Saturday, July 07, 2012

On the Transparency Front: Secrecy, Drones and War

Since 9/11 the budget for Special Ops has quadrupled. Under President Obama, the forces of the Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), which includes the Green Berets, Navy SEALS and Army Rangers, have been granted more latitude and greater autonomy, engaged in counter-terrorism, surveillance and reconnaissance in as many as 120 countries around the world.

According to an appraisal published in Mother Jones, America's Rising Shadow Wars: “They are displacing conventional forces, becoming the “force of choice” in operations with far less civilian oversight, accountability or control -- i.e. no Congressional approval or consultation necessary, no press coverage, their operating budget a black book...”

Hm. Well now... as “Mr. Transparency” I naturally feel my hackles rise over any systematic increase in secrecy.  It’s not that secrecy in military operations and intelligence matters cannot be justified - I am actually quite moderate about that. 

 It is the fact that such secrecy should always face demands for justification.  It should bear a burden of proof, or else a “ratchet effect” will carry us down an ever deeper pit of unaccountable obscurity.  That's simply human nature and, across the last 6000 years, we've seen where that leads.

But, having said that, there is the other side to all of this.  The clear and blatant fact that there is a profound, staggeringly clear difference between Democratic and Republican styles of waging war.

Now, let’s put aside the fact that large democratic constituencies have always despised war in principle and have given the party a reputation for pacifist leanings.  In fact, that reputation seems rather undeserved, if you scan history.  Indeed, across the last 100 years, democrats were ready and willing to confront militarism in 1917 Germany, and then Hitler and Imperial Japan, then the communists, far more than the isolationist republicans of those eras.

But Democrats, going back to JFK, have always favored special forces.  “Surgical” responses. And, after the fiasco of Vietnam, their record in that department is pretty strong.  Both positive (e.g. from the Balkans and Libya to the killing of Osama bin Laden and today's search for Joseph Kony) and negative (e.g. Somalia), it is the preferred approach of Democratic presidents.

In rather sharp contrast, Republicans go for heavy firepower, tens of thousands of boots and treads on the ground.  Toe-to toe battle! Armies in motion and flag pins stuck into a map. For example Grenada, Panama, both Iraq Wars and and the endless, interminable quagmire attrition of Afghanistan.

(Note: Afghanistan actually had two phases.  Phase one, right after 9/11, was undertaken swiftly, with minimal presidential meddling, and followed Clintonian military doctrines, even though the President who said "go!" was George W. Bush.  That first part, toppling the Taliban, used mostly special ops and air power and worked with savage effectiveness. But the decision to stay and occupy with a massive army for 12 years? That was phase II and entirely Bush's decision.

I will write more on this, over the summer.

See more: Articles on our progress toward a Transparent Society.

==More on Transparency==

Speaking of transparency, Wired Magazine has published a map showing 64 locations where the US government maintains drones on American soil.  Creepy signs of Big Brother? Wellllll... I am always more concerned about things we don’t see, or efforts to prevent us from performing sousveillance or looking back.  (Of which the Wired article is an example.)  I’ll be furious if the government winds up with a monopoly on look-down vision.  See Existence for a number of scenes that lay out some interesting possibilities.

And what happens if and when they get drones?

In the last half of 2011, Google received over 1,000 official requests to remove content from its search results or YouTube videos. Google denounced what it calls an alarming trend -- but it complied with 65% of court orders and 47% of informal requests to remove content. And yet, Google has not complied with Spanish regulators who asked Google to remove links to blogs and articles criticizing public figures, mayors and public prosecutors. In some countries, Google submits to such requests, because certain types of political speech are unlawful. For example, in Germany, references to Nazis are banned, so Google removes such videos from YouTube. And then there are issues of pornography and copyright…

The following item isn’t as bad as it first appears... but still it is disturbing: “The NYPD has created a "wanted" poster for a Harlem couple who films cops conducting stop-and-frisks (posting the videos on YouTube). The poster brands them "professional agitators" who portray cops in a bad light -- and lists their home address.”  Not as bad as it first appears?  Well, this was an internal flyer, posted on a few precinct bulletin boards, not in public or on the web.  And I guess cops have a right to tell each other “watch yourselves around these vexatious citizens." Still, it’s offensive, probably illegal, and certainly the sort of thing that could easily get out of hand.  But in any event, note this: light did shine on this event. The ones who posted it now probably regret it. The next such flyer will be more cautiously worded, knowing it, too, will leak.

