Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Learnable lessons from Manning, Snowden and inevitable others 10 – thinking ahead 1

Posted in business and convergent technologies, in the News by Timothy Platt on September 30, 2013

This is my eleventh posting on what is becoming a series of leaks and unauthorized disclosures of classified US government documents that relate to its War on Terror (see John Peter Zenger, Henry L. Stimson, Edward J. Snowden and the challenge of free speech and the first nine postings to this series, available at Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 2 as postings 225 and loosely following.)

A great deal has happened over the two months during in which I have been writing these postings; in a fundamental sense very little has happened in this ongoing News saga, at least with regard to the underlying story of government policy and action and its consequences. I write this posting on August 28, 2013 and a month before it is set to go live to my blog. As of the date of this writing:

• The Obama administration is still insistent that theirs is the right policy and approach to national security and that if others disagree with programs such as their PRISM and XKeyscore, that is as much due to their misunderstanding as anything. And the worst that this administration would allow as to the legitimately of their policy, is that they might perhaps have failed to adequately explain it.
• The government of the Federal Republic of Germany has presented itself as an example of an ally that does not share their understanding of this. And it has to be noted that the Germany of today still carries a profoundly troubling memories of its own past, and still confronts their hostory’s surveillance programs and their far-reaching intrusion from the perspective of having endured Hitler and his Nazi government and then after that, Soviet imposed Communism and the German Democratic Republic (GDR, or East Germany) and their systems of government and their surveillance practices and programs.
• European governments in general and many other countries have historical bases of concern when confronted with broad-based and seemingly open-ended surveillance programs that target civilians, and regardless of any reasoning or rationale that might be offered in their support.
• But this still unfolding pushback is not just coming from allied governments. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), among other groups, is actively speaking out against these programs too and has started legal action to end them through the US Courts system.
• Meanwhile, the US National Security Agency has been publically accused in the Press of in effect trying to buy off online service providers, telecommunications companies and other businesses that were enlisted into these programs under FISA Court orders and that have shared private and confidential information about hundreds of millions of people with them because of that. More specifically, this government agency has been accused of paying out millions of dollars to cover legal and other costs faced by these businesses as a result of their participation, willing or not in these programs.
• And it has come out that while the FISA Court did place limits on how this information can legally be mined and used, with a requirement that its use be limited to identifying and tracking foreigners who might be terrorists,
• Numerous other US government departments and agencies have sought access to this data trove for their own mission purposes too, by claiming however tenuously a link to the War on Terror in what they do too.

But at least as of this writing, nothing fundamental has changed.

By the time this posting actually goes live, my hope is that unfolding events will have changed that. And the one change that I would most like to see is public announcement of a new approach to national security-based surveillance and information gathering, and how it is conceived, authorized, overseen, conducted and reviewed.

• As a starting point for that, taking oversight and authorization as a core area of overall systems and program failure, I see significant and even overriding need to close down the FISA Court, and certainly as it is now organized and run and to bring oversight of clandestine governmental surveillance and any similar programs into the Judicial branch of government’s Court system for oversight.
• That means the National Security Agency (NSA) and other intelligence service-oriented agencies and organizations, and the Executive Branch national leadership arguing their side of a request to conduct surveillance programs, or to use information gathered through them, or to take other related actions, in an adversarial arena where both pro and con sides are actively presented and where the rights of all parties are considered and respected.
• That does not necessarily mean publically open court proceedings, as national security legitimately requires confidentiality and secrecy, but it does mean real and genuine consideration of all sides of an argument before a program is approved, and with genuine, courts based appeals possible, and in practice as well as in principle. And this means holding agencies that would propose and champion these surveillance programs to the standards set by the US Constitution and its Bill of Rights.
• I write this in terms of the United States and programs such as PRISM and XKeyscore, but it is important that every democratic government that seeks their national security through intrusive or potentially intrusive programs follow corresponding approaches too, in accordance with their systems of law. And it is important that allied governments, and that governments in general that face shared danger from international terrorism, actually work together collaboratively and in accordance with shared legal frameworks.

And with that in place, I come to a point that I raised at the end of Part 9 of this series where I noted the parallels that can be drawn between our current predicament regarding terrorism, and the depredations of the Barbary pirates, and how a Jefferson era response then and what led up to it might hold lessons for us now.

