Monday, May 31, 2004

Some in GOP want to axe TSA

Just a few days after my and photo and post documenting my many misadventures with the U.S. Transportation Security Agency (here), some GOP members of Congress want to privatize the TSA.

I'm not sure privatization is the answer. Privatization probably would improve performance, by allowing government to play contractors off against each other.

However, my understanding of 911 is that hijackers deliberately selected airports where screeners were unusually weak. It later turned out that many of these security firms were in parts of the country where it was apparently easier to comply with regulators by making campaign contributions to the "right" politicians than fixing their problems.

No doubt similar considerations will play into calls to privatize the TSA. The GOP would no doubt benefit from campaign contributions from security companies eager to get "government off the backs of business"; the GOP no doubt received such contributions prior to 911. Democrats, on the other, receive much of their money from unions; large government bureaucracies usually mean strong unions (as the gov't is not especially good at union busting) and a nice democratic constituency.

So the GOP wants private screeners while the Democrats want a large TSA bureaucracy, and it all has to do with campaign contributions rather than real performance.

Uniformity of training and auditing is probably required. A mix of TSA supervisors with private contractors do most of the real labor would probably be optimal, but TSA agents would still be required continuously at every security station in my view to prevent a repeat of 911 problems. That sounds like a larger TSA than the GOP envisions.

I think security screening is fundamentally flawed. We keep hearing that only 60% or so of simulated guns are actually confiscated by screeners. But there is only such one can do with X-rays or even manual inspection of baggage. Fundamentally, is a flawed process. If they only catch 60% of the guns, this still deters terrorism --- if they stop 3 out of 5 hijackers at the gate, that would sound alarm bells all over the airport (and all over the country), and every passenger on that plane would get a thorough going-over. That would break up the cell, and foil the plot, so terrorists won't risk it. But it is a flawed process, and 40% of the guns might get through, and that's probably enough to pull off a plot.

A particular problem in the U.S. prior to the use of secondary screenings, is that we effectively had a single secure area at all of our airports. Once someone got into the secure part of one airport with weak security, they can bring that weapon into the secure area of any other airport. So terrorists simply needed to find the airport with weakest security, get into the secure area by nook or crook, and then transport the weapon's pieces to the airport where they actually want to cause problems.

This is an issue at Pittsburgh, for example, where someone made the mistake of building a huge shopping mall inside the secure part of the airport. This was built prior to 911, when non-ticketed passengers were allowed into the secure part of the airport, so it was thought this was a good idea. The problem with letting non-ticketed passengers into the secure area, again, is that once security has been breached (by, for example, bringing small pieces of a weapon into the secure area using multiple non-ticketed passengers) it can be assembled and transferred into the secure area of any other airport. So, opening up the secure area at Pittsburgh brings the security at all other airports into question.

The only solution I see is to continue with random secondary screenings. However, these should be conducted in a professional manner, with plenty of time allowed for passengers to board their planes. I think the secondary screeners need to be provided with x-ray machines and metal detectors similar to the primary screeners, as the current practice has too many people up for secondary screenings.

Ultimately, for all my privacy concerns raised in my now famous "Pentagon Spy and Me" story, I do believe in data mining.

I believe the ultimate solution is similar to the one used by Israeli airlines.

I'm told Israeli airlines require all passengers to be pre-cleared by the government, usually involving an interview as well as a detailed questionnaire.

In the U.S., this would mean replacing the current CAPPS I and CAPPS II system, which frequently permanently tars people with names similar to know terrorists (including their Western-sounding aliases), with a biometric database system.

Frequent fliers and Visa applicants would be expected to interview with the government, which would establish an account with biometric identification. At the airport, they would simply to present their hand to a machine to get a reduced level of screening due to their pre-clearance. This would be coordinated with U.S. customs and the Visa application, so it would also accelerate entry and exit by foreign nations, eliminating the current fingerprinting system that many find so offense. Pre-cleared foreign nationals would interview once when applying for a Visa, and effectively fingerprint themselves (under the watchful eye of Customs) when entering and exiting --- much more user-friendly. Customs already had a similar biometric pre-clearance program in place, which it abandoned for reasons unrelated to security.

Would such a system be misused by the federal government, for example, to gain information about, or even harass, political opponents of the sitting administration? History teaches us that, without strong safeguards and independent supervision, it would absolutely be abused.

This is one reason why the Administration's current dabbling in (and misuse of) unsupervised data-mining programs (as I describe from person experience in Pentagon Spy) are so dangerous --- they can potentially completely discredit this technology, preventing a system like the one I've described that has the potential to make transit through both airports and customs faster and safer.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

Report: Cheney involved in Haliburton contract

According to AFP article, Time magazine has obtained a March 5, 2003 Pentagon email which describes the Haliburton contract as having been coordinated through Vice President Dick Cheney's office.

Haliburton Iraq war contracts have been controversial, because the Vice President is the immediate past CEO of Haliburton, and still has substancial stock holdings in the company. Haliburton was also accused of substancially overcharging the U.S. government, and was eventually ordered to repay some of the overcharges after a media uproar.

The war in Iraq likely significantly appreciated the Vice President's wealth via his Haliburton shares, further fueling the controversy. According to the recent Bob Woodward book, the Vice President was a leading proponent of the Iraq war, described by some Administration insiders as having "war fever."

As Time reports, Vice President Cheney has previously denied being involved in the Haliburton contracting process, which involve no-compete bids.

Haliburton justifies its no-compete bids by claiming it is the only company capable of supporting the U.S. military, which may well be true.

The U.S. military has over the years become smaller by outsourcing a number of capabilities to private contractors such as Haliburton.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Pentagon Spy Photo Posted

Pentagon Spy: Intrigue, Politics, and Information Warfare
The infamous Pentagon Spy.

I decided to post a photo of the infamous Pentagon Spy (article), shown here posing outside what appears to be a restricted overseas facility. I digitially blurred the face for some Geneva Convention reason. Yeah, that's it, the Geneva Convention. Note trademark tie-dye shirt uniform (he works as a contractor for Donald Rumsfeld, one wonders if he copied the Duke character straight from the pages of Doonesbury). He appears to live the millionaire lifestyle on two coast. Yes, this is a real person, folks.

U.S. Airport (In) Security





US Airport (In)Security: politics of cutting only the right locks
U.S. Airport (In)Security





On a recent trip, the U.S. Transportation Security Agency (TSA) that now does all baggage screening decided to cut open my TSA-approved Travel Sentry (link) lock.

Now, travelers through U.S. airports these days are told to use plastic ties rather than locks, because locks might be cut by the TSA. However, the TSA has keys to the locks made under their Travel Sentry program, and, as the poster (photo) shows, the TSA isn't supposed to cut these locks.

The lock (photo) clearly has the TSA Travel Sentry logo on it, and is labeled "TSA 001", presumably meaning TSA key 001.

Now I don't know if TSA-approved locks are a good idea. All of the ones I've seen use key TSA 001, and it's not clear how well they keep these keys under control. Presumably, TSA key 001 is the same key that came with my locks, so I now have a key to all of the TSA-approved locks in the world (or at least a significant fraction thereof). So, using a TSA-approved lock is sort of like using a lock that everyone has a key to. sort of like no lock at all. The plastic ties with serial numbers might be a better idea, since with the numbered ties one at least knows if the bag has been opened.

It was nice of TSA, however, to return the (now useless) lock to me. The pieces were taped to a part of the "Baggage Inspection Notice", right over the paragraph that explains that the TSA is absolutely not accountable for any damage it does to luggage or locks (no matter how stupid, as in this case, cutting their own TSA-approved locks). The taped mess was then taped inside the bag, and the blue TSA seal (photo) with identifying serial number (photo) was used to re-seal the bag.

The TSA notice (photo) gives an email and photo where one can presumably call, give the serial number of the TSA tie, and they will then explain how they are not accountable to the people, no matter how inexplicable their actions are. I didn't try this --- presumably calling up the TSA to complain about opened baggage is, in itself suspicious --- maybe they'll open all of my bags from then on. (More below on TSA antics).

This is sort of the opposite of democracy. In democracy, governments are supposed to be accountable to the people. But the TSA loudly proclaims that it is not accountable, even when it does something inexplicable like opening its own locks.

This is a $5.00 lock, so this isn't about the money. If the TSA training is so poor that they can't recognize their own TSA-approved locks (or find the key to open these), how can they possible recognize sophisticated terrorists?

U.S. Comedian Mark Russell, in a recent comedy TV special, commented on his experiences with the TSA. "If anyone meets the INS [terrorist] profile, it's the baggage screeners." He then cites the statistics, of how "only 60%" of simulated dangerous weapons, such as a simulated guns or large knives, were successful confiscated by U.S. airport security. "But 100% of tiny cosmetic tweezers" were confiscated by the TSA, citing his own experiences.

