Saturday, December 14, 2013

Terry Loewen, Al Qaeda, "Most Muslims," and Assumptions

(From, used w/o permission.)
Terry L. Loewen, 58: aviation technician and would-be Al Qaeda suicide bomber, apparently.

Mr. Loewen wrote that he planned to be "martyred in the path of Allah," and that "most Muslims in this country will condemn what I have done." 1

I don't doubt that he was sincere. I also think that he was right about "most Muslims in this country."

But I'm not surprised that he doesn't "look Muslim."

I've been over this before: quite a few Muslims come from the Middle East, but Islam isn't an ethnic group.

Eventually, all but the most ardently chauvinistic WASP supporters in America may get used to the idea that someone can 'look American' and be a terrorist. Maybe they'll even decide that folks don't have to look English to be American: but I doubt it.

Learning the Right Lesson: Or Not

I'm very glad that Mr Loewen didn't succeed in becoming a "in the path of Allah:" for his sake, and for the sake of everyone else he would have killed.

How and why he made the choices he did may or may not come out as his case goes through the courts.

Based on what's been in the news so far, and depending on what folks assume, we could learn that:
  1. The FBI conspires to hurt innocent Americans
  2. You can't trust white people
  3. Religion kills
  4. All of the above
  5. None of the above
I think "E" is the right answer: but there's a tiny element of truth in "D."

Innocent people have been unjustly accused. Steven Hatfill is a recent, and happily rare, example.

Some white people are untrustworthy. I'd be astounded if any large group of human beings was entirely free of folks who are untrustworthy: or worse. But assuming that a few individuals are typical of a group is not, I think, usually prudent.

Religion of the 'kill a commie for Christ' or 'death to the great Satan America' variety is, in my considered opinion, dangerous. But I think that sort of attitude is often rooted in a desperate desire to preserve a dead or dying culture.

But I think that the FBI often serves a beneficial function, that many folks are trustworthy, that religion isn't necessarily a psychiatric condition: and those are other topics.

My take on:
In the news:

1 Excerpts from the news:
"FBI: Man spent months planning bomb plot at ICT Explosives were fake, U.S. Attorney says"
Adam Knapp,KWCH (December 13, 2013)

"A Wichita man has been arrested and charged in federal court for attempting to blow up Mid-Continent Airport in a suicide bombing Friday.

"Terry Lee Loewen, 58, who worked at the Hawker Beechcraft Services facility at Mid-Continent Airport, is alleged to have spent months developing a plan to use his airport access card to drive a van loaded with explosives to the terminal. He planned to pull the trigger on the explosives himself and die in the explosion, U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom said.

"The explosives were fake, Grissom said....

"...According to an affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint, Loewen:
  • Studied the layout of the airport and took photographs of access points.
  • Researched flight schedules.
  • Assisted in acquiring components for the car bomb.
  • Talked about his commitment to trigger the device and martyr himself.
" 'The threat was real,' said Michael Kaste of the Federal Bureau of Investigations. 'But I assure you, the public was never at any risk at all.'

"Loewen, who is not believed to be involved with any religious affiliation in the Wichita community, was arrested at 5:40 a.m.

"He faces one count of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction against people and property within the United States, one court of attempting to damage property by means of an explosive and one count of attempting to provide material support to Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.

"In a 21-page complaint filed in federal court, documents found that Loewen engaged in an online conversation with an undercover FBI agent to reflect his 'desire to engage in violent jihad on behalf of al Qaeda.'

"Lowen wrote, 'Brothers like Osama bin Laden and Anwar al Awlaki are a great inspiration to me, but I must be willing to give up everything (like they did) to truly feel like a obedient slave of Allah.' He went on to say 'I MUST be active in some kind of jihad to fell I'm doing something proactive for the Ummah.'

"In October, Loewen sent numerous photographs of his airport access badge, entrance gates to the tarmac and devices used to access the gates. He told the undercover agent he felt a morning attack at the airport would be best....

"...Loewen and the undercover agent met at a Wichita hotel Friday morning, drove to the location of where the bomb was being stored, the complaint read. The two arrived at Mid-Continent Airport at 5:40 a.m., where Loewen was arrested after two attempts at opening the gate to the tarmac.

