A Big Reason Why NSA Spying Should and Shouldn’t Worry Us: The Boston Bombing

As the NSA data mining story continues to unfold, we should begin asking how the Boston Marathon terrorist attack looks in relation to this situation.  It seems the attack should make us worry or not worry much depending on how we perceive it.

Why We Should Worry

When we began learning how much the authorities already knew about Tamerlan Tsarnaev prior to the bombing, it was hard not to wonder why he wasn’t being watched more closely.  And now that we know the NSA is mining so much data, the question becomes are they mining so much data they can’t truly keep track of dangerous people?  It seems this could be the case.

Too much or not enough domestic spying?

Frankly, it’s hard to look at this and not see a certain level of incompetence on the part of the people mining this data in order to protect us.  And the reason could be they were sifting through so much info they didn’t need and shouldn’t have been in possession of in the first place that they lost sight of the people they should have been watching more closely, like Tsarnaev.  It really doesn’t make sense for the NSA to gather so much data when they could just ask companies for the data after an investigation of someone begins, which would happen after someone has allegedly done something that gives authorities a reason to begin an investigation.

All of this means the onus is now on the defenders of the data mining in the security apparatus who now claim “dozens” of attacks have been stopped through the program to show that it does work and exactly how it worked to stop so many potential attacks.  Showing this would be the first step in the debate as to why we truly need such an invasive method of law enforcement.

Why We Shouldn’t Worry

Everyone seems to be worried the government now has all their meta data and it could be used in a nefarious way.  But we have to ask is that even remotely realistic?  Let’s look back at what the government knew or could have feasibly known about Tsarnaev prior to the bombing.

  • Russia warned the U.S. he had become an extremist and was possibly involved with extremist groups.
  • The FBI had questioned him.
  • The CIA had placed him in their terrorist database.
  • He read Al Qaeda’s online magazine and linked to radical Islamist videos on YouTube.
  • During his 2012 trip to Russia, he visited areas known for radical Islamist military activity.
  • He knew one of the victims of a triple murder we now know he committed on the ten year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

All of that the government basically knew if we are to couple this with the NSA mining data.  Let that sink in.

Now realize it took three days after the bombing to find the photos/security videos of the brothers and even then law enforcement did not have their names.  Judging from that, if your record is cleaner than Tsarnaev’s, you probably aren’t being watched too closely by Big Brother.  So if you are worried the government might get hold of the Justin Bieber Fan Club’s email list and tell all my friends…I mean, your friends and family you are on it, fret not.  It’s highly unlikely to happen.

All this taken together means defenders of the NSA data mining need to do two things to start the debate for keeping the program in place.  First, give us some detailed examples of the alleged terror attacks that have been thwarted heavily  using the program.  And second, explain how the Boston Bombings occurred with a program in place that should have helped keep a closer eye on one of the men responsible.

Ft. Hood Shooter’s Admission Further Confirms ‘War on Terror’ is Endless

The Fort Hood shooter, Nidal Hasan, has now confirmed he carried out his attack as an act of defense of the Taliban leaving no doubt he was reacting to the United States conducting attacks on foreign soil.  This follows other recent attacks that were conducted for similar reasons, such as the Boston Marathon bombing and the brutal and very public killing of a British soldier in the streets of the United Kingdom.  In all three cases, the persons responsible for the killings have made it clear they were revenge attacks for what they perceive as the West viciously and needlessly killing Muslims around the world.

Ft. Hood shooter, Nidal Hasan.

Which brings us to the reality the recent estimation by the Pentagon that the War on Terror would last another 15 to 20 years is probably a gross underestimation of how long it will truly last.  Even the youngest and simplest of minds can see the obvious connection and relationship of one side’s attacks versus the other and can also see there is no end in sight to this war barring a drastic change in tactics by the United States.  People may unreasonably argue the West didn’t “attack first” in the case of the War on Terror but one thing is undoubtedly clear now: recent terror attacks have been reactions to the West attacking Muslims overseas, which will prompt more attacks by the West continuing the endless cycle of violence.

