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The Creepy-State attracts Creeps

Thursday, September 4th, 2014

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen"]

Big Brother’s little brothers are listening in on your calls, tapping your data

When the government and ruling elites fashion a Creepy-State, it inevitably spawns a surveillance arms race. If your private data is valuable to the Feds, it is valuable to others….and if the Feds are violating the Constitution they aren’t too likely to energetically enforce the law against imitators.

Mysterious Fake Cellphone Towers Are Intercepting Calls All Over The US 

Seventeen fake cellphone towers were discovered across the U.S. last week, according to a report in Popular Science.

Rather than offering you cellphone service, the towers appear to be connecting to nearby phones, bypassing their encryption, and either tapping calls or reading texts. 

Les Goldsmith, the CEO of ESD America, used ESD’s CryptoPhone 500 to detect 17 bogus cellphone towers. ESD is a leading American defense and law enforcement technology provider based in Las Vegas. 

With most phones, these fake communication towers are undetectable. But not for the CryptoPhone 500,  a customized Android device that is disguised as a Samsung Galaxy S III but has highly advanced encryption.

Goldsmith told Popular Science: ” Interceptor use in the U.S. is much higher than people had anticipated. One of our customers took a road trip from Florida to North Carolina and he found eight different interceptors on that trip. We even found one at South Point Casino in Las Vegas.”

The towers were found in July, but the report implied that there may have been more out there.

Although it is unclear who owns the towers, ESD found that several of them were located near U.S. military bases. 

“Whose interceptor is it? Who are they, that’s listening to calls around military bases? Is it just the U.S. military, or are they foreign governments doing it? The point is: we don’t really know whose they are,” Goldsmith said to Popular Science.

It’s probably not the NSA — that agency can tap all it wants without the need for bogus towers, VentureBeat reported:

Not the NSA, cloud security firm SilverSky CTO/SVP Andrew Jaquith told us. “The NSA doesn’t need a fake tower,” he said. “They can just go to the carrier” to tap your line.

Indeed. Subterfuge is required only by those who cannot slap you with a national security letter.

My first comment is that the journalists did not engage in any serious kind of investigation here.

Every one of these towers, unless it was thrown up in the dead of night (unlikely), went through the usual local zoning or planning approval process, which means that there is a paper trail involving land sales, applications, permits and hearings before a local municipal or county board. I know. I sat on one of these commissions for a number of years and jack does not get built in most of the United States until they approve and (usually hefty) fees are paid. These towers aren’t some fat trucker’s CB antennae or ham radio set-up next to a double-wide. A construction crew and heavy equipment were required

My second comment is that since these devices are engaged in ongoing, infinite count, felony eavesdropping, wiretapping, hacking etc. violations, the chances are excellent that corruption of local officials was in play to get these fake towers approved. At least in some of the cases and it is likely that the local officials had some idea of what the tower builders were up to ( or at least their professional engineering staff did). All these towers and no one said “no” or asked tough questions. Think of the odds. You can’t get rubber-stamp approval to build a dog house in most jurisdictions.

My third comment is to wonder who would show up if motivated citizens decided to disable the towers – either by vigilantee action or pressuring public officials to remove these illegal towers.

My fourth comment is that when our public officials are co-conspirators with criminals against the people and their Constitution, the Republic as we knew it is fading away.

If we continue down this road we will await only the coming of a Sulla.

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What to do About ISIS? Constructing Strategy, Weighing Options

Friday, August 29th, 2014

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen"]

ISIS or the Islamic StateCaliphate” is the focus  of a great deal of discussion and demands for action from the United Statesand also inactionfrom many quarters.

What is to be done?

That is a famous question.  In matters of geopolitics and strategy, it is more fitting to begin with “Should something be done?”. We need to define the problem before rushing toward solutions. What is ISIS/ISIL/IS  and does it threaten the United States and American interests?:

An evolving offshoot of al Qaida, ISIS is a more radically takfiri, more ambitious and more impatient  jihadi/irhabi offspring than it’s parent. The so-called Islamic State holds sway over considerable Sunni Arab territory in both Syria and Iraq with a makeshift capital at Ar-Raqqah, Syria. Theologically, ISIS is the most extreme Islamist movement to arise since the GIA near the tail end of their 1990′s insurgency in Algeria, regarding the Shia and less radical Sunnis as apostates, deserving of death.  They have carried out genocidal massacres of Yazidis and Shia prisoners of war, tortured and mutilated prisoners and executed noncombatants and hostages like reporter James Foley. Ominously, ISIS may also be an apocalyptic movement, not merely a radical takfiri one, making it far less risk averse, even brazen, in its offensive operations and more intransigently fanatical on defense.