One of the linked blogs talks about that author's experiences having (dull) butter knives taken away by security, only to have very similar metal knives distributed by the cabin crew during meal time. He photographed the cabin crew giving him one such dull butter knife. He then stashed the dull knife in his carry on bags for another trip, and when foreign airport security later tried to take it away, he showed them the photo of the same knife being given him by a cabin crew, and asked to have them pose for a photo of it being taken away. "Oh, it's not dangerous; you can keep it." When he tried the same thing at US airports, the knife was unceremoniously taken away.

My own experiences have been equally strange. During the days of secondary screenings back in 2003, one TSA inspector found my business cards, about 10 of them. "That's quite a stack" he said, and carefully examined the business cards. "That's a small number of cards for a conference!" I protested. What really seemed to irk him was not the business cards per se, but what was written on their --- the title on the cards was much more impressive than his own. (Now I keep my business cards in checked-in baggage.)

Satisfied there was nothing hidden in the business cards, but still intimidated by the information on the cards, he then accused me (out of the blue) of hiding "shivies" in unusual places on my person, and said he would need to strip search me. This suggested to me that he had recently worked as a prison guard. (People out free in the "real world" don't need to make their own knives.)

I asked whether he wanted me to strip here and now in front of everyone in the terminal (the plane was about to leave because the screeners had waited until the last minute to conduct the "secondary screening"), or whether there was a screened-off area where the strip search was to be done.

At this point, he accused me of not being cooperative, and threatened all sorts of nasty things. I thought I was being very cooperative --- I was eager to get the strip search over with and get on the plane before it left and I missed my meeting. Maybe I was being uncooperative by being suspiciously over cooperative, I don't know.

At this point I simply fell silent and looked at him as if he was crazy (which, at this point, I strongly believed he was). He backed down and let me board the plane without a strip search --- I don't think he seriously believed I was hiding weapons. He just felt intimidated by my job description and decided to try something sadistic. The TSA baggage screener, in this case, definitely fit the profile of a potential terrorist, I would say --- violent, sadistic, and slightly crazy.

As I've read elsewhere, some believe the main point of the new airport security is actually aimed at Americans. Americans figure, 'no pain, no gain', so there are now a bunch of nasty people at airports whose job it is to harass everyone (from the young to elderly Swedish grandmothers) trying to board an airplane. Sort of like the "people greeters" at Wall Mart, except they make you feel unwelcome rather than welcome. Everyone feels harassed, so Americans now they feel much safer --- something, at least, is being done to improve their security. This has sort of been my experience as well.

Maybe this is part of the Administration's plan. The government figures that there are the potential terrorists are out there amongst the flying public (about one in 100 million or so). There's no easy way to tell potential terrorists from everyone else, so they'll just have these mean guys routinely accuse just about everyone --- young, old, rich or poor, male or female --- of being a terrorist before they board the plane. By intimidated everyone, they will intimidate the terrorists as well. It's simple logic, and the current Administration is good with simple logic.

And, yes, the TSA hasn't yet been properly trained, either. So they will cut your TSA-approved lock as well, even though they aren't supposed to. Maybe they'll cut these locks just because they aren't supposed to. It'll intimidate terrorists more if the TSA (and other parts of the Administration's security efforts, like the intelligence operatives in Iraqi prisons) frequently do things they aren't supposed to. Especially things that don't inspire confidence or make much sense. Or promote a rational functioning democracy. Maybe that's the point.

Maybe cutting your TSA-approved locks is just another part of their vast evil scheme.

Friday, May 28, 2004

Fruits of Terrorism: Talk Radio Hate Crime Vandalism Part 2

Here is the promised vandalism photograph from my last post:




Pragmatism and common sense are one of the threads that links together all of the world's great nations, past and present. Americans, in particular, were traditionally famous for their practicalility and common sense.

Indeed, our democracy depends on rational discourse to function optimally. Terrorism seeks to undermine that democracy and practicality by inflamming violent passions on all sides.

With the beheading of Nick Berg, the terrorists succeeded in arousing those passions, as the above photo proves.

With an eye on the upcoming elections (and a need to counterbalance unfavorable news from Iraq) local conservative groups (and, yes, our local conservative AM talk radio stations) also found the beheading politically useful. They have made themselves the terrorists' unwitting accomplice. One sees similar things in other countries that have experience with terrorism.

By recognizing what is happening, however, there is some chance we may yet reverse terrorism's ill effect on our national psyche.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Talk Radio Hate Crime Vandalism

Exclusive to Dear Free World



About two weeks ago, before I started this blog, I noticed some very ugly graffiti in one of my employer's washrooms that was accessible to the general public.

The graffiti was written in a heavy, black marker in large font, and entirely defaced several stall walls.

The graffiti began by attacking "liberals" in the United States that didn't understand the danger this country was facing. It explained at length why all Muslims and Arabs supposedly hate us, why they were supposedly all potential terrorists, and they would supposedly all kill us if they had the chance, and it was therefore supposedly OK to kill all of them on the basis of religion. It went on at great length (using up two walls), and even included quotes from the Koran authorizing followers to kill "infidels", except that "infidel" was replaced with "Christians" in his version.

It was obviously written in response to the Iraqi prison scandal, attempting to justify the war crimes that occurred there.

This was, of course, both a hate crime and an example of vandalism. There were all sorts of legal ways this "gentleman" could have expressed his opinion, however ugly they are. He could, for example, have started a blog rather than vandalize a public bathroom.

The "gentleman" is, of course, mistaken. Many Arabs and Muslims are, in fact, helping us in the war on terrorism. My understanding is that there are very few non-Muslim Farsi and Arabic speakers in the United States, and that our federal government was rather in need of them for intelligence work following 911. I understand that vast majority of American Muslims have been very loyal to this country for the opportunities and freedom of religion our country has provided them.

Of course, unfortunately, a tiny minority of Arabs and Muslims have come under the influence of war profiteers (related article [1]) and hate mongers in their own culture just as some of "our" people (i.e., non-Muslim Americans, the group I belong to) have come under the influence of war profiteers (related article [2]) in our own.

This does not justify war crimes. Certainly nothing can justify the cruel, inhuman torture of taxi drivers and ordinary Iraqis seized in random raids on the mere suspicion they might possess some intelligence. High ranking U.S. military officers informed the IC Red Cross that 70-90% of the people being held at Abu Gharib were completely innocent. Our soldiers, the extremely well-paid private contractors that supervised them, and the highest levels of the Bush Administration that authorized these atrocities, or turned a blind eye to them, were completely out of control. Or so the best facts I am able to assemble strongly suggest. They suggest an Administration willing to engage in war crimes rather than admit to serious mistakes and disappoint its war profiteering campaign contributors.

Conservative AM talk radio, owned and controlled by the same media companies whose illegal combinations it seems are being deliberately ignored by the FCC, at first said these war crimes were just college "fraternity hazings." If people die or are raped at fraternity hazings, the fraternity leaders go to jail. If college administration covers up for that fraternity, the administrators go to jail, at least in the United States. The evidence suggests the Bush Administration covered up for these war criminals. They certainly were not anxious for these cases to go to trial before the November elections. They never believed those explosive photographs they had classified would become public.

Conservative AM talk radio, anxious to keep the Bush Administration in White House, talk hate. You could see it on the conservative blogs as well. The liberals were at fault. The media was dominated by "liberals" trying to brainwash the American public. (The media is controlled by very conservative corporations. True, most Americans are Democrats, and some large corporations try to appeal to that market niche.)

"Liberals" hated this country, or so the conservative AM talk radio demagogues, under the influence of their pay masters in corporate America, kept telling the public. And we ended up this "gentleman" who felt so threatened by the "liberal" bogeymen in America that he felt compelled to complete vandalize a public washroom.

It's dangerous to have an unstable person like this running around. And it was obviously a hate crime as well as vandalism. So I reported it to the police. It's not clear how seriously they took it. However, I also reported it to the facilities maintenance people, who, I was told, would make a full police report prior to removing the graffiti.

It is not clear whether a formal police report was ever filed. However, I have never seen facilities here move so quickly. The graffiti was removed seemingly overnight; I did not even have a chance to take a digital photograph for the press or for this future blog. This is clearly not an image we wanted to project to the public.

I brought the issue up the next day in a meeting of our group here. We are a moderate workplace in a moderate community here in Southern California. Everyone agreed that it was a hate crime, it was vandalism, and a person doing something like this was obviously unstable and dangerous. Three years ago we would have considered this a hate crime. Today we would still consider this a hate crime-most of the world's 1 billion Muslims are more or less living in peace with us, and some are actively help us in the war on terror. Preaching this type of hatred was likely only to lead to both additional terrorism and additional, unconscionable anti-Islamic and anti-Arab violence. Everyone agreed. "What was written there was unconscionable," said a senior person. Everyone agreed that calling the police was the right thing to do.

Seeing this was one of things that convinced me to start a blog. We must end this divisiveness in America.