• Perhaps the most important point that I could make here is that our current War on Terror and the actions and the forces that would lead us to conduct it have precedents, and we can find and learn from historical parallels when addressing our here and now.
• This means we can turn to past experience when looking for more effective ways to deal with our current challenges and conflicts, and both in developing up to date best-practice approaches and in learning from and avoiding past mistakes.
• Too much of our current War on Terror seems to be conducted as if in a vacuum and without any precedents – and without any visible evidence of learning from either the past or from the current present either, where current efforts might not be working.

The Barbary pirates were primarily Muslim pirates and privateers who raided Christian coastal communities and shipping for centuries. They were most active in the 16th and 17th centuries until finally being suppressed and brought to an end by the French in their conquest of Algiers, their last stronghold, in 1830. At their peak they ranged throughout the Mediterranean and out into the Atlantic, raiding as far from their Mediterranean-coastal African ports as Great Britain and even Iceland. They raided shipping and coastal communities for raw materials and for more finished merchandise but they were particularly active in capturing people to be sold into slavery in the Ottoman Empire. And estimates of the numbers of people who they captured and sold in this way extend as high as one and a quarter million men, women and children.

Barbary pirates never raided American coastal or other communities, as they did not range that far across the Atlantic and even at their peak of strength and activity. But they did raid American merchant shipping and with sufficient frequency and impact that they came to be seen as a threat to national sovereignty and security, with this peaking during the presidential administration of Thomas Jefferson. Other nations had actively combatted Barbary pirates as they attacked their shipping and their communities, with sufficient vigor that they convinced them to seek out easier and safer targets, and Jefferson decided to take this same approach, to convince these pirates to leave American flagged vessels alone. So he ordered America’s new young Navy to set sail across for Atlantic for its first real mission outside of American waters and the open-ocean directly adjacent to them. And the result was that Barbary pirate activity against American shipping dropped off and ended.

This ongoing piracy can be seen as the first state sponsored terrorism that the United States faced. And it reached a point of severity of impact that it became an explicit issue that needed to be addressed in the first treaty agreement that the United States signed with any sovereign nation: in the Treaty of Amity and Commerce of 1778, a pact that was entered into between France and a still forming United States – two victim nations of this activity.

One further detail that is important to note here is that the newly independent country that Jefferson led had only recently concluded a bloody and difficult revolutionary war against British rule, and common public sentiment of the day held that the United States should stay out of international affairs and leave them to those on the other side of the broad Atlantic. The public mood and sentiment was isolationist and would remain so as a matter of general expressed principle for decades to come.

The American Revolution was formally fought from 1776 to 1783, though open conflict can be said to have broken out at least one year earlier than that. Jefferson ordered US Naval action against these Pirates in their Mediterranean home waters and as they attacked shipping in 1801 as a direct and immediate response to an Ottoman Pasha’s demand for increased tribute if his forces were to refrain from attacking American shipping – this really was state sponsored terrorism and these pirates really were state sponsored and protected privateers.

• Jefferson knew what motivated this terrorist activity, and he knew precisely who sponsored and supported it.
• He was willing to buck public opinion in addressing this, by taking a very specific and targeted interventionist and internationalist position and by following through on it with specific focus and with clearly stated objectives.
• And he sought to bring both the American public and our allies into this action – and at a time when there was still discord between a new United States and their still recent British rulers. The United States even found itself back in armed conflict with the British again after this, with the War of 1812. There were reasons for isolationist tendencies and preferences.

What can we learn from this early American experience that would help us to more effectively address the challenges of today and our current War on Terror? The earlier events that I have been writing about here took place in large part on open waters and today’s War on Terror takes place on land and in and from the air, and in cyberspace with that the arena of conflict under direct review and analysis in this series. But in both cases, enemy combatants are not always readily identified until they act, both seek to cause significant harm, and both base their claims of legitimacy in this to what they see as profound ideological and religious differences with those who they would attack.

What might this historical example and other, ongoing precedents suggest as to how we might rethink our waging of this war now? At least as of now I am thinking in terms of adding one more series installment to this where I will at least begin to offer my own thoughts on that. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 2 and in my first Ubiquitous Computing and Communications directory page. I am also listing this under my In the News posting category.


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