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I Told You So! Lessons of the London Terror Plots:
I've been reading lots of commentary about the recently-foiled terrorist attacks in the UK, and I have found that most of the commentary says the same thing: I told you so! The big lesson everyone is drawing: I was right!

  Take the issue of surveillance. Supporters of controversial surveillance programs think that the episode proved the importance of controversial surveillance programs; after all, there was massive surveillance of the plotters, and that surveillance helped bust the plot. Opponents of increased surveillance think that the episode proved that they are right: You see, there is no sign that this particular surveillance came from controversial programs, and some of the key breaks in the case were from human intelligence not signals intelligence.

  Or take the topic of airline security measures. Opponents of airline security measures say that the episode shows that airline security measures are silly; you see, the attack was planned to go around the measures. Proponents of airline security measures say that the episode shows that airline security measures work; you see, the measures stopped the terrorists from attacking as they did on 9/11, and made them have to plan on going great lengths to try another approach.

  The same goes for the war in Iraq. Opponents of the war in Iraq say that the London plots show that the war in Iraq is a mistake; the war has only created more wannabe terrorists. Proponents of the war in Iraq say that the London plots show how important the war in Iraq is; it reinforces the seriousness of the war on terror, and the need for the United States to take major steps to bring democracy and Western values to the Middle East. (My apologies that I don't have links for these; I have seen the arguments, but right now can't find good sources. If others haven't heard the same arguments, please let me know.)

The take-away lesson: Whatever you do, don't use the London plots as an opportunity to rethink any of your preexisting assumptions about the war on terror, or the role of surveillance, or airline security measures. Remember, you were right all along! And the other guys are still too dense to see that they're wrong.
LTEC (mail) (www):
All you have shown is that at least half of these people are wrong. Up to half of them may be right. Isn't it important to examine the actual arguments used?
8.15.2006 10:24pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Well, is it OK to consider the latest events and thoughtfully conclude that I was, in fact, right the first time?

I remember, right after Sept. 11, 2001, that many people said, to me in person and on the Internet, that they were shocked because they didn't know much about Islam. Many added that 'none of us know' much about Islam.

As it happened, I did already know a lot about Islam (the political/social movement, I have no interest in the theology), and I wasn't shocked at all.
8.15.2006 10:25pm
Just John:
Not rethinking your assumptions, taking any event in stride and using it to bolster your argument, remaining fixed in your convictions without even a whisper of doubt...

That is EXACTLY what I've been warning about all this time!
8.15.2006 10:26pm
TomFromMD (mail):
"Proponents of airline security measures say that the episode shows that airline security measures work; you see, the measures stopped the terrorists from attacking as they did on 9/11, and made them have to plan on going great lengths to try another approach."

The intended method of attack predated 9/11. Good intelligence stopped it. It's likely that nothing else would have.

With the cockputs secure, and with passengers aware of the threat, we're not going to see any more hijackings. That was the big take away from 9/11. Everything else they're doing is pretty silly, really. If you can't hijack the plane, the most you can do is blow it up. If you blow it up, you take out 200 or so people. If you want to take out 200 people, there are are a ton of easier ways to do it. So we go through all this sillyness for nothing, really. If it gets too hard to blow up a plane, they'll just blow themselves up in a crowd.
8.15.2006 10:39pm
Speaking the Obvious:
Orin K: Why am I so sure that this lesson is generalizable beyond the issues of suveillance, airport security, and Iraq?
8.15.2006 10:43pm
Commenterlein (mail):
More interestingly, was anyone brave enough to argue that the foiled attackes prove the wisdom of invading Iraq? Someone check the Corner and Instapundit...
8.15.2006 10:47pm
TomFromMD (mail):
The last hijacking of a plane that Wikpedia lists was almost 5 years ago - 9/11. Before that, it was about 1 a year.
8.15.2006 10:47pm
Jay (mail):
Orin, you've hit upon the central most annoying trait of religious fundamentalists.

Every time there's any significant natural or man-made event, positive or negative, the religious nuts all march out with their version of what God is trying to tell us from the event. And 100% of the time, God's message is that the religious nut was right.

Has anyone ever witnessed something like an earthquake or battle or election and said, "This is God's way of saying that I don't know what I'm talking about?"
8.15.2006 11:13pm
The Drill SGT (mail):

LTEC (mail) (www):
... Isn't it important to examine the actual arguments used?


Actually, I'd be extremely happy if the NYT didn't tell us how it was done this time. If it's successsful, do it again and again. I have no "need to know"
8.15.2006 11:26pm
ray_g:
Jay: That reminds me of comedy routine (can't remember the guy's name). Punch line: you don't hear football players say something like "we would have won but Jesus made me fumble".
8.15.2006 11:45pm
John (mail):
And don't forget that it is now appearing that the "human intellligence" was, at least in part, the result of, er, aggressive Pakistani questioning...

