The Washington Post editorial team crashes and burns (for a change)

by Henry Farrell on March 1, 2010

The Washington Post “runs an editorial”: on the topic of the financial data privacy controversy that I “blogged”: about a couple of weeks ago. Predictably, it’s an ill-informed harrumph.

bq. THE PROGRAM has been credited with helping to capture the mastermind of the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings that killed more than 200 people, including some 50 Europeans. … Yet almost 400 members of the European Parliament want nothing to do with it and have effectively and indefensibly shut it down. … The tool in question is the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program, which the United States created shortly after the 2001 terrorist attacks in hopes of using financial transactions to trace the whereabouts of suspects. … The European Commission hashed out an interim deal to allow the United States to continue operations, but the European Parliament objected, largely on the basis of bogus privacy concerns. … The Obama administration should work with E.U. leaders to push for reconsideration. If need be, additional oversight should be considered. But the administration must not go too far. Gutting a legal and effective program for the sake of imagined privacy gains would be as unwise and potentially dangerous as having no program at all.

I know that when the _WP_ editorial team sees the words ‘tracking terrorism,’ it responds with precisely that degree of judicious consideration which you apply when the doctor whacks your funny bone with a pointy rubber hammer. But the noxious guff about “bogus privacy concerns” and “imagined privacy gains” is just that – noxious guff. The program that the Washington Post is so fond of was implemented in blatant violation of EU law for years before the NYT had the guts to reveal its existence (despite strong pressure from the Bush administration not to do so). Nor are the European Parliament’s privacy concerns ‘bogus.’ The current administration has consistently refused to provide any guarantees whatsoever about how this data might, or might not, be shared with third countries. Given that many of our soi-disant allies in the war on terror have a distinctly robust attitude to the treatment and detention of possible terrorists, Europeans may very reasonably worry that any data they provide will be used to imprison and torture people, some innocent. I’ve talked about these issues with MEPs a lot over the last several years. Their memories of extraordinary rendition and the use of shared information (between the US and Canada in this instance) in the “Maher Arar case”: left a very bad taste in their mouth. Nor is the US willing to talk about real redress or compensation for people unjustly targeted via this data.

In any event, like it or not, the editorial writers of the _Washington Post_ are going to have to learn to live with a transatlantic relationship where an actor which cares about privacy can veto security arrangements. Abe Newman and I recently wrote a “piece”: on Foreign Policy‘s website that talks to this.

bq. To build support for counterterrorism cooperation, the United States must explicitly accept that the European Parliament will play a key role in future negotiations. … The U.S. administration must treat the Parliament as a true negotiating partner, along with the EU member states, on information sharing and domestic security. The U.S. administration can also address the Parliament’s substantive worries by creating its own privacy oversight structures and extending its protection to European citizens…. If the United States wants to rebuild the transatlantic relationship and promote its own security interests, it must stop treating the European Parliament as an irrelevant afterthought.



P O'Neill 03.01.10 at 5:14 pm

I predict a hasty reconsideration of past positions on tracking of terrorist financing when a formal request from the UAE lands on the desk of the US Treasury in connection with the Dubai Hamas hit.


Phillip Hallam-Baker 03.01.10 at 5:20 pm

Some of the biggest supporters of this program were in fact fund raisers for terrorists themselves.

While he was mayor of NYC, Rudy Giuliani was an enthusiastic fund-raiser for NORAID, the US based fund raising cut-out for the IRA. Giuliani was informed that NORAID was (and is) funding terrorism rather than the humanitarian programs that they purported to be supporting, but (unlike similar programs run like Hamas) simply did not exist.

So enamored of NORAID and the IRA, was Giuliani that he awarded Gerry Adams a ‘crystal apple’ as a ‘humanitarian award’ during an IRA cease fire. The IRA docklands bomb went off less than a year later.

Giuliani even attended a NORAID fundraiser the week after 9/11. Albeit the organizers decided that it would be politic to raise funds for 9/11 victims instead. It is the only NORAID fundraiser in NYC where Giuliani did not pose for pictures with Gerry Adams.

