• Why Snowden the Movie Matters

    October 6, 2016 // 44 Comments »

    snowden



    I’ve reviewed Oliver Stone’s movie Snowden elsewhere, and it’s well worth seeing just as a movie. But of course the issues brought up by Snowden the man, and Snowden the movie, are more complex than fit into two hours.


    I had this hit home in a recent discussion with a friend who keeps insisting he has nothing to hide in his emails, phone calls, social media, etc., so why should he care if the NSA looks at all that?

    Friend, here’s why:



    NSA surveillance is legal.

    True, as was slavery in the U.S., the Holocaust under Nazi Germany, Apartheid in South Africa and so forth. Laws serve higher purposes. They can be manipulated for evil. That’s why we need checks and balances to protect us.



    Well, there are checks and balances in the system to protect us.

    The king of all checks and balances in this, the Fourth Amendment, has been treated by the government like a used Kleenex.

    As for the Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Court (FISA), set up to review government requests for wiretapping, it approved all 1,789 requests submitted to it in 2012. The FBI made 15,229 National Security Letter requests in 2012 on Americans. None of those even require FISA rubber-stamping. And here’s DOJ trying to keep classified a court ruling that says it might have acted unconstitutionally.

    The first FISA ruling ever released in full came from Edward Snowden. Before that, no one outside a small circle inside the government had ever seen one.

    And you know who represents the “suspect” (i.e., you) in front of the FISA court? No one. You don’t even know they’re reviewing you.

    If all the NSA’s activities are legal, why not allow them to be tested openly and unambiguously in public, in front of the Supreme Court. After all, if you’ve done nothing wrong there is nothing to hide. Unfortunately, when Amnesty International tried to bring such a case before the Court, the case was denied because Amnesty could not prove it was subject to monitoring– that was a secret!– and thus was denied standing to even bring the suit.

    Unfettered surveillance violates both the Fourth Amendment protections against search, and the First Amendment protections on the right to peaceably assemble, online in this instance.

    Anyway, whatever, FISA. I’m not doing anything wrong, so why should I care? If you’re doing nothing wrong, then you’ve got nothing to hide!

    The definition of “wrong” can change very quickly, especially if you have no way to defend yourself, or even know you’re under suspicion. Are you really, really ready to risk everything on what is right and wrong today staying that way forever? Seems like a fool’s bet, given America’s witch hunts in the 1950s for communists, and Islamophobia today. Things do change.



    Well, I trust Obama on this.

    Good for you. There’ll be a new president soon. You also trust him or her? How about the one after that, and the one after that? Data collected is forever. Trusting anyone with such power is foolish.

    FYI, whether you trust Obama, Trump, Hillary or the next presidents, do remember your personal data is in the hands of the same people that run the TSA, the IRS and the DMV. Do you trust all of them all the time to never make mistakes or act on personal grudges or political biases? Do you believe none of them would ever sell your data for personal profit ever? That they have your information so well protected hackers will never get to it and dump it out onto the Internet?

    How about other governments? The NSA is already sharing your data with, at minimum, British and Israeli intelligence. Those are foreign governments that your American government is informing on you to.


    Distasteful as this all is, it is necessary to keep us safe. It’s for our own good.

    The United States, upholding to our beautiful Bill of Rights, has survived (albeit on a sometimes bumpy road) two world wars, the Cold War and innumerable challenges without a massive, all-inclusive destruction of our civil rights. Keep in mind that the Founders created the Bill of Rights, point-by-point, specifically to address the abuses of power (look up the never-heard-from-again Third Amendment) they experienced under an oppressive British government.

    A bunch of angry jihadis, some real and many imagined, seems a poor reason to change that system. Prior to 9/11 we did not have a mass-scale terror act (by foreigners; American Citizen Timothy McVeigh pulled one off.) Since 9/11 we have not had a mass-scale terror attack. More than 15 years in, we must accept 9/11 was a one-off, an aberration, and cannot be a justification for everything the government wishes to do.

    There is also the question of why, if the NSA is vacuuming up everything, and even sharing that collection abroad, this all needs to be kept secret from the American people. If it is for our own good, the government should be proud to tell us what they are doing for us, instead of being embarrassed when it leaks.

    After all, if you’re not doing anything wrong then you’ve got nothing to hide, right?


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    There are 72 DHS Employees on Terrorist Watch List

    February 9, 2016 // 16 Comments »

    Stephen Lynch


    So you can read this one one of two ways:

    Either the terror watch list is complete bull, or the Department of Homeland Security has a big problem. Come to think about it, maybe you can read it both ways.

    At least 72 employees at the Department of Homeland Security are listed on the U.S. terrorist watch list, according to Representative Stephen Lynch (D., MA, pictured)


    It is entirely possible Representative Stephen Lynch just demonstrated there is little to no actual threat from terrorists.

    “Back in August, we did an investigation — the inspector general did — of the Department of Homeland Security, and they had 72 individuals that were on the terrorist watch list that were actually working at the Department of Homeland Security. The former DHS director had to resign because of that.”

    Lynch did not say what has happened to the 72 employees, however. That in fact is the key question. If any of them are indeed bad guys, how did they get their jobs at DHS, and keep them, and what, if any, naughtiness did they do? If some/none of the 72 are bad guys, why were they on the terror list and WTF is the point of such lists?


    Meanwhile, list or no list, DHS continues to fail inspections aimed at determining the efficiency of its internal safety mechanisms, as well as its efforts to protect the very Homeland that is part of its own name. Lynch referred to a recent report that found the Transportation Security Administration, which is “overseen” by DHS, failed to stop 95 percent of those who attempted to bring restricted items past airport security.

    “We had staffers go into eight different airports to test the department of homeland security screening process at major airports. They had a 95 percent failure rate,” Lynch said. “We had folks going in there with guns on their ankles, and other weapons on their persons, and there was a 95 percent failure rate.”

    And that brings up another question. If TSA has a 95 percent failure rate, and since no terror incidents have happened due to contraband being smuggled through our airports, doesn’t that strongly imply there really isn’t much of a threat? At a 95 percent failure rate, given the level of threat we are told is now part of our post-ISIS lives, shouldn’t planes be dropping daily from the sky?