What this really shows is that terrorists are smart and ingenious and that every form of spying/intelligence/info gathering we can deploy we must. Within all legal bounds, of course. Of course.
8.16.2006 12:19am
noahpraetorius (mail):
The arrest in Pakistan may have triggered the arrests but most of the plotters were already "in the frame", I believe.

I agree with the notion that airline security is mostly for show but show me a CYA politician or bureacrat with the cojones to say it.

Explain why the war in Iraq causes radicalization in Pakistan but the war in Afghanistan doesn't.

The paradox is that the WOT since 9/11 cannot be the cause of the terrorism that caused 9/11 or can it? One could argue that AQ anticipated the US response but did it anyway because it would increase the radicalization etc. The problem with all the arguments is that since there is no way of proving cause and effect one way or another its mostly just cheap bullshit.

I have yet to hear a compelling argument as to how not fighting terrorism will lead to less of it.
8.16.2006 12:52am
Medis:
George Will actually argued that this episode showed that John Kerry was right. I think that is an interesting variation.
8.16.2006 12:58am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
The Drill Sgt-

By your logic they could be spending trillions on things that don't work and no one would ever know. You can hide a lot of fraud, theft, waste, incompetence, corruption, etc. with "national security" as an excuse. In fact, that's the preferred method of hiding it.

I think its unpatriotic to waste taxpayer money, endanger people's lives, and violate people's rights. Sure there should be some secrecy, but oversight and transparency should be the rule.
8.16.2006 1:00am
noahpraetorius (mail):
I predict more squabbling but pretty much the same policies until the next major successful attack in this country. At that point...who knows? All the know-it-alls today should have an instant answer, but I suspect they will not. I sure don't.
8.16.2006 1:09am
noahpraetorius (mail):
Transparent secrecy...new concept!
8.16.2006 1:17am
Lehuster:
If you want to take out 200 people, there are are a ton of easier ways to do it.

I'm not so sure of that, if for no other reason than if there are "many easier ways", why aren't the bad guys using these ways? Why do they keep coming after planes? It seems pretty clear they only have a limited number of guys, and they're looking for the biggest bang for the buck, and that keeps them coming back to aircraft.
8.16.2006 1:29am
Lehuster:
If it gets too hard to blow up a plane, they'll just blow themselves up in a crowd.

Look at Iraq, which represents the most benign possible conditions for car bombing (lots of bad guys with lots of places to hide, bad security, plentiful explosives). Hundreds of car bombs going off, and each one generally only kills 10 or 20 people. Terrorists are not going to have the same ability to set off hundreds of such bombs in the US or the UK (thank God), and thus they're just not going to get the same bang for the buck out of this as from attacking planes.

One big truck bomb every once in a while... maybe.
8.16.2006 1:37am
Lev:

Has anyone ever witnessed something like an earthquake or battle or election and said, "This is God's way of saying that I don't know what I'm talking about?"


God willing, it will happen.
8.16.2006 1:38am
Lincoln (www):
...and said, "This is God's way of saying that I don't know what I'm talking about?"


That's pretty much what I said when Lieberman lost the primary. :)
8.16.2006 1:53am
A.S.:
John was trying to say it politely, but I'm not as polite.

This episode proves that torture works, and can be an important tool in the war on terror. We've often seen commentators and bloggers unthinkingly repeat the mantra that torture doesn't work. That's now been proven to be a lie.

Now, of course, the fact that torture works doesn't mean that it is right to torture. But at least we can dispense with the ignorant mantra that torture doesn't work.
8.16.2006 1:54am
Harry Eagar (mail):
noah, we know what it took to change Christianity from a killing machine to its current status as a stuffed bunny. We could try some of that.

Only we probably should speed it up so it takes less than 350 years to be effective.
8.16.2006 1:57am
Zed (mail) (www):
A.S.:

I don't think that particular episode proves anything useful. Someone who was picked up based on information not obtained with torture happened to be guilty and happened to "break", providing an unknown amount of valid information, potentially along with an unknown amount of chaff. That Guardian link is remarkably light on detail.

But assuming that torture did actually get some useful information out of that individual -- this has what bearing, exactly, on the likelihood that torture as a general interrogation process is going to provide more real information than chaff, especially over the long run?

I'm reminded of a first-hand story I was told of an incident in the Marcos-era Philippines. Some poor innocent guy was picked up on suspicion of being a rebel and tortured until he talked. Not having anything at all useful to say to stop the torture, he just made something up, about a dark part of a park at midnight. Marcos' troops raided the place, and busted a rebel meeting, none of whom had any idea who the poor sod was.

There were so many rebel groups at that time, you see, that if you picked any concealed meeting point at midnight, you had a fair chance of stumbling over one.
8.16.2006 2:04am
Enoch:
Zed, your little anecdote to the effect that torture doesn't work is even more vague and lacking in specific, verifiable detail than that Guardian article, so it's not a terribly effective rebuttal.
8.16.2006 2:49am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
noahpraetorius-

I predict more squabbling but pretty much the same policies until the next major successful attack in this country. At that point...who knows? All the know-it-alls today should have an instant answer, but I suspect they will not. I sure don't.

