Homeland Security

Wiki III — the lesson of the event

A week has passed since the release of voluminous government records by WikiLeaks, and since the subsequent reportage of most of it in the world press. So far, the sky has not fallen. Commentators have taken sides—some calling the release treasonous, others defending it for informing the public about serious matters.

After all the sound and fury, an important lesson should be learned. Who controls the narrative, the flow and timing of information, controls (and may manipulate) the “truth.” Now government controls information about how it governs, to a reckless degree. Five national commissions studied our classification procedures in the last half-century, and all concluded that most — up to 90 percent — of the information classified confidential should not have been. Those commissions were nonpartisan, non-political, well-informed. The last was chaired by the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan.


We have the technology, should we use it?

The debate over TSA scanners and pat-downs reminds me of the debate over instituting instant replay in football. The football purists argued replay would slow down the game, and some went so far to say that refereeing mistakes were part of football. The supporters of instant replay countered that the most important job of the referees is to get the call right. Instant replay would clean up mistakes due to human error, and making sure we got the call right was worth stopping the game for a couple of minutes. I view the debate over the new TSA procedures in similar terms. Critics of the procedures argue Americans' privacy rights are being violated. Meanwhile, proponents of the procedures point out that any discomfort passengers might feel should be massively outweighed by the fact that they'll arrive at their destination in one piece. Discomfort to
passengers is worth the improved security, just like stopping a game to look at an instant replay is worth getting the call right.


Pat-down or potential death?

You had to imagine it was coming. After weeks of complaints the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has been receiving, one incident that occurred over the weekend involving a man who had survived cancer suggests the new guidelines for screening air passengers have gone too far.

The scene in question involved a Michigan man flying out of the Detroit airport, but because of a urostomy bag attached to his bladder, when the passenger was aggressively patted down, urine spilled onto his clothes.


Enhanced pat-downs and latex gloves — how often do screeners change them?

Anyone who has visited a fast food joint, a doctor’s office or a hospital has watched as workers change gloves between servings or exams. And if they don’t, the customer/patient would surely say something.

How often do the TSA agents doing the “enhanced pat-downs” change gloves? And would most cowed flyers who just want to make it through security and advance to their gate ask them to do so? Or would passengers fear that such a request would invite more enhanced scrutiny?

Until lately I viewed the gloves as protection for the TSA workers, but with the raft of stories about changes to TSA security methods — one on the front page of The New York Times featuring a photo of woman being patted down whose expression screams “I’d rather be anywhere but here” — I started wondering about the possibility of screeners passing everything from bedbugs to skin infections from one passenger to another. The woman in the Times photo is being touched over her blouse, but there are other complaints. Local TV news has found a sure-fire crowd pleaser that may push “If it bleeds it leads” off the top of the show.


Waterboarding is wrong and George Bush knows it

Once again, George Bush is thumbing his nose at the international system he repudiated as president. We learn in today’s New York Times and Washington Post that in his new book, Decision Points, he personally approved the waterboarding of Sept. 11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

“Had I not authorized waterboarding on senior al Qaeda leaders, I would have had to accept a greater risk that the country would be attacked,” he writes.


A worm and a terror alert

Be afraid. Be very afraid. That’s the message from the U.S. State Department, which issued its travel alert over the weekend for Americans traveling to Europe. But without any specific instructions on what to do about the “potential for terrorist attacks” there.

“U.S. citizens should take every precaution to be aware of their surroundings and to adopt appropriate safety measures to protect themselves when traveling,” the alert says.

So the administration has managed to instill a vague sense of panic into U.S. citizens, who are left to decide themselves whether to go ahead with their travel plans. Most have greeted the alert with a shrug and have carried on with business as usual. I’m still planning to fly to London and take the Eurostar to Paris. What’s the alternative unless the U.S. administration grounds all flights, as we saw with a Heathrow terror alert in August 2006?


‘We can sustain another terrorist attack’

As a patriotic American, I hope the Washington Post über-journalist misquoted President Obama in his upcoming book discussing the president's thinking behind the war on terrorism. Reading advance excerpts earlier today, I came across the following quotation attributed to the president:

"We can absorb a terrorist attack. We'll do everything we can to prevent it, but even a 9/11, even the biggest attack ever ... we absorbed it and we are stronger."


Republicans choosing color palettes for new digs, fail leadership test

News reports today detail how House Republicans are secretly planning their takeover of the Capitol after November’s elections — right down to who gets the best views of the National Mall out the West Front of the building. They’re reading the polls, choosing color palettes and selecting office space, but as they plan to assume leadership positions they’re failing to demonstrate leadership on everything from the economy to jobs to foreign policy to Pastor Jones’s plan to fuel the fires of hatred with the pages of the Quran.


The morality of government secrecy versus transparency

We dance round in a ring and suppose,
But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.

The Secret Sits, Robert Frost

The recent WikiLeaks (tsunami would be a better word) of about 77,000 diplomatic cables and intelligence reports raised a recurring issue of American law and policy.

A disturbed young man in our military in Europe turned over classified government documents to WikiLeaks (ironically, an organization dedicated to transparency that does not disclose its address or officers’ names). It, in turn, passed them on to
The New York Times, as well as reputable British and German press organizations.