By Davis George
As the controversy surrounding the NSA’s intelligence on citizens in the homeland heats up, it is critically important to take a step back and consider the broader implications that intelligence disclosures have on the wider intelligence community as a whole.
Unfortunately, the simple knowledge of these programs by the public, and more threateningly, by parties that are hostile to the United States, could threaten their effectiveness. The Washington Post reports that the number of people on the US’s terrorist watch list has increased by roughly 1000% over the last four years, with around 1 million people on the list by 2009. All of these individuals, especially the actual terrorists on the list, pay careful attention to the government’s actions and abilities to intercept their communications. As more intelligence capabilities, including PRISM, are detected, terrorists attenuate their methods to adapt to threats to their secrecy.
Early intelligence is a necessity for stopping terrorist threats. Michael Chertoff writes that terrorists operate under the covers of darkness and deception, meaning that by infiltrating these dark corridors of heinous communication, the United States has a simple avenue to intercepting threats before they even materialize. For instance, the Heritage Foundation assesses that in 90% of real threats, intelligence gathered would have been able to stop the threat before it even occurred.
However, the Washington Post reports that the House has just voted to completely revise rules regarding disclosure formerly afforded presidential discretion. Previously, sensitive and covert intelligence regarding counter-terror operations were only disclosed to a handful of Congressional and Judiciary Sub-Committees on counter-terror. The disclosure of information to the public poses a serious threat to national security. As Antone Gonsalves writes, disclosure of more information can push terrorists into harder to track channels for communications, eventually resulting in US agencies losing track of these terrorist organizations, and subsequently, being unable to keep a hold on their operations. In fact, Leonid Bershidsky of Bloomberg notes that currently the US can only index and search through about 0.004% of the internet, making the terrorist communications that travel through this miniscule section a vital component in stopping terror. And the New York Times explicates that following the leaks by Edward Snowden, intelligence officials saw a marked decrease in the number of terrorist communications moving through known networks. Inadvertently moving communication away from this critical choke point could seriously harm our nation’s ability to adequately pre-empt terrorism.
Further, disclosure by media organizations also has the severe potential of harming informants who are brave enough to either report on, or even infiltrate terrorist organizations. The backlash perpetrated on these American heroes as a result of disclosure is severe and irreversible, as terrorist organizations only negotiate in one currency: blood. Unfortunately, the LA Times reports that in the case of a specific Yemeni operative who funneled terrorist information to the FBI, disclosure has left the informant helpless and in the hands of terrorists, who have conclusively rooted him out as the “mole”. British and Saudi allies were reported to be furious about the foiling of this informant’s vital cooperation.
When weighing the costs and benefits of disclosures in today’s dynamically changing world of terrorist threats, a careful analysis of the after effects of such disclosures is important to ensure the US’ continued offensive capability against terrorism. It’s always vital to remember that as we watch terrorists, they peer back at us.
By Davis George
The United States’ and its allies’ ability to combat the dynamic threats regarding nuclear security is critically important at this point in time. It is obvious that the explosion of a nuclear bomb (and even worse, a nuclear war) would do irreparable damage not only to the United States, but to the earth’s ecosystem, and most frighteningly, to humanity’s ability to continue existence. The launching of these weapons, according to the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, would likely result in global firestorms that would eradicate 1 billion people, or about 1/7th of the world’s entire population, in addition to causing trillions of dollars of infrastructure damage. This is why Einstein, while developing the first nuclear weapon in the Manhattan Project, wrote of the “inconceivable destruction” that nuclear weapons posed if not kept in check by a stable global order. Global problems require global solutions, and without one, the launching of nuclear weapons would cripple humanity.
Securing our borders from the likes of loose nuclear weapons has never been a higher priority for our country. Without doubt, the threat is real. Peter Huessy of US News and World Report explicates that both Iran and North Korea will have the ability to strike the United States with a ballistic missile by 2015. With North Korea already in possession of several nuclear weapons, and Iran’s status on nuclear security only tangentially secure, the threat presents itself as one of the greatest strategic obstacles for the United States.
However, Gregg Brazinsky of the Elliott School for International Affairs explicates that the likelihood of a true threat materializing from one of these nations is relatively small, primarily because these nations necessitate the continued existence regime, and don’t have a true priority of expressing aggression against the United States because they would never survive the counter-attack. Unfortunately, Matthew Bunn of Harvard explains that the situation is far more grave, with a roughly 29% chance of nuclear terrorism occurring in the next decade, whether by theft, or other methods, such as janitorial corruption. With threats of nuclear terror rapidly spawning everyday, and numerous declarations of Al-Qaeda’s intention to acquire bombs, the question evolves quickly from “Is there a threat?” to “What do we need to do about it”?
One of the simplest ways to stop terrorists from acquiring nuclear weapons is, of course, the use of military force to eradicate terrorists in the first place. For instance, John Masters of the Council of Foreign Relations writes the United States has been using special forces to increase kill capture missions to 2200 operations in 2011. Over 12,000 militants have been captured with this tactic, with 90% ending without a shot fired. These decapitations, according to Brian Price of Harvard, make groups around 8.1 times more likely to end. Special forces decapitations prevent terrorists from ever being able to acquire nuclear weapons, while simultaneously being targeted enough to combat specific terrorist threats without the impediment of a full army maneuver. In fact, Matthew Bunn, the aforementioned Harvard professor, concluded that US actions in the middle east against terrorists have significantly reduced al-Qaeda’s chances of pulling of a nuclear terror complex, by almost 20%.