The worst and most dangerous part of this is the normalizing of the War on Terror in the minds of the public and the passive acceptance of what it brings.  Part of making this war perpetual is simply making the situation and its atrocities, whether conducted by or against the United States, seem a normal part of everyday life.  Glen Greenwald summarizes this as well as anyone:

And then there’s the most intangible yet most significant cost: each year of endless war that passes further normalizes the endless rights erosions justified in its name. The second term of the Bush administration and first five years of the Obama presidency have been devoted to codifying and institutionalizing the vast and unchecked powers that are typically vested in leaders in the name of war. Those powers of secrecy, indefinite detention, mass surveillance, and due-process-free assassination are not going anywhere. They are now permanent fixtures not only in the US political system but, worse, in American political culture.

 

The Tough Question: Did Drones Indirectly Lead to Boston Bombing?

After reading an article last week about Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei condemning the bombing in Boston but criticizing the U.S. policy on drone attacks, the question came to mind as to just how relevant it was for him to associate the two so closely.  He stated:

The Islamic Republic of Iran, which follows the logic Islam, is opposed to any bombings and killings of innocent people, no matter if it is in Boston, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, or Syria and condemns it…The US and other so-called human rights advocates remain silent on the massacre of innocents in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, but they cause a ruckus after a few blasts in the United States.

This week an op-ed appeared in the Atlantic addressing this issue specifically.  An important summary from the piece:

But propaganda is most powerful when it’s at least within shouting distance of the truth–and, unfortunately, that’s the case here. Obama’s drone strikes have killed, if not more civilians than mujahideen, lots of civilians, including women and scores of children. Every time such killing happens, the jihadist narrative, the narrative that seems to have seized the minds of the Tsarnaev brothers, gains a measure of strength.

The evolution of terrorism?

This is a commonsensical realization but there is another underlying issue that would contribute to this argument: the evolution of Al Qaeda’s message.

What I mean by that is there seems to be a change in how Al Qaeda once presented its message and how it delivers it now.  If we look at the issue of Inspire, Al Qaeda’s magazine, linked in the Atlantic piece, we see many articles addressing and encouraging lone wolf-types of attacks similar to what we saw in Boston.  This comes along with ideas on how to attack as an individual, such as creating car crashes and, coincidentally, using ricin.

Overall, the emphasis in the rhetoric seems to be on attacking and terrorizing civilians.  As noted by the author:

That’s where drone strikes can come in handy, and the latest issue of Inspire spells out the logic explicitly: Because America is “ruled by the people,” its “rulers (people) should pay for their country’s action till they change their system and foreign policies.” So “war on America including civilians” is legitimate, says Inspire, so long as Americans are killing Muslim civilians with drone strikes. “The equation should be balanced. Like they kill, they will be killed.”

But if we look back at some of Osama bin Laden’s rhetoric, he doesn’t seem to be as concerned with attacking civilians as he is with attacking what he sees as more symbolically important targets.  And he even makes a distinction between the American people and the actions of the government.  After describing many instances of what he sees as American oppression, he leaves the reader with these remarks:

In conclusion, I tell you in truth, that your security is not in the hands of Kerry, nor Bush, nor al-Qaida.  No.

Your security is in your own hands.  And every state that doesn’t play with our security has automatically guaranteed its own security.

Bin Laden clearly had a eye on symbolism, along with casualty counts, when he targeted the U.S. for his attacks.  America’s military dominance was attacked by hitting the Pentagon and the U.S.S. Cole.  America’s economic dominance was attacked by bringing down the WTC.  And America’s heavy hand in foreign affairs was attacked when Al Qaeda struck at U.S. embassies.

And therein lies the new evolution and difference with the Boston attack.  It wasn’t an attack on a structure that also carried a certain symbolism for the U.S.  It was specifically targeted at civilians and civilians only just as the rhetoric contained within the pages of Inspire would suggest.  There may not be a direct link between the Boston bombers and Al Qaeda (and in all likelihood none will be found) but there is little doubt where the Tsarnaev brothers drew their inspiration.

As American tactics in finding and destroying Islamic extremists has evolved over the years with the expanded use of drone, the tactics used against us has gone through its own evolution.  We are seeing the next phase in the War on Terror and the likelihood of more lone wolf attacks in the future is seemingly high.  The question now becomes: how much longer will we let drone attacks be carried out in our name when we are being told they are the reason for the oncoming lone wolves?