You can of course be confident that Giuliani will be on TV to attack the EU countries. This is despite the fact that Europe has a rather longer and considerably more successful history of dealing with terrorism than the US.


Phillip Hallam-Baker 03.01.10 at 5:37 pm

@1 I would not be too sure about that.

Israel has created this situation. The US cannot block access to information without putting its relationship with allies at risk. Israel tend to forget the fact that even though it tends to act as if it only has one ally, the US has a large number of allies.

The Likud party can try to play cute and refuse to confirm or deny involvement. But that also means that they cannot make requests for assistance, either officially or in private. This is not a national security issue for Israel, it is a saving political embarrassment issue for the Likud party.

Passports are a big issue for the UK. They consider passports to be rather more important than flags. The UK has a direct link to US intelligence that is unique.

The civil service has ways of refusing to take direction from the political appointees without the appointees putting the request down in writing in a way that puts them on the hook if things get out.

Over the past eight years the US has been following the Israeli approach to terrorism. Why? The Israeli approach has failed, they face a bigger terrorist threat today than they did at any time in the past. The European approach has succeeded: Terrorists, are criminals, they get no special treatment, they get criminal trials, they are sent to criminal jails. The US should be copying what works.


Phillip Hallam-Baker 03.01.10 at 5:49 pm

@1 Oh I get, it, you were suggesting that the EU allies will maybe reconsider. I thought you were meaning that maybe the US would decide to refuse to release the data to the EU and UAE.

I don’t see that as an issue because the request is a specific request made in connection with a specific crime. It will go to a court and be processed in the normal fashion. It would be really hard for anyone to disrupt that process and it is pretty quick. I know some of the internal details as I used to work with a company that offered services in that area.

The EU privacy issue is about collection of vast amounts of information on a speculative basis. I would not assume that the EU position is unwelcome to the administration. It provides them with cover to dismantle some of the more idiotic schemes from the Bush era.

Making the existing data flow smoothly is likely to be much more important than gaining access to data that is privacy compromising. If the crotchbomber data had been processed earlier he could have been searched before he got on the flight. As it was the match came too late but he was marked for investigation when he arrived.


ajay 03.01.10 at 5:57 pm

1 is really a bit silly. It was an Israeli operation staging through various European capitals and funded by the Israeli government, so there wouldn’t be any US funding trail to track… Unless you’re suggesting that the hit was a CIA operation?


Henry 03.01.10 at 6:48 pm

ajay – without commenting on the broader politics here (my best guess is that EU governments will be highly reluctant to put Israel and the US on the spot, given how the politics have played out to date, but it is really just a guess), some of those alleged to have been on the assassination team used credit cards from an US-based bank.


Phillip Hallam-Baker 03.01.10 at 7:24 pm

It appears that the assassins used credit cards issues by the same midwest bank. Which is rather strange as it would be a major breach of security. Had one of the agents been caught it would have been rather easy to round up the others by just monitoring the credit card transactions for anyone using the same bank – the first six numbers on the card are the bank.

The huge number of agents used is rather strange. They had far more people at risk than was necessary. Now their faces are known throughout the world and they cannot be used for any other job.


Ahistoricality 03.01.10 at 7:33 pm

The huge number of agents used is rather strange. They had far more people at risk than was necessary. Now their faces are known throughout the world and they cannot be used for any other job.

I don’t know enough about the realities of these sorts of activities to judge, but this has raised a red flag for me: the action was successful but, apparently, incompetent. Either Mossad isn’t what it used to be, or someone is trying to impute the operation to Mossad (to throw off suspicion, or to make Mossad look responsible for good or ill). I haven’t seen any discussions which clarify these questions for me, and any arguments which infer motives end up being tautological without some firmer understanding.


Kenny Easwaran 03.01.10 at 10:30 pm

But what about that thing about Google and Italy? Are all European privacy concerns equally valid? (Of course, in that case privacy is conflicting with another constitutional right, while in this case it’s merely conflicting with a desire to catch some potential criminals, but still, we shouldn’t just bow to any demand for any privacy program at all in Europe.)


