Posts about Terrorism

The intelligence of the crowd

The latest New York Times story on government spying says that the NSA mining and analyzing large volumes of communications data.

I wonder how and whether law can be written to cover such activity in a world of ubiquitous communications and data. That’s what I want to discuss.

(But first, let me stipulate a few points, your honors: First, I don’t know much about the law in this arena and that’s why I haven’t said much about these stories; I’m pointing this out now to save you the effort in the comments. Second, as in the prior Times story, the primary issue here is the adminstration’s refusal to get proper warrants and, yes, of course I believe the administration should follow the law. But third, this week’s On the Media (transcript not up yet) explains why the current law, FISA court, and warrants may not be adequate for the data age. Finally, fourth, I do believe that the government does need to spy on and find terrorists and until I see an enemies list led by Barbra Streisand, I won’t just assume that the current, former, or next government is doing this for the jollies; it’s possible, but I won’t assume it and neither will I too easily give up the tools needed to stop the next terrorist attack. While I’m at it, I’ll add that I am not a privacy freak and I am a hawk on terrorism. Enough caveats? Now back to the point….)

If I got it right, this week’s On the Media explained that current law is designed to hunt down known terrorists — to get a warrant to listen to them — rather than to comb through data to gether information — that is, to find terrorists. It stands to reason that analyzing communications data could unearth patterns and anomolies that could lead to suspicious activity.

The first problem with this is that you don’t know who the suspects are and what the suspicious data are until you look, until you have access to everything passing through some point. Next, you can’t find the anomalies until you establish the norm. Together, this means that our data become a necessarily ingredient in the analysis; we are the norm that defines the anomaly and our data passes through the same points with the suspects’. I think many of us could tolerate the idea that if the data we law-abiding, nonterrorists produce were only part of an aggregated pattern, this might be OK.

But, of course, our fear is that we will get caught in the net for other reasons. We fear that the government will decide to go after people who say “fuck” on the internet. We fear that the the state IRS will find out what we ordered online and make us pay local taxes. We fear that a divorce lawyer will be able to subpoena this data flow to get evidence of an illicit IM.

OK, so what if we say that data collected in such a manner can be used only for the limited purpose of finding and stopping terrorism and that it is out of bounds for any other purpose. But what if the anomaly that pops up in analysis turns up a kiddie porn ring or a vast insider-trading conspiracy or a mafia network? Should it still be off-limits? Would the fact that the government knew about it in one context prejudice any separate investigation and prosecution?

The point of all this is that I wonder what our rights are as an aggregate, as a community. It’s not unrelated to the question of who owns the wisdom of the crowd:

We, the crowd, create data through our activities that, in the aggregate, has value — value to categorize content, to target advertising, to establish norms. Who should mine and who should protect that value? And in the open world that enables so much else — the free control and creation of communications and content by the individual — opportunities to observe our behavior and tap that value are also created.

My point in all this is only to say that this is a new and complex area of technology, law, danger, and opportunity and requires new thinking from Congress and open deliberation — without, of course, compromising intelligence publicly — from the administration. My real fear is that our leaders don’t have the knowledge or vision to deal with this. But hiding from the challenge isn’t the answer, either.

Do not build it. Not here.

Rudy Guliani has now joined the many who oppose putting the International Freedom Center over the 9/11 memorial at the World Trade Center.

“They should change the whole concept and scrap those plans and start from the beginning and focus it on Sept. 11,” Giuliani said. “I think it’s a mistake the way it’s become too complicated.”

Do not build it. Not here.

Hillary Clinton has now come out against the International Freedom Center.

“I cannot support the IFC,” Clinton declared last night in a strongly worded statement in response to an inquiry from The Post….

“While I want to ensure that development and rebuilding in lower Manhattan move forward expeditiously, I am troubled by the serious concerns family members and first responders have expressed to me,” Clinton said.

The Post pats her on the back in an editorial (this could cinch her Blairesque endorsement from Murchoch):

It’s time for Pataki and Bloomberg to pull the plug. Now, even Hillary agrees.

Good for her.

