Monday, September 30, 2013

U.S. Intel Leaks Cause Woes

The New York Times is discussing how U.S. Intelligence efforts are faltering in the face of leaks. Apparently a plot to attack the U.S. Embassy in Yemen was revealed by major news sources. FBI Headquarters, Washington DC 077717
I suspect it came as no surprise to Ayman al-Zawahri and Nasser al-Wuhayshi that their phones or e-mail or perhaps Twitter accounts were compromised. Furthermore, if U.S. intelligence has the available resources to monitor ordinary American citizens communication, it stands to reason they already have tapped the wires of all major figures.  Parliamentarians, politicians and premiers should have realized their private communications were not so private long ago. Mad bombers and other well-known crooks have known for decades that their phone lines often run through the police stations.

Popular movies constantly show the bad guys buying and tossing cheap cell phones, using special code words, and quickly burning exchanged notes. This is to be expected if someone is attempting to avoid arrest and prosecution for illegal acts. To stay one step ahead the cops must employ a man on the inside, vans with signal intercept equipment and smart code-breakers.

Everyone in the loop needs to watch out for the mild-mannered reporter for the Daily Globe. She will certainly print the entire investigation on the front page not long after she gets wind of it. Bemoaning the obvious fact that secrets get revealed seems pointless.

Chasing down and prosecuting the leakers has also been a popular effort among governments. They figure once they jail the very last reporter or whistle-blower they will be able to return to investigating and spying without much oversight. But that too is a Sisyphean effort since there will always be another young idealist ready to take the place of every Edward Snowden or Daniel Ellsberg.

If you watch many of the spy and crime movies to the very end you may notice that investigators   for various government agencies and news reporters sometimes resort to more overt means in order to solve a mystery. They talk to each other, they share ideas, they negotiate, and they identify mutual goals. These methods are not as exciting as bullets and wiretaps but they often accomplish the same ends, with less blood shed.

If espionage and subterfuge don’t work spy agencies and diplomats will also need to fall back to other means such as diplomacy, conferences and fostering mutual agreements with nations that have similar anti-terrorist goals. Negotiations, meetings and intelligence-sharing agreements are not nearly so profitable to government sub-contractors as bullets, UAV missiles and mass-surveillance but cooperation has proven to be an effective tool in the past.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Costs of Mass Killings

In response to the recent mass murder event at the Washington Navy Yard:

The Mall, Reflecting Pool, and Washington Monument 13466

In addition to the tragic loss of human lives, these mass murders cost millions of dollars. Beyond several days work lost by Navy staff or a night's wages by a Nationals hot dog vendor, there is the cost of the massive law enforcement effort and subsequent investigations and years in prison or death penalty trials, if a shooter survives. Then there is the cost of congressional deliberations on the issue. But the largest cost is related to the loss of innocent humans killed and injured, families torn in anguish, lost incomes of breadwinners, this is nearly immeasurable.

Yes, insurance firms will pay for some of this, but who pays for the policies, and inevitable policy increases? Who pays for the loss of a father or mother at a child's bedside or the hours of weeping by a victim's father or mother, brother or sister?

Several associates of mine work in emergency rooms in major city hospitals. It is not at all uncommon for them to treat gunshot victims, especially on Friday and Saturday nights. They tell me the majority of these victims are poor and have no private health insurance. Our government pays for their extended treatment for gunshot wounds or even burials in paupers graves.

Additional hidden costs will come from the inevitable enhancements to security, at military bases as well as civilian facilities. The attacker appears to have had a vague history of mental health issues along with several firearm violations. It seems he negotiated his way out of a Dishonorable Discharge from the Navy and also kept his security clearance. This situation will bring closer scrutiny to millions of people now serving in the military as well as employees of defense contractors. While this may be a good thing it will certainly cost taxpayers more money.

Employees will now wait longer to get on bases while personal belongings and cars are more thoroughly searched. Prospective employees will wait more months prior to getting hired while more extensive background checks are conducted. Veterans and civilians who sought mental health treatment in the past may find it more difficult to gain employment in defense-related jobs or even civilian jobs. It all depends where employers and insurance firms choose to draw the line.

Even though Alexis did not use an assault rifle, and bought his shotgun legally, gun shops along with gun and ammunition manufacturers will see a massive increase in sales of handguns, assault rifles and bullets. They always do.