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    New ‘Jihadi John?’ ISIS Video Features English-Speaker

    January 6, 2016 // 22 Comments »

    newjihadijohn.jpg.CROP.promo-xlarge2


    For those who still don’t get why the War of Terror continues to fail after 14+ years, here is another lesson.

    We all remember “Jihadi John,” who of course was never called that except in the western media. John (real name: Mohammed Emwazi) was a British citizen who became radicalized, joined ISIS and went on to do horrible things, including beheadings. The media, in hand with the White House and Downing Street, fluffed this one loser guy up into an international super villain. So, when eventually the world’s most powerful nation finally killed him in November 2015 with million-dollars air sorties and drones, we were all supposed to go full-out-bin-Laden-celebration, on the road to victory over Islamic State, with a little old fashioned Wild West vengeance thrown in for the feel good.

    And so now guess what?

    There’s a new guy to replace Jihadi John. He doesn’t have a stupid nickname yet, so let’s be the first and call him Haji Hank. He executed five persons claimed to be British spies, creating the video you see above in the process.

    The U.S. strategy is called whack-a-mole. You smite bin Laden and someone takes over — al Qaeda is still around, people. You suppress al Qaeda to a certain extent, and ISIS pops up. There are lots and lots of Jihadi Johns and Haji Hanks out there, waiting in line. Even the world’s most powerful nation can’t kill them all. They do more than reproduce; they recruit.

    The video I could locate cuts off before the shooting. Those who have seen the whole thing say the five men are then all shot at point blank range. The video ends with a young child wearing military fatigues and speaking in English: “We are going to go kill the kafir [non-believers] over there.”

    U.K. security agencies immediately started to try to identify the man in the video and are working on the assumption that it is a real message from ISIS. “British investigators will have to rely on voice analysis to try to establish his identity and by monitoring chatter on Twitter and other social media as well as other electronic communication to see if there are any clues,” reports the Guardian.

    Twitter chatter. That’ll show them.






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    Washington to Whomever: Please Fight the Islamic State for Us

    December 17, 2015 // 5 Comments »

    afghankids

    In the many strategies proposed to defeat the Islamic State (IS) by presidential candidates, policymakers, and media pundits alike across the American political spectrum, one common element stands out: someone else should really do it.

    The United States will send in planes, advisers, and special ops guys, but it would be best — and this varies depending on which pseudo-strategist you cite — if the Arabs, Kurds, Turks, Sunnis, and/or Shias would please step in soon and get America off the hook.

    The idea of seeing other-than-American boots on the ground, like Washington’s recently deep-sixed scheme to create some “moderate” Syrian rebels out of whole cloth, is attractive on paper. Let someone else fight America’s wars for American goals. Put an Arab face on the conflict, or if not that at least a Kurdish one (since, though they may not be Arabs, they’re close enough in an American calculus). Let the U.S. focus on its “bloodless” use of air power and covert ops. Somebody else, Washington’s top brains repeatedly suggest, should put their feet on the embattled, contested ground of Syria and Iraq. Why, the U.S. might even gift them with nice, new boots as a thank-you.

    Is this, however, a realistic strategy for winning America’s war(s) in the Middle East?


    The Great Champions of the Grand Strategy

    Recently, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton openly called for the U.S. to round up some Arab allies, Kurds, and Iraqi Sunnis to drive the Islamic State’s fighters out of Iraq and Syria. On the same day that Clinton made her proposal, Bernie Sanders called for “destroying” the Islamic State, but suggested that it “must be done primarily by Muslim nations.” It’s doubtful he meant Indonesia or Malaysia.

    Among the Republican contenders, Marco Rubio proposed that the U.S. “provide arms directly to Sunni tribal and Kurdish forces.” Ted Cruz threw his support behind arming the Kurds, while Donald Trump appeared to favor more violence in the region by whoever might be willing to jump in.

    The Pentagon has long been in favor of arming both the Kurds and whatever Sunni tribal groups it could round up in Iraq or Syria. Various pundits across the political spectrum say much the same.

    They may all mean well, but their plans are guaranteed to fail. Here’s why, group by group.


    The Gulf Arabs

    Much of what the candidates demand is based one premise: that “the Arabs” see the Islamic State as the same sort of threat Washington does.

    It’s a position that, at first glance, would seem to make obvious sense. After all, while American politicians are fretting about whether patient IS assault teams can wind their way through this country’s two-year refugee screening process, countries like Saudi Arabia have them at their doorstep. Why wouldn’t they jump at the chance to lend a helping hand, including some planes and soldiers, to the task of destroying that outfit? “The Arabs,” by which the U.S. generally means a handful of Persian Gulf states and Jordan, should logically be demanding the chance to be deeply engaged in the fight.

    That was certainly one of the early themes the Obama administration promoted after it kicked off its bombing campaigns in Syria and Iraq back in 2014. In reality, the Arab contribution to that “coalition” effort to date has been stunningly limited. Actual numbers can be slippery, but we know that American warplanes have carried out something like 90% of the air strikes against IS. Of those strikes that are not all-American, parsing out how many have been from Arab nations is beyond even Google search’s ability. The answer clearly seems to be not many.

    Keep in mind as well that the realities of the region seldom seem to play much of a part in Washington’s thinking. For the Gulf Arabs, all predominantly Sunni nations, the Islamic State and its al-Qaeda-linked Sunni ilk are little more than a distraction from what they fear most, the rise of Shia power in places like Iraq and the growing regional strength of Iran.

    In this context, imagining such Arab nations as a significant future anti-IS force is absurd. In fact, Sunni terror groups like IS and al-Qaeda have in part been funded by states like Saudi Arabia or at least rich supporters living in them. Direct funding links are often difficult to prove, particularly if the United States chooses not to publicly prove them. This is especially so because the money that flows into such terror outfits often comes from individual donors, not directly from national treasuries, or may even be routed through legitimate charitable organizations and front companies.

    However, one person concerned in an off-the-record way with such Saudi funding for terror groups was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton back in 2009.  In a classified warning message (now posted on WikiLeaks), she suggested in blunt terms that donors in Saudi Arabia were the “most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.”