I'm not a know-it-all, but perhaps we could spend the billions currently going to turn Iraq into a terrorist recruiting and training ground into sealing the border and improving port security by searching more containers. We might even save some soldiers' and innocent civilians' lives.

As far as "transparent secrecy" goes, we could start with restoring all the oversight that existed before this rollback in government accountability - restored authority for the FISA courts, restored habeas corpus, honoring the Geneva Convention and the Convention Against Torture, etc.
8.16.2006 3:26am
Alaska Jack (mail):
Orin, the main thing I took away from the recent activity was astonishment at how reactive the government is. I mean, if hair gel and bottled water were such a threat the day after the arrests, why weren't they the day before? And if they were, why weren't they forbidden then? The day of the arrests, did all the smart guys we have on the case collectively slap their foreheads and say "Wow, combining liquid elements to form an explosive -- we never thought of that!"

I want my smart government guys being proactive and anticipating these things, not reacting to them.

- Alaska Jack
8.16.2006 5:11am
noahpraetorius (mail):
AS, or you could take the "torture doesn't work" mantra as a given from which it follows that whatever was done was not torture because torture doesn't work!

American whatever: you are in a contant state of hyperventilation apparently...may I suggest rebreathing into a brown bag? If the current terror plot in London had succeeded in turning the contents of 10 or so jumbo jets into fish food would you feel vindicated and in what way? That the British were punished in some moral sense for utilizing tools against terrorists that violate your civil rights absolutism whereas if they had merely stuck their heads in the sand or were more transparent and therefore did not catch them in time they would be upholding our cherished Western ideals?
8.16.2006 9:46am
Hei Lun Chan (mail) (www):
Alaska Jack,

If the government banned hair gel, bottled water, etc. before they made the arrests, then the terrorists would have been tipped off.
8.16.2006 9:59am
buzz:
Hei Lun Chan, I think Alaska Jack's point is that these items didnt just become dangerous. If the possibility exists, why were they not banned 5 years ago?
8.16.2006 10:10am
magoo (mail):
"The take-away lesson: Whatever you do, don't use [insert recent event] as an opportunity to rethink any of your preexisting assumptions about the [insert issue]. Remember, you were right all along! And the other guys are still too dense to see that they're wrong."

Isn't this the take-away lesson for almost every recent event as it pertains to every issue discussed in the blogosphere (always excepting Orin's thoughtful analyses)? Is there a VC post by Bernstein, Adler, Zywicki, or the gun nuts that doesn't fit this model, one that actually says I used to believe XYZ but recent events have proven me wrong?
8.16.2006 10:11am
johnt (mail):
Concerning surveillance, what about the recent arrests of ppeople buying masive numbers of untraceable cell phones? Were they all to be used as detonators or was it a response to the NSA flap? I did read the electronic surveillnance was utilized in the London plot, unless we know otherwise we have to assume that the investigators thought it of some importance. naturally that won't stop us from second guessing what we don't know.
8.16.2006 10:20am
Bill Harshaw (mail) (www):
magoo: Have you changed your mind in the last 5 years? If I were religious I'd remind people of motes and beams in the eye, but I'm not

(I would acknowledge that Eugene has changed his mind a time or two, less often than he should but probably more often than I have.)
8.16.2006 10:30am
Mongoose388:
I drive past a major American airport every day. The highway passes within a few hundred yards of planes landing and taking off, or planes parked along the terminals. It almost looks like they are so close you could hit them with a slingshot...I wonder how long before the terrorists shift the paradigm once again.
8.16.2006 10:31am
johnt (mail):
Harry Eager, Right on Harry, don't be distracted by this silly, passing fluff about some of the more contentious elements of Islam. Keep your eyes fixed on the real enemy.
Let's make a deal, you keep a watch on a resurgent, militant Christianity, a sure sign would be advocacy of a moment of silence in school, I'll keep abreast of the beheadings, bombings, mass slaughters, and other trivia that occupy the minds of the less perspicacious. You may in passing inform the rest of us in the meantime just how "we" get to reform Islam, or turn them into stuffed bunnies. What if they disagree? Their habits, and I hope you don't mind my sharing this unpleasantry, have been solidified over 1500 years and so far have resisted bunnification.
Thanks however for reminding the forgetful and careless from whence the real threat comes, or came. We need guys like you!
8.16.2006 10:49am
llamasex (mail) (www):
Mongoose388, I have the exact same fear as you. It looks like you could really easily hit one of those landing or taking off planes with a missile without much trouble at all.

