October 23, 2011
October 23, 2011
This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.
Unfortunately for him and for Libya, Muammar al-Qaddafi betrayed his own revolution, just as the other Arab strongmen of his generation had. His death marks the end of the rule of these old-style nationalist leaders.
In March 2008, Muammar al-Qaddafi took the podium at an Arab League summit in Damascus to deliver one of his famously long-winded and rambling speeches. Halfway through, he issued a prophetic warning, berating the assembled heads of state for acquiescing to the overthrow and subsequent execution of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. “A foreign power occupies an Arab country and hangs its leader while we all stand watching and laughing,” Qaddafi thundered. “Your turn is coming soon!”
The audience broke into laughter. As television cameras pannedacross the room, the summit’s host, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, chuckled. Qaddafi continued, undeterred: “Even you, the friends of America. No, I will say we — we, the friends of America. America might approve of our hanging one day.” There was more laughter.
They are not laughing now. Qaddafi was the last of the old-style Arab nationalist strongmen, and his death on Thursday marks the end of an era. His contemporaries were the likes of Saddam and of Assad’s father and predecessor, Hafez al-Assad — military men from poor families and hardscrabble towns who fought their way to the top, riding the wave of revolutionary sentiment that swept the Middle East in the 1960s and 1970s. Their inspiration was Egypt’s charismatic military officer, Gamal Abdel Nasser, who overthrew the British-backed King Farouk in 1952. Nasser’s rousing speeches, heard across the region via the newly invented transistor radio, kindled visions of Arab unity. It was a time of upheaval, in which the merchant and feudal elites — the allies of the old European colonial powers — were losing their grip. At first, Saddam, Qaddafi, and Assad seemed to embody a promising new era of populist reform.
Arab nationalism began to wane after the humiliating Arab defeat in the 1967 war with Israel, which left many Arabs feeling betrayed by their leaders. With Nasser’s death three years later, the great hope of Arab unity was extinguished. Citizens figured out that their heroes had turned into corrupt, authoritarian despots who suppressed any opposition, executed their critics, and squandered national resources. By the 1980s, Islamist movements were gaining ground across the region, buoyed by Iran’s Islamic Revolution and the jihad against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Arab societies turned more conservative, and Islamic movements dislodged pan-Arab and secular parties, exerting significant influence over cultural and personal life. In an effort to crush any challenge to their authority, the region’s autocrats built elaborate security apparatuses aimed at both Islamists and secular opponents. The Arab liberation movement would end in betrayal, exile, and carnage.
Now, one by one, the strongmen have begun to teeter and fall. A new generation of revolutionaries has fostered a revitalized sense of pan-Arab identity united around demands for broad political and social rights. As the protests that began in Tunisia have spread to Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, and Syria, each uprising has been inspired by the others. A vanguard of civilian leaders is beginning to emerge from the revolts, and although they draw on some of the old Arab nationalist doctrines, such as anticolonial rhetoric and resistance to Israel, they are well aware of the failures of Qaddafi’s generation.
At the height of Arab nationalist and pan-Arab fervor, leaders such as Nasser sought to mobilize political support across borders by appealing to the idea that Arabs are bound by a common language, culture, history, and political identity. Today’s revolutionaries are using similar rhetoric in their struggle against authoritarianism. It is no accident that the crowds in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, and elsewhere have been largely peaceful and repeat the same Arabic slogan: Al-shaab yurid isqat al-nizam (“The people want the fall of the regime”). Arabs are inspired by one another’s methods and goals, and they no longer accept a social contract in which they effectively make peace with government repression, arbitrary laws, state-run media and censorship, and single-party rule, in exchange for security and stability. Instead, they demand justice, freedom, and dignity. “The people should not fear their government. Governments should fear their people,” read a popular placard in Cairo’s Tahrir Square earlier this year.
The current Arab revolutions are different from those of the mid-twentieth century in one crucial way: They are not top-down movements like those that brought the autocrats to power. They are not being led or instigated by military men or charismatic figures. The age of the Arab strongmen is over, and although it remains unclear who or what will ultimately take their place, today’s revolutionaries are redefining Arab nationalism by making it more populist and grassroots.
