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a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Some issues I’m wondering about

Posted by Thomas Nephew on September 30th, 2001

* If we can’t use Saudi air bases for this fight, why not pull out of them? I realize they may serve as bases against Iraqi aggression, but if that happens, we could just fly back in, assuming the Saudis don’t crumble immediately. In the meantime, it looks like a win-win-win move: we have one less thing for Bin Laden to be mad about, the Saudis have one less thing for Bin Laden to be mad about, and Bin Laden has one less thing he feels he should be mad about (in what I hope is the very short lifespan remaining to him).

* I wonder about the Iraq grievance expressed by many in the Left. My impression is that the embargo explicitly allows for sufficient food and medicine to be imported by Iraq, and Hussein is simply starving his own people for political gain.

* Why not a moon-shot type of push for development and distribution of vaccines against germ-warfare microbes like anthrax, smallpox, etcetera? We could share the project with Europe, Japan, Russia, China, and whoever else wants in, but limit the number of laboratories involved to a highly secure few, and set up on-demand monitoring protocols by anyone including Saddam Hussein, so that trust in the project becomes possible. Make open, unannounced-inspection-participation in this the only legitimate reason for having stocks of these microbes/viruses, and the only way to get the vaccines. Make discovery of illegitimate stocks cause for an immediate state of war with the offending nation or party by all signatories.

I’m a lot more worried about this than an accidental missile launch, the only halfway reasonable reason to support missile defense. I’m also aware of the U.S.’s fairly shameful recent record on the diplomatic front regarding biological warfare. We must do better now.

* What are sensible reactions to the September 11 attacks in terms of privacy? I would support, or at least consider, measures like these:

1) make it either a criminal offense, or at least automatic probable cause for search warrants and/or surveillance, to use encryptions without keys known to US/world law enforcement agencies. Install “Carnivore”-like systems to monitor and randomly test e-mails and file transfers and TCP/IP communications in general for compliance with this international convention, as a condition of participation of an Internet server in the Internet, or at least of access to key international and United States “fat pipes”. I am admittedly unclear on the technology of this, but am not willing to cede the discussion to “slash-dot” types who seem to see an inalienable right in every new technology or communications protocol that comes along. Thus, ditto for unapproved and/or unmonitorable file-sharing software such as Gnutella, and for steganography (concealing messages in graphics).

A general “pro” argument is: these means of communications exist at the discretion of the public, for the benefit of the public. Abuses of them for criminal ends should be prevented; if there are no feasible means for this other than sampling Internet traffic, so be it. People can always write a letter, make a phone call, or visit in person and attempt to evade surveillance while doing so. Broadly, the question is: should anyone have access to “unsurveillable” means of communication? Is this truly some kind of inalienable right?

2) lower standards of privacy for non US citizens, at least for future entrants to the U.S.: fingerprints of all foreign visitors to be collected and stored on entry to the US; prison terms for people using a different name than the one connected with their fingerprint-passport. Of course, we would expect similar treatment from other countries.

I feel bad about even considering some of these things, particularly (2), but I would at least like to see some sane discussion of them. The test can’t simply be “this (would/would not) have stopped Atta et al,” although some of it would have at least appreciably slowed them down, and would now help with establishing the “proofs” many want to see. Some kind of heightened “defense” may reduce the need for military/special forces-type “offense” in the long term: the goals of privacy and peace are to some degree at odds, particularly in this struggle, conflict, war, or whatever one chooses to call it.

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