30 October, 2005

Feeling good

Tech Central Station published a little essay of mine last week. It's a good feeling every time I see my work in print. And every time something like this happens I ask myself--why don't I do it more often?

24 October, 2005

ICANN and the UN

Proposals to place the internet under some kind of international control, an "authority" for the good of all, continue to emerge from a slew of people who see open systems as a threat, and who want to turn this "global resource" into a source of wealth and power for themselves.

It's all for the "common good," of course. Of course it is.

There are two good things about this mess: (1) the people who want to take charge of the internet are the same opportunists who have mismanaged so many other programs, and (2) there are too many people--in too many positions of power--who profit from the present arrangement. Any deal to transfer the administration of the internet to the control of one of more IGOs would have to promise at least the same rewards to those influentials as they have now, if the proposal is to have sufficient support to be enacted.

Like so many other situations, the best hope for the little people is the way in which the various powerful actors watch and block the actions of one another.

22 October, 2005

The Precautionary Principle

From a recent Stratfor policy analysis of the reactions to biotechnology and nanotechnology:

The most ambitious attempt to make fundamental changes in the structure that regulates new technologies is being offered by ETC Group, which is calling for an international convention on the public's right to accept or decline new technology -- the International Convention on the Evaluation of New Technologies. This step, which essentially calls for the politicization of scientific and technological progress, has long been an objective of anti-chemicals and anti-biotechnology advocates. Some of these advocates have relied on a radical interpretation of the precautionary principle, which argues simply that a new product should be "proven safe" before it is allowed on the market. Taken to its logical extreme, of course, this would stifle all new technology by demanding that creators prove a negative (that it is not possible for their products to be harmful). This clearly being the case, the only way to certify that the negative "no harm" has been achieved would be to turn to political judgments, rather than scientific ones.

The precautionary principle desribed above is actually the intersection of two fundamental (and all too common) logical fallacies: (1) to measure the costs without regard for the gains, and (2) to demand nothing less than certainty in a fundamentally uncertain world.

But all that, after all, may be irrelevant, if the proponents of the principle are only interested in a prohibition based on a 'moral' (ideological, religious) absolute, while looking to cloak it in the vocabulary of a cost-benefit "rationality" that they in fact reject.

This is both the strength and the weakness of fanaticism. It's not possible to argue with a fanatic. On the other hand, once most people recognize the fanatic for what she is, the fanatic loses.

Thomas Schelling

I was moved by a post from Steven D. Levitt on his class with Thomas Schelling. How I wish I'd had that class--Schelling's books were on the short list that got me interested in political economy and strategy. It seems that whenever there's an interesting idea to explore, Schelling got there first. He was long overdue for the nobel prize he received this year. Now I learn he was (is) a great teacher, too. How does he do it?

19 October, 2005

Human Security Report

The Human Security Report is out, and surprise! The world is getting better. I wonder if it could have something to do with the spread of capitalist globalization?


Here's an interesting item from the NTI's Global Security Newswire. Apparently clinical (nonhuman) testing has proven positive for "antisense technology" that reduces the lethality of Anthrax, Marburg, or Ricin. It appears to be gene-specific, not a universal "magic bullet," but this could have some interesting defense applications.

10 October, 2005

Bombs away

UNICEF, in order to increase shock value and raise donations, has prepared a short ad in which the village of the tiny, friendly, good-natured Smurfs is attacked from the air, leading to death and destruction for the "smurfalicious" elves.

I've often considered the idea of bombing the Smurfs, but I'm surprised that an agency of the UN would actually do it.

P.S. What is it about Smurfette, anyway? One woman in a village of men? What are Smurf mating habits like? Where do little Smurfs come from?

Reorganizing the Special Forces

Some things are interesting enough to deserve a long quote. The source is William Arkin's "Early Warning" Blog of 5 October. William Arkin, for those who don't know him, is committed to exposing American military programs. He has a particular love for code names, and his most recent book is a digest of classified programs. His methods are basically OSINT + contacts in the defense establishment. Sometimes he claims to know more than he does (I was part of a group, long ago, that he contacted for information. We didn't give it to him. He published his best guess anyway. He was wrong.), but he does get a lot of open-source information and restricted documentation out to a wider audience. Here's what I found so interesting:

...November 1, SOCOM will formally activate its new Center for Special Operations as the nerve center to coordinate global operations and actionable intelligence, particularly against "high value targets." Previous directorates of operations, plans and policy; and intelligence and information operations; have already have been consolidated into the new Center under three groups: the Intelligence Support Group (J2), the Operations Support Group (J3), and the Campaign Support Group (J5).

