The Lesson

Any guesses on how the terror ploy was foiled by the British?  It’s one word Intelligence.

All I could think about yesterday was how grateful I was that the British discovered the plot and intercepted the terrorists before they could kill hundreds, if not thousands of innocents.  The next thought was that the British were obviously tracking money, calls, e-mails, and travel of the terrorists to figure out the network of insanity.  Turns out the British were doing such things, in conjunction with the U.S. and Pakistan.  British antiterrorism chief Peter Clarke said at a news conference that the plot was foiled because “a large number of people” had been under surveillance, with police monitoring spending, travel and communications.”

As I was thinking about all the intelligence work that must have been done to get to the point of arresting 24 people in Britain and 5 in Pakistan (at least 2 were arrested about a week ago) I thought about the cries of civil liberties here at home.  I understand the concerns.  I’m even sympathetic to those concerns.  Yet, the world is different than it was 30 years ago.  The fact that most men now have the passing thought about mustering up the courage to fight a takeover of the plane while boarding a plane is but one example of this.

We need intelligence.  To get that,  data mining is necessary.  I do not understand why that lesson has not been learned.

48 thoughts on “The Lesson

  1. I do not understand why that lesson has not been learned. 

    Seems that it HAS been learned,  Consi. But I’ll assume that you mean as in ‘Why don’t people understand it is necessary?’.

    I’ll even grant you that it is, to a certain degree. But the “Those who would give up a little liberty, to gain a little security, deserve neither; and lose both.” jingle does ring powerful as well.

    Call me cynical, but a certain level of successful terrorism will always get through. There IS a tipping point where increased snooping is more harmful than beneficial to society (in the long run). At that point, you get Hoover tipping off the IRS to investigate political opponents for tax avoidance, while his own fat cats are left alone.

    The point is democratic process. Don’t do the cloak + dagger stuff. If surveillance of bank data is necessary, say so, don’t spring it on the citizenry. If phone tapping is necessary, do so (after passing a law), NOT do so after passing a law making it specifically illegal.

    BTW: Anybody know what happened to the lawsuits against the US telcos accused of violating said law? The one with the theoretically billions of damages for all individual counts of data security breaches?

  2. Consi, I’m not quite sure what point you’re trying to make.

    Good old Rasterfahndung worked in Germany against the Red Army Faction, but the debate about turning fundamental legal principles (“innocent until proven guilty”) upside down to do it continues until today. Data mining has a proven, if somewhat mixed track record.

    I could be wrong, but I don’t believe anybody here objects to data mining per se. Instead, it is the Bush administration that needs to learn lessons.

    I’m not even touching the legality or illegality of the data mining that this administration is alleged to have implemented. The absence of a public debate is hardly worth mentioning and I don’t need to spell out that unless you are a True Believer in Bush, we have absolutely no trust that whatever data falls into the hands of that administration will not be abused one way or the other.

    Instead, the objections center on the technical side. First, you appear to argue from the unspoken assumption that more data is better intelligence. To put it bluntly, this is plain wrong, because it neglects quality and confidence.

    Oddly enough, there may be a parallel between the Secret Service and whoever protects the British Royals. The Secret Service relies on intimidation and sheer numbers, the British rely on very few, but very smart operatives. I’d say the British win that game.

    Other aspects are that having data doesn’t mean you can wrest meaning from it or worse, you may wrest meaning where there is none. In short, data is useless unless you can analyze it in a timely fashion. You need intelligence to handle intelligence… Being a data whore has its naïve appeal (suck and swallow, eh), but there soon comes a point where you can’t do squat with incoming data unless you apply increasingly narrow filters, thus defeating the purpose. Worse, you’ll soon face the choice between human error or automated dumbnessm with regards to filtering. Chances are you’ll have to deal with both.

    Data mining has severe analytical problems, not unlike those faced by IT security professionals. Perhaps exactly like those. Read up on the merits and shortcomings of signature versus anomaly detection. If you know an operating pattern, it’s relatively easy to spot further occurances. Of course, the other side knows this and can simply modify their M.O. to avoid detection. Likewise, it’s far from trivial to determine what is and what isn’t an anomality and if the latter, if it is something to be concerned about.