"In a letter to family members dated December 11, 2013, Loewen said,
" 'By the time you read this I will - if everything went as planned - have been martyred in the path of Allah. There will have been an event at the airport which I am responsible for. The operation was timed to cause maximum carnage + death. My only explaination is that I believe in jihad for that sake of Allah + for the sake of my Muslim brothers +sisters. Fact is, most Muslims in this country will condemn what I have done. I expect to be called a terrorist (which I am), a psychopath, and a homicidal maniac.' "
"Loewen made his first appearance in federal court on terrorism charges at 3 p.m. U.S. attorneys will present the case to a grand jury for indictment next Wednesday....

"...Beechcraft released a statement saying Loewen is suspended from employment pending the outcome of the investigation...."

"Arrest made in attempt to bomb Wichita airport, FBI says"
Edmund DeMarche, (December 13, 2013)

"A Kansas man who authorities say in the past made threats to engage in violent jihad against the U.S. was charged Friday for allegedly plotting to detonate a car bomb at the Wichita Mid-Continent Airport.

"Terry L. Loewen, 58, an aviation technician who FBI agents say was inspired by Usama bin Laden, spent months planning the attack and was intent on using his employee access card to drive the vehicle loaded with explosives to a terminal, Barry Grissom, the U.S. Attorney for the district of Kansas, said, citing the criminal complaint. Loewen planned on dying in the explosion as a martyr, Grissom said.

"The complaint says an undercover FBI employee told Loewen about a recent trip overseas and a meeting with members of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. This agent told Loewen that 'brothers' were interested in his airport access, and asked if he'd be willing to plant 'some type of device,' the complaint said.

"Loewen allegedly responded, 'Am I interested? Yes. I still need time to think about it, but I can't imagine anything short of arrest stopping me.' The U.S. citizen allegedly wrote to the FBI agent that he was inspired by Usama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki.

"He was arrested at 5:30 a.m. without incident while trying to gain access to a tarmac, Grissom said. At the time, his access card did not work and he was with the vehicle he allegedly believed was filled with explosives.

"Authorities said there was never a bomb that could explode and the public was not in danger.

"Loewen has been under investigation by the Wichita Joint Terrorism Task Force since early summer 2013. It is alleged that in the past he has made statements that he was resolved to commit an act of violent jihad.

"The affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint alleges that Loewen studied the airport's layout, researched flight schedules, assisted in acquiring car bomb components and talked about sacrificing his own life in the attack....

"...His wife and attorney declined comment after the hearing....

"...Authorities said they believe Loewen acted alone. No other arrests are expected...."

Sunday, December 1, 2013

"Displaced Aggression:" Terrorism, Culture, and Assumptions

This isn't, as I've said before, a "political" blog.

I don't claim that a particular party or person is always right, or wrong; or believe that major problems are always the result of commie plots, capitalistic greed, or what the 'other' party is doing.

That doesn't make me "moderate." I have a well-defined point of view, and definite opinions. I try to limit my opinions to matters where I have at least some data to work with.

Looking for Reasons

I've run into folks who don't seem to have any doubts about why terrorism is a problem. Depending on who you ask, it's the fault of Muslims, American imperialism, news media, religion in general, or not having the 'right' party in Congress. That's overly-simplified, of course, and doesn't include all possibilities.

I don't think it's quite that simple. Anything having to do with human beings isn't, generally.

I do think that some Muslims are terrorists. So are some Christians, and folks with no particularly strong religious views. That doesn't mean that religion makes people want to kill other people: or that having religious beliefs keeps folks from acting badly.

Sadly, angry people seem to want reasons for being angry: other than what's actually frustrating them. Religion, national identity, economic status, and ancestry can be convenient canvases for folks desperately in need of a 'big picture' for their feelings. My opinion.

Folks who still yearn for a worker's paradise, or who sincerely believe that American corporations are responsible for the world's woes are a familiar part of America's cultural landscape. I don't think they are potential terrorists - - - but I'm getting ahead of myself.

This excerpt from a CNN talk show got me started on today's post:

"I think there is a real displaced aggression in this very fundamentalist, jihadist, Islamic community. And that is that the west is responsible for everything that goes wrong, and that the only thing that's going to solve this is Islamic Sharia law and the concept of the caliphate.