They are thinking about adding countermeastures to commerical planes, but the costs are in the hundred billions. I don't know if its worth it to do that, but I think it is definitely a large weakness.
8.16.2006 11:18am
statfan (mail):
Of course, people have been saying this forever. Here's Daniel Davies (we think): Why the Bombings Mean That We Must Support My Politics.
8.16.2006 11:39am
statfan (mail):
Of course, people have been saying this forever. Here's Daniel Davies (we think): Why the Bombings Mean That We Must Support My Politics.
8.16.2006 11:39am
Mongoose388:
llamasex:
"It looks like you could really easily hit one of those landing or taking off planes with a missile without much trouble at all. They are thinking about adding countermeastures to commerical planes, but the costs are in the hundred billions."
Wouldn't need anything as sophisticated as a modern srface to air missile. As far as countermeasures on planes,it would be pointless since they'd be ineffective due to the limited reaction time at that range and the simplistic weapons being used. At that range you could boresight an unguided RPG.
8.16.2006 11:58am
Enoch:
At that range you could boresight an unguided RPG.

There are even less expensive and difficult ideas...
8.16.2006 12:36pm
Just an Observer:
"This episode proves that torture works, and can be an important tool in the war on terror. We've often seen commentators and bloggers unthinkingly repeat the mantra that torture doesn't work. That's now been proven to be a lie," said A.S., further reinforcing Orin's general thesis.
8.16.2006 12:57pm
Mikkel (mail):
I'm glad that one arrest proves unequivocally that torture works. I used to be against torture, but now I fully support it even though I have absolutely no idea what information was actually obtained through it. I mean here I've been reading dozens of opinions by people from the CIA, military intelligence and even our own captured soldiers that underwent torture for years and they all agree that it doesn't work because there are so many lies thrown in it is impossible to get anything useful. One CIA analyst went so far as to state the main reason why the Soviets got their asses kicked in the intelligence game was that they were too busy torturing everyone they forgot they were actually suppossed to get intel, while we more or less just went up to people and over time persuaded them to talk. Obviously these were old timers that have a pre-9/11 mentality and are just jealous because the world is passing them by. If only we listened to Rummy and changed our entire military to consist only of small special ops forces each with three planes and two torturers attached, we would have defeated the terrorists by now.
8.16.2006 12:59pm
noahpraetorius (mail):
Yep Enoch...civilian aircraft are amazingly fragile things. I have a small airplane that sits outside in a small airport with no security. A drunken vandal with a sledge hammer could make it unairworthy in a matter of seconds.
8.16.2006 12:59pm
noahpraetorius (mail):
I understand that your comment is snarky. But the "torture doesn't work" crowd is disengenuous as well. Reportedly Khalid Sheik Mohammed (AQ captured post 9/11) cracked after waterboarding. So thats two.

Made up facts about the Soviet Union's alleged defeat in the intelligence war don't help your case either.

When HzB captured a Soviet diplomat in Beirut years, the wife of one of the terrorists was found dead in the street. The diplomat was returned shortly thereafter. The Soviet reputation for ruthlessness has served them well and they probably don't waste a lot of time worrying if the people of the world love them.
8.16.2006 1:10pm
Mikkel (mail):
I didn't make it up, I'm just saying what the guy said. If you want give me a couple days and I'll track it down and email it to you. Seriously, do you want it? Also, the Russians are definitely ruthless, but that has yet to stop the Chechens from pulling off terrorism (although I won't claim it increased it, that's too hard to know). Also, the One Percent Doctrine book claims that Khalid Sheik Mohammed didn't give good intelligence under torture and said we could go ahead and kill his wife and children when threatened with that. It also explicitly claims that Abu Zubaydah, who was portrayed by the Administration as sorta a little Sheik-Mohammed caused us to go on tons of wild goose chases from his "confessions."

Seriously, to me the problem is that the debate has turned into arguing about who is Right and Wrong as some concrete object that is a reflection of the Truth. Reality is not like this at all, it's about tradeoffs. The reason why both positions get hardened when anything happens is because they are both reaching for absolute positions. Has torture ever worked? Sure it has to have worked or people wouldn't want to do it. Does it work a majority of the time? I have yet to read any "insider" that says it does, they say it harms us a majority of the time. So the question is not, "Did torturing some dude in Pakistan help us break up the plot in England?" It surely might have, I don't know and I doubt we ever will. The question is "Did torturing some dude in Pakistan have a greater chance of succeeding or of giving us nothing." or even worse -- did it have a greater chance of causing us to misallocate our resources chasing after lies that would cause us to actually miss the current plot?

This desire for absolutism extends to all the issues and is why we've become pretty Orwellian where even facts are becoming partisan.
8.16.2006 1:30pm
Randy R. (mail):
These guys were arrested a week ago or so, and still no charges brought against them. Why not? If the evidence is so clear that they were going to blow up these planes, shouldn't there be enough to charge them at this point?
You can hold them in dentention without charges for 28 days in Britain.
tick, tick, tick....
8.16.2006 1:43pm
Enoch:
One CIA analyst went so far as to state the main reason why the Soviets got their asses kicked in the intelligence game was that they were too busy torturing everyone they forgot they were actually suppossed to get intel, while we more or less just went up to people and over time persuaded them to talk.