ISIS has been popularly described as an unholy mixture of “al Qaida, the Khmer Rouge and the Nazis”  and also as a terrorist army” by General David Petraeus. While it is true that their ranks probably contain the cream of the world’s Salafi terrorist-jihadi current, terrorism in the form of assassinations and suicide bombings has only been adjunctive to insurgent tactics and conventional combined arms operations. ISIS has shown impressive small unit discipline, the capacity to engage in maneuver warfare with heavy arms against the Kurds, Syrian Army, the Iraqi Army and rival Syrian rebel groups and even special operations skills. ISIS has moved aggressively on the physical, mental and moral levels of war to amass territory for their “caliphate” and consolidate their power and continues to advance, despite being rebuffed from Irbil by the Kurds and US airpower. ISIS is heavily armed with large quantities of advanced modern American and Russian weapons captured from the Iraqi and Syrian armies and is equally well funded, possessing in addition to significant revenue flows, the control of numerous dams and oilfields. Finally, in addition to their manifold war crimes, crimes against humanity and acts of genocide, ISIS has also made broad, if vague, threats to strike New York, Chicago and Americans generally.

ISIS in a sense is the dream of jihadi strategist Abu Musab al-Suri come to life and gone from strength to strength. If they do not have al-Suri in their ranks, they have his playbook and do not seem to shrink from employing stratagems and speed to achieve surprise.

Having assessed their capabilities, I think it is reasonable to conclude that ISIS is a threat to American interests because they are destabilizing the region, threatening the security of American allies and are regularly causing a grave humanitarian crisis far beyond the normal exigencies of war. It is less clear that they are a direct threat to the security of United States and to the extent that ISIS terrorism is a threat, it is a  modest one,  though greater to Americans and US facilities overseas. The caveat is that the strength and capabilities of ISIS have already grown faster and qualitatively improved more than any other non-state actor in the last forty years and are on a trajectory of further growth. ISIS is unlikely to be better disposed toward American interests if it grows stronger. CJCS General Dempsey, correctly attempted to convey all of these nuances in his remarks to reporters without overstepping his role into advocating a policy to shape our strategy, which is the responsibility of his civilian superiors.

This brings us to the cardinal weakness in post-Cold War American statesmen – an unwillingness to do the intellectual heavy lifting that connects policy and strategy by making the choice to articulate a realistic vision of political ends that are the desired outcome of a decisive use of military force.  The result of this aversion (which is bipartisan – I am not picking on the Obama administration here) is that a strategy is not formulated, much less executed and the military then attempts to remediate the strategic gap with the sheer awesomeness of its operational art. That does not usually work too well, at least on land, because contemporary American civilian and military leaders also do not like to inflict the kind of horrific mass casualties on the enemy that, even in the absence of a real strategy might still cripple through sheer attrition  the enemy’s will or capacity to fight.  The American elite today, in contrast to the generation of FDR, Eisenhower and Truman, have no stomach for Dresden – but defeating Nazis sometimes requires not just a Dresden, but many of them and worse.

However, let’s assume the best, that the Obama administration will, having learned from Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan, construct a strategy to use force to accomplish victory – gaining coherent, specific and realistic political objectives. The President, having refreshingly admitted that there is no strategy at present, has freed up his subordinates to create one rather than digging in and defending the current policy that lacks one. Since the administration and nearly everyone else on Earth agrees that ISIS , in addition to being moral monsters, is a threat to at least some degree. the questions then become:

  • How much of a threat is ISIS to American interests or security?
  • What do we want the political end state to be in the Mideast if/when the threat of ISIS is contained, diminished or destroyed?
  • What is it worth to us to accomplish this outcome in light of our other, competing, American interests, in the region and globally?

