Author Archive | Stewart Baker

I can’t resist …

It’s almost like Christmas. 

I just got the cover design for Skating on Stilts, my policy memoir about DHS, terrorism, and technology.  I found the artist, Mart Klein, on line and explained the basic picture I had in mind.  Much credit to Hoover Press, though, for the font and cover design.

Book covers, like everything else in publishing, have been deeply affected by Amazon.  You have to pick a design that is recognizable in a tiny thumbnail sketch as well as on the shelves at bookstores.  This works for that purpose.  Plus, I just really like comics-style illustration, and there’s a hint of Jim Steranko in this cover.

Publication is set for June of this year. 

Skating on StiltsWEB [...]

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“If you don’t want us to see you naked, maybe we’ll just put bees down your pants.”

TSA is facing new challenges from powerful explosives hidden in areas that usually can’t be searched until after dinner and a nice wine. No one is wild about the millimeter wave and backscatter machines that show how we’d look on the beach if we were dumb enough to wear Speedos.  The “puffer” machines that tried to find traces of explosive vapor were a better idea in theory but they didn’t work well in realistic airport trials.  What to do?

Turns out, there is an alternative.  My favorite airport search technology while I was at DHS is at last being commercialized.


They have a great sense of smell, they can be trained a lot cheaper than dogs, they recognize more smells, and when they retire after a few days on the job, they make honey for you.

Plus, as far as I know, no tribunal has ever ruled that it’s a violation of international law to tell suspected terrorists, “Listen, buddy, either you talk to me or you’ll spend some time alone with my partners.  Yep, looky there, they’re already extending their proboscises at the thought.  You better make your mind up right quick.” [...]

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Swift Justice?

Gabriel Schoenfeld points out in the Weekly Standard that the administration’s nominee to be general counsel of the Army, Solomon B. Watson IV, was general counsel of the New York Times when it broke the story of the Treasury’s program to uncover terrorist financing.

Watson has drawn fire for his role in allowing the disclosure of that program. Certainly the Times deserves a black eye for that disclosure, which even its own public editor ended up condemning — admitting, “I haven’t found any evidence in the intervening months that the surveillance program was illegal.”

Maybe Watson was not involved in the Times’s decision to publish the story, although given the extraordinary Treasury effort to persuade the Times not to publish, it would be a surprise if it didn’t ask its general counsel whether it could legally disclose the program — and whether the program it was disclosing was itself legal.  If they had a client that made decisions like that without consulting them, most lawyers wouldn’t stick around as general counsel very long.

Most Americans haven’t focused on this breach of security because it  the Treasury program was deservedly treated as a nonstory in this country.  The Our inattention to the Times’s breach is a mistake on our part.  In fact this may be one of the most damaging national security breaches the Times has ever committed, since the European overreaction to the story has crippled a valuable program. For context, I’ve pasted below as an explanation of the matter a longish excerpt from Skating on Stilts, my book on technology and terrorism, due out in June:

It worked. Treasury later credited the program with allowing it to track and capture the mastermind behind the Bali bombings that killed two hundred people. The program was also said to

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More on Liz Cheney

Eugene and Jonathan and a host of others have joined in defending the pro bono work that some Justice lawyers did for Guantanamo detainees. To me, though, this seems to be a much harder question than the critics make it out to be.

To start with, some of the arguments in favor of the attorneys don’t hold water. No one had to work for free to make sure the detainees had a right to counsel. Every one of the Guantanamo detainees already had a military defense counsel, paid for by the government. Nor did anyone have to work pro bono to even up a mismatch in power and resources. The military prosecutors are JAGs — and pretty much indistinguishable from the military defense counsel on the other side of the courtroom. It was, by and large, a fair fight.  If you think the weight of government resources (such as they are in deficit-strained times) makes the fight less fair, I would note that, unlike practically all other criminal cases pitting government against defendant, there were government resources on both sides of the detainee fight. Kuwait, for example, reportedly funneled millions of dollars into both legal and public relations help for its detainees.

Of course, I agree completely that it’s not fair to simply conflate the views of lawyer and client. But even so, I would argue that, unlike paying clients,  pro bono work does tell you something about a lawyer’s views.

Here’s why.  As with anything you give away, the demand for pro bono lawyering outstrips the supply. So lawyers have to use other criteria to allocate their pro bono services. If you’ve got a wide choice of pro bono cases, it’s only natural to pick cases that make you feel good about yourself, that enhance your prestige in your [...]

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“Wait, don’t change the channel! We left Fox News out of the Privacy Assessment.”

With his usual nudge-and-wink, Matt Drudge invites us to be dismayed that “BIG SIS” — his moniker for Janet Napolitano — is “Monitoring Web Sites for Terror and Disaster Info.” Drudge links to a story saying that DHS will be monitoring social media like Twitter, as well as websites like Drudge, to keep abreast of events during the Winter Olympics. The source of the story is a twelve-page “Privacy Impact Assessment” issued by DHS.

This isn’t the first Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) on DHS’s use of social media. A few weeks earlier, DHS wrote a similar assessment of using social media during Haitian rescue operations.

I am indeed dismayed, but not for Drudge’s reasons.  True, it’s disappointing that neither the Volokh Conspiracy nor is deemed worthy of government monitoring.  But what’s really dismaying is that DHS and its Privacy Office felt obliged to labor over two separate and painfully obvious privacy assessments just to do things that you and I would do by simply firing up our browsers.

The Olympics PIA says in the first paragraph that DHS “is only monitoring publicly available online forums, blogs, public websites, and message boards.” Which should pretty much end the discussion. The government ought to be able to read the papers or watch TV or look at blogs just like anyone else. Or so you’d think. But no, the PIA drones on and on, offering thirty variations of “Hey, this stuff is public” as it assesses the “privacy impact” of, uh, surfing the web.  And so we get painfully obvious applications of irrelevant privacy principle like this:

“7.1 What are the procedures that allow individuals to gain access to their information?

Social media are public websites. All users have access to their information through their user accounts. Individuals should consult the

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