John Quiggin 03.01.10 at 10:39 pm

The Mossad passport issue is a big deal in Australia, and has been linked to a change in our UN vote on the Gaza inquiry, though the government has denied this.


herr doktor bimler 03.02.10 at 12:03 am

If need be, additional oversight should be considered. But the administration must not go too far.

I like the implicit assumption that the US administration has any choice.


hardindr 03.02.10 at 10:13 am

Of interest regarding the Washington Post‘s editorial staff:


Castorp 03.02.10 at 2:49 pm

Henry, I realize you are busy and all, but you should consider submitting an op-ed to the Post on the subject. I think you’d be in a good position to do so.


Phillip Hallam-Baker 03.02.10 at 7:15 pm

@Ahistoricality: Mossad has never been what it used to be. Like the CIA, we hear so much about the organization because it is rather less effective as an intelligence gathering organization than its reputation leads people to believe.

Most of what we know about the CIA comes from their ‘Commando’ operations. They have habitually intervened in situations. The NSA has historically been vastly more successful in intelligence gathering, to the extent that most people were unaware it existed until the mid 1990s. That despite the fact that it has commanded a budget many times that of the CIA since the 1960s.

Evidence of incompetence is not evidence that Mossad was not involved. On the contrary, there are very few organizations that could field 20 agents in a foreign country on forged documents. Al Qaeda fielded 20 agents, but their tradecraft was even sloppier. Most used their own papers. And Al Qaeda had a force of over 2000 members at the time and state sponsorship from the Taleban.

It is hard to think of any event where organized crime have deployed so many people on a similar mission. Cost tends to be a much higher consideration.


Simple answer 03.02.10 at 11:43 pm

I cannot fathom why any person who thinks and can read would ever possibly read the Washington Post. Nostalgia? Habit? Ignorance? I don’t know, but I do know that it is one of the top propaganda machines in the US. It is totally controlled by the members of the oligarchy.

There is not one single “news” organizations in the United States that is not in the chokehold of the right wing oligarchy. None, not NPR, not PBS, none.

The only way to find out what is truly happening is to watch the blogs then read foreign newspapers that may lie about their country but are pretty accurate in their reporting on american news.


Joe S. 03.03.10 at 3:38 am

@15: WaPo still has Boswell writing sports and Pearlstein writing economy and Ezra Klein and Dana Priest and Walter Pincus and a good comics page and . . . uh, you’re basically right. There is still some good stuff in WaPo, but the political coverage is atrocious. And WaPo was always identified with its political coverage.


theAmericanist 03.03.10 at 1:31 pm

Forgive my ignorance (or better yet, correct it): why is it so obvious Dubai was a Mossad hit?

I mean — I understand that the Israelis certainly had a motive to off this guy. So I’m asking about the tradecraft that indicates an operation with credit cards from a bank in the American Midwest, that was evidently carried out by Irish, Australian and French agents who went to South Africa, Hong Kong, and the EU afterwards, is somehow not only obviously a Mossad operation — but an incompetently public one, at that.


Castorp 03.03.10 at 3:12 pm

:”WaPo still has Boswell writing sports and Pearlstein writing economy and Ezra Klein and Dana Priest and Walter Pincus and a good comics page and . . . uh, you’re basically right. There is still some good stuff in WaPo, but the political coverage is atrocious.”

Don’t forget E.J. Dionne, Eugene Robinson, and Tom Toles, but yeah the political coverage is truly atrocious and the foreign policy op-eds run from Neo-con light to hard core neocon–with the one exception of Zakaria who is a (reasonable) conservative realist.


Phillip Hallam-Baker 03.03.10 at 11:14 pm


It is a question of opportunity, motive and means. Only a nation state would have the resources required to field 20 agents and provide them with the covers used here. Israel was the only state with a direct motive. The only reasonable theories are that it was an Israeli operation or that someone wanted to lay a false trail implicating Israel.

Attribution is a real issue in International relations. That is why terrorism (and this was an act of terrorism) and cyber-warfare are serious problems. There is a temptation for states to engage in this type of activity in the mistaken belief that it has no consequences.

Lawful states issue denials when they receive an official protest of an action that they have been accused of but did not do. The only reason to refuse to make denials is when a state intends to act as a rogue state.