26 comments:

Alex Tolley said...

"what happens if and when they get drones?"

We've already seen the same problem with the cyberwarfare tools.

Traditionally, most conflicts eventually have all sides having the same sorts of weapons, so advantage is always temporary. Modern conflicts are much more asymmetric. The Falklands War was a good example, where the superior British fleet was shown to be very vulnerable to Exocet missiles.

We'll probably see very inexpensive drones that are nothing more than remote controlled flying bombs that are quite accurate hitting their targets.

Jumper said...

I see drones as any other kind of air power. Those killed by drones - or their survivors - have no particular reason to care if the air power was unmanned, I think. And I doubt a drone costs the military much less (if at all less) than a used Cessna. Perhaps I'm wrong on that though.

Paul451 said...

Alternet article about a police raid on a medical marijuana store in California. Amid accusations of police brutality, it's interesting to note an officer spotting a camera as he walked over the back of a detained store worker, and directing another officer to smash it with a pry-bar, then they apparently went around looking for other cameras to smash them. Similar to a bank robber, or other criminal. It says something about the psychology of the moment, I guess.

http://www.alternet.org/newsandviews/article/1024796/brutal_police_raid_on_california_marijuana_dispensary_caught_on_video/

Not only must the right to film police be defended from misapplied wiretap or "privacy" laws, but it seems there needs to be specific laws against police destroying cameras. Ie, not only is the citizen not breaking the law, but preventing filming is breaking the law.

When cities/states bring in DUI testing, they also bring in a "refusing test" law, where the punishment for refusing a breath-test is equivalent to the highest drink-driving penalty. Ie, if you refuse a test, then you are deemed guilty of the worst offence. Perhaps police need the same type of law for destroying cameras. You are assumed to be protecting yourself from the worst offence you could commit, therefore the punishment should be the worst available to the internal discipline system (immediate suspension, probably termination?)

Oh, by the way, the reason for the police raid,? The store forgot to apply for a city permit.

Jumper said...

This has been recommended; it's very cool and lends itself to one's outside-the-box arsenal for ideas.
http://news.cnet.com/8301-17938_105-57465526-1/bizarre-flipping-research-ship-turns-50/

Tony Fisk said...

Actually, I always thought of Somalia as being planned and initiated in Dec 1992 by Bush Snr. as a 'lame duck' just after Clinton got elected. It certainly bore all the hallmarks that David ascribes to Republican military thinking.

Tony Fisk said...

That police raid is appalling.

Even worse is a recent incident in NSW where a young man was tasered to death for refusing to co-operate with transport officials and police when he 'refused' to produce a ticket. He was described as being abusive and confrontational by the officers concerned.

A witness video produced in court suggested the exact opposite.

The magistrate, Lee Gilmour, warned Sergeant Bucknell ''to stop mucking around''. ''I want to stop you for a moment before you say anything else because I don't think it would be fair to place you in a situation of complicity in relation to trying to argue something that clearly was a lie and that's what you're doing.''

Sergeant Bucknell responded: ''I have nothing further to say.''

InquisitiveAndy said...

A drone is simply a plane with a human pilot on the ground. It's not a robotic terminator.

The US tends to join wars, not because it's the right thing to do, but when there's something in it for the US. For the rest of the world, the First World War started in 1914, the US joined in 1917...it finished in 1918. The second world war the US only joined when Japan raided Pearl. Even them it was some time before they joined the European theatre.

The work SOCOM does is delicate,difficult and often time bound. But I do agree that transparency and accountability are important.

Anonymous said...

I think it's a bit moot to use examples about the Democratic Party dating as far back as 1917. Back then the roles were reversed: in example, Democrats dominated the old Confederate states, while the Republicans dominated in liberal urban areas such as NYC and LA. Things didn't change much until Goldwater beat Rockefeller for the nomination in 1963 or so.

Paul451 said...

Tony,
You're jumbling two cases. The guy who was tasered for walking away from police, after they ordered him off the bus, did not die. The court case at which the two arresting officers and four transit police (and prosecuting sergeant) all lied is the guy's arraignment, which he'd hardly have if he was dead. ("Your silence only compounds your guilt, sir!")

The "Potentially fatal" line, and video, in the story is a reference to another case, where a Brazilian student was maced & tasered to death after being mistaken for someone who was being chased by police (for stealing a packet of biscuits.)

