Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Learnable lessons from Manning, Snowden and inevitable others 11 – thinking ahead 2

Posted in business and convergent technologies, in the News by Timothy Platt on October 7, 2013

This is my twelfth 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 ten postings to this series, available at Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 2 as postings 225 and loosely following.)

I began discussing the historical parallels between the War on Terror of today, and the United States’ first conflict with state sponsored terrorism in Part 10 of this series. That challenge came as an ongoing recurrence of attacks to American flagged vessels by the Barbary pirates as actively supported by the Ottoman Empire. And I stated in that posting that I would at least attempt to draw lessons from that earlier series of events that might shed light on today’s predicaments.

I begin this by considering the War on Terror of today, and what that term means. And I begin that by noting a crucially important point – essentially anything that I could write about this war, could be argued to be wrong, and with logic and evidence to back that claim. That is because the War on Terror is open-ended and ill-defined – even fundamentally undefined. The United States and her allies have been conducting ground and air wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the United States at least has been conducting raids and drone strikes and more in multiple countries. And the United States has also been very actively conducting massive civilian-targeted online and telephone systems surveillance programs and at the very least preparing for widespread cyber-warfare in coordination with all of this. But the overall conflict context that this has all been taking place in and certainly since the September 11, 2001 attacks has been fundamentally undefined. That is because:

• No one in a position of policy-shaping authority has ever stated, or seemingly even decided in their own thinking what it might mean to win this conflict. There is no definitive goal or winning end-point to this war so there can be no definitive path to resolution to it and no clear strategy that would lead to a winning resolution.
When Thomas Jefferson brought a still very young United States into his conflict with terrorism: his war against the Barbary pirates he did so in the face of divisive disagreement but he had and he stated an end goal and what it would mean to win. When George W. Bush brought the United States into his conflict with terrorism he kept his thoughts on this as vague and open-ended as he possibly could, so he could start a war with the Taliban in Afghanistan and then as quickly as possible start a second war in Iraq. And no one: his successor, President Obama included, has ever addressed that fundamental gap. And as I write this, I find myself thinking of a massive and protracted ground and air war that the United States fought in my lifetime, when I was a young man: the US led war in Vietnam.

• There was no defined goal – there was no end-point result that would definitively constitute victory in Vietnam. There was an open-ended ideological intent in place to stop any domino effect Communist takeover of Southeast Asia but there was no defined goal that anyone could specifically point to and state “when these specific criteria are met, this war is over.”
• There is no defined goal or end-point in the War on Terror either. So its conduct becomes open-ended and when it is fought in cyberspace, its surveillance programs can have no mission or goals-defined boundaries or limits.
• And we face the grave possibility that the War on Terror for its lack of focus and its lack of real goals is intrinsically, fundamentally unwinnable.

I have been starting my postings in this series, or at least a significant fraction of them with updates on this war and on the controversies that it has engendered. I end this posting with a very brief updates listing, and by noting that while this is set to go live to my blog on October 7, I am actually writing it on September 2, 2013.

• Over the past six years, the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has been routinely accessing and using the call logging database system that AT&T has been assembling for decades now, and for every phone call that has gone through their system. This DEA initiative is called the Hemisphere Project and like its NSA surveillance project counterparts, its existence makes it an attractive source of data for reasons other than just its initial justifying purpose, and for many other agencies.
• I have made note of a few specific National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance programs that have been developed and used in the course of fighting the War on Terror itself in this series, and could cite others as well. I have also made note of how government departments and agencies that are not involved in this effort have sought access to the data collected through these NSA programs. And I have noted how some of what has been done with this data trove has been declared unconstitutional too and even under the lax and permissive approvals and oversight systems currently in place for this.
• Open ended surveillance begets open ended surveillance, and reasons and justifications and rationalizations for all of this proliferate in pace with this open ended intrusive program expansion. And as I noted in Part 9 to this series, we do not just face corporate “Little Brothers” now. Thanks to the War on Terror as a key enabler if nothing else, Big Brother is or at least should be seen as a genuine source of concern and for all of us too.

I fully expect to come back to the issues that I have been addressing here, and if as continuations of this series than in separate postings and series. But I am concluding this series here, at least for now. 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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