Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Power of Strategic Listening

The Power of Strategic Listening... and why our leaders seem deaf.

Let me offer you all a glimpse of wisdom from someone in the know... from a colleague of mine who is intimately involved in the details of our security operations. This is just a snippet from an unclassified conference on international security. Still, my friend had to be circumspect. Read the following carefully and see how he compares our OVERALL success (or lack thereof) in the generalized War on Terror -- and the intervention in Iraq -- vs our astonishingly competent and successful (so far) involvement in Afghanistan. (An enterprise that began, unknown to most, with the turn-key unleashing of an already existing war plan -- emphasizing professionalism and use of local resources, organized by Special Forces -- that had been crafted almost entirely under Clinton-Clarke, though credit for the go! order belongs to GW Bush.)

“ I spend my time working with the Special Operations community, which consistently gives me useful insights into the functioning of networks. Everyone knows that terror networks are powerful; how about civil society networks?

“Listening is everything in this war on terror – this is the war of hiders and finders. We are in our fifth year since September 11th, 2001. Five years after Pearl Harbor, everything had changed: the war was won, peace had followed, stability was returning to many countries, and so on. We are now in the fifth year after our own Pearl Harbor, and very little has changed. Is this a fight for the future based on commonly-held values, or is it a clash of civilizations? My Special Operations students spend their lives listening. Other soldiers have learned from them to utilize small groups, learn things, and find out information – by listening. By being in small groups and building relationships, they can curtail areas that enemies might otherwise control. So there are good things going on in Afghanistan. There is risk built into the system. I work with fine soldiers for whom every minute is an act of courage in a war that will not be won by carpet-bombing or "shock and awe".

“How does one listen? What is it that you are listening to? What are your messages comprised of? Let me give you some percentages: Mexico – 11%; Russia – 16%; Turkey – 18%; Argentina – 19%. These are the latest "approval ratings" for the United States in countries that we do not target with radio broadcasts or television stations. This is how they feel about us in the 5th year of our war against terror. Are we hearing a response to our public diplomacy or to our policies? The answer is, the latter. So listening has to be in terms of responses to what we say; we ping, and we get something back. The other kind of pinging is what we do in the world. This dimension is often neglected in the business of listening. We think that if we say something catchy or insightful, it will turn people's minds in the right direction. That is not the case. One's actions are powerful drivers of appearance. People's reactions worldwide are to what we do.

“If you were never going to change your policies, and just did what you were going to do, and your information strategy was designed to sell that approach, it would never work. It is a social contract; you need to be open to changing yourself. That is the heart and soul of listening and of strategy. All strategists should listen to Zana Briski when she tells us not to go in with pre-designated goals. Go in, adapt, and the answers will appear. The U.S. Navy, in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) -- (The Afghanistan Intervention) -- for the first time in their history went in without predetermined targets. They listened to sensors and learned what to hit. In the span of history between Alexander the Great and Alexander Lebed, no one conquered Afghanistan. But our commandos toppled a terrible regime and have a sustained operation in the country that is supported by NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization). This is a great success story with a thimble full of military force and an ocean's worth of listening. “

You may interpret the subtle hints contained in this excerpt differently than I do I read an implicit contrast with the other war... the one that is bleeding America white, dissipating its credibility, ruining its alliances, shattering our internal unity and serving as a nightly recruiting ground for enemy memes.

The true losers have been moderate Americans, who approve of toppling Saddam, but who remember which bozos propped up that monster and deliberately left him in power when they had him in their hands, in 1991.

Moderates who want to “spread freedom” -- and even are willing to do so forcefully, on careful occasion -- but who also remember that these bozos used to vehemently oppose “the discredited utopian notion of nation-building. “ Their sudden conversion to utopian adventurism might be heartening, if it were sincere and competently executed with sincere attention to listening, and learning, and winning the moral high ground. Notprimarily a boondoggle of gigantic no-bid contracts for cronies and a political excuse for Orwellian politics.

And yes, all of this has fed into the radicalization of America, resulting in the very most simplistic and dopey voices of the left seizing control over the anti-war movement. Voices that ignore the overwhelming necessity and competence and goodness of interventions like the one in Afghanistan, or Clinton’s successful foray into Bosnia, which left the European continent at peace for the first time in 4,000 years. Voices that would have us choose between moronic imperialist klepto-thumping and an almost-equally moronic turn away from our genuine duty to fight evil in a genuinely dangerous world.

Still, despite my distrust of some of the excesses you will find at reflex sites like, the activists at that site are vastly more truthful than CNN or Fox News or O’Reilly (Murdoch’s hand puppet and the great Defender of Christmas). Take the following devastating denunciation by Sen. Byrd, recently reprinted by Truthout.

Monday 19 December 2005 -- Americans have been stunned at the recent news of the abuses of power by an overzealous President. It has become apparent that this Administration has engaged in a consistent and unrelenting pattern of abuse against our Country's law-abiding citizens, and against our Constitution.

