Sunday, February 24, 2013

U.S. Special Forces Out of Wardak Province: My Take

There are quite a few knee jerk reactions a person could make, after reading this headline and the first sentence:
"Karzai orders US special forces out of Afghan province"
BBC News (February 24, 2013)

"The Afghan president has ordered US special forces to leave Wardak province within two weeks over allegations of disappearances and torture.

"The measures were being taken due to the actions of Afghans considered to be part of US special forces, said a spokesman for Hamid Karzai.

"The strategically significant, central province of Wardak has been the recent focus of counter-insurgency operations...."
I've known folks who sincerely support some, ah, colorful views. Depending on what assumptions the individual makes, I might expect reactions like these to the Afghan president's decision:

How dare they! Don't those foreigners know that America is always right?!

It's a CIA plot.

No doubt this is yet one more manifestation of the rampant cultural insensitivity typical of the authoritarian, male-dominated, all-white American power structure.

I think there's a bit of truth to each of those caricatured attitudes: a tiny bit.

Quotations and Conspiracies

Taking those over-simplified assumptions in order:

How dare they!

I'm an American citizen, and know that America is not perfect. Being immersed in the daily blunders and brilliance of this country, we're in a better position to appreciate this than folks living elsewhere. I am convinced that America isn't the cause of the world's problems, either.

It's a CIA plot.

Not everything is a CIA plot. I like good conspiracy theories: in fiction. Assuming that unpleasantness is the result of conspiracies seems dubious, at best. In my youth, a remarkable number of Americans seemed convinced that commie plots were behind everything they didn't like. I get the impression that seeing CIA plots behind every door is more fashionable now, but it's the same attitude.

No doubt....

Like the fellow said:
"A fanatic is one who can't change his mind and won't change the subject."
Sir Winston Churchill, British politician (1874 - 1965), via The Quotations Page
Some folks didn't like shortcomings and outright injustices in the way American society worked, 50 years ago. I was one of them.

America has changed quite a bit in the last half-century. Some of it I think was long-overdue, some was not good. But America has changed. Some folks don't seem to have gotten the memo.

Individuals and Responsibility

"...In a hastily convened news conference, the presidential spokesman said US special forces would have to leave Wardak within the next two weeks.

" 'There are some individuals, some Afghans, who are working within these cells, within these [US] special forces groups' in Wardak province, said spokesman Aimal Faizi.

" 'But they are part of US special forces according to our sources and according to our local officials working in the province,' he said.

"These Afghan units are facing allegations of involvement torture and disappearances, says the BBC's Karen Allen in Kabul. A preliminary investigation also blamed them for beheading a university student in the province.

"Wardak is seen as a gateway for the Taliban to target Kabul, our correspondent adds...."
(BBC News)
I think what presidential spokesperson Aimal Faizi said is important: the issue is what some individuals did. These individuals seem to be Afghan citizens who were working with U.S. special forces. They may have been acting on orders, or they may have been acting as individuals. Either way, what their actions can be seen as being the responsibility of U.S. special forces, and NATO.

I'm not happy about that. At all.

Based on previous events, I'm inclined to believe the BBC's paraphrase of a United States spokesman: that we take "all allegations of misconduct seriously." I've posted about that before.


Some details, like beheading someone, seem more consistent with cultural norms of the region than American foreign policy: but I can hardly expect the Afghan president to acknowledge that, under the circumstances.

I also sympathize with Mr. Karzai, to an extent:
"...Mr Karzai gave a blunt statement for the reasons for the ban.

" 'Our forces ask for air support from foreigners and children get killed in an air strike,' he said."
(BBC News)
I grieve for the families who lost children. On the other hand, I hope that Mr. Karzai and others will remember that the folks trying to overthrow his government seem to enjoy using human shields; and that American weapons technology, like this country, is not perfect.

Related posts:

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Hack Attack: Good News, Bad news, Security, and Freedom

First, the good news. This could have been a lot worse:
"Sophisticated cyber-attack hits Energy Department, China possible suspect" (February 4, 2013)

"The Energy Department has been hit by a major cyber-attack, which resulted in the personal information of several hundred employees being compromised and could have been aimed at obtaining other sensitive information, The Washington Free Beacon reports.

"FBI agents are investigating the attacks, which happened two weeks ago, at the Washington-based headquarters. Fourteen computer servers and 20 workstations reportedly were penetrated during the attack....
It looks like the Energy Department's hack attack is about as serious matter as what happened to Sony Playstation back in 2011. (Apathetic Lemming of the North (April 26, 2011) Individuals were affected, and the organization had a public relations headache: but that's as far as the trouble went.

Apparently hackers got information about Energy Department employees. That could be serious for the individuals involved, if folks who steal identities for fun and profit get it. Identity theft is a real problem, and a bit off-topic for this blog.

Politics, Editorial Views, and Motive

I'm not familiar with the Washington Free Beacon, but understand that it's editorial stance is "conservative." That might explain why the service was interested in posting this article: but doesn't mean that the hack attack didn't happen.

Another Employer's Personnel Files Hacked: So What?

The Energy Department handles information that's a tad more important than usernames and passwords for online games. They're interested in solar energy, wind farms, nuclear weapons, and other energy-related tech. (More at

I don't share the reflexive revulsion toward nuclear weapons, and unquestioning enthusiasm over solar power, expressed by some of my contemporaries. On the other hand, on the whole I'd rather have some technical details of America's nuclear weapons stay where it's supposed to be.

Back to that article:
"...While no classified information was compromised, the Free Beacon reports there are indications the hackers could have been seeking access to such data. Chinese hackers may be suspects, as the department is a known target of Beijing -- according to the Free Beacon, the sophistication of the attack indicates the involvement of a foreign government.

"The department includes the National Nuclear Security Administration, which maintains nuclear weapons.

" 'It's a continuing story of negligence,' former Energy Department security official Ed McCallum told the Free Beacon, explaining that the department continues to have security problems despite controlling some of the most 'sophisticated military and intelligence technology the country owns.'..."
Mr. McCallum might simply be an irate ex-employee, out to make trouble for his former boss, he may be an irate ex-employee who's legitimately concerned about a clueless former boss, or maybe there's another explanation for what he said.

Old-School Skills, Information Age Issues

I think it's quite possible that whoever's making decisions at the Energy Department is well-meaning Washington bureaucrat: who is very good at managing paperwork; diligent in pursuing greater intradepartmental communication; and clueless about the Internet. Folks in top leadership positions tend to be a bit on the old side, and less than familiar with information technology:
Clueless management is funny - in the comics.

In the real world, having a boss who doesn't understand why keeping a network safe from hackers could be a big problem.

Being 'Protected'

I think it would be nice if everybody could share information about anything, and do so without being concerned about anyone's safety. I also think it would be nice if everybody would be nice: but that's not the way the world is.

Reality being what it is, there is a need for secrets: and weapons, and that's almost another topic. Folks who decided to kill several thousand people on September 11, 2001, were not nice. What's happened since strongly indicates that outfits like Al Qaeda and the Taliban are still determined to behave badly.

Sadly, they're not the only ones who threaten the safety of the rest of us.

China isn't the same country it was a half-century back: but its leadership still seems to be unwilling to accept folks whose ideas don't follow the 'party line.' China isn't alone, of course. It's easy to see disagreement as a threat.

I'm concerned about threats from outside America. I'm also concerned about Americans who want to 'protect' us from ideas they don't like. And that is another topic. (March 9, 2008)

Related posts:

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.