FBI Wiretaps reach record numbers
February 24, 2004 7:05 AM   Subscribe

Thanks to PATRIOT Act, FBI wiretaps reach record numbers. 'Thanks to the bundle of anti-terrorism measures known as the USA Patriot Act, the FBI is conducting a "record amount" of electronic surveillance, including the use of wiretaps and bugs, according to an FBI spokesman and a Justice Department budget document. Yet the bounty perpetuates an old problem: The bureau can't keep up with all the information pouring in.'
posted by busbyism (45 comments total)
Shhhhh...they're listening.
posted by ColdChef at 7:12 AM on February 24, 2004

posted by ColdChef at 7:13 AM on February 24, 2004

I find it intriguing that the "FBI spokesman" is named Cogswell. Maybe the cog business wasn't working out and the government owed him a favor. Maybe we can hit up Mr. Spacely for help with a counter-operation....
posted by jonmc at 7:17 AM on February 24, 2004

Thanks to DARPA's total information database they won't need to sift through it all. Once decided they want to arrest someone they can go back and dig up everything you've ever done wrong. Or, better yet, just declare you an enemy combatant and jail you without charge indefinitely.

In the future machines will decide your guilt. Humans can't keep up with the flood of guilty people new technology allows us to uncover.
posted by y6y6y6 at 7:21 AM on February 24, 2004

cool! we're gonna catch way more terrorists now, right?
posted by mcsweetie at 7:25 AM on February 24, 2004

talk about your tempest in a teapot. the fbi has always conducted electronic surveillance. what a non-story. in fact, fbi electronic surveillance stimulates the economy, as CEO's, CFO's, Republicans and terrorists invest in countermeasure technologies thereby creating new jobs.
</Mida$ Mulligan>
posted by quonsar at 7:26 AM on February 24, 2004

Terrorism schmerrorism... the vast majority of wiretaps -- at least 80%, some say as high as 90% of them -- are issued for drugs cases.

Good thing that whole 9/11 distraction hasn't caused this country to lose its priorities.
posted by clevershark at 7:38 AM on February 24, 2004

It is also important to mark a clear distinction between wiretapping for evidence-gathering, and wiretapping for information gathering.

Whatever legal protections we have -- whatever rights to privacy, etc. -- are relevant only with regard to evidence-gathering. That is, if a spook wants to use the wiretap to prosecute someone for a crime, then the constitutional and court-derived protections apply.

However, if the spook wants to use a wiretap to gain information about possible illegal activities, in order to intervene in those activities or mitigate their impact, then those same protections are really irrelevant.

To put this in other terms: if the spook ever wants to be able to use information gained by a wiretap in a court of law, then he'd better follow the rules, or else the evidence will be inadmissable. But, if the spook's intentions have nothing to do with courtrooms and prosecution, then his hands are not at all tied.
posted by yesster at 7:45 AM on February 24, 2004

The expression 'Information Overload' is important here. As was discovered back during the Cold War, if you can't keep the spies out, then overwhelm them with BS.
And *that* was the reason "data mining" was invented, to help sort through the voluminous crapola.

But what it all boils down to are a few groups: those who really *do* use the tools for their intended antiterrorist purposes, the great minority; those who abuse the tools for nonsense like the "War On Drug Users", the great majority; those who are obsessive/perverse voyeurs, sick, twisted individuals who should be locked up, not working for the government; and last but far from least, the leaders in government who haven't a clue about technology or "the threat", but think that shiny, expensive new stuff is always the way to go. The ones who are always impressed when crime statistics jump the month before budget appropriations begin.

posted by kablam at 7:53 AM on February 24, 2004

Resist, resist... it's not working...quonsar, I think you forgot the all important italics:

talk about your tempest in a teapot. the fbi has always conducted electronic surveillance. what a non-story. in fact, fbi electronic surveillance stimulates the economy, as CEO's, CFO's, Republicans and terrorists invest in countermeasure technologies thereby creating new jobs.

Anyhoo, more secrecy = less democracy.

They should outsource the analysis to whoever wants to use up their time listening to hours of tedious conversation. Kind of like seti@home for terrorist spotting.

The Stasi in East Berlin had approximately one informant for every seven members of the public, it is suggested that reaction against Stasi excesses was a main contributor to the fall of the Berlin wall.
posted by asok at 8:10 AM on February 24, 2004

You have something to hide from the Motherland Comrade?
posted by substrate at 8:11 AM on February 24, 2004

We really should vote for anyone who voted against the Patriot act.

But that would keep John Kerry out of the White House. He who said "It reflects an enormous amount of hard work by the members of the Senate Banking Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee. I congratulate them and thank them for that work."


Well, that leaves Edwards! But no, he drafted the thing.

Nader for president!
posted by swerdloff at 8:15 AM on February 24, 2004

"In the future machines will decide your guilt. Humans can't keep up with the flood of guilty people new technology allows us to uncover."

- and Diebold will write the software which, true to form, will suck.

It will be "Brazil" (the movie) come to life, as in the opening scene for that movie - as a bureaucrat in a tiny cubicle (with a 20 or 25 foot high ceiling) piles up a bunch of furniture to get high enough to whack a troublesome fly with a flyswatter.

The fly tumbles down to land on the page of a report the bureaucrat is typing up, and winds up being mashed into the page and so changes a name on the report - from "Tuttle" to "Buttle" (or vice versa).

So as the plot begins in earnest, a S.W.A.T team crashes through the roof, doors and windows of the wrong person and pulls the hapless victim out up bed at gunpoint, hoods him, and whisks him off to the Ministries of Truth and Love.
posted by troutfishing at 8:31 AM on February 24, 2004

It's a good thing we don't have a government that's run like a business. A business might get around to asking "so, how many actual terrorists have we caught as a result of all these wiretaps we're spending money on?" Government is totally free of oversight and responsibility to anyone other than itself, which certainly makes this sort of thing much easier.
posted by tommasz at 8:41 AM on February 24, 2004

Brazil! That's the pertinent movie of-our-time I was going to get on DVD! Thanks troutfishing.
posted by Blue Stone at 8:54 AM on February 24, 2004

"A business might get around to asking "so, how many actual terrorists have we caught as a result......."