    One who thinks the Saudis and other Gulf countries may be funding rather than fighting IS and is ready to say so is Russian President Vladimir Putin. At the recent G20 meeting, he announced that he had shared intelligence information revealing that 40 countries, including some belonging to the G20 itself, finance the majority of the Islamic State’s activities. Though Putin’s list of supposed funders was not made public, on the G20 side Saudi Arabia and Turkey are more likely candidates than South Korea and Japan.

    Most recently, the German vice chancellor has explicitly accused the Saudis of funding Sunni radical groups.

    Expecting the Gulf Arab states to fight IS also ignores the complex political relationship between those nations and Islamic fundamentalism generally. The situation is clearest in Saudi Arabia, where the secular royal family holds power only with the shadowy permission of Wahhabist religious leaders. The latter provide the former with legitimacy at the price of promoting Islamic fundamentalism abroad. From the royals’ point of view, abroad is the best place for it to be, as they fear an Islamic revolution at home. In a very real way, Saudi Arabia is supporting an ideology that threatens its own survival.


    The Kurds

    At the top of the list of groups included in the American dream of someone else fighting IS are the Kurds. And indeed, the peshmerga, the Kurdish militia, are actually on the battlefields of northern Iraq and Syria, using American-supplied weapons and supported by American air power and advisers in their efforts to kill Islamic State fighters.

    But looks can be deceiving. While a Venn diagram would show an overlap between some U.S. and Kurdish aims, it’s important not to ignore the rest of the picture. The Kurds are fighting primarily for a homeland, parts of which are, for the time being, full of Islamic State fighters in need of killing. The Kurds may indeed destroy them, but only within the boundaries of what they imagine to be a future Kurdistan, not in the heartlands of the Syrian and Iraqi regions that IS now controls.

    Not only will the Kurds not fight America’s battles in parts of the region, no matter how we arm and advise them, but it seems unlikely that, once in control of extended swaths of northern Iraq and parts of Syria, they will simply abandon their designs on territory that is now a part of Turkey. It’s a dangerous American illusion to imagine that Washington can turn Kurdish nationalism on and off as needed.

    The Kurds, now well armed and battle-tested, are just one of the genies Washington released from that Middle Eastern bottle in 2003 when it invaded Iraq. Now, whatever hopes the U.S. might still have for future stability in the region shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Using the Kurds to fight IS is a devil’s bargain.


    The Turks

    And talking about devil’s bargains, don’t forget about Turkey. The Obama administration reached a deal to fly combat missions in its intensifying air war against the Islamic State from two bases in Turkey. In return, Washington essentially looked the other way while Turkish President Recep Erdogan re-launched a war against internal Kurdish rebels at least in part to rally nationalistic supporters and win an election. Similarly, the U.S. has supported Turkey’s recent shoot-down of a Russian aircraft.

    When it comes to the Islamic State, though, don’t hold your breath waiting for the Turks to lend a serious military hand. That country’s government has, at the very least, probably been turning a blind eye to the smuggling of arms into Syria for IS, and is clearly a conduit for smuggling its oil out onto world markets. American politicians seem to feel that, for now, it’s best to leave the Turks off to the side and simply be grateful to them for slapping the Russians down and opening their air space to American aircraft.

    That gratitude may be misplaced. Some 150 Turkish troops, supported by 20 to 25 tanks, have recently entered northern Iraq, prompting one Iraqi parliamentarian to label the action “switching out alien (IS) rule for other alien rule.” The Turks claim that they have had military trainers in the area for some time and that they are working with local Kurds to fight IS. It may also be that the Turks are simply taking a bite from a splintering Iraq. As with so many situations in the region, the details are murky, but the bottom line is the same: the Turks’ aims are their own and they are likely to contribute little either to regional stability or American war aims.


    The Sunnis

    Of the many sub-strategies proposed to deal with the Islamic State, the idea of recruiting and arming “the Sunnis” is among the most fantastical. It offers a striking illustration of the curious, somewhat delusional mindset that Washington policymakers, including undoubtedly the next president, live in.

    As a start, the thought that the U.S. can effectively fulfill its own goals by recruiting local Sunnis to take up arms against IS is based on a myth: that “the surge” during America’s previous Iraq War brought us a victory later squandered by the locals. With this goes a belief, demonstrably false, in the shallowness of the relationship between many Iraqi and Syrian Sunnis and the Islamic State.

    According to the Washington mythology that has grown up around that so-called surge of 2007-2008, the U.S. military used money, weapons, and clever persuasion to convince Iraq’s Sunni tribes to break with Iraq’s local al-Qaeda organization. The Sunnis were then energized to join the coalition government the U.S. had created. In this way, so the story goes, the U.S. arrived at a true “mission accomplished” moment in Iraq. Politicians on both sides of the aisle in Washington still believe that the surge, led by General David Petraeus, swept to success by promoting and arming a “Sunni Awakening Movement,” only to see American plans thwarted by a too-speedy Obama administration withdrawal from the country and the intra-Iraqi squabbling that followed. So the question now is: why not “awaken” the Sunnis again?

    In reality, the surge involved almost 200,000 American soldiers, who put themselves temporarily between Sunni and Shia militias. It also involved untold millions of dollars of “payments” — what in another situation would be called bribes — that brought about temporary alliances between the U.S. and the Sunnis. The Shia-dominated Iraqi central government never signed onto the deal, which began to fall apart well before the American occupation ended. The replacement of al-Qaeda in Iraq by a newly birthed Islamic State movement was, of course, part and parcel of that falling-apart process.

    After the Iraqi government stopped making the payments to Sunni tribal groups first instituted by the Americans, those tribes felt betrayed. Still occupying Iraq, those Americans did nothing to help the Sunnis. History suggests that much of Sunni thinking in the region since then has been built around the motto of “won’t get fooled again.”

    So it is unlikely in the extreme that local Sunnis will buy into basically the same deal that gave them so little of lasting value the previous time around. This is especially so since there will be no new massive U.S. force to act as a buffer against resurgent Shia militias. Add to this mix a deep Sunni conviction that American commitments are never for the long term, at least when it comes to them. What, then, would be in it for the Sunnis if they were to again throw in their lot with the Americans? Another chance to be part of a Shia-dominated government in Baghdad that seeks to marginalize or destroy them, a government now strengthened by Iranian support, or a Syria whose chaos could easily yield a leadership with similar aims?