However, pre-emptive measures aren’t the only tools in the toolbox against nuclear proliferation. Jeffrey Goldberg of the Nuclear Threat Initiative details that since 2002, special operations forces have been placed in “nuclear hotbed” regions, ready to address and neutralize nuclear crises’ by intercepting weapons and defusing them, especially on the open ocean. In fact, an article by the Atlantic explicates that this sort of “render safe” mission has been used to intercept a ship from North Korea, which had an illegal weapons system on board. Further, the Department of Homeland Security writes that render-safe teams have been deployed 19 times worldwide in response to emergency threats. Other interception techniques have been wildly successful, as Condoleeza Rice writes the the PSI, or proliferation security initiative, has prevented almost 11 risky nuclear transfers by scanning different types of containers that move into ports for the alpha, beta, and gamma radiation that nuclear weapons almost inevitably emit. These successful, innovative, measures help to create a buffer action which continuously neutralizes up and coming nuclear threats.
Fortunately, sometimes, the issue becomes a self-solving one, dissolving tensions almost as fast as they materialize. Barak Ravik of Haaretz explains in more detail, noting that since the inauguration of Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s stance on nuclear weapons has been surprisingly cooperative. According to the Economist, talks have begun between Iranian and US officials ; this has never happened before. In return for six months of reduced frozen sanctions, the Iranians have now agreed to step back on their progress towards a nuclear weapon. This marks a turning point in the success of diplomacy. By peacefully stifling weapons at the source, we simultaneously reduce the ability of terrorists to acquire these weapons.
Together, all of these methods must be used multilaterally to combat the nearly instantaneously changing threats that nuclear weapons pose to our society and our world.
A Win-Win on Sequestration?
By Davis George
Recently, NBC news quoted a pilot telling his passengers: “we’re being delayed an hour and 15 minutes”. In an utterly unrelated sector, the National Archives Records Administration (NARA) just released a memo stating that they will be forced to defer the preservation, conservation, and transcription of several texts that are currently only available in obsolete formats.
What could possibly connect these two unfortunate events?
The words of that same pilot actually noted that the delay was due to the “sequester”, which also forced NARA to cut back. In fact, the Huffington Post notes that between the two agencies, the FAA had to furlough – give temporary unpaid leave to – several employees while the NARA had to reduce the number of hours worked, ending in costly delay and program inefficiency. In reality, sequestration has far reaching externalities that affect each and every American.
What exactly is sequestration, and what does it do to the US economy? The Washington Post explains that the sequester is a series of spending cuts, a failsafe part of the Budget Control Act, which cuts $1.2 trillion dollars federal spending between 2013 and 2021. The sequester is divided fairly equally between domestic discretionary cuts and decreases in defense spending. Unfortunately, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that of the 1.5% decrease in economic growth that the US will experience in 2013, about 0.56% will be due to the cutting of various spending programs which normally promulgate aggregate demand within the economy.
However, despite the plans for sequestration, several Congressmen have had second thoughts after experiencing the backlash which accompanied cuts such as the Federal Aviation Administration furloughs. David Lawder of Reuters reports that Congress gave the airline industry a break following cuts, allowing them to shift funds within their budget to avoid further delays which, naturally, would correlate to further economic slowdown. Furthermore, the Pentagon is currently preparing to plead with Congress for leeway regarding its own reductions, requesting space to allow the military to take the cuts in stride. The Justice Department has also been allowed to shift its decreases, moving 313 million dollars to other parts of the budget to avoid placing additional burdens on employees. Clearly, the onslaught of spending reductions has quickly expanded to public outrage, even before the true burden of the sequester hits. In fact, although Lawder furthers that the military is likely to get approval for monetary shifts, several other programs have no such privilege. Take, for instance, the small education improvement program “Head Start”, which gives underprivileged children an earlier start at school in order to foster better learning habits. This program is experiencing cuts which will prevent roughly 70,000 children from benefitting from this program. Overall, economist Stephen Fuller of George Mason University estimates that in addition to losing beneficiaries of these programs, nearly 2.14 million jobs will be lost due to sequestration, a 1.5% increase in unemployment.
Many would cite the sequester as a necessary measure to rein in government spending, and when considering the general concept of cutting spending, they would be correct in saying that it is vital to reduce the deficit we create each year. However, sequestration is a brutal, devastating financial restraint on our economy, and in contrast to sequestration, the Federal Reserve proposes a policy of increased spending. According to an article written by Dominic Rushe of The Guardian on March 20th, the Federal Reserve believes that continued financial stimulus into bonds and mortgage backed securities will solve the issue over time. They cite Congress as the problem, stating that Congress is pushing for a type of unrealistic austerity, and proposing to continue their $85 billion dollar a month stimulus package. However, the issue with this is that not only does an increase in monetary circulation cause hyper inflation, but the interest on the borrowed currency threatens to overtake us with more debt. In fact, according to the Congressional Research Service, by 2025, entitlement programs, along with the interest on the debt taken to keep them solvent, will take over 100% of current federal spending.
Fortunately, the problem of the debt can be solved without painful cuts or the increased burden of additional debt. Brianna Ehley of the Washington Times reports that government waste is extremely high, especially regarding programs such as catfish inspection, where repeated inspection costs the government 30 million dollars. The Government Accountability Office has already submitted a report to Congress regarding the waste in our government. This waste is cumulatively expressed in 31 areas of overlap, and possible cost savings through streamlining of roughly 95 billion dollars, 10 billion dollars more than sequestration. Unfortunately, as Senator Tom Coburn explains, Congress fails to address these areas of waste and continues to push for policies that only hurt their constituents.
Overall, the streamlining of our debt definitely has importance, though the methodology of those solutions must be taken into serious scrutiny. The sequester is clearly not the correct avenue for a reduction in annual government spending, especially when the government already wastes so much on overlapping programs. When these programs are cut, we will not only reduce our deficit, but also give the FAA room to transport people to where they need to be without any delay in air traffic. The option of cutting out waste is really the only way that we can have our cake, and eat it too.