"Liberals" do not hate America, but have a substantial disagreement about what policy is best for America (and whether the Bush Administration even knows what it is doing as he seems to be ignoring even their best conservative advisors in favor of the advice of self-interested war profiteers and such persons).

For that matter, I am not sure I would even consider myself a true "liberal." I have supported Republican candidates, even recently for local office, when I believed they would do a better job than their "liberal" challengers.

I supported Bush after 911; even "liberal" former President Clinton did. He told of us, quite correctly, how important political unity is in a time of great danger. Ultimately, however, we are a democracy. A democracy is, as I have explained repeatedly in this column, simply a system of processing information in order to make social decisions to complicated for any single individual to decide for himself or herself. Debate, and a free press, is needed for that system to operate. Otherwise we shall simply have government of the war profiteers, by the war profiteers, and for the war profiteers, which it sometimes seems is what we have now.

Earlier today, the graffiti resurfaced on the same bathroom stall. This time it was concise, but in the same large handwriting, and same thick black marker. It no longer attacked Arabs, focusing this time on "liberals":

"F****** liberals - you hate America? [new line] Go to Iraq like Nick Berg did," the graffiti read. Nick Berg was the private American humanitarian recently graphically beheaded on videotape in Iraq by al Queda in an effort to fog our reason.

It's not clear if this is hate crime- he is clearly threatening "liberals", and feels threatened by "liberals," but he didn't attack a religion or ethnic group. It is certainly still vandalism, and done by the same person that committed the earlier hate crime vandalism.

This time I photographed it. Perhaps I will post it here someday.

I will again report it to the police, facilities, and small-time local media here. It's not clear if they will do anything, besides quickly erase it again.

I hope our community leaders, or at least the local media, will better educate the public against this scourge of conservative talk radio demagogues and their self-interested, war profiteering masters (related article [2]). 911 (related article [3]) was suffering enough.

Think tank concludes al-Qaida ranks swelling

Reuters has an article on an IISS report that al-Qaida ranks are swelling internationally.

The London-based IISS is the world's most respected foreign policy think tank outside of the United States. They conclude, as some experts had warned prior to the warn, that the Iraq war has swelled the ranks of al-Qaida internationally and that U.S. unilateralism has deeply divided the once-formidible global anti-terror coliation that formed following 911.

They also conclude that 500,000 troops would be needed to police and stabilize Iraq. This is similar to the earlier 450K estimate by the Rand Corporation, a military think-tank sponsored by the U.S. military. (related article: 1).

The conclusions of a number of bi-partisan and highly respected foreign policy think tanks are considerable at odds with Bush Administration prophesies. These think tanks have a history of being right when they've disagreed with the Bush Administration. It's important that public understand this so that it can make correct decisions in the upcoming elections.

related articles:

1.

bin Laden family to build world's tallest twin towers in Dubai

Alternet is carrying a frightening Pacific News Service story that the bin Laden construction family has just received a contract to build the world's tallest twin towers in Dubai.

Even the Arab sources cited were troubled by the symbolism of all of this. Were the bin Ladens or their clients trying to signal that Dubai was to replace New York as the business capital of the world? Why were twin towers chosen as the design? And what is the symbolism behind selecting the bin Ladens, whose infamous relative Osama destroyed the New York towers, to complete the construction?

The Saudis royal and bin Laden troubling business ties with the Bush family have been a frequent topic in this blog. (related articles: 1 2 ).

The bin Ladens in the U.S. on 9/11 should have been interviewed by the FBI. Instead, the Bush Administration arranged a special charter flight out of the country while the FAA grounded all other flights.

The Bush family has vital business interests with the Saudi royals and the bin Ladens, and after 9/11 those interests still trumped national security. It seems joint business ventures between the Saudis and the Bushes are where the Bush family makes most of its money. So the bin Ladens got a "get out of the U.S. free" card.

One way to think about the bin Laden family cartel is as a mafia, with Osama bin Laden and the terrorist fanatics he controls as the enforcers. It can't hurt business if clients think Osama is less likely to bring down a building if it's built by The Family.

These people should be investigated under anti-terrorism and anti-organized crime laws, not given special privileges denied to everyone else.

Related articles:

1 2

This blog banned in China


Support Adopt a Blog


My last article (here) briefly mentions activities of the Chinese government.

There have also been other articles on the theory of freedom of the press, and why censorship benefits ruling cliques at the expense of the rest of society (articles: 1 2 3).

I was thought we might get some comments from readers in China on these and other articles. After all, over 250 million Chinese people reportedly speak good English, and a rising middle class there has access to the Internet.

However, we get absolutely no hits from China.

Now I know why. (See icon and link above)

Blogspot.com, our ISP, and other blogging sites are blocked in China. Blogspot.com has been blocked since January 2003.

What's the nuclear-armed Chinese government afraid of?

http://dear-free-world.blogspot.com, among many others, that's what.

Censorship of the press (and Internet) is obviously a big problem in China.

Unfortunately, China is not the only P5 member of the UN Security Council very interested in press censorship of late.

"There ought to be limits to freedom" -- then-candidate for US President George W. Bush, famously responding to an Internet parody site. Since then, a variety of prominent Americans, including PBS filmmaker Ken Burns, filmmaker Michael Moore, and even some prominent CBS anchors have blasted a growing "culture of censorship" in the U.S. under the Bush Administration (article). I'd prefer if the U.S. didn't try to emulate the communists.

Monday, May 24, 2004

911 Memoir

September 11, 2001

On that fateful morning, I was working at a computer terminal in a coastal suburb near New York City.

I remember having a strange sense that something was not right, beginning with an unusually loud bang outside. In hindsight, I was directly under the flight path of the National Guard fighter jets that had been scrambled in from Massachusetts, and the loud band was a rare overland sonic boom.

Then came an eerie quiet. Something was missing. Something important.

It was the noise pollution from aircraft --- the constant roar of jet and propeller airplanes overhead --- that are the constant of urban life in the United States.

It was as if the world had suddenly gone to sleep. Even the birds seemed much quieter than usual, sensing something was wrong.

Indeed, a toxic plume of dust hung menacingly over the area. Satellite photos showed that the heaviest concentrations had followed the coast in the opposite direction from where we were located, but there seemed a strange, acrid dust in the air nevertheless.

The boom and the lingering silence gave the distinct impression that something was wrong, but I had deadlines to meet and focused on my work at the computer terminal. I convinced myself that anticipation of an incoming Noreaster had stilled the birds and silenced the aircraft, or some other, innocent explanation must account for it. Supersonic aircraft were not normally permitted over land, and I assumed the noise was that of an engine loudly misfiring or some such other trivial urban occurrence. I had deadlines to face and could not be bothered trying to explain these things.

Then, my colleagues and I received an email from the head of our organization stating. It stated, cryptically, that something had happened in nearby New York City. "Many of us have lost friends and loved ones," the email continued.

We found a television and collectively turned on CNN. And there it was. The terrorist attack on New York City, our great city, which we had all subconsciously feared would sooner or later come. I remember thinking, "It could have been worse. It could have been nuclear."

It was immediately clear to me that this was an act of war, and that a foreign state would need to be held responsible for sponsoring the terrorist organization behind this incident. I drafted an email to my colleagues, "Your nation is at war." I wrote urging them to remember the World War II propaganda film Mrs. Miniver, still shown occasionally on American public television. The film was reportedly produced to show characters acting sensibly under the adverse conditions of war, in the hopes that viewers, then facing similar conditions, would do the same. The mayor of New York City would later also invoke the spirit of World War II in the eloquent words of Winston Churchill, and would receive a knighthood for it.

Later that day, the President, other politicians, and newscasters would being echoing that shared sentiment. The war drums had begun beating in earnest.

Nevertheless, the suspicion remained in my mind that Administration incompetence had likely lead to this travesty. Many Americans remembered the Florida debacle, and questioned both the Bush Administration's legitimacy as well as its competence to govern.

Indeed, foreign policy experts would eventual debate whether Bush's earlier decision to withdraw troops from the Middle East following the U.S.S. Cole incident had sent a message of weakness to the terrorists, emboldening them. These suspicions would confirmed later following the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. Interviews with captured Al Queda terrorists indeed confirmed that many believe the American public to be cowardly. They reported believed, based on their observation of Bush's weak response to the U.S.S. Cole incident, that a more vicious attack, such as happened on 911, would be sufficient to cause the U.S. to completely withdraw from the Middle East. Instead, exactly the reverse happened. The U.S. reaction, especially the degree of anger felt by the U.S. public, caught them completely off-guard.

Unfortunately, it seems the Bush Administration decided, perhaps as early as 911, to invade Iraq as well. According to respected journalist Bob Woodward, Rumsfeld remarked there were few targets for precision bombing in Afghanistan. Bush should consider attacking Iraq instead, which was a more target rich environment. According to Woodward, Colin Powell, upon hearing these remarks, at first thought Rumsfeld was joking, but realized afterwards he was not.