Once those important questions are answered, the military leadership will have the proper policy guidance to give the administration the best possible advice on how military force could secure their aims or be used in concert with other elements of national power civilian leaders might wish to employ, such as diplomacy, economic coercion or covert operations. Moving forward without answering these questions is an exercise in flailing about, hoping that using sufficient force opportunistically will cause good geopolitical things to happen.

I will not venture to say how or if administration officials will answer such questions, but there are some broad military options the Pentagon might offer to further a strategy to contend with ISIS. Some suggested possibilities and comments:

These options are not all mutually exclusive and in practice some would blend into others. No option is perfect, cost free or without trade-offs. Attempting to find the strategy with no risks and no hard choices is a policy to engage primarily in ineffectual military gesticulations insufficient to actually change the status quo in Iraq and Syria ( and the eternal default strategy of domestic political consultants and career bureaucrats playing at foreign policy).

DO NOTHING:

Doing nothing, or non-intervention is vastly underrated as a strategy because it is passive. However, most of the greatly feared, worst-case scenarios will fail to materialize as predicted because the actors about whom we harbor grave suspicions usually become bogged down by their own friction, miscalculations, internal politics and chance. This is why calling every foreign menace, great and small, the next “Hitler” has lost much of its charge. Run of the mill tyrants and corrupt dictators simply are not Adolf Hitler and their crappy, semi-developed, countries are not to be equated with turning the industrial heart of Europe into a war machine. Avoiding a needless war of choice is usually the smarter play from an economic and humanitarian standpoint.  The drawback to this option is that every once in a while, the menace really is another Hitler, a Bolshevik Revolution or a less than existential threat that nevertheless, is politically intolerable for numerous good reasons.  ISIS barbarism probably falls into the latter category and doing absolutely nothing becomes risky in the face of a fast-rising aggressor and probably politically untenable at home.

CONTAINMENT:

Containing a threat with a combination of coercion, non-military forms of pressure and  limited uses of armed force short of all-out warfare is designed to prevent further expansion until the adversary loses the will or capacity to remain a threat. This defensive posture was the successful American grand strategy of the Cold War against the Soviet Union and is frequently invoked as a less costly alternative for proposed interventions. Admittedly, the idea of keeping Islamist radicals bottled up in a “Sunnistan” composed of the Syrian desert and northern Iraqi towns until they starve or are overthrown and murdered by locals has a certain charm.

Unfortunately, this option is not likely to work because the underlying analogy is extremely poor.  Containment worked in part because Soviet insistence on maintaining the USSR as a totalitarian “closed system” made them exceptionally vulnerable to Containment’s pressure which allowed them no lasting way to resolve their internal economic and political contradictions. ISIS is not the Soviets and their Caliphate is not a closed system, or even yet, a durable state.  Their jihadi cadres can melt away across borders and new recruits can make their way in, as can contraband, money and information. Physically containing ISIS would do nothing toward discrediting their ideas; more likely, their continued existence in the face of powerful Western and Arab state opposition would validate them.  In any event, sealing off ISIS would require the unstinting, sustained, cooperation of  Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the Gulf states, Turkey, the Assad regime, the Kurds and a large deployment of American troops. This is probably not doable except on a very short term basis as a prelude to a “final offensive” like the one that crushed the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka.

PROXY WARFARE:

Enlisting foreign local allies, be they loyalist paramilitaries or state military regulars of various countries offers numerous advantages as well as drawbacks. It provides boots on the ground that we can’t afford, while irregulars like Kurdish Peshmerga and Shia militiamen would be highly motivated to fight. The Kurds are also (relatively speaking) well disciplined and trained compared to building units by throwing together ragtag tribesmen and down on their luck Iraqi townsmen looking for a paycheck. Adding overwhelming American airpower to the mix would greatly improve the fighting power of irregular light infantry, as was demonstrated recently when Kurdish and Iraqi forces repeled ISIS from Iraq’s largest dam. Proxy warfare offers a fairly decent chance to roll back ISIS but the downside is that proxies also have their own agendas and would range from “mostly but not entirely reliable” (Kurds) to “freebooting death squads” (Shia militias). As in Afghanistan, we would soon find our proxies were also in the pay of Iran and Saudi Arabia and attempting to play one patron off against the other. Recognizing Kurdish independence would most likely be part of the deal (not a bad thing in my view) which would require repudiating a decade of failed nation-building policy in Iraq ( also not a bad thing) and accepting partition.

