Thursday, April 23, 2009

On the OLC memos

The Administration made headlines earlier this week by declassifying internal memos from the Office of Legal Counsel--ostensibly a nonpartisan body--to former President Bush regarding the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" on certain detainees.

I have two observations:

-- First of all, I'd like to ask: does anybody doubt that the release of these memos has made us more susceptible to terrorists?

I ask for a couple reasons. For starters, there was NOTHING that the Bushies could do regarding what was termed the War on Terror that did not draw immediate cries from the left that the policy/practice/event in fact just made the U.S. less safe because the act was so boneheaded that the recruiting stations for these terrorists movements were just flooded with new people eager to take the fight to America. . .or something like that. Now I know what Obama meant to do with releasing these memos--or at least I know one part of his intentions--but you can't tell me that in these areas where terrorist recruiting happens that the talking points from these memos is something other than "America tortures us after all!" And that, my friends, is a message that can really make people hate us. Perhaps Obama thinks he controls the conversation throughout the world, but just because he says "we're different now" doesn't mean that those words are relayed hand-in-hand with the part about the torture. I have a funny feeling that these memos are not changing the views of America in the places of the world that are really concerning to our counter-terrorism guys. . .

Secondly, and most importantly, I can't help but think that we have just about killed any need for the bad guys to compartmentalize the information in their plots--and that is baaaaad news. One of the most omnipresent concerns of anybody participating in an underground activity such as a terrorist attack is the need to limit information given to participants to a "need to know" basis--that way, if one person gets discovered, the whole event is NOT NECESSARILY compromised. The need to compartmentalize information about the operation among the participants puts self-imposed barriers on internal communication, which serves to slow down implementation and helps introduce uncertainty into the operation--both of which serve as possible "opportunities" for counter-terrorist activities to get a sniff of something amiss. But now. . .well, I doubt any "believer" is honestly fearful of giving away the goods if captured before the individual d-day, which means that there is no more need for compartmentalization. It was one thing when there was a public "conversation" about our treatment of detainees--there were still doubts about how far an interrogation might go, and whether all situations were covered in the talks, etc. But those days are long gone. Now, not only is the former playbook out there in black and white for everybody to see, but we also know that those techniques employed in the past are hasta la bye bye as well. In other words, there is NO REASON to fear that the capture of one operative in a plan will necessarily lead to the roll-up of the operation. As long as the evidence found as part of an arrest doesn't lead investigators to the rest of the team. . .well, that team is still operative. So the bad guys now have less incentive to compartmentalize information, which means more rapid hatching of plans with fewer opportunities (primarily time) for counter-terrorism teams to develop information. Add in the fact that more bad guys will have to be found AND DEVELOPED as sources of information. . .and you have a really, really tough job ahead to stop potential attacks in this country. I'm glad,at least, that the bad guys have to find a way to breach our fortress-like borders before they can attack us. . .wait, what's that you say?

-- It has been written other places, so this is not original, but that won't keep me from echoing the thought: I would be ALL ABOUT the release of these memos if that action begat an HONEST conversation regarding the protection of U.S. citizens. Is the job of the government to protect its citizens from a looming terrorist attack at all costs? Or are there limits regarding the measures the government should take in the name of protecting Americans? Alas, that honest conversation will not happen right now--which is too bad, because the talk is long overdue.

I just hope that those who think the US is "better" than needing to use every tool in the toolbox--even the dirty, rusty tools--aren't forced to wake up one day wondering "what if?"


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