Whatever the merits of the invasion, it's clear there was a long-standing plan to invade Iraq within certain segments of the Bush Administration. 911 brought this group to power and gave them the excuse they needed.

Ironically, all this seems to have come about due to earlier errors the Administration made. Initially, some foreign policy experts cited the Administration's weak response to the U.S.S. Cole bombing, but subsequent investigations by the 911 commission show that information regarding the attacks was within the pipeline. Had the Administration taken the information seriously, and brought together a Principals Meeting, the attacks might have been diverted. The Panel also suggested that had some of the information been made public, the attacks also would have likely been prevented due to the documented extreme caution exhibited by the hijackers.

So the Administration was asleep at the wheel prior to 911. They then used 911 as an excuse to invade Iraq. Today, they are trying to use 911 as a campaign issue, suggesting that the Administration was adept at handling terrorism, when, in fact, the evidence suggests exactly the opposite was true, at least prior to 911.

The local evening news that night broadcast images of dust-covered commuter trains bringing dust-covered New Yorkers home for the night. Commercial breaks were replaced with reruns of the fiery deaths of thousands of people and satellite photographs of an ashen haze moving along the coast. A sense of unease pervaded the land.

The next day, some foreign national co-workers approached me about signing a petition. "Many people have died," the petition read, "but many more can be saved" by not going to war. I knew that this was fallacy.

Ignoring such a provocation was a recipe for disaster: it would invite further attacks from the terrorists, perhaps with tens of thousands or millions of casualties the next time around. These nihilistic barbarians spoke only of death for non-believers, and the power vacuum they would create, if allowed to succeed in their monstrous plans, would condemn the world to another dark ages.

Watching C-SPAN the following day confirmed my worst suspicions. C-SPAN showed a number of foreign newscasts. The Chinese government English-language broadcaster was the only one to carry the petition, claiming that Americans were circulating it. (My experience was that it was most actively pushed by foreign nationals here in the U.S.). More suspiciously, the Chinese broadcaster carried the petition as its top international news story, while all other major outlets, most of them far more respected, failed to carry the story at all.

America, a land of immigrants, has traditionally been one of the most hospitable people on Earth. As a result, American industry derives enormous economics benefits from highly skilled foreign nationals here in the United States --- especially from China --- resulting in a higher standard of living for all Americans.

Nevertheless, there had been mainstream media reports prior to 911 that some Chinese nationals here in the U.S. were supposedly kept under tight control by their home government, and had been organized, often unwittingly, into "cells" to enable a rapid response in the event of an emergency. Had these "cells" been activated following 911 in an unsuccessful attempt to generate an anti-war movement?

These "cells", of course, often consist no more of social email lists maintained by a contact person known to the government or higher-ranking contact person. These lists normally broadcast emails related to social or charitable activities, allowing the unwitting "cell" members to familiarize themselves with each other. Hopefully, at an opportune time, these can then be catalyzed into action by the cell leader on cue from the foreign government.

It was claimed following 911 that entire world felt sympathetic. This was only partially true. I had an opportunity to observe overseas reactions during a trip abroad a few weeks after 911, and it was clear that decades-old anti-Americanism was still firmly in place, much exacerbated the more because of the Bush Administration's unusually unilateralist stance taken immediately after they came into office. I describe my experiences in an earlier article here.

Before we condemn this foreign government too harshly, however, we must remember that we derive enormous benefits from the presence of foreign national guest workers here in the U.S. The U.S. Pentagon has tried to do the same thing with Americans here in the U.S. (and perhaps overseas), ostensibly for defense. As I describe in the aforementioned article, however, there is evidence exists of darker, political intentions. I chronicle the DOD's efforts to organize unwitting Americans into so-called "intelligence fusion cells" in an earlier post. These are very similar to what this foreign government was rumored to have: email contact lists maintained by a DOD government operative.

Members of the DOD "cell" are familiarized with each other through chartable or other social activities organized through the email list, so that the cell may spring into action in the event of an emergency. Some of these cells are more or less overt, involving first responders specifically brought together to train how to handle a terrorist attack. Other cells are more clandestine, with the participants not told they are to be part of a U.S. government-sponsored intelligence cell. For more information, see my prior post on this, and darker DOD activities (here).

Ultimately, the problem with the foreign national's circulation of the petition was not that they had been unwitting organized into cells, or that some foreign news broadcasts suggested the petition was being orchestrated from abroad.

The problem was that a petition campaign by non-nationals was illegal. Visa holders (as these were) are not allowed to engage in political activities. And organizing a petition orchestrated by another country immediately following a national emergency certainly constitutes political activity.

Perhaps the petition drive organizers soon awoke to political reality, realizing that only a firm response would protect civilization from further attacks. Or, perhaps, the organized political activity by non-nationals came to the attention of U.S. authorities. In any event, the petition campaign soon died.

The fiery rain of ash that released the souls of thousands of men and women from their bodily cages and turned vital infrastructure into a cloud of toxic haze made 911 a truly frightening time for Americans and the world. Intrigue by overseas nationals and governments, as well as likely political intrigue here at home, further contributed to the sense of unease.

Americans assumed that their leaders would conscientiously carry out a vigorous new foreign policy, designed to protect America's vital interests. Recent events have cast doubt on whether this actually happened, or whether what was implemented was recklessly designed chiefly to enrich further an already privileged few.

Andy Rooney "genuinely worried" on 60 Minutes

Funnyman Andy Rooney had an unusually sober piece in yesterday's Six Minutes (U.S. CBS Network).

"For the first time" "I'm genuinely worried" about the future of this country, the future of his grandchildren. He fears we might have "lost something" important, and worries are current actions smack of the "arrogance" of "Greek and Roman" civilizations from "our history books" that have long since died.

Add Andy Rooney to the list of concerned voices about the current Administration's lack of commitment to the rule of law, a traditional American value.

No doubt millions will take note of the sudden loss of his sense of humor this week.

Retired 4-star general blasts Pentagon leadership on 60 Minutes

In yesterday's Six Minutes television program (U.S. CBS network), retired four star general Antony Zinni blasted Rumsfeld and non-conservatives planners in the Pentagon.

"There has been poor strategic thinking in this," Zinni said. "There has been poor operational planning and execution on the ground. And to think that we are going to 'stay the course'; the course is headed over Niagara Falls. I think it's time to change course a little bit, or at least hold somebody responsible for putting you on this course. Because it's been a failure."

"And what we have become now in the United States, how we're viewed in this region is not an entity that's promising positive change. We are now being viewed as the modern crusaders, as the modern colonial power in that part of the world."

Zinni said Rumsfeld and deputy Wolfowitz should accept responsibility and resign.

Zinni served as commander-in-chief of the US Central Command from 1997 to 2000 and was in charge of all US troops in the Middle East. He expressed his reservations about Pentagon war planning in testimony to Congress prior to the start of the recent Iraq war. He recently published a book together with Tom Clancy, "Battle Ready" in which he accuses Pentagon leaders of "at a minimum, true dereliction, negligence, and irresponsibility, at worse, lying, incompetence and corruption" in planning the Iraq war.

See earlier posts on the topic of Pentagon leadership (1 2 3)

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Ken Burns blasts Bush and "culture of censorship" in U.S.

AP has an article about Ken Burns' speech earlier today criticising President Bush the existance of apparent "culture of censorship" in the U.S.

A response to my Jordanian "friend's" comments on sending "The Women" to Iraq

Earlier today, "July _1960" an apparent Arab Nationalist from Jordan (at least according to his/her internet domain and selection of an alias) posted comments to this blog in which he/she suggested that the war on Iraq was "all lies" costing needless lives and implied that Saddam was better than Bush, challenging me to a response.











The Jordanian was responding to my article "Send 'The Women' to Iraq" (here) in which I relayed public comments by US military officers that they were most afraid of single, liberal, educated 30-something American "females" arriving in Iraq who "meant well" but were, they felt, naive.

Judging from the comments, I think the Jordanian may have misinterpreted the site. This is by no means a pro-Bush or pro-Iraq War blog. Nevertheless, his comment warrant a response.

These American "females" were no doubt a threat to the Pentagon (in a humorous sort of way) because they had a conscience and would no doubt object to some of the war crimes committed there --- probably the last people on Earth the Pentagon would want snooping around Iraq. They would probably have the idea that holding rock concerts in Iraq, say war opponents Sheryl Crow or the Dixie Chicks (photos and links to websites above), might more effectively establish democracy there than dropping bombs.

No doubt others in the Arab world would consider them a threat as well. The autocratic religious demagogues that currently hold much of the power in the part of the world no doubt consider them a dangerous influence. In short, everyone is afraid of these American liberal "females", and it's too bad the security situation has gotten so out of hand we can send this alternate viewpoint over there to help out with the NGO and humanitarian effort. This was the point, both humorous and serious, that I was trying to make.

