Schneier on Security
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April 11, 2011
The CIA and Assassinations
The former CIA general counsel, John A. Rizzo, talks about his agency's assassination program, which has increased dramatically under the Obama administration:
The hub of activity for the targeted killings is the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, where lawyers -- there are roughly 10 of them, says Rizzo -- write a cable asserting that an individual poses a grave threat to the United States. The CIA cables are legalistic and carefully argued, often running up to five pages. Michael Scheuer, who used to be in charge of the CIA’s Osama bin Laden unit, describes “a dossier,” or a “two-page document,” along with “an appendix with supporting information, if anybody wanted to read all of it.” The dossier, he says, “would go to the lawyers, and they would decide. They were very picky.” Sometimes, Scheuer says, the hurdles may have been too high. “Very often this caused a missed opportunity. The whole idea that people got shot because someone has a hunchI only wish that was true. If it were, there would be a lot more bad guys dead.”
Sometimes, as Rizzo recalls, the evidence against an individual would be thin, and high-level lawyers would tell their subordinates, “You guys did not make a case.” “Sometimes the justification would be that the person was thought to be at a meeting,” Rizzo explains. “It was too squishy.” The memo would get kicked back downstairs.
The cables that were “ready for prime time,” as Rizzo puts it, concluded with the following words: “Therefore we request approval for targeting for lethal operation.” There was a space provided for the signature of the general counsel, along with the word “concurred.” Rizzo says he saw about one cable each month, and at any given time there were roughly 30 individuals who were targeted. Many of them ended up dead, but not all: “No. 1 and No. 2 on the hit parade are still out there,” Rizzo says, referring to “you-know-who and [Ayman al-] Zawahiri,” a top Qaeda leader.
And the ACLU Deputy Legal Director on the interview:
What was most remarkable about the interview, though, was not what Rizzo said but that it was Rizzo who said it. For more than six years until his retirement in December 2009, Rizzo was the CIA's acting general counsel -- the agency's chief lawyer. On his watch the CIA had sought to quash a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by arguing that national security would be harmed irreparably if the CIA were to acknowledge any detail about the targeted killing program, even the program's mere existence.
Rizzo's disclosure was long overdue -- the American public surely has a right to know that the assassination of terrorism suspects is now official government policy and reflects an opportunistic approach to allegedly sensitive information that has become the norm for senior government officials. Routinely, officials insist to courts that the nation's security will be compromised if certain facts are revealed but then supply those same facts to trusted reporters.
Posted on April 11, 2011 at 6:33 AM
• 85 Comments
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Sounds eerily similar to the possibilities portrayed in Rubicon, without all of the conspiracy theories about puppet control by an elite group of individuals.
I have fuzzing feelings when I read people that talk so lightly about murders...
Wow. 5 whole pages, most of which it seems aren't bothered to be read, to justify a killing. What high moral standards, when secret lawyers become secret judges handing out death sentences in secret courts, on nothing more than their own few pages of testimony.
Call me an old cynic, this seems a touch odd.
Why would Rizzo not want to name OBL - unless in some bizarre juxtaposition with Harry Potter he thinks saying his name makes him appear?
Part of me is curious about the motivations (as ACLU have alluded to) about the person who tried to keep all this a secret now deciding to tell all on a grand stage.
Now, I appreciate there are many possibilities here - he may have been an insider who supported releasing the information previously, for example - and I doubt I will ever know for sure.
Right now, on this reading, I am leaning towards a case of making stuff up to make him look "good" (across the political spectrum) while simultaneously hammering the current administration.
Cunning devils in the CIA, arent they...
"you-know-who"... "lethal operation"... It appears that these people are treating murder with the seriousness of reading a Harry Potter book.
I write longer reports in order to secure a $5000 business contract. All you need to kill someone is a hunch, a two page summary and an appendix no one reads.
I wonder where these lawyers set the bar for "grave threat to the United States"? About to unleash an attack on USA soil? I suspect far less than that given that 10 lawyers are employed full time to read and write these dossiers. The number of people world-wide who harbour ill-will to Americans and have the capability to carry out their threat must surely be extremely small.
Snap on the harry potter :-)
Rizzo seems more than a little bit "cowboy" with a healthy dose of fantasist in his behaviour (the gestures etc., all add up to something a bit strange).
Also you make a good point about the document and legal support. A two page "summary" is pretty trivial when you think it is about to end someones life.
And realistically, 10 lawyers? I have sat in meetings with more than that present looking at one contract.
So the killings are legal under US law. Why should we care about that, when they don't happen in America?
We care because if some group "over there" kills someone over here, we call him/them a terrorist. If our group over here kills someone over there, we call it "lethal operation".
The height of hypocrisy.
This killing people in the world got the USA a reputation.
By CIA or proxy-war does not matter that much.
The USA is doing the world no favour with that.
“Therefore we request approval for targeting for lethal operation.”
Makes it sound less severe than sending a SIGKILL .
"This killing people in the world got the USA a reputation.
By CIA or proxy-war does not matter that much.
The USA is doing the world no favour with that."
While I dont agree with the general principle of extra-judicial executions (I dont agree with the death penalty either), I actually think that sending a predator to kill one person is a lot "better" than sending 10,000 soldiers to kill 30 - 50,000 of the other side.
If we accept that one or the other has to happen, then yes, assassinate away. I find it odd that the public in general are much more understanding when world powers kill footsoldiers by the thousands, but the thought of one high status individual being taken out is shocking.
That said, I can also see how there is a false dichotomy at work here. Is there really any reason to think it is a case of kill that one person or invade and kill thousands?
Are targeted assassinations effective? Even on the rare occasions that a senior player is taken out, it seems to act more as a rallying call for others than anything else.
As a counter example, if AQ wanted to stop the US operation in Afghanistan would assassinating a senior military official do anything to help that goal? Would assassinating any American politician? Even killing the President is *unlikely* to change things.
Why do we assume that killing "You Know Who" would be any more effective?
Which one - the Newsweek link or the LA Times link?
No link. Just the schneier url. I'm sure most readers here try to get their cia and ass fix at home...
btw, nice point about the expected results of AQ hitting American brass. We don't usually bother to think about things if they were to happen here though. Can you imagine if intead of giving Gore a recount in Florida we had bombed the offending counting location?
