Makes You Want to Scream Dept.

In that department this week, two items stand out:

  • First, the ACLU announced that the terrorist watch list now contains over 1 million names.  Your first reaction might be that if the number of terrorists is into seven figures we are truly doomed — it only took 19 plus a support organization of perhaps a few dozen to carry out 9/11.  The ACLU’s assessment is well worth reading.

  • Stratfor reported that the Denver Water Board without warning closed the road over Dillon Dam in Summit County, CO, not to thwart any specific threat but just because they were worried.  Because this road is one of the few across Summit County,  the board’s action has greatly inconvenienced residents and emergency response units alike (and generated a few lawsuits).  As Stratfor notes, insider threats, for which closing a road obviously does nothing, present a much greater risk to a dam than whatever explosives jihadis could cobble together, assuming that they’d want to waste one of their infrequent American operations on a dam in the middle of nowhere.

Here’s the critical fact:  There is no evidence that the people who inflate watch lists or close massive structures in the Rockies are any dumber than the rest of us.  Instead, this appears to be system-level effect of a microprocess called the bureaucratic gate.  Simply put:  There is no cost to bureaucrats for putting you on a list or closing a dam; there is a risk, however, that by taking you off the list or opening the road across the dam, something bad could happen and they would be blamed.  Operate this system over time and you can guess the result.

At the geostrategic level, the result is that we do Osama bin Laden’s job for him, damaging the health of our economy, undermining peoples’ trust in the government, and giving potential opponents a clear indication that we have no idea what we are doing.

What’s the solution?  Perhaps this situation is inevitable in an electoral democracy, where every failing of a candidate is blasted forth as if it were evidence of treasonable intent.  On the other hand, when enough people get tired of being detained while trying to board aircraft, perhaps the problem will correct itself.  Until then, it is a situation that screams for adult supervision at the highest level of our government, and if the current Congress and administration are incapable of providing it — or unwilling to — then voters should consider their choices when selecting their replacements.

One only hopes that in the meantime our potential enemies don’t see our confusion and inability to think clearly about our security as an opportunity.

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Filed in Uncategorized | 13 responses so far

13 Responses to “Makes You Want to Scream Dept.”

  1. Mycophagiston 18 Jul 2008 at 6:28 pm 1

    “When everyone is a suspect, no one is a suspect”

    Dave

  2. Maxon 19 Jul 2008 at 10:46 am 2

    “Here’s the critical fact: There is no evidence that the people who inflate watch lists or close massive structures in the Rockies are any dumber than the rest of us. ”

    I beg to differ.

    Burgeoning Security and policing interests have attracted any number of poorly qualified and suited people out of the woodwork, since 9-11.
    All wrapped up in the flag.

    Many would not probably not be employed otherwize, much less be in positions of authority. These jobs by nature attract many who would otherwize be frustrated in the real world.

    Security interests are amoung a few remaining bright spots in the failing econony. Sadly, most of it is Government subsidised and bogus.

    I suspect it’s now well on the way in development towards being one of the largest make work projects America has every come up with, and we’ve had some real doozies, including the coldwar, starwars, and more recently stratigic missle defence.

    If not individualy, there a collective atmosphere of intense suspicion and paranioa.

    The list proves it, behond a dougbt.

    In re-enforcement of your assertion, it’s in any beuracrcies blantantly obvious interets to grow and expand and thus exagerate the threat.
    However, these beuracracies attract and pepole who by nature
    aspire to such. Just look at the Mil. -Ind.- Con- Think Tank-services sector, there’s your proof.

    A recipe for yet another disaster, as you have yet another government burecratic monster, growing out of control.

    In the end though I regard it as just another symptom, of a civilisation
    obsessively focused inwards, backwards, and in a tail slide.

    I once told a friend, “the day America stops attracting and inspiring the very best and brightest worldwide, is the day it’s all over.”

    Who in thier right mind, and with anything significant to offer,
    is going to want to come here anymore ?

    Guess what ?
    M

  3. Mycophagiston 19 Jul 2008 at 2:01 pm 3

    Max wrote:

    “Burgeoning Security and policing interests have attracted any number of poorly qualified and suited people out of the woodwork, since 9-11.
    All wrapped up in the flag.”