    In summary, data mining is fine, but not if quality is neglected in favor of quantity and the capacity to accurately analyze the data lags behind.

    So, Consi, you can stuff your rant about us liberals crying foul about civil liberties. Our main concern is that BushCo bungles yet again. You’re free to believe that the ends of catching the bad ones justifies any means, but all we see is a lot of means that don’t even add up to achieve the ends.

  3. data mining is necessary

    True, but the erosion of our civil liberties after 9/11 wasn’t needed to stop 9/11.  We had the info we needed to stop 9/11, we just had territorial agencies who didn’t want to share with each other, not to mention short sighted individuals in those agencies who dismissed evidence.  They’re doing the same type of crap thinking with FEMA.  Change it, replace it, do different techniques and it’ll work.  What I see is someone who has a truck to move things, but says the truck is broken and they need a big new shiny truck to move, when the problem is that they didn’t know how to let the fucking tailgate down to make it easy to load.

    I’m not against following the money and what not.  Hell, I’m not even against what Bush did with the wiretaps.  I’m against his dismissing the need for the warrants.  I’m against his imperial attitude of “if it’s in the name of the WAR!ON!TERROR!, it ain’t illegal”. 

    I think the systems in place to catch terrorists are viable, but the govt is too damn lazy or incompetent to utilize them properly.  I think they just want to pick someone they think MIGHT be involved and land on them without having to bother with warrants and probable cause. 

    We’ve been data mining for decades in the WAR!ON!DRUGS!  Those methods were accepted for the most part.

  4. Ragman: We’ve been data mining for decades in the WAR!ON!DRUGS!

    I have a feeling the War on Terror is gonna be no easier to win than the War on Drugs which will never be won.
    But, if all drugs were legalised the terrorists would find it harder to finance their killing organisations and machines.
    Think of all the expertise, agents and resources that’d be freed up to fight a real war. smile

  5. Oddly enough, there may be a parallel between the Secret Service and whoever protects the British Royals. The Secret Service relies on intimidation and sheer numbers, the British rely on very few, but very smart operatives. I’d say the British win that game.

    Hi Elwedd – your post lacks verifiable sources! (Sorry, just myWikipedia editing tendencies running away with me. I’d simply like to know what you base that on (beyond the likely fact that the Queens security detail is a lot smaller than the Secret Service).

    Though, to be honest, I feel there are more imortant things than the Queen’s safety. I’m really a rather bad subject. Which still feels rather weird (the being subject of the Queen – but hey, at least they are German royals wink

  6. I have a feeling the War on Terror is gonna be no easier to win than the War on Drugs which will never be won.

    The mentality that it can be definitively won once and for all does contribute to the problem.  Not to mention once you get ahead of something, govt tends to cut funding and you end up having the problems come back. 

    BTW: Anybody know what happened to the lawsuits against the US telcos accused of violating said law? The one with the theoretically billions of damages for all individual counts of data security breaches?

    If you’re referring to the EFF suit, they were allowed to go ahead with the case. 

    The fact that most men now have the passing thought about mustering up the courage to fight a takeover of the plane while boarding a plane is but one example of this.

    That’s b/c in the past, you had a good chance of getting out of a hijack alive.  They fought back on 9/11 b/c they knew the other planes were purposely crashed and it was their only chance at survival.

  7. your post lacks verifiable sources!

    So?

    You can easily compare news coverage about the ‘security umbrella’ when Bush travels abroad (or presumably anywhere in the U.S.) to the low-key affair when Queen gets on the road. There is surely more going on than meets the eye when Royals travel than the one or two members of their protective detail that appear in public, but it seems like Bush can’t go anywhere unless the host country surrenders their sovereignty to the Secret Service and pretty much mobilizes for war. While Bush’s popularity clearly takes its toll, for all the muscle of the Secret Service, the U.S. has lost more presidents to lone nutcases (any protective detail’s worst fear) than the U.K. has lost Royals or Prime Ministers.

