Saturday, April 4, 2015

Our Pathetic Anti-Terrorism Campaign, Stateside


Six psychiatrists testified about Kosovo-born Sami Osmakac's mental state.
Two for the defense and two for the court called him schizoid. The two for the
prosecution called him depressed. He's serving forty years for using FBI money to
buy FBI-provided weapons to commit terrorists acts encouraged by FBI informants.

Somewhere there are bad people hoping and planning to do harm to American citizens because their religious and political beliefs don't coincide with American interests. The fact that most of these people are white, Christian, right-wing survivalists -- or simply people who want to avoid paying the government its rightful due -- is lost on most conservatives, as well as a number of people in law enforcement and NSA-style surveillance.

It's the Islamist Jihadis, godammit.

To understand how wrong this position is, read this from The Intercept. Excerpt:
But if [Kosovar Sami] Osmakac was a terrorist, he was only one in his troubled mind and in the minds of ambitious federal agents. The government could not provide any evidence that he had connections to international terrorists. He didn’t have his own weapons. He didn’t even have enough money to replace the dead battery in his beat-up, green 1994 Honda Accord.
Osmakac was the target of an elaborately orchestrated FBI sting that involved a paid informant, as well as FBI agents and support staff working on the setup for more than three months. The FBI provided all of the weapons seen in Osmakac’s martyrdom video. The bureau also gave Osmakac the car bomb he allegedly planned to detonate, and even money for a taxi so he could get to where the FBI needed him to go. Osmakac was a deeply disturbed young man, according to several of the psychiatrists and psychologists who examined him before trial. He became a “terrorist” only after the FBI provided the means, opportunity and final prodding necessary to make him one.
Read the whole thing. It's emblematic of our need to find, arrest, and incarcerate the "bad guys." Because they're really hard to find, we sometimes have to make them up.

Now, to understand why we have to make them up, read this Ryan Cooper article in The Week. Excerpt:
Indeed, it's arguable that an obsessive focus on dragnet surveillance is actually a distraction from more effective investigative techniques, because even moderately competent terrorists will avoid electronic communication altogether. Bin Laden was suspicious of even encrypted email years before the Snowden leaks, but especially today, one would have to be grossly misinformed to express sympathy for terrorism online. This might explain why the FBI has spent so much time of late baiting utterly hapless chumps or the mentally ill into taking fake weapons and explosives they never would have been able to get on their own.
At any rate, as I've argued before, simple bureaucratic competence and bog-standard* detective work are vastly underrated compared to piling up gigantic quantities of irrelevant data. But the false positive problem ought to be the final nail in the dragnet coffin. Unless terrorism becomes thousands of times more common than it is today, such broad techniques will be utterly useless against real terrorism.

But we already knew that. The number of terrorist attacks actually stopped by massive surveillance is uncalcuable because we can't find any cases, at least any that arguably originated from the metadata persistently collected by the NSA. But the number of cases the FBI has "solved" is evident in the daily news. Further scrutiny generally finds numbskulls entrapped by informants and overzealous agents. Again, not a very encouraging development for a society that stands for freedom.

Imagine 20-something schizoid Sami Osmakac spending forty years in a maximum-security prison for being nuts in the wrong place -- and the wrong era.

And we don't have money for education and infrastructure. That's fucked up.


Cliven Bundy is such a patriot that he doesn't pay his fees for grazing on Fed land.
 
*The term bog-standard seems to mean "especially plain, ordinary, or unremarkable; having no special, excess or unusual features." Apparently it derives from British slang, as "bog" means a toilet and "standard" refers to the ordinary white toilet usually found within.

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