Nope. The terrorist bogeyman comes out of the marketing budget. It's all overhead. The expectation isn't that we'll catch terrorists, but rather that we'll be scared of terrorists, and thus we'll buy the product. If we actually *caught* the terrorists then we wouldn't need the product anymore would we?

To understand the Bush administration you need to understand the shell game the CEOs of Enron etc played for years. For Bush Co the ROI for the War On Terrorâ„¢ is that we won't look too closely at all the things he's not fixing.

For example, remember how amazed we were when Bush announced he was going to give 15 billion to Africa to fight AIDS? Well, now that you're scared a terrorist is going to blow you up you haven't noticed that Bush never made any attempt to follow through on that promise. Zero budgeted last year. Zero budgeted this year.

Your business analogy works much better if you think Enron rather the FedEx.
posted by y6y6y6 at 8:59 AM on February 24, 2004

I agree - this administration is all about shell games :

[ Rove takes a big fat toke ] "Karl, I don't see how you can smoke that shit. It bad for your brain" [ George W. ] "Au contraire, my king, au contraire" [ Rove chuckles ] "All I can say is - I'm not judgmental or anything, but this better never get out. I'd be toast." [W] "Toasted, my chocolate truffle, toasted. Work on that diction a little. Some people think you're dumb.....Holy crap on a libral bran muffin, batman - I've got a tasty nugget of an idea !" [K] "Karl, you're getting kind of fat - that shit makes you eat too many.... and - you know how I am on the Jesus thing. That 'Holy Crap' stuff doesn't sit right in my gut, just sayin...." [W] "Not now, my little Dorito...I'm on to a little project.....let the liberals jerk themselves around and consolidate your base too. Just like Psyops, but much, much easier. You like that, my lord and master, right ? 100% legal dirty tricks ? Those are the best... " [K] "OK Karl. I'm all ears" [ pulls on ears in exaggerated, mocking fashion ] " Right, well - we'll script Paige and have him 'accidentally' make a 'stupid joke' that equates the NEA ( the teacher's group, not the arts group ) with terrorist organizations. The 'liberal media' [ chuckles ] will pick it up and hammer the association into the minds of millions of Americans. Get yr note cards, boy ! - I'M TOOTIN ! - next, we'll....." [ GW rolls eyes, begins to scratch away on a yellow legal pad ] "Yeah karl, next you're ordering deep fried chocolate nougat bars from the kitchen, I know. Don't forget your lipitor. Sorry - you were saying ? I'm all ears" [ tugs on ears to assuage a slightly peeved, but giggling Rove ]

posted by troutfishing at 9:05 AM on February 24, 2004

Lo ! the Panopticon of legalized, voyeuristic, peverted snooping.

Ken Starr's release of all the intimate details of MonicaGate - the cigar, the dick sucking, the thong, all of it - comes to mind. I think the GOP has become obsessed with smut......and they're not above inflicting their perverted obsessions on INNOCENT AMERICA CHILDREN, in their craven pursuit of poltical gain !

/bug-eyed, vein popping political screed
posted by troutfishing at 9:09 AM on February 24, 2004

Silly me, that's the engineer talking, y6y6y6. That, and I keep thinking Enron was some sort of isolated thing. Clearly, it's The Way Business Gets Done.
posted by tommasz at 9:38 AM on February 24, 2004

blue stone - you're welcome. I've been planning on watching Brazil again myself.
posted by troutfishing at 10:12 AM on February 24, 2004

q: Does Midas really argue that spending of that nature is good for the economy?

Midas defends all things PATRIOT and he has assured us that this legislation would never never never ever be abused by the good folks at the FBI, CIA, DOD or DHS.

It's for your safety, after all.
posted by sic at 11:41 AM on February 24, 2004

Midas defends all things PATRIOT and he has assured us that this legislation would never never never ever be abused by the good folks at the FBI, CIA, DOD or DHS.

Bullshit. I have said that the people I've met, in those agencies and others, genuinely do seem concerned with stopping terrorists from blowing shit up ... but any authority on earth can, and will be abused at some time or antoher. The vast majority of police in the US carry guns, and can arrest people. Some of them abuse this authority every day. Oddly, I still feel quite a bit safer in New York with police than I would without them.

q: Does Midas really argue that spending of that nature is good for the economy?

Good grief no (but then again, we're in an environment where replacing "s" with "$" in a name is apparently considered terribly clever - and where 4 or 5 posts decided it was necessary to trash me by name, in a thread that I hadn't even posted to).

One of the divisions in my current firm does specialize in financial patterns - helping financial insititutions configure software that catches things like money-laundering and identity theft (and silly me, I actually think doing this not only makes me money, but contributes in a positive way to society). What will likely never be understood on MeFi - where most discussions of business are composed of snide remarks about straw men and caricatures - is that successful business is an attitude. Pass Patriot II, and I'll make money. Get rid of the Patriot Act altogether, and I'll make money. The Patriot Act isn't good or bad for business.

For anyone here remotely interested in the truth, I can say that the reaction to the Patriot Act in big business circles (at least in my industry) is decidedly mixed. On the one hand, 9/11 was an attack directed squarely at the financial sector ... downtown Manhattan is home to the NYSE, the American Stock Exchange, the NY Mercantile Exchange, the global headquarters of American Express, Merrill Lynch, etc., etc., etc. Almost everyone - from secretary to CEO - that worked in the Wall Street culture lost friends and co-workers. On the other hand, Title III of the Patriot Act (governing financial services) imposed significant new requirements on firms in the midst of a recessionary cycle. (The giant in anti-money laundering software, for instance, is Mantas - and the cost of implementing it at a Fortune 1000 financial firm averages several million dollars).