(For US readers: Biscuits = cookies. Prosecuting sergeant = police prosecutor, something you don't really have, lower than the lowest ranked ADA.)

Tony Fisk said...

@Paul451: Good catch!

Not that I'm automatically anti-police. I considered a number of the 'police brutality' videos from the occupy protests last year to be a bit 'precious' (although there were definitely some ugly incidents)

LarryHart said...

Tony Fisk:

Not that I'm automatically anti-police. I considered a number of the 'police brutality' videos from the occupy protests last year to be a bit 'precious' (although there were definitely some ugly incidents)


The pepper-spray thing from U.C. Davis was particularly disturbing to me. Plus, my 9-yr-old daughter happened to see me watching it, and I had to explain what was happening in terms of the strangely-fortuitious episode of "Kirby" she had just been watching, whose plot was eerily similar to the real-life event.

Jonathan S. said...

Andy, there were reasons why the US didn't "do the right thing" right away in the World Wars. For one thing, examination of WWI shows that there may not have been a "right side" in that one - it's not like Germany was trying to take over the world or anything, they were mostly just posing a threat to Britain's world dominance.

And secondly, until the advent of long-range bombers and ICBMs (and, to be honest, for some time after as well), there was an attitude of "Fortress America" - the idea that we were hidden safe from Eurasian affairs by the impenetrable defense of ocean expanses on each side. It was "safe" to ignore others' troubles in that mindset. Then our base at Pearl was attacked, which kind of cracked the paradigm - a little. I was hearing it from some folks, though, as late as the 1980s. "All that stuff's going on clear across the ocean. No way they can reach us here!" Then I'd calmly explain about airplanes and missiles...

LarryHart said...

The USSR was pretty much the only enemy who could "reach us here" vy conventional means in the 1980s. Neither Iran nor North Korea (for instance) was capable of a direct strike on North America. Until 9/11, we still somewhat justifiably felt mostly safe over here.

Nyctotherion said...

"What happens when they get drones?"

We use drones because they are cheaper to build and don't need to be trained.

Militant Islamists already have drones, but they are made out of meat and called 'suicide bombers'.

MomDude said...

Another group worried a LOT about drones are pilots, both commercial and private. The Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association (AOPA), Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), and Commemorative Air Force (CAF) are all keeping close watch on all proposed regulations regarding drones in US airspace. A 1986 mid-air collision over Cerritos, CA brought down a commercial DC-9 and killed 82 (including 15 on the ground) and in turn led to major changes in FAA airspace structure and rules. The fear of a similar event involving an unmanned drone will limit their use for some time, at least the big drones flying up over 500 ft in controlled airspace.

Carl M. said...

How did the Democrats fight in Korea compared to Republicans?

Who Vietnamized the Vietnam war? Who ended the draft?

Who supported insurgents to wear down the Soviet Empire? Remember Nicaragua? Afghanistan? Angola?

Jumper said...

This might make an interesting telescope:
http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/131640-infinite-capacity-wireless-vortex-beams-carry-2-5-terabits-per-second

Robert said...

Here is some food for thought: if, like Mitt Romney and a number of rich people on both sides of the political spectrum like to claim, Corporations are People and thus are entitled to First Amendment rights, then are they not protected under the 14th Amendment which prevents the sale and ownership of people? In short, would not Bain, Mitt Romney's darling corporation, be responsible for the widescale trafficking of corporate persons, including instances of murder and dismemberment all to make a profit?

If Corporations are NOT entitled to 14th Amendment rights... then why not? Why are they allowed the protections of the First Amendment but not allowed the protections of the 14th Amendment?

And how long do you think it'll be before we see a lawsuit blocking the hostile takeover of a corporation on the grounds that it violates the 14th Amendment rights of the corporation?

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Reviews

Tony Fisk said...

@LarryHart
The pepper-spray thing from U.C. Davis was particularly disturbing to me.

..That one definitely goes in the 'ugly' basket.

.. as does the spontaneous baton charge at the same establishment, and the NY 'white-shirt' who walked up and maced some protestors without provocation (one of officers at the scene can be seen with his jaw on the deck)

Man's last, best hope against all this may be... Clive Stafford Smith!

sociotard said...

What do you make of this, Dr. Brin?

Giant cloud of dust around star mysteriously disappears

Jonathan S. said...

They broke their crystal sphere!

captcha: Dicturi 3, home of the Dic-heads (and their fellow sophonts, the Dictators).