We have been stunned to hear reports about the Pentagon gathering information and creating databases to spy on ordinary Americans whose only sin is choosing to exercise their First Amendment right to peaceably assemble. Those Americans who choose to question the Administration's flawed policy in Iraq are labeled by this Administration as "domestic terrorists."

We now know that the F.B.I.'s use of National Security Letters on American citizens has increased one hundred fold, requiring tens of thousands of individuals to turn over personal information and records. These letters are issued without prior judicial review, and provide no real means for an individual to challenge a permanent gag order.

Through news reports, we have been shocked to learn of the CIA's practice of rendition, and the so-called "black sites," secret locations in foreign countries where abuse and interrogation have been exported to escape the reach of U.S. laws protecting against human rights abuses.

We know that Vice President Dick Cheney has asked for exemptions for the CIA from the language contained in the McCain torture amendment banning cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment. Thank God his pleas have been rejected by this Congress.

Now comes the stomach-churning revelation that through an executive order, President Bush has circumvented both the Congress and the courts. He has usurped the Third Branch of government - the branch charged with protecting the civil liberties of our people - by directing the National Security Agency to intercept and eavesdrop on the phone conversations and e-mails of American citizens without a warrant, which is a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment. He has stiff-armed the People's Branch of government. He has rationalized the use of domestic, civilian surveillance with a flimsy claim that he has such authority because we are at war. The executive order, which has been acknowledged by the President, is an end-run around the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which makes it unlawful for any official to monitor the communications of an individual on American soil without the approval of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

What is the President thinking? Congress has provided for the very situations which the President is blatantly exploiting. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, housed in the Department of Justice, reviews requests for warrants for domestic surveillance. The Court can review these requests expeditiously and in times of great emergency. In extreme cases, where time is of the essence and national security is at stake, surveillance can be conducted before the warrant is even applied for.

This secret court was established so that sensitive surveillance could be conducted, and information could be gathered without compromising the security of the investigation. The purpose of the FISA Court is to balance the government's role in fighting the war on terror with the Fourth Amendment rights afforded to each and every American.

The American public is given vague and empty assurances by the President that amount to little more than "trust me." But, we are a nation of laws and not of men. Where is the source of that authority he claims? I defy the Administration to show me where in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or the U.S. Constitution, they are allowed to steal into the lives of innocent America citizens and spy.

When asked yesterday what the source of this authority was, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had no answer. Secretary Rice seemed to insinuate that eavesdropping on Americans was acceptable because FISA was an outdated law, and could not address the needs of the government in combating the new war on terror. This is a patent falsehood. The USA Patriot Act expanded FISA significantly, equipping the government with the tools it needed to fight terrorism. Further amendments to FISA were granted under the Intelligence Authorization Act of 2002 and the Homeland Security Act of 2002. In fact, in its final report, the 9/11 Commission noted that the removal of the pre-9/11 "wall" between intelligence officials and law enforcement was significant in that it "opened up new opportunities for cooperative action."

The President claims that these powers are within his role as Commander in Chief. Make no mistake, the powers granted to the Commander in Chief are specifically those as head of the Armed Forces. These warrantless searches are conducted not against a foreign power, but against unsuspecting and unknowing American citizens. They are conducted against individuals living on American soil, not in Iraq or Afghanistan. There is nothing within the powers granted in the Commander in Chief clause that grants the President the ability to conduct clandestine surveillance of American civilians. We must not allow such groundless, foolish claims to stand.

To which, let me add this. Just imagine what would have happened had Bill Clinton done a tenth of these things. How many Timothy McVeighs would have emerged, declaring that the way was being paved for UN black helicopters to land in all of our yards? Or if, instead of REDUCING government secrecy, Clinton had augmented it even a tenth as much as the Bushites have? The utter hypocrisy of decrying any hint of Big Brother when the aroma rises from your chosen foe, but pretzel-bending like taffy in order to excuse total lack of accountability, when it the masks and smoke and veils are spread by your chosen team.



jomama said...

Been going on for years.

Clinton was not immune.

The next president will continue in the same direction.

The government is very afraid of its subjects.

I wonder why.

Anonymous said...

Just wondering, when will the "War on Terror" be won?

Or more precisely, what events must happen before the US government acknowledges that the "war" is over and that normal peacetime standards can apply again?

Anonymous said...

Anon, the "War on Terror" will be won sometime after the "War on Drugs", but before the "War on Poverty".
Next, we shall declare "War on Improvised Explosive Devices" and "War on Hit and Run Raids". This will be added to our "War on Traffic Jams" and "War on Noisy Neighbors".

Yes, I'm being sarcastic, why do you ask?


Anonymous said...

This is a true outrage.

The way Bush tries to make his supposed point is sickening to me. In his press conference Monday he said, "The fact that we're discussing this program is helping the enemy." What happened to this being a nation whose citizens are permitted and obligated to make informed decisions about what their leaders are supposed to be doing?

News flash: we're not at war. Not by the Constitution's definition. Besides the worry about when the "war" will end, I wonder how far Bush thinks his war powers can go? He often seems to imply that he can do anything he deems necessary. That is incompatible with the notion that ours is, as Byrd says, a nation of laws.