    There was a documentary on some channel a couple of years ago that compared the methods of the Secret Service and the British protective service, whatever they’re called. It’s been so long ago that I don’t even remember if I saw it in Europe or the U.S., but the gist of it was that for a comparable threat level, the Brits came out way ahead for a lot less effort. Protect smarter, not harder.

  8. Consi, I’m not quite sure what point you’re trying to make.

    Let me try again in two sentences:  Intelligence gathering, especially data mining, is an arrow in our quiver that we must use whether there are civil liberty concerns or not.  The foiling of the recent terrorist plot highlights this fact.

    I could be wrong, but I don’t believe anybody here objects to data mining per se.

    You are wrong.  If you want I can dig the comments up that repeatedly say otherwise.

    we have absolutely no trust that whatever data falls into the hands of that administration will not be abused one way or the other

    This is what I find perplexing.  I’m not happy with Bush and much of what he has done.  That said, I don’t think his motives are evil.  I think he has done a piss poor job of choosing the right people to execute and implement policy. 

    What is it that you envision the administration doing that would be abusive?

    Instead, the objections center on the technical side.

    No, your objections may center on the technical side.  I can respect that. I had in mind Harry Reid and Ted Kennedy when I put the first post together.  Their objections do not center on the technical side.  They serve as the mouthpiece for a good portion of liberals. My conclusion, rightly or wrongly so, was a generalization that a good number of liberal folks, following the talking points of the aforementioned Mr. Reid and Mr. Kennedy, have failed to understand the world in which we live.

    In summary, data mining is fine, but not if quality is neglected in favor of quantity and the capacity to accurately analyze the data lags behind.

    I can’t argue with you there.  Of course a good thing can be bad if quality is shunted aside.  I thought that was understood.  Canning green beans could potentially cause botulism if quality is neglected.  We still have canned green beans though. 

    You’re free to believe that the ends of catching the bad ones justifies any means, but all we see is a lot of means that don’t even add up to achieve the ends.

    I don’t believe that the ends justify any means.  And, I’m not at all clear about your addition.

    So, Consi, you can stuff your rant about us liberals crying foul about civil liberties.

    I could, but I won’t.  It’s a topic worth discussing.

    Ragman said: If you’re referring to the EFF suit, they were allowed to go ahead with the case.

    Elwed has actually been following the cases and the answer is that there have been mixed results in the courts.  At least one is going forward, while another has been dismissed.  Different judges, different results.

  9. This is what I find perplexing.  I’m not happy with Bush and much of what he has done.  That said, I don’t think his motives are evil.  I think he has done a piss poor job of choosing the right people to execute and implement policy. 

    Even if that was true, his poor judgement, repeated and consistently wrong in that case,  would be enough not to trust him with it.

    What is it that you envision the administration doing that would be abusive?

    Pressure me (or person X, I can’t see why the US would be interested in me) into keeping calm on subject Y (say, a political matter of dispute) because they found in his emails that he likes Z (where Z which is a legal sexual fetish, which nonetheless would make him look ridiculous at work and totally destroy his credibility to speak on the matter of Y, because all the newspaper articles would delect themselves on the matter of Z).

    Enough as an example?

  10. would be enough not to trust him with it.

    “…would be enough justification not to trust him with such information…”

  11. I said: What is it that you envision the administration doing that would be abusive?

    ingolfosn said: Pressure me (or person X, I can’t see why the US would be interested in me) into keeping calm on subject Y (say, a political matter of dispute) because they found in his emails that he likes Z (where Z which is a legal sexual fetish, which nonetheless would make him look ridiculous at work and totally destroy his credibility to speak on the matter of Y, because all the newspaper articles would delect themselves on the matter of Z).

    Enough as an example?

    Short Answer: No.

    Longer Version:  There are people running all around the country reveling in their sexual fetishes of all kinds.  It seems to be an income booster, not a credibility detractor.

  12. Consi: And, I’m not at all clear about your addition.

    Simple. Intelligence and law enforcement agencies have but limited resources and don’t usually have a lot of spare capacity to begin with. If you start to vastly expand the data gathering side without a concomitant expansion of analytical side, you have a recipe for another world-class intelligence failure.

