Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Terrorism and Moral Panic

After Paris, CIA Calls For More Surveillance:

WASHINGTON — A diabolical range of recent attacks claimed by the Islamic State — a Russian airliner blown up in Egypt, a double suicide bombing in Beirut and Friday’s ghastly assaults on Paris — has rekindled a debate over the proper limits of government surveillance in an age of terrorist mayhem.


On Monday, in unusually raw language, John Brennan, the C.I.A. director, denounced what he called “hand-wringing” over intrusive government spying and said leaks about intelligence programs had made it harder to identify the “murderous sociopaths” of the Islamic State.

Mr. Brennan appeared to be speaking mainly of the disclosures since 2013 of the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance of phone and Internet communications by Edward J. Snowden, which prompted sharp criticism, lawsuits and new restrictions on electronic spying in the United States and in Europe.


In the wake of the 129 deaths in Paris, Mr. Brennan and some other officials sounded eager to reopen a clamorous argument over surveillance in which critics of the spy agencies had seemed to hold an advantage in recent years.
I love how "hand wringing" is a simpleton's dismissal of something called the Constitution and its protections. Worse, there is nothing in terms of further surveillance that could have stopped these attacks, and frankly, nothing new about these attacks historically.
“As far as I know, there’s no evidence the French lacked some kind of surveillance authority that would have made a difference,” said Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union. “When we’ve invested new powers in the government in response to events like the Paris attacks, they have often been abused.”

The debate over the proper limits on government dates to the origins of the United States, with periodic overreaching in the name of security being curtailed in the interest of liberty. This era of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State in some ways resembles battles that American and European authorities fought in the late 1800s with anarchists who carried out a wave of assassinations and bombings, provoking a huge increase in police powers, said Audrey Kurth Cronin, a historian of terrorism at George Mason University.


Since then, there were the excesses of McCarthyism exploiting fears of Communist infiltration in the 1950s, the exposure of domestic spying and C.I.A. assassination plots in the 1970s, and the battles over torture, secret detention and drone strikes since Sept. 11, 2001.
And so all of the over-the-top rhetoric fans the flames of moral panic, and people lose sight of the fact that these attacks are not "an evil so monstrous, we've never seen the likes of it before," but in fact just another in a long line of ragtag criminal collectives who have carried out acts of terrorism around the world for more than two hundred years. 

That's not to downplay the tragedy of the Paris or the other attacks happening worldwide right now, and it's not to say we shouldn't be aggressive in stamping out terrorism. Believe me, as someone who attends live music and sporting events regularly, nothing gives me more pause than what happened in Paris.

But it is to suggest that criminal elements and terrorism in general have a shelf-life (see also: the Weathermen, the IRA  and about a million other terrorist organizations that have come and gone throughout history). And that the Daesh (ISIS) will go the way of these organizations as well with a proper, reasoned and forceful response.

But in the meantime, don't let a few facts get in the way of a good moral panic. Because if the charlatans can exploit your fear for political purposes, it will be exploited for political purposes
Republican fury over illegal immigration and border security took on a new dimension Monday as a growing number of governors, presidential candidates and members of Congress rushed to oppose or even defy President Obama’s plan to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees.


Twenty-five Republican governors vowed to block the entry of Syrian refugees into their states, arguing that the safety of Americans was at stake after the Paris attacks by terrorists including a man who entered Europe with a Syrian passport and posed as a migrant. Among the governors were those from Illinois, Massachusetts, Texas and other states that have already resettled relatively large numbers of refugees from among the 1,900 Syrians accepted by the United States in the last four years.

The governors’ legal standing was quickly challenged by immigration groups and some Democrats, and Mr. Obama said the resettlement of refugees would go forward next year. The State Department said it had not reached a conclusion about whether states could legally refuse them.
Uh, there is no "debate" over the issue. They can't legally refuse them.
Problem is, states don’t really have a choice.
According to Think Progress’ Ian Millhiser, the states are limited in their power to resist the intake of refugees, an action that’s specifically under the president’s purview.
Under the Refugee Act of 1980, “President Obama has explicit statutory authorization to accept foreign refugees into the United States.”

Cecillia Wang of the American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement Monday that politicians were fabricating a link between the Paris attacks and Syrian refugee resettlement in the U.S.
“Making policy based on this fear mongering is wrong for two reasons,” she said. “It is factually wrong for blaming refugees for the very terror they are fleeing, and it is legally wrong because it violates our laws and the values on which our country was founded.”
Not to mention the fact that the Syrians fleeing the region are fleeing the Daesh and its brutality. There is no evidence that the immigrant/refugee crisis is actually a "trojan horse" for terrorism or other untoward behavior. The same sort of stupid can be found, again historically (if you know anything about history), 75 years ago when Americans feared Jewish emigration to the U.S.

But again, facts don't matter when moral panic can be exploited, and literally within a 24 hour period, almost half of the state governors in this country have issued chest-thumping (and legally vacuous) statements about not accepting Syrian refugees.

Sidebar: looking over the list of governors issuing these hysterical statements, a better question might be: why would the Syrians want to relocate to any of those states anyway? If you've already been through civil war, starvation, terrorism and other hell, is Texas or Arkansas something you really want to foist on them?

Nonetheless, the cat is out of the bag, not just here in the states but around Europe as well.  It's not the terrorists who have "flung open a door and burst into a room with a dense, uncomfortable atmosphere, packed with people ready to succumb to hysteria at the slightest trigger," it's your politicians, including the clown show that is the 2016 presidential race.

And when you throw in social media, which of course makes everyone an expert on the issue, the wildfire of moral panic makes sanity and discourse virtually impossible. It's even got residents of Florence, Colorado, where we operate the most secure super-max dungeon in the world, freaking out about relocating a few (more) terrorists to the prison there.

I wish I could remember who said or where I read it, but right after the Paris attacks happened, someone posted this brilliance: "These attacks definitely confirm my political point of view, which I will now recite affirmatively, or passively/aggressively by liking, sharing or re-tweeting supporting links."

Actually here's a shorter version: "Whatever happened in Paris, it just goes to show that my self-righteous political talking point is even more right than I thought It was."

Frankly, if I'm putting my faith in anyone, it's Anonymous, who I'm rather sure has the capabilities of shutting down the Daesh post-haste.
Hackers claiming to be Anonymous, an international collective of activist hackers, threatened cyberattacks on the Islamic State group in retaliation for Friday’s deadly attacks in Paris. 
The hacktivist group delivered its message in videos posted in multiple languages on social media Saturday, which featured a person clad in a Guy Fawkes mask — the group’s signature — addressing the militant group directly.

“These attacks cannot remain unpunished,” the video states. “Expect many cyberattacks. War has been declared. Get ready.”

In the two days since its posting, the videos already have been viewed millions of times.
According to Reuters, Anonymous also claims to have identified and reported more than 39,000 suspected Twitter accounts belonging to Islamic State group members, saying they have been successful in getting more than 25,000 of them shut down. 
If they can successfully disrupt their social media presence, and more importantly hack into and shut down their financial transactions, that will strangle the movement in a matter of months.

And then we can move on to the next moral panic.

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