So far as business goes - the Patriot Act is pretty much neutral ... it helped some business and industries, and hurt others. It was not passed - with broad, bipartisan public support - to "create business for Bush's rich buddies". It was passed because 9/11 woke the government up to the fact that law had not kept up with either technology, or the tactics used by criminals and terrorists.

On the off chance that this thread might want to evolve beyond the usual cheap sarcastic one-liners, into a rational, reasoned discussion of what really is an important public policy issue, permit me to toss a couple of ideas out:

1. The Patriot Act, in many cases, is not new, but is rather composed of taking existing bodies of law and updating them to take into account an entirely new world. It was passed under a Republican administration, but folks, it does not matter whether a Republican or Democrat is in charge - 9/11 permanently altered the Presidency. In some ways, the Patriot Act was an overreaction ... and I do expect parts of it will be modified and adjusted over time. But the underlying purpose, and a good deal of its provisions, will be essential regardless of who is in power. Any attempts to turn it into a issue to use against Republicans probably won't work ... because virtually all of the Democrats (rightly) voted for it too.

The Patriot Act was not passed because "Republicans are voyeurs" (sheesh), but because some nasty people flew planes into the WTC and the Pentagon. And these same groups are still actively planning attacks of all different kinds - physical, biological, and chemical, on the US. Groups of them are in the US. This brings up the second point ...

2. The most serious problem at the bureacratic level has to do with the fact that intelligence gathering and law enforcement are two different, and often contradictory activities. This is why there has traditionally been little communication between the CIA and FBI. The CIA is foreign intelligence. It takes years of hard, dangerous work to develop sources - and the sources generally belong to a shadowy world. Their motives are usually mixed. Their intelligence is often partially reliable, and partially not. But they do stop a helluva lot of harm from coming about.

The FBI is largely domestic law enforcement. Their biggest thrust has been solving crimes and prosecuting offenders. They are interested in sources they can use in court. The CIA's culture is diametrically opposed to that - because the minute a source is used in a courtroom on a single case, they will not only be useless as a source of any future information, but would likely be very quickly dead.

9/11 exposed the huge gap between the CIA and FBI. On the on hand, the CIA and its intelligence gathering abilities cannot be used in the US. On the other hand, the FBI's culture is largely law enforcement, not intelligence. Problem is, the folks that pulled of 9/11 didn't break any laws prior to 9/11. They didn't rob banks, or do anything other than live relatively peaceable, mundane lives.

Most of the concerns about the Patriot Act stem from the fact that it was first attempt to solve this paradox. The FBI was essentially given some of the abilities - to use in the US - that the CIA traditionally would have only used overseas ... i.e., intelligence gathering via covert survelliance before any crime has been commited. It is also starting to face the same difficulties the CIA faces ... if you use a source in particular ways, the source becomes useless in the future. In many cases, if you even show that you're aware of some activities, you'll put your source at risk. If you do actually stop a particular terrorist act, you can't even necessarily make it public - because Islamic terrorism is a very closed world - and it will often be immediately apparent (to the terrorists) where the security leak came from.

Now no one thinks the Patriot Act is perfect. Including its authors. Some elements of it are essential - others questionable, and others upsetting. Some aspects of it will work (in fact, are working), and others may prove useless. It will undoubtedly be altered over time (all bodies of law and regulation are).

But there is something pretty serious that has to be addressed ... and it matters not whether a Republican or Democrat is in office. There are people, both abroad and in the US, that want to destroy more buildings, set off biological and chemical weapons, and kill a lot of us in as dramatic a way as possible. They have money, skills, and the commitment borne of fanaticism behind them.

If you want to made cute little snide remarks about the Patriot Act, cool. If you want to throw it out altogether, fine. But maybe, for a moment, share with us what you would do instead. Were you the President, and didn't have to liberty of just critiquing other people's solutions (very easy to do from the sidelines), but had to come up with your own ... what would you do?
posted by MidasMulligan at 12:27 PM on February 24, 2004

If I were President, I would first make sure that all the existing laws were being used to their fullest capacity. I'd also make sure the people in charge of defending the country were doing their jobs and not slacking off. Exactly how many people lost their jobs over the intelligence/security failure that was 9/11? I'm hoping that by November that number will increase to at least 1.
posted by bashos_frog at 1:15 PM on February 24, 2004

If I were President, I would first make sure that all the existing laws were being used to their fullest capacity. I'd also make sure the people in charge of defending the country were doing their jobs and not slacking off. Exactly how many people lost their jobs over the intelligence/security failure that was 9/11? I'm hoping that by November that number will increase to at least 1.

This is what I mean. Are you serious? You're the President of the United States. You're responsible for its security, are Commander in Chief of it's military, and have the federal intelligence and law enforcement agencies under your management. You've just watched the twin towers collapse, and see smoke rising from the Pentagon.

Nearly the entire country is in the midst of shock, hurt, and outrage, and has suddenly emerged from the illusion that the acts of serious terror that are so common in a lot of other places in the world would never happen here.

You are going to face that nation, as its President, and say that your response will be to enforce existing laws, and fire a few people? Really?
posted by MidasMulligan at 2:08 PM on February 24, 2004

No, Midas.

Obviously, what we really need are more of the actions and policies of your heroes, President AWOL and his boys. You remember....the actions and policies on THEIR WATCH which allowed the worst terrorist attack in history.

Uh huh. You talked about "facing the nation" as President. It's great to see your buddy Bush really taking charge as Commander in Chief....really "facing the nation" through his efforts to restrict investigation into exactly what happened on 9/11 (you remember...that little investigation goaded on by some of those nice people "in the Wall Street culture" whose families were killed on 9/11). Real gutsy of him. Bush watching "smoke rising from the Pentagon"....then slowing down the very investigation into how that smoking ruin happened.... it is really a fantastic way to prevent that from ever happening again, don't you agree, Midas? I mean, stifling an investigation into why a crime happened is just bound to help prevent further crime. Just ask any of those New York police officer you feel safer with.

"Facing the nation". Catchy. I like it.