    In addition, a program to rally Sunnis to take up arms against the Islamic State presumes that significant numbers of them don’t support that movement, especially given their need for protection from the depredations of Shia militias. Add in religious and ethnic sentiments, anti-western feelings, tribal affiliations, and economic advantage — it is believed that IS kicks back a share of its oil revenues to compliant Sunni tribal leaders — and what exactly would motivate a large-scale Sunni transformation into an effective anti-Islamic State boots-on-the-ground force?


    Shias

    Not that they get mentioned all that often, being closely associated with acts of brutality against Sunnis and heavily supported by Iran, but Iraq’s Shia militias are quietly seen by some in Washington as a potent anti-IS force. They have, in Washington’s mindset, picked up the slack left after the Iraqi Army abandoned its equipment and fled the Islamic State’s fighters in northern Iraq in June 2014, and again in the Sunni city of Ramadi in May 2015.

    Yet even the militia strategy seems to be coming undone. Several powerful Shia militias recently announced, for instance, their opposition to any further deployment of U.S. forces to their country. This was after the U.S. Secretary of Defense unilaterally announced that an elite special operations unit would be sent to Iraq to combat the Islamic State. The militias just don’t trust Washington to have their long-term interests at heart (and in this they are in good company in the region). “We will chase and fight any American force deployed in Iraq,” said one militia spokesman. “We fought them before and we are ready to resume fighting.”


    Refusing to Recognize Reality

    The Obama/Clinton/Sanders/Cruz/Rubio/Pentagon/et al. solution — let someone else fight the ground war against IS — is based on what can only be called a delusion: that regional forces there believe in American goals (some variant of secular rule, disposing of evil dictators, perhaps some enduring U.S. military presence) enough to ignore their own varied, conflicting, aggrandizing, and often fluid interests. In this way, Washington continues to convince itself that local political goals are not in conflict with America’s strategic goals. This is a delusion.

    In fact, Washington’s goals in this whole process are unnervingly far-fetched. Overblown fears about the supposedly dire threats of the Islamic State to “the homeland” aside, the American solution to radical Islam is an ongoing disaster. It is based on the attempted revitalization of the collapsed or collapsing nation-state system at the heart of that region. The stark reality is that no one there — not the Gulf states, not the Kurds, not the Turks, not the Sunnis, nor even the Shia — is fighting for Iraq and Syria as the U.S. remembers them.

    Unworkable national boundaries were drawn up after World War I without regard for ethnic, sectarian, or tribal realities and dictatorships were then imposed or supported past their due dates. The Western answer that only secular governments are acceptable makes sad light of the power of Islam in a region that often sees little or no separation between church and state.

    Secretary of State John Kerry can join the calls for the use of “indigenous forces” as often as he wants, but the reality is clear: Washington’s policy in Syria and Iraq is bound to fail, no matter who does the fighting.




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    Inhuman Monsters: Islamic State vs Saudi Arabia

    November 21, 2015 // 17 Comments »

    beheading

    Fun game time. Let’s see who are the most inhuman monsters in the Middle East, ISIS or Saudi Arabia.

    — ISIS commits terror acts against Western targets. Almost all of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi, and most believe that Saudi money in part funded 9/11, and that Saudi money in part funds ISIS. Winner: Saudi.

    — ISIS beheads people. Saudi beheads people. In 2014, the Saudis beheaded 59 people. The headcount, as it were, for ISIS is unknown. Winner: So, ISIS, by a nose.

    — Both ISIS and the Saudis cite the Koran, Islamic teachings (the hadith) and Sharia law as justification for their brutal acts. Winner: Tie.

    — The U.S. claims Saudi as one of its closest allies in the Middle East and supplies them with weapons. The U.S. claims ISIS as its worst enemy in the Middle East, and supplies them with weapons stolen or retrieved from other U.S. allies. Winner: Big, big win for ISIS.

    — Saudi leaders are regularly invited to the White House. ISIS leaders are not. Saudi, FTW!

    — The U.S. claims not to know where Saudi money goes. The U.S. claims not to know where ISIS money comes from. Winner: Double-win for ISIS!

    — ISIS publishes a list of hadd crimes considered to be “against the rights of God,” such as theft, adultery, slander, homosexuality, and banditry. Saudi Arabia publishes a list of hadd crimes considered to be “against the rights of God,” such as theft, adultery, slander, homosexuality, and banditry. Winner: Dead tie.

    — ISIS tortures political prisoners. Saudi tortures political prisoners. Winner: Tie again!

    — ISIS and the Saudis are dedicated to Wahhabism, an ultra-conservative interpretation of Islam. Tie again!

    — ISIS uses atrocities against both its internal and external enemies. Saudi uses atrocities against its domestic enemies who oppose the royal family. Winner: Saudi.



    I could go on, but in the interest of efficiency, here, from Middle East Eye, is a handy chart:




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    Paris: You Don’t Want to Read This

    November 14, 2015 // 93 Comments »

    paris

    You don’t want to read this, and I take no pleasure in writing it, and no one really wants to hear it right now. But I believe it needs to be said.


    I join the world in grieving for the dead in Paris. I have grieved for the dead from 9/11 forward — the Australians who died in terror attacks on Bali in 2002, Londoners who died in terror attacks in 2005, the French citizens who died in the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January of this year, the Russians whose plane went down over the Sinai a week or so ago. So many more non-Western deaths barely noticed in the U.S. media. I grieve also for those killed in smaller attacks already smuggled deep into the obscurity of our memory.

    And so we Tweet hashtags and phrases in high school French and post GIFs to Facebook. We know what to do; we’ve done this before.

    But it has to be said, especially looking at the sick repetition of the same story, that despite fourteen plus years of a war on terror, terror seems to be with us as much as ever, maybe even more. It is time to rethink what we have done and are doing.


    Since that day in 2001, the one with those terrible sparkling blue skies in New York, we have spied on the world, Americans at home and foreigners abroad, yet no one detected anything that stopped the Paris attacks. We gave up much to that spying and got nothing in return.

    Since 2001, the United States has led nations like Britain, France, Australia and others into wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria, with drone attacks on people from the Philippines to Pakistan to all parts of Africa. We have little to nothing to show for all that.

