Monday, January 26, 2015

Fear Mongering: the Battle Between Terrorists and Governments

There is a huge battle being waged today for the hearts and minds of ordinary people. On one side are terrorists, while on the other are governments. Both sides use fear mongering in order to win over public opinion and advance their cause.

Terrorists exaggerate their abilities to inflict damage. They use violence and intimidation in the pursuit of their political aims. By exaggerating their destructive abilities, they increase the fear and intimidation. The more damage people believe that a terrorist group has inflicted, the more funding they will receive from extremists and the more people they are able to attract to their cause.

Governments also exaggerate how much damage terrorists have inflicted or are capable of inflicting. Sources within the FBI and CIA, as well as news sources such as Time and the Washington Post, have all said that US government officials were trying to create an atmosphere of fear in which the American people would give them more power.

Tom Ridge, the former Secretary of Homeland Security, has admitted that he was pressured to raise terror alerts to help Bush win reelection. The threat from Islamic terrorists -- while real -- has been greatly exaggerated.  Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former US National Security Adviser, has described the war on terror is a "a mythical historical narrative."

The US government and many other governments justify many of their policies on the need for greater security by hyping the terror menace. Government wants you to be scared out of your pants by the risk of terrorism. But is this fear legitimate?  What are the real facts about terrorism?

The actual figures are astounding. Here is a small sample:

Daniel Benjamin, the Coordinator for Counter-terrorism at the US Department of State from 2009 to 2012, has studied these figures: "The total number of deaths from terrorism in recent years has been extremely small in the West. And the threat itself has been considerably reduced. Given all the headlines people don’t have that perception; but if you look at the statistics that is the case."

According to The Economist, despite the horror, there have actually been very few terror attacks in Europe. The recent attacks in Canada and Australia were can caused by organized terrorists. Other newspapers have noted that non-Muslims have carried out the vast majority of terrorist attacks on both.US soil and in Europe, while the overwhelming majority of victims of Muslim terror attacks are Muslims.

The “War on Terror” has been counter-productive, and only increased the terrorism problem
Governments have admitted that many terror attacks around the world have actually been carried out by government forces and blamed on their enemies, as a way to justify war or other objectives.

While terrorists and governments are trying to scare the pants off you, the truth is that, if we refuse to be terrorized, we win and the terrorists lose.

Are greater security measures warranted? And if they are, are they effective? What about the mass surveillance that is has been proposed in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack?

Bill Binney, the former head of the NSA’s global intelligence gathering operations, notes that the mass surveillance interferes with the government’s ability to catch bad guys, and that the government failed to stop the Boston bombing because it was overwhelmed with data from mass surveillance on Americans.

Binney explains that this also applies to the Paris attack as well:
A good deal of the failure is, in my opinion, due to bulk data. So, I am calling all these attacks a result of “Data bulk failure.” Too much data and too many people for the 10-20 thousand analysts to follow. Simple as that. Especially when they make word match pulls (like Google) and get dumps of data selected from close to 4 billion people.
This is the same problem NSA had before 9/11. They had data that could have prevented 9/11 but did not know they had it in their data bases. This back then when the bulk collection was not going on. Now the problem is orders of magnitude greater. Result, it’s harder to succeed.
Expect more of the same from our deluded government that thinks more data improves possibilities of success. All this bulk data collection and storage does give law enforcement a great capability to retroactively analyze anyone they want. But, of course,that data cannot be used in court since it was not acquired with a warrant.
NBC News reports in a similar vein on the problems created by mass surveillance:
A member of the White House review panel on NSA surveillance said he was “absolutely” surprised when he discovered the agency’s lack of evidence that the bulk collection of telephone call records had thwarted any terrorist attacks.“It was, ‘Huh, hello? What are we doing here?’” said Geoffrey Stone, a University of Chicago law professor….
“That was stunning. That was the ballgame,” said one congressional intelligence official, who asked not to be publicly identified. “It flies in the face of everything that they have tossed at us.”
The conclusions of the panel’s reports were at direct odds with public statements by President Barack Obama and U.S. intelligence officials.

In an interview, Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael Hayden, the NSA’s director, has said that the sheer volume and variety of today’s communications means "there’s simply too much out there, and it’s too hard to understand."

"What we got was a blast of digital bits, like a fire hydrant spraying you in the face," adds one former NSA technician with knowledge of the project. "It was the classic needle-in-the-haystack pursuit, except here the haystack starts out huge and grows by the second," the technician explained. NSA’s computers simply were not equipped to sort through so much data flying at them so fast.