However, It is kind of strange that it's ok in Bush's America to snoop around at what library books are being checked out by its citizens...and really ok to investigate anti-war demonstrations...but we sure don't want those "patriots" of the "Patriot [sic] Act" looking into the White House. No, that's going too far. That's "executive privilege". Why, holding the executive branch to standards of accountability might even threaten our very democracy, right Midas? More "facing the nation" in the world of Midas/Bush. Cool.

Yeah, and post facto, obviously what we really need is more screaming and shouting and eyeing swarthy-complexioned people constantly and checking into terrorist breeding grounds like public libraries and getting our military orgasm mojo on and running in circles and panicking and preemptively invading countries that have shit to do with terrorism. That really worked out well.

You know, because America stands for imprisonment without access to lawyers. You know, because America is all about racial profiling. You know, because military tribunals are the up-and-coming legal standard if we feel "threatened".

Shit. I know I feel safer from terrorists now that the FBI investigates people critical of the Bush administration. So what if democracy dies behind closed doors.

"The F.B.I. is dangerously targeting Americans who are engaged in nothing more than lawful protest and dissent," said Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union. "The line between terrorism and legitimate civil disobedience is blurred, and I have a serious concern about whether we're going back to the days of Hoover."

Herman Schwartz, a constitutional law professor at American University who has written about F.B.I. history, said collecting intelligence at demonstrations is probably legal.

But he added: "As a matter of principle, it has a very serious chilling effect on peaceful demonstration. If you go around telling people, `We're going to ferret out information on demonstrations,' that deters people. People don't want their names and pictures in F.B.I. files."

The abuses of the Hoover era, which included efforts by the F.B.I. to harass and discredit Hoover's political enemies under a program known as Cointelpro, led to tight restrictions on F.B.I. investigations of political activities.

Those restrictions were relaxed significantly last year, when Attorney General John Ashcroft issued guidelines giving agents authority to attend political rallies, mosques and any event "open to the public."

Yeah, it all makes such fantastic sense. Throughout the history of the world, we've always had so much more to fear from terrorist attack than we have from secrecy and a lack of checks and balances in a powerful, concentrated branch of government, right Midas?

And let's be sure we fail to acknowledge America's complicity in breeding terrorism. That's helpful. It sure has been to date. For sure let's not talk about the economic policies and our cynical support of foreign "Patriot [sic] Act" police forces and alliances of convenience that make brutal dictators our friends one day...and terrorist threats the next. That might really open up a whole can of worms. Best not go there, for sure. Might even indict the pitiful greedheads on oil-addicted Wall Street, whose ideas about what's best for America go no further than the bottom line.

No, let's just crank up the police state. That's easy. That's worked so very well in police states in the Middle East (no terrorism there, by god), it's really bound to work well here.

In addition to those little details you somehow failed to acknowledge, you also ducked the question asked of you, Midas. Exactly how many people lost their jobs over the intelligence/security failure that was 9/11 under President AWOL's regime?

9/11 permanently altered the Presidency

No, sonny - wrong again. The present administration altered the presidency...unless you'd like to point out for us which one of the omnipotent hijackers mandated from beyond the grave that government by decree would be just a really swell idea for America from now on.

Oddly, I still feel quite a bit safer in New York with police than I would without them.

That's so nice. Now, why don't you cite for us all right now precisely and exactly which critics of the fucking Patriot [sic] Act were advocating shutting down the New York City police department, ok Chicken Little? Someone mentioned the horrors of "straw men" in the thread above. Maybe you'd like to reread what he said.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 4:39 PM on February 24, 2004

Fairly predictable post foldy. I notice, of course, that it was the usual bucket of slime poured on business/Bush/Ashcroft ... and failed pretty miserably at presenting a reasonable alternative. You don't like Bush's solution? Fine. Then what is yours.

Cheap shots and snide, dismissive one-liners directed at people genuinely trying to solve a hard - possibly partially insoluble - problem ... are easy to produce ... but say far more about your own dark and angry perspective than they do about the people you're critisizing. Coming up with realistic alternatives that don't ignore the problem ... is quite a bit more difficult.

Fact is, since 9/11, terrorists have not managed to pull off another major event on American soil (and it isn't because the intention to do so mysteriously disappeared). You may argue that the means used to accomplish this are too stringent for your taste. That is a legitimate national debate ... the question of which steps taken to prevent futher attacks can be relaxed without opening the doors to further attacks too widely.

But you do not seem capable of anything other than spewing your hatred of Bush. You apparently cannot present any realistic alternatives. What you'll likely discover is that if Kerry, or Edwards gets into office - they will find themselves faced with the same extremely difficult problem. And luckily, both of them are intelligent enough to understand that getting rid of the Patriot Act altogether would be complete and utter idiocy. They further understand that 9/11 took everyone in America by surprise. The public, the government ... everyone. What happened was simply inconceivable. However, if it happens again ... that's a different story. Bush and Ashcroft may - in some areas - be going overboard. But Kerry would also understand that if he relaxed the provisions of the Patriot Act, and another attack happened ... he'd be in deep political shit.

So then - if you want to just blurt out more of your hatred for Bush ... cool. Go for it. This thread just becomes one of the hundreds in which you can do so ... and won't be worth the time to respond.

What I would be interested to hear is whether you can actually come up with a reasonable, alternative soultion to the problem Bush (and anyone else that sits in the Oval Office) faces ... and will face. There are well-organized, well-funded people that want to set off chemical, biological, and other weapons in New York, and DC, and LA, and other locations inside the US.

posted by MidasMulligan at 7:43 PM on February 24, 2004

That's the same question I've been asking people for months here, midas. Sometimes, I honestly wonder whether they actually care.
posted by jonmc at 7:53 PM on February 24, 2004

With a few exceptions - no more box cutters on commercial flights, FBI/CIA cooperation - the only thing that would have been required to stop the 9/11 attacks is for everyone to properly implement existing security policies.

As president I would have pushed the case that we had been living in a bubble, and that bubble has burst. If we let our guard down, terrorists may take advantage. We are at war and complacency has been the enemy's biggest weapon. No longer.

