Choosing Between Democracy and Freedom

Choosing Between Democracy and Freedom

This is a photo I took in the Metro in Washington D.C.

It is an advertisement for a cessation of hostilities in Syria where estimates are over 100,000 people killed in civil war, so far.

Now in Egypt, you have about 1,000 killed in the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood and violence continues there as well.

What is really confusing is that in both cases you have terrorists and extremists fighting more secular societies–yet, we do not unequivocally support the secularists in their battle again Jihadists.

At the same time, we went to war for a decade in Iraq and Afghanistan to fight a “war on terror” and to this day it continues with somewhat regular drone attacks.

While I understand that as a Democracy we need to support fair and free elections, does this mean we have to buttress up fundamentalists, extremists, and terrorists–just because they got voted in.

Sometimes, people don’t know or understand what they are voting for until its too late, which seems to be what happened in Egypt when the people elected the Muslim Brotherhood.

Similarly, the Nazi party in Germany in the 1930’s won many seats in the Reichstag, and we know the ten of millions murdered and the destruction that this led to.

Democracy, does not mean good always prevails, but when evil is rightfully elected what are we to do–simply support free elections or support good over evil?

Perhaps, the notion of good and evil is a little simplistic (especially when neither side may be very good), but the idea is the same, are we fighting for free elections or the better candidate in terms of overall freedom, human rights, and world peace.

Can we really afford to straddle the fence here? 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

The Keys To Good Government

The Keys To Good Government

Peggy Noonan hit it right on the head in today’s Wall Street Journal.

The fear of giving up privacy, she said, is of a “massive surveillance state,” and this is not overblown.

The crux of this concern is that if Government (or I would add hackers) can intrude on citizen’s private communications and thoughts, then eventually people will self-censor.

No privacy does mean government control.

As Noonan makes clear, violations of citizen privacy is not just a threat to the Fourth Amendment protecting against unreasonable search and seizure, but is a bona fide danger as well to the First Amendment guaranteeing free speech.

People should not be afraid to think critically and creatively because of what the government may do to them (and their families) for disagreeing with fraud, waste, abuse, special interests, and stupidity.

Rather, politicians should fear being criticized and not re-elected for violating the duty to rule justly and as true representatives of the people.

However, when government and politicians can listen in, see, and know what the lawful opposition in thinking and doing, then they are given virtually absolute power.

And absolute power does corrupt absolutely.

We should not change our underlying values of freedom and become a nation of routine digital interrogation of everyday John Doe’s.

Terrorists, traitors, anarchists, and hostile nation states should be pursued and given no rest or privacy from our intelligence, law enforcement, and warfighters.

But well-meaning citizens should be free to think, feel, and say what they believe in the best interest of the country.

Upright citizen’s should never have to fear an unjust government, but rather corrupt politicians should be concerned about violating the fundamental rights of the people.

At least two keys to good government are privacy and free speech. 😉

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Empirical Perception)

Liar, Liar, Pants On Fire

Liar, Liar, Pants On Fire

To catch a terrorist, you have to think like a terrorist or at least be able to get behind their lies and deception.

Terrorist want to gain entry, surveil their targets, plan their attack, assemble their weapons and tactics, avoid their pursuers, and execute maximum human, economic, and political damage.

To succeed, terrorists have to use lies and deceit to make their way through all the obstacles that the good guys put up.

Wired Magazine (February 2013) addresses some new interrogation technology being tested by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to catch the lies and the liars.

First of all, “people are really good at lying, and it’s incredibly hard to tell when we’re doing it.”

Moreover, most people “lie 10 times a day,” so it is routine and comes naturally to them.

In terms of detecting lies, we are not very good at it–in fact, we’re just better than chance–able to tell when someone is lying only 54% of the time.
Apparently, even with polygraph exams–their success is dependent more on the experience and finesse of the examiner and less on the polygraph tool.

However, with new research and development, DHS has come up with an automated interrogator–that enhances the success of catching a liar by combining multiple detection technologies.

The “interrogator bot” has three different sensors in use by the Embodied Avatar Kiosk.

– Infrared camera–“records eye movements and pupil dilation at up to 250 times per second–the stress of lying tends to cause the pupils to dilate”

– High-definition video camera–“captures fidgets such as shrugging, nodding, and scratching, which tend to increase during a deceptive statement”

– Microphone–“collects vocal data, because lies often come with minute changes in pitch” as well as “hesitation, changes in tempo and intonation, and spoken errors”

In the future, a additional sensors may be added for:

– Weight-sensing platform–to “measure leg and foot shifts or toe scrunches”

– 3-D camera–to “track the movements of a person’s entire body”

Aside from getting better deception-detection results from multiplying the sensing techniques, the interrogation kiosk benefits from communicating in multiple languages and being “consistent, tireless, and susceptible to neither persuasion not bribery.”