Byrd makes his points very eloquently. I've come to like him much more since the war began. Too bad he seems to be a bit racist.

Rob Perkins said...

My question is: When Rummy retires, who will take his place? And will the strategies and direction proposed by the Pentagon change in any way?

Rob Perkins said...

I've watched Robert Byrd over the years since the Dems lost majority in the Senate. He appears to have one role: to eloquently oppose *everything* proposed or done by Republicans.

Means the man has good speechwriters, for one thing.

Anonymous said...


I think that its pretty clear (Waco, Elio Gonzales, Ruby Ridge) that Clinton was totally willing to bypass the courts and use force to quell rebellion, push his agenda, or just to do a favor for a fellow communo-fascist.

Please explain to me how the Waco or Ruby Ridge incidents demonstrate how President Clinton or his administration bypassed the courts. As I read it, they did use force, possibly to quell rebellion, but at no time were they countermanding any court orders.

Also, you're dead wrong about the Elian Gonzalez case. They sent in the guys with guns to return the boy to his father, but then both stayed in the U.S. for several months while the various court actions were completed. IIRC, the court cases were all about whether he should stay in the U.S., not about which relatives he should stay with.

And we will, never, ever, win the "war" on terror.

I agree pretty much. As long as it's set up the way it is, it will forever be used as an excuse to wield the big stick wherever "it's needed"

Anonymous said...

To Whiskey 1...
I will ignore the other two, rather than get into a arguement, but cannot ignore the third...
You CANNOT blame Bill Clinton for the incident at Ruby Ridge in any way, shape, or form... because the incident occurred in August of 1992, when Clinton was still Governer of Arkansas... Ruby Ridge, being in Idaho, was not under his jurisdiction.

(Call it a pet peeve... there are many legitimate complaints about President Clinton, making more up or attaching his name to others is silly)


Anonymous said...

My question, where ARE the Dems. Why aren't we seeing aggressive criminal prosecution? Where is George Soros, who promised to do whatever he could to defeat Bush. He could fund the investigations. Why aren't Democratic congressmen running on a platform of "Impeach and imprison the whole Bush administration, imprison everyone involved in training Osama, and win in Iraq now that we're committed"

Rob Perkins said...

I found this, of all places referenced in a discussion group about Mormonism (which gets politics-spam on a regular basis. Hey, it's Usenet!)

The operative quote in that article came from Jamie Gorelick, who claimed as Clinton's administration attorney (I think) that he claimed the same right to spy on U.S. citizens as Bush has claimed.

A question arises, of course: "Where was Byrd's outrage when Clinton was doing it, or at least claiming authority to do it without asking a court?"

Anonymous said...

When I first heard the news story about President Bush’s wiretaps, I went ballistic. On the face of it, the act is clearly illegal and should be grounds for impeachment.

As usual, things are more complex than we want to admit. When the President cited it as justification, I read Congress’ post 9/11 authorization for the Administration to use force. It’s vague enough that I can see how someone who wants to aggressively protect national security could interpret it to include powers over individual citizens.

Now, I am not condoning those acts. I think that the President could have achieved the same results while preserving judicial oversight, and I’ve written a letter to the President stressing that fact. Actually, I think we could have gotten better results using a more collaborative (and less autocratic) method of information gathering. Why? See the quote from Mr. Brin’s “colleague” “who is intimately involved in the details of our security operations.” It nicely sums up the reason.

This is precisely the difficult corner President Bush has painted himself into. It’s the same pattern as the run-up to the Iraq war. There’s no need for him to assume that he’s the only one who can address the problems. There’s no need to assume that we need to act unilaterally.

I don’t doubt his patriotism, and I don’t doubt his intentions. I just wish he would widen the debate over means and ends (tactics and strategy) so we can focus the entire nation’s energies on finding a solution. I know from experience that the more bright minds you have working on a problem, the better the chances for success. And the improvement isn’t linear; it seems to be exponential.

Silly Old Bear said...

There's a nice little story at Salon about why this won't matter in the long run to the Presidency.

(not sure the link will work, the title of the piece is "The Dynamic of a Bush Scandal: How the Spying Story Will Unfold (and Fade)")

Anonymous said...

And this is all after the _first_ big attack... What will we have after the third? Suspended elections? Extrajudicial executions? I keep hearing that Sept 11 changed everything ... but to what?

Tony Fisk said...

An interesting piece, David.

Don't rush in, but listen.

The 'War on Terror' is expected to be won in Nineteen Eighty Four.
Regardless of whether or not you buy into the "r'oil conspiracy", the actions of a power hungry opportunist were in clear evidence post 9/11.

corollary: best action to take is to distract your enemy from listening.

Tim Bray has a reasoned piece on the current bugging scandal, pointing out that, with current spying technology, it's almost impossible *not* to cross the line Bush has crossed. (although, with the wilful self-absorption of the narcissist, Bush hasn't noticed the toes he's trod on as a result). The real news might be, not the bugging, but how they're doing it.