    Based on an opinion piece authored by somebody friendly to the intelligence biz, the false leads produced by the volume of low-quality data is already having a negative impact. Field investigators are pulled off real cases involving child abuse, say, in order to chase wild geese.

    There are important questions concerning what the Bush administration does and “it’s a new world” is not a satisfactory answer, but even more offensive than what they do is how they do it.

    In other words, I see these massive wiretaps as yet another Mission Accomplished – doing the wrong thing the wrong way and then add insult to injury by not throwing enough resources at it to get closure.

  13. There are people running all around the country reveling in their sexual fetishes of all kinds.

    I’ll let that stand – it tells me a lot about how you see private choice. Because the person in the example wants to keep his privacy, not to “go public” with it it on some cheap TV show.

    I gave you two good examples of possible abuse so far in this thread. You reject them both. Fair enough, I didn’t think I’d convince you.

  14. Once again I come late to the party.  Consi, what scares me about the current administration is that they take such umbrage at any judicial oversight. 

    I have no problem with data mining, phone tapping, etc.  But we keep finding out that Bushco refuses to let anyone place any limits whatsoever on them or even to let us know about it. 

    Thursday night I watched the O’Reilly factor at the gym (stairmasters are boring) and the civil libertarian they had on was so dumb he misquoted Franklin’s famous quote and even misattributed it to Jefferson.  The chief bloviator missed both mistakes and just responded; “Well, times are different now.  I wonder if Mr. Jefferson would feel the same way today.”

    I am not convinced times are that different. Governments have always used fear of danger to grab power.  We civil libertarians simply recognize that the putative danger is not the only one; there is also a terrible danger from abuse of power and both dangers must be accounted for.  History provides many examples.

  15. that a good number of liberal folks, following the talking points of the aforementioned Mr. Reid and Mr. Kennedy, have failed to understand the world in which we live.

    That also applies to a good number of conservatives.  Both groups are obviously short sighted in that aspect.  They should add Sun Tzu to their summer reading list.

  16. At least for me, the issue isn’t so much whether we in the U.S. should tolerate data mining and other methods. It is more about the manner in which our current administration presents these methods. If they were trustworthy, I expect much of the public outcry would be muted.

  17. I have to take issue with at least one aspect of Consi’s reply…

    Let me try again in two sentences:  Intelligence gathering, especially data mining, is an arrow in our quiver that we must use whether there are civil liberty concerns or not.  The foiling of the recent terrorist plot highlights this fact.

    You’re suggesting that data mining played a role in the foiling of this current plot, but I’ve not read anything that suggests any such thing. Everything I’ve read has said it was plain old fashioned detective work that brought it down.

    Can you cite any specifics on how data mining played a role in this?

  18. As somebody pointed out, this particular airline plot was reportedly uncovered not by way of data mining, but by plain old-fashioned human intelligence. Which brings us back full circle – how do current events vindicate the massive wiretaps in the U.S.?

    Consi, you may want to add Bruce Schneier to the list of blogs you read and subscribe to his Crypto-Gram newsletter.

  19. My issue is that you can throw any amount of data at a douchebag and he’ll still be a douchebag (only he’ll dance more). Bush administration(s) have a piss-poor track record on these things.

    We’ve been data mining for ages. Whether the administration is incompetent or abusive, there is no reason to trust that they will a) get better or b) make any better use of more data. Data mining above and beyond what we’ve already got at our disposal is useless.

    I’d be all for infringements on my liberties during times of immediate danger. These are not. Even so, the onus is the government’s. When they become organized enough that they can use that information effectively, I’ll reconsider.

  20. DOF:


    Thursday night I watched the O’Reilly factor at the gym

    Wow.  I guess I have enough inner rage fueling me while at the gym without adding gas to the fire. 

    I’m puzzled by a portion of your comment which is echoed in some other places above.  You want the good guys to tell you what they are doing to stop the bad guys, right?  Why?  I don’t get why it would be important for you or me to be in the loop.  The only thing that broadcasting what is being done by the good guys is to clue the bad guys in on what the good guys are doing.  Why give out the plays to the other team ahead of time by informing you?

