Daily Archives: November 4, 2010

Atlantic to TSA: Pat this down!

Jeffrey Goldberg and James Fallows deliver a one-two punch to the TSA over body scanners and pat downs at airports.

Goldberg begins by posting a letter from the American Airlines pilots union to its members…Considering these are the guys who are flying the planes I have to admit I’m kind of surprised at the bluntness of the tone.

While I’m sure that each of us recognizes that the threats to our lives are real, the practice of airport security screening of airline pilots has spun out of control and does nothing to improve national security.

I do disagree with this though:

There is absolutely no denying that the enhanced pat-down is a demeaning experience. In my view, it is unacceptable to submit to one in public while wearing the uniform of a professional airline pilot.

I’d argue that there’s no better reason to demand one in public.  Let everyone see this ineffectual process is really just an exercise in humiliation in order to elicit compliance.

Fallows talks about the frustrations of diabetics who need insulin pumps…who knew?

The TSA is singling out an entire class of people based on our medical conditions and treating us like we’re criminals. They have NO plans for ways to deal with this (eg, setting up a pre-approval system or using doctor notifications to clear us without the groping).

I’ve got a couple of flights coming up in the next couple of months…

COIN and law enforcement (again)

A couple of weeks ago Sven wrote a piece about how experience in our ‘small wars’ could enable Western governments to exert an unreasonable amount of control over their domestic population.

Many techniques, laws and tools of the so-called “Global war on terror” could be mis-used for the suppression of domestic opposition.

Specifically, he mentions the dangers of migrating COIN to the domestic sphere.  I think his argument is off but that he hits upon another truth.  I strongly believe (and have written here numerous times) that the central tenets of COIN are completely compatible with some areas of domestic law enforcement.  In fact, I’ll  go even further and say that ideas such as Intelligence Led Policing are civilian manifestations of COIN.

The things Sven talks about as being particularly dangerous are ones I would agree are not compatible with an open, free society (overbearing surveillance, data collection and storage of citizens without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, use of the military) but I don’t think any of those are inherent in COIN doctrine.  This is where I think he accidentally (?) stumbles upon a hidden truth.  Many who advocate the use of such tactics do so under the guise of COIN either because they don’t completely understand the doctrine or are using it as a useful gimmick to get these sorts of measures accepted.

This misunderstanding of what’s going on in the military sphere isn’t that unusual within the law enforcement community where one needn’t look very hard to find military terms and concepts misused, either unintentionally or in order to overlay a veneer of credibility on a dodgy idea.

For example, right now, in a mid-sized city in the Northeast U.S., a law enforcement agency recently instituted a ‘surge’ (yes, that is the exact term the operation was given) in the hopes to bring down sky high violent crime rates.  Rather than being part of a larger effort to address root causes, ‘teh surge’ is a characterture of what critics said of the Iraq surge.  It’s only component is swarming areas with police officers on a temporary bases.  And metrics of success?  Heh…how about comparing crime during the ‘surge’ (when all the cops are out) with a period when they weren’t there?  Can you guess the results?  Shockingly, criminals don’t like to commit crimes in front of law enforcement officers!  Crime levels are down.  We must have success! (Don’t ask inconvenient questions about what’s going to happen after the ‘surge’ ends.)

(This video was supposed to be a joke.  Unfortunately, it too frequently looks like documentary footage.)

Now, there’s no plan to take advantage of a reduction in violence by building/strengthening local institutions or even measuring the effects of the operation over time.  In short, it’s a total waste of time and money BUT they get to call it a ‘surge’ and indulge their childish dreams that they’re kicking insurgent ass.

I bring this up because I’m coincidentally working on a presentation about COIN and came across a list of its principles.  I’d recommend reading these (replacing the term ‘criminal networks’ for ‘insurgents’) and try to argue what we wouldn’t want these to guide our actions in areas that suffer from endemic crime and the government lacks legitimacy:

  • Emphasize intelligence.
  • Focus on population, its needs and security.
  • Establish and expand secure areas.
  • Isolate insurgents from the population.
  • Conduct effective, pervasive and continuous information operations.
  • Provide amnesty and rehabilitation for those willing to support the new government.
  • Place host-nation police in the lead with military support as soon as the security situation permits.

You can do all of those things without violating people’s civil rights or having the government becoming an overbearing ogre.  What a civilianized version of COIN should allow you to do is coordinate operations among a wide range of agencies (law enforcement, policy, social services, private sector, community, etc) to address endemic crime issues on a long term basis rather than the ineffective, uncoordinated, ‘fire and forget’ methods that are what normally pass for crime control.

Wikileaks and classification

When Wikileaks released those thousands of documents about Afghanistan I thought the real lesson to be learned was that we were still classifying way too much stuff.

I’m glad to see I’ve got some additional company now.  Stratfor has come to a similar conclusion after reviewing the Iraq document dump.

By saying there are very few true secrets in the cache of documents released by WikiLeaks, we mean things that would cause serious damage to national security…However, it is important to understand up front that something that causes embarrassment and discomfort to a particular administration or agency does not necessarily damage national security.
Only 204 of the 391,832 documents were classified at the confidential level, while 379,565 of them were classified at the secret level. This demonstrates the propensity of the U.S. government culture to classify documents at the highest possible classification rather than at the lowest level really required to protect that information. In this culture, higher is better. 

There are so many problems resulting from over-classification that it’s hard to even know where to begin describing them all.  I suspect one of the least discussed is the erosion of respect for the whole classification system.  When the mundane is classified then you’re practically begging individuals to take the system in their hands and release information as they see fit.