Another very cool feature being tested is tan interrogation avatar that actually resembles the person being interrogated using a camera and morphing software and making it look uncanny and “disturbing” at the same time–this can be quite familiar, disarming and unnerving.

By aggregating data points from many types of sensors and using behavioral analysis as a first line of defense followed by human questioning of those found to be lying, homeland security can proverbially light a fire under the pants of would be infiltrators and terrorists–and catch them before they make it to their next target. 😉

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Cosmic Jans)

Where Is The Outrage?

This past week a self-professed Al Qaeda jihadist, trained in the militant camps of Pakistan and Afghanistan murdered in cold blood three Jewish children and a teacher (who happened to be the father of the two boys killed, ages 3 and 6).

The 8-year old girl pictured above was the beautiful daughter of the school’s headmaster and was yanked by hair while the killer reloaded his gun and then shot her in the head, point blank.

A fifth victim, another student, a boy age 17 is critically wounded in the hospital.

The Killer, Mohamed Merah had just the prior week, in two attacks, murdered 3 black French solders as well.

So why did he do it?  He tells us it was to avenge Palestinian children and for the French foreign interventions, as he said on the video “you kill my brothers, now I kill you.”

So now this terrorist with an extensive rap sheet (as many as 18 prior acts of violence) is dead, and yet insanely, the terrorists consider him a martyr.

And while condolences are heard to all victims, is there sufficient outrage at the murder of innocent school children and terrorists’ complete disregard for human life and societal norms?

More than a decade after the tragedy of 9/11 with nearly 3,000 murdered, followed by almost 6,400 U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, we still cannot fully come to terms with the enemy we face and the threats they pose.

The people killed in terrorist attacks around the world–whether in a school yard in Toulouse, a luxury hotel in Mumbai, train attacks in London and Madrid, a nightclub attack in the Philippines, a plane flight over Lockerbie Scotland, a truck bomb at the U.S. Marine Barracks in Beirut, a homicide attack at a pizza parlor in Jerusalem, and countless others around the world have stained our consciences with the blood of innocents, so that the girl pictured, killed this week with a bullet to the brain is no longer special to anyone except her family, friends, and people who loved her.

The blood of the victims of terrorism is not cheap and neither is that of Jewish children–it is high time for outrage at the enemy that takes human life so gleefully.

(Source Photo: here)

 

>Peace and Security

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With all the questions about peace in the Middle East, there is a lot of enthusiasm for a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians, living side-by-side in peace.

This is a practical vision that would resolve a lot of suffering and enable us to move constructively forward.

It may be hard to understand why Israel needs very specific conditions to protect itself, but this video sent to me by a friend explains it very well.

In a historical perspective, I think it is important to be aware of the context of the Jewish security concerns as well:

1) Six million Jews (ONE out of every THREE men, women, and children) were murdered in the Holocaust just last century.

2) Tens of thousands more were lost in numerous wars to overtake Israel (in 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973, 1982, 2006, 2008 and in the Intifada’s).

3) Mid-East neighbors (that support terrorist organizations–like Hamas, Hezbollah and more) do not even recognize Israel’s right to exist, and are chartered to their ultimate destruction.

As a Jewish American, I too share, pray, and hope for peace in the Middle East…let it be so as a genuine and lasting one.

While Middle East peace often seems impossible, G-d can do what we think is impossible.

(All opinions are my own)

>The Information Blanket

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On July 4, 1976–the 200th anniversary of our free and democratic nation, something incredible was happening in Uganda–Operation Entebbe, a rescue operation to free over a hundred hostages at Entebee Airport.

This rescue operation became the basis for the movie Operation Thunderbolt, one of of my favorite movies (aside from Rocky).

The movie portrays the heroic and miraculous raid at Entebbe Airport in Uganda by the IDF to save the hostages of Air France flight 139, with 248 passengers and 12 crew (the Jews were later upon landing separated from the non-Jews and held captive, while the others were released). IDF Commandos with only a week of planning and preparation, travelled 2,500 miles in a daring operation that resulted in the rescue of the 103 hostages in a 90 minutes raid. Only three hostages and the commander of the mission, Lt Col Yonatan Netanyahu (the older brother of the Prime Minister of Israel today) were killed in the battle.

Despite, Uganda’s support of the terrorists in this event 35 years ago (a long time yes, but still pretty awful), today to help innocent people of this country and others that can benefit, I write about…The Information Blanket.

BMB, an independent advertising consumer PR company launched The Information Blanket this month to fight infant mortality.

