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June 19, 2013
The Illusion of Safety and Intelligence
The worst thing about the modern age is the promotion of half-baked ideas seemingly unaware of their glaring flaws while demanding to be respected as legitimate and consequential. Of course it is technologically possible to monitor all communications in the US and perhaps the world, but this will only catch low effort terrorism by poor planners and unorganized individuals.
Russia raised the stakes in private communication in 1996 when they shot a fatal missile at Chechen commander Dzhokhar Dudayev by targeting the signal of a satellite phone call they had intercepted in real time. Osama bin Laden became aware of signal monitoring in 1998 and went analog to avoid tracking, buying him 14 years until a worldwide manhunt was able to track down his courier.
Bin Laden took elaborate security precautions to avoid detection by U.S. and Pakistani forces, which have tried using spy satellites and electronic eavesdropping to find him, Gunaratna said.
Every group that has studied recent history knows how to safely communicate, which then raises the question why an organization tasked with gathering information to stop attacks would bet so much on an ineffective and heavy handed approach. Perhaps they found it too hard to establish traditional intelligence in a remote area of the world, or this is just handwaving CYA work to make it look like they are trying, just enough to collect a few years of salary until they move on to another job.
The Boston bombing was undetected, even after being tipped off by Russia. Previous small efforts that made headlines were uncontested.
If they can't detect anything significant despite intercepting all electronic communications passing through the US, citizens will soon start wondering why they are being spied upon and have lost their freedom for the illusion of safety. Even worse, the long-term use of the information being collected can be exploited by people interested in causing harm and will surely be put to use.
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