    All true Max, but I think the point of the article is that WE are letting it happen.

    A few years ago, the MTA banned photography on the NYC subway system, claiming the police told them to do it. I post on a photography board, and was absolutely amazed at how many are under the inpresssion that this was a good call. “Leave it to the experts, if they say it makes sense then it does,” was a common refrain on DPR, the photography site (one million hits a day).

    Humourously enough the NYPD called a news conference a few days later and rediculed the whole idea, denying that they made any such request, and that the whole idea was absurd. That no one needs a photograph to tell them where to put a bomb on a subway car or buss… :)

    As the article says, this situation will continue as long as we the people are ready to put up with it. A sign of the times is that it’s Worse in England. The normally cool British are living with more of their laws in suspension or limbo then we are. There are now 32 cameras focused on George Orwell’s old home.

    This is not intentional – It’s the way the British now live, where it’s estimated the average Londoner is photographed over 300 times a day!

    You bet, “When everyone is a suspect, no one is a suspect.”

    Dave

  4. Maxon 19 Jul 2008 at 6:53 pm 4

    “There are now 32 cameras focused on George Orwell’s old home.”

    Dave

    The poetic irrony is not lost on here,,.
    M

    Enjoy,

    http://www.jihadwatch.org/archives/003274.php

    http://www.newser.com/story/26175.html

    Do you recall ? Bob Denver being banned from performing
    during the Regan era, because of the lyric “Rocky Mountian High.”

  5. loggie20on 19 Jul 2008 at 10:07 pm 5

    “Burgeoning Security and policing interests have attracted any number of poorly qualified and suited people out of the woodwork, since 9-11.
    All wrapped up in the flag. ”

    The Maoists have taken over.

    Mao, Stalin/Lenin, Hitler, all the modern dictators established their power through terro, fear and invading the people’s privacy, all in the name of security.

  6. Adrienneon 23 Jul 2008 at 8:04 am 6

    I have been following your website and conversations for a little while now and I find it to be incredibly informative and relevant.

    This topic in particular concerns me, as I served in military intelligence on active duty both before 9/11 and after. Before 9/11, we had clear missions, stated goals, and a commitment to gather intelligence while respecting the rights of American citizens and key allies. After 9/11, much of that changed, as many of our military leaders swallowed the administration’s line regarding Iraq and fear of terrorism from the very beginning. The result was that justifications were made to violate the rights of Americans and ally citizens “just in case” they mentioned something relevant to our mission.

    As it is, trying to seek out intelligence that is relevant to our mission is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. There is so much information out there. By refusing to let go of targets who obviously have no connection with terrorist organizations or military entities out of fear, we are adding hay to the stack – making it more difficult for our intell community to find information that may be valuable to us.

    [CR: Interesting to hear from the prospective of an intel professional.]

  7. Mycophagiston 23 Jul 2008 at 1:40 pm 7

    Adrienne wrote:

    “As it is, trying to seek out intelligence that is relevant to our mission is like trying to find a needle in a haystack.”

    The goal of police work is to narrow the field of suspects. Presently we seem to be operating under the impression, “The more the merrier.” And when questioned about this, get the response, “9/11 changed everything.”

    Apparently meaning that the hard won wisdom of our police and intelligence establishments can be tossed out along with the baby… :)

    At any rate, I’m fully in support of keeping our eyes on vegetarians; a dangerous group if there ever was one.
    http://logicvoice.blogspot.com/2006/01/those-damn-vegetarian-terrorists.html

    Dave

  8. zartoggon 23 Jul 2008 at 4:33 pm 8

    I agree with everything that has been said thus far regarding the unfocused and virtually ineffective 1Mn name watch list. The ACLU has an terrorist watch list counter and invites our feedback regarding personal experiences of being unnecessarily detained, harassed and humiliated by “any number of poorly qualified and [ill] suited people out of the woodwork … All wrapped up in the flag.” Thank you MAX for putting it so succinctly.

    ACLU Terrorist Watch List link:
    http://www.aclu.org/privacy/spying/watchlistcounter.html

    “The goal of police work is to narrow the field of suspects. Presently we seem to be operating under the impression, “The more the merrier.” Mycophagist

    Here’s what it can look like (possibly coming to a community like yours?):
    http://www.freedomfchs.com/unwarranted_surveillance.pdf

  9. Maxon 24 Jul 2008 at 9:20 am 9

    Wow !