Correction to the above. Can you imagine if, intead of giving Gore a recount in Florida, Middle Eastern democratic activists had bombed the offending counting location?
What a gouvernment practises abroad will be used in time in it's own country.
Training a gouvernment in bad habits is never a good idear.
Some of the killings DO take place in America. I am sure the dossiers on Leola McConnell, Deborah Jean Palfrey, Michael Connell and Bruce Ivins would make fascinating reading. And I could keep listing names. The George W. Bush body count is long.
A big difference between lethal operations carried out at home vs abroad is the method of execution. AFAIK we don't regularly use predator drones for our lethal operations stateside, at least not at funerals and such.
Collateral damage at home is harder to excuse than the killing of innocents who probably weren't that innocent and surely would have grown up to be terrorists anyway.
Perhaps this is the tactic that should have been employed after 9/11 rather than the massively expensive and largely ineffective miltary invasions. One can argue the ethics, but the facts are America has killed vastly more non combatants and essentially destroyed the infrastruture of two countries to minimal benefit. Equally appalling, the Patriot Act, TSA, et al have made a shambles of America's values.
@Trichinosis USA at April 11, 2011 9:35 AM
I'd ask you what you think of the weather, but you'd probably come back with some accusation that its hot because of global warming due to Bush flatulence.
I dont want to get dragged into politics - mine do not align with any US party and I honestly think there is less difference between parties (UK and US) than there should be to make them have different names.
So, with that in mind, assassinations.
I *used* to think that it was an odd American trait that as a nation there is the idea that other nations would act differently under the same pressures from Americans. Sadly this is certainly not true and I now think every country makes this mistake.
As a result, we have a situation where Country X attacks America. America decides to show they are not scared and attacks Country X assuming the sudden display of force will make Country X capitulate. Obviously, the people in Country X are the same as Americans and the force (threat or real) simply allows the hardline nationalists something to fight against. Considering the American history, you'd think they would know better.
However that is off topic (although thats common here, shame Bruce couldnt have mentioned gun control somewhere in the article...).
As far as assassinations go, what is inherently worse about using a strike to kill a *small* number of people vs invading the country and fighting a ground offensive? Yes, the assassination will probably kill innocent people, but compare that to the numbers who die in *any* war.
If, as a nation, the idea of going to war out of revenge for an attack in New York is acceptable, then surely assassinating the key suspects would be more preferable?
Now, if only we could solve the effectiveness problem.
Oh, and I almost forgot - we're approaching an anniversary of sorts, the assassination of Pat Tillman.
@Capt. Obvious, "collateral damage at home"? That starts to look a bit too much like a certain infamous false flag operation that a lot of the country is still in major denial about. I'm fairly sure no formal vetting via lawyers was involved with that one.
@HJohn, I also know exactly what I'd get if I asked you the same question. It's why I never ask you anything at all.
These kinds of killings mean that the United States is not a country of laws. I'm ashamed of our country for doing this. Let's also remember that U.S. citizens are "authorized" to be killed. Sickening and despicable.
Fine with me. I refuse to scapegoat any one person for every problem under the sun. It's been almost 30 months. Time to move on.
I don't see why the USA should have the right to do either?
Imagine China sending over assasins to kill of bloggers in the USA that write bad about China?
Opposing ones Law on people in other countries... extracting them and/or killing them is nothing that should be done by any lawful state.
The willingness of the USA to dismiss the sovereignty of other countries and impose their morale on other is what has created dictators in the world and destroyed democracies (Chile as an example) and also launched a lot of Terror (Osama bin laden as prominent example of a terorist created by the US).
With the through Fox institutionalized extremism in the USA the difference to an Islamic state sometimes seems no longer that large. And a CIA kiling not that far away from some extremist killing people in other countries.
The high hopes I have is still that USA can pull themself together.
"These kinds of killings mean that the United States is not a country of laws"
On the contrary, the laws are there to allow for the killings...
On the whole, laws create frameworks to allow bad people to do their bad things in a manner that prevents them getting punished. However this is (IMHO) marginally better than no laws...
Again, is it more wrong to assassinate than to declare war?
It's amazing liberals vote for Obama with all those snuffings.
There really is not a better alternative to targeted assassinations. Consider that there is a person manufacturing bombs outside of the US coupled with the recruiting and training of other people to become suicide bombers targeting US personnel for the purpose of causing terror.
International law (and common law) permits a country to defend itself from threats.
Targeting one or more individuals for terroristic activity is clearly legal and warranted. In a perfect world this would not be the case. But that is not where we live.
"Again, is it more wrong to assassinate than to declare war?"
Who can answer that?
The guy who was assassinated?
The guy who died defending his country/faith from foreign invaders who has a monument built to him?
The guy who authorized the assassination / declaration of war who was never in any personal danger?
A third party who also was not in any personal danger?
What is the result?
Are we creating more "enemies" that we will the justify "lethal operations" against?
I think that if we're doing this then we'd better be prepared for it to be done to us. A group of folks from some country that is upset driving a van full of explosives (while wearing full military uniforms for legality sake) into a subdivision where US mid level military brass live and setting it off would be completely legal by these standards. We have changed the rules of engagement in war. What is legal for us must be legal if done to us. I am actually a bit surprised that this hasn't happened yet. Perhaps it isn't spectacular enough for our current enemies abroad?
- It's amazing liberals vote for Obama with all those
It's also amazing that Republicans (I was going to say conservatives,
but whose kidding whom associating conservatism with the Republican
party of the last 3 decades) hate Obama with such passion. I mean, we
still have Guantanamo, still have TSA, still have Afganistan and Iraq,
still have assassination squads, etc., etc.. Why isn't this guy a
Republican's wet dream?
And to be fair to Liberals, who were they going to choose in the last
election? McCain?, yeah he would have been better how? Clinton?,
ditto.... Modern Romans.
I wasn't gonna comment on this because the behavior modification aspects of assassination are pretty narrow.
@GreenSquirrel ...the laws are there to allow for the killings...
Rephrase Darwin to "These kinds of killings mean that the United States is a
country that accepts the validity of beauracratic, executive, as opposed to
"The Chinese are quiet, right? The Russians are quick, and we're sloppy."
