Happy New Year everyone!
And now, in Lego….
Meet the hard bitten, crime fighting workings of Gundog!
Over the past week or two I’ve written about two different stories that have evolved and, at least in my eyes, have joined to highlight a lesson that everyone should have learned years ago yet continues to befuddle policy makers.
First, despite the public fetishization of all things military by the elected drones, Senator Joseph Lieberman has decided to ignore the U.S. military when they say engaging the Taliban on Twitter and ask Twitter to shut down two accounts that are affiliated with the Afghan insurgents.
Because it’s so hard to start up a Twitter account shutting down these two specific accounts would silence the Taliban forever.
In the event this ridiculous request actually moves forward, I’m confident the Taliban would have a workaround before the wax Lieberman apparently still uses to seal his correspondence dries.
Ah…just like the RIAA stopped the whole world from illegally trading music when they shut down Napster, SOPA promises to save our beleaguered entertainment industry from people using their copyrighted material online.
You kid scans a picture he drew of Mickey Mouse and wants to show Grandma on his Flickr account? Well, we can certainly start by charging junior with a felony but clearly his parents are guilty. This is what happens when we stopped saying the Pledge of Allegiance every morning at work. Godless traitors.
Oh…never mind. Looks like people have already found a way around the proposed law. Yeah, that’s right. People have already found (and are disseminating) a way around the provisions designed to prevent accessing copyrighted material before the law even comes into effect (actually, before the danged thing is even passed). So while we’re facing some pretty serious economic problems and assorted other national ills, Congress decided it would be an effective use of its time to debate a law that would be rendered impotent before it’s ink was dry.
Nice move, guys.
You can find one of the ways to subvert SOPA as a Firefox add-on.
Short of a Chinese or Iranian style intervention (and I have no idea how effective those are) trying to shut down parts of the internet seems like a really dumb idea. Well it’s a dumb idea in any case but if you don’t have any real hope of success it’s dumb and makes you look impotent (although, according to the emails in my spam filter that can be fixed via some very helpful pharmacists…).
I’ll start off by saying that I know, respect and personally like a great many law enforcement officers out there. They are regular people trying to do a difficult job. Most are truly dedicated to doing good and making their community’s safer.
There are, however, institutional motivators that should cause everyone some concern when thinking about police-citizen relations. The militarization of police has been in the news recently and is one (big cause) as is the various ‘wars’ we’ve declared (drugs, underage drinking, whatever). On occasions where I instruct to an audience that has law enforcement members in it I often say cops divide the world into two groups: criminals and those who haven’t been arrested…yet.
So, I’d recommend reading two posts from apparently very different authors.
First is this post from ‘Police: The Law Enforcement Magazine‘. The author, a retired police officer and associate editor of the magazine describes a community which punishes officers that prizes conformity above all else and ruthlessly squashes dissent and alternate views.
Throughout , we were taught by word and example to adhere to the party line and only exhibit fearlessness of initiative in matters of life or death. Dissent may be fine, but only in the abstract for the Department is an organism that will expel foreign bodies to preserve its homeostasis. Those who deviated from script found themselves expelled from the academy, 86’ed out of custody, banned from patrol, barred from promotion, and persona non grata in the Land of Good Standing.
Next is this post (and the comments section) from Gin and Tacos.
I’m a law abiding 33 year old white male with a Ph.D. and an aspiring middle class lifestyle…and I’ve never dealt with a cop who wasn’t an asshole toward me. Not once. If that’s how they treat someone who practically shits white male privilege, I feel safe assuming that they’re not being much friendlier or more helpful to anyone else. The police officer is supposed to be someone we can trust implicitly, and instead the policies of the past three decades have transformed the citizen-police relationship to one of deep, mutual suspicion. They see us as drug holding, law breaking felons-in-waiting, and we see them as an opponent to be avoided at all costs.
Now, I know many will be inclined to write this off as bleeding heart, commie whining but really read this and the 53 (so far) comments.
I can’t shake the feeling that these two things are linked.
I often talk about the similarities I see between a counterinsurgency campaign and some civilian crime environments. If you were a commander of a district in Afghanistan and the local population bombarded you with comments like this about the local security forces, how confident would you be that you were winning ‘hearts and minds’?
And certainly images like this aren’t going to do much for the next generation or two and the trust and credibility they give the police.
Or the fact that nearly one-third of all people are arrested by the time they’re 23.