    This place rawks, you guys not only listen, but understand,
    and then relate ! It’s remarably refreshing and unusual.

    M

  10. OldSkepticon 29 Jul 2008 at 5:29 am 10

    I have 2 points of view on this issue:

    (1) As a concerned citizen. What the heck are they all wasting their time (and my money) on this nonsense without achieving anything?

    (2) As a analytic expert, who has done a lot of work in the area of ‘data mining” .. which is basically a lot of rubbish. Credit Scoring is another area of rubbish as well .. I blew a (very well paying) job 6 months ago by stating in the interview that current ‘traditional’ credit scoring models were ‘rubbish’ (an exact quote). I don’t look so silly now do I?

    This was based on a lot of hard experience and a much deeper understanding of data analysis (well I have been doing it for 30 years).

    Analytic techniques can help. You can never find the ‘answer’ but you can help the organisation/police/authorities/etc by ‘narrowing the field’.

    But wisdom has to be applied. First principle: ‘check the data quality’. Oh it is amazing what you find when you look at that.

    Recent real life experience: a major organisation (nameless in an nameless country). Hired to do some real analysis and modelling (serious salary as well) , but being a suspicious Old Skeptic I started checking the data. Found out somewhere between 20-50% of the data was worse than incorrect, it was non-existant! After checking I fouhd the whole IT proles were rubbish and this, and other things, had been going for years.

    Whole areas of this ‘organisation’ were dedicated to analyising and using complicated models for CRM purposes. They were sending out, well things, to people offering them everything based on this ‘rubbish’.

    I raised hell about it …….and yes you guessed it … got fired pretty quickly, nice payout though.

    I imagine if I went thourgh your TSA/NSA/CIA/FBI/etc data I would find that the error rate would make my above example look “wonderfull”.

  11. Maxon 05 Aug 2008 at 9:27 am 11

    OldSkepticon 29 Jul 2008 at 5:29 am

    “As a analytic expert, who has done a lot of work in the area of ‘data mining” .. which is basically a lot of rubbish.”

    I also have a recent educational background in AI.
    Started part-time back before 2000.
    My mid-career upgrade.

    “Homeland security” has been a bonanza for the feild.

    Sadly I agree, it’s largely bogus, or at least hyperbolicly exagerated in it’s effacacy, and relevence. Moreoever it’s a gigantic government
    lead and paid for, make work, pork barrel project.

    Harmless, perhaps ? But only if that were the ONLY boondogle we had going, but far from it.

    Harmless also, if not for the trashing of civil liberties,
    the bill of rights and the constitution itself.

    My diagnosis, those symptoms add up to yet another malignancy
    along side the Mil. Ind. Complex, et all, on scociety.

    MaX

  12. Maxon 20 Aug 2008 at 9:04 am 12

    In the News, Beutifull illustration, Underscoring this discussion.
    Boyd would probably have appreciated and enjoyed the power of these blogs.
    M

    http://tinyurl.com/6c5guh

    “There’s going to come a point in time where everybody’s on the list,” Robinson said.

    Robinson is not the only person with that name flagged on the list.

    Since airing a story this summer about how Correspondent Drew Griffin began getting told he was on the watch list — coincidentally after he wrote a series critical of the TSA’s Federal Air Marshal Service — CNN has received dozens of e-mails and iReport submissions from viewers who also have found themselves on the watch list.

    It turns out that three people named “James Robinson” found their names on the list in early 2005. iReport.com: Do you think your name is on the list?

    Besides the airline pilot, there’s the James Robinson who served as U.S. attorney in Detroit, Michigan, and as an assistant attorney general in the Clinton administration; and James Robinson of California, who loves tennis, swimming and flying to the East Coast to see his grandmother.

    He’s 8.

    The third-grader has been on the watch list since he was 5 years old. Asked whether he is a terrorist, he said, “I don’t know.”

  13. MickeyPvXon 20 Aug 2008 at 12:39 pm 13

    “When everyone is a suspect, no one is a suspect.”

    Reminds me of another saying that’s somewhat related:

    “One person poops and everyone has to wear diapers.”