    Since 2001 the U.S. has expended enormous efforts to kill a handful of men — bin Laden, al-Zarqawi, al-Awlaki, and this weekend, Jihadi John. Others, many without names, were killed outside of media attention, or were tortured to death, or are still rotting in the offshore penal colony of Guantanamo, or the dark hell of the Salt Pit in Afghanistan.

    And it has not worked, and Paris this weekend, and the next one somewhere else sometime soon, are the proof.


    We gave up many of our freedoms in America to defeat the terrorists. It did not work. We gave the lives of over 4,000 American men and women in Iraq, and thousands more in Afghanistan, to defeat the terrorists, and refuse to ask what they died for. We killed tens of thousands or more in those countries. It did not work. We went to war again in Iraq, and now in Syria, before in Libya, and only created more failed states and ungoverned spaces that provide havens for terrorists and spilled terror like dropped paint across borders. We harass and discriminate against our own Muslim populations and then stand slack-jawed as they become radicalized, and all we do then is blame ISIS for Tweeting.

    Note that it is the strategy of Islamic terror to generate a crackdown in France in order to radicalise French Muslims. Hundreds of French citizens have already traveled to Syria to fight with groups including ISIS.

    As one of the most intelligent commentators on all this, Bill Johnson, said, terrorism is about killing pawns to affect the king. The attacks in Paris are not about the murder of 150 innocent people. Hell, that many die nearly every day in Iraq and Syria. The true test for France is how they respond to the terror attacks in the long-game — that’s the king in all this. America failed this test post-9/11; yet it does not sound like France understands anything more than America. “We are going to lead a war which will be pitiless,” French president Hollande said outside the Bataclan concert hall, scene of the most bloodshed.


    If I had exactly the right strategy, I’d tell you what it is, and I’d try and tell the people in Washington and Paris and everywhere else. But I don’t have the exact thing to do, and I doubt they’d listen to me anyway.

    But I do have this: stop what we have been doing for the last 14 years. It has not worked. There is nothing at all to suggest it ever will work. Whack-a-mole is a game, not a plan. Leave the Middle East alone. Stop creating more failed states. Stop throwing away our freedoms at home on falsehoods. Stop disenfranchising the Muslims who live with us. Understand the war, such as it is, is against a set of ideas — religious, anti-western, anti-imperialist — and you cannot bomb an idea. Putting western soldiers on the ground in the MidEast and western planes overhead fans the flames. Vengeance does not and cannot extinguish an idea.

    Start with those things and see, even if you won’t give it 14 years to succeed, if things improve. Other than the death tolls scaling up further, I can’t imagine we could be doing anything worse.




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    Schools Employ Warzone Tech Ahead of Next Mass Shooting

    September 24, 2015 // 2 Comments »

    MG_6790-Edit1


    So here we are America. Schools are now using some of the same tech deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as in some of America’s most crime-ridden neighborhoods, to protect their students against the inevitable next mass shooting. #Pride

    Even more sad, the new devices show we have given up on preventing mass shootings, and are now simply looking for ways to minimize the carnage when they do happen.

    The devices now being installed in a growing number of schools are acoustic sensors (pictured) which listen for the sound of gunfire, and are then able to pinpoint its location and alert authorities.

    Such tools are common on the battlefield and alert soldiers from which direction they are taking incoming fire. The sensors are very good; in urban combat environments, echoes off buildings can confuse a response. The sensors use sophisticated technology to sift out the echoes, and can even estimate range. Some can even make educated guesses on what kind of weapon is being used, based on the sound of the incoming rounds. Cities such as New York also have such sensors installed on streets prone to gun violence.

    Back in the Homeland, there’s even an app. If gunfire is detected on campus, the school principal and local law enforcement get an “active shooter alert” sent to their desktop computers and cellphones with precise details about where the shooting occurred in the building. The senors, according to one manufacturer, also integrate with auto-lockdown technologies (that company’s toll-free number is 1-844-SHOT911.)

    Interest in these systems appears to be growing, seeded by the companies that make the devices, and driven by school administrators grappling with how to keep students safe. Inquiries also spike after each school shooting as Americans love them some overreaction.

    And in an America that increasingly relies on the search for new products to peddle, the sensors are also good business. The gunshot-detection systems can cost $10,000 to $100,000 depending on the size of a school.




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    Terror Arrest After Watching ‘Breaking Bad’

    September 23, 2015 // 6 Comments »

    bad


    A British software programmer has been sentenced to eight years in prison for trying to buy the deadly toxin ricin (from the FBI) over the Internet.

    Mohammed Ali was convicted of attempting to possess a chemical weapon. He admitted trying to buy ricin, but claimed he was motivated by curiosity after it featured on the TV show “Breaking Bad.”

    He told jurors he was just “curious” and wanted to test the boundaries of the Dark Web, and was unaware ricin was illegal. “I just wanted to know what the fuss was about,” he said.

    Computer analysis showed Ali first began trawling the Internet for information on poisons such as abrin, ricin and cyanide in October last year.
    The court heard he approached the undercover agent in January with a private message, saying: “Hi, would you be able to make me some ricin and send it to the UK?”

    Because sure, that’s exactly how one goes about these things, so hey, I need some plutonium, please leave your full name and address in the Comments so me and SWAT can swing by later.

    At one point, Ali asked his FBI handler: “How do I test this ricin?” and received the instruction: “You must test it on a rodent.”

    Records showed that Ali then made a to-do list on his computer which included the entries “pay ricin guy” and “get pet to murder.” He had also made a series of web searches for chinchillas, animal rescue center, rabbits and “pocket-sized pets.”

    Ali has been diagnosed with Asperger’s or autistic traits.

    Ali, who is 31, contacted a “U.S. seller” about buying 500 milligrams of ricin for $500. Of course, the contact was just another undercover FBI agent pretending to be a terrorist, and Ali was arrested after he was sent a toy car (below) containing a harmless powder. One wonders if it is 99 percent or 99.9 percent of the FBI that now spends its time pretending to be terrorists online.

    A judge said Ali’s sentence was intended to send a message “that the possession of a chemical weapon is extremely serious.” And indeed possession is a serious thing. Only this guy never possessed anything dangerous, and had no chance of actually possessing anything dangerous. He was just another ignorant web dweller who imagined he could pop online and buy highly toxic substances.