I would like to see the source for this, not least because the contention that the Soviets got their asses kicked in the intelligence game is highly questionable.

Has torture ever worked? Sure it has to have worked or people wouldn't want to do it. Does it work a majority of the time? I have yet to read any "insider" that says it does, they say it harms us a majority of the time.

Nobody argues (or should argue) that we need to torture all of the people all of the time, or all of the people some of the time... but some of the people some of the time, well, that is at least arguable. Unless you're an absolutist on the issue, of course. =)
8.16.2006 1:48pm
Mikkel (mail):
Oh one more thing and then I'll be quiet. I would argue that the nature of terrorism forces these issues to the forefront. This is because attacks are so infrequent that all arguments rely completely on anecdotal evidence. Let's say we knew for certain what caused any given terrorist plot to succeed or fail and also what all the consequences were when we falsely chased a plot. Even with that completely unrealistic premise, you could make a strong argument against or for most tactics. Why? Because you'd only have about four or five data points for each side. Since terrorism is so infrequent we as a nation are forced to look at incomplete information and fill in the gaps as we skip along the logic roadway. These gaps are filled with belief because there isn't enough evidence for the actual grout. Ironically, extremism is the logical outcome of trying to be logical because in an effort to try to support your argument based on your beliefs, you start filtering.

To me, the only way around this is to more or less remain uncommited to any view until there is sufficient evidence. On some things (like torture) there is a good amount of historical evidence it isn't good, on other things (like wire tapping) we know that the tactic is good when properly applied but we have to feel out what that means, and on some things (like combating guerrilla tactics) no one seems to have figured out what to do yet. Unfortunately, this obviously only works on the decades scale and is of little consolation to the people that get killed in the name of getting more data.

Also it explains why the worst thing terrorists can do is get rid of their randomness. I would highlight Israel as an example. Sure they have many advantages like a homogenous population, but they have historically been very split. The last infatida basically got rid of that. Now even the dovish Israelis think there is a time for mass military action, but even the hawks think we're insane about wanting to drag Syria and Iran into the whole mess. The hawks acknowledge that Palestinians feel occupied and there needs to be long term steps to get them independent, but the doves have to admit that in the short term they are ruled by crazy terrorists. If the international community actually helped Israel, I think there would be a good shot of "winning hearts and minds" of the common folk and eliminating the violent ones -- and I personally feel that a large part of it is that they are under constant attack.
8.16.2006 1:57pm
A.S.:
"This episode proves that torture works, and can be an important tool in the war on terror. We've often seen commentators and bloggers unthinkingly repeat the mantra that torture doesn't work. That's now been proven to be a lie," said A.S., further reinforcing Orin's general thesis.

'Twas the point of my post!
8.16.2006 2:18pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
Does this mean we can no longer extradite or repatriate terrorist suspects to the UK for fear that they'll be tortured? I'm sure the "extraordinary rendition" crowd will be having a field day with this.
8.16.2006 2:27pm
eddie (mail):
I think the professor missed an opportunity to be truly cynical here.

However, he prepackaged his second "question" in an improper manner, by assuming that the "war" in Iraq has something to do with the "war" against terrorism.

First, I am still astounded that any one with an advanced degree can live with an oxymoron as the "War against Terrorism". Sort of similar to the "War against Nihilism". Wars, if we are to retain any meaning to the word, are between definable groups and have a beginning and an end. Vilgilance against unlawful behaviour is called something else: Policing.

Okay now that I've tipped my hand, can I make a case that the Professor is wrong in stating that we can't learn anything from this (because both sides claim victory): Here was a proper response to the technique of terrorism: the investigation, through policework and international sharing of intelligence that thwarted a plot and captured the conspirators.

Much better and more productive than simply dropping a nuke on all of them terrorists and all those who are related to them and all those who harbor them and all those who didn't get out of the way of the bomb since they should have known better. (Okay the last bit is a rant, but I still have not seen anyone provide a rational basis for justifying or making sense out of the term "War on Terror" nor providing a counterargument that refutes the idea that getting rid of the terrorists is an impossible task (see, e.g. Xeno's paradox) or one that incurs such an incredible degree of collateral damage that such a "victory" would not look much different than a defeat.
8.16.2006 2:53pm
Mikkel (mail):
Nobody argues (or should argue) that we need to torture all of the people all of the time, or all of the people some of the time... but some of the people some of the time, well, that is at least arguable. Unless you're an absolutist on the issue, of course. =)

Haha ok touche. Now we just need to find some omniscience to tell us who, when and how much we should torture and we'll be grand!

In attempting to stand by my word and find that CIA/KGB thingy, I found this book which promises to point the pros/cons in a scientific manner and what is successful (apparently forcing people to stand up for long periods on end was the most successful KGB method). I dunno how well it talks about details because most reviewers I could find were too busy explaining their revulsion about what our government did to comment, but it might.