Ray Corrigan, a senior lecturer in mathematics, computing and technology at the Open University in the UK, has noted that mass surveillance is not the answer in an article in the New Scientist. Some of his comments:
Brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi and Amedy Coulibaly, who murdered 17 people, were known to the French security services and considered a serious threat. France has blanket electronic surveillance. It didn’t avert what happened.

The French authorities lost track of these extremists long enough for them to carry out their murderous acts.

Surveillance of the entire population, the vast majority of whom are innocent, leads to the diversion of limited intelligence resources in pursuit of huge numbers of false leads. Terrorists are comparatively rare, so finding one is a needle in a haystack problem. You don’t make it easier by throwing more needleless hay on the stack.
It is statistically impossible for total population surveillance to be an effective tool for catching terrorists.

Mass surveillance makes the job of the security services more difficult and the rest of us less secure.
A terrorism expert has described the massive message interception by the US government this way: "In counterterrorist terms, it is a farce. Basically the NSA . . . is the digital equivalent of the TSA strip-searching an 80 year-old Minnesota grandmothers rather than profiling and focusing on the likely terrorists."

Such spying on ordinary citizens is not only against the American system it also reduces liberty. It is a misapplication of resources; money is being spent and liberty sacrificed for no real gain. The end result is that, since government decision making and policy about international terrorism is very bad, the threat is increasing.

What is worst of all, this fear mongering may result in a major war in the Middle East. Mission creep may lead to further ground troops being deployed in the battle against the Islamic State, in spite of protests to the contrary by Secretary of State John Kerry. Some ground troops are already operating as "advisers" to the Kurds.

A similar mission creep has been noted in Canada; some Canadian special forces have already engaged in fire fights with ISIS, and the Conservative government wants to demonstrate its power and its ability to protect Canadian citizens at home in the face of the federal later this year. New legislation is being introduced shortly by the government granting them these powers.

Thanks to this wall-to-wall fear mongering, a once war-weary public in the US is now terrified. More than 60% of the public in a recent CNN poll now supports the airstrikes against ISIS. Two more polls, one from the Washington Post and the other from NBC News and the Wall Street Journal, have arrived at the same conclusion.

Most shocking, 71% think that ISIS has terrorist sleeper cells in the US, against all evidence to the contrary. It will only too easy for those who want to destroy ISIS militarily to further escalate the war.

Stand in endless lines at the airport accomplish nothing, at enormous cost. That’s the conclusion of Charles C. Mann, who put the T.S.A. to the test with the help of one of America’s top security experts. Since 9/11, the US has spent more than $1.1 trillion on homeland security.

To a large number of security analysts, this expenditure makes no sense. The vast cost is not worth the infinitesimal benefit. Not only has the actual threat from terror been exaggerated, they say, but the great bulk of the post-9/11 measures to contain it are little more than what some mock as “security theater” -- actions that accomplish nothing but are designed to make the government look like it is on the job. In fact, the continuing expenditure on security may actually have made the US less safe.

Fear-mongering is deadly for all concerned. For us as citizens, it obviously makes us susceptible to the manipulations of governments that want justify war. Unfortunately, in the nuclear age, there can no longer be any justification for war. The just war theory is dead, although I do not want to argue its demise in this post. I have done so most recently in

The war on terror is a specious war, since the war is undeclared. The enemy is hard to find; they are invisible until an act of terrorism elevates them onto the world stage, if only for a brief period of time. But it is a convenient war, since it justifies the massive surveillance that has already been shown to be useless, but does permit governments to demonstrate their efforts to protect their citizenry.

Unfortunately, civil rights are often the first victims of such massive surveillance. The legislation that would permit even more surveillance would come at the price of privacy and other freedoms. Are ypu willing to pay that price?

For governments, fear mongering contributes to the pitifully low evaluation of politicians on the trustworthiness scale. Politicians worldwide are perceived as interested only in gaining power. Once they do, they do not want to cede it. Yet by fear-mongering they are able to win power and form governments that hopefully will continue in power for a long time.

Even for the terrorists themselves, fear mongering ultimately destroys their cause. Fear may motivate people for a while, but eventually people no longer trust anyone. Then they lash out at everyone, especially those who have engineered that fear.

Fear mongering involves a battle between terrorists and governments for the hearts and minds of ordinary people like you and me. We must not allow ourselves to be misled by either side. Instead, we must renounce fear and proclaim the truth about surveillance and the false security measures that our governments are perpetrating.

Remember this: the truth shall set us free from fear!


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