LIMITED WARFARE: 

Limited warfare is often disdained because it can seldom produce a resounding victory but it is useful in playing to strengths (ex. relying on a robust air campaign) while  limiting exposure to risks and costs.  Overwhelming firepower can be applied selectively to prevent an adversary’s victory and impose punishing costs, eating up their men and material. Limited warfare works best in conjunction with simple and limited political goals and military objectives and poorly with grandiose visions ( like turning Afghanistan into a liberal democracy and haven of women’ rights). Limited warfare on land, particular grinding counterinsurgency wars that go on for years on end with no clear stopping point, are very difficult for democracies to sustain politically. The electorate grows weary and the troops come home, often short of a permanent political settlement. The likely preference of the administration, if it chose this option, would be an air campaign coupled with drones, CIA covert action and SOF, working in conjunction with local allies.

MAJOR WARFARE:

For existential threats, go heavy or go home. This is the Weinberger-Powell Doctrine in pursuit of a decisive battle that does not merely defeat but crushes the enemy and compels him to submit to our will.  It would be extraordinarily expensive in blood, treasure and opportunity costs as the United states military is ill-prepared to re-deploy the bulk of the Army and Marine Corps to Iraq, supported by carrier groups in the Gulf. It is highly questionable that ISIS, whose fighters number somewhere between 10,000 – 20,000 would stand up and try to fight such an mammoth expedition head-on. They would retreat to Syria and dare us to invade that country also or go underground. It is also dubious that American leaders have the kind of iron-hearted will to fight what Gary Anderson accurately describes as “a combined arms campaign of extermination“. ISIS by contrast, demonstrates daily that it has no such scruples restraining them.

GRAND COALITION:

This differs from the previous option only in that it would bring all or most of the aforementioned armed enemies of ISIS together to corner and annihilate the menace once and for all. It makes eminent strategic sense but the ability to bring together so many incompatible parties and weld them into a coordinated military campaign requires political-diplomatic wizardry on the order of genius to pull off. It also requires a much greater sense of fear of ISIS than even their ghoulish brutality has generated so far to bring together Saudi and Shia, Turk and Kurd, Alawite and Sunni rebel, American and Iranian, as military allies.

The Obama administration faces a difficult dilemma in pondering the problem presented by ISIS. I don’t envy them but their task will grow easier and a resultant strategy more likely successful if they are willing to make ruthless choices in pursuit of bottom-line, clearly-defined American interests.

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Ferguson: tweets of interest 1

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- the extraordinary cast of players surrounding Ferguson, not forgetting Marvin Gaye ]
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There’s a whole lot going on that, while not central to the face-off between public and police in Ferguson, is “constellating” around it, and worth our attention in any case. I’ll begin with the most interesting pairing of religious groups in Ferguson — the Moorish Temple, alongside the Nation of Islam — alongside the Black Panthers, whose interests are purely political AFAIK:

It’s interesting that according to WND — not necessarily a source I’d expect to find this sort of thing in — Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson “has had some words of high praise for some people he said helped get the violence under control for one night” in Ferguson:

It was Malik Shabazz, formerly with the New Black Panthers, and now with Black Lawyers for Justice, and his team, including members of that group as well as the Nation of Islam. [ .. ]

During a news conference held by Johnson in Ferguson, Shabazz started explained that it was his team who had shut down traffic, chased the people away and prevented rioting for a single night last week.

Johnson credited him with accomplishing exactly that.

“First of all, I want to say that those groups he talked about that helped us Thursday night, he’s absolutely correct and when I met with the governor the next day I said I do not know the names of those groups. But I said there were gentlemen in black pants and black shirts and they were out there and they did their job.

“And I told that to the governor, and I’ll tell that to the nation,” Johnson said. “Those groups helped, and they’re a part of this.”

