Friday, May 18, 2007

Novelty Plus Dread

A post at Danger Room describes how the Iraq War serves as a proving ground for IEDs and triggering devices, and how designs pioneered against our troops are being globalized.

Take the improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, which have become so common in Iraq. "Bomb makers [there] during the past four years have benefited from the lessons of trying to defeat a sophisticated enemy who is using complex countermeasures, National Defense magazine notes. Now, "the daily onslaught... is spreading to... Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Algeria." And there are "strong indications that [the Philippines'] Abu Sayeff, [Indonesia's] Jemaah Islamiyah and other terrorist groups are really collaborating to have a common type of IED."
Which shows once again that the ticking time-bomb scenario so beloved of authoritarian hacks has nothing to do with reality. Terrorists are constantly adapting and evolving, like so many other organizations, towards decentralization, automation, remote action, and information warfare.

Apropos of which, David Hambling discusses the possibility of using toy planes as remote-controlled missiles.
Some of these planes can carry a significant payload – like Bergen's Industrial Twin helicopter - "a workhorse capable of lifting up to a 25 lb. payload or fly for one half hour on a tank of gas" - take one away today for $5,500.
Obviously, we need to ban model planes. And pull instructions for building them off the Internet. And while we're at it, let's increase surveillance of hobby shops.

Stories about clever new terrorist tactics make good newspaper copy, which - thanks to the phenomenon of misleading vividness - makes them seem more plausible. Which in turn makes it seem that something must be done about them, now, before we're all killed!

As Bruce Schneier says, "Novelty plus dread equals overreaction":
We need to "do something," even if that something doesn't make sense; even if it is ineffective.
Or even if it's evil. In a fine op-ed, retired Marine generals Charles C. Krulak and Joseph P. Hoar describe how torture, once it's accepted as effective, becomes seen as a duty:
These assertions that "torture works" may reassure a fearful public, but it is a false security. We don't know what's been gained through this fear-driven program. But we do know the consequences.

As has happened with every other nation that has tried to engage in a little bit of torture -- only for the toughest cases, only when nothing else works -- the abuse spread like wildfire, and every captured prisoner became the key to defusing a potential ticking time bomb.
Absolutely. After all, if you don't torture 'em, how will you know if they're holding out on you?

All of which is really just a scatterbrained preamble to Danger Room's interview with John Robb, who argues that there are no American politicians who understand the novel aspects of fourth-generation warfare. The whole thing is well worth reading, but I particularly liked this passage:
My solution -- and this could be for anything from terrorism, climate change, to bird flu -- is to start at the bottom to build resilience at the local level. You can’t stop global system shocks at the border. They occur too quickly and our borders are too porous. So, in order to mitigate their effects, you need to build stability into our systems at the lower levels. One way to do this is by enabling systems that help communities operate autonomously of the national services grid for a period of time. If that were to occur, autonomous communities little affected by the shock, would help to rapidly reboot the larger system.


Anonymous said...

Amazing blog. This entry made my head spin. Loved it.

verona said...

What?! The powers that be don't want anybody to be sustainable. They want communities and individuals to be as dependent as possible, therefore easier to exploit.

I agree - great blog