But I'd like to respond to the comments. First of all, I believe there are some cultural differences between the Arab world and intellectual in the West. I understand that Middle Eastern culture is a very old culture and, like many cultures, tends to be very concerned with the past. They are deeply concerned about remedying past perceiving injustices to restore their "honor." They have a cultural passion for history as well, especially regarding Islam and past Islamic and Arab greatness.

The West considers itself pragmatic. We believe in progress. We know we cannot change the past, and so tend focus only on the present and the future. We are only concerned about the past inasmuch as it teaches us how to improve the future. (Of course, we do understand the importance of justice in building a prosperous future, and so we are concerned about past crimes that have not been brought to justice).

The West has had its own share of suffering. We've had two world wars in which there were many displaced refugees. These were not limited to any particular ethnic group, although some ethnic groups suffered much more than others. Many families in the United States have had relatives who were refugees that lost everything in these wars. Although occasionally there is a cry for justice, it is muted. Why? Because, in the meantime these families focused on the future. Most of these families eventually regained their former prosperity through pragmatism. As they had little or no power over the past (or any ability to correct these massive injustices) they let God worry about the past. They worked hard to build a future for themselves, which is something they had control over.

I, in large, share these views. So, while I am concerned with the sense in the Middle East that there are injustices and crimes that are not being addressed, I am much more concerned with future of Middle East than the past.

I would, however, like to learn the truth of what happened there so that justice can be achieved and so that history does not repeat itself.

This is why I believe a free press is so important. It is a fundamental tool of democracy, as it helps citizens make the right decisions about events. Disinformation is the tool of demagogues (see earlier article here) --- small cliques that benefit at the expense of the rest of which there are many in the Middle East.

My own experience in interacting with Middle Easterners is that there is a huge amount of state-sponsored propaganda. Even Middle Easterners with PhDs from elite Western universities and husbands working in the West were apparently seduced by their state controlled media upon returning home into accepting bizarre conspiracy theories. Eight weeks after September 11, they believed, incredibly, that the 911 hijackers were all Israelis. (See my article here on need for U.S. to combat this complete misinformation). There was massive evidence in the world media at point that the 911 hijackers were mainly Saudis whose names were known, and I struggled to relate this.

There are growing concerns with media censorship in the West, especially the United States. Television and radio stations in the United States are regulated by the Bush-controlled FCC, and many TV and radio stations owners seem reluctant to incur the wrath of the Administration out of apparent fear of arbitrary of FCC decisions.

The statistics bear this out:



This is also a concern for print media, as our most prominent newspapers make most of their money off TV and radio stations that they also own. However, as shown in the graphic above, print media was far more accurate (and far more critical of the Administration) than TV and radio.

I feel strongly that good information is vital to allowing democracy to function and allowing the future to be built. (See article here).

Some privilege cliques in society unfortunately prefer disenfranchise and propaganda as tools to enrich themselves at the expense of everyone else. This is clearly a huge problem in the Middle East, but also a growing problem here at home.

This is my answer to the overseas poster. I don't know if Bush is better than Saddam. (Six months ago, prior to the war crimes in the prison abuse scandal surfacing, I would have thought Bush better.) I don't why people died in the Iraq war, or whether it was "all lies" or was "justified." (Even former President Clinton believed that Saddam might have WMDs and constituted a threat, so arguments continue to be made either way).

I do know that it is vitally important that a free press here and overseas air the truth, so that we, at least in the free world, can make correct decisions and build a sunnier future for everyone.

I thank the poster for participating in this process.

Michael Moore Wins Top Award at Cannes Film Festival

Filmmaker Michael Moore's (website) powerful anti-Bush documentary has won the Palme d'Or best film award, Cannes' most prestiguous film award (Reuters article).

After its initial showing, the film won a 10-20 minute standing ovation at Cannes, which added extra screenings due to the demand for the film.

The film, produced in American by an American filmmaker, will be distributed throughout the world except in the United States, where corporate politics has prevented the film's distribution so far, prompting cries of media censorship. (See earlier story).

Send "The Women" to Iraq?

One of the disinformation emails forwarded to me by the Pentagon Spy (article; news) was written, apparently for publication, by a young officer in Iraq.

He outlined what he felt Iraq did not need. He definitely did not want "30-something" single American women with college degrees, coming in and working for the NGOs to fulfill some idealistic urge. "They mean well," he wrote, but he felt they were naive and mettlesome.

Given how badly things have gone in Iraq, perhaps it's time to reassess this sentiment.

The stereotypical idealistic, liberal, young, intellectual American woman has some strange ideas in the sexist imagination --- they think, for example, that something like a rock concert for Iraqis might be more effective at achieving US policy aims than constantly dropping bombs. US soldiers there keep saying that "Arabs only understand force", but there's something to be said for putting a human face on an occupation. It might also combat the obvious sexism of the young military officers in Iraq.

No doubt they would have objected vociferously to the violations of International law over there --- perhaps this is why this is why the Pentagon Spy decided to forward me this particular piece of disinformation --- the Pentagon didn't want too many idealistic Americans with conscience snooping around over there given what was happening, and needed to come up with other reasons for them to stay home.

As I mentioned in my first post to this blog (here), there is a time for all things. There's time for dropping bombs (after you've been attacked) and a time for a sympathetic hand.

After the initial brutality of the Iraq war, a sympathetic hand may have been called for. As I mentioned in earlier articles (here) democracy hinges on respect, and democracy building hinges on respect between the people of the future democracy and the democracy builders. Given the likely lingering hostility between Iraqis and Americans following "shock and awe", this might have been a role best played by the UN had allowed them the role they sought at that time. Since then, the UN pulled out following the terrorist attacks on its Iraqi headquarters, so that time has come and gone.

I never known an army to complain about the arrival of single young women from their homeland. However, American women in NGOs in Iraq might be a bad idea given the insurgents use of kidnapping as a military tactic. Similarly, a rock concert for Iraqs would present too tempting of a target for terrorists, as well as potentially alienate the ultra-conservative religious leaders in the region.

However, liberal, educated women from countries not affiliated with occupation serving in UN-sponsored NGOs would probably have been a good idea earlier on.

It's probably too late now, but a more sympathetic face on the occupation (humanitarian aid and rock concerts instead of torturered detainees) might have done some good.

If that's what they're afraid of, let's send in the 30-something single women if it's not too late. They might give the war criminals over there a sense of shame.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Tech guru Richard Stallman briefly discusses "Pentagon Spy and Me" in blog

Free Software Founder, MIT Professor extradordinare, Genuis Award winner, and all-around tech guru Richard Stallman (RMS) comments briefly on "The Pentagon Spy and Me" in his political blog (here).

I don't think it's surprising the article would interest from the IT community, as these are the people who understand what I mean when I talk about data-mining and social network analysis, and other techniques discussed in the article. They know this technology is real, and they've been following mainstream press articles documenting the Pentagon's continued controversial interest in these technologies. (The rest of society glazes over when I talk about these things, unfortunately.)

Another concern for the free software community, of course, is that they clearly a target. The government contractor, with his flower child uniform, claimed (once got around to revealing he worked for DOD) that he was part of a group in DOD military intelligence that wanted to do things in a more open way. They were interested, for example, in free software.

(The same way that his"flower child" uniform suggests they are interested in monitoring pro-peace organizations, their disingenous appreication of free software and the "open" way of doing things suggests the free software movement may be another target.).

He claimed to have no interest in secrecy or security clearances. I confronted him on this, pointing out that someone without a security clearance is a nobody in intelligence circles. He eventually managed to convinced me (I won't say how) that he had a rather good security clearance. So much DOD's interest of going "open" on intelligence matters!

Foofocus.com, a blog compiling Internet information, theories, and outright disinformation on intelligence also links us (here), but with a little joke: "Citizens! Ready your tinfoil hats for: The Pentagon Spy and Me."

I suppose I'm now in a position to confirm that Pentagon does not use anything related to tinfoil hats, although the government contractor in question had doctoratoral-level training in a psychology-related field.

The defense intelligence contractor ("spy") had all sorts of ideas about using technology to influence people's minds. Not only email disinformation techniques, and social network analysis, but active "intervention." Which might take a variety of forms (most likely a physical visit by an operative, or worse, in the case of Iraqis, where this was also intended to be used).

He had other ideas about using common technology to facilitate DOD snooping, although these were more plausible for use mainly in Iraq, so I won't describe them here --- I'm mainly used about misuse of these technologies to inhibit democracy by spying on people that might disagree with official Administration police.

He did express an interest in brainfingering printing for use by marketing people, and forwarded me an article showing the use of MRIs by marketing people to determine how different people respond to different advertisements.

I recently saw an article in mainstream media on how the Republicans were now using MRI and brainfingerprinting technologies to analyze how "Democratic" and "Republican" "brains" respond differently to Republican ads for George Bush, in the hopes of optimizing these ads so that people respond better to them.