Conducting murders in foreign countries is rogue state behavior.

The US has for the past four years taken very clear steps to ensure that their drone operations do not entail ‘rogue state’ type behavior. The US freely admits to the type of operations conducted and they are performed by members of the military not civilian ‘intelligence’ operatives. States have a duty to prevent the use of their territory to perform attacks on neighboring states. The US justifies its operations in Pakistan explicitly under that principle.

There is no right for states to engage in covert action.


Castorp 03.03.10 at 11:16 pm

Phillip Hallam-Baker: Beyond the motive and the fact that you need a state to undertake an operation of this scale, don’t forget that the Mossad has used western passports before and many of the European passports that were used in this operation were traced back to actual dual citizens living in Israel (though it is unlikely that the people themselves were the agents).


Henry 03.04.10 at 1:37 am

Castorp – Abe and I tried to get a similar op-ed into the NYT (near miss) and the Post (not at all interested) a couple of weeks ago. Not that this post should be interpreted as sour grapes – I have expressed similar opinions on the WP’s official editorials in the past …


theAmericanist 03.04.10 at 2:02 pm

I would have thought terrorism was a real problem because of, you know, all those dead people. Attribution seems secondary, since it’s about what you do AFTER terrorism happens, not preventing it in the first place. Then again, there doesn’t seem to have been much difficulty identifying the dead guy in Dubai.

Hell, one of the more common characteristics of terrorist attacks is the way terrorist organizations brag about their responsibility, no? This guy bragged. Look where it got him.

I appreciate that covert action is problematic, if not flat out illegal, under international law, particularly assassinations. But I’m not sure that it’s such a brilliant philosophical distinction to say that drone attacks are so different. Why? You’re saying it’s because they are 1) admitted by the US — which is what most terrorist organizations are doing when they claim responsibility, 2) carried out by the military, which seems like a distinction without a difference, and 3) justifiable because the US is showing Pakistan that it cannot allow its territory to be used to stage attacks in some other nation, e.g., Afghanistan.

My primary question was: how do we know this was the Israelis? The Dubai security services are pointing to a bunch identified as Irish, Brits and French. Okay, so your answer is that this HAD to a state-sponsored operation, and the only state that wanted this guy that dead is Israel. Fair enough, but hardly on the level of intelligence craft.

I don’t see the bright line distinction you’re making between the US telling Pakistan (which so far as I know has only tolerated and never invited American drone attacks on foreigners in Pakistan, much less Pakistanis) that we have the lawful right to kill bad guys in their country, and the Mossad (you presume) doing this in Dubai. Are you arguing that if Israel said ‘we did it, and there’s nothing you can do about it’, that would have made it legal?

Your distinction seems to boil down to the size of the bullet, or whether it’s a bullet at all (in Dubai it seems to have been a stun gun and a pillow): not much philosophy or rule of law there.

Perhaps you can draw the bright line a little more clearly for me?


Castorp 03.04.10 at 3:09 pm

“Abe and I tried to get a similar op-ed into the NYT (near miss) and the Post (not at all interested) a couple of weeks ago. Not that this post should be interpreted as sour grapes – I have expressed similar opinions on the WP’s official editorials in the past …”

I don’t interpret it as sour grapes at all. Their stance on foreign affairs and civil liberties is really unfortunate and their outlook is embarrassingly provincial. I find it especially disagreeable that they wouldn’t accept an op-ed on this topic from you when they are happy to print Richard Cohen’s nonsense as well as the actively pernicious stuff of many, many of their regular columnists and guest stars (Sarah Palin and Liz Cheney spring to mind). It really is no wonder that I thoroughly read my FT in the morning before glancing through the Post. Better luck next time I guess.