For more on the Moorish Science Temple, see Peter Lamborn Wilson‘s Lost/Found Moorish Time Lines in the Wilderness of North America [part 1 and part 2]

The Moorish Temple, Panthers and Nation of Islam all converging on Ferguson is impressive. Apparently missing from this picture? The Scientologists. Louis Farrakhan of NOI has recently been recommending Scientology to his NOI followers [1, 2, 3], in yet another example of strange bedfellows…

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Okay, — on the face of it, the single most ironic tweet I’ve seen about Ferguson would have to be this one:

— and that’s unfortunate, because KaBoom‘s Playful City USA idea is a good one, and Ferguson deserves kudos for implementing it:

In 2012, Ferguson was recognized as a “Playful City, USA” for its efforts to increase play opportunities for children. The city of Ferguson hosts Sunday Parkways, a free community play street event in neighborhoods on Sunday afternoons. Streets are closed to cars in order to allow residents of all ages and abilities to play in the streets.

Closing down streets to traffic so people young and old can play in them isn’t enough, however — when they’re also closed down for the sorts of other reasons we’ve been seeing in Ferguson recently.

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One pair of tweets that caught my eye showed almost the same exact moment, captured from two angles that must have been almost perpendicular to one another — a pairing that would have made an interesting DoubleQuote all by itself. The first is from Bill Moyers:

while the second was addressed to him by another observer:

That second photo is the work of Scott Olson of Getty Images, a photographer who was himself arrested and then released in Ferguson, as part of the police vs press stand-off which has been a secondary motif in this whole affair.

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There are words painted on the PO box in that last photo that somehow made their way unfiltered onto at least one TV report, but one of them is NSFW. Three tweets from Yamiche Alcindor of USA Today delicately obscure the offending phrase with suitably placed asterisks, and indicate that as Congreve said, “Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak” — but can also arouse them.

In this case, the arousing came first, the calming second — kudos to polite police:

— with kudos, too, to Marvin Gaye:

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I’ll close part 1 of this double post with an interesting example of a DoubleQuote in the Wild:

Coming up next in part 2: noticeable individual protesters and foreign commentary

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The DoubleQuote as Feedback Loop

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- a new variant on the DoubleQuote format addresses loops and escalations ]
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I seem to be thinking about feedback loop diagrams today, eh?

And what with my Twitter feed filling with images from Ferguson, MO, and someone posting an image from the Bundy Ranch standoff by way of comparison, it occurred to me that images of cops taking aim at citizens (Ferguson, MO, upper panel below) and citizens taking aim at cops (Bundy Ranch, lower panel) didn’t just naturally fall into the visual DoubleQuote category, they also formed a potential feedback loop.

And as my just posted mutual escalation spiral is intended to suggest, mutually antagonistic feedback loops like this come perilously close to spiraling out of control.

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So, too, we now have another variant on the DoubleQuote format — the DoubleQuote as feedback loop. I suspect that now I’ve “seen” it, I may find it comes in handy on other occasions.

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Sources:

  • Ferguson
  • Bundy Ranch
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    The Fortieth Anniversary of Nixon’s Resignation

    Saturday, August 9th, 2014

    Forty years ago, Richard M. Nixon, the 37th President of the United States, resigned his office under threat of impeachment for high crimes and misdemeanors.

    He committed them.

    Richard Nixon left a complicated legacy, of which I wrote last year,  on his hundredth birthday. My views have not changed much in the interim. As a statesman, Richard Nixon was an adept strategist and visionary, who would rank in the company of our greatest presidents if his crimes in Watergate did not render him an epochal failure. Worse, some of his abuses of power that drove Nixon from office are in danger of becoming normalized and institutionalized or exceeded. Nixon’s accomplishments cannot be separated from his misdeeds because we are living with the consequences of both.

    Resignation of the Office of the Presidency of the United States was not provided for in the original U.S. Constitution, but was mentioned in the 25th Amendment, ratified in 1967.  Characteristically, Nixon ignored the spirit of the amendment in choosing to submit his resignation to Henry Kissinger, the Secretary of State and his Executive Branch subordinate, rather than to his co-equal peers, the Constitutional officers of the US Congress, as is specified in the 25th Amendment for cases of presidential disability, though not resignation.

    Even in being forced from office, Nixon found a technicality to deny his political adversaries that point of satisfaction.


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