Ian Gould said...

A quantum computational device based on a theoretical structure known as a time crystal could survive the heat death of the universe.

Maybe the ETIs all have this technology, making the quantum simulations within them more attractive than a physical universe that will "only" last 100 billion years.

On the other hand: if you have effectively infinite computational capacity in your cyber-Nirvana would you not consider assigning a tiny fraction of that capacity to keeping an eye on meat space and interacting with any new sophonts that come along?

Ian Gould said...

Sorry, a link for the time crystal story:

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn22028-computer-that-could-outlive-the-universe-a-step-closer.html

LarryHart said...

Robert:

if, like Mitt Romney and a number of rich people on both sides of the political spectrum like to claim, Corporations are People and thus are entitled to First Amendment rights,


First of all, I cut Mitt Romney a little slack on that "Corporations are people, my friend" comment. I don't think he meant it the way it sounded in the context of the corporate personhood debate. What he seemed to mean is that the profits made by corporations ultimately end up in the pockets of actual people--either shareholders or executives. It was still a 0.01%-centric statement, but it wasn't so much a pitch for corporate personhood as a "Stockholders and executives are people too."

Secondly, according to Thom Hartmann, Citizens United wasn't really decided on the First Amendment rights of corporate persons. Rather, John Roberts's reasoning was that We The People have the right to hear as much information as is available, and that corporations possess much of this valuable information. So limiting their freedom of speech limits our First Amendment-protected access to useful information.

A bit of judicial jiu-jitsu that sounds good in theory if one ignores the fact that corporations don't spend billions on advertising to inform the public, but to propogandize.


...then are they not protected under the 14th Amendment which prevents the sale and ownership of people? In short, would not Bain, Mitt Romney's darling corporation, be responsible for the widescale trafficking of corporate persons, including instances of murder and dismemberment all to make a profit?


I've been saying for a few years now that gay marriage could be accomplished unilaterally by having the two human beings each incorporate and then engage in a corporate merger.


And how long do you think it'll be before we see a lawsuit blocking the hostile takeover of a corporation on the grounds that it violates the 14th Amendment rights of the corporation?


I expect to see such an argument to be made fairly soon. Even if it fails, I expect someone will TRY it.

David Brin said...

Carl my statement about dem vs gop ways of war had two parts:

1- dems were/are certainly ready to fight. WWI (and damn straight the Germans were aggressors... look at a F#@ing map, Jonathan), the very non-isolationist 1941 attack on the Japanese economy to pressure them out of China etc.

2- SINCE KENNEDY I said, special forces were a dem focus. And dems were capable of learning from the hubris-lesson of Vietnam -- and the Russkies in Afgh.

What? you prefer a party that doesn't learn NOT to get dragged into an endless, draining land war of attrition in Asia?

Supporting insurgencies is a different matter.

Paul451 said...

(Don't want to pollute the new thread this this. But reply there if you like...)

LarryHart,
"Neither Iran nor North Korea (for instance) was capable of a direct strike on North America. Until 9/11, we still somewhat justifiably felt mostly safe over here."

Except 9/11 shows how naive that perception of safety was. 19 men, 8 pilots, box cutters. Now imagine something that actually was State-sponsored by Iran or NK. Not just financing, but run by intelligence, with forged documents, and better targeting (Pentagon was a stupid target.) Indeed, if you were attacking the US, disrupting the economy would make much more sense than a symbolic attack. [While al Qaeda did succeed in attacking the US economy, that was due to the stupidity of the Administration. And you shouldn't count on your enemy walking where you want them to walk.]

Bio-attack on crops, disrupting oil supplies, blocking ports by hijacking and colliding ships, 9/11-style attacks on intelligence assets (such as the FBI or NSA HQ's), etc. Imagine a properly coordinated version of the anthrax letters, hidden as "sample bags" of chocolate drink-powder in a mass mail-out. Bombings targeting the enemies of local extremist groups, to misdirect blame internally (apparently something the Soviets tried to do.) I'm surprised that some group like al Qaeda hasn't sent assassins against prominent wealthy Americans. Politically important billionaires, celebrity commentators. Done right, it would feed into the respective paranoiac delusions of both the extreme left and extreme right. Especially the extreme right. Turn the country against itself... more against itself...for decades.

Even conventional missile strikes don't require ICBMs if you hide them on a converted cargo-ship, and sail them right up to the US coast.