According to Fast Company (June 2011), the Blanket is targeted for a country like Uganda where “on average 77 of every 1,000 Ugandan babies will die before they reach their first birthday.”

The creative director of BMB worked with UNICEF to “determine which health facts would best educate mothers and hopefully prevent infant death” and then they designed The Information Blanket with easy to read and understand information such as:

1) Vaccinations–“Get your baby vaccinated: 6, 10, 14 weeks.”
2) Feeding–“Breast-feed 8-12 times a day.”
3) Doctors–“Don’t forget to schedule your doctor appointment.”
4) Temperature–“38 degrees Celsius.”
5) Growth–“Growth chart (months).”
6) Warnings–“Warning signs: unconsciousness, convulsions, fever, diarrhea, vomiting, eye discharge, poor appetite, fast breathing, dehydration.”

These days, when going paperless and making everything digital is practically a mantra, I find The Information Blanket not only an effort to help people save lives, but a refreshing reminder that information can be delivered in many ways. And whether on a rock, a tree, bits and bytes, or a blanket, getting information out there to people is education, growth, and life for humanity.

Also, the role of design in effective communications and information technology is critical. Apple gets it…heck, they practically invented it. The more we incorporate good design and innovation into our communications, the more effective they have a chance to be.

(Source Photo: BMB)

>Turning the Tables on Terrorists

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Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md) said that an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP)—“it would bring down the whole [electrical] grid and cost between $1 trillion to $2 trillion” to repair with full recovery taking up to 10 years!

“It sounds like a science-fiction disaster: A nuclear weapon is detonated miles above the Earth’s atmosphere and knocks out power from New York City to Chicago for weeks, maybe months. Experts and lawmakers are increasing warning that terrorists or enemy nation state could wage that exact type of attack, idling electricity grids and disrupting everything from communications networks to military defenses…such an attack would halt banking, transportation, food, water, and emergency services and might result in the defeat of our military forces.” (Federal Times—September 21, 2009)

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) says “the U.S. is ill-prepared to prevent or recover from an EMP”—they are asking Congress for authority to require power companies to take protective steps to build metal shields around sensitive computer equipment.

It is imperative for us to protect our critical infrastructure so that we are not vulnerable to the devastating effects of a potential EMP blast. We must think beyond simple guns and bullets and realize that our technological progress is on one hand a great advantage to our society, but on the other hand, can be a huge liability if our technical nerve centers are “taken out”. Our technology is a great strategic advantage for us, but also it is our soft underbelly, and whether, we are surprised by an EMP or some hard-hitting cyber warfare, we are back to the stone age and it will hurt.

It also occurs to me that the same tools terrorists use against others can also be used against them.

>IT as a Surrogate Weapon

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There is a fascinating controversy going on now over the CIA plans to kill known al Qaeda terrorists. Should we “stoop to their level” and take them out or is this “assassination” style technique out of bounds for a free and democratic society?

Wow. I don’t think too many Americans the day after 9/11 would be asking that question.

We are quickly swayed by the events of the times and our emotions at play.

When 3,000 people—mostly civilians—were killed in a vicious surprise attack on our financial and military hubs in this country; when the Twin Towers were still burning and crashing down; when smoke was rising out of the Pentagon; and when a plane crashed in Pennsylvania—I think most of us would say, these terrorists need to be dealt a severe and deadly blow.

Who would’ve though that just a mere 8 years later, questions would abound on the righteousness of killing the terrorists who planned, executed, and supported these murderous attacks and still seek every day to do us incredible harm—quite likely with chemical, nuclear, biological, or radiological (CNBR) weapons—it they could pull it off in the future.

We are a society with a short-term memory. We are a reactive society. As some have rightly said, we plan to fight the wars of the past, rather than the wars of the future.

We are also a doubting society. We question ourselves, our beliefs, and our actions. And to some extent this is a good thing. It elevates our humanity, our desire to do what is right, and to improve ourselves. But it can also be destructive, because we lose heart, we lose commitment, we change our minds, we are swayed by political currents, and to some extent we swing back and forth like a pendulum—not knowing where the equilibrium really is.

What makes the current argument really fascinating to me from an IT perspective is that we are okay with drones targeting missiles at terrorist targets (and even with a certain degree of civilian “collateral damage”) from these attacks from miles in the sky, but we are critical and repugnant to the idea the CIA wanted to hunt down and put bullets in the heads of the terrorists who committed the atrocities and are unwavering in their desire to attack again and again.

Is there an overreliance on technology to do our dirty work and an abrogation of hands-on business process to do it with our own “boots on the ground” hands?