    Protip: Ricin is a poison found naturally in castor beans. Ricin can be made from the waste material left over from processing castor beans. In other words, you don’t have to buy it, you can brew it, and yes, instructions are online. If the guy really, really wanted to cause mass harm, he was a quick Google and a trip to the supermarket away from getting started. And as far as anyone knows, the FBI is not yet staffing the bean aisle at your local Safeway.

    Or are they…





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    Muslim 9th Grader Arrested for Bringing His Electronics Project to School

    September 16, 2015 // 12 Comments »

    NMC_15MohamedAhmed2

    Here’s some more even-tempered policing for you, another dose of freedom that makes us all safer.

    Stare into the face of (made-up) terror America.

    That evil child is Ahmed Mohamed, a brown ninth-grader in Irving, Texas, who likes to tinker with electronics. He built a simple electronic clock and brought it school to show it to his engineering teacher, like any nerd would do.

    The teacher praised the design but advised him not to show it to other teachers. Later, in Ahmed’s English class, the clock beeped while it was in his bag. When he showed the project to his English teacher, who no doubt was a trained bomb detector EOD person, she thought it looked like a bomb. No doubt the teacher had seen many home-made bombs in her career.

    Maybe you know about bombs, so look at the printed circuit board in the picture. Can you see all the explosives wired to it, the plastique and dynamite sticks? Maybe if it looked more like this:

    The teacher kept the clock and called for backup. The principal and a police officer pulled Ahmed out of class, and detained him, without legal representation or calling his parents, in a room where four other police officers waited. He said an officer he’d never seen before leaned back in his chair and remarked: “Yup. That’s who I thought it was.”

    “They were like, ‘So you tried to make a bomb?’” Ahmed said.

    “I told them no, I was trying to make a clock.”

    “He said, ‘It looks like a movie bomb to me.’”

    Police arrested Ahmed and led him out of school in handcuffs. His school gave him a three-day suspension for, well, something, and police are still investigating the incident.

    Lawyers who handle civil suits are welcome to contact the family. People who wonder why everyone thinks we are ass clowns who hate too much, well, there you are.



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    Home of the Brave: And Please Panic This July 4th

    July 3, 2015 // 18 Comments »

    4th

    America used to be a country with balls. Now, our government wants to make us into a nation of scaredy cats, existing in a state of constant fear and near-panic, like we were kids worrying if the school bully was waiting for us after school.

    Here’s the basic theme for this weekend: Americans need to remain vigilant to the threat of a terrorist attack, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Michael McCaul, warned. He said there has been increased chatter on social media that indicates terrorists may be planning to strike during the celebrations. “I am extremely concerned Syrian and ISIS recruiters can use the Internet at lightning speeds to recruit followers in the United States and then activate them to do whatever they want to do. Whether it’s military installations, law enforcement or possibly a Fourth of July event parade.”

    “I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re sitting here a week from today talking about an attack over the weekend in the United States. That’s how serious this is,” former CIA deputy director Michael Morell told CBS. “There’s been about 50 people in the last 12 months who have been arrested in the United States for being radicalized by ISIS, wanting to go fight there or wanting to conduct an attack here.”

    USA Today added to the fear-mongering, noting “While there was no specific or credible threat of attack, the official said the intelligence bulletin prepared by the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI alerted local colleagues to the ongoing threats posed by the Islamic State and other homegrown extremists. The official was not authorized to comment publicly.”

    So let’s break this down, ahead of your BBQ, beach time and backyard sparklers.

    America has suffered one significant foreign terror attack in the 239 years since the July 4th we celebrate this weekend. That attack was fourteen years ago and while tragic, took a similar number of lives has the number of Americans who have died since from toxoplasmotic brain parasites. The 2011 Report on Terrorism from the National Counterterrorism Center notes Americans are just as likely to be “crushed to death by their televisions or furniture each year” as they are to be killed by terrorists. Perhaps even sadder, about double the number of Americans killed on 9/11 have died in the still-ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Disagree with one set of numbers, pick your favorite statistic/comparison, but you get the idea.

    Noteworthy is that while fourteen years ago, and for most of the succeeding years, is that the government warned the attacks were to be carried out or threatened by foreigners. This weekend’s warnings, however, point at Americans who want to do harm to other Americans. That seems to be one of the most significant “achievements” of the fourteen year war of terror, turning us into them.

    So this July 4, in honor of America’s 239th birthday, our government tells us not to be brave and free, but to be scared and fearful. We need to watch around us, and we need especially to watch our fellow citizens. One of them might be a lone wolf, supposedly “radicalized” by 140 characters he read on Twitter. We are to balance in our minds the conflicting images of a government that takes away our civil rights and pisses away our tax dollars to protect us while simultaneously saying they may not be able to protect us.

    Whatever you do this July 4th, don’t look for me there. I’ll be at home, doors locked, weapons cocked and ready in abject terror, trying not to remember what I’ll be drinking to forget. Happy Birthday America.




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    State Department’s Top Counter-Terrorism Official Arrested in Child Sex Sting

    February 25, 2015 // 7 Comments »

    rosen

    Who are the real terrorists threatening actual citizens?

    Daniel Rosen, the State Department’s top counter-terrorism official, was arrested Tuesday for allegedly soliciting sex from a minor. If found guilty, Rosen faces up to 30 years in prison.

    Fairfax County, Virginia law enforcement officials say Rosen, age 44, was arrested at his home after he allegedly sought sex with a minor. A female officer working in the county’s Child Exploitation Unit had been posing as the minor in online exchanges with Rosen, police said.

    The State Department’s spokeswoman said “We are aware that a State Department employee has been arrested and charges have been issued. For issues related to Department personnel and for privacy reasons, we are not able to confirm the identity of the individual or specific charges. His security clearance will be suspended and he will be put on administrative leave while this proceeds to its end through any judicial process. We are following standard procedure in this case.”

    “Administrative Leave” means that Rosen will be paid his full salary and accrue benefits for the indeterminate future.

    Fox News reports a source with Diplomatic Security, the State Department internal police force, said that law enforcement officers were “hitting [Rosen’s] phones,” meaning that a search warrant had been issued so police could examine the devices for additional evidence.

    The Los Angeles Times reports that it is unclear whether Rosen is alleged to have used personal or State Department-issued devices to troll for underage sex online.