We last put a stop to CIA assassinations because even when sucessful, cf Allende,
we're not very good at it. Caused more trouble than it's worth and as some here
have pointed out once established as acceptable it becomes used more and more.
This is the same argument against torturers. Torturers have be training and
maintained and as power changes from side to side the torurer's continue to work for whoever's in charge.
No one's commented on the statement that the current administration is ordering more than the last? Is it because wars are winding down.
Assassination v. war can be seen as more efficient and we're back to the snipers debate.
And botched assassinations can lead to war (cf Archduke Ferdinand (wwi) and Bush I (Iraq II))
And where does the role of Special Ops factor in. A squad goes in to raid a stronghold where
there are villans we want dead or alive. Are they assassin's or warriors?
No person shall... ...nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law...
This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land...
... all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution....
One of the problems we in the West see about countries like Afghanistan is their feudal warlord behaviour outside of the towns and cities.
We forget that part of the reason Islam came about was to try to limit the underlying ethic of "an eye for an eye" whereby village was pitted against village, family against family for not just a short while but often centuries, where murder for honour was the primary motivation of vast numbers.
The thing these "lawyers" have not considered is that they themselves are now targets. Every US lawyer is known to public record, which means that their history of activity can be quite easily traced.
I wonder how they would feel if certain people decided they were now "fair game" for a "target list" and if not they themselves then anybody in their close or extended family?
Do we realy need blood feuds spreading down the years?
The reality is assasination achieves next to nothing because firstly there is always somebody else going to "step up to the plate", secondly you actually remove an asset of known quality from your intel list and have to spend time finding out who has replaced them. Thirdly these people are not as unsophisticated or uneducated as the media portrays them, removing individuals just makes their replacments more wary and thus difficult to find.
Also as some people know historicaly war actually achieves little or nothing useful either. Since the begining of the 20th Century a major charecteristic of war is the destruction of people and infrastructure, with by far the greater majority of destruction and death being civilian not miitary. Thus war rarely if ever achives the original aims and objectives and usually costs the aggressor rather more than they originaly envisaged.
The primary advantage to modern warfare is usually short term gain for those supplying the military with it's non human resources.
The US has without doubt the largest military structure of any Nation (something like 20 times the number 2 in the list). Without a war it serves little or no purpose (except as once noted to employ the unemployable) and has often been said "the devil makes work for idle hands".
Finaly as "you know who" demonstrated the US is actually very week, it is overly reliant on "high tech" and has little or no stomach for the realities of war. All it took was a few people to turn a few of the US's high tech toys (aircraft) into substantial weapons and the US fell apart and then eviserated it's self.
Chickens have a habit of coming home to roost (as Malcom X pointed out), and OBL was trained by the CIA, armed by the CIA, and made wealthy by the US Government and the US people. Likewise the current crop of cut throat thugs that are being deposed of in the Middle East, were trained by the US, armed by the US made wealthy by the US going back to the second world war. Why so that the middle east oil would flow west not north to the CCCP/USSR...
". . . What is legal for us must be legal if done to us.. . . "
Say, that's pretty dangerous thinking there, Kyle. ;)
“No. 1 and No. 2 on the hit parade are still out there,” Rizzo says, referring to “you-know-who..."
Wait! The CIA is after Voldemort?
Don't they trust Harry to finish him off?
@*a*a*: It's amazing liberals vote for Obama with all those snuffings.
It doesn't surprise me, just as it didn't surprise me when conservatives kept voting for Bush.
What's amusing is things like TUSA said "Bush body count keeps growing" 2 1/2 yers into another's presidency with an article about how these assassinations have increased since he took office.
It would be like someone in 2003 saying "the Clinton deficits just keep growing", or even more relative, "the Clinton body counts keep growing" when we enter Iraq and Afghanistan right after Bosnia and Kosovo.
I don't mean it as a partisan point, just seems always a biased jab based on political leanings. People on both sides look the other way based on who is in power.
@Clive The US has without doubt the largest military structure of any Nation
No doubt U.S. spends more on defense than China, Britain, France and Russia combined. One factoid was the next 17 countries combined.
An American view would be we're providing a security service to the world. In our own interest without question but would regional powers be detered without CTG's parked in their gulfs?
Not a 'jobs' program, a profit program. With the changes to compensation and tax laws executives are making about 364 times their average employee.
I'm surprised that anybody is surprised by this. What did you think the CIA does in foreign countries where terrorists operate? Killing off terrorists whenever they get the chance is the sensible thing to do.
At least they do some paperwork, keep some records, and try to make sure they're killing the right people. If anything, I was surprised that they have to get lawyers to sign off on each target before they try and take him or her out.
Darwin: a country of laws? Laws are evil, they are the control devices of the evil, and to be effective they have to reach broadly into situations where they should not apply.
America is a country without HONOR, and that is what I feel most pity for in this world. Don't think other countries are so honorable either. We lost Japan in the 20th century, and a thousand years before that we lost English Chivalry, and the clans of German warriors who also held to a code of personal honor, and ... everything. China has fallen farthest from those roots I think, and they are now barbarians.
Also.. does anyone honestly think the CIA was not already assassinating people in foreign countries for several decades prior to 2001? The only thing that's changed is that they have so many eligible targets now that they feel the need to be systematic about it.
"An aerial drone had killed the man, a high-level terrorism suspect, after he had gotten out of the vehicle"
That's what will stick with me for a while. There isn't a trial, he never gets to argue his side, or present a defense. This is a guy taking a drive with his family. A team could have walked over and arrested him. Instead, we blew him up while his loved ones watch in horror.
What is wrong with us?
"The only thing that's changed is that they have so many eligible targets now that they feel the need to be systematic about it."
Does this say something about how effective it has been?
"What is wrong with us?"
Check Google for "banality of evil".
Then look up the "Milgram experiment".
Finally, read about the "Stanford prison experiment".
Very few people will stand up to an authority that says you must hurt person X before person X hurts you.
We can debate the morality of such killings as much as we want to, but the fact of the matter is that this practice is as old as humanity itself and that the US is definitely not the only one doing it.