What with whistleblowers, then bugging taps, the Bush/Blair memo may seem like small beer now (still no news, and no response to the FOI request). So far, it seems to be an effective tactic: hide a turd by burying it in a dunghill

(Now, where do they propose to hide the dunghill?)

Through the noise, I'll keep on listening...

David Brin said...

-jomama said... Been going on for years. Clinton was not immune.

Ah but there is a point when cynical shrugs become delusional. And this is one. Clinton was NOT the same. There is not a scintilla of evidence to support this assertion and I (smiling) challenge you to find any. Any at all.

This is what’s so utterly bizarre about the Clinton era. Perceptions diametrically oppose fact... therefore, perceptions prevail! Point out that Clinton’s enemies used every lever of government, media and private power and almost a billion dollars hunting for smoking guns... and found ZERO!... and what happens? Prejudice makes everybody say... “well, that doesn’t mean there weren’t bad things..”

Um duh? But what it DOES mean is that bad things must have happened at an all-time low rate amid public servants who were mostly sincerely trying to do their jobs. That IS what it means, folks. Live with it.

In contrast to that billion dollar witch hunt, that found nothing, today, today all we have standing up for us are a few remaining brave reporters (absolutely excluding the cave-in, sellout utterly damned New York Times), plus one local district attorney in Texas and an Attorney General in New York. And a few minority staffers without subpoena power in Congress. That is pretty much it, boys and girls. And still, those few champions are indicting Bushites every single week.

Oh, and jomama? You ignore the SECRECY THING. If Clinton were afraid of us, why did he lessen secrecy, in contrast to skyrocketing secrecy under Bush? (To levels never seen during the Cold War!) Could it be that their difference wasn’t one of degree, but of KIND?

Anonymous asks “when will the war on terror be won?”

It was won, boys and girls, by the heroes aboard Flight UA 93, when common American citizens responded NOT with panic but with overwhelming “manhood” -- the thing that our enemies always accuse Americans of lacking... till we prove them wrong. (Alas, it is a lesson we must teach every generation. In fact, on that day, we got off comparatively cheap.)

The government and the paid protective caste downplay that spin on the event ( but our enemies were stunned.

As they were stunned by Wesley Clarke’s fantastically successful war plan when we retaliated in afghanistan. Bin Laden wanted above all for 9/11 to lure us into a trap there, so he could humble another superpower, as he humbled Alexander Lebed. But that didn’t happen. For the 1st time since Alexander the Great, a power went into the Hindu Kush and actually accomplished its objectives without howling in pain. A fantastic accomplishment and a well merited use of American imperial power, in calm and competent coalition with eager and willing allies, executed with great professionalism and maximal use of local support. (Take THAT lefty ultra-peaceniks!)

But your point is well taken. We were attacked on a macroscopic level once. ONCE! In ten years. Are we seriously being told that the five years AFTER 9/11 are more dangerous than the five years before? In that case, shouldn’t we ask someone else to manage our safety?

Hawker, you left out the “War on Christmas” and the bigger “Culture War.”

Whiskey1, you are talking about the RealDeal Black Helicopter guys. But what about the millions who LEAN that way? Almost as paranoid and unidirectional in their “suspicion of authority.” Let me give you folks something to chew on.

In the last fifty years, name the worst unambiguous traitors to the United States. Puh-lease, not your political nemesis, even though some may (as I believe) have deeply betrayed this country. No, I mean CONVICTED traitors. Like the Walkers. Like that FBI guy who sold fellow agents to Moscow (name?) and like Timothy McVeigh. I once had the list (help rebuilding it?)

Now you KNOW that I have sharp elbows for ridiculous lefties who hate America and thus only give ammo to Rove and his culture warriors. These people live in an idealistic neverland that assumes we already have international “law”... when, in fact, we are in what MIGHT be the twilight era of empire. If things go far better than the last 4,000 years. If we use the remaining time of Pax Americana power toward noble, instead of stupidly malignant ends. Whatever. These delusional flakes are a sliver-minority of democrats, more aroma than substance. But they make a lot of stink and Karl Rove can always rely upon them to help him elect his monsters.

Having said all that, can you name for me one convicted, death-causing, top-villain traitor to the United States, during the last fifty years, who was a democrat? You can’t. The Walkers, McVeigh... all of them were registered Republicans... and vigorous, loud, obstreperous ones, at that.

Hey, I’m not saying all republicans are traitors, or even most of them.. in fact, I said those words, just now, in order to be ironic! Because we hear it the other way around so often. Guys like O’Reilly, impugning the patriotism of democrats and liberals while hastening (after the damage is done) to add that “I am sure that most democrats are decent, patriotic people”... with a vicious, implied “but” hanging in the air. What unadulterated vileness! Especially since no one mentions the “Treason Effect” -- the fact that the only genuine and unambiguous evidence points in the opposite direction! No one on either side - that I know of - has ever mentioned it. Ever.