The New York Times, meanwhile, continues its snippy, condescending, insulting, and disrespectful tone toward the families of the heroes and innocents of September 11:

But since late June the Freedom Center has been caught up in a vitriolic protest called the Take Back the Memorial movement, whose leaders claim for themselves the right of deciding for the rest of us what we should know and think about 9/11.

Quite the contrary, Times: We don’t want a center that will do precisely that. Let us all bring our own thoughts and questions to this place and not have them brought there for us.

And in its news columns, tomorrow’s Times writes a puffy piece about the IFC’s founder, Tom Bernstein (a few weeks after publishing a fair piece about the leader of the opposition, Debra Burlingame):

In fall 2001, not long after hundreds of makeshift hospital beds had been set up at Chelsea Piers to receive injured survivors from the World Trade Center – beds that were never used – Tom A. Bernstein, president of Chelsea Piers, envisioned reclaiming ground zero with the power of an idea.

The idea was freedom, embodied in an institution that would transmit its value to future generations. To build it, Mr. Bernstein said in 2004 he expected “years of intense labor, contentious debate and struggle.”

He is getting them….

Mr. Bernstein, who counts President Bush among his friends, has had to defend the center from those who say that it would be jingoistic by depicting an unblemished America as well as from those who complain that it would be un-American by dwelling on failures of social and foreign policy.

Well, yes, indeed, he has had to defend himself and for good reason.

In that piece, I see the first cogent description from Bernstein of his connection with the theme of freedom — a connection I questioned yesterday. Bernstein said:

Historically, if you look at the response to tyranny – in our view, terror being a modern variant – the only response, and the necessary response, and the crucial response is a reaffirmation of the values that are under assault. The central value here, and around the world, is freedom.

Fine. Who won’t salute the freedom flag? But this was not about an oppressed people breaking free. This was about criminals commiting murder. Bernstein tries to draw a parallel with the Holocaust Museum (moving past his attempts to draw parallels to the Gettysburg Museum). But that, too, doesn’t fit. The Holocaust Museum is, truly, about the crimes of the murderers. The IFC is not about the crimes of the islamofascists. That would at least be more relevant. But neither is appropriate at this place, at this time.

: The LMDC now has a form (not forum) to submit comment directly (with an odd heiarchy used to identify the commenter). I just cut-and-paste my post from yesterday. If this were a forum, we would be able to see what fellow citizens say about the IFC. But, not surprisingly, it’s only one-way, not transparent.

In any case, I urge you all to go to the site and leave your comments as well.


It was harder watching the memorial ceremony at the World Trade Center on TV than it has been being there. I’m not sure why: Perhaps it’s the separation, perhaps the closer view one gets through a TV lens.

I watched the beginning of the ceremony and then had to go to church. I returned and it was still going on. It took so much longer to read the names of the dead than it took to murder them.

I looked at my watch all day and retraced not my steps but my hours: when I arrived at the World Trade Center… when I witnessed the worst of it… when the fireball of the second jet roared… when the first tower fell… when I found my refuge… when I left that refuge… when the second tower fell… when I came to this landmark and that landmark on my walk uptown… when I arrived at Times Square and wrote my story….

And still, they were not finished reading the names.

The fourth 11th

This year, for the first time, I will not be at the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11th. And that will be hard.

This Sunday is also the first of the fall season in church. The kids come back to Sunday school. The choir starts. The family goes together. I know that’s where I belong.

But it hurts not to be at the World Trade Center then. Many, including my family, don’t understand why going there that morning matters to me. Worse, it reminds them that I came too close to leaving them that morning just because I thought I had some obligation to the news when, instead, I had an obligation to get out of harm’s way and return to them. I’m reminded of this choice again right now because of Katrina and all the people who made their choices in New Orleans.

In the last three years, I simply went to the site and listened as the names were read and retraced my steps that morning. I walk the steps between death and me and safety. I give thanks. I remember the heroes and innocents of the day.

I am sorry I won’t be there on the 11th. But I will remember.

Dear Cindy,

Clifford May, the head of the Foundation to Defend Democracies — a private charity that got Department of State funding — writes an open letter to Cindy Sheehan.