On topic, I'm starting to see a bit of a trend appearing: retired officials that out of the blue start talking about stuff their government would rather have them remain silent about. A while ago, there was Israeli general Gabi Ashkinadze taking credit for Stuxnet. Surely, PJ Crowley must have known that voicing his opinion over Bradley Manning's treatment was a career limiting move too. Although I've got no idea what led Rizzo to make these statements, I believe it is a good thing that such people finally break the omerta about what's happening behind our backs, thus paving the road for a broader general discussion with governments no longer able to hide behind secrets and lies. I'd really love to see folks in Russia and China doing the same thing.
State-sanctioned murder is something only rogue nations do. That the US is a rogue nation has been clear for quite some time now.
Incidentally, this makes continued terrorism against the US more likely, something those in power over there seem to desperately need for the usual reasons: To cover up their incompetence.
@Greensquirrel: "... Why would Rizzo not want to name OBL..."
Probably because the CIA believes that Bin Laden and his top aides were killed approximately eight years ago when the Army blew up an al-Qaeda headquarters complex in a cave in Afghanistan.
"Very few people will stand up to an authority that says you must hurt person X before person X hurts you."
It should be pointed out to such people - and in their best interest - that ever since the Nuerenberg trials, international law no longer accepts pleas where defendants hide behind "company policy" or "following orders" when it comes to genocide, torture or crimes against humanity. This is probably one of the main reasons that quite some states either have not signed or ratified the 2002 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, most prominent of which are the US, Israel, China, India and Russia.
@ Dr. T.
Note that 'effectiveness' can be measured by many different metrics, and having a, or several, boogeymen out there is very effective for having your budget increased, sometimes dramatically, year by year...
"It should be pointed out to such people - and in their best interest - that ever since the Nuerenberg trials, international law no longer accepts pleas where defendants hide behind "company policy" or "following orders" when it comes to genocide, torture or crimes against humanity."
Except that it is usually the WINNERS who put the LOSERS on trial.
If you are on the WINNING side ... and you refuse to follow orders to torture a person ... that makes you a traitor / sympathizer / person-who-hates-us / whatever.
Which makes it even MORE difficult to stand up for what is "right".
Particularly in cases such as this where the responsibility is dispersed through official paperwork and the guy who pulls the trigger has no input into who/where/when/why/how.
I am of the opinion that the "good" side is the side that will refuse to perform certain acts, no matter what, that the other side will not refuse to perform.
'I am of the opinion that the "good" side is the side that will refuse to perform certain acts, no matter what, that the other side will not refuse to perform.'
Bingo. Killing suspects is extra-judicial execution, plain and simple. The Night of The Long Knives legitimatized this practice in Nazi Germany, and we all know what followed.
Interestingly, we have now a situation where fiction is better than truth. In the 1987 James Bond film, "The Living Daylights", the plot is driven by Bond's refusal to perform two executions, although his orders require him to do so. Ordered to kill "a KGB sniper" and KGB General Pushkin, Bond refuses both times, ultimately determining that both are intended victims of a criminal conspiracy created by Pushkin's opportunistic subordinate, Koskov.
I wonder how many of our "suspects" are actually the intended victims of other criminals?
"""The whole idea that people got shot because someone has a hunch I only wish that was true."""
The guy in charge of a state-sponsored assassination program wishes he could act on a hunch.
I approve of targeted killings and hope that Anwar al Awlaki gets it next.
On the balance, did the CIA do the US any good?
We know that they trained and armed those it now tries to kill. They destroyed countries at great costs that they could have made friends with at great gains.
And they never ever were able to warn for even minor changes in international politics like the fall of the Berlin wall, the Jugoslavian civil war, the Arab popular uprising, the Taliban, Al Quaida, the civil war in Iraq after the US conquest.
I suspect the USA would have been better informed with an international newspaper clippings service than with the CIA.
"The whole idea that people got shot because someone has a hunch I only wish that was true. If it were, there would be a lot more bad guys dead."
Ah, the good old Fascist States of America.
It's odd. I find myself pulled in several directions by all this.
On the one hand, I have to favour assassination over battle. It's considerably more efficient, less expensive, and tidier to bring one person's life to a close than to launch an attack on a location.
On another, the hypocracy screams from this situation. America prides itself on being a democratic, honest, fair-handed country and yet leaves for itself (and denies all others) the option of covert, autocratic, under-handed action. To wit, death by spy.
On yet another hand, aren't all governments hypocrites? That's what we pay them for, isn't it? To take care of all the difficult and messy decisions so we can focus on the more fun and profitable stuff? Everyone goes on and on about terrorists and global unrest and so on, but the only folks who seem to be acting are elected officials and their employees.
On still another hand, so many folks find it unusual that only ten lawyers and a five page document make and document life and death decisions. Well, leaving aside the fact that all ten lawyers get paid by the government (and by just about any measure, the current American government structure is too large), don't we make life and death decisions on our own every day? Aren't ten highly trained minds enough to determine the life or death of an individual?
And on a borrowed hand from a passerby, this is an actual structure. There is a process here that can be traced, paper that can be followed, and reasoning that can be understood by those who have access to it. And it seems pretty efficient with a set of values that need to be satisfied before a hit is carried out. Isn't that preferable to the capricious nature of a dictator or an angry man with a sniper rifle?
I don't like warriors. Too narrow-minded, no subtlety. And worse, they fight for hopeless causes. Honor? Huh! Honor's killed millions of people, it hasn't saved a single one.
I'll tell you what I do like though: a killer, a dyed-in-the-wool killer. Cold blooded, clean, methodical and thorough. Now a real killer, when he picked up the ZF-1, would've immediately asked about the little red button on the bottom of the gun.
"I am of the opinion that the "good" side is the side that will refuse to perform certain acts, no matter what, that the other side will not refuse to perform."
Maybe in a perfect world, but in practice this kinda reminds me of the infamous Black Adder quote "Blessed are the meek ... for they shall be slaughtered".
There have been examples in history where a message of peaceful protest, defiance of authority and non-violence actually amounted to unexpected results. About 2,000 years ago, a son of a carpenter in Palestine managed to gather quite a following with such an ideology. Then again, he got ratted out by his own people, tortured and crucified over it because he was a threat to the establishment. Ever since, unspeakable crimes have been committed in his name by people abusing his message and perverting his learnings.
In the first half of the 20th century, a humble, poor and seemingly insignificant little man managed to liberate an entire subcontinent from foreign rule with a similar ideology. He survived five assassination attempts before he too was shot dead.
