Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Learnable lessons from Manning, Snowden and inevitable others 16 – the fallacy of absolute security and its allure 2

Posted in business and convergent technologies, in the News by Timothy Platt on December 14, 2013

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

I stepped back from a more specific focus on ongoing news events in this in Part 15, to consider how our current overall national security situation has come about. And I began that with a brief discussion of the decision making process in the George W. Bush White House, and of decisions made and decisions simply backed into in response to the September 11, 2001 al Qaida led terrorist attacks.

• When the 9/11 attacks first took place, Osama bin Laden, the founder and leader of Al-Qaeda immediately took credit for them, declaring all-out war against the West and against the United States in particular.
• Al-Qaeda had already established itself as an active terrorist organization from having launched a series of damaging attacks against both embassies other governmental sites and also against civilian targets. This series of attacks included the 1998 US embassy bombings in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya, showing their overall intent to directly attack the United States and its interests. So this simply moved their fight directly onto US soil.
• And they readily, freely provided corroborating detail in the course of their public statements after these attacks to verify that they were in fact responsible for them too.
• To further flesh out this background narrative, it was also already well-established that the Taliban led Afghan government that was then in place was giving Al-Qaeda safe haven and material support for their activities, and that they also saw themselves as enemies of the West. So it was probably inevitable that the United States would find itself at war with Al-Qaeda, and in Afghanistan and with a goal of both eradicating the Al-Qaeda threat there and toppling an Afghan government that would actively aid and abet organizations like them.

Then the United States quickly also found itself at war in Iraq too, and for more internal and ideologically based political reasons from within the US government, than from the flow of events as they impacted on the country from the outside (see Part 15.) The relevancy and wisdom of that venture aside, the United States found itself in two major wars at once, plus a series of smaller military involvements.

• And as I have already noted, starting in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, it had become palpably clear that US government agencies had already discovered that they had held in their possession, sufficient information leading up to 9/11 so that if they could have brought it together, they might have been able to prevent those attacks entirely. But this information was scattered in the files of numerous separate organizations that did not share their intelligence gathering findings with each other.

Collectively, this was the impetus for the United States’ to declare its War on Terror and it also set the stage for how this war would be fought, and with intelligence gathering and use a key part of that effort.

I have focused entirely on surveillance programs and clandestine information gathering in this series as that has become one of the mainstays of the War on Terror. The surveillance programs in the news now, as of this writing had their origins for the most part in the early Bush era days immediately after 9/11. The ground and air wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were also started and I add defended by the Bush administration as key elements of this war, and so were the first systematically planned and executed drone counter-terrorist strikes. And that quickly led to development of active large scale programs intended to kill terrorist leaders through use of unmanned aircraft, for bringing this war into countries like Pakistan, that Taliban and Al-Qaeda sought to operate from but where US armed forces were not welcome. During the Bush years, these military fronts in the overall War on Terror were publically known but the surveillance programs that underlay a great deal of that more public face to this effort were still secret and effectively hidden from public view, or even public awareness.

President George W. Bush came to fundamentally disagree with his vice president, Dick Cheney and also with several of his cabinet secretaries and on a wide range of issues. But once he started this war and with a full public commitment on his part to pursue it to completion, he felt fully committed to it and unable to back away from any of its ongoing programs; he could not risk admitting that in retrospect he might have been in any way wrong and certainly not on the defining decisions and actions of his presidency. So he simply continued on with all of this as business as usual until his second term ended and he left office. And then Barack Obama was sworn in as President and he adapted all of this as the starting point for his administration to deal with. And he had his own policy agenda and he had to make fundamental decisions in what to actively pursue and where to simply continue ongoing policy, and with having to decide that in the face of a bitterly divided partisan government. Where we are now in this, has its roots in how a newly sworn in President Obama set his initial priorities for what to actively pursue then.

Obama made a campaign pledge of change going into his 2008 election, with a core pledge in that to get the country out of Bush’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And over a period of time and after a period of more active engagement in these wars with significant troop build-ups: his surge, he did that. (Note: the first Iraqi war troop surge was initiated during the Bush administration in 2007.)

Obama made an equally firm and clear campaign promise to close the prison at Guantanamo; it is clear that facility will remain open and in place for years to come and certainly given all available evidence as of this writing. But Obama’s primary area of concern was more in domestic policy and in enacting healthcare reform and new regulatory oversight over the financial institutions that had contributed so much to our falling into the Great Recession.

At least initially, much of the War on Terror appears to have been moved to lower priority as an area of actively pursued policy and action change. And President Obama both continued and even expanded the drone attack programs already in place and certainly as Al-Qaeda and Taliban forces were pushed into the Pakistani tribal areas. And perhaps more tellingly and certainly from the perspective of this narrative, he also continued and even greatly expanded the surveillance programs that had been started under the Bush administration in support of this war, and he added new programs and initiatives to that as well. This may have begun as a national intelligence service initiative under President Bush, but it became President Obama’s.

And now the existence of those massive surveillance programs is public knowledge. And in a fundamental sense this entire series has been about the consequences of that, with both the domestic and international repercussions that this new awareness has engendered. I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will focus on these programs from a policy perspective. 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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