So let me suggest an alternative: Come visit with me. Our meeting probably won’t get much publicity but I can promise you an interesting discussion. I’ll invite to join us some of the many Iraqi freedom fighters with whom I’ve been working for the past several years – many of them women — as well as democracy and human rights activists from Syria, Iran, Libya, Egypt, Lebanon and other countries.

You say you want to know, “What is the noble cause that my son died for?” They would answer: Your son died fighting a war against an extremist movement intent on destroying free societies and replacing them with racist dictatorships.

The Iraqis will want to tell you what life was like under Saddam Hussein – the mass murders of hundreds of thousands, the women and girls who were gang-raped by Saddam’s cronies, the creative forms of torture that were ignored by the “international community.”

I know several Baghdadi businessmen whom Saddam suspected of disloyalty. He had their right hands amputated. Want to meet them? The doctors who were forced to perform these amputations are worth chatting with as well.

The letter will run as a full-page ad in Waco’s paper.

The FDD also has a blog (full disclosure; a friend and former colleague helped them put it together); it includes ongoing commentary on the Iraqi constitution.

Do not build that. Not there.

The NY Daily News exposes another questionable angle on the International Freedom Center that is still insisting it should be part of the memorial at the World Trade Center. The News says the IFC had…

…”drawn inspiration” and received “important practical advice” from the International Coalition of Historic Site Museums of Conscience.

Now before we get to the advice this coalition has given, let’s make this clear: What we build at the World Trade Center is not a “musuem of conscience.”

If you want to build museums of conscience regarding terrorism, go franchise them in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan and Pakistan and all over the Middle East.

What we build at the World Trade Center should be a memorial.

This coalition joins museums at places where evil was concocted and executed: apartheid, the Holocaust, gulags.

The evil of 9/11 was not concocted at the World Trade Center. Innocents died there that day because of an evil born elsewhere.

That is why it is so inappropriate to turn the place into a why-they-hate-us pavillion, to import political debate about unrelated ills: about slavery or concentration camps.

The World Trade Center is the place where 3,000 heroes and innocents died and the role of a memorial is to remember them and tell their story.

Further, if you go to to the coalition’s site, they do not list terrorism — only “state terrorism” — as a “contemporary human rights issues.”

So I don’t know why the IFC is seeking not only advice from but also inviting exhibits and debates from this coalition.

Now here’s some of the advice that coalition is giving to the IFC:

“Don’t feature America first,” the IFC has been advised by the consortium of 14 “museums of conscience” that quietly has been consulting with the Freedom Center for the past two years over plans for the hallowed site. “Think internationally, where America is one of the many nations of the world.” …

“No one in the civilized world would ever defend what happened on 9/11,” said Sarwar Ali, the coalition’s chairman and a trustee of the Liberation War Museum in Bangladesh.

“But what happened after 9/11 – with restrictions placed on human rights and the cycle of revenge and the allegations of human rights abuses in prisons – must also be explored,” Ali said in a call from London.

Coalition members gathered for their annual conference at a Holocaust site in the Czech Republic in July 2004 – and assailed the United States for “reasserting its power in an arrogant way,” the conference report shows.

Among its suggestions for the place where the United States was attacked and nearly 3,000 innocents massacred: “The Freedom Center must signal its openness to contrary ideas.”

Philip Kunhardt, the Freedom Center’s editorial director, was in attendance at a session called Bringing Conscience to Ground Zero and was given this advice:

* “Help distinguish between American people and the U.S. government in exhibits …”

* “Use reports from human rights organizations to examine contemporary abuse of rights.”

* “Involve the United Nations, UNESCO and other international bodies.”

* “Use the museum as a venue for international meetings, where all views are welcomed and considered.”

At the conference, the coalition also leveled barbs at the IFC: “The Freedom Center is a caricature of the typical American response to everything [telling every story from an American viewpoint].”

Members of the coalition also expressed these concerns:

* “It seems that whatever Americans want, Americans get!” the conference report states. “Is the definition of the ‘struggle for freedom’ simply defined by the victors, or also by those engaged in ongoing struggles? Will Americans really create a balanced vision of freedom?”