So these type of ideas are floating around between the Republicans, the DOD, and defense intelligence contractors spying both in the US and Iraq.

No tinfoils though --- MRI and brainfingerprinting are well established, open technologies, as are data-mining, social network analysis, and the DOD Total Information Awareness program.

People that understand these technologies are more likely to appreciate my admittedly highly technical posts on questionable DOD activities.

That's perhaps another danger of Rumsfeld's Transformation program to moderinize the US military --- necessary, perhaps, to keep DOD up to date, but dangerous new technologies may also be potentially confusing and cryptic to those entrusted with regulating our military.

Senator McCain is blasted by House Republicans for calling for fiscal responsibility

Yesterday, in a speach before a thinktank, Republican Senator McCain called for fiscal responsibility.

Never have we considered taxcuts while our young men and women were sacrificing themselves overseas --- certainly not taxcuts benefitting primarily our wealthiest citizens, McCain pointed out. Republicans used to stand for fiscal responsibility, but seemingly no longer do, McCain commented.

He was promptly blased by fellow Republican House speaker Dennis Hastard.

The Republican chair of the House Armed Services commitee also blasted Republican Senators for trying to investigate the prison scandal.

While the Republicans in the Senate reluctantly assume a spirit of bi-paritsanship out of growing concern over the Administration's handling of Iraq, Republicans in the House blast them for not blindly following the Administration's flag.

Bush's Saudi friends promise more oil in time for November

The Saudis and the strategic importance of oil have been a favorite subject of this blog. (see article).

Previously, we reported (see article) that Bandar, the Saudi ambassador to the US, had promised to help Bush win re-election by lowering oil prices.

Oil impacts the economy, and the economy has often determined the outcome of Presidential elections.

As described in previous posts, the Saudis maintain a strategic capability to turn on the oil spout at any time. They certainly have the capability to try to use oil to influence the US economy, and with it the general election in November.

Democrats are asking their supporters this week to point out how much money Bush's old oil buddies are making off the current shortages.

It's looking like Bandar is coming to Bush's rescue however: now that his buddies in the oil industry have had their fill, he hopes the gift from his Saudi friends will deliver enough of a stimulus to the US economy to deliver him victory in November.

The economy only predicts Presidential elections 80% of the time.

20% of time, the American public focuses on other issues, such as the complete departure from traditional American norms of international behavior and plain common sense often exhibited by ths Administration. This election will likely be one of those times.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Michael Moore gets rave reviews at Cannes

According to this article, Michael Moore's latest documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11, has opened to rave reviews at the Cannes film festival.

Even critics of Michael Moore, who cite his past tendency to often play fast and loose with facts and statistics, seemed impressed with this documentary.

Moore, reportedly more scholarly and careful than in past documentaries, argues that the Bush Administration was asleep at the wheel prior to 9/11, then used the attack as a pretext for a war on Iraq.

The film will be distributed nearly everywhere except the United States. Moore has accused Disney, which owns distributor Miramax, of trying to block the film's release in the U.S.; Disney has accused Moore of a publicity stunt. Miramax and Disney are in negotiations to try to allow Miramax to distribute the film in U.S.

Other distributors that had expressed interest, such as Mel Gibson's company, have seemed to lose interest. Gibson's company reportedly lost interest after feeling pressured by a Republican group. Moore has also insisted that any distributors that acquire the film agree to release it before the U.S. election in November.

However, responding to reporters following the extremely enthusiastic reception at Cannes, Moore promised a U.S. distributor would be found in time for the election.

With regards to media manipulation and propaganda, there are certainly some unusual happenings related to the current Administration, as I attest from personal experience. (See "The Pentagon Spy and Me".)

The Administration's links to the Saudis have been a topic of past and promised future posts (The CPD). I feel these links say more about the double-dealing nature of the wealthy Saudis involved than they say about the Bush Administration.

I've also argued against the growing perception of media censorship in the US. (May 12th post) Democracy is simply an information process tool to make important social decisions; censorship and tax-payer funded propaganda distort its mechanisms to favor ruling cliques over the good of the entire society.

It's refreshing that Moore's scholastic accuracy did not disappoint at Cannes, and that feels optimistic the film will ultimately be released in US in time for the election.

In view of the controversy and difficulties, I personally would like to see the film.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

The Pentagon Spy and Me

Update (May 29 2004): Photo of Pentagon Spy Posted


The infamous Pentagon Spy from the classic post 'The Pentagon Spy and Me', shown here posing outside what appears to be a restricted overseas facility. I digitially blurred the face for some Geneva Convention reason. Yeah, that's it, the Geneva Convention. Note trademark tie-dye shirt uniform and peace sign. (He apparently works as a military intelligence contractor for Donald Rumsfeld's DOD OSD and DOD ASD NII. One wonders if he copied the Duke character straight from the pages of Doonesbury.) He appears to live the millionaire lifestyle on two coast. Yes, this is a real person, folks.




The Pentagon Spy and Me
By E.E.A. Eaton
Originally Posted May 16 2004)


It was a spring day in 2002.

I had been invited to an "extravaganza." The details were vague-they were going to do something high-tech to help some local children. (The invitation suggested they were especially after scientific and technical talent, as well as the press).

The normally sunny SoCal sky had briefly opened up and allowed a little rain to slick up the roads.

Despite the slick roads and the vaguely worded invitation, I was eager to attend. The organizers, had what at first sounded like impressive academic credentials. They also had a mansion in one of the most expensive gated communities in Southern California.

I would later become very uncomfortable with this person. He kept insisting I should not tell other people about him, that he "didn't exist." Googling his name suggested otherwise - he ran several websites advertising his many mini-organizations, his appearance at several conferences, and his with two universities. They event hint vaguely at his involvement with DOD. According to Google, he definitely exists.

There were worrying things he would later tell me. In early 2004, he confided that liberals and Democrats, would "react strongly," he felt, if they learned of his activities, especially "in this Presidential Election year." Why? Why would anyone react strongly from activities designed to protect us from deadly enemies? By 2004, I had enough hints (and many megabytes of email attachments), to put the pieces together.

However, in 2002 I had recently relocated and knew none of this yet. Naturally, I was eager to make new friends in my new area. I was certainly intrigued to be invited to a mansion in a gated community that boasts Bill Gates and other celebrities as occasional residents.

At the party, I met the philanthropist, who turned out to be a highly-paid government contractor posing as an adjunct professor at two universities. I was articulate, highly-educated with diplomas from elite universities, traveled in privileged circles, and possessed considerable scientific and technical expertise that they found useful in the war on terror, so they were interested in me as well.

Even more intriguing, he was a right-wing ex-military Christian Fundamentalist who surrounded himself with military officers and other DOD types, all the while running around in tie-dye t-shirt (!) and effectively professing to be a flower child.

Now this was strange. I never did a straight answer at the party for what they were trying to do, or how this guy made so much money. (Or why military people would like to hang around with wealthy hippies.) One of his many organizations was trying to do something with sensors that it would supposedly help children, although the details were murky.

But, I don't know flower children that hung around military types - his business card even has him wearing a tie-dye t-shirt - so I decided to find out more.

In time it turned out that he spent considerable time working as an adjunct professor at two universities - one on each coast - and spent time flying between his SoCal mansion, the East Coast, D.C., and, later on, Kuwait and Germany.

For those who aren't familiar with academic titles, adjunct professors are not ordinary professors. Adjunct professors aren't eligible for tenure, and they don't normally get paid for their work. Rather, they are effectively volunteers with doctorates whom a university has allowed in their "club" in order to have access to students. (In some cases an adjunct professor may have a regular professorship in another department or university, but that was not the case here).

So how did this guy make his money? Well, it turned out he was a DOD government contractor with multi-million dollar grants. But he kept hinting that there was more than that-he was "below the radar," "didn't exist," had "top cover" and "top clearance" and simultaneously had another job in a "parallel" (i.e., "grey") universe.

I was very suspicious. By "top cover" he apparently meant "non-governmental" cover, where the U.S. government arranges a "non-governmental" cover employment for a U.S. intelligence agent - the most difficult type of cover for the US government to organize. I remembered reading that government employees or even the press were prohibited from revealing the names of people with "non-governmental" cover. Given the secrecy, wasn't breaking the rules by even hinting to me he had "non-governmental" cover? (I now understand one might even lose one's security clearance for hinting in this way.) He answered evasively. Ultimately, I would conclude that he likely didn't have "non-governmental" cover, as that would have been made him far more liable under US laws. Like the contractors in the recent Iraqi torture scandal (with which there is no evidence either way that he was involved in, although he would have been well-qualified as a torture expert), he was a very highly-paid DOD military intelligence government contractor with a security clearance, but nothing more.

Two years later, I would watch a PBS documentary on the CIA "Cointelpro" operation, in which CIA operatives would (illegally) infiltrate U.S. liberal anti-war groups in order to spy on and subvert them. They showed a picture of the operatives together, posing for an official picture - they all wore the same tie-dyed t-shirt uniform.

