Saturday, November 5, 2011

Old people have gone mad!

Well, four of them have allegedly gone mad (The New York Times)
The government said that on more than 20 occasions between March and Oct. 29, F.B.I. informants recorded the men’s conversations. The plot began, court papers said, with a meeting at Mr. Thomas’ home. He asked the men if they were committed to the plan. Mr. Adams was. “I’d say the first ones that need to die is the ones in the government buildings,” he said.
During another conversation, Mr. Thomas is quoted as saying that he had made a “bucket list” of government employees, politicians, business leaders and members of the media that needed to be “taken out” to “make the country right again.”
“There is no way for us, as militiamen, to save this country, to save Georgia, without doing something that’s highly, highly illegal: murder,” he said.
In May, Mr. Thomas drove to Atlanta to do surveillance on the buildings housing the Internal Revenue Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and was recorded talking about the explosives and weapons the group would need to blow up the buildings and kill federal employees.
Meanwhile, Mr. Adams and Mr. Crump, who had once worked as an electrician, were allegedly trying to figure out how to turn beans into poison that they would fling from their car as they drove along interstates on the Eastern Seaboard and in Atlanta and New Orleans.
Some of the plotters have rather ironic backgrounds. The four are suspected of being members of a Georgia militia. Par for the course. But then things get interesting. One of them worked for the Department of Agriculture. Of course, having been on the government's payroll doesn't preclude one from anti-government lunacy, right Mrs. Bachmann? But, I have to wonder about his pension. Another of the plotters "played Santa for the local Masons order he belonged to." A Mason and a former Federal employee? Is one of the plotters a Jewish banker and member of the Parti Socialiste Francais who flies black helicopters in his spare time?

And, since they are all over 65, let's assume that the plot was funded, in part, through Social Security. 

Kidding aside, we should always be skeptical about such "terror" plots, even when they involve our ideological opponents. Granted, one of the alleged plotters had "a few dozen castor bean plants" (from which ricin is produced) growing along his driveway. But, beyond these plants and some reconnaissance, the plot may just boil down boil to “a bunch of old men just talking and trying to be big shots,” as put by a waitress at the Waffle House the men frequented. (That's right: They plotted revolution at a Waffle House. Then again, waffles are good.)

Why should left-liberals be skeptical? After all, one of the plotters did rant against Obamacare over atRedState, while another has been a longtime "Confederate flag activists." 

And, dammit, it feels good to label our ideological opponents as "terrorists."

We should be skeptical mainly because of the FBI's penchant for entrapment of "terrorists" and for confusing fantasy with conspiracy. In addition, "terror plots" are often overhyped. This is especially true of "Islamic terrorism," as a Brian Jenkins argued in a 2010 RAND studyAccording to a reportpublished last month by the Muslim Public Affairs Council, since 9/11 there have been 109 plots of violence on American soil by non-Muslims and only 50 perpetrated by Islamist extremists.

There are many good reasons explaining why government officials exaggerate terror plots. First, it's their job. What we see as "exaggeration" may just be effective police work. It is often difficult to know if a case is actually the early stages of an attack or just paranoid fantasizing. Second, by making a mountain out of a molehill, security agents and politicians demonstrate their vigilance. It's another way of assuring us that they're doing their jobs. Finally, exaggeration is politically and institutionally useful. Politicians need to win elections and bureaucrats need to justify their budgets. Tom Ridge admitted a few years back that he was ordered to raise the "threat level" during the '04 campaign for no reason other than helping George W. Bush win. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was once O.K. with cutting defense spending, until he found himself in charge of the Pentagon.

All this does not mean that this plot doesn't represent a real threat. Additionally, taking the news of the "Georgia ricin plot" with a grain of salt does not mean that violence from the right is not a very real possibility. Indeed, when it comes to "terrorist threats" on American soil, we've probably more to worry about from the right than from radical Islamists. Between June 2008 and March 2011, there have been at least 24 plots targeting "liberals" and the "government." The Southern Poverty Law Center identified 97 plots and attacks by the extreme right since 1995. 

Nevertheless, we need to remain skeptical. Remember the militia scare of the '90s? Despite the media hype, the Justice Department found that the vast majority of the militia movement posed no threat whatsoever. Oklahoma City certainly had an effect. Not only did it push many of these groups to committing themselves to only using defensive violence against the "New World Order," but they also began self-policing, ratting out the extremists among them to the Feds. And many militias continue to do so. The arrest of the Hutaree Militia last year was made possible by effective cooperation on the part of the Michigan Militia leadership with the FBI.