    Elwed:

    It seems your objection is that we are not spending enough to do the job right.  I’m with you on expanding the budget for these activities so that good protocols and good people are combined to ensure that good information is gathered.

    Les:

    The plot was foiled in part because as I quoted above: “a large number of people” had been under surveillance, with police monitoring spending, travel and communications.”

    That included tracking of monies, wiretapping phones and tracking internet activities and e-mails.  The initial tip to police by the relative that triggered the investigation was rather vague and did not identify the international network that was involved.  It was from there that the net was cast that caught the other terrorists involved with the same and/or similar plans.  The arrests involved 3 distinct cells, not just one.
     
    The police used good old fashioned gumshoe work, but they also employed data mining with filters as Elwed suggested was appropriate.

    To Most of Those Above:

    I’d be interested in knowing how many of you played team sports at some point in your life?

  21. Consi,

    It seems your objection is that we are not spending enough to do the job right.  I’m with you on expanding the budget for these activities so that good protocols and good people are combined to ensure that good information is gathered.

    Not so fast, bucko.

    My objection is that people I don’t trust and have a dismal track record on anything but transforming the U.S. into a rather sinister police state do a half-assed job that probably has ulterior motives not to my liking in a rather conniving manner. Throwing more money on the problem doesn’t do it for me.

    Security, be it national or IT, is best handled by a layered defense. You still haven’t explained how data mining a massive wiretap contributes to the improvement of the overall security posture. Then there are these pesky issues of civil liberty, laws being broken, the potential for abuse, and so on…

    That included tracking of monies, wiretapping phones and tracking internet activities and e-mails.  The initial tip to police by the relative that triggered the investigation was rather vague and did not identify the international network that was involved.  It was from there that the net was cast that caught the other terrorists involved with the same and/or similar plans.  The arrests involved 3 distinct cells, not just one.

    Thank you for making my point. There is nothing new about following up on a tip and digging deeper and deeper, it’s tried and true coppering. Instead of engaging in Bush apologetics, why don’t you explain to us exactly which investigative tools the British used, to what degree they contributed to the success of the operation and we can work our way across the pond from there?

    To put it this way, if the British are data sluts like the Bush administration, then the plot would have succeeded if it weren’t for somebody phoning in a tip. If they do not employ such a massive wiretap operation, they squeaked by with a bit of help from Kommissar Zufall.

    Consi, here’s another problem:

    Why give out the plays to the other team ahead of time by informing you?

    It is not important that I know exactly what the spooks are up to. What is important is that somebody deserving of my trust watches the watchers. When the watchers actively evade such oversight and by force of retroactive law remove such oversight, there is nothing you can say to sweeten that pill.

    It seems like everything that needs to be said has been said already. On the technical and pragmatical side, you have to demonstrate that the massive wiretaps are an effective counter-terroristic means and that there is no other way that gives you less bang for the buck. On the public debate side, you have your work cut out for you.

    I can just see how things will play out. Sooner or later, another attack against the U.S. will succeed. Having all these wiretaps in place and still failing to thwart the plot, the response will not be an admission of failure, but the demand for even more data.

  22. Why give out the plays to the other team ahead of time by informing you?

    Consi, you are mistating my point.

    We have to force our governments to be more honest about what they do (even if that sometimes compromises their effectiveness somewhat) for the same reason that we can’t (heck, SHOULDN’T) use torture and extralegal rendition, even while the other side happily slits throats and kidnaps people.

    Because if we want to stay on the moral high ground, because if we are really fighting for all the liberty and democracy stuff people like Bush like to spout, we cannot simply act as if the ends justify all, and without democratic oversight too.

    And like Elwedd said.

    I’d be interested in knowing how many of you played team sports at some point in your life?

    Nicely sneaked in. Your implied idea seeems to be: all those who haven’t – uncooperative, selfish bastards? Yep, no big liking for team sports here. Single child, too!

  23. Just as the security services adapt their methods so will the terrorists, they will also use any information they can about how previous failed attempts were foiled.