But at the same time the American way of life is in no danger. We owe it to those who have died to not lose sight of what makes America great. If we weaken the protections in the Bill Of Rights, if we give in to fear, if we turn on our Moslem neighbors, we chip away at what is best about this nation.

If the terrorists are determined to attack us with suicide bombs there is nothing we can do about it. If it can't be stopped in a tiny country like Israel, it can't be stopped in the U.S.

We go to war against terrorists where they live and breed. We attack nations that harbor them. We work with the world community to track them down and deflate their hatred. We make security more than an afterthought. We accept that madmen want to kill us.

We go to war, but we preserve our liberty. We track down terrorists and bring them to justice, but we leave the Bill Of Rights untrampled. We work to close the security holes, but we hold what makes America great in our hearts.
posted by y6y6y6 at 8:18 PM on February 24, 2004

what y6 said.

And 9/11 wasn't a surprise at all--haven't you been reading the papers? (And many of us knew since the 93 bombing that they'd be back.)
posted by amberglow at 8:33 PM on February 24, 2004

That's the same question I've been asking people for months here, midas. Sometimes, I honestly wonder whether they actually care.

To tell you the truth - I am really torn about this. I know some smart people, and am pretty aware of a lot of details that are not widely dispersed publically - and I have not yet heard a solution. And I really really want to. I watched the second plane fly by my office window (I had a corner office on the 35th floor of one of the World Financial Center buildings). In fleeing the scene, I saw a human body, that had jumped from 90 or so stories up, hit the concrete less than 50 feet from me (it is nothing like the movies - and really fucks with your head). I was supposed to be at a convention at the Windows on the World that day at 9:00 (where a good friend was giving the keynote ... he's dead).

9/11 is not just a concept, or just another excuse to bash Bush. It was a real, terrible event. Accomplished by people that want to accomplish much worse in the future. I was involved - as an advisor - with some of the initial discussions about how to prevent future attacks (Bush sought very widespread input ... especially from people on Wall Street). But no one ... no one ... Republican or Democrat ... had answers. No one does yet. I do know, for a fact, that some of the provisions of the Patriot Act have stopped planned attacks. I also think a lot of wasted, misdirected effort is going on.

But I have NO respect for shitheads that just want to snipe at the people trying to solve the problems, and cannot be bothered come up with even a remotely reasonable alternative to those solutions. No one involved in producing the current solutions really thinks they've solved the problem.

It will always be a matter of trade-offs. It is somewhat intrusive to run anti-money laundering software in banking systems. But that software actually caught money the 9/11 terrorists were trying to send back to Al-Qaeda. (The day before 9/11, Al-Qaeda ... a bunch of cold sonuvabitches ... had the hijackers try to wire back funds that hadn't been used ... knowing that they'd be dead, and their accounts seized after 9/11 ... but one of the wires, for $10K, was caught, and flagged as suspicious, by the software that was in place at the time - to catch drug money laundering).

I don't know what the answer is. No one does. But I do know our government has to try to find one. And that people who's sole input is to just take cheap shots at their efforts - without taking the trouble to recommend alternative solutions - are close to reprehensible.
posted by MidasMulligan at 9:14 PM on February 24, 2004

They further understand that 9/11 took everyone in America by surprise.

Midas, I really am surprised to hear you say this? Were you surprised by the September 11th attacks? The only thing surprising about them to me was that they weren't nuclear. I remember New Year's Eve 2000, watching the ball drap on the TV with fingers and toes crossed, hoping beyond hope that the signal wasn't going to go dead at 12:00 AM.

Did you really not see this coming?

That is also, I guess, my question to the President: why does your sudden realization that you've been wrong all along somehow make you more qualified than those of us who were right to begin with?


You also asked for ideas, or a solution, or something, so though I have no qualifications or training, here are some:

The Al Qaeda people are seriously dangerous individuals. However, our law enforcement agencies can and do deal with seriously dangerous individuals day in and day out. That's their job, and they're damn good at it in my opinion. I think anyone who knows any cops can back me up on that.

The question, then, is: what makes Al Qaeda different from the other seriously dangerous individuals running around trying to cause trouble? Simple: they have international organizational and monetary support.

Note the things that DO NOT make Al Qaeda different from other threats law enforcement faces every day: willingness to die, religious conviction, and training. The killers in Colombine were just as eager to die, the cultists at Waco just as frenzied in their rapture, and the Unabomber just as skilled at destruction.

(The only threats that match Al Qaeda in overseas money and organization are the drug cartels. But the drug dealers are interested in power in profit -- they have never been big on wholesale slaughter.)

With this frame of reference, let us think: what can be done to combat the unique threat posed by Al Qaeda and similar organizations? To me, the answer is clear. Law enforcement is skilled at dealing with dangerous individuals, and local organizations, but cannot reliably win against dangerous individuals backed by international organizations. So cut off the individuals from the organizations. Law enforcement can handle them, if only we break them up into bite-sized chunks. And here is how:

- Follow the money. Some of the most useful aspects of the Patriot Act are those that require money-handlers to be careful about whose money they are handling. Cutting off the attacker from his backer turns him into just another thug.

- More public wirtetaps. Typically, we like secret taps, so that we don't tip our hand as to what we do and don't know, and who we are and aren't watching. But one thing we learned on 9/11 is that we aren't aware of everything we know. If the hijackers had known that they were being watched, and that they were suspect, they probably would have aborted their mission. When they know their communications aren't secure, they stop communicating. A successful soft-kill.

- Bring in the hired guns. Interpol needs to be reorganized with this as a primary focus. The CIA is an amazing organization in its own right, but it needs all the help it can get. Resource pooling and better communication needn't be limited to the American intelligence community.

- Use the bully pulpit. NATO made the unprecidented move of activating the self-defense clause of their charter. Everyone wanted to help, but we blew them off for the sake of "going it alone." We need all the help we can get. Demand the creation of a new organization under the UN umbrella to act as a watchdog for terrorist-supporting states (see next two bullets).

