Arnold Kling  

Surveillance and Terrorism

Mueller on Iraq... Yanquico...

Richard Posner writes,

warrantless searches are permissible as long as they are reasonable. The potential abuses of warrantless surveillance can be minimized, without judicial intervention, by rules limiting the use of intercepted communications to national security, requiring that the names of persons whose communications are intercepted (and the reasons for and results of the interception) be turned over to executive and congressional watchdog committees, and imposing draconian penalties on officials who violate civil liberties in conducting surveillance.

This recalls my writing in The Constitution of Surveillance.

Meanwhile, my own latest essay says,

It is not just journalists who play the elitist game. In the Armed Forces Journal, retired major general Robert H. Scales says that in order to win modern war we need to mobilize social scientists.

...I am reminded of a neighborhood football game when I was in fourth grade, where all the neighborhood brainy kids were on one team, and the other team had Gary Bemis, my next-door neighbor who was big and tough. After Gary scored touchdowns the first five or six times he carried the ball, the parents declared the game over. My guess is that social scientists fighting Islamofascists would be like the brainy kids trying to stop Gary Bemis.

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COMMENTS (22 to date)
Barbar writes:

Islamofascists? I thought the word "fascist" had an actual meaning.

Randy writes:


I think the term is appropriate. If for no other reason than that it describes them in a correct emotional context. But in what practical way are they any different than the facists of the last century? They have an image of the world that they are willing to use violence and terror to achieve. They despise individual freedom and think we are weak because of it. Some of them are not yet in control of states, but many are. And once in control of states they subordinate the rights of individuals to the will of the state. The only real difference is that these claim to be following the tenants of Islam - so the term "islamo" -facist, rather than just plain facist, seems completely reasonable. They're arming themselves to the teeth. They want a war. If we're lucky, we can make this another cold war, but I wouldn't trust to luck. Our strategy must include preparation for another total war. And from this perspective, putting a couple of mechanized divisions on the ground in Iraq along with a couple of wings of the Air Force makes a lot of sense, don't you think?

Randy writes:

P.S. I've often thought that one of biggest blunders in US military history was not sending half a million men to France in 1939. Why didn't we? Because most Americans thought that Europe's war was not our problem. They severely underestimated the capability of modern military forces. They imagined a spat between "civilized" nations, not total war, mass destruction, and entire continents being overrun. Iran has a military that would put Hitler's forces of 1940 to shame. They are on the verge of developing nuclear weapons. And we should have no doubt that it has the will to use them. Fortunately, we have very capable forces of our own. Do we have the will to use them?

Barbar writes:

Briefly -- who "they" are is a little vague (9/11 hijackers, 7/7 bombers, Iranian government, Hezbollah, Hamas, people who vote against Lieberman -- all motivated by a common dream of Islamic empire?). I see no reason to think we are despised for our individual freedoms. And when "these people" justify their actions, they do not often refer to the glory of an all-powerful Islamic state, but rather to Western imperialism, unfairness, injustice, persecution, and the Islamic need for survival. Yes, oddly enough people can justify aggressive action by claiming they were threatened, or needed to protect themselves. (I'm sure if you struggle hard enough you can think of some Western examples of this kind of thinking.)

Is Saudi Arabia an Islamofascist state?

Mark Horn writes:

I don't disagree with the main point of this article (that leadership & populist opinion are diverging). However, I do disagree with one supporting premise: that the correct opinion on racial profiling is the populist one: that it would increase our security. I think that probably is the populist opinion, but I don't think it's correct.

The problem with any type of systematic profiling is that it's relatively easy to determine what the profiled characteristics are and then avoid them. It's easy to send a random sampling of people through the system (with no intent to do anyone any harm) and see who gets pulled most often and least often. Then send the bombs with those who get pulled least often.

I don't see how profiling (any type, including racial profiling) is effectrive over any long term. It's easily defeated. I don't care about the politcally correct aspect of profiling. If you could demonstrate an effective and difficult to defeat system that used racial profiling, I'd be in favor of it.

Here's a paper that discusses the effectiveness of profiling vs random screening:

Randy writes:


Re; "They".

When a nation goes to war, it no longer matters that some are innocent. It doesn't even matter whether or not the cause is just. What matters is winning and losing. The debate over guilt and innocence, justified or unjustified, right and wrong, is a luxury for the winners. And yes, you and I are the beneficiaries of great warriors of the past. Our enemies understand this. They are hoping we've forgotten.

Re; Is Saudi Arabia an IslamoFacist state?

No, but there are such operating within Saudi Arabia.

Barbar writes:

Sounds like you live a very exciting life, Randy.

Randy writes:


Agreed. Statistical security methods (including profiling) may be cost effective, but the standard is zero errors.

Randy writes:


Exciting life :) Not so much anymore. But I've done some living.