    This posses the problem for security service that they are engaged in an arms race with the terrorists who will use ever more sophisticated methods to avoid detection.

    The need for high quality intelligence is paramount, as poor information will result in multiple arrests of innocent people and the gradual alienation of the very community where the highest quality intel is available.

    One of the main ways to counter a terrorist organisation is to marginalize them within the community they draw their support from, unfortunately the reverse of this trend would appear to be occurring in the UK.

  24. Consi most people’s issues here deal with the idea that we want the government to stop terrorist attacks, and to do so with whatever means appropriate.  We just want them to follow the laws already created.  If you want to wire tap me, fine, get a fucking warrant.  If I really am a terrorist and there is good reason and evidence to believe so what judge wouldn’t sign the warrant?

    The second we allow the government to over-step their boundaries, is the second we step forward into a nation of facism.  It is the second we say, “We don’t care about our civil liberties or privacy.”  This is the second we open the flood-gate to a whole range of issues.

    If we allow the government to wiretap or datamine other information without a warrant, what stops the government from driving down the streets listening in on everyone and making sure there are no terrorists.  Or better still, if we allow the government to do warrantless anything, who decides who is a terrorist.  The lines start to blur.  Suddenly anyone out-spoken against the GOP becomes a terrorist.

  25. Call it a conspiracy theory if you like, but I simply do not trust the US pronouncmenets on terrorism, nor those of their lackeys UK and Australia.

    This latest terrorist exercise smacks of something that has no relationship to combatting terorrism at all…. this is a political stunt to shore up the US and the UK’s ailing credibility, and to possibly divert the world’s attention away from the Middle East crisis… this is possibly a ruse for the US to start making move into the Middle East… Osama and his band of merry weapon had nuffin to do with Sept 11,or Afghanitstan, just as weapons of mass destruction had nothing to do with Iraq….

    And to rub the point him,Bush and his administration IS evil.

    Period.

    Only the ignorant believe that the US is acting out of altruistic motives.

  26. Consi, are you deliberately missing the point that covert activities need independent oversight?  Or that many of us are uncomfortable with the stridency with which the Bush administration has insisted that any oversight at all would help the terrorists by delaying their investigations just those crucial few hours needed to save the day?

    Or is your failure to get the point truly accidental?  Have we all been stating it in the clearest terms possible and somehow you just still missed it?

    As for your question about team sports, spoken like a true devotee of groupthink.

  27. I simply do not trust US, UK, Israeli or Australian pronouncements on terorrism… those three countries are warmongers and terorrists states themselves.

    This latest terrorist exercise smacks of something that has no relationship to combatting terorrism at all…. this is a political stunt to shore up the US and the UK’s ailing credibility, and to possibly divert the world’s attention away from the Middle East crisis… this is possibly a ruse for the US to start making move into the Middle East… Osama and his band of merry weapon had nuffin to do with Sept 11, just as weapons of mass destruction had nothing to do with Iraq….

    And to rub the point him,Bush and his administration IS evil.

    Period.

    Only the ignorant believe that the US is acting out of altruistic motives.

  28. Or better still, if we allow the government to do warrantless anything, who decides who is a terrorist.

    Too late.

    I simply do not trust US, UK, Israeli or Australian pronouncements on terorrism… those three countries are warmongers and terorrists states themselves.

    Slow down, Tony. And don’t conflate things like the current US administration with the US as such. I have my hopes that the next one might be better.

  29. At the risk of sounding like a cop-out, I have nothing further to add to this discussion except that, while Consi has made some good points, I ultimately have to agree with Elwed, DOF, and Ingolfson on this one. There are no easy answers, and everyone’s point has validity, but as a civil libertarian my priorities still involve personal liberty and privacy.

    Perhaps BushCoTM can learn from the British intelligence. Or not.

  30. I have a feeling the War on Terror is gonna be no easier to win than the War on Drugs which will never be won.

    I always felt the “War on Drugs”  is a joke and when stating it this way, the war on “terrorism” looks like a joke too.

    Don’t get me wrong, I am all for getting rid of people who wish others harm.  The problem is, they will never really get rid of it because it supplies jobs and money to those who are in that business. 