A final reason for skepticism: Rightwingers love a good political narrative that is far removed from reality. Since Obama's election, much of the right has been fantasizing about revolution. Maybe these guys are no different than a commentator on Fox News.

So, let's be skeptical. Innocent until proven guilty and all that good stuff.

Not only should we be skeptical, but we should feel kinda sorry for the extreme right. Unlike other extremists, they have rather poor source material to work from. The leftist militants of the sixties and seventies had the dense and well-developed Marxist and anarchists canons to inspire them. Jihadis have the Quran, the Haddith, and the Sunnah. Nationalists have thousands of years of history, not to mention peasant culture, folk costumes, and rousing patriotic songs.

What does American rightwing extremists have to inspire them? Glenn Beck and really shitty novels. Hell, Red Dawn isn't even relevant for them anymore. 

Al Qaeda has a flag?

The National Review warns of "al Qaeda flags" flying over Benghazi:
What is commonly known as the al-Qaeda flag was reportedly first used by the late Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi’s al-Qaeda affiliate in Iraq. The Arabic script represents the Islamic shahada or declaration of faith: “There is no god but God [Allah], and Muhammad is the messenger of God.” The script that appears on the Libyan flags is slightly different in style from that on the “original” Iraqi ones. The design is identical.
Apparently the phrase "There is no God but God and Mohammed is his Prophet" has been copyrighted by al Qaeda, which may be news to a billion Muslims. 

Below is a photo from the NRO site and the "al Qaeda in Iraq" flag pulled from Wikipedia

I remain skeptical.

Friday, November 4, 2011

With so much drama in the LBC

I doubt I will ever have another chance to reference Snoop on this blog. Thank you Long Beach Police Department for giving me the opportunity:
Police Chief Jim McDonnell has confirmed that detaining photographers for taking pictures "with no apparent esthetic value" is within Long Beach Police Department policy. 
"If an officer sees someone taking pictures of something like a refinery," says McDonnell, "it is incumbent upon the officer to make contact with the individual." McDonnell went on to say that whether said contact becomes detainment depends on the circumstances the officer encounters, 
McDonnell says that while there is no police training specific to determining whether a photographer's subject has "apparent esthetic value," officers make such judgments "based on their overall training and experience" and will generally approach photographers not engaging in "regular tourist behavior." 
This policy apparently falls under the rubric of compiling Suspicious Activity Reports (SAR) as outlined in the Los Angeles Police Department's Special Order No. 11, a March 2008 statement of the LAPD's "policy … to make every effort to accurately and appropriately gather, record and analyze information, of a criminal or non-criminal nature, that could indicate activity or intentions related to either foreign or domestic terrorism."
By the way, I do know the correct spelling of "aesthetic." 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The next time some right-winger warns against trying terrorists in civilian courts...

...don't remind him or her of Pakistani attempts to try Malik Ishaq, the founder of Laskhar-e-Jangvi (via The New York Times):
Ishaq was arrested in 1997 and accused in more than 200 criminal cases including the killings of 70 Shiites. 
But the state could never make the charges stick — in large part because witnesses, judges and prosecutors were too scared to convict. 
Frightened judges treated him honorably in court and gave him tea and cookies, according to Anis Haider Naqvi, a prosecution witness in two cases against Ishaq. One judge attempted to hide his face with his hands, but Ishaq made clear he knew his identity in a chilling way: He read out the names of his children, and the judge abandoned the trial, he said. 
Despite the lack of convictions, Ishaq remained in prison for 14 years as prosecutors slowly moved from one case to the next.
If that wasn't bad enough, there's this headline from Dawn: "Police reluctant to file charges against 'hit man'":
Well-placed sources in the police department said that the suspect had been interrogated by different intelligence and law-enforcement agencies and finally handed over to the Clifton police station after almost every specialised unit of the police showed reluctance to investigate charges and prepare a charge-sheet against him. 
“Digging out evidence against him and establishing his indirect involvement in so many cases is a highly challenging task given the state of investigation and prosecution,” remarked an officer.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Hizb-e-Islami may talk (Old News)

