The Stupidity Embedded in the War on Terror

Fascinating story via TechDirt demonstrating the complete idiocy that characterizes much of the war on terror.

A man in Australia attempted to buy some electronic parts from Element 14, which bills itself as a leading international supplier of electronics. When he showed up at a local Element 14 story to pick up the parts he had ordered online, however, he was told a “hold” had been put on the parts.

The hold, it turned out, was because Element 14 is/was comparing names of customers ordering parts to names on a U.S. terrorism watch list.

The man’s name — David Jones.

Back in 2006 a U.S. Marine was prevented from boarding a flight home because his name — David Brown — was on a watch list. The same year 60 Minutes did a story featuring 12 men named Robert Johnson who were unable to fly because that name is on some sort of watch list.

The watch lists themselves are largely security theater, but it is still a bit shocking to see how the American Terrorism Industrial Complex insists on taking this to its brain dead logic outcome.

Did Khalid Sheikh Mohammed Send the FBI on a Literal Wild Goose Chase?

Interesting quote from an article at Truth Out which apparently also appears in Terry McDermott and Josh Meyer’s book The Hunt for KSM. Discussing the efficacy — or lack thereof — of torture, McDermott notes that one of the claims Khalid Sheikh Mohammed made after being waterboarded sent the FBI on a literal wild goose chase.

“He had us chasing the goddamn geese in Central Park because he said some of them had explosives stuffed up their ass,” former FBI counterterrorism agent, Ali Soufan, told the authors.

It would be nice to have additional sourcing and/or details on such an outlandish undertaking by the FBI.

Homeland Security’s Guide to “Indicators of Suspicious Behavior at Hotels”

In July 2010, the Department of Homeland Security put together a memo documenting suspicious behaviors people engage in at hotels indicating they may be terrorists (PDF of full memo (100k)).

Possible indicators of terrorist behaviors at hotels: The observation of multiple indicators may represent—based on the specific facts or circumstances—possible terrorist behaviors at

  • Not providing professional or personal details on hotel registrations—such as place of employment, contact information, or place of residence.
  • Using payphones for outgoing calls or making front desk requests in person to avoid using the room telephone.
  • Interest in using Internet cafes, despite hotel Internet availability.
  • Non-VIPs who request that their presence at a hotel not be divulged.
  • Extending departure dates one day at a time for prolonged periods.
  • Refusal of housekeeping services for extended periods.
  • Extended stays with little baggage or unpacked luggage.
  • Access or attempted access to areas of the hotel normally restricted to staff.
  • Use of cash for large transactions or a credit card in someone else’s name.
  • Requests for specific rooms, floors, or other locations in the hotel.
  • Use of a third party to register.
  • Multiple visitors or deliveries to one individual or room.
  • Unusual interest in hotel access, including main and alternate entrances, emergency exits, and surrounding routes.
  • Use of entrances and exits that avoid the lobby or other areas with cameras and hotel personnel.
  • Attempting to access restricted parking areas with a vehicle or leaving unattended vehicles near the hotel building.
  • Unusual interest in hotel staff operating procedures, shift changes, closed-circuit TV systems, fire alarms, and security systems.
  • Leaving the property for several days and then returning.
  • Abandoning a room and leaving behind clothing, toiletries, or other items.
  • Noncompliance with other hotel policies.

Thank goodness we’ve got the best and brightest figuring out how to spot terrorists.

The Terrorist’s Favorite Watch

If you harbored any illusions that the United States government is in any way competent at fighting terrorism, you might want to take a look at this Wikipedia page about the favorite watch of terrorists, the Casio F91W.

The Wikipedia list notes that possession of a Casio F91W by a detainee is repeatedly cited in Guantanamo Bay Combatant Status Review Tribunal reports and other government documents. For example, a Summary of Evidence Memo prepared about Abdullah Gulam Rasoul noted,

The detainee was captured with two casio watches of the model that has been used in bombings that have been linked to al Qaida and radical Islamic terrorist improvised explosive devices.