- Make it clear that international terrorism is not an American problem. It is an international problem, and it threatens everyone, from Saudi Arabia to Turkey to Russia to Britain to the States. Everyone has a stake in this, and it is everyone's responsibility to stop it.

- Unilaterally halt all CIA and othersuch support for terrorist organizations. Demand that everyone else do the same, and set up an opt-in UN organization to police those who do. For all the faults of the IAEA, it provides a powerful fulcrum for man-handling proliferators and bomb-enviers. Copy that model for terrorist-sponsors.

- Know your priorities. Letting Dr. Kahn pass out nukes in exchange for Pakistan's help in Afghanistan would have been like trading Cuba for Western Europe during the Cold War. Focus is good, but single-mindedness is deadly. Some things are more important than catching Osama and the war on terrorism, and that's just the way it is.

- Snap law-enforcement out of its drug-induced trance. Many of its narcotics resources can be better used dispersing and catching terrorists. Certainly, there can be some combined efforts there, but federal handouts to the police should be rapidly transitioned from drug-enforcement-oriented to terrorism-prevention-oriented, at least until the infrastructure is in place for the cops to handle it with their own budgets.

These are just off the top of my head, but I'm sure you get the idea. Terrorism is a law enforcement issue, but only after you cut its umbilical.
posted by Ptrin at 10:39 PM on February 24, 2004

Sweet Lord Ptrin ... how I wish that even a fraction of the Patriot Act threads on MeFi were composed of that tone, and that earnest of an attempt at trying to think through things in an original way. How different - and much more interesting - a place this would be.
posted by MidasMulligan at 10:57 PM on February 24, 2004

Midas (BTW, I like the ___________ ) - I 'd say that many here on Metafilter have argued that one component of the solution (just one piece, mind you) is to reduce, wherever reasonable, US policies which earn America more enemies than they win friends.

: On the balance - not in every case, of course.

The recent discovery of the skein of private nuclear weapon component manufacturing tied to Pakistan demonstrates the need - most urgently - for human intelligence on the ground. Data mining and tech surveillance systems can often - if understood - be circumvented. Human intel. is still key.

Antiterrorism policy continuity between US presidential administrations has been demonstrated to be inadequate. This imperative must rise above the level of ideology.

The overall dilemma the US faces is not unlike that which is faced by Israel -- without a political settlement to the Palestinian problem, the use of much more destructive WMD's against Israel will eventually be very likely. Similarly - for better or worse - America has many enemies. It can never completely eliminate the ranks of it's foes, but it can nonetheless seek to dry up the oceans from which terrorists spring. Multilateralist policies, and an emphasis on the development of international mechanisms of law will prove crucially important in this.

These solutions go far beyond the surveillance of individuals within the US, for that approach misses the point : without the implementation of an absolutely totalitarian worldwide state with total surveillance capabilities, terrorism will continue to flourish - and the spread of technology and know how will certainly enable far more destructive acts of terrorism. There are no perfect solutions, outside of an utterly dystopian sort of totalitarian government (going beyond anything which Orwell envisioned), to these problems. But we can mitigate the political grievances which give rise to such extreme acts.

And - as with Israel - punitive acts which target entire populations will only tend to make the overall problem worse ; these play precisely into the hands and the aims of extremist terrorist groups which seek to promote widespread polarization.

But I'm sure you know all this already.
posted by troutfishing at 11:04 PM on February 24, 2004

"how I wish that even a fraction of the Patriot Act threads on MeFi were composed of that tone"

Where have you been? I've been hearing this sort of tone/analysis/solution for the last few years. I think you're cherry picking the dumb, and ignoring the smart. Nothing Ptrin said is new to MetaFilter. We've heard all of these things before, many many times. Good for us right?

And seriously, is an online forum made up of random web surfers the place you expect to come up with a comprehensive national security policy? Is it really fair to get mad at MetaFilter because it's more of an op-ed column than a high level think tank? If you come here seeking or expecting well documented white papers on terrorism and security solutions I can see why you're so disappointed.

As a business person I doubt you ask your IT department to formulate new marketing campaigns. Try not to hold MetaFilter responsible for something antithetical to it's format. We come up with plenty of good ideas here which meet your challenge. Perhaps rare, but we do.

It is what it is. And we all make our contribution. Most of us think that most of us are full of crap, and of course most of us are right. And wrong. And indifferent. We're 5000+ random strangers locked in a room and given the task of formulating a comprehensive national security policy? You know it doesn't work that way.
posted by y6y6y6 at 5:48 AM on February 25, 2004


Oh, Midas, that's weak. The same old tired, run-away horseshit from you. You've heard hundreds of "alternatives" to the "Patriot Act" from me and every other Bush critic here, including the obvious "alternatives" implicit in every line I wrote above.

Instead of any attempt to refute a criticism of Bush and his policies, your response is, as usual, to bleat "Bush-hate" and "dark and angry rhetoric" time after time. Same ol', same ol', right off the Republican National Committee Web site. Really, Midas, why didn't you just call us "terrorists" and be done with it? In that cowardly manner, you and yours continue to attempt to label anything you just can't handle. There is the predictable thing: those who cannot tolerate criticism of their worldview, who merely label legitimate criticism as "hate", because they don't pack the gear to come up with any refutation whatsoever of that criticism.

Really, Midas, if it's just "hate", it should be fairly easy for you to repudiate. Why is it, if it's all just irrational "hate", that you have such difficulty in doing that? Do you have any idea how YOU bring the level of discourse down on MetaFilter through such silly, schoolyard crap?

Quit ducking the issues raised. YOU are the one asserting that Bush is "facing the nation", and the Patriot [sic] Act and its authors are really doing just a helluva bang up whiz job at protecting the country. This time, respond to the points I and others raise, and quit ignoring the childishly obvious "alternatives" that are part and parcel of the points raised:

Who was at the helm when this nation was attacked on 9/11?