Week old news (The Express Tribune):
A senior leader of Gulbudin Hekmatyar’s Hizb-e-Islami militant group has said that it is to enter into peace talks with the US. “We are willing to have a direct or indirect political dialogue with Washington,” Dr Ghairat Baheer told The Express Tribune. However, he hastened to add that such a dialogue must take place in a country other than the US and Afghanistan. Asked if Hizb-e-Islami would accept Islamabad’s role as an intermediary, Dr Baheer said that Pakistan’s role in any future talks would be vital...
He denied Western media reports that Washington had rejected an earlier peace overture of his group. “We never attempted to hold negotiations with the United States on our own,” he said.
A spokesman for the Haqqani network, however, said talks can only be effective only if they involve the entire Taliban Shura in Quetta. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Two Palestinian Conflicts

A Los Angeles Times editorial on recent Palestinian maneuvers at the U.N. I'm usually skeptical about such symbolic gestures as that they have no effect. It seems that Palestinian membership may have some interesting consequences:
Because of laws passed in the early 1990s that bar American funding for any U.N. agency that grants membership to Palestinians, Washington must now withhold $80 million from UNESCO, about 22% of its budget. That's of little immediate consequence. UNESCO, which runs anti-poverty, educational and cultural programs around the world, is a low priority for Washington, which pulled out completely from 1984 to 2003, and other countries will probably step up to fill the agency's budget hole. But the success is likely to embolden Palestinian leaders to seek membership in agencies with much bigger impacts on U.S. interests, such as the World Intellectual Property Organization (which helps protect patents and copyrights and is of great importance to Hollywood and Silicon Valley), the International Atomic Energy Agency, the World Health Organization and theInternational Civil Aviation Organization. That would force the U.S. to pull its funding from, and eventually lose its membership in and influence over, these bodies.
How exactly is not having to pay into the UN supposed to coerce Americans into supporting Palestinian statehood?

On the other side of the conflict, a new political context may be constraining Israeli militarism, according The Globe and Mail:

The idea of a ground offensive similar to the 2008-09 war on Hamas in Gaza appeals to many Israelis but may no longer be feasible. “Regional developments,” Israeli security analyst Mark Heller said, “all but preclude that option.” 
Israel’s desire to develop a close relationship with post-Mubarak Egypt would be at risk if it were to attack Gaza with too much force, explained Mr. Heller, principal research associate at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. 
“I also don’t think Israelis would want to generate the kind of worldwide sympathy for Palestinians that would come from such an offensive,” Mr. Heller added, “especially not during the Palestinians’ current efforts to be recognized by the United Nations.”
Netanyahu's solution: Targeted killings against Hamas leaders. 

The Vindication of George W: Post hoc ergo propter hoc

Some people just can't help themselves: "Condi Rice Credits Bush for Arab Spring: We Had a Role in That" (USA Today):
The demise of repressive governments in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere during this year’s “Arab spring,” she says, stemmed in part from Bush’s “freedom agenda,” which promoted democracy in the Middle East. “The change in the conversation about the Middle East, where people now routinely talk about democratization is something that I’m very grateful for and I think we had a role in that,” Rice says.
The "conversation" changed...This is a particular fallacy of American foreign policy thought, left or right: Somehow, almost magically, by getting people to talk about certain things in a new way, reality is changed. Perhaps it's a way to think about America's global influence in the context of declining American power. Since we haven't the means to actually change things, we instead get people to talk and think differently. And then reality is changed. 

I don't want to bash ideas and debates. I like these things in general. But talking doesn't topple states and usher in democracy. Guns and mobs do.

What's particularly galling is that Team Bush, in actuality, sought the strengthening of undemocratic regimes in the region as part of their War on Terror, Libya and Egypt, in particular. In addition, by making something as vague as "terrorism" the central focus of American foreign policy, the Bush Administration gave these regimes the perfect cover for repressing their domestic terrorists: They're terrorists! Terrorists! 

Monday, October 31, 2011

Conflict News

Responding to the threat of foreign intervention, Syria's Bashar Assad plays the destabilization card. (CBS NEWS)

An attack on UN headquarters in Khandahar kills 5; a radical faction of the Taliban, the Mullah Dadullah Front, claimed responsibility. (The Long War Journal)

The Philippines Army used bombers and ground troops to attack an Aby Sayyaf; they claim three militants were killed and "three assault rifles, a pistol and camouflage uniforms." Sounds terribly cost effective. (Al Jazeera)

Al-Shabaab took credit for a suicide attack that killed between three and 80 Ugandan soldiers, depending on whom you believe.. (All Africa)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sunday Reading

Adam Serwer, over at Mother Jones, has written a provocative profile on counterterrorism ideologue and the Islamophobes go-to guy, Walid Fares, who is currently advising Mitt Romney. As usual, Politico is there to defend the establishment.