Also, I came across an article in The Atlantic (which requires subscription so I signed up for the trial. How's that for dedication) which can be summarized here and The Atlantic article said The Marine Corps Interrogator Translator Teams Association put the writing (I assume the same thing as at the end of the above link) on their website because it is such a classic and most of the copies were falling apart -- but it's now password protected.

Ok I can't find that explicit quote by the CIA guy. We'll assume it is wrong, because I'm too hungry to find it now. I did find this article about the dissolution of the KGB which is stunning in its frankness.

Also there was this "Well by coincidence, just as the Pentagon was reaffirming that it doesn't need to worry about the niceties of the Geneva Convention, the CIA was releasing a 1996 interrogation manual, which states:

"The question of torture should be disposed of at once. Quite apart from moral and legal considerations, physical torture or extreme mental torture is not an expedient device. Maltreating the subject is from a strictly practical point of view as short-sighted as whipping a horse to his knees before a thirty-mile ride. It is true that almost anyone will eventually talk when subjected to enough physical pressures, but the information obtained in this way is likely to be of little intelligence value."" from a blog. Click on the link to read the manual itself and awe at the SECRET mark everywhere.
8.16.2006 2:58pm
Robert McDougall:
A.S.:


This episode proves that torture works . . .

No, your comment proves that spin works.

According to the editorial,
you cite, "Reports from Pakistan suggest that much of the intelligence that led to the raids came from that country and that some of it may have been obtained in ways entirely unacceptable here" (that is, by torturing Rashid Rauf). But from actual reporting, it appears:

(1) that the investigation began "months ago",

(2) that Rashid Rauf was a "suspected ringleader" before he was taken into custody;

(3) that "monitoring of Rauf . . . apparently played a critical role" before his arrested terminated it,

(4) that Rauf was arrested at the urging of the U.S., "over the objections of the British",

(5) that the British objected both because they wanted Rauf treated with "due process", to facilitate his prosecution in Britain, and because they wanted to "continue to run surveillance for at least another week to try to obtain more evidence".

So, by getting Pakistan to arrest Rauf, the U.S. interrupted the investigation, lost evidence, and screwed up the prosecution. But it did get a bad guy tortured!

Torture isn't your protection, it's your consolation for your administration's incompetence.
8.16.2006 3:18pm
non_Lawyer:
Eddie:

Your comment reminds me of how it has been said that little would have been accomplished if, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, FDR had declared a "War on Aviation." (Sorry, I can't remember to whom I should attribute that little gem.)

I do dislike the term "War on Terror" because, as the quip above illustrates, it is nonsensical to declare war on a method.

And that is one of the profound problems with the current global situation: the people in power and the media are either unable or unwilling to clearly define the enemy.

Why is that?

(I think it is partly because of an irrational fear of offending people. The PC world has so hamstrung us that "labeling" is now such a sticky business that we now have to declare war on methods instead of on the PEOPLE who are bent on destroying us and who have no qualms about declaring their intention to do so in not-so PC terms themselves.)
8.16.2006 3:25pm
non_Lawyer:
Robert McDougall:

Um, maybe I'm wrong, but if they'd waited another week to arrest Rauf, wouldn't there have been a lot of death and destruction caused by the delay (since the attacks were planned to occur less than a week after the arrests)? Maybe I'm confused on the timeline, but I don't see how a tidy prosecution could possibly be valued higher than the saving of hundreds of lives. Sorry, but I'm with Jack Bauer on this one.
8.16.2006 3:30pm
Medis:
I think we are all just confirming Orin's point, but it was sort of a sophomoric point anyway (yes, he has identified a universal human tendency, but that is something we just have to deal with).

Incidentally, Craig Murray, former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, had this to say on the torture issues in this case:

"So this, I believe, is the true story.

None of the alleged terrorists had made a bomb. None had bought a plane ticket. Many did not even have passports, which given the efficiency of the UK Passport Agency would mean they couldn't be a plane bomber for quite some time.

In the absence of bombs and airline tickets, and in many cases passports, it could be pretty difficult to convince a jury beyond reasonable doubt that individuals intended to go through with suicide bombings, whatever rash stuff they may have bragged in internet chat rooms.

What is more, many of those arrested had been under surveillance for over a year - like thousands of other British Muslims. And not just Muslims. Like me. Nothing from that surveillance had indicated the need for early arrests.