Jeremy A 03.04.10 at 3:55 pm

The have largely moved on from the content of the original post, but still I’ll throw in this chunk from an op-ed re data mining:

“For the sake of argument, let’s assume that eventually some system of information gathering and interpretation becomes so uncannily accurate that when it examines a future terrorist (someone with terrorist intentions), 99% of the time it will correctly identify him as a pre-perpetrator. Furthermore, when this system examines somebody who is harmless, 99% of the time the system will correctly identify him as harmless. In short, it makes a mistake only once every 100 times.
“Now let’s say that law enforcement apprehends a person using this technology. Given these assumptions, one might guess that the person would almost certainly be a terrorist. Right? Well, no. Even with the system’s amazing data-mining powers, there would be only a tiny chance that the apprehended person would have gone on to commit a terrorist act if he had not been caught.
“To see why this is so and to make the calculations easy, let’s postulate a population of 300 million people of whom 1,000 are future terrorists. The system will correctly identify, we’re assuming, 99% of these 1,000 people as future terrorists. Thus, since 99% of 1,000 is 990, the system will apprehend 990 future terrorists. Great.
“But wait. There are, by assumption, 299,999,000 nonterrorists in our population, and the system will be right about 99% of them as well. Another way of saying this is that it will be wrong about 1% of these people. Since 1% of 299,999,000 equals 2,999,990, the system will swoop down on these 2,999,990 innocent people as well as on the 990 guilty ones, apprehending them all.
“That is, the system will arrest almost 3 million innocent people, about 3,000 times the number of guilty ones. And that occurs, remember, only because we’re assuming the system has these amazing powers of discernment. If its powers are anything like our present miserable predictive capacities, an even greater percentage of those arrested will be innocent.
“Of course, this is an imagined scenario, and the numbers, percentages and assumptions are open to serious question. Nevertheless, the fact remains that since almost all people are innocent, the overwhelming majority of the people rounded up using any set of reasonable criteria will be innocent. And even though the [Total Information System] proposes only increased scrutiny rather than arrest of suspected future terrorists, such scrutiny might very well lead over time to a voluminously detailed government dossier on each of us. At the same time, since scrutiny without interdiction is unlikely to stop future terrorists from carrying out an attack, the system is likely to lead to little, if any, increase in security.”
–John Allan Paulos, “Do the Math: Rooting Out Terrorists Is Tricky Business,” Los Angeles Times, 18 Jan 2003

So in addition to the concerns about mistreatment of those picked up and the likelihood of their innocence, there’s also a good chance of huge waste of time and resources by law enforcement.


Phillip Hallam-Baker 03.04.10 at 4:29 pm

Attribution matters because some of the most violent terrorist acts were false flag operations. People who bother to study the subject know that the first act of terrorism in the troubles of Northern Ireland was a Unionist murder of a Protestant that was intended to be blamed on the Catholic IRA, there was also a plot to blow up a dam which was instrumental in bringing the mainland troops into the province to protect the Catholic population.

Another major false flag operation was the Bologna train station bombing which was performed by Italian fascists attempting to place the blame on right wing groups.

Attribution does matter. Which is why any country that refuses to make a denial when a credible allegation is made against them must be presumed to be guilty.

If people want to claim that there is no proof that Israel was behind this act of terrorism then we should also ignore all claims that Iran is engaged in terrorism because the evidence we have on that score is no better.

A reasonable person concludes that both countries are guilty.


theAmericanist 03.04.10 at 8:19 pm

Um…. you’re sorta confusing. Was somebody claiming that the Dubai hit was a false flag operation? Were YOU?

I just asked how everybody is so sure it was Israel. Your answer was basically — well, who ELSE would it be? which seems a whole lot more vulnerable to falling for a false glad than my question, don’t ya think?

I don’t believe Israel makes a policy of responding when they are accused of pretty much anything, which seems such a sound principle that I’m not sure why you find it so significant that they didn’t breach it in this instance.

Bear in mind, I’m not claiming they didn’t do it. I just wonder that folks are so sure, particularly when your reasoning falls apart at the first inquiry. I thought maybe you had some evidence beyond knowing speculation without information.

As for Iran’s involvement in terrorism, the evidence seems considerably greater (re-read the last graf before you get confused again): for one thing, killers in Lebanon or the West Bank and Gaza rarely show Irish, British, or French passports, and it’s not unheard of that they will be Shi’ites or otherwise associated with Iran. There’s a much more obviously documented connection between Hezbollah and any number of terrorists, than there is between Israel and those people in the Dubai security tapes.