(Here's the corollary "alternative" that you duck: investigate and remove/impeach the dumb, criminal bastards who allowed it to happen. Duh. Is that "alternative" really a mystery to you? Here's another "alternative" along those lines, obvious to everyone else who hears the criticism: actually have the stones to FIRE someone who screwed up (and you STILL haven't answered the question raised: exactly how many of your buddy Bush's team got sacked after 9/11?). Gosh. Here's another "alternative" that doesn't actually seem hard to imagine, given the criticisms I raised: actually come down hard on the selfish greedheads who pushed privatization of airline security down our throats.)

Do you get it? Do you actually sense that the "alternatives" are pretty amazingly suggested by the points raised, and are transparent to anyone who is not dully sucking away at either the corporate or Republican teat?

Who is resisting inquiries at this very moment into how the 9/11 attack could have happened? Who is it, Midas?

(Bonus! Here's the obvious QED, spelled out slowly for you in special "alternative" form: Cooperate. With. The. Fucking. Inquiry. Isn't that the most apparent goddamn "alternative" that springs to even the mind of a B-school grad when someone brings up the fact that Bush is stonewalling the investigation? Or is that common sense "alternative" too incredibly obtuse for you? Do you really expect anyone to take you and Bush's word that "9/11 was completely unexpected and unavoidable" WITHOUT the benefit of an open and thorough inquiry? Is that the kind of factual standard you are talking about in your glorious vision of utopian MetaFilter? Can you possibly grasp that bringing this particular issue up just might imply that a free inquiry is a better "alternative" than political ass-covering? Did it really need to be spelled out for you, or was your little tirade about "alternatives" just another rhetorical device to hide the fact that you're not actually providing any insight into ways to combat terrorism, but merely cheerleading for the administration ?)

How exactly will opening the records in libraries to see what schoolchildren are reading, all while making the executive branch of the government somehow off limits to legitimate inquiries, help to keep this country safe?

(Imagine that....another goddamned "alternative", springing right in our faces: Forget about looking into which fifth grader is checking out "Steal This Book", and look into the possibility that the biggest arms exporter in the world might possibly actually be a source of arms and supplies for terrorists in the world. Wow. Revolutionary. Hard to believe that someone could actually miss the implied "alternative" in such a criticism, but maybe I expect too much, eh Midas?)

How exactly is surveillance of anti-war dissidents, while curtailing any reasonable investigation into past governmental AND ECONOMIC policies that might lead to terrorism, helpful for our security?

(Do we really need to go on, Midas? Can you kind of maybe hopefully pretty-please figure out for yourself what the "alternative" is in this particular case, or do I need to spell it out here too? Does the ironic phrase I typed laboriously above: "Throughout the history of the world, we've always had so much more to fear from terrorist attack than we have from secrecy and a lack of checks and balances in a powerful, concentrated branch of government, right Midas?" give you any CONCEIVABLE HINT as to what "alternative" people could possibly be thinking of?)

Midas, tell us who decided it would be really good for American security to lie to the American people about threats of WMDs and terrorist ties, and through those lies justify the preemptive invasion of another country which apparently had jack-shit to do with what happened on 9/11 (but which country has had a long and sordid history of dealing with certain business and conservative factions in the United States)? Who was that, Midas? I repeat: those decisions sure seem to have diminished terrorism. Can you kind of pretty much guess by now (I live in hope!) that a reasonable "alternative" might have been to not waste billions of dollars and thousands of lives, when that money and those lives might have been used to track down, oh...I don't know...there's that guy named O. Bin Laden....the head of that particular organization....who pretty much really seems like they might have had something to do with 9/11. I mean, do you really expect us to believe you if you're trying to tell us you've never heard that "alternative" before, Midas? Any one who hasn't is either lying or stupid.

More "Bush hate". Who, Midas, was running the show when Halliburton helped Iraq reconstruct its industry with $73 million worth of equipment and services, at a time when Baghdad was squarely on the list of "rogue nations" that sponsor terrorism against the US and Israel? Now, can you possibly fucking guess what "alternative" I might just be talking about here, or shall I just go ahead and spoon feed you? Here it is: quit dealing with dictators and petty tyrants just for the sake of the bottom line. I know that may be a tough one for some business people to swallow, since it deals with the realm of ethics and not just double entry accounting. As I said, I live in hope.

"At every turn of the war against Iraq, U.S. and British forces will face weapons systems largely developed and supplied to Iraq by American, European, Russian and Chinese companies." (Well hell...what POSSIBLE "alternative" could there be for THAT situation....one can't imagine...)

I said: "For sure let's not talk about the economic policies and our cynical support of foreign "Patriot [sic] Act" police forces and alliances of convenience that make brutal dictators our friends one day...and terrorist threats the next. That might really open up a whole can of worms. Best not go there, for sure. Might even indict the pitiful greedheads on oil-addicted Wall Street, whose ideas about what's best for America go no further than the bottom line." I lamented: "You know, because America stands for imprisonment without access to lawyers. You know, because America is all about racial profiling. You know, because military tribunals are the up-and-coming legal standard if we feel 'threatened'". Is it impossible for you to somehow conceive, Midas, without actually physically shoveling the words into your brain, that a simple "alternative" is obviously a just America, an America that doesn't voraciously consume the vast majority of the world's resources, an America without a history of racist domestic and foreign policies, an America where one's dignity and worth is not dependent on his bank account, or the color of his skin?

So given all that, Midas, in the face of all that I posted before, what exactly were you crying about "alternatives", again?

Obviously, the critics (the "Bush haters" whose criticisms you duck) are brimming with "alternatives"...obvious "alternatives"....and the best you and your ilk have been able to come up with is the dark BandAid that is "The Patriot Act", which tenets conveniently match so closely some of the darkest McCarthyist desires of the far right.

I suggest it is you and yours who have the failure of imagination here. Taking civil liberties away here through police action, or taking them away in foreign lands through outright violence, will breed more terrorism and backlash against the United States than any "alternative" we loyal critics could come up with. Yours is truly the dearth of imagination.

