koochies to members of the government and top UN staffers Quite surprisingly, I rarely heard a single complaint from any Afghan, including those in the Islamic Council of Nationalities and Tribes, about American bombing accuracy or any subsequent skirmishes directed against Al Q'aeda/Taliban resulting in civilian deaths. I would, however, occasionally hear a discouraging word from the odd Swede or Swiss NGO careerist grumbling about imperialism, which is a joke since the indigenous population see the western European grief-relief workers as the new "Toyota Taliban©". The real cultural imperialists are the NGOs.



Original content copyright © 2002-2005 Lynxx Pherrett. All rights reserved.