June 17th, 2011

green leaves

The war on terror and the Arab Spring

I heard a piece on the BBC [1] about the effect the Arab Spring will have on the US ability to learn about terrorism. Basically, US intelligence [2] has been depending on the dictatorships for information. [3]

It was repeated several times by Americans that Americans couldn't gather their own information because of not knowing the local languages. As I understand it, even though we have many immigrants from the relevant countries-- people who know both the language and the culture-- they don't get jobs in intelligence because they are reflexively mistrusted. If you can't manage reasonably good judgement about who should be trusted, you shouldn't be running an intelligence service. If you can't believe that people might move to your country and be loyal to it, I call it a lack of national self-esteem, though it could also be filed under bigotry.

It was mentioned once that by outsourcing information-gathering to dictatorships, the information was gathered by torture and was almost entirely useless. As described in Torture and Democracy [4], the use of torture leads to the neglect of rational methods of investigation.

It was not mentioned that such policies cause rational anger at America. There was no discussion of whether realpolitik is actually practical.

It was repeated several times that America would not be able to gather information about the region for quite a while. At this point, I doubt that it will make a difference.

[1] I can't find it on their site-- I don't know whether it's not up yet, will never be posted, is not available in the US, or I haven't figured out how to search their site. In any case, I'm working from memory.

[2] If I didn't try to avoid cliches, I'd be using quote marks.

[3] See above.

[4] A long depressing account of the evolution of "no marks" torture. I got bogged down in the section on the spread of electrical torture. I should probably decide that even if I'm not geeky enough to love that part, I should read the rest of the book.

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