Ah, but they WEAR patriotism well, on their sleeves. If you want to have a flag waved, you know where to turn.

Rob, when will Rumsfeld retire? The LAST time Rummy retired from this very same job, we had just suffered the worst military catastrophe in American history. On his watch. So, the answer to your question is that I am sure he has standards to live up to.

Oh, Rob, Byrd has gone along with many GOP initiatives. Back in the Halcyon days of Honest Newt Gingrich (I mean it!) he helped engineer the fantastically successful and pragmatic-modernist Welfare Reform Bill, that should have set a pattern for collegial problem solving for a decade. It showed Clinton etc were willing to negotiate. Ah, but then Gingrich was fired by his own side for being too accommodating and for not waging bilious all-out war.

Waco and Ruby Ridge were regrettable.... possibly culpable... but they were ACUTE EPISODES. Rapid decisions that turned out very badly. There is a difference between transitory bad decisions... like Bush & Cheney hiding on 9/11 instead of stepping up... and CHRONIC POLICIES that manifest relentlessly, over time. And oh yeah, Ruby Ridge was in August 92. Thanks.

Michael, there are many well-targeted things I think George Soros could do, using very small amounts of cash to max effectiveness. But I am a notorious nut -- a screeching modernist-moderate -- and nobody listens. ;-)

As for spying on Americans, you all know I am much less concerned about what the government sees than I am about how it hides and prevents us from seeing.

Finally. Liddy is one of the most hilarious figures in US history! The woody allen of sleazebag men. He actually said that anyone should be in their rights to “shoot the eyes out of any government man who ever gets caught breaking and entering.” He did! He said it. Oh, if only.

Anonymous said...

@David Brin:

No, I mean CONVICTED traitors. Like the Walkers. Like that FBI guy who sold fellow agents to Moscow (name?)

There are a few from the FBI and CIA, you'll have to be more specific :-)

and like Timothy McVeigh. I once had the list (help rebuilding it?)

For a list of convicted traitors, this might be a good starting point

Tony Fisk said...

G'day whiskey1. How'd the exams go?

Quoth Brin:
(the War on Terror)... was won, boys and girls, by the heroes aboard Flight UA 93

A timely reminder of something that, as you point out, has received remarkably little official comment.

Quoth jomama:
The government is very afraid of its subjects. I wonder why

Because they have a tendency to act on information received, and get out of their seats when told not to.

(hence actions to distract from active listening. Bread and circuses. And *don't* tell the children they're werewolves)

Quoth Brin (again):
Ah, but they WEAR patriotism well, on their sleeves. If you want to have a flag waved, you know where to turn.

The last refuge of scoundrels, and their ultimate hostage. Consider the tactics designed to allow drilling for oil in Alaskan wilderness:

(from BBC News):
"Alaska Republican Ted Stevens had attached the measure to the defence spending bill - an essential piece of legislation - in the hope it would be passed."

It didn't work!

Anonymous said...

It’s really odd. The Bush administration has imprisoned people without trial or due process, countenanced torture, spied upon its own citizens, established secret prisons (black sites), conducted wars at the wish of the president, and cloaked its affairs in secrecy. The founders of the nation set out to free the people of America from these things. Yet there is little outrage, and not even much serious concern, in America at large. Sure President Bush’s approval rating is down, but that’s because people think he’s doing a poor job, not because he’s betraying their principles.

I read part of President Bush’s pre-Christmas greeting in a newspaper column this morning. It got me thinking we could add “Defender of the Faith” to his titles. But I think it goes beyond being a defender of the Christian faith – though he is – to being seen as a defender of the American faith. Throughout history, people have tolerated and excused an awful lot in defence of the faith – religious or secular faith.

I wonder if Mr. Bush has so successfully cast himself as the defender of the American faith, that many can no longer see his actions are attacking the very tenets of the faith.

Tony Fisk said...

@Wayne: in a slightly silly vein, I saw your comment on the 'defender of the faith' just as the strains from another Bush was wafting through the earphones

So with apologies to Kate, I'll rephrase the chorus from 'Joannie' ever so slightly:

"Georgie, Georgie wears a golden cross,
and he looks so beautiful in his armour.
Georgie, Georgie flips the bird to God,
and he never wears a ring around his finger!"

Well, it struck me as appropriate, and, sometimes, you've got to laugh.

Defenders of the faith don't like it!

Rob Perkins said...

"(the War on Terror)... was won, boys and girls, by the heroes aboard Flight UA 93

A timely reminder of something that, as you point out, has received remarkably little official comment."

I guess if David can offer info from "a source" I could do so as well, and though I'm less confident of this one, is the explanation for *why* UA 93 doesn't get talked about much... that the F-16's didn't miss their target that time?

(Learned second-hand from an Air Force officer I know...)

Sorry, I bought the rumor that Rummy was retiring. Apparantly he's not, and that bit missed my ear.

David Brin said...


Pelton, Pitts, Aldrich Ames, Robert Hanssen, John Walker, Michael Walker and Timothy McVeigh were all clearly Republicans, though at least one was a right-wing nut job while most of the others sold their country out for cash.