There’s something very, very wrong with that statistic.
I’m not sure if it’s coincidence or not but the Washington Post and NY Times both recently had very different articles about enemy forces (terrorists or insurgents) using Twitter and our response to it.
The first Washington Post article is actually a retread of a story (which even I wrote about back in September) about the twitter battle between the Taliban and ISAF. I have no idea how the people at ISAF managed to convince the powers that be to allow them the freedom to use Twitter for a real tool of engagement but a big TwShiloh thumbs up for getting it done.
U.S. military officials say the dramatic assault on the diplomatic compound convinced them that they needed to seize the propaganda initiative — and that in Twitter, they had a tool at hand that could shape the narrative much more quickly than news releases or responses to individual queries.
“That was the day ISAF turned the page from being passive,” said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Brian Badura, a military spokesman, explaining how @isafmedia evolved after the attack. “It used to be a tool to regurgitate the company line. We’ve turned it into what it can be.”
And that’s really the key AND the lesson that I predict will be overlooked by just about everyone. Whether we’re talking about military engagements or terrorist and criminal activity in our neighborhoods, the tendency is to clamp down on information flowing out. It’s not just the more you say, they more you’ll be liable for being wrong. I can’t help shaking the feeling that the public (or, the center of gravity, if you will) is still seen as essentially a nuisance if it’s thought of at all.
I’ve written about this subject quite a bit in the past and I think remains a key indicator arguing that very little we do domestically is ‘intelligence led’. When we refuse to engage an opponent we cede the initiative on that field to them. Maybe that’s a good strategic move and sometimes is the appropriate reaction but that would require some evaluation process by which consequences are determined and a determination is made. I’m not convinced most of our ‘decision makers’ have sufficient orientation to issues like this to even ask the right questions.
And so, what have the results been since ISAF began battling with the Taliban over Twitter and loosening up from the standard ‘Latest press release here’ sort of post?
“If you look at the chronology over the past six months, it does look like there have been some changes in their content and claims,” Badura said. “They realize that we pay closer attention and are going to call them on it when we realize there is something completely sensational or inaccurate.”
Most of the Shabab’s Twitter messages are in English, not Somali, and are clearly meant for an outside audience. American officials said they were worried that the Shabab might be using Twitter to reach potential recruits in the West.
It doesn’t appear anyone has made any sort of decision about what specific action to take but the jist of the article appears to lean towards strong arming Twitter to shut down al-Shabab’s account.
Because shutting down web sites worked so well in Egypt and Libya.
There is an appropriate time to shut down web sites. If, for example, you know a terrorist is going to activate a sleeper cell and launch an attack via a tweet or a comment in a web page, it might be worthwhile to shut that page down, disrupting that communication. But shutting it down simply because you don’t like the content and without a complementary strategy to prevent it fro resurfacing on another account or webpage (either via artful hacking or a well placed drone strike) you aren’t going to be able to do much more than temporarily halt communication.
Otherwise known as whack-a-mole.
It is disappointing, therefore, that there doesn’t appear (based on the article) to be any consideration for engaging in a counter-campaign.
We certainly won’t win or lose a war via Twitter but it costs us virtually nothing to ‘fight’ there. And, if you believe that, at least in part, we’re fighting over the uncommitted middle (the majority of people who aren’t deeply committed to one faction or the other) and their support, why would we abandon an opportunity to present our message to them? Especially, when our opponents are spreading their message?
TSA does a pretty good (if thankless) job on their blog in attempting to communicate with the
livestock traveling public. Why don’t more law enforcement/homeland security agencies do so?
Kind of related, in a non-conflict way, is the recent decision by the Swedish Tourism authority to hand over the official Twitter account (@Sweden) to ‘regular’ Swedish citizens.
“No one owns the brand of Sweden more than its people. With this initiative we let them show their Sweden to the world,” says Thomas Brühl, the CEO of the country’s tourism agency VisitSweden.
Think about that for a minute. Who among us works for a company or agency that would let any employee run their Twitter account (assuming they even have one)? And why not? Are our overlords convinced that they’ve hired a bunch of foul mouthed sociopaths that have been simply biding their time for the opportunity to say offensive things?
I’m not a Ron Paul guy myself but this ad of his is wicked effective and the fact that this argument hasn’t been made forcefully by a national level figure (as far as I can remember) over the past reflects very, very poorly about our political process.