Like I said earlier today, your evidence and logic is pretty shaky on the broader issues, as well. But if you can draw the bright line more clearly than you have so far, I’d like to see it.


theAmericanist 03.04.10 at 8:21 pm

Er, false FLAG, not false glad…. which would raise the grim specter of stale sandwiches and leftovers ruined before their time.


Castorp 03.04.10 at 8:23 pm


It is really quite simple: A. Israel had a motive. B. The Mossad undertakes such hits all the time. C. It has been been caught in the past using forged/ill-begotten passports of European and Commonwealth countries in their hits. D. The actual passport holders, who were unlikely to have been involved–it appears their names were used to file for the passports without their knowledge–were all Israeli dual citizens living in Israel.

With that in mind who do you think is responsible?


Anthony 03.04.10 at 8:28 pm

Look, theAspergerist is a professional concern troll named Paul Donnelly. He pretends to work for immigration reform while actually supporting right-wing nativist groups. That, combined with an Aspergery inability to understand language and meaning at any level beyond they hyper-literal and a tendency to lie about even recent events and their order to aggrandize himself is all you need to know about him. Also, he argues in a way guaranteed to alienate anyone who might take him seriously. Google him up to see what I mean.


theAmericanist 03.04.10 at 8:37 pm

D is the most significant bit of evidence, although I think if you were serious about examining the question, you’d consider:

A. Iran has a motive (Hezbollah vs. Hamas), as Mabhou’s rivals in Hamas, or for that matter, anybody who wanted to chip away at Netanyahu; B) Ireland denies that these folks were Irish citizens (so much for the dual citizenship idea), and C) pretty much anybody doing anything nefarious uses forged or stolen documents.

Pretty thin.

Again, I’m not saying Israel DIDN’T do it. I’m just observing that it’s much more a knowing speculation than based on any real information — and when somebody harrumphs about how important it is to beware of false flag operations, methinks a mirror might be useful.

And again, the evidence and logic cited for the bigger issues is even thinner.


theAmericanist 03.04.10 at 10:36 pm


Last I looked, Anthony thought I was a former candidate for Congress in Delaware. Before that, he thought I was Daniel Pipes. Go figure.

Anybody who cares can look up or (slightly more relevant to this conversation), or even, and reach their own conclusions about this guy’s obsession with me, to the point that he seems to be following me around cyberspace.

In any case, I’m still asking somebody to draw the bright line where I can see it.


Anthony 03.05.10 at 12:11 am

“Last I looked, Anthony thought I was a former candidate for Congress in Delaware. Before that, he thought I was Daniel Pipes. Go figure.”

Uh, there was a Paul Donnelly who ran for congress, so I asked if it was you. Somewhere in your Apergery addled brain, you forgot to answer. I thought you were claiming to be Pipes back in the days when your comments boiled down to “DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?”–so I took a stab. Turns out I was wrong: you’re Paul Donnelly, professional concern troll, hyper literalist and fabulist.


Phillip Hallam-Baker 03.05.10 at 1:38 am

Dear concern troll,

It is now clear that you are not arguing in good faith. I did not say that a false flag operation was likely, merely that it is the only logical possibility and that it is important to get attribution right for that reason.

If a country goes refuses to deny that it engages in rogue state behavior it should be treated as a rogue state. When a country issues a denial it does at least confirm that it believes such activities to be unacceptable.

At least France had the decency to deny their terrorist plot to sink the Rainbow Warrior.


theAmericanist 03.05.10 at 1:54 am

Um… did you mean to say this: “it is the only logical possibility”?


Anthony 03.05.10 at 2:06 am

“Dear concern troll,”

He’s actually a professional concern troll. Google Paul Donnelly and immigration and see what he does…


theAmericanist 03.05.10 at 2:30 am

Trying, rather fruitlessly, to avoid this whole thread derailing cuz Anthony is unhinged: I asked one question, first: why does everybody think the Dubai hit was the Israelis?