Anyway, what the list shopws is that my generalization was simpleminded, as most are. Pollard? How to classify a many who gave secrets to an ally that the ally would eventually get anyway, by asking... yet who has been punished more severely than the Walkers? And of course there are the more recent islamic-linked men convicvted of treason. I doubt either group fits the dem-gop model in any useful way.

Still, the eerie trend for most of the others is clear... and never mentioned. The spies who harmed us the most, and who did deadly damage mostly for cash, were all on one side of the Culture War. And it weren’t what you’d expect.

Anonymous said...

Well, most traitors aren't ideological: they're reacting to some actual or perceived slight, trying to get out of personal problems or debt (Benedict Arnold actually fits in both categories), or have personality disorders (Walker, for example, appears to have been quite literally sociopathic). Ideologically-motivated traitors like the Rosenbergs or Pollard (who also showed signs of narcissistic personality disorder) are actually a minority, at least in American history.

Now, as to why such persons tend to gravitate to often arch-conservative belief settings is open to question, but a need for interpersonal domination and control may be a factor.

reason said...

I like your comment all know I am much less concerned about what the government sees than I am about how it hides and prevents us from seeing
I remember being asked once (a long time ago) what I thought about the trade-off being civil liberties and security and I found it hard to give a short answer. The problem was my answer sounds sort of niave, but I don't think it really is. My answer was that what we need to do is open up society - use every citizen as a source of information - not to make it more secretive. I too are not so worried about what the government knows about me, provided that I can look at what it has on me and challenge it where it is not accurate . If terrorists know that they are being spied upon (and they will assume it anyway) we may end up blowing the chance to catch some red handed. But more likely we will disrupt their communations, make them nervous and therefore more likely to act suspiciously and so actually make ourselves safer. Privacy (taken to an extreme) really helps the criminal and autocrat, openness is what we need in a democracy. In a really open society, secretive alienated terrorists would be spotted a mile away.

Anonymous said...

Forgot the culture war and the 'counter war against the war on Christmas'... sorry. But I see both of them as a kind of rear guard action: The culture war (to use one aspect of it as a example) is attempting to make it illegal for men to marry other men... why wasn't it illegal before? Because it was unconcievable that a man would want to. Now it's concievable, so it must be banned... a generation from now, it will be allowed but frowned on, a generation after that the bigots won't dare say anything in public for fear of being exposed.

Whiskey 1...
G. Gordon Liddy (and others) have somehow managed to attatch Clinton's name to everything bad that happened in the 90's... and well into the 00's. I'm surprised they don't blame him for losing Vietnam (oops, they do) or Pearl Harbor.
Again I say... Clinton did a lot of bad things. There is no need to make stuff up. People who make stuff up make me think that they have no honest complaints.

On open society...
People are secretive to hide things that society condemn them for. Mostly about sex. That the same secrecy (about sex) would hide a number of honest to goodness crimes is the issue. Eliminate the FBI's ability to blackmail me about my sex life (or lack therof) AND assure me that my politics won't be held against me and I won't object to them looking into my internet/library/bookstore habits.


Anonymous said...

I don't loathe Bush as many seem to, but one thing that strikes me with respect to this overall conversation is that openness in society would definitely help here...It's basically impossible to make a informed decision or who is right or wrong or what is being done right now. There are so many layers of rhetoric on either side that to find facts about who did what when seems nigh impossible.

The secrecy doesn't help - if you are innocent it makes you look guilty and if you are guilty people can't find it out.

One thing in the US' hand though - term limits on presidents mean that love him or hate him there is a hard limit on how long Bush will be around.

Anonymous said...

Reason and HawkerHurricane, I think you’ve touched on an issue that on one hand is core impediment to the U.S. moving forward on a number of debilitating issues and on the other hand a spectacular reason for separating religious fervor from law. It’s truly counterproductive to national security!

Let’s start with the premise that we really want to defeat global terrorism. As you’ve pointed out, an entirely open (i.e., an entirely accountable) society would be of enormous benefit to all involved. No one should care if you like to spend time at or something “worse” (talk about subjective!). It’s legal, and that should be the end of it. And yet, we can’t do that because judgmental folks would gleefully destroy reputations – ruining careers, relationships, and lives in the process.

That’s not terribly charitable. It’s prohibited by Christian Scripture, too – gossip’s clearly frowned on. So’s humans judging each other. Why’s that so hard to understand? It’s in black and white (or, in some translations, red and white).

Let me put it another way.

Why do people on the far right or left (or whatever) take it upon themselves to help terrorists by keeping society closed and secretive?

Isn’t that the real issue here? Isn’t that not only unpatriotic, but potentially psychopathic as well?

I really, really want to defeat terrorism. I think that the U.S. system of government should prevail because it’s founded on noble and compelling ideals. Shouldn’t we use any reasonable weapon at our disposal – weapons like separation of powers, trust in the citizenry, and our idealism? Those are weapons that heal and empower. Those are weapons that inspired generations of Americans, and made this country a destination for immigrants from every corner of the planet (dare I say Weapons of Mass Inspiration?). I don’t think there’s any reason to give up on them now.

Quite the contrary. Let’s stay with what works!

Silly Old Bear said...

One thing in the US' hand though - term limits on presidents mean that love him or hate him there is a hard limit on how long Bush will be around.

That's what I thought when Clinton was elected. It may be his son wearing the President Hat this time, but the rest of the team is just about lifted from the Reagan/Bush administration...

Rob Perkins said...

I checked out The Anarchist's Cookbook after the Patriot Act was passed without triggering a national security letter. In fact, I actually did it after a full-blown conversation about it with a librarian, who was bored with the subject.

(Of course, that might be a really bad example, since The Anarchist's Cookbook is very badly written and very nearly useless, in my opinion. Perhaps to trigger a letter I should have changed my name to something arabic and started researching nuclear weapons technology?)

Regarding secrecy and surveillance, every private business which admits the public already has cameras covering *every single inch* of its property, along with staff to watch and apprehend misbehaving people. Nearly every largish merchant has cameras to watch its own employees as well.

We've all accepted that. The benefit (lower prices and lower crime rates inside malls and stores) outweighs the risk. Perhaps that's one reason why people aren't troubled by the government surveilling internationally cross-jurisdictional communication without a warrant.

I don't know, David (switching topics a bit); I don't think the "traitors were Republicans" line is all that fruitful.

I don't know sometimes what to think about the Culture War; the idea that merchants who have been overcommercializing Christmas for more than fifty years should be *faulted* when they stop doing it, well... I just don't see the problem. And the reasoning behind public-square holiday displays which came out of the courts (eventually) doesn't seem that objectionable.

Maybe it's because I live in such a melting pot. My neighbors to the right don't celebrate Halloween, and I can't tell at a glance who is Jew or Shinto or Buddhist or Muslim. So, "Have a good holiday!" seems most appropriate.

Anonymous said...

@Rob Perkins:

Maybe it's because I live in such a melting pot. My neighbors to the right don't celebrate Halloween, and I can't tell at a glance who is Jew or Shinto or Buddhist or Muslim. So, "Have a good holiday!" seems most appropriate.

Yeah, I tried that line of reasoning in a discussion with someone on the other side of the issue. They still claimed to be offended by the use of imprecise names. About the best compromise we could reach was that "Happy Holidays / etc." was OK only if you did not know which holiday(s) they celebrate.

The key component of the complaint (as far as I can tell) is that Christmas, being a holiday for pretty much everyone (regardless of whether they actually celebrate it), has accrued over the years a whole secular mythology that has grown bigger than the religious one.

-- Matt

Anonymous said...

Regarding secrecy and surveillance, every private business which admits the public already has cameras covering *every single inch* of its property...

Not where I live. I don't think I'd like to live in a place where that was considered necessary.

Anonymous said...

The current powers-that-be seem like teenagers pushing against a curfew -- first five minutes, then half an hour, then out till 3 a.m. No matter how generous the rules on wiretaps become, this crowd will want to violate them. Always testing boundaries, and due to lack of punishment (such as arrest or impreachment), always getting away with it. And then pushing even farther...

Anonymous said...

From today's NYTimes:

" ... Undercover New York City police officers have conducted covert surveillance in the last 16 months of people protesting the Iraq war, bicycle riders taking part in mass rallies and even mourners at a street vigil for a cyclist killed in an accident, a series of videotapes show.
"Beyond collecting information, some of the undercover officers or their associates are seen on the tape having influence on events. At a demonstration last year during the Republican National Convention, the sham arrest of a man secretly working with the police led to a bruising confrontation between officers in riot gear and bystanders."

Got that? Sham arrest -- followed by violence, in front of television cameras.

Why but to mislead the voters?

Caption to the photo of Rumsfield shaking hands with Saddam:
"Don't do anything I wouldn't!"

jomama said...

David Brin said...

Ah but there is a point when cynical shrugs become delusional.

Looking at politics as anything more than raw force is delusional.

I'm like H. L. Mencken when he said "a cynic is a man who, when he smells flowers, looks around for a coffin."

Anonymous said...

I had to comment on this.

For a pampered and coddled and safe and sated American, who has never seen war or heard a marching invading army or smelled the stench of a burning city or the sweet dank of gangrene... who sees nearly all children fed and safe and educated... to be ANY kind of cynic is to witness the most profound hypocrisy and utter delusional mentality possible.

Only an utter addiction to sanctimony and smugness can allow an heir of all this, of the enlightenment, to wallow in the sick pleasures of cynicism, instead of standing up, dusting off the potato chip crumbs, and getting to work making things "even better."

...oh, this was Brin... on travel... and never let anyone claim to be me without checking, or taking the posting with a grain of salt!

Rob Perkins said...


Can I quote you on that?

jomama said...

David Brin said:

-jomama said... Been going on for years. Clinton was not immune.