As you may recall from the recent New Yorker article, one of the criticisms against Rumsfeld is that he has tried to wrest control of U.S. intelligence away from the civilian CIA in favor of his own DOD intelligence. If Rumsfeld wanted to authorize such an operation today, one could naturally expect it to be carried out by DOD intelligence rather than the more professional (and more legally cautious) CIA in the State Department. So maybe this was a DOD copy of the old CIA Cointelpro operation to infiltrate US liberal groups, right down to the tie-dye t-shirt uniform. Except, as a further legal precaution, DOD used government contractors rather than government employees.

In any event, I was familiar with the ABC spy drama Alias. In Alias' first season, a corrupt organization (SD6) recruits people by pretending to be a CIA "black" operation using a front.

Worried that I might end up helping an SD6-like organization (or, more likely, a con-artist), I was very uncomfortable with this contractor's repeated hints that he was, in fact, a government spy, and pressed him to either provide at least a vague U.S. government job description, or stop making the claim. He would eventually submit that his job was to "make the invisible visible", i.e., provide civilians with hints of government classified technology, in order to acquaint them (vaguely) with government capabilities. The goal was to boast civilian capabilities as well as better coordinate civilian capabilities in the event of an emergency, such as a terrorist attack. All of this sounded laudable.

I was, ultimately, able to confirm his DOD connection. Some of his many emails to me contained email addresses at the DOD whose bona fides I could easily verify. I forwarded some of these people the emails under a pretense. I was genuinely concerned that some of the DOD emails might be classified, or might contain information the DOD did not want forwarded around. These emails were immediately forwarded back to government contractor, so the highest levels of DOD (OSD and ASD NII) were aware of him. His claims to be in frequent meetings with these people were evidently true.

Moreover, the DOD did not really seem to care who saw these emails. For the most part, they presented a sympathetic view of a DOD deeply concerned with medical care and telemedicine for refugees, modernizing its IT systems, as well as finding terrorists.

We now have a somewhat more accurate picture - DOD was interested in telemedicine, but mainly for wounded soldiers, not refugees. Refugees were left to NGOs. The Nova PBS program on military medicine makes this clear: an entire military hospital wing was left idle in Kuwait while the refugee crisis in Iraq unfolded. So most of this was propaganda, which is why DOD didn't care about the emails.

The only negative information about DOD in these emails would be in foreign press accounts that were daily translated by one of DOD's automated translation systems (this one run by a contractor), which translates an impressive fraction of the world's press each day, especially those related to the Middle East. These translations, or edited versions thereof, are made available to qualified subscribers, including some US NGOs and DOD contractors, but not to the US press corps.

My suggestion, based on theoretical grounds (see my earlier posts on the role of a free press in democracy) is that these translations should be provided on a subscription basis to US media organizations. I was repeatedly assured that these translated open-source media accounts, as well as the automated translation service, were completely unclassified and known to a number of gov't agencies, DOD and USAID contractors and even qualified NGOs.

As such, the government was doing translations anyway, so why not make them available, for a fee, to US media outlets? A delay could even be instituted if it was thought necessary. I pointed out that former U.S. Defense Secretary McNamara had recently made a documentary in which he claimed Kennedy would have made far fewer mistakes in Vietnam had facts known to the government been published in the newspapers.

Most key decisions in the U.S., as in any democracy, are made on the basis of open source information. There are entire ecosystems of think tanks and media organizations that daily filter open source information and ultimately digest it for analysis. However, close-source information is much more expensive to work with, and ultimate gets very little analysis. The DOD was not about to help the press do a better job of translating and reporting Arab media sources, however, so my arguments apparently fell on deaf ears. To this date, I do not believe this is service is available to US media subscribers.

He would go on to me that he ultimately wasn't that interested in the translation service. What he was primarily interested in were "intelligence fusion cells," and this is what he feared Democrats would "react strongly to" "in this Presidential election" year if they found out about it.

Now the idea of the "intelligence fusion cells" is that the cell leader, a government agent, tries to "befriend" people in the community who are influential or might have skills useful to the government. The "cell" then tries to "influence" those people (i.e., feeds them propaganda) as well as seek information from those people.

Members of the "cell" would also be asked (in subtle ways) to provide interesting information on other members of the community. I initially assumed they would only be interested if they felt the neighbors might have information on terrorists, but it would turn out in all sorts of things - who was influential, what people's political beliefs were, what people's employment situation was, how much money members of the cell made, &c.

Of course, the people in the "cell" would not be told that they were members of a "cell", or even that a member of DOD military intelligence was running the group. They would think (ideally) that were just part of an informal group of friends.

These "intelligence fusion cells" were ostensibly going to be applied in Iraq, so any U.S. versions would just be informal tests in preparation for that deployment. We now know, however, what U.S.' primary methods of intelligence in Iraq were (torture). Ultimately, it would become clear that the "fusion cells" were intended to be deployed in the U.S. (where such methods would be borderline legal, and were torture of random people for intelligence would be highly illegal).

These "fusion cells" were also described as having another purpose. Ostensibly, government agencies were trying to create a buffer between themselves and the general populace. Prior to 911, government intelligence agencies were notoriously non-communicative. Any communication with U.S. citizens was often one-way, with agencies barely even acknowledging receipt of information.Such a buffer would be useful, for example, in the event of an emergency, when intelligence might need to quickly community with key people in U.S. communities. This buffer would presumably present another way of selling the "fusion cell" on unsuspecting Americans.

Another, much more practical version of the "fusion cell" might involve the integrated emergency taskforces that have been set up after 911, where local responders can place themselves under unified command in the event of an emergency (terrorist attack). Clearly, such taskforces are necessary to the national defense. Hopefully, however, these are not seen as an opportunity to spy on local communities or "influence" (i.e., manipulate with disinformation) them.

It would eventually become clear to me that he considered me one of many members of a U.S. "intelligence fusion cell" designed to both spy on Americans, as well as manipulate them with disinformation. That was the purpose of his many, often seemingly random forwarded DOD emails that presented a picture of a laudable DOD, deeply concerned about Iraqi refugee's health, interaction with NGOs in Iraq, and a strict interpretation of the Geneva Convention. The DOD was interested in "fusion cells" and such things because it was deeply anxious to learn any information that might protect this country from another terrorist strike.

Ultimately, however, what "they" were really interested in had little to with even "intelligence fusion cells."

Recall that around 2002 or so the Pentagon was engaged in a controversial program called "Total Information Awareness." In this program, the Pentagon would use Information Technology to examine private information, like consumer credit cards and airline flight records, to automatically spot possible terrorists.

Privacy advocates were concerned that the government planned to repeat Vietnam-area abuses of using the technology on Democrats and anti-war advocates. They were also concerned that this technology sometimes malfunctioned in the case of similar-sounding names, for example, and that there was no procedure for getting one's name off such a watch-list in the event of an error. The total secrecy surrounding the program and serious lack of accountability were a further concern.

There were conflicting accounts in the mainstream media that the Pentagon had either abandoned "Total Information Awareness" or had, in reality, tried to continue the very controversial program, except under far greater secrecy and under a different name. I have no either whether this program was continued or not, but it became very clear that the contractor was very interested in anything that might prove useful in this type of endeavor.

I certainly considered this a laudable goal - any information technology designed to protect us from terrorists in the U.S. or anywhere in world was certain a good thing as far as I was concerned. I was a forwarded an unclassified DOD bid solicitation (now expired) for contractors that could put together IT technology to identify terrorist command and control structures from information such as credit card and telephone receipts. The solicit made clear that the DOD bid solicitation was non-public (although explicitly unclassified) and that DOD would decline all public comment or public acknowledgement of the solicitation.

Unfortunately, the contractor suggested that DOD was planning to use the system to analyze a number of US and internationally civil organizations as a "test of the system."

"If you lack the capability to dispense more than $X billion a year, you're not a player in the global who's who of organizations" he said. Many of these organizations weren't players, and therefore interesting as test cases, "sort of like shooting skeet."

The civil society organizations he was most interested in, and which he tried to elicit information on by sending many, many emails that obliquely referred to this organization, were elite organizations for high-profile and wealthy CEOs, celebrities and other highly successful people.

These organizations were the last place one would find a 911-type terrorist-full of only the most successful, extremely well educated, wealthy, and highly intelligent Americans. These were the sort of people one would expect to run the airline, not tell a flight instructor the were only interested in flying planes already in mid-air.

Why was the DOD contractor interested in "testing the system" to identify the command and control structures of these organizations, "sort of like shooting skeet." And why were so many emails spent on this when the real target, ostensibly, were terrorist organizations? And, finally, why did he fear that liberals and Democrats and others would "react strongly" "in this Presidential election year" if they learned of any of this?