Then an interrogation in Pakistan revealed the details of this amazing plot to blow up multiple planes - which, rather extraordinarily, had not turned up in a year of surveillance. Of course, the interrogators of the Pakistani dictator have their ways of making people sing like canaries. As I witnessed in Uzbekistan, you can get the most extraordinary information this way. Trouble is it always tends to give the interrogators all they might want, and more, in a desperate effort to stop or avert torture. What it doesn't give is the truth."
8.16.2006 3:33pm
Medis:
By the way, in the interest of full disclosure, I should note that Murray has previously criticized the UK government for allegedly sending people to Uzbekistan to get tortured, and he was fired as Ambassador (he claims the two things are related, and the government denies that allegation).
8.16.2006 3:40pm
Mongoose388:
""The question of torture should be disposed of at once. Quite apart from moral and legal considerations, physical torture or extreme mental torture is not an expedient device."
At least no one here has made the idiotic argument that if we mistreat the prisoners, they will mistreat our captured GI's or hostages. History proves that's a fallacy.
8.16.2006 4:40pm
Medis:
By the way, it is a bit of a strawman argument to claim that the prudential arguments in favor of an absolute ban on torture require that torture never provides actionable intelligence. Rather, it would be sufficient if the negative effects of an incomplete torture ban outweighed the cumulative benefits of such intelligence.

For example, suppose incidents of torture did serious harm to our attempts to gain human intelligence through other means (e.g., recruiting sources in the field). In such circumstances, the fact that torture on some occasion provided actionable intelligence would not necessarily outweigh the harm caused to these other intelligence-gathering efforts.
8.16.2006 4:50pm
nrein1 (mail):
Non lawyer, who says that the attack was to occur in the next week. Yes that was the inital breathless pronouncements, but from everything I have heard since, this is just no true. they had no plane tickets, perhaps they even had no explosive. My understanding is since the threat was not imminent, the British police wanted to keep surveiling them, but the US wanted action, so action was taken.
8.16.2006 6:53pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
noahpraetorius-

American whatever: you are in a contant state of hyperventilation apparently...may I suggest rebreathing into a brown bag? If the current terror plot in London had succeeded in turning the contents of 10 or so jumbo jets into fish food would you feel vindicated and in what way? That the British were punished in some moral sense for utilizing tools against terrorists that violate your civil rights absolutism whereas if they had merely stuck their heads in the sand or were more transparent and therefore did not catch them in time they would be upholding our cherished Western ideals?

You're babbling about airline passengers becoming "fishfood" and I'm the one hyperventilating? Look out your front window, there should be a SWAT van from the Irony Police speeding toward you now.

From what I understand the torture didn't make a meaningful contribution to this operation - surveillance and good, old-fashioned police and intelligence work did. And you know what - you can do those with things like FISA courts and warrants and such.

You know they have websites where you can view and read sadomasochistic material. You could do so with other consenting adults. You wouldn't even have to leave your house or commit any international war crimes.
8.16.2006 7:39pm
Medis:
By the way, my understanding is that they actually got warrants in the UK and FISA orders in the US for the necessary surveillance.
8.16.2006 8:30pm
Enoch:
this is just no true. they had no plane tickets, perhaps they even had no explosive.

Both of which can be obtained or made in less than 12 hours, but no worries, everybody go back to bed...
8.16.2006 8:36pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
johnt, there was a time when people were even more afraid of Christians, and rightfully so, than anybody -- even you -- is afraid of Muslims today.

That changed. Christianity was not reformed from within. It had decency imposed on it, and a lot of people died horrible deaths before opinions changed. As Mencken observed, nearly 100 years ago, it was getting hard to find anyone who still wanted to kill somebody else over the doctrine of infant damnation.

So, yes, I know more than one way Islam could be changed, and it will most probahly have to be done from outside, since there is no evidence I know of to suggest that 21st century Islam has any instinct to tame itself.

Pretending it is a Religion of Peace that doesn't need any attention is not one of the ways.
8.16.2006 8:38pm
Christopher Cooke (mail):
The lesson I drew from the episode was that Professor Kerr was right all along (about everything). Did I err? p

Assuming that the British did foil a well-advanced plot (it appears to me that they did), I suppose you have to credit police work, and Pakistani intelligence, for their success. The scary thing about the plot is that the terrorists were planning to revisit the same method that Ramsi Yusef had used in 1995--bringing liquids on board in separate packages, and assembling them into an explosive device.

The main lesson I learned is that our government and the British government apparently learned not enough from all of the government committees that studied 9/11 and made security recommendations, because our current airline security procedures would have allowed these packages on our airplanes. Now, I am sure we will be good at preventing liquid bombs being smuggled onto planes, but how about looking at some other methods and preventing those BEFORE someone tries to use them?
8.16.2006 8:42pm
Robert McDougall:
non_Lawyer:

. . . if they'd waited another week to arrest Rauf, wouldn't there have been a lot of death and destruction caused by the delay (since the attacks were planned to occur less than a week after the arrests)? Maybe I'm confused on the timeline . . .

Maybe misinformed. U.S. officials initially claimed that the participants were within two days of a dry run, and "the actual attack would have followed within days" (see e.g. here). Later reports from the British don't confirm that; instead, "the British wanted to wait at least another week until the plotters moved toward executing a dry run" (story here). Further, "this group was under such close surveillance that the police virtually held the on/off switch, able to shut it down at will" (story here).
8.16.2006 11:48pm
James Lindgren (mail):
BTW,

According to some reports, the police found plane tickets for Aug. 16, which is part of how they knew the planned date for the attacks.
8.17.2006 12:29am
Harry Eagar (mail):
nrein1 writes, ambiguously: 'At least no one here has made the idiotic argument that if we mistreat the prisoners, they will mistreat our captured GI's or hostages. History proves that's a fallacy.'

