|Private Jihad: How Rita Katz got into the spying business | The New Yorker|
by noteworthy at 7:45 pm EDT, May 28, 2006
Counterterrorism as vocation. True Believers Wanted.
Rita Katz has a very specific vision of the counterterrorism problem, which she shares with most of the other contractors and consultants who do what she does. They believe that the government has failed to appreciate the threat of Islamic extremism, and that its feel for counterterrorism is all wrong. As they see it, the best way to fight terrorists is to go at it not like G-men, with two-year assignments and query letters to the staff attorneys, but the way the terrorists do, with fury and the conviction that history will turn on the decisions you make -- as an obsession and as a life style. Worrying about overestimating the threat is beside the point, because underestimating the threat is so much worse.
It's clear the US government, and much of the international community, seeks to deter, detect, and seize the proceeds of international fundraising for terrorism. But what about private financing of non-governmental counterterror organizations? I'm not talking about desk jockeys. I'm talking about, what if Stratfor went activist, moved to the Sudan, or Somalia, or Yemen, and used the proceeds of a vastly expanded subscription business to fund their own private Directorate of Operations? Would governments indict the subscribers?
If private counterterrorism is deemed terrorism in the eyes of official national governments, how should transnational corporations respond when terrorists begin targeting them directly? To whom do you turn when your infrastructure is simultaneously attacked in 60 countries? Must you appeal to the security council, or wait for all 60 countries (some of whom are not on speaking terms with each other) to agree on an appropriate response? What about when some of those countries are sponsors of the organization perpetrating the attack?
"The problem isn't Rita Katz -- the problem is our political conversation about terrorism," Timothy Naftali says. "Now, after September 11th, there's no incentive for anyone in politics or the media to say the Alaska pipeline's fine, and nobody's cows are going to be poisoned by the terrorists. And so you have these little eruptions of anxiety. But, for me, look, the world is wired now: either you take the risks that come with giving people -- not just the government -- this kind of access to information or you leave them. I take them."
It's the computer security story again. Katz runs a full disclosure mailing list. Privately the Feds are subscribers, even as they complain publicly about training and propriety.
This article probably earns a Silver Star, although it might have been even stronger if it had been a feature in Harper's or The Atlantic, where it could have been twice as long, and could have been less a personal profile and more about the substance and impact of her work.
It's been a year now, and at risk of self-promotion, I'll say it's worth re-reading the Naftali thread.
|RE: Private Jihad: How Rita Katz got into the spying business | The New Yorker|
by Decius at 3:00 am EDT, May 29, 2006
But what about private financing of non-governmental counterterror organizations? I'm not talking about desk jockeys. I'm talking about, what if Stratfor went activist, moved to the Sudan, or Somalia, or Yemen, and used the proceeds of a vastly expanded subscription business to fund their own private Directorate of Operations? Would governments indict the subscribers?
This seems to go back to what I said about the distinction between ideas and action. The collection of open source intelligence by private parties is not something that bothers me in the least. By definition, open source intelligence is available for anyone with the time and inclination to collect it.
In theory, you could try to add a hum-int operational aspect but this is an extremely difficult thing to do and you're likely to screw it up unless you hire someone with experience. If the guy you turn ends up getting hanged you could end up impacting the overall strategic situation negatively, and so I can see that governments might want to keep amateur hum-int operators the hell away from terrorist organizations. However, doing this by passing a law seems a bit silly as, well, covert operations aren't covert if you get caught by the police. Its best done by not creating a market for the intel I think, but YMMV.
People in the computer security industry actually do hum-int. Its not a problem by itself (mostly because these operations aren't serious enough to actually infiltrate anyone who would retaliate violently, as far as I know). The problem comes when they lie or exaggerate the results of these operations to their customers, while claiming be making authoritative representations of the people they are spying on because they are "on the inside." Having interesting results helps you sell your result finding service, and people in this position are incented to find stuff where there is nothing to find. This article claims that SITE has this problem. I don't really have a hard time believing that simply because it occurs in other contexts. Customers of such a service should take results with a grain of salt.
Eventually this hypothetical reaches the point where in order to proceed you have to commit a crime, say by running a sig-int operation... hacking into a computer, or, perhaps, by using violence to acheive a tactical goal. Our society cannot tolerate that from private entities. The evolution of private merc forces is already troubling in this regard. Not only does this sort of activity complicate the strategic situation for the real military, but the reason that governments have deliberative processes that might be frustrating to hard liners is that governments attempt to use force justly. Force used without a political process will tend to serve the interests of it's funding source irrespective of justice, and this is a slippery slope toward unravelling civil society.
Having said all of this... [ Read More (0.2k in body) ]
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|RE: Private Jihad: How Rita Katz got into the spying business | The New Yorker|
by noteworthy at 12:18 pm EDT, May 29, 2006
The collection of open source intelligence by private parties is not something that bothers me in the least. ... In theory, you could try to add a hum-int operational aspect ...
The article explains in no uncertain terms that SITE includes HUMINT.
For months, the staffer pretended to be one of the jihadis, joining in chats and watching as other members posted the chilling messages known as "wills," the final sign-offs before martyrdom. The staffer also passed along technical advice on how to keep the message board going. Eventually, he won the confidence of the site’s Webmasters, who were impressed with his computer skills, and he gained access to the true e-mail addresses of the members and other information about them. After monitoring the site for several more days ...
I can see that governments might want to keep amateur hum-int operators the hell away from terrorist organizations. ... It's best done by not creating a market for the intel I think, but YMMV. ... Force used without a political process will tend to serve the interests of its funding source irrespective of justice, and this is a slippery slope toward unravelling civil society.
Partly for the sake of brevity, and partly for the sake of argument, my example (over)simplified things by proposing that the operators obtain financial support through an open-source analysis firm. It needn't be that way, or that simple.
You use the term "amateur." I use the term True Believer; to him, there should be no "market." To the extent the market exists anyway, he considers it irrelevant, perhaps even delegitimating. He would generally prefer that there not be a market. His objectives remain pure, that way.
What control does the government really have over the counterterror True Believer? No more than they have over the terrorist, one would think.
Eventually this hypothetical reaches the point where in order to proceed you have to commit a crime ... Our society cannot tolerate that from private entities. The evolution of private merc[enary] forces is already troubling in this regard.
About the issue of private mercenary forces: would it be legal for a corporation to hire such a firm to conduct counterstrike operations against a non-state entity who simultaneously attacks it in many different jurisdictions? I suspect not. Yet the hodge-podge of an international response that could conceivably be assembled to meet such a threat would likely be neither timely nor unified, and thus equally unlikely to be effective. So what is a transnational corporation to do?
Society and national governments might be able to exert pressure on formally organized "entities" with substantial above-board business operations. The levers of authority s... [ Read More (0.3k in body) ]
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