The answer, most likely, lies in his tie-dye t-shirt, the uniform for those in the Vietnam era "cointelpro" program. The purpose of this program was to infiltrate, demoralize, and ultimately control or destabilize American organizations that might form the nexus of a anti-war movement or even a pro-Democratic Party movement. Those behind the program believed the war in Vietnam was so urgent that they needed to infiltrate an damage Democratic-leaning organizations to protect the war effort.

The flip side of this, of course, is that they were undermining democratic processes to perpetuate a failed policy. We didn't need to win in Vietnam to win the Cold War. Those opposed to the Vietnam War would ultimately present a persuasive case that our later efforts there, at the very least, were an unnecessary waste of lives and materiel.

I argued in my May 12th post that democracy is simply an information processing system for making difficult social decisions. Interfering with that apparatus by interfering with the free press or by organizing a grass-roots disinformation campaign, for example, damages that system, causing it to make incorrect decisions to detriment of the society. Such interference may benefit a small clique of self-interested individuals, such as war profiteers, however.

What we have here -these U.S. intelligence fusion cells, of which I was apparently part of - appear to be a high-tech, grass-roots disinformation campaign. This type of campaign can only damage the decision-making processes in a democracy, to the detriment of America, but most likely to benefit some small, greedy or power-hungry clique in the United States. This contractor certainly seemed to be doing very well financially.

The interest in elite US organizations, and the apparent campaign to use Information Technology to possibly map them out (supposedly as only a "test" of an anti-terrorist system) is even more troubling. During the Vietnam Era, many well-meaning, law-abiding people had their lives destroyed as a result of undemocratic, illegal efforts by our government to suppress dissent.

If this were indeed again the intent, the contractors fears that Democrats would "react strongly" "during this Presidential election year" become much clearer.

I'd like to end by emphasizing that it is by no means clear that any of this contractor's actions were ever authorized by the DOD or any other US government agency. This is an independent government contractor who may simply have been acting out for personal, partisan reasons. As in the case of the Iraq prison scandal, DOD contractors are outside the normal chain of command, and not subject to the same strict laws that govern the conduct of true DOD employees. In the Iraqi prison scandal, this seems to have been part of the plan - government contractors were used precisely because they would not be subject to the usual rules and regulations.

About the only thing that can be certain is that this DOD contractor was in the loop at the highest levels of the Pentagon planning (OSD and ASD NII). His superiors seemed extremely satisfied with his activities (which seemed to involve operating mainly in the United States and sending out a great deal of email). Financially, he was doing extremely well, living a lifestyle consistent only with at least a mid-six-figure salary, similar to the pay of the contractors in the prison scandal. Unlike the contractors implicated in the scandal (some of which were also based here in Southern California), it appears that this contractor was able to operate mainly in the safety of the United States, although he may have traveled to Kuwait. There is no evidence he was involved in torture, although his academic credentials would have made him extremely well qualified as a torturer.

So, again, I want emphasize --- these might have all been the private, legal partisan actions of a private DOD contractor, and, anything more is "fevered imagination" and "conspiratorial" "by individuals with little understanding of DOD" as DOD accused the New Yorker was accused of being yesterday (earlier post). But we can be sure DOD certainly seemed very happy with him.

The morals of story are:

(1) DOD government contractors working with OSD and ASD NII at the highest levels of the Pentagon may have used Information Technology (IT) to try to map out the command and control structures of elite U.S. civil society organizations (e.g., networks of Democratic PACs and such other networks) that could form the nexus of anti-war or anti-Republican movement, ostensibly as a "test" of an anti-terrorist system. These organizations are, incidentally, completely vulnerable to such an analysis.

(2) Avoid right-wing Evangelical Christians DOD contractors that insist on dressing like flower children while working for Rumsfeld.




Update (May 29 2004):

Related article: Tech-guru/MIT professor extraordinare publically comments on the "Pentagon Spy and Me" (link).

Dear Free World Home

President's Dinner and Republican "Inner Circle Club" Invites are out

The Republican have sent out the invitations to this year's "President's Dinner" in Washington DC in late July.

Tickets to black-tie fundraising dinner cost $2,500 each, or $25,000 to reserve your table of 10.

Although the dinner is held in the President's honor, there is no guarantee the President will attend even briefly. Some senior Republican members of Congress, it seems, will be attending, however briefly.

A fancy dinner and ball dance is promised, however, as are networking opportunities with fellow Republican contributors. No doubt fancy entertainment would be provided to distract paying attendees from the fact that most of the politicians mentioned on the invite had better things to do.

Last year's dinner invites were sent out by the former President Bush, who apologized at the end of the invitation that he also would not be able to attend "this import dinner" as he and wife Barbara Bush would be flying "overseas" on business. Apparently $2,500 was enough to be (briefly?) in the same room with Republican Senators, but not enough for former or current Presidents Bush to meet you. It was not clear from the letter how much such access would cost.

If you ignored the RSVP date last year, you would eventually receive a second invite reducing the price to $2,000, and throwing in membership in the Republican Congressional "Inner Circle Club."

This year, the two seem to have been combined --- $2,500 buys you both dinner and an Inner Circle Club membership. Inner circle "nominees" are given much more time to respond --- the same July RSVP deadline as for the dinner.

Last year, the "Inner Circle Club" membership promised two additional DC dinners, plus the email address of a congressional staffer dedicated to providing you with a personal response as to why President Bush was ignoring all of your policy suggestions. Inner Circle Club members would also be given an exclusive opportunity to do free consulting for the Republicans.

This year, the "Inner Circle Club" activities are being coordinated with the Republican Convention in NYC. Those who fork up the $2,500 will be given "cabinet level" briefings by congressional and Administrative staffers on an aircraft carrier near NYC during the week of the convention.

War profiteers take note: this might be a good opportunity for those with business before the White House or Congress to hawk their latest weapons systems and network with their fellow Republicans. No doubt the Republicans will scratch your back if you scratch theirs, provided they win in November (although it's not clear $2,500 will get much done for you).

For those of you that weren't "nominated" to receive the direct-mail advertisement or can't afford $2,500 for a dinner, take heart:

No mention is made of a refund of "club dues" should President Bush lose the election.

Given the Administration's recent declaration of war on the US Press Corps, this is looking increasingly likely.

Pentagon declares war on U.S. Press Corps

In letter published Saturday in the Washington Post, the Pentagon compared the Posts with war criminals.

The spokesman for the Pentagon wrote that the Post's concern for the Administration's role in the prison scandal "our concern over whether administration procedures violate international law "puts The Post in the same company as those involved in this despicable behavior.".

Yesterday, the Pentagon strongly denied a compelling New Yorker article stating that Rumsfeld and Bush had approved a highly secret Pentagon program that had led to the abuses.

On its website, the Pentagon responded by effectively declaring war on the New Yorker: "Assertions apparently being made in the latest New Yorker article on Abu Ghraib and the abuse of Iraqi detainees are outlandish, conspiratorial, and filled with error and anonymous conjecture."

With this remark, the Pentagon effectively gave the New Yorker the back of its hand.

The famous New Yorker magazine is effectively the house journal of smart, Democratic New York --- many of the people on the Democratic side who effectively run America's corporate boardrooms.

Many an elite New York corporate executive's connection with the New Yorker goes back to their Ivy League school days. The journal is supported by some of the wealthiest, most capable, and most influential people in America. These are not the sort of people you want to insult in this way.

Nor was the The New Yorker irreconcilably hostile towards Bush. The New Yorker, although heavily Democratic, had published a number of articles on Saddams' WMDs prior to the Iraq war that in sight sound as if they might have been written by the Administration as propaganda pieces.

Both the New Yorker and Washington Post have long-term interests in maintaining credibility within their respective market niches. Both are family-owned businesses that have been around for centuries or nearly centuries, and hope to remain around for at least that time into the future. Notwithstanding their need to maintain credibility with their readers, they did not feel a desperate need to attack the Administration --- until perhaps now.

The increasingly embattled Bush Administration is unlikely to strategize past November.

Comparing reporters at the highly respected Washington Post to war criminals is probably not the most auspicious way to start a Presidential election campaign and is unlikely to endear Bush to either the left or the right in the reporting business.

These attacks on the New Yorker and the Washington Post are all reminiscent of Nixon's attacks on the Post in the movie "All the President's Men" based on the Watergate scandal.

At the climax of the movie, reporters from the Washington Post feared they had been hoaxed by the White House after the White House met one of the scoops with fervent denials. The late Katharine Graham, then publisher of the Post, provides a non-fiction account of these events in her eminently readable autobiography A Personal History. Post reporters feared the White House was trying to bring down the Post with hoaxed information and electronic surveillance. The movie ended shortly thereafter with Nixon's resignation.

The main difference between the current scandal and Watergate is that now, until then, the President's party is firmly in control of congress.

Unlike Watergate, however, Nixon was not facing re-election in six months at the time he attacked the Post.