    Second thought after hearing about the foiled plot?  “Nice, now HLS can ask for even more money while we have tons of uninsured, homeless, and poor people.” 

    While some instances of data mining might help, overall I see it as a way to keep power over people while they play their little games.  The terrorists just happen to fall into line making their dreams come true. 

    If they really wanted to hurt the people they hate in the US, they’d stop giving Congress reasons to give the shitheads money for their war machine.

  31. Les, you missed this one:

    Gov’t Break a Law? Change It

    The White House is nearing an agreement with Congress on legislation that would write President Bush’s warrantless surveillance program into law, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman said Sunday.

    And this one:

    Wiretap Surrender

    The bill would, indeed, get the NSA’s program in front of judges, in one of two ways. It would transfer lawsuits challenging the program from courts around the country to the super-secret court system that typically handles wiretap applications in national security cases. It would also permit—but not require—the administration to seek approval from this court system, created by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, for entire surveillance programs, thereby allowing judges to assess their legality.
     
    But the cost of this judicial review would be ever so high. The bill’s most dangerous language would effectively repeal FISA’s current requirement that all domestic national security surveillance take place under its terms. The “compromise” bill would add to FISA: “Nothing in this Act shall be construed to limit the constitutional authority of the President to collect intelligence with respect to foreign powers and agents of foreign powers.” It would also, in various places, insert Congress’s acknowledgment that the president may have inherent constitutional authority to spy on Americans. Any reasonable court looking at this bill would understand it as withdrawing the nearly three-decade-old legal insistence that FISA is the exclusive legitimate means of spying on Americans. It would therefore legitimize whatever it is the NSA is doing—and a whole lot more.

    I suppose we could solve the energy crisis by harnessing the energy expended by the Founding Fathers spinning in their graves.

  32. Thursday night I watched the O’Reilly factor at the gym

    Wow.  I guess I have enough inner rage fueling me while at the gym without adding gas to the fire. 

    They put the stairmaster under the TV.  With the TV controls just out of reach at the top of the stairmaster. 

    Carrot/stick motivation.

    The problem is that WInc, a subsidiary of BushCo, decided that even though they got their “hot” warrants out under the 3 day clause from the secret court, they didn’t want to pony up the justification b/c it was too much work.

  33. The main thing I learned from team sports is that when one guy comes up with a great plan that will win the game if everyone follows it, and you follow his plan and it doesn’t work, and he complains about how everyone else didn’t do it right and if you had just done it right it *would* have worked…

    that guy is an idiot who belongs on the bench.

    Oh, and don’t break the rules and then argue with the ref about how you needed to break the rules to win the game.  That trick never works in team sports.

  34. Ragman: WAR!ON!DRUGS!

    I was looking for Bill Hicks’ reference to what the young man on acid said and was reminded of the war on drugs and that the people ON drugs are winning it. LOL

    Today a young man on acid realised that all matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration … that we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively … there is no such thing a death … life is only a dream and we are the imagination of ourselves … here’s Tom with the weather.

  35. I’d rather have a couple thousand people dead than a cop flagging what I write about on the internet for unpatriotic humor, muslim sympathies, my porn habits, or whom I associate with. The simple fact of the matter is, terrorists in general are underfunded, pathetic sorts of people whose only outlet to fuck you over is to strap some bombs on themselves and walk into a market to blow themselves up.

    The people who are really dangerous can arrest you and have standing armies, they live in your town, and they know what you do. Sure, a terrorist could kill me and that would suck, but so would a mugger slashing my throat, and I’m not about to approve the cops rumaging through my phone records to find muggers either. Not under any circumstances, under any threat, ever.

    Point me at an enemy of the country that’s a valid threat, and I’ll be there with a rifle and a salute with the rest of them. But no amount of criminal behavior becomes a war, not on drugs and not on terror and not on organized crime. “Wars” on criminals seek to establish credibility by preying upon the public’s sense of the glory of war without truly risking the horrors of war. In that way they gain the tools of warfare without the suffering. It’s a way of dehumanizing the criminal element.

