Information, which terrorists could use

If there are any terrorists reading this blog, I have to make a formal demand that you not read this post. Really. Terrorists must stop reading here. (You know who you are.)

According to an article in The Guardian

Following a ruling by Lord Justice Laws and Mr Justice Kenneth Parker, the police will now investigate whether possession of the seized material constitutes a crime under the Terrorism Act 2000, which prohibits possessing information that might be useful to terrorists and specifically “eliciting, publishing or communicating” information about members of the armed forces, intelligence agencies and police which terrorists could use.

That’s quite a broad mandate, and I think many people should be worried.

For instance, I happen to be in possession of information suggesting that the UK intelligence agencies and police and armed forces are led by incompetent politicians who have lost control of their own parties and are losing the support of the public, and who could themselves wind up in prison if the laws were fairly applied. It is easy to see how this information could be of use to terrorists if they knew. And now I have gone and published the information on this blog. (They may already know, but that is no defence under the law, so far as I can tell.)

If it comes to trial, I plan to argue that I couldn’t possibly have anticipated that terrorists would violate the terms of service of this blog by reading past the first line.

The cost of anti-terror

By way of Brendan James at The Dish comes this report by Ben Richmond on the disruption of vaccination efforts in rural Pakistan caused by the CIA smuggling a spy into Osama bin Laden’s refuge disguised as a health worker distributing hepatitis B vaccines. I won’t question the justice of killing bin Laden, nor will I call it useless because bin Laden may have been, by that point, barely even a figurehead of al Qaeda. I appreciate the value of propaganda by force in the important struggle against violent Islamists.

But when we reckon the costs against the benefits of killing terrorists, let us consider the 22 vaccination workers killed and 14 injured in retaliation attacks, or the many thousands who will be killed or maimed by polio, now that the realistic hope of soon eradicating that horrible disease has been set back, perhaps for a very long time. One wonders iƒ the cost to public health had any place in President Obama’s decision-making in approving this particular CIA operation. Is there anyone who speaks up for non-American interests? Is there any number of  lives of the poor bystanders for whose sake a US president would judge it worth giving up a symbolic victory in the struggle to save American (and wealthy western more generally) lives? Other than because of threats of diplomatic or military retaliation against Americans.

I’d be genuinely interested if any political theorist has thought through how this calculus works.

Police break the law: The law must be stopped!

Former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Ian Blair — now titled Lord Blair as reward for his 2010 resignation and his tireless efforts to expand the scope of police anti-terror activity — has given an interview in which he advocates criminalising any release of information that the state wishes to keep secret. He bemoans the fact that

Most of the legislation about state secrets is in the Official Secrets Act and it only concerns an official.

Now, before you wonder how far he might go in criminalising the discussion of public policy, rest assured, Blair is only interested in promoting discussion:

I think there is going to have to be a look at what happens when somebody possesses material which is secret without having authority.

That doesn’t sound so bad. They’re just going to “have a look”, and see “what happens”.

You might think, as soon as someone without “authority” possesses the material, that it is no longer a secret, but that would be only if you don’t have Lord Blair’s experience of making words mean what you intend them to mean.

If only we’d had these laws back in 2005, poor Charles de Menezes might still be a terrorist today!

Extradition for thee but not for me

CIA agent Robert Lady, convicted of kidnapping and sentenced to 7 1/2 to 9 years in prison in Italy, has been arrested in Panama under an international arrest warrant. For some reason, though, the Panamanians have not held him, but have allowed him to board a plane bound for the US.

He probably think he has cleverly eluded justice. The joke is on him, though, because as we all know, the US is now a passionate advocate of international cooperation in arresting international fugitives, and of the rigorous enforcement of extradition treaties. So we can be sure that Mr Bob (as the Italian press has apparently taken to calling him) will be on his way back to Italy in handcuffs soon. Unless… But it can’t be that kidnapping (and abetting torture) is seen as a less weighty crime than publishing embarrassing political secrets. Can it?

Metadata

Is there anyone who feels reassured by Diane Feinstein’s comments that we shouldn’t be worrying our pretty little heads over NSA storing records of ALL telephone calls (only by Verizon Business, but presumably that just happens to be the one that’s come out) over a three month period (and one might surmise that this is just three months of a rolling renewed program), both within the US and between the US and foreign addresses. She said

It is lawful. It has been briefed to Congress. This is just meta data. There is no content involved. In other words, no content of a communication. … The records can only be accessed under heightened standards.

Through her Newspeak interpreter she added, “It’s called protecting America.”

In this case, I’m hopeful that the average person’s inability to understand technical language will lead to positive conclusions. Feinstein (who, I am proud to say, I have voted against every time she’s been on the ballot since I’ve been a California voter). Anyone who understands what “meta data” are, and how data-mining works, will be chilled by this: The FBI has a complete map of who was talking to whom when and for how long, and presumably where they were when they made the call. This is now going to be run through an algorithm sniffing out patterns similar to an already suspicious person’s phone calls or travel. And then they’ll use this as a basis for putting people on no-fly lists and other non-judicial punishments. Won’t they? Certainly the Obama administration has shown no compunction about misusing the machinery of the War on Terror (TM) — in particular the No-Fly List — including  for political ends.

But here, ignorance may help. Will the average American feel reassured at being told these are “only meda data”? What the fuck are meta data? It sure sounds like they’re tapping our phones…

I thought the IRS scandal was ridiculous — I still do — but getting the right-wing riled up about civil liberties may be the last chance to save some remaining shreds of constitutional rights in the US.

Exile, ctd.

I wrote before about US citizens being sent into exile. In looking for information about how the No Fly List works, I found this story reported by Glenn Greenwald:

In April of this year, Saadiq Long, a 43-year-old African-American Muslim who now lives in Qatar, purchased a ticket on KLM Airlines to travel to Oklahoma, the state where he grew up. Long, a 10-year veteran of the US Air Force, had learned that the congestive heart failure from which his mother suffers had worsened, and she was eager to see her son…

The day before he was to travel, a KLM representative called Long and informed him that the airlines could not allow him to board the flight. That, she explained, was because the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had placed Long on its “no-fly list”, which bars him from flying into his own country.

Long has now spent the last six months trying to find out why he was placed on this list and what he can do to get off of it. He has had no success, unable to obtain even the most basic information about what caused his own government to deprive him of this right to travel.

Given that there is really no other way to get from Qatar to the US than by flying, this is equivalent to exile. Without even a trial, or even any official notification. And no procedure for redress. (Supposedly there is a procedure, but it seems to consist only of his being assigned a “redress control number”. No other response was forthcoming from the government in 6 months, and the US embassy has offered no assistance.) Greenwald cites several other comparable cases, and says there are 21,000 names on the list, including 500 Americans. And things aren’t getting better:

The Obama administration “lowered the bar for being added to the list”. As a result, reported AP, “now a person doesn’t have to be considered only a threat to aviation to be placed on the no-fly list” but can be included if they “are considered a broader threat to domestic or international security”, a vague status determined in the sole and unchecked discretion of unseen DHS bureaucrats.