Saturday, January 09, 2010

Christmas Bomber: Dots, Pictures and Meaning

I wrote most of this a couple of days ago but forgot to post it.

We seem to re argue the controversies of the past administration the same way generals are said to refight the last war.

For instance, everyone is talking about connecting the dots. Some things are not dots, they are pictures. You don't have to connect them, you just have to open your eyes.

The idea of connecting the dots is that there are facts which don't mean anything in themselves but are significant when they are viewed together. A guy walking into your embassy and telling you that his son has become a radical islamist and has dropped out of sight is not a dot, it is a picture, a picture telling you not to let this kid get on an airplane.

The idea of dots or putting the pieces together is that they don't reveal their true or deep meaning until after the fact. a guy buys a one way ticket or wants to learn how to fly a jet without learning how to land it is a dot. After the fact you see what each of these means. you don't have to wait till after the fact to see what it means when a boys father comes to the embassy and tells you that his son has become a radical jihadist. Its meaning is already obvious. His son has become a radical jihadist. You may not believe him but there is no mystery about the meaning. "What is he trying to say?" He is trying to say that his son has become a radical Jihadist. It means you don't let him on an airplane.

One third of all attempts occurred in 2009. some people have used this as an excuse for the obama administration, they have just had too much to deal with. but if we are having all of these terrorism attempts after all of Obama's bowing and browbeating of Israel and grand pronouncements to close Gitmo isn't that evidence that the Jihadists might have a different set of motivations that Obama had assumed? Perhaps they have a set of goals that are not going to be changed by addressing what we think are their grievances?

The President is right that we have had an intelligence failure, just not the kind he thinks.

Another sort of anachronism is the focus on the CIA. The CIA for once is not at fault. We seem to have focused on the CIA because they are thought to be the ones that deal with foreign threats. They are but that is incidental. they are in charge of breaking the law. the fact that we don't let them operate in the US itself is because we disapprove of people, especially government employees, breaking our laws. but we have to break the laws of other countries if we want to find out what they don't want us to know. That is the reason for having the CIA.

The CIA is at best peripheral to this story. The man first came to the State Department and was referred by them to the CIA after he had told the State Department representative about his son. In the 9/11 attack the CIA failed to tell the State Department about the bad guys trying to get into the US. Here there is no question of the CIA telling the State Department something, it was the State Department sending the "dot" to the CIA. Were they supposed to send the guy's father back down the hallway to remind them not to let his son into the country?

The meaning of dots includes the idea of something whose meaning is not clear until after fact.

The idea that we had a computer programing failure that didn't allow us to catch the guy because of a small spelling difference is also troubling. We will now spend another billion trying to do something that could be downloaded for free from the internet as a google widget. but when you have a small technical problem that could be solved for pennies that the government insists on throwing money at it is another sign that you have something else going on.

The underlying problem is our fear of appearing to discriminate against a disadvantaged group. We treat any sort of suspicion that falls upon anyone who is not provably connected to a particular crime in progress as a sort of crime against international human rights.

We do not have to alter american society, just who we give a visa to enter it. that is a return to the common sense of the FDR era, not an abandonment of our values but a return.

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