The director of the Center is Lt. Gen. Dell L. Dailey, the commander of Joint Special Operations Command from 2001 to May 2003. Dailey was the overall clandestine special operations commander after 9/11, operating from Oman and then from Afghanistan as Commander, Task Force Sword (later called TF-11). Unlike Gen. Brown, who himself is rumored to be less than enthusiastic to be given responsibility for the war on terrorism; Dailey is considered one of the administration's primo shadow warriors.

At Rumsfeld’s request, SOCOM has drafted a global offensive counter-terrorism war plan that specifies procedures to be used by overt and clandestine special operations forces and supporting military forces and intelligence agencies in seeking out and attacking designated terrorist organizations.

"Our problem today is how to find a terrorist," Brown said in the interview. "...Osama bin Laden is a No. 1 priority for the CIA, for SOCOM, [and] for [the] Department of Defense."

The Unified Command Plan also assigns SOCOM the responsibility for "operational preparation of the environment," a symbolic change in language from the previously used phrase "operational preparation of the battlefield." The State Department argued that those parts of the world where military forces weren't predominant were not "battlefields."

Operational preparation of the environment includes the use of SOCOM's independent and clandestine intelligence collectors -- the so-called Gray Fox and other special mission units -- who would conduct surveillance and "prepare" for attacks on high value targets, renditions, and assaults, called "direct action" missions.

The section of the Unified Command Plan 2004 dealing with SOCOM reads:

In addition to functions specified in sections 164(c) and 167 of Title 10, USSOCOM’s responsibilities include:

A. Providing combat-ready operations forces to other combatant commands when and as directed.

B. Training, to include joint training exercises, of assigned forces and developing appropriate recommendations to the Chairman regarding strategy, doctrine, tactics, techniques, and procedures for the joint employment of special operations forces.

C. Integrating and coordinating DOD psychological operations (PSYOP) capabilities to enhance interoperability and support USSTRATCOM’s [Strategic Command's] information operations responsibilities and other combatant commanders’ PSYOP planning and execution.

D. Exercising command and control of selected special operations missions, as directed. [Author’s Note: "Selected special operations missions" refer to the clandestine operations of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) and other classified special mission units].

E. Serving as the lead combatant commander for planning, synchronizing, and as directed, executing global operations against terrorist networks in coordination with other combatant commanders. CDRUSSOCOM [that’s Commander, US SOCOM] leads a global collaborative planning process leveraging other combatant command capabilities and expertise that results in decentralized execution by both USSOCOM and other combatant commands against terrorist networks. In this role, USSOCOM’s specific responsibilities:

1. Integrating DOD strategy, plans, intelligence priorities, and operations against terrorist networks designated by the Secretary.

2. Planning campaigns against designated terrorist networks.

3. Prioritizing and synchronizing theater security cooperation activities, deployments, and capabilities that support campaigns against designated terrorist networks in coordination with the geographic combatant commanders.

4. Exercising command and control of operations in support of selected commands, as directed.

5. Providing military representation to U.S. national and international agencies for matters related to U.S. and multinational campaigns against designated terrorist networks as directed by the Secretary.

6. Planning operational preparation of the environment (OPE); executing OPE or synchronizing the execution of OPE in coordination with the geographic combatant commanders.

It will be interesting to see the results, if any. Then again, it they are really good, we may not see anything for a long time.

09 October, 2005

Earthquakes and opportunities

The most successful examples of American Foreign Policy have been the ones in which the US does well for doing good. Aid without some payoff is very difficult to maintain. Profit without providing real help is a recipe for resentment. How do we do both?

The current earthquake on the border of Kashmir, while horrific, also allows US rescue teams and medical personnel to enter places and talk to people who otherwise would never talk to Americans, in a region noted for Islamist extremism. Would we make such friends that some local would be inclined to turn in Osama Bin Laden? I doubt it. But it would open doors and establish contacts. Some of the rescuers would be military, and they would see all sorts of interesting things. We would demonstrate that the US might not be the Satanic monster portrayed in the Madrasses. Perhaps some locals are wondering what they did "to deserve this", and maybe that will lead to some new ideas.

Earthquakes shake things up in lots of ways. The US should be helping because it's needed and because we can. But at the same time we do good for others we should keep in mind how to do well for ourselves.

08 October, 2005


The Department of Homeland Security is reorganizing. A first look at the plans shows, yet again, that there are few things that are so badly done that a committed effort can't make them worse.