The Arab rebels of today should examine Qaddafi’s legacy and avoid the pitfalls of the old nationalist movements. When Qaddafi rose to power, he personified Arab rejection of the vestiges of colonial rule. The son of a young Bedouin couple, he was raised near the desert settlement of Sirte. In his teenage years, even before enrolling in the Libyan military academy at the age of 19, he listened to Cairo Radio’s program “The Voice of the Arabs” and memorized Nasser’s speeches. In 1969, the Egyptian leader’s anti-imperialist rhetoric impelled Qaddafi, then a 27-year-old captain, to lead a coup against King Idris, who had handed over Libya’s newly discovered oil riches to Western companies that shared little of the wealth…
October 23, 2011
Many decades ago I spent what seemed like a great deal of time under a scorching sun, watching groups of sweaty soldiers as they solved a problem. I was doing my national service in the Israeli Army at the time. I had completed an undergraduate degree in psychology, and after a year as an infantry officer, I was assigned to the army’s Psychology Branch, where one of my occasional duties was to help evaluate candidates for officer training. We used methods that were developed by the British Army in World War II.
One test, called the leaderless group challenge, was conducted on an obstacle field. Eight candidates, strangers to one another, with all insignia of rank removed and only numbered tags to identify them, were instructed to lift a long log from the ground and haul it to a wall about six feet high. There, they were told that the entire group had to get to the other side of the wall without the log touching either the ground or the wall, and without anyone touching the wall. If any of these things happened, they were to acknowledge it and start again.
A common solution was for several men to reach the other side by crawling along the log as the other men held it up at an angle, like a giant fishing rod. Then one man would climb onto another’s shoulder and tip the log to the far side. The last two men would then have to jump up at the log, now suspended from the other side by those who had made it over, shinny their way along its length and then leap down safely once they crossed the wall. Failure was common at this point, which required starting over.
As a colleague and I monitored the exercise, we made note of who took charge, who tried to lead but was rebuffed, how much each soldier contributed to the group effort. We saw who seemed to be stubborn, submissive, arrogant, patient, hot-tempered, persistent or a quitter. We sometimes saw competitive spite when someone whose idea had been rejected by the group no longer worked very hard. And we saw reactions to crisis: who berated a comrade whose mistake caused the whole group to fail, who stepped forward to lead when the exhausted team had to start over. Under the stress of the event, we felt, each man’s true nature revealed itself in sharp relief.
After watching the candidates go through several such tests, we had to summarize our impressions of the soldiers’ leadership abilities with a grade and determine who would be eligible for officer training. We spent some time discussing each case and reviewing our impressions. The task was not difficult, because we had already seen each of these soldiers’ leadership skills. Some of the men looked like strong leaders, others seemed like wimps or arrogant fools, others mediocre but not hopeless. Quite a few appeared to be so weak that we ruled them out as officer candidates. When our multiple observations of each candidate converged on a coherent picture, we were completely confident in our evaluations and believed that what we saw pointed directly to the future. The soldier who took over when the group was in trouble and led the team over the wall was a leader at that moment. The obvious best guess about how he would do in training, or in combat, was that he would be as effective as he had been at the wall. Any other prediction seemed inconsistent with what we saw.
Because our impressions of how well each soldier performed were generally coherent and clear, our formal predictions were just as definite. We rarely experienced doubt or conflicting impressions. We were quite willing to declare: “This one will never make it,” “That fellow is rather mediocre, but should do O.K.” or “He will be a star.” We felt no need to question our forecasts, moderate them or equivocate. If challenged, however, we were fully prepared to admit, “But of course anything could happen.”
We were willing to make that admission because, as it turned out, despite our certainty about the potential of individual candidates, our forecasts were largely useless. The evidence was overwhelming. Every few months we had a feedback session in which we could compare our evaluations of future cadets with the judgments of their commanders at the officer-training school. The story was always the same: our ability to predict performance at the school was negligible. Our forecasts were better than blind guesses, but not by much.
We were downcast for a while after receiving the discouraging news. But this was the army. Useful or not, there was a routine to be followed, and there were orders to be obeyed. Another batch of candidates would arrive the next day. We took them to the obstacle field, we faced them with the wall, they lifted the log and within a few minutes we saw their true natures revealed, as clearly as ever. The dismal truth about the quality of our predictions had no effect whatsoever on how we evaluated new candidates and very little effect on the confidence we had in our judgments and predictions.