    Rosen’s LinkedIn profile claims he is responsible for all of State’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau’s strategic planning, policy planning, program and budget planning and oversight, and legislative relations and interaction, and that he oversees a budget of $300 million per year. He is State’s primary representative on terrorism at interagency and international meetings, conferences, and Congressional briefings.

    It appears Rosen is not a career State Department employee, having been with the agency since 2008. It is unclear whether he is a Civil Servant or a political appointee. His name appears to have quickly been deleted from the State Department website.


    BONUS: Rosen joins a long list of alleged and actual State Department employees involved in sex crimes!



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    What ISIS Gained by Burning a Man Alive

    February 18, 2015 // 5 Comments »

    japan isis4.jpg

    A few weeks ago, did the majority of the world know the Japanese prime minister pledged $200 million in “humanitarian aid” in the war against ISIS? Or that two Japanese citizens had been held as hostages for months? Or that ISIS also held a Jordanian pilot? Or, since 2005, Jordan had been holding a failed al Qaeda female suicide bomber on death row?

    The world knows now. With three killings, the Islamic State sent its messages viral, and watched them pay off in strategic gains.



    What ISIS Accomplished

    Last month in Iraq, 2,287 people were killed. No one knows how many died in the same time span in Syria and other “war on terror” hot spots. Little seems to have changed for it all. Yet, via skillful manipulation of the global media, here is some of what Islamic State accomplished via taking three lives in such a gruesome manner:

    — Islamic State humiliated two U.S. allies. Both sought to negotiate with the militants and both were shown to be weak and ineffectual.

    — The United States, which remained silent, absent the usual tropes about evil, was shown as ineffectual in being able to help its allies.

    — A key U.S. partner, the United Arab Emirates, announced — based on the Jordanian pilot’s capture alone — that it was suspending airstrikes unless the U.S. stationed search and rescue teams inside Iraq. The U.S. quickly announced it was doing just that, raising its on-the-ground footprint. Keeping partners in the game is crucial to maintaining the dubious claim that efforts against Islamic State are anything but an American campaign. Even with the UAE, estimates are that the U.S. conducts some 80 percent of the airstrikes itself.

    — The Japanese and Jordanian governments have vowed revenge, drawing them deeper into the conflict while bringing their domestic debates over the propriety of supporting what many see as America’s war into the open. Conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is seizing this moment to try and push through a controversial change to Japan’s pacifist constitution. Blood always runs hot at first; it remains to be seen how many additional deaths of its own citizens a society will tolerate in the name of revenge. Will the hyper-macho images of Jordan’s king wearing a flight suit come to be seen in the same way that George W. Bush’s images of himself in a flight suit now are?

    — The Jordanians executed a Sunni Muslim woman, martyring her and giving new voice to her cause.

    — ISIS successfully kicked off another cycle of revenge in an area of the world where such cycles can become perpetual motion engines. America cannot help but be drawn deeper into this quagmire as it struggles to hold its limited coalition together. President Barack Obama has already announced an increase in annual aid to Jordan from $660 million to $1 billion.

    — To its core recruitment audience, who believes in violent jihad, Islamic State saw one of its most barbaric videos broadcast globally. Islamic State is far less concerned about those shocked by the video than it is about those who will join its struggle because of the video.
    War of ideas

    — Islamic State understands that it is waging a war of ideas, and that ideas cannot be bombed away. There is no victory or defeat per se in such a war, just struggle in epic terms.

    The Charlie Hebdo killers appeared to have been inspired by American citizen cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, whom the U.S. assassinated in 2011. And for all that al Qaeda has been degraded, Islamic State has arisen as its spawn. That dead men inspire living acts of horror shows that unless the fundamental ideas driving Islamic militants are addressed, there will be no end.

    The Heisenberg Effect

    Absent Jordan, the bulk of the Arab world reacted to the Islamic State video with firm statements, and no action. Somehow, that remains primarily in the hands of an America that cannot seem to understand how its very presence in the Middle East exacerbates conflict.

    Robert Pape and James Feldman, in Cutting the Fuse: The Explosion of Global Suicide Terrorism and How to Stop It reviewed 2,100 suicide bombings in the Middle East from 1980 to 2009. They conclude most were fueled by U.S. intervention.

    And there has been plenty of fuel for those who fan the flames. Syria became the 14th country in the Islamic world that U.S. forces invaded, occupied or bombed, and in which American soldiers have publicly killed or been killed, since 1980. This history suggests what one Marine officer called in the Small Wars Journal the Heisenberg Effect, after the physics theorem that states the presence of an observer affects the event being observed.

    Any Ideas?

    America’s track record in the “war on terror” is a poor one, the ISIS video only the latest bit of evidence. You can’t shoot an idea. You defeat a bad idea with a better one. Islamic State has proven terribly effective with its bad ideas; on the American side, more than 13 years after 9/11, we need to ask, so what do you have to offer?



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    Talkin’ Those Why U.S. Terror Policy Just Fails Blues

    January 10, 2015 // 4 Comments »

    Former U.S. ambassador Chas Freeman, hit the nail on the head when recently describing America’s failed strategy in the Middle East: “If at first we don’t succeed, we do the same thing again harder, with better technology, and at greater expense. The patch provides a cogent – if uncouth – summary of the results of this approach so far this century.”


    Freeman’s remark was my inspiration in responding to questions in this episode of Crosstalk.






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    There is Much to Fear

    September 29, 2014 // 6 Comments »




    One of the exceptional things about Post-Constitutional America is how instead of using the traditional tools of an autocracy– secret police, torture, mass round ups– the majority of Americans have given up their rights willfully, voluntarily, almost gleefully. The key tool used by government to have accomplished this is fear-mongering.

    Fear is one of our most powerful emotions. It plays a very important evolutionary role after all; the first folks who learned to fear lions and tigers and bears tended to live longer than those who were slower learners. Fears from childhood about heights or spiders often stick with us forever. So using fear of terrorists and other bogeymen has proven to be the most effective tool of the world’s first voluntary national security state and its coalition partners in scariness.