Does my having spent 20 years in the military shape my thinking on the subject? Yes, I suppose it does. I don't think of war as a backdrop for a debate on morality. I think of it as a fact.

Mark Horn writes:

Randy: I don't know that we can reach the standard of zero errors. I assume that we can't. If I'm given a choice between an error rate of 1% and 0.01% I'll take the latter even if it's not 0%. Profiling may start out at 0.01% but over time, it's error rate is bound to increase. The people trying to defeat it will figure out it's cracks. Random is much more difficult to defeat over time. I think random makes a *LOT* more sense.

To me, here's the clincher. Random screening is no more expensive to implement than profiled screening. So, IMHO, profiling is NOT the most cost effective screening technique. Random is. If it's true that random is more effective (and I think it is) and it's true that it costs the same (and I think it does) what value does systematic profiling convey?

Dezakin writes:

I'm looking forward to Arnolds next essay where he starts reusing such fun terms as 'homocide bombers' and 'feminazis'

Or maybe on actual economic subjects where he can discuss the 'death tax.'

Dont confuse fanatacism with totalitarianism and brand all totalitarianism as fascism. It is a specific corpratist political ideology that had its strength in the early half of the twentieth century.

Inventing terms for emotional effect is radio jock blovating not befiting reasoned debate, and garners no more respect than inventing strawmen to burn.

Randy writes:

Fair enough Dezakin, "Islamo-Totalitarians" is fine with me. Though I have no problem with the use of "Islamo-Facists" if it gets the point across. And its easier to say.

Barbar writes:

We should be worried about being blown up by terrorists, sure. (Not the most likely way to die but yes this is a danger.) We should be worried about being rounded up in camps by Muslims who hate us for our freedom? Please. The mess you've left on the floor is embarassing, I think.

Randy writes:

You don't have to be worried, Barbar. All you've got to do is let the professionals do their jobs.

Dezakin writes:

Trust the state?

Are you that immune to irony?

ben tillman writes:
I think the term is appropriate. If for no other reason than that it describes them in a correct emotional context.

A "correct emotional context"? Oh, my goodness.

But in what practical way are they any different than the facists [sic] of the last century? They have an image of the world that they are willing to use violence and terror to achieve.

In what practical way are they different from Marxists and Maoists and Anglo-American imperialists in this respect? As you have essentially conceded, "Islamofascism" is an emotional term, and its emotional value stems from its infusion with the emotional and symbolic capital created by 70 years of anti-Nazi mass-media messages. It makes sense to attempt to capitalize on the established brand name, but don't insult the intelligentsia's intelligence with a claim that it's not a crude propaganda ploy.

Randy writes:


Re; The irony of trusting the state.

Yes, it does all come down to trust. Do I trust the system of the National Command Authority? Or do I trust those whom I know to have a political agenda opposed to the party in office? Tough call. But actually, I was thinking more along the lines of how nearly every yahoo who's watched a couple of media pundits suddenly thinks they're an expert on the military.

Randy writes:


Re; The intelligentsia...

On this, Arnold's point about Gary Bemis is absolutely on target. If you want to give these "islamofacists" the benefit of the doubt, go ahead. The intelligentsia will never be entrusted with positions of real power because they go out of their way to avoid the pragmatic. It is not subtle enough for their taste. Americans are pragmatic, so they will elect pragmatic leaders. They will turn to the intelligentsia only when they desire stimulating conversation.

Randy writes:

P.S. And yes, the term is certainly propoganda. But it plays well to a pragmatic people who recognize an enemy when they see one. The open question is why some seem to be so interested in protecting Iran from the negative opinion of the American people. Is there a method to the madness? Or is it just an intellectual game?

Ben Tillman writes:
If you want to give these "islamofacists" the benefit of the doubt, go ahead.

The benefit of the doubt? What are you talking about? Unlike some folks around here, I believe it *does* matter who lives next door, and I do believe in restricting immigration so that crazy people cannot disrupt my community.

But thanks for confirming that "Islamofascism" is just a vacuous propaganda term.

TGGP writes:

Iran's military would put Hitler's to shame? I guess you don't read Steve Sailer's site:

Randy writes:


Hitler's forces in early 1940 (and I did specify 1940) consisted mostly of partially mechanized infantry, light armor, and still used horse drawn artillery. In contrast, Iran today has Soviet designed armor and rocket forces. The point is to understand what Hitler was capable of doing with his still limited forces in 1939 and 1940 - that is, overrunning unprepared neighboring states with relative ease, and initiating a world war. Are Iran's forces anything close to the capability of US forces? No - and that is the good news. But what does that matter if they are willing to use what they have and we are not?

It is possible that Iran's (and North Korea's) beligerence are just hot air, but its a mistake to assume so. Better to back them into a corner, tell them to calm down, and be prepared to deliver a boot to the head. Oh, and maybe call the police... Cancel that - there are no police.

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