However much we may admire such enlightened people, few of us ordinary folks are willing to pay the ultimate price for their beliefs the way they did, and even less are able to gather such an enormous following. As to the powers that be and irrespective of good or bad, the guiding principle has always been and will always be that you don't win a war by dying for your country/ideology, but by making the other poor dumb bastard on the other side die for his (Gen. George S. Patton).
"There have been examples in history where a message of peaceful protest, defiance of authority and non-violence actually amounted to unexpected results."
Who said "non-violence"?
Even a stand as simple as "we will not torture / rape women nor send them to be tortured / raped by others" would be a stand sufficient to label us the "good guys" IF the enemy tortured / raped women.
And calling it "enhanced interrogation" does not change the act.
I feel the need to re-state my position here.
I am not in support of assassinations, nor am I in support of acts of war. Having spent most of my adult life in the Army, being shot at in various countries, I wouldnt wish it on anyone else.
I am not anti-US, nor am I pro-US, I am not anti/pro-Bush or Obama.
However, I do think some things unarguable: Firstly, that a sovereign nation has the right to declare war on its enemies. If that isnt a right held by governments and monarchies then everything else that stems from this is wrong, but I would want to see some good evidence that this right does not exist.
With that in mind, a nation which feels it is under attack, or under threat etc., from Person X in Nation Y, is going to take action.
When the West felt under threat by Saddam (yeah, yeah) war was declared and his government was toppled. Would it have been better to assassinate him? Arguably no, because we seem reasonably agreed that assassinations arent actually effective, but then again the war wasnt that good either.
However you crunch the numbers, assassination comes up "better" than war. Less people die on both sides.
Yes, we can argue that assassination is killing someone without due process, but if you put a soldier with a gun on the ground, people will die. Where is the due process in that?
My take on this particular instance is the problem is not only the cavalier attitude some of those involved seem to show but the lack of genuine oversight in the process. At least with a declaration of war the main act gets (or should get.....) debated by the government. However, once the ball is started all the deaths are effectively spur of the moment executions.
Sadly, the more important question of does it work is ignored in the same manner that waterboarding was assumed to work because it kept the invisible bears away.
In this instance, the CIA have a self licking lollipop. They can claim an assassination success because their mission is to assassinate suspected terrorists. If someone sat down and worked out the genuine impact the killing would have, I suspect it would be considered a lot less successful.
And yes, the word "suspect" is a big issue here - but then again, if it was a war most of those killed wouldnt even be suspects.
Is assassination good? No, not at all. Is it better than war? Possibly. Does it work? Probably not. Does it even prevent war? Sadly, no.
A wise old Korean once said, "Armies create problems by killing many, when the solution to all problems is to kill one...the right one."
Assassination works - IF you do it enough times and kill the RIGHT people each time. Which is not what the CIA does usually - they kill the wrong people (because they want the RIGHT people to stay alive to justify their budget) and they don't do it consistently enough to reduce the enemy personnel (mostly because they're killing the wrong people and also because they're killing people instead of changing policy so they just keep producing more of the enemy.)
One point ignored here is: if you believe in the "sovereignty of nations" and international law, then the LEGAL way to get someone who's a threat is to cooperate with the law enforcement and intelligence agencies of the nation they're in and follow protocol and either get them to allow you to do what you want or get them to do it for you. This is what the US is trying in Pakistan (when it isn't trying to subvert Pakistan using covert CIA agents like Davis, probably to get its hands on Pakistan's nukes).
This doesn't work when in fact the interests of the host country is in opposition to the interests of the US. Usually this is because the interests of the US are not legitimate in the first place.
This is the problem with Pakistan. Pakistan has interests in Afghanistan which are at odds with US interests in Afghanistan - which in fact are not legitimate US interests in the first place, because overthrowing the Taliban was never for the purpose of getting rid of Al Qaeda but for other reasons having to do with pipelines and heroin. George Bush had plans drawn up to attack Afghanistan BEFORE 9/11.
The real problem, however, is that with significantly large oppositional movements geographically distributed and based on real grievances, you can't possibly kill everyone you need to. The ONLY way to deal with that situation is to either deal directly with the movement in resolving those grievances OR change your policies so that movement's grievances no longer apply.
We KNOW what the grievances of Muslim radicals are. The US could change the policies relating to those grievances over night at no cost to the US taxpayer - indeed, at considerable savings to the US taxpayer and with zero impact on US national security.
The US could do this overnight - IF it wasn't doing things for the benefit of the "non-state actors" who run the US without regard for the interests of the US citizen - like the military-industrial complex, the oil companies, the Israel Lobby, the banks, politicians, etc.
As long as this is true, the US will continue to be the target of ever-increasing hostility world wide until the US is forced out of every region in the world by a rising tide of insurgencies, terrorism, and guerrilla wars.
The US can assassinate hundreds, thousands, or millions. With six billion people on the planet and only 300 million in the US, the US is going to lose sooner or later unless it changes its nature and policies. This is just common sense.
And even before that, if the US continues targeted assassinations, sooner or later its enemies will begin to use targeted assassinations of the RIGHT people in the US.
Trust me, you don't want that to be executed by people with the resources to do it. You could bring the US to its knees within a relatively short time by such an attack. 9/11 was a blunt instrument compared to surgically precise assassinations of the REAL people who run this country.
Imagine if you will that over a few months a number of US Senators, a number of US governors, a number of mayors of major US cities, the CEOs of a number of Fortune 500 companies, all of the "talking heads" on the major networks news broadcasts, several members of the Joint Chiefs, the heads of the FBI/CIA/DEA/DHS, the heads of the Catholic diocese in a dozen major cities, and perhaps the President were all assassinated.
So you catch or kill the perpetrators of the initial attacks. They are replaced by new assassins next week or next month (but not next year - that slows the impact of the campaign too much).
Despite the fact that all these assassinated people would be immediately replaced, the impact of those assassinations would be devastating on US society. If their replacements kept getting assassinated for months or years, how long would be it be before US society crumbled into something no longer sustainable?
Assassination and terrorism are still the most effective means of warfare. The only reason the US is still standing is because 1) the existing terrorists are not competent, and 2) we just haven't gotten that far down the road...yet. But if the US continues its imperial policies, it's easy to see that history says this country is doomed. To quote Dorian Gray, "Empires crumble. There are no exceptions."
@ GreenSquirrel "need to re-state my position "
Were you just visited by the Phoebe's?
I hate when that happens.
Maybe the discussion should consider the dimensions of the covert war.
Consider: Stuxnet, targeted assassinations in Tehran and in Iranian Baluchistan, Raymond Davis and his ilk in Pakistan.
@Richard Steven Hack " if the US continues its imperial policies"
While I agree without reservation on 1) and 2) is arguable. . .but reasonable
It's just that it's been well over a hundred years now already. How much more? Past performance doesn't necessarily predict future results. We can continue to predict the end until we're 120 and if it happens we'll say "see. Tole' you so." History is made in the dark the people making it (cf your target list) are doing so on the basis of short term fire-fighting and crisis managment. A damage control team can not by their nature be strategic.
(I'm really surprised anyone wants to be president. write up your agenda, get elected, day after inaguration toss agenda out the window cause of all the ad hocing you gotta do).
Dirk: "About 2,000 years ago, a son of a carpenter in Palestine managed to gather quite a following with such an ideology. Then again, he got ratted out by his own people, tortured and crucified over it because he was a threat to the establishment. Ever since, unspeakable crimes have been committed in his name by people abusing his message and perverting his learnings."
You got most of that wrong.
1) Assuming he actually existed, Jesus was the son of a wealthy merchant and was allegedly directly descended from earlier Jewish kings. He was definitely privileged.
2) He wasn't "peaceful". His followers included armed members of the Sicarii, the original "terrorists" in history. One of his disciples had a name which, roughly translated, means "Rocky", i.e., basically a thug.
3) He wasn't "ratted out". Under pressure from the Roman authority, he faked his crucifixion and went underground. What happened to him then is unclear, but the subject of much conspiracy theory.
4) His belief system was subsequently "hijacked" by a Roman double agent who got chased out of Israel by Jesus' followers, went to Rome and founded what became the Christian Church based on doctrines 180 degrees opposite from Jesus'.
5) The last sentence is correct. Said Christian Church persecuted the Jews for two thousand years because it couldn't afford to have its own shady history exposed by the facts. This continued up through the 20th Century, most notably by concealing the Dead Sea Scrolls (which revealed the scam) for nearly forty years.
It would be the biggest joke in history if it hadn't resulted in the deaths of scores of millions and is now being used to justify a "clash of civilizations" with another moronic religion, egged on by fanatical members of Jesus' own religion (who in fact aren't even descendants of the early Hebrews!) who are just as nationalistic and imperialist as they were in his times.
It's a farce only humans could come up with.
I use to be a low level forum mod, that is to say, I could manage threads (locking, moving, merging, etc) but not baning or blocking users. For that I had to take the case to the higher mods (who were MIA most of the time). The process was entirely secret and I never was told of the outcomes. I use to write reports just like the ones described but showing how people were being disruptive within the community (disruptive doesn't really cover it). While it was a necessary job, it always gave me chills that I was the though police.
BK Skinner: "It's just that it's been well over a hundred years now already. How much more?"
You do know that, historically speaking, the US is still a VERY YOUNG country. We're burning out so fast it isn't funny.
Israel is even younger and it won't be around for much longer than another twenty years at most before it goes the way of apartheid South Africa (or alternatively nuked out of existence - probably with its own nukes).
The US will follow, somewhat more slowly.
"History is made in the dark the people making it (cf your target list) are doing so on the basis of short term fire-fighting and crisis managment. A damage control team can not by their nature be strategic."
I agree. Strategy can only come from the more intelligence of the citizenry recognizing when the country has gone off the rails. Which is another reason the US is doomed. Almost no one in the US "gets it" or will "get it" until it's too late. Things will get massively messed up, and eventually things will change - probably violently if history is any judge. Given technology advances, the death toll will probably be in the millions, maybe tens of millions.
Add to this the transformative nature of upcoming technology in the next 50 years and things don't look good - for humans, anyway. For us radical Transhumanists, things look better.
And when you make an error, you can try to buy off the survivors. This is hell and we are in it.
"Several weeks after the attack, American officers travelled to the villages to apologize to survivors and the victims' families.
They gave each survivor 140,000 afghanis, or about $2,900.
Families of the dead received $4,800."
While assassinating someone surely has less "collateral damage" associated with it...maybe (given that you create martyrs and other issues), there's a huge difference between killing, and murder.
Assassination is murder. It's personal. Most killing, as in a pitched battle, is more like self-defense. It's not personal.
No question, snipers are more effective per person on a battle field....but are looked on a little askance by normal soldiers -- they are cold blooded murders who look their victim in the eye first (even when they are working in a good cause).
Nothing against them -- I am a sharpshooter, but the concept is a little creepy, right?
You'll note that even the bible sanctions killing when it's not personal, as in "Joshua slew 10,000 philistines with the jawbone of an ass" and was a hero for doing it.
But "thou shalt do no murder" in the more correct translation of the book. And yes, this level of "due process" is not something that would satisfy a non-rogue nation. Murder is personal and hate is involved.
That's the difference. I'm really shocked no one has brought this up here so far -- relative morality?
Subsuming morality to practicality? Thinking we'll be blamed anyway, so why not be guilty? I have trouble with all those.
@ Richard Steven Hack,
I'm going to have to disagree with you on your projections of the American State and it's likley demise.
So First off,
"... With six billion people on the planet and only 300 million in the US, the US is going to lose sooner or later unless it changes its nature and policies. This is just common sense."
Come November-December the seventh billion living human is due to pop into the world. Likewise the American population is already over 300million and rising faster than expected and may be over 315million by the end of the year.
We have however already crossed another threshold in that our use of energy is now above the sustainable point within our current technology (which untill Japan's recent problems is why the 2nd re-emergance of Nuke Power was happening and is now at best stalled).
And many belive we have also crossed another threshold with regards the sustainability of current food production methods.
Thus the big problem is begining to occur at the intersection of the Energy use and Food production issues. That is energy for the transportation of food.
Currently the energy for the transportation of food is fossil fuel based via the refinement of light crude, and with offshore deep drilling suspended we could be looking at as little as 10years viable production.
The best current guesses on technology changes to replace petrol/oil is put at around 20years so we will in all likleyhood have a ten year technology gap.
Most of the EU's and much of the USA's food predictions for the next thirty years or so are on importation from other distant nations.
The problem is is how do we get the food to feed our nations? We know we can grow it for probably the next 50-100 years but we won't to be able to ship it due to lack of appropriate fuel for transportation.
One current "hair brained" idea is "Bio-diesel" made from growing crops...
The problem is the same land needed to produce these "oil crops" is needed more to grow "food crops"...
Although I'm reasonably certain solutions will be found, I'm far from certain they will be available in either a timely or sufficiently economic way to prevent the knock on effects in the EU and America.
One of these "effects" we are already seeing is an uptern in certain types of "civil unrest", which will get steadily worse.
Thus the nations of the West (US, UK, and other Northern European nations) might well socialy implode long before retaliation for assassinations is likely to commence.
It all depends on the criticality of the tipping points and the severity of the results but there are already clear indicators that the US is already seeing a limitation on raw resources from parts of the world it cannot hope to prosecute conventional war against (China and rare earth metals)...
"No question, snipers are more effective per person on a battle field....but are looked on a little askance by normal soldiers -- they are cold blooded murders who look their victim in the eye first"
I trained as a sniper at one point, and the one thing you notice about snipers are they generaly are "there own men" very self reliant, nearly always stand to one side of any group and are usually very practical and nonjudgmental, and sober in their outlook and behaviour.
Because they know what they are doing (ie shooting to kill) and usually why they rationalise the action in terms of the "one for the many" That is they kill one of the enemy so others don't have to kill many of the enemy.
Although the actions of the sniper in or around a battlefield can be looked at as "cold blooded killing" even "murder" because their actions are tactical not strategic they tend to be successfull in their objectives. Thus the consolation / rationalisation for the sniper is the genuine belief that their single kill will prevent many other kills not just on the snipers side but also on the enemies side.
But although many snipers I've met might be described as taciturn, I would not in any way describe them as "cold blooded kills" simply because they are enything but.
@ Richard Steven Hack
I just knew someone was going to take issue with the historical correctness of the story as told in the Bible 8-) I kinda picked it for the point I was trying to make because everyone knows it and I couldn't immediately come up with a nice tale from Star Trek or the Bhagavad Gita.
I don't approve of government sanctioned assassinations, torture, rape and the like. I just acknowledge that they happen because such is the human condition. It's easy to make moral judgements from the sideline, but as history and psychological experiments have sufficiently demonstrated, nearly all of us are capable of the most horrendous of acts when somehow we have been led to believe that these are justified or well within the parameters of what is acceptable. Civilisation is just a very thin layer that peals off easily. As a race, we are still very far from embracing AND practicing the ideas of the guy depicted in the Bible or the little man from India.
"""However you crunch the numbers, assassination comes up "better" than war. Less people die on both sides. """
The problem with assassinations is that important people do more of the dying.
The _LAST_ thing any leader wants is a general acceptance of the idea that killing leaders, rather than thousands of soldiers/civilians, is the way to solve problems.
@ Richard Steven Hack
I agree with pretty much everything you wrote here.
"One point ignored here is: if you believe in the "sovereignty of nations" and international law, then the LEGAL way to get someone who's a threat is to cooperate with the law enforcement and intelligence agencies of the nation they're in and follow protocol and either get them to allow you to do what you want or get them to do it for you."
Yes, and I would *hope* that this is the case where there is cooperation between the US and the nation in question.
Where there isnt, or where the victim is a high-ranking person then the choices are more limited. Historically, countries have used a variety of tools to achieve this outcome - all of which impinge on the sovereignty of the target nation. The ultimate action is invasion and war. Personally, I would rather assassination was used before this stage.
Sadly, it seems that assassinations (especially in the manner described) normally only take place after the country has been invaded.... Kind of defeats the purpose really.
"The problem with assassinations is that important people do more of the dying."
Probably spot on.
I am sometimes wondering how many Americans would think it to be okay to asassinate their president for engineering a war against Iraq by faking reports of WMD?
After all this assasination would be cheaper and cost less lifes compared to stopping a country with more military budget than the next 15 something nations of the world combined. USA is kind of like France in the end of medieval times in that respect.
Nobody has the right to kill other humans! No country has the right to wage war against other countries. Not if we want to adhere to rules of the United Nations.
Also to the people talking here about lawyers deciding who is right to get killed: How would you like it if ten lawyers decide that your life is to be brought at an end?
Think that can't happen? If you ever get to Pakistan know that you wouldn't be the first tourist getting slaughtered by a drone there.
While I cant disagree with your sentiments, I dont think killing the US President (or any previous incumbents of the post) would do anything to reduce the US military spending. Quite the opposite I suspect.
"No country has the right to wage war against other countries."
Interesting and I am not sure I agree unless this is heavily qualified. If Country X launches a series of rocket attacks on Country Y, killing thousands of civilians, what options are open to Country Y to prevent it happening again? Without the threat of war somewhere in the chain of events, how do you constrain rogue states?
Squirrel .. in your case country x opened war by fireing missiles.
I hope you don't want to make now a comparison with Israel and co.
Point is we have a lot of wars in this world where the US have put oil in the fire in favour of their side.
Saddam Hussein being here a better example than even Osama bin laden. After all Saddam is also a former ally of the US and was stuffed with weapons to fight another proxywar and keep the neighbours busy.
I see that waging these kinds of wars may seem a good idea in ones one financial interest and might seem a good idea to give "good" guys a headstart in ones favour.
But shouldn't we have learned by now that fueling wars over the world and waging terror has only lead to more wars and terror?
And in that respect I count the CIA for a terror organization. They just have the means to kill people higher up in the hierarchy! Terror is a point of view: Getting shot by a drone because of a picture where you looked like some known terrorist or dying in a carbombing is not that much different.
When you look at the USA try also to see an outside perspective:
- CIA -> worldwide operating terror organisation
- Guantanamo -> people all over the world get captured and tortured there (and not just somewhere in Iraq and Afghanistan I am also thinking about Europe here)
- By far best equiped army in the world
- Fakes proofs to invade countries
Sadly this list could go on.
I know this is biased and not everything to it there is. I also know that Saddam Hussein for example is one of the worst dictators ever to happen in the near east.
Still I fear if views of the world drift more and more apart and killing people in other countries with drones becomes "okayish". We will get a problem.
It sometimes seems as only own body count preserves the world from more wars by the USA.
If in the future wars are only waged with drones, this reluctance to kill people in other countries for own benefit the USA shows, could proove to be fatal.
"If Country X launches a series of rocket attacks on Country Y, killing thousands of civilians, what options are open to Country Y to prevent it happening again Without the threat of war somewhere in the chain of events, how do you constrain rogue states"
First of the term "wage war" is usually ment "to start a war" thus by retaliation to prevent further attacks country Y may not be "waging war".
The problem is although rockets may be physicaly coming from country X they may not actually be coming from the "sovereign state" of country X. That is they may be terrorists in country X or rouge citizens of Country X or possibly even from agents of country Y or another country Z. All of these have been seen to have occured within my lifetime so far.
Thus country Y has certain formalities to go through before launching any offensive into the teritory of another sovereign nation.
To give you an example, what do you do when a nation decides to make a significant change to the way it trades it's major export, such that it might just hose your economy down the drain?
Is that an act of war, a simple benificial change in trading for the country, or an attempt to stop what is percieved by the rulers of the country as unjustified persecution?
This is actualy one of the reasons given as to why Saddam got attacked.
The US economy is very very dependent on the US Dollar being used as the worlds trading currancy. If the world switched over to another currency the US Dollar would disapear down the toilet and the US economy would follow shortly there after, as would the economies of a number of other nations.
For ten years the US had been the only real driver of sanctions against Saddam. There have been various reasons given but the US was doing very very nicely out of the sanctions as it effectivly stacked up billions upon billions of Dollars that effectivly belonged to Iraq and it's people.
Saddam was known to have made representations to various EU countries about switching from trading it's oil in US Dollars to the European Euro.
If it had been alowed to happen the effect on the US would have been actually worse than the result of the banking crisis. Also the UK not being in the Euro would also have seen it's economy flushed down the toilet. On the other hand the Euro countries would have seen the Euro strengthen considerably against the US Dollar and UK Sterling, and would probably not been effected by the US & UK melt down as they currently have been (because although the US Dollar has weakened considerably, the Euro has not realy strengthend).
It has been suggested that it was the overtures Saddam was making was the real reason the US backed by the UK invaded Iraq and the "doggy dosier" and all the other stuff was just window dressing.
It was suggested originaly that this was speculation before Paul Wolfowitz opened his mouth and confirmed it with his "we had to it's floating on a lake of oil" comment shortly before taking up his post at the world bank. Which he had to resign from shortly there after after "getting his girlfriend a job with good benifits". Presumably with the assistance of the Bush administration.
Without doubt war and it's precursors like assassination are in the general case unacceptable. What constitutes an exceptional case however appears very subject to interpretation as we are currently seeing with Lybia.
@Clive & ChristianO
As I said, if you heavily qualify the statement "wage war" then I agree with the principles people have stated. To me the term "wage war" includes more than "start war." If we are going to play semantics, attacking someone is *only* starting a war if the victim fights back.
The hypothetical example I quoted was just that. Like all such scenarios it can be dissected to the nth degree with countless ifs and butts. However, that is kind of missing the point.
If Country X attacks Country Y and then stops, how long does Country Y have to attack before it would be declared starting a war rather than retaliating?
Are economic sanctions an act of war? It is possible to destroy another country (including causing massive death and suffering to its civilian population) without ever firing a gun.
Lastly - does the prohibition on waging/starting wars include countries that want to assist in protecting an oppressed population? Left unchecked, it is likely that millions (more) would have been slaughtered in the Balkans alone.
"When you look at the USA try also to see an outside perspective"
I have nothing *but* an outside perspective of the USA.
I am not saying assassination is good and yes, without a doubt it goes wrong and innocent people get killed. Even with the right person (which is rare) mistakes happen and as I keep saying, there is no reason to believe assassination ever achieves its strategic goals.
However, not only can the same be said about war but the fact is significantly more innocent people suffer.
(obviously if you are the victim or the victims family this is an irrelevant issue but the point remains)
Even with economic sanctions, the innocent will be the first to bear the brunt - the rich and powerful whose actions are trying to be modified will only modify *after* their population suffer beyond tolerance. This can, and does, cause innocent people to die.
Clive: I dismiss energy issues. Reason? Nanotech will solve them, perhaps not in time to avoid early effects, but well within the first half or two thirds of this century.
Study up on Dr. Richard Smalley's nanotech energy solution. The Earth will need double the energy it needs today within fifty years and his solution is the only one that is feasible - even more so since Fukushima.
Clive: Vis-a-vis the reason Saddam was attacked, you're close. Read some of journalist Greg Palast's articles on his Web site from a couple years ago, like this one:
Secret U.S. Plans For Iraq's Oil
He discovered the rationale (one important one, not the only one) was that the oil companies wanted Saddam put down because he was messing with the price of oil. The war wasn't to GET Iraq's oil, it was to gain prevent Iraq from messing with the OPEC oil price by CONTROLLING Iraq's oil.
The neocons wanted cheap oil from Iraq to pay for their war, but oil company executives via James Baker prevailed on Bush to sign a finding that Iraq would always abide by the OPEC price. Of course, now that Iran heavily influences Iraq, that's probably a given.
we should really develop some position papers so we can stop arguing the same issues in new contexts
Timely article... somewhat prescient, even.
Ireland protested heavily when the Brits imposed internment without trial.
And here is the US passing out death sentences without trial.
I once had an Irish english teacher in high school. He was visiting his aunt in Ireland in the 70's. Her gate was rusty, and so he decided to jump it. With high bushes surrounding the yard he did not know that SaS was only a matter of steps away. When he jumped the gate he landed on one of them.
It turns out he has the same name as a man who was believed to be a member of the IRA, so they arrested him. But, before taking him off to jail they did a little bit of an investigation.
You see he hadn't been in Ireland for the past 5 years or so, and it was during that time the person with whom he shares his name had become an active member of the IRA. They ended up letting my english teacher go, but needless to say he didn't go back to Ireland until Interment without Trial was over.
Schneier.com is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of BT.