    The post-9/11 months are nothing but a master class in fear-mongering. Condoleezza Rice’s oft-quote statement about not wanting to wait for a mushroom cloud over America to be the smoking gun of terror is near-Bond villain level evil genius. The 2003 Iraq War was sold in large part on fear-mongering over fake nukes, fake biological weapons and a fake hunt for WMDS.

    A few recent examples illustrate how the work continues. Because nothing is better to keep fear alive than a regular flow of refreshers (watch out behind you, a spider!).


    Australia

    The Australians have proven excellent students of the American model. After a single phone call from one purported jihadi in the Middle East to a purported jihadi in Sydney suggesting a random beheading would be a fine terror act, the Aussies kicked off the largest counterterrorism operation in Australian history, with full world-wide media coverage of course, all of which resulted in the arrest of one 22-year-old. Prime Minister Tony Abbott said it showed that “a knife, an iPhone and a victim” were the only ingredients needed for a terrorist attack.

    B.S. Factor: Between 2009-2010 (last statistics located) 257 Australians were killed domestically, many with knives. None of those cases involved the largest manhunts in Australian history. Drunken dingos seem more a threat to citizens than terrorists, perhaps even with an iPhone and a knife for the dingo.


    Britain

    The British are loosely joining the coalition against ISIS in Iraq, based largely on the beheading video of a single Brit hostage (beheading videos of two American hostages have also been an effective fear-mongering tool in the United States recently.) Since most westerners do not visit the Arabic-language web sites where such videos widely appear, this form of fear- mongering requires the assistance of the main stream media, who appear more than happy to assist by re-running the videos in an endless loop.

    B.S. Factor: In 2013, 6,193 Brits died abroad. Very few cases even made the news in a small way.


    United States

    Back here in the U.S., higher-level encryption built directly into the new iPhone caused much concern among law enforcement, who will have a harder time mass-monitoring the communications of all Americans as they have freely done for the past decade or so. FBI Director James Comey at a news conference already focused on ISIS terror threats said “What concerns me about this is companies marketing something expressly to allow people to hold themselves beyond the law.” He cited specifically kidnapping cases, in which exploiting the contents of a seized phone could lead to finding a victim, and predicted there would be moments when parents would come to him “with tears in their eyes, look at me and say, ‘What do you mean you can’t’ ” decode the contents of a phone.

    B.S. Factor: We could find no statistics on how often decoding the contents of a phone alone resolved a kidnapping case. We also note that even if the FBI or the NSA could not actually break the iPhone encryption, existing, working tools unaffected by encryption such as triangulation geolocating, standard GPS, cell tower tracking, Stingray intercepts, call logs, email logs, cloud contents, and web searches can provide a wealth of data remotely, without even the need to seize a physical phone.


    OMG: Americans May Be Killed By Terrorists

    Obviously the uber fear-mongering are the pervasive streams of warnings about “almost executed” terror plots inside America. Whether told “if you see something, say something” on a bus, strip searched in the airport or hearing about one pseudo-plot after another on the news, the meme is that danger lurks everywhere in the United States.

    B.S. Factor: Since 9/11, as few as 16 Americans here in Das Homeland has been killed by terrorists, almost all fellow Americans. On the high end, some claim the death count is about 100, but that includes murders at abortion clinics not everyone would call terrorism as far as traditional government fear-mongering is concerned.

    The odds of dying in a terrorist attack in the United States are 20,000,000 to 1. By comparison, Americans are 17,600 times more likely to die from heart disease than from a terrorist attack.

    Maybe more terrifying than anything else, in America you are eight times more likely to be killed by a police officer than by a terrorist. That’s a broad average; it is higher if you are a young African-American male.


    Exceptionalism?

    To be fair, fear-mongering in general, and fear-mongering over terrorism, have a much longer history of use by autocrats than what has been employed since 9/11. One national leader in fact said “The easiest way to gain control of a population is to carry out acts of terror. The public will clamor for such laws if their personal security is threatened.” That was Joseph Stalin.

    So yes, there is indeed much to fear.



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    War of Terror. Repeat as necessary.

    February 27, 2013 // 9 Comments »




    Iraq.

    U.S. completes half a regime change, over-throwing a stable government but fails to emplace a new government. Chaos results.

    Balance of power in Middle East upended, Iran ascendant.

    Weapons pour from Iran through Iraq into, among other places, Syria and Lebanon.

    Americans get killed.

    War on of Terror. Repeat as necessary.

    Libya.

    U.S. completes half a regime change, over-throwing a stable government but fails to emplace a new government. Chaos results.

    Weapons pour out of Libya into, among other places, Syria and Mali.

    Americans get killed.

    Mali has a military coup but fails to emplace a stable government. Chaos results.

    Americans and other foreigners are taken hostage in Algeria (asymmetrical war, look it up).

    U.S. considers how to intervene militarily.

    War on Terror. Repeat as necessary.

    Syria.

    That’s not an angry screed, correct? Now, you kids get off my lawn, and turn that damn music down!!!!!!



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    Americans Die in Terror Attacks

    November 15, 2011 // Comments Off on Americans Die in Terror Attacks

    Yes, but not so many.

    Of the reported 13,186 deaths through acts of terrorism in 2010, only 15 were civilian Americans (the report does not count US military deaths).

    Of those 15 private American Citizens who died at the hands of terror, 13 died in Afghanistan (where we have been at war for ten years), 1 in Iraq (war for eight+ years) and 1 in Uganda (our newest war, soldiers dispatched just last month).

    The overall non-American largest number of deaths by terror acts was in Iraq, 3364 killed, followed by Afghanistan with 3002. Recall that Iraq was liberated by the US in 2003 with the defeat of Saddam, Afghanistan in 2001 with the defeat of the Taliban.

    It would appear that the ongoing, ever-lasting War on Terror has been, um, active. Like the War on Drugs (we have more drugs) and the War on Poverty (more of that, too), the War on Terror seems to keep killing people. Unfortunately, most of the deaths at the hands of terrorists seem to take place in the countries the US has liberated. This could be why we are unwelcome there?

    The data reported above comes from the US Government’s National Counter Terrorism Center, NCTC, from its undisclosed location (it really has no actual address, it really is a honking huge office complex in a not disclosed place except for all its employees and everyone who lives anywhere near it).

    So please do not write in to me arguing about the statistics or the methods. Contact your local National Counter Terrorism Center, if you can find one.




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