I thought that what was happening to us was remarkable. The statistical evidence of our failure should have shaken our confidence in our judgments of particular candidates, but it did not. It should also have caused us to moderate our predictions, but it did not. We knew as a general fact that our predictions were little better than random guesses, but we continued to feel and act as if each particular prediction was valid. I was reminded of visual illusions, which remain compelling even when you know that what you see is false. I was so struck by the analogy that I coined a term for our experience: the illusion of validity.
I had discovered my first cognitive fallacy….
Spying Online: ‘Even if the war on terrorism ends, the surveillance infrastructure it spawned is likely to remain in place for decades’
October 23, 2011
Back in the day, when bad guys used telephones, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies would listen in with wiretaps. As long as phone companies cooperated—and they had to, by law—it was a relatively straightforward process. The Internet, however, separated providers of communications services—Skype, Facebook, Gmail—from those running the underlying infrastructure. Thus, even if the FBI obtains a suspect’s traffic data from their Internet service provider (ISP)—Comcast, Verizon, etc.—it may be difficult to make sense of it, especially if the suspect has been using encrypted services. This loophole has not been lost on child pornographers, drug traffickers, terrorists, and others who prize secret communications.
To catch up with the new technologies of malfeasance, FBI director Robert Mueller traveled to Silicon Valley last November to persuade technology companies to build “backdoors” into their products. If Mueller’s wish were granted, the FBI would gain undetected real-time access to suspects’ Skype calls, Facebook chats, and other online communications—and in “clear text,” the industry lingo for unencrypted data. Backdoors, in other words, would make the Internet—and especially its burgeoning social media sector—“wiretappable.”
The FBI’s plans have left civil libertarians and privacy advocates worried. The backdoors, they say, would make surveillance too easy and might result in over-collection of personal data. Companies in Silicon Valley are worried, too. Complying with demands for backdoors, they say, is costly, thus burdensome for startups, thus a limit on innovation.
Thoughtful proponents of backdoors acknowledge these concerns, but argue that security may trump the value of privacy and innovation. Strong bipartisan congressional support for renewing the surveillance-enabling Patriot Act suggests those proponents might have powerful allies.
But do backdoors actually boost security? Susan Landau, formerly an engineer with Sun Microsystems, thinks not. In her new book, Surveillance or Security?, she argues that Mueller’s plan actually would create greater insecurity. While she agrees that law enforcement agents may have a legitimate need to listen to some electronic communications, she believe backdoors are the wrong strategy, and law enforcement should instead explore opportunities for surveillance afforded by cell phones and social networking.
But in the end, the issue may be moot: backdoors and sophisticated new surveillance tools may both be unnecessary for the purposes of acquiring information. By routinely giving away a huge amount of personal data, everyday Internet users might already have become law enforcement’s greatest ally.
Before the Internet, wiretappers had a few options with obvious tradeoffs. They could bug the phone itself, tinker with a phone junction box, or work through the telephone company’s central office. The first two options normally require breaking into a suspect’s private space and therefore involve more risks, as the suspect can easily notice the invasion. The third option is harder for a suspect to detect, but usually demands active cooperation from phone companies.
Innovations such as call forwarding and caller ID—as well as the spread of fiber-optic cables, wireless connections, and computer-controlled telephone exchanges—presented eavesdroppers with new challenges. With call forwarding, for example, suspects can evade wiretaps by redirecting calls to an untapped number. By the mid-1980s federal agencies had good reasons to worry that technological advances were outstripping their ability to conduct investigations.
These concerns led to the passage of the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) in 1994. CALEA requires that telecommunications carriers and equipment manufacturers assist federal agencies by building remote surveillance capabilities into their devices, infrastructure, and services—i.e., making them wiretappable. But Congress, realizing that this could strangle innovation in the nascent online sector, exempted providers of “information services.” The exemption, however, was too general, never spelling out how to deal with hybrid services such as Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, of which Skype is a notable example. VoIP is functionally similar to telephony because it enables distant parties to talk to each other. But VoIP services rely on Internet infrastructure and may be considered a kind of information service.
Even if the war on terrorism ends, the surveillance infrastructure it spawned is likely to remain in place for decades…