History proves they mistreat US prisoners in every case, anyway. No Asian country pays any attention to the Geneva platitudes. And not all those outside Asia, either.

As for whether the terrorists already had tickets (which I can buy in about 3 minutes) and were not 'days away,' if you do nothing — a popular response among posters here — pretty soon Der Tag will be just days away.

Christmas doesn't infinitely recede just because it seems far away in August.
8.17.2006 12:47am
Dick King:
Sooner or later, torture will become a reliable method of gaining information that the suspect knows, using a technology like this.

It may still be an incredibly bad idea. We as civilized people should think about this.

Of course, the existence of this technology may make torture unnecessary. "Look, we can do this and you know it. We can do this the hard way or the easy way."

-dk
8.17.2006 1:31am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Medis-

By the way, my understanding is that they actually got warrants in the UK and FISA orders in the US for the necessary surveillance.

Possibly. But then in many cases we don't know for sure. The NSA's Echelon program, for example, is notorious for allegedly using personnel from other countries to eavesdrop on our citizens.

Harry Eagar-

History proves they mistreat US prisoners in every case, anyway. No Asian country pays any attention to the Geneva platitudes. And not all those outside Asia, either.

Hmmm, so we should only do what's ethical and what's in accordance with treaties we signed and helped draft when everyone else is doing it. That's nonsense. The US should set the standards and example for decency, not follow the least common denominator. And I don't think anyone here is advocating doing nothing.

Dick King-

I suspect that technology will have flaws due to a sort of Hawthorne Effect - reactions will be caused by the stress of the interrogation and scrutiny alone, rather than stress from guilt. They mention this when they mention possible variation among individual's responses in the linked article.
8.17.2006 7:01am
Dick King:
American Psikhushka:

Maybe MRI lie detectors can be made to work ... maybe not. I tend to think it intrinsically can be, actually. It's unlikely that experiments needed to calibrate responses to extreme stress can be performed ethically, but maybe they can be. In any event, probably some CIA members volunteer for some pretty extreme experiments, and some people who have brain MRIs for normal medical reasons like suspected tumors are under extreme [mental, at least] stress.

I think that people who try to get torture banned by claiming that it doesn't produce reliable information are dodging the issue and do not deserve to be taken seriously. I believe that they should be making the argument "suppose torture works. We shouldn't practice it anyway, because ..."

I was similarly disgusted by Equal Rights Amendment supporters who, when asked whether it would require women to be drafted if men were, tried to slide past the question by stating that it was their position that nobody should be drafted. True, the only war the draftees were going to at the time was a junk war [Vietnam], but there have been non-junk wars that required a draft in the nation's history [WW2, for example] and there may be in the future. I believe the ERA might have been ratified had they not weasled out, since they probably salvaged very few votes by people who were afraid of women being drafted but they lost numerous votes from those who thought they were being nonserious.

-dk
8.17.2006 3:07pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Dick King-

I'm not sure the various flavors of the Hawthorne Effect could be stripped out of an MRI lie detector. And if they couldn't be I'm not sure the contractor, the agency, or anyone involved with the project would admit it. They'd claim it works for as long as they could even if lives and false imprisonment were at risk.

But to an extent if you have to rely on the technology assisted interview of individual subjects you don't seem to be doing very effective police or intelligence work. To an extent it might be trying to force square pegs into round holes. After all, there have been successful police investigations and intelligence operations for hundreds of years without the gadgets. Some gadgets may be effective tools, others not, but in any case heavy reliance on them to the exclusion of traditional methods can be very dangerous, both to civil and human rights and to effective police and intelligence work.

I think that people who try to get torture banned by claiming that it doesn't produce reliable information are dodging the issue and do not deserve to be taken seriously. I believe that they should be making the argument "suppose torture works. We shouldn't practice it anyway, because ..."

I disagree. I think the inaccuracy and ineffectiveness of torture are some of the strongest arguments against it. As strong as the ethical arguments against it. They're compliments to each other - it's inhumane and to a large extent doesn't work, therefore it's not worth it.
8.17.2006 4:08pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
American Psikushka, I didn't say we Amerians should mistreat prisoners. I said Americans prisoners in Asia are always mistreated.

That was true in Japan, China, USSR, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Cambodia, which is 100% of the places we have had prisoners.

In fact, the only way to protect your prisoners in enemy hands is to have prisoners from the other side and credibly threaten retaliation against them if yours are mistreated. That worked for us against the British.

It does not work in Asia, because Asian states don't care what happens to their prisoners (or, in the case of Japan, prefer them to be killed).

In Asia, there is no moral component to holding prisoners, because no one in Asia has standing to object, whatever happens.
8.17.2006 9:16pm