Ah but there is a point when cynical shrugs become delusional. And this is one. Clinton was NOT the same. There is not a scintilla of evidence to support this assertion and I (smiling) challenge you to find any. Any at all.

Of course, Clinton wasn't the same. I never said he was. I'm not an apologist for either one, or any other...or any other yet unelected.

And this has been going on long before Clinton or Bush:

If the NY Times is to be believed,the National Security Agency engages in “some eavesdropping inside the country,” There are hundreds of sources that prove the intelligence services have been operating similar programs for decades.


Need more?

Google "Project Echelon".

Still smiling?

About making things "better"...

I think that's what I'm doing but there are so many meadow muffins to throw out, I often wonder whether it's worth it.

Isn't that latter the first step in doing just that...making things "better"?

Anonymous said...

Rob Perkins said...

I found this, of all places referenced in a discussion group about Mormonism (which gets politics-spam on a regular basis. Hey, it's Usenet!)

The operative quote in that article came from Jamie Gorelick, who claimed as Clinton's administration attorney (I think) that he claimed the same right to spy on U.S. citizens as Bush has claimed.

A question arises, of course: "Where was Byrd's outrage when Clinton was doing it, or at least claiming authority to do it without asking a court?"

Byrd's outrage was much less because when Clinton did it, it was in a legal grey area.

Only in 1995 - a year after the quote you present - was FISA amended.

In short, to compare the two is to compare something not covered by FISA to something that is expressly against the law. It is therefore yet another case of "But Clinton did it too" when, in fact he didn't. Why on earth should Senator Byrd be as outraged by this as he is by directly criminal acts from the President?

Rob Perkins said...

No, I don't buy that, at least as a rationale for the differences in Byrd's behavior.

Byrd ranted about populist constitutional violations, that the President's police are spying on people in violation of individual rights, not on whether they've defied the Congress in doing it, or violated a technicality about the FISA law.

Nice rebuttal about the legality of it all, though. Leaves me scratching my chin, and glad the debate continues.

Anonymous said...


I didn't see him - but in that case it's either politics as usual or the straw that broke the camel's back. It might be that he did not consider them individual rights while they were in a legal grey area - but they are now definitely individual rights that have been violated by the president. It might be that he trusted the Clinton administration not to abuse intelligence more than he did the Bush administration. It might just be that he didn't want to embarass his own side. It may simply be that he gave Clinton the benefit of the doubt - but either does not give it to President Bush because he is a Republican, or considers that breaking the law to undertake an action is sufficient evidence that he can no longer give him the benefit of the doubt.

Whichever is the case, the fact remains that President Bush's actions here are definitely worse than President Clinton's (stepping into a grey area vs breaking an explicit law) and as such people who did not speak out against Clinton on this point may have had a threshold tripped here - but every single honest person who objected to Clinton's actions should be objecting to those of Bush.

President Bush has broken the law here - has admitted to it and is unapologetic. If that's not enough to trigger outrage, I don't know what is.

Anonymous said...

Comparing presidents is so utterly useless so why even start...?

"President Bush has broken the law here - has admitted to it and is unapologetic. If that's not enough to trigger outrage, I don't know what is."

Outrage is being dampened by fear. People are not worried about whether Bush did something illegal but whether he did the right thing. There is a huge information vacuum on terrorism. This makes it very hard to criticize any of Bushs' decisions as he can always claim that they are based on privileged knowledge. Going against mr. Bush would require quite the leap of faith from the People as They don't have enough information to make an informed judgement. It's like the famous neocon motto:"Always keep 'em guessing".

M. Simon said...

Bleeding America dry?

I thought that was WW2.

So far we have sustainde fewer casualties than we did at Omaha Beach. By about 4 to 1.

WW2 absorbed 50% of the American economy. The Iraq war (considering only the DOD incremental cost) about 2%.

There seems to be a significant amount of innumerancy going on here.

BTW wars agains insurgencies take about 20 years to win. The key is democracy. Insurgents hate it.

M. Simon said...

To believe that Soros is anything but a power hungry fool is to believe in Santa Claus.

The advance of technology makes things better.

So why is Soros putting so much into politics? Socialist politics at that.

Capitalism is a brutal system that advances. Socialism is a much less brutal system that is stagnant. I guess Soros' contact with National Socialsm (as explained by Hayek) taught him nothing.

M. Simon said...

When will the war on terror be won?

It takes about 20 years to defeat an insurgency. We have about 20 or 30 to deal with currently.

I think this war will go on for 100 years. Unless Islam can reform. Reform in Judahism and Christianity has been possible because the scriptures are the word of God through man. In Islam the man only held the pen. The Koran is the direct word of God and has been understood that way for 1400 years.

Good luck on reforming that.

M. Simon said...

We are at war by the Constitutional definition. Congress is paying for it. Not all wars in our history, from the beginning have been declared.

Follow the money.

In any case I was watching TV on the morning of 9/11. When I saw the 2nd plane headed for the towers I said about 3 seconds before the hit: "This means war". That should be enough for you.