Friday, January 27, 2006

A different kind of reward

It's been nearly a month since I last posted. In addition to the normal hectic holiday stuff, my little boy had a severe arm fracture from a bicycle accident with his sister while playing outside. He is doing well now and things are getting back to normal.

I was thinking recently about why our offers of $5 million or $25 million reward for certain terrorists has not met with much success. This led me to consider an alternative. What if rather than paying $5 million to an individual, we built $5 million worth of improvements in a tipster's village or province? Imagine: schools, clinics, road improvements, better access to water, better roads, almost anything. A $25 million reward would build schools, clinics, hospitals, maybe even a college. This would cause people to think not about how such a reward could help themselves personally, but how such a reward could help their entire community. They could remain completely anonymous as a $25 million dollar cash reward would cause them to stand out and make it obvious they were the ones. The building of new schools, a new road, a water treatment plant would improve the life of the entire community and not bring attention to the individual. It also does something else. It causes people to think about what the terrorists are actually doing for them. Has Osama build them a clinic? Has Osama improved the education of their children? Offering the reward in this way would more completely expose the terrorists for what they really are.

So take this as an open suggestion to the US Government to offer an alternative in the way these rewards are paid. Rather than cash, offer improvements worth the same amount as an alternative with the improvements going to benefit the village and region of the informants. You might get more tribal elders on board that way. If turning in Osama will bring several schools, a few clinics, a hospital or two and maybe a college or clean water, or better roads, or electricity or other infrastructure improvements that increase quality of life and commerce, maybe people won't be so reluctant to be seen as individually selfish and "selling out" to the US for personal gain. I suspect that is the reason it hasn't been successful. A person doing such a thing would be seen as turning against their cultural values for personal benefit if they received $25 million in cash. While a person might be more willing to see a clinic and schools built in their village. Offer a reward that has the potential to improve the life of the entire region and I suspect we will see some progress.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Lies, Distortion, Deception By The Press

To listen to much of the reporting surrounding the "domestic spying" row you would be lead to believe that the NSA is tapping into the communications of domestic citizens and eavesdropping on conversations across the country. Without saying it directly, the press reports create the impression that the government has a vast illegal intelligence operation underway inside the USA. In my opinion, this reporting borders on criminal.

Here is the reality as I understand it: NSA is tasked with (among other things) monitoring communications outside of the USA. In some instances a conversation is intercepted OVERSEAS where one of the parties to the communications is inside the US. So imagine a listening post someplace in Europe or Asia that intercepts a telephone conversation between someone in Pakistan and someone in the US. That person in Pakistan is known to be an al Qaeda operative. A very strict pre-911 interpretation of the law would say that NSA would only be allowed to "listen" to one side of the conversation. They would only be allowed to collect what the foreign citizen said. They would be required to contact the FBI and have the other side of the conversation collected by a different agency. Now for an intelligence analyst trying to make sense out of the conversation, you are asking them to coordinate between multiple agencies, get the data together, HOPE that the other agency can actually "catch" the data while the conversation is taking place, and that it can all be put back together into a conversation that the analyst can listen to ... or you simply record both sides while it is happening.

I have absolutely no problem with US overseas intelligence collecting communications between known or suspected terror operators in the US and known or suspected terror operators overseas. If NSA intercepts a satellite phone call from someone in the Pakistan/Afghanistan border area and someone in New York City, I would be angrier if they DIDN'T intercept it.

Look at it in this light: What if another incident happens and it turns out that the individuals involved had been in communications with people overseas, we had been monitoring their conversations but were forced to stop. The press would have a field day with "Government Knew of Terrorist in NYC" stories even though they might not have had any concrete information yet to arrest them before monitoring stopped.

The press is in the process of a deliberate distortion campaign designed to portray this eavesdropping as something that it isn't. It is designed to stir up emotions and get people upset at the administration to further the political agenda of the publishers. This impression that the NSA is at your telephone office listening to conversations between Americans inside the US without really saying so is what they are trying to create. If they were responsible, they would write about intercepting communications in FOREIGN countries with people inside the borders of the US. If you listen to the stories, you will notice that while they have reported the story that it is foreign communications being intercepted, it was reported once or twice and the remainder of the reporting has been about "domestic intercepts" which gives the impression that they are intercepting communications where both ends are inside the US. THAT would be against the law for NSA to do and I have seen absolutely no evidence that such a thing is happening.

Check out this article for another perspective and a recent case of intercepts foiling a terrorist operation: