Topic: Foreign Policy and National Security

Morozov vs. Cyber-Alarmism

I’m no information security expert, but you don’t have to be to realize that an outbreak of cyber-alarmism afflicts American pundits and reporters.

As Jim Harper and Tim Lee have repeatedly argued (with a little help from me), while the internet created new opportunities for crime, spying, vandalism and military attack, the evidence that the web opens a huge American national security vulnerability comes not from events but from improbable what-ifs. That idea is, in other words, still a theory. Few pundits bother to point out that hackers don’t kill, that cyberspies don’t seem to have stolen many (or any?) important American secrets, and that our most critical infrastructure is not run on the public internet and thus is relatively invulnerable to cyberwhatever. They never note that to the extent that future wars have an online component, this redounds to the U.S. advantage, given our technological prowess.  Even the Wall Street Journal and New York Times recently published breathless stories exaggerating our vulnerability to online attacks and espionage.

So it’s good to see that the July/ August Boston Review has a terrific article by Evgeny Morozov taking on the alarmists. He provides not only a sober net assessment of the various worries categorized by the vague modifier “cyber” but even offers a theory about why hype wins.

Why is there so much concern about “cyber-terrorism”? Answering a question with a question: who frames the debate? Much of the data are gathered by ultra-secretive government agencies—which need to justify their own existence—and cyber-security companies—which derive commercial benefits from popular anxiety. Journalists do not help. Gloomy scenarios and speculations about cyber-Armaggedon draw attention, even if they are relatively short on facts.

I agree.

He Is the Very Model of a Modern Right-Wing Foreign Policy Thinker

Jim Lobe points us to the thoughts of Andrew McCarthy, a fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, on Barack Obama’s reticence to urge other people to spill their blood in Iran.  A few choice bits below:

  • andymccarthy“The fact is that, as a man of the hard Left, Obama is more comfortable with a totalitarian Islamic regime than he would be with a free Iranian society.”
  • The divergences between radical Islam and radical Leftism are much overrated — ‘equal rights’ and ‘social justice’ are always more rally-cry propaganda than real goals for totalitarians, and hatred of certain groups is always a feature of their societies.”
  • It would have been political suicide to issue a statement supportive of the mullahs, so Obama’s instinct was to do the next best thing: to say nothing supportive of the freedom fighters.”
  • It’s a mistake to perceive this as ‘weakness’ in Obama. It would have been weakness for him to flit over to the freedom fighters’ side the minute it seemed politically expedient. He hasn’t done that, and he won’t. Obama has a preferred outcome here, one that is more in line with his worldview, and it is not victory for the freedom fighters. He is hanging as tough as political pragmatism allows, and by doing so he is making his preferred outcome more likely.  That’s not weakness, it’s strength — and strength of the sort that ought to frighten us.”

As Lobe notes, this prompted a rare “that’s over the line” type response from National Review editor Rich Lowry, but McCarthy is having none of it.  Instead, McCarthy says that by no means were his earlier remarks out of bounds, and argues that Obama is going to transform the United States into the sort of country that the Islamic Republic will be fond of.

That’s the sort of calm, reasoned debate we’ve come to expect from the establishment Right.  I’m trying to think, which conservative thinker does this sort of thing finds its lineage in?  Burke?  Kirk?  Carl Schmitt?  It’s tough to say.

The White House as Animal Farm

As George Orwell’s Animal Farm closes, the revolutionary pigs have been transformed into oppressive humans.  It took some time to occur on the Animal Farm.  It’s taken just a few months in the Obama White House.

Reports McClatchy Newspapers:

President Barack Obama is morphing into George W. Bush, as administration attorneys repeatedly adopt the executive-authority and national-security rationales that their Republican predecessors preferred.

In courtroom battles and freedom-of-information fights from Washington, D.C., to California, Obama’s legal arguments repeatedly mirror Bush’s: White House turf is to be protected, secrets must be retained and dire warnings are wielded as weapons.

“It’s putting up a veritable wall around the White House, and it’s so at odds with Obama’s campaign commitment to more open government,” said Anne Weismann, chief counsel for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a legal watchdog group.

Certainly, some differences exist.

The Obama administration, for instance, has released documents on global warming from the Council on Environmental Quality that the Bush administration sought to suppress. Some questions, such as access to White House visitor logs, remain a work in progress.

On policies that are at the heart of presidential power and prerogatives, however, this administration’s legal arguments have blended into the other. The persistence can reflect everything from institutional momentum and a quest for continuity to the clout of career employees.

“There is no question that there are (durable) cultures and mindsets in agencies,” Weismann acknowledged.

Conservatives once opposed executive aggrandizement.  Then with George W. Bush in office, they embraced the idea of the presidency as a kind of elective monarchy.  With President Barack Obama now pushing the executive power grab, will conservatives rediscover their inner-Constitution and again join the barricades for liberty?

New Technology Charts Old Repression

The fact that North Korea is a monstrous tyranny is well-known.  Google Earth is helping map that tyranny in extraordinary detail, from the opulent palaces of the elite to the horrid labor camps for the victims. 

Reports The Independent:

US researchers are using the internet to reveal what life is really like behind the closed borders of the world’s last Stalinist dictatorship

The most comprehensive picture of what goes on inside the secret state of North Korea has emerged from an innovative US project. The location of extraordinary palaces, labour camps and the mass graves of famine victims have all been identified. The online operation that has penetrated the world’s last remaining iron curtain is called North Korea Uncovered. Founded by Curtis Melvin, a postgraduate student at George Mason University, Virginia, it uses Google Earth, photographs, academic and specialist reports and a global network of contributors who have visited or studied the country. Mr Melvin says the collaborative project is an example of “democratised intelligence”. He is the first to emphasise that the picture is far from complete, but it is, until the country opens up, the best we have.

Palaces

The palatial residences of the political elite are easy to identify as they are in sharp contrast to the majority of housing in the deeply impoverished state. Though details about many palaces’ names, occupants and uses are hard to verify, it is known that such buildings are the exclusive domain of Kim Jong-Il, his family and his top political aides. Kim Jong-Il is believed to have between 10 and 17 palaces, many of which have been spotted on Google Earth:

1) Mansion complex near Pyongyang

This may be Kim Jong-Il’s main residence. His father lived here surrounded by the huge, ornate gardens and carefully designed network of lakes. Tree-lined paths lead to a swimming pool with a huge water slide, and next to the complex there is a full-size racetrack with a viewing stand and arena. There is a cluster of other large houses around the mansion, forming an enclosed, elite community. It appears to be reached via an underground station on a private railway which branches off from the main line.

The new technology is creating a new variant to the old saying:  you can run, but you can’t hide.  Tyrants can run their countries but they can’t hide their abuses.

We still have yet to figure out how to toss thugs like Kim Jong-il into history’s trashcan.  But better understanding their crimes is an important part of the process.

The UN and Human Rights: Never Shall the Twain Meet

The U.S. has rejoined the Human Rights Council, expressing hopes for positive cooperation in the future.  Reports the Associated Press:

The United States joined the U.N. Human Rights Council on Friday, a body widely criticized for failing to confront abuses around the world and for acting primarily to condemn Israel, one of Washington’s closest allies.

U.S. officials pledged to work constructively in the 47-member council, which has frequently been hampered by ideological differences between rich and poor countries.

“The United States assumes its seat on the council with gratitude, with humility, and in the spirit of cooperation,” said Mark C. Storella, who is for the moment the top diplomat at the U.S. Mission to U.N. organizations in Geneva.

The decision in May to seek a seat on the Geneva-based body after three years of giving it the cold shoulder represented a major shift in line with President Barack Obama’s aim of showing that “a new era of engagement has begun.”

Council members, U.N. officials and independent pressure groups applauded the move as a sign the only remaining superpower is prepared to debate human rights with the rest of the world.

Alas, it’s a forlorn hope.  The Council is dominated by human rights abusers and their enablers.  The recent case of Cuba, as Cato’s Juan Carlos Hidalgo pointed out,  is instructive.

I wrote up the story for American Spectator online.  The debate over Cuba’s record was particularly revealing:

Pakistan wished Cuba well in realizing “all human rights for all citizens.” Venezuela (you don’t have to be a member to comment) lauded “the iron will” of Cuba’s government. Russia said, “Cuba had taken a serious and responsible approach.” Uzbekistan “stressed Cuba’s work in the promotion of human rights.” China declared that “Cuba had made important contributions to the international human rights cause.” Egypt opined that “Cuba’s efforts were commendable.” And so it went.

Why should American taxpayers pay for such a farce?  Not only is it a waste of money, but it sets back the cause of human rights.  In general, the Obama administration’s emphasis on engagement is appropriate.  In this case, however, “engagement” is a mistake.

Bad News For North Korea’s Dear Leader?

It’s hard to know what to believe about the misnamed Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  But reports are circulating that North Korean officials are attempting to purchase medical equipment for treating “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il.  That in turn suggests that his condition might be worsening.

Reports Agence France-Presse:

A South Korean newspaper has said the health of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il is rapidly worsening and Pyongyang is trying to import expensive medical equipment through China.

The North is also seeking to bring in an emergency helicopter, the South’s largest-selling daily Chosun Ilbo reported on Friday.

Kim is widely believed to have suffered a stroke last August but there was no confirmation of the latest report. The National Intelligence Service declined to comment.

Chosun said Pyongyang’s Ponghwa Hospital is treating the 67-year-old.

It said officials of the hospital who are based in Beijing are trying to buy medical equipment which has been banned under an embargo imposed in 2006 to punish the North’s first nuclear test.

The UN resolution does not ban the import of medical equipment, only items which could be related to weapons programmes.

“Kim’s illness appears to be serious,” a North Korean source in Beijing told the newspaper.

The 67-year-old had a stroke last year and both his rotund figure and bouffant hair have thinned of late.  The world, and especially North Korea, would be a better place without him, but no one knows what would follow.

Kim apparently has annointed his 26-year-old son to succeed him, but it will take years to switch the levers of power in favor of the “Cute Leader,” as he has been nicknamed by Westerners.  (In North Korea he apparently is being referred to as “Brilliant Comrade.”)

More likely would be a collective leadership, perhaps led by Kim’s brother-in-law, with increased influence for the military.  That would probably make a negotiated settlement eliminating the North’s nuclear program even less likely.  But no one really knows.

We can only look forward to the day when this humanitarian horror of a country  disappears and North Koreans are allowed to again live as normal human beings.

Exciting! But Not True …

The Center for a New American Security is hosting an event on cybersecurity next week. Some fear-mongering in the text of the invite caught my eye:

[A] cyberattack on the United States’ telecommunications, electrical grid, or banking system could pose as serious a threat to U.S. security as an attack carried out by conventional forces.

As a statement of theoretical extremes, it’s true: The inconvenience and modest harms posed by a successful crack of our communications or data infrastructure would be more serious than an invasion by the Duchy of Grand Fenwick. But as a serious assertion about real threats, an attack by conventional forces (however unlikely) would be entirely more serious than any “cyberattack.”

This is not meant to knock the Center for a New American Security specifically, or their event, but breathless overstatement has become boilerplate in the “cybersecurity” area, and it’s driving the United States toward imbalanced responses that are likely to sacrifice our wealth, progress, and privacy.