I wondered if there was some actual evidence, a connection, that I hadn’t seen. Evidently not — the answer seems to be that only the Israelis wanted this guy dead enough. That doesn’t seem decisive — I can think of lots of folks who wanted him dead. Can’t you?

I’m somewhat baffled at raising attribution and false flag in that context: if nobody is saying that the Israelis DIDN’T do it, and nobody else is claiming credit, and the clues (as you guys say) all point to the Israelis — I don’t quite understand the false flag argument you raise, particularly when you seem to mis-state it yourself. On the one hand, you say this must have been the Israelis, and on the other, you say that a false flag operation is the “only” logical possibility. (I suppose what you really mean isn’t actually “false flag”, but fake passports: they’re not the same. Did you think they were?)

But at least I’ve gotten a direct answer to my first question, which is that there isn’t any particular reason why everybody has concluded the Israelis did it — it just seems like the sort of thing the Israelis would do. Makes sense, although raising false flag sorta weakens that idea, since after all Hezbollah might have wanted to kill a ranking Hamas guy and make trouble for the Israelis in the process, likewise with his rivals within Hamas, and of course there is a long line of folks who’d love to embarass Netanyahu. But as noted, you answered the question (although for some reason you don’t seem satisfied with your own answer.)

I didn’t initially ask about the distinction you’re making between drone attacks within Afghanistan, and this stun-gun-and-pillow hit in Dubai, but you insisted the distinctions are clear and very, very important. But they seem to vanish when examined — Pakistan, like Dubai, didn’t invite anybody to kill bad guys in their country; you are certain that BOTH were conducted by states; and the distinction that one was carried out by civilians (and you know this how?) while American drone strikes are done by the military (the NSA? the CIA? civilians at the DIA don’t count?) makes no actual difference.

So you’re left with the size of the bullet theory, which I’ve asked you about.

(shrug) You can duck the questions if you want, and you can even encourage this nut, but those are real questions for which, as far as I can tell, you have no real answers.


Anthony 03.05.10 at 2:32 am

“but those are real questions for which, as far as I can tell, you have no real answers.”

It’s been explained so many times.


clod Levi-Strauss 03.06.10 at 1:34 am

“I asked one question, first: why does everybody think the Dubai hit was the Israelis?”
Sorry I’m late:


theAmericanist 03.06.10 at 9:17 pm

Note the last sentence of the Newsweek piece “… and possibly Iran.”

In any case, since we’ve established that I hadn’t missed anything, there really isn’t much more evidence that it was Israel than the lazy, er, who else could it have been? shtick, I’m more interested if anybody can actually draw the bright line that was sketched so blurrily above.

The argument was made that the Dubai hit is completely different from the American drone attacks in Pakistan because 1) American drone attacks are done by a nation state, where the Dubai hit was done by, um, Israel; 2) the American drone attacks are made by the American military (except for the CIA, DIA and NSA folks who work on ’em), while the Dubai hit was done by …. well, whoever those folks were (which seems to be a distinction without much difference: although I suppose you could say that the drones are in uniform and the pillow was not); and 3) the drone attacks are legal because Pakistan… ah, didn’t invite them, while the Dubai hit was illegal because Dubai…. ah, didn’t invite it, and finally 4) the only distinction that stands up under scrutiny, which is that the drone attacks have collateral damage (which somehow makes ’em legal???) while the Dubai hit seems to have killed only the target.

So if somebody can actually draw a bright line, I’d appreciate it.


ScentOfViolets 03.07.10 at 12:20 am

Trying, rather fruitlessly, to avoid this whole thread derailing cuz Anthony is unhinged: I asked one question, first: why does everybody think the Dubai hit was the Israelis?

In one of life’s little witticisms, I’ve just gotten through my first meeting with this person; oddly enough, he claims to answered a question of mind by some sort of zenlike unasking it. Apparently, according to theAmericanist, calling a question “stupid” is exactly the same as answering it.

Thanks for the advisory about concert trollery on this one. I was wondering if someone could possibly be that obtuse in such a special way. Evidently the answer is no, the same as it is 99.9% of the time.


theAmericanist 03.07.10 at 1:43 pm

It’s sorta unclear why you guys are following me around, but it is particularly odd that you’d inject this weirdness here, Scent: that you were schooled in another thread on another site doesn’t quite seem relevant, no?