* “The WTC was attacked because it was a symbol of power and influence. In building the Freedom Tower, the U.S. reasserts its power in an arrogant way: Does this mean the U.S. will not only build the biggest building, but also define freedom for the world?”

* “Many nonsecular Muslims may be very skeptical about the intent of this museum (e.g. the average Bangladeshi condemns the Sept. 11 attacks, yet at the same time feels his/her human rights have been violated by the U.S.).”

Kunhardt, an ordained Episcopal minister and the writer of the PBS series “Freedom: A History of Us,” mostly listened. He agreed with some things that were said, disagreeing with others, an observer said. He didn’t return calls.

The News also editorializes against this offensive insanity.

I’ve been saying that the IFC should be built, just not at the World Trade Center. And if someone wants to build this thing, they should build it. But judging by the company they keep, I can’t say that I’ll ever see any good reason to go there.

The Lower Manhattan Develoment Association is waiting until Sept. 23 to decide the fate of the IFC at Ground Zero. I agree with Take Back The Memorial: We must not wait until then. To have this hanging over the memorial events on the fourth anniversary of the tragedy would be an insult to the memory of those who died that day.

Three-ring war

I haven’t so much as mentioned Cindy Sheehan because I think it’s a story about both sides using her and vice versa. It’s a hall of mirrors and PR, this story. A clear illustration of that comes when you read Frank Rich in the New York Times alongside Patrick Frey (aka Patterico) in the LA Times. Rich:

True to form, the attack on Cindy Sheehan surfaced early on Fox News, where she was immediately labeled a “crackpot” by Fred Barnes. The right-wing blogosphere quickly spread tales of her divorce, her angry Republican in-laws, her supposed political flip-flops, her incendiary sloganeering and her association with known ticket-stub-carrying attendees of “Fahrenheit 9/11.” Rush Limbaugh went so far as to declare that Ms. Sheehan’s “story is nothing more than forged documents – there’s nothing about it that’s real.”

But this time the Swift Boating failed, utterly, and that failure is yet another revealing historical marker in this summer’s collapse of political support for the Iraq war.

When the Bush mob attacks critics like Ms. Sheehan, its highest priority is to change the subject….


But in its apparent zeal to portray Sheehan as the Rosa Parks of the antiwar movement, the Los Angeles Times has omitted facts and perspectives that might undercut her message or explain the president’s reluctance to meet with her again….

Sheehan’s changing accounts of her meeting with Bush are relevant to understanding the president’s decision not to meet with her again. So are her descriptions of the president in a Dallas speech reported by leftist newsletter Counterpunch as a “lying bastard,” a “maniac” and the leader of a “destructive neocon cabal.” In an article for, she called that supposed cabal “the “biggest terrorist outfit in the world.”

She also has turned her son’s death into a tax protest, refusing to pay her income taxes for 2004, the year her son died, reportedly saying in the Dallas speech: “You killed my son, George Bush, and I don’t owe you a penny.” Sheehan’s use of such inflammatory rhetoric sheds light on why Bush likely sees little upside in a public confrontation with her. But you would never know about these statements from reading The Times’ news pages….

Both accounts then try to spin the story of her son’s death: Rich concentrates on the worthlessness of the Iraqi forces, Frey concentrates on Casey Sheehan reenlisting the day after the war started and volunteering for the mission in which he died.

I’m more with Frey than Rich on this but I still find that the Sheehan story has been made into a bizarre and often sad sideshow by the hangers-on and the attackers and the spinsters and certainly by the media, who love a circus and it’s a circus they have.

: LATER: In the comments, Frey/Patterico wants to make clear:

I would just emphasize that my piece was intended as media criticism, not as criticism of Sheehan herself. Internet readers know the facts I discuss in my piece, but people who get their news exclusively from the news pages of the LA Times (if such people exist) don’t.

Yes, we’re both criticizing the media. Patrick was clear in his lead that he has great sympathy, as anyone should, for Sheehan’s loss.