Similarly, in justifying the continued detention of Majid Aydha Muhammad Al Qurayshi, the U.S. government noted that,

The detainee is on a list of detainees with a Casio model F-91W watch. This model watch has been used in bombings that have been linked to al Qaida and radical Islamic terrorist improvised explosive devices.

Of course this might mean something if the F91W wasn’t a cheap watch that retails for about $7.50 in the developing world and is extremely common. I’m surprised the documents don’t cite possession of a Nokia 1100 cell phone while they’re at it.

Just How Vital Is God to Homeland Security?

The American Atheists are suing the state of Kentucky over a provision that a fundamentalist Christian legislator managed to slip into the state’s law governing the state Office of Homeland Security,

(2) The executive director shall:
(a) Publicize the findings of the General Assembly stressing the dependence on Almighty God as being vital to the security of the Commonwealth by including the provisions of KRS 39A.285(3) in its agency training and educational materials. The executive director shall also be responsible for prominently displaying a permanent plaque at the entrance to the state’s Emergency Operations Center stating the text of KRS 39A.285(3);

In this case I think the American Atheists’ lawsuit is fully warranted (and a slam dunk at that), but please can’t they find someone to write press releases that don’t sound like rants,

Can’t we let this alone?

No, we can’t.  It is our patriotic duty to protect our Constitution from threats.  The injection of religion into government offices, if left alone, would set a precedent and lead to more infringements, which would then become precedents themselves.  We have seen, first hand and in this case alone, that religion can never be satisfied — they will always want more.  The  [sic] Seaparation of Church and state is a doctrine we proudly and unapologetically defend.

Beyond that, the whole concept that the state and the country is powerless against other religious zealots without this specific god to help us screams of the same religious zealotry that got us into this war in the first place. “my god can beat up your god” is what they say before a war begins — or escalates.

Really? See, I’d have taken a different tack. If Homeland Security is dependent on ‘Almighty God’, I want to know where the hell he/she/it was on September 11, 2001? Taking a day off? (Come one, we already took God out of public schools — he can’t have much else left to do, can he?) Too busy downing some donuts to stop a few planes?

Along with the lawsuit, perhaps we should subpoena this Almighty God character and find out exactly what its role in terrorism is. If Almighty God is truly the lynchpin of anti-terrorism, it sounds like we might have grounds for a class action lawsuit here.

Barack Obama, Bill Ayers and Political Violence

Xeni Jardin over at Boing! Boing! highlights an absurd interview with Bill Ayers featuring (in Jardins words) “his suggestions on what those swept up in the current wave of hope following [Barack] Obama’s election might do to harness that excitement.”

Ayers, of course, is the former Weather Underground terrorist and Obama associate whom McCain tried (way too late and in a lousy way) to make an issue of when it was clear that he was going to lose the election.

It is odd to see just how easily left wingers who commit acts of political violence can be mainstreamed. It is difficult to imagine that happening in a similar way on the Right.

For example, imagine that John McCain had repeatedly associated with an anti-abortion activist who had led an underground group that attempted to bomb abortion clinics around the country during the 1980s. Does anyone seriously think that such an association would have been downplayed by the mainstream media the way Ayers was? Would left-liberals like Jardin approvingly cite, say, National Review if it made the mind boggling decision to run a political advice piece from such a former terrorist? In fact, anti-abortion advocates are generally considered beyond the pale when they coordinate plain old non-violent civil disobedience.

Somehow, I don’t think so. This is the same sort of dynamic that allows some left-liberals to deplore the regime of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet while cultivating the cult of Che Guevera. It’s the sort of dynamic that Bill Clinton relied on when he pardoned 16 members of the Puerto Rican nationalist FALN in 2000, knowing that even though the group was reponsible for carrying out deadly bombings in the United States, his legacy wouldn’t suffer (even after the 9/11 attacks outraged Americans, Clinton’s pardoning of the FALN terrorists has never really harmed his public image).

On the other hand, I assume if George W. Bush pardoned Michael Griffin that this would quickly become a defining incident of his presidency.