To clarify (if anybody cares): Scent proposed a game theory model for the current health care legislation, with a deal that could be 50-50, or 9-1, or somewhere in between. He asked — nay, demanded — to know if I agreed that it was a 9-1 deal. I pointed out that it didn’t matter: it was HIS model, he got to pick 50-50; 9-1; or 7-3 or even 6-4. I also answered his question in his own terms: what determines how people act (even in game theory) is often less their actual benefit (gaining 1 is still a gain, even if it is unfair because it is less than 50-50), then how much they have psychologically invested in the game itself. That is, a random passerby is more likely to accept a 9-1 split, because the apparent (that is, not real) unfairness is more than offset by the fact he gains 1 with no investment of his time or energy. As Scent himself said in the thread, he isn’t rational about the split because (like progressives in Congress) he has so much psychologically invested in health care that he regards a 51-49 split, much less 7-3 or 6-4, AS IF it is 9-1. Nothing Zen about that: it answers his question in detail.

So he shifted his ground, and tried to argue his model in terms of reality itself. I called him on that — again, take your pick: if you’re going to use a model, USE the model. If you’re going to argue reality, then it’s necessary to focus on the actual, yanno, point: the guy with leverage in a negotiation is the one who can walk away from the deal. In the health care debate, it’s an empirical question that (probably) boils down to Stupak and the progressives. I pointed out that Stupak’s pro-choice votes CAN walk away from a deal because pro-life Representatives who stop a bill that pro-lifers perceive as pro-choice means they win. Not a complex or original insight.

But progressives who claim they are willing to kill health care reform will NOT benefit from defeating it. As I noted in the other thread (and I apologize for injecting it here), if the theme of the November election is how bad everything sucks, Democrats are likely to lose their majority in the House, and possibly the Senate as well. Since this would be politically suicidal for progressives (putting Republicans in charge of the Congress?????), they cannot — at least, not rationally — walk away from a deal. Therefore, they have no leverage.

Now, Scent could have sensibly returned to arguing his model, which I suggest that he do — provided that he was consistent about it: 9-1 is NOT the same as 7-3 or 6-4, much less 51-49. Instead, he demanded that I accept the way he changed the application of his model to reality, since after all, it was his model. This is when I noted that it doesn’t matter how you apply the model, so long as you do it consistently, while if you argue reality, you have to actually use real characteristics rather than the model: as I did, noting the different political circumstances of Stupak and the progressives.

Nothing Zen about that, either, and it’s about as Lincoln’s reply to Horace Greeley.

Back to the theme of this thread: it occurs to me that what Hallam-Baker was bumbling around trying to say was a shallow thought expressed as a contradiction, caused by his confusing false documents with a false flag operation. If I’m wrong, perhaps he can correct my misunderstanding:

If the Dubai hit was carried out by Israeli agents, they would have had to use false documents since you can’t travel to Dubai on Israeli passports. (No, d-uh.) This is obviously different from a false flag operation — it’s why you have all concluded that this HAD to be an Israeli operation, after all: there is nothing false flag about it, so far as you are concerned. It’s all, obviously Israeli, the way the Osirak raid was Israeli.

It would have been a false flag operation if it had been Iran, for example, which had painted F-16s to look like Israeli jets (if they had F-16s, of course).

That seems to be the only one of the distinctions you tried to make between the drone attacks on Pakistan (big bullets) and a targetted hit like Dubai that actually stands up under scrutiny, as I noted above: as a rule, everybody knows for sure who did the air raid.

That’s why I asked right at the start why everybody is so sure that the Dubai hit was Israeli. You guys all said: who ELSE had a reason to knock off a Hamas guy? When I pointed out, among others, Hezbollah — you stopped addressing the question, and then of course, we have the misthreaded nuts showing up.

But I note that even Newsweek is beginning to wonder. Why aren’t you guys curious?


theAmericanist 03.07.10 at 1:46 pm

Dropped a word: “it’s about as obtuse Lincoln’s reply to Horace Greeley.”

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