You know, it'd almost be laughable, Midas ol' pal, were it not just so completely shameful. Your buddies the self-serving corporatists, who wanted to insure cheap supplies of fuel and raw materials along with malleable markets for the continuing economic expansion, along with the conservative idiots who dreamt of an empire where the sun never set on American influence and didn't mind getting in bed with anyone for that goal, planted the seeds for the current spate of terrorism for YEARS. Now people like you want to give those same fools a blank check to do whatever they want to civil liberties in this country. And here you are, demanding that people come up with "alternatives" for problems that those who share your ideologies actually brought about.


Pathetic. And reprehensible (wasn't that the word you used?) Shame on ya.

Your insistence that the kinds of nonsense the Bush administration is planning all in the name of "security" isn't a godsend for business is bullshit. That's actually drool you see around the mouths of manufacturers, who could limit disclosure of things like EPA Risk Management Plans and other information about potential hazards they created, potentially avoiding litigation over pollution. Proposed expansions of the current act include 'policy advocated by Attorney General John Ashcroft in an October 2001 memo regarding implementation of FOIA. That memo encouraged FOIA officers to take national security, "protecting sensitive business information and, not least, preserving personal privacy' into consideration when reviewing FOIA requests. The memo places a higher premium on withholding information from the public than on disclosure." Tires blowing out on your new SUV? Tough. Getting information from the manufacturer about defects could be shielded by "national security issues." Wanna know why kids in the neighborhood are coming down with leukemia? Too bad...Monsanto doesn't have to give you info about their chemical dumping. National security.

And really, Midas, your characterization of John Kerry as some kind of lap dog in lockstep with Bush for the Patriot Act is as inaccurate and lame as the rest of your post. I don't like the guy, but he's obviously got problems with the Act:

Democratic presidential candidates have criticized it to varying extents, with Sen. John Kerry saying last month that he would take a hard look at the Patriot Act. "We will put an end to 'sneak and peak' searches, which permit law enforcement to conduct a secret search and seize evidence without notification," said Kerry, who acknowledged that he voted for the measure in 2001. "Agents can break into a home or business to take photos, seize property, copy computer files or load a secret keystroke detector on a computer. These searches should be limited only to the most rare circumstances."

Finally, Midas, your endless silly complaints, that MetaFilter causes you great grief and that it needs to change because it's just so unfriendly dammit to your world view, remains a source of continual amusement. You have all my sympathy. That, and as I mention above, your perennial refuge in labeling instead of refutation, is evergreen here. You never fail to provoke a

posted by fold_and_mutilate at 6:50 AM on February 25, 2004

Does anyone else get the impression that fold_and_mutilate and MidasMulligan are really the same person? They are/he is so far up on their/his high horse that no one will give them/him the time and attention they/he crave(s).

Being pompous seems like such a burden.
posted by y6y6y6 at 7:47 AM on February 25, 2004

"Being pompous seems like such a burden."

Sure y6y6y6, but what's wrong with that? From your own post above, isn't that what this forum is all about? The hit or miss op-ed? Aren't you being a bit hypocritical here? Or, as usual, are you just getting your kicks from peeing on others members?
posted by y6y6y6 at 7:47 AM on February 25, 2004

"are you just getting your kicks from peeing on others members?"

I think it would be a stretch to call that peeing. I'm not the first, or even the hundredth person to say that this pair are, perhaps, a bit pompous. They just both seem to come from the same "smarter than thou" mind set. I don't think we have to other prolific posters so enamored with their own elequence.
posted by y6y6y6 at 7:51 AM on February 25, 2004

"I think it would be a stretch to call that peeing."

Oh get off it. You are just a troll. No one is fooled. Dress it up all your want but it's just you beating up other users to fuel your own ego. You can't match wits with them so they must be pompous. Nice try.
posted by y6y6y6 at 7:53 AM on February 25, 2004

y6y6y6, it would seem, is a trinitarian.
posted by troutfishing at 10:17 AM on February 25, 2004

y6 will be playing the part of Cybil tonight in the MetaLifeTime Movie. : >

And well said, fold!
posted by amberglow at 10:28 AM on February 25, 2004

posted by Down10 at 5:15 PM on February 25, 2004

MidasMulligan: Cheap shots and snide, dismissive one-liners....
MidasMulligan: But you do not seem capable of anything other than spewing your hatred of Bush.
MidasMulligan: How different - and much more interesting - a place this would be.

Maybe when you check in, you can also explain in what kind of world one can decry "cheap shots and snide, dismissive one-liners"....then in practically the next breath dismiss any criticism of the Bush administration as "bush hatred". Maybe you can tell us what kind of environment for discourse that kind of blatant hypocrisy leads to at MetaFilter. You know, the Metafilter you're constantly running down because people actually dare to speak their mind instead of parroting the party line. You know, the Metafilter you periodically vacate in a snit because people actually call you out for the kind of self-serving hypocritical horseshit which consists of wails about "cheap one liners" in one sentence, and "bush hater" in the next.

I mean seriously. If I had a business employee who made those kinds of idiotic rhetorical missteps, he'd be out on the street in a New York minute.


Oh. And maybe...since now practically EVERYONE else has had no trouble whatsoever coming up with lots and lots of "alternatives" to the sacred little "Patriot" Act, and since it's obvious that those who criticize the Bush administration are just brimming with their own ideas (really putting the lie to your central thesis here) you might try coming up with some "alternatives" on your own. Maybe you can do that about the same time you finally start responding to the legitimate concerns and questions people have for the Act. You've been asked a lot of direct questions here: how about some answers finally?

Anything else would be...how do you say...."reprehensible".
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 10:11 PM on February 25, 2004

f_and_m might benefit from dialing down the apoplexy a notch, but I understand, and I love him with a love pure and true, nonetheless.

And I'll give points to MM for trying, and maintaining an even tone, although the whining about 'how metafilter could be' is pretty weak.

All in all, most enjoyable exchange. I would almost pay to see MM respond to f_and_m, although I suspect he won't, 'cause of the rantiness if nothing else.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:55 PM on February 26, 2004

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