    And, as I write this, I understand that a lot of government proponents of data mining quite rightly whine that private citizens are allowed to do all sorts of things that the government needs legislatures and warrants to do. Cry me a river, because if something is harder to do as the government it still has almost limitless resources compared to its citizenry, armies, enormous bureaucracies, etc. There are all sorts of things that the public may do that are simply unacceptable for the government to do. It’s hogwash.

  36. I cannot believe your government actually excists actually..I mean surely this is some big joke?…Reading Les’s link on making soldiers retroactively immune to war crimes literally made me chilled to the bone.
    I am reminded of a statement one of your senators made in a hearing where he quite angrily reminded fellow Pollies that if we allow torture against enemy combatants(for any reason)..then we cant possibly whine when allies get tortured,kidnapped,be-headed etc… BOOM,BOOM!! – Make that man President please

  37. Haven’t read all the responses, and don’t have the desire to for personal reasons unrelated to those who took the time to respond.  For that I apologize.  I had expected to devote much more time and energy to the response in this post, but life is not always what one expects.

    While reading through another blog, Orrin Kerr took a different lesson from the foiled attack.  His take is probably more accurate than mine.  Here it is:

    I’ve been reading lots of commentary about the recently-foiled terrorist attacks in the UK, and I have found that most of the commentary says the same thing: I told you so! The big lesson everyone is drawing: I was right!

      Take the issue of surveillance. Supporters of controversial surveillance programs think that the episode proved the importance of controversial surveillance programs; after all, there was massive surveillance of the plotters, and that surveillance helped bust the plot. Opponents of increased surveillance think that the episode proved that they are right: You see, there is no sign that this particular surveillance came from controversial programs, and some of the key breaks in the case were from human intelligence not signals intelligence.

      Or take the topic of airline security measures. Opponents of airline security measures say that the episode shows that airline security measures are silly; you see, the attack was planned to go around the measures. Proponents of airline security measures say that the episode shows that airline security measures work; you see, the measures stopped the terrorists from attacking as they did on 9/11, and made them have to plan on going great lengths to try another approach.

      The same goes for the war in Iraq. Opponents of the war in Iraq say that the London plots show that the war in Iraq is a mistake; the war has only created more wannabe terrorists. Proponents of the war in Iraq say that the London plots show how important the war in Iraq is; it reinforces the seriousness of the war on terror, and the need for the United States to take major steps to bring democracy and Western values to the Middle East. (My apologies that I don’t have links for these; I have seen the arguments, but right now can’t find good sources. If others haven’t heard the same arguments, please let me know.)

    The take-away lesson: Whatever you do, don’t use the London plots as an opportunity to rethink any of your preexisting assumptions about the war on terror, or the role of surveillance, or airline security measures. Remember, you were right all along! And the other guys are still too dense to see that they’re wrong.

    Orrin Kerr, I Told You So! Lessons of the London Terror Plots, printed at the Volokh Conspiracy, Volokh.com.

  38. From Consi’s above – Orrin Kerr: … and the need for the United States to take major steps to bring democracy and Western values to the Middle East.

    This statement is laughable, slightly ignorant and fairly arrogant.
    The USA can not “bring democracy and Western values to the Middle East” unless there’s a peoples’ revolution to desire it.
    Unless there’s a big re-education programme and Islam is eradicated, or at least the power of the Mullahs limited, this will not/can not happen.
    Turkey made the leap into the 20th century, from within, with the help of the authoritarian Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (the Wiki address won’t work) who, among many other reforms, changed the Turkish alphabet in 1928. 
    “In Turkey to this day Islam is still curbed and women are not allowed to wear their headscarves in public buildings.”
    Where is Iraq’s (or Iran’s, Syria’s … let alone the Saudi’s, etc) Atatürk?
    So what am I saying? Nothing much. Just raving.  LOL

  39. It’s always important to realize that the values that we hold so dear in the West and that we take so for granted (i.e. representative democracy, freedom of expression, individual autonomy) are often considered to be forms of imposition in the Middle East and the Muslim world. Turkey under Ataturk and the mess that we are making of Iraq are prime examples of totalitarianism under the guise of modernization.

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