Why is it okay to pull the trigger on a missile coming from a drone, but it is immoral to do it with a gun?

Why is it unethical to fight a war that we did not choose and do not want, but are victims of?

Why are we afraid to carry out the mission to its rightful conclusion?

The CIA, interrogators, military personnel and so forth are demonized for fighting our fight. When they fight too cautiously—they have lost their will and edge in the fight, we suffer consequences to our nation’s safety, and we call them incompetent. When they fight too vigorously, they are immoral, legal violators, and should be prosecuted. We are putting “war” under a huge microscope—can anyone come out looking sharp?

The CIA is now warning that if these reputational attacks continue, morale will suffer, employees will become risk-averse, people will quit, and the nation will be at risk.

Do we want our last lines of defense to be gun-shy when the terrorists come hunting?

According to the Wall Street Journal, “one former CIA director, once told me that the ‘CIA should do intelligence collection and analysis, not covert actions. Covert actions almost never work and usually get the Agency in trouble.’”

The Journal asks “perhaps covert action should be done by someone else.” Who is this someone else?

Perhaps we need more technology, more drones to carry out the actions that we cannot bear to face?

I believe that we should not distinguish between pulling the trigger on a drone missile and doing the same on a sniper rifle. Moreover, a few hundred years ago the rifle was the new technology of the time, which made killing less brutal and dehumanized. Now we have substituted sophisticated drones with the latest communication, navigation and weapons technologies. Let’s be honest about what we are doing – and what we believe needs to be done.

(As always, my views are my own and do not represent those of any other entity.)

>Now We All Have Skin In The Game

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It used to be that cybersecurity was something we talked about, but took for granted. Now, we’re seeing so many articles and warnings these days about cybersecurity. I think this is more than just hype. We are at a precipice, where cyberspace is essential to each and every one of us.

Here are some recent examples of major reviews in this area:

  • The White House released its 60-days Cyberspace Policy Review on May 29, conducted under the auspices of Melissa Hathaway, the Cybersecurity Chief at the National Security Council; and the reports states: “Cybersecurity risks pose some of the most serious economic and national security challenges of the 21st century…the nation’s approach to cybersecurity over the past 15 years has failed to keep pace with the threat.”
  • The Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Commission on Cybersecurity for the 44th President wrote in a December 2008 report: “America’s failure to protect cyberspace is one of the most urgent national security problems facing the new administration…It is a battle we are losing.”

Cyberspace is becoming a more dangerous place as the attacks against it are growing. Federal Computer Week, June 2009, summarized the threat this way:

“Nation states are stealing terabytes of sensitive military data, including some of the most advanced technology. Cybercrime groups are taking hundreds of millions of dollars from bank accounts and using some of that money to buy weapons that target U.S. soldiers. The attacks are gaining in sophistication and the U.S. defenses are not keeping up.

Reviewing the possibilities as to why this is happening: Have we dropped our guard or diverted resources or knowhow away from cybersecurity in a tight budgetary environment and now have to course correct? Or, have our adversaries become more threatening and more dangerous to us?

I believe that the answer is neither. While our enemies continue to gain in sophistication, they have always been tenacious against us and our determination has never wavered to overcome those who would threaten our freedoms and nation. So what has happened?

In my view the shift has to do with our realization that technology and cyberspace have become more and more vital to us and underpins everything we do–so that we would be devastated by any serious disruption. As the Cyberspace Policy Review states definitively: “The globally-interconnected digital information and communications infrastructure known as “cyberspace” underpins almost every facet of modern society and provides critical support for the U.S economy, civil infrastructure, public safety, and national security.”

We rely on cyberspace in every facet of our lives, and quite honestly, most would be lost without the connectivity, communications, commerce, productivity, and pleasure we derive from it each and every day.

The result is that we now have some serious “skin in the game”. We have something to lose–things that we deeply care about. Thus, we fear for our safety and survival should something bad happen. We think consciously or subconsciously how would we survive without the technology, Internet, and global communications that we have come to depend upon.

Let’s think for a second:

What if cyberspace was taken down or otherwise manipulated or controlled by hostile nation states, terrorists, or criminals?

Would there be a breakdown in our ability to communicate, share information, and learn? Would there be interruptions to daily life activities, disruptions to commerce, finance, medicine and so forth, concerns about physical safety or “accidents”, risks to critical infrastructure, and jeopardy to our ability to effectively protect ourselves and country?

The point here is not to scare, but to awaken to the new realities of cyberspace and technology dependence.

Safeguarding cyberspace isn’t a virtual reality game. Cyberspace has physical reality and implications for all of us if we don’t protect it. Cyberspace if a critical national asset, and we had better start treating it as such if we don’t want our fear to materialize.