"And I see more groups, more fundamentalists, more jihadists more determined to kill to get to where they want to get. So, it's not an isolated phenomenon. You see these groups spread a web of connections. And this includes North Africa, it includes the Middle East, it includes other areas as well."
("Feinstein: 'Terror is up worldwide'," CNN's State of the Union with Candy Crowley transcript, CNN (December 1, 2013))

"Fundamentalists:" Accurate, But - - -

I don't like Feinstein's use of "fundamentalists" in this context. I think she's right, in the strictly dictionary meaning of the word fundamentalist: but in American culture that term can also refer to any Christian group or individual.

There are Christian fundamentalists, but not all Christians in America are fundamentalists. I'm Catholic, which by some Christian fundamentalist standards means that I'm not any sort of Christian, and that's not quite another topic. I've put links to posts in this and another blog near the end of this one, which may or may not be of interest.

Wrenching myself back to Feinstein, fundamentalists, and folks who kill other folks for 'religious' reasons -

Sincere, Maybe: Justified, No

I think many, but not all, of today's terrorists are folks who really believe that God wants them to kill 'unbelievers.' Many of these terrorists insist that they're the only true Muslims around: and are more likely to kill their neighbors for being insufficiently Islamic, than go to the trouble of killing Westerners.

Folks in Europe and on this side of the Atlantic aren't safe, as deaths before, during, and after 9/11 showed. That's partly because we live in a world where travel is fairly easy: and because an increasing number of folks in America are not WASPs and WASP wannabes.

This most certainly does not mean that I think America should repeat the grotesque mistake of rounding folks up for having the 'wrong' ancestors. I think I understand why FDR signed Public Law 100-383. I also think it was a mistake that took much too long to sort out.

Making 'looking like an Arab' an acceptable excuse for detaining someone makes as much sense as rounding up all the pale people in Oklahoma City, after the bombing. The folks who blew up the Alfred Murrah building apparently had ethnic and nationalistic motives: which doesn't make having European ancestors and living in America grounds for suspicion of terrorist tendencies.

Dealing With Difference

The Ku Klux Klan isn't the social and political force it once was in America, but a burning cross still occasionally shows up on the news. I think some iterations of the KKK are a useful example of how folks can use religion as a reason for hating outsiders.

That's more an indictment of human nature, I think, than a reason to distrust all spiritual beliefs.

Here's a sampling of how different folks express their religious beliefs:

From ''Klansmen: Guardians of Liberty'', 1926. Published by the Pillar of Fire Church in Zarephath, NJ. Copyright was not renewed.
(Pillar of Fire Church, via Wikipedia, used w/o permission)
"From ''Klansmen: Guardians of Liberty'', 1926. Published by the Pillar of Fire Church in Zarephath, NJ...."

New York, NY, September 28, 2001 -- A view of the recovery operation underway from a roof adjacent to the World Trade Center. Photo by Andrea Booher/ FEMA News Photo
(Andrea Booher/ FEMA News Photo, via Wikipedia, used w/o permission)
"...A view of the recovery operation underway from a roof adjacent to the World Trade Center. Photo by Andrea Booher/ FEMA News Photo." (September 28, 2001)

(From "The Pope and Children" (January 6, 2003), used w/o permission)
Some Catholic, carrying out standing orders: Matthew 25:31-46.

From the Days of Abram to Cable TV and Beer in One Generation

I've had personal experience with Christians who didn't distinguish between personal preference, cultural mores, and eternal principles. Folks who sincerely believe that God ordained that folks always act like the American middle class of the 1950s are more funny than dangerous: because they're not likely to kill you.

Other folks, equally convinced that God ordained that everyone should act they way they did in some village before they had Internet and cable: they don't always have inhibitions about enforcing their beliefs with an axe or a sword.

I'm strongly inclined to believe that we're looking at cultural values here, since many Muslims in places like Malaysia seem to have little trouble fitting into a global society. I doubt that every Muslim in Malaysia thinks the Petronas Towers were a good idea: but quite a few Americans of various beliefs are grumpy, too.

I do not think that feeling bad made it okay for white supremacists to kill people in Oklahoma City, any more than I think it's okay for folks to kill Americans because they miss the 'good old days.' I do think that we need to remember that some folks sincerely believe that killing others for being different.

Terrorists, whatever their motivation, are a real threat. Forgetting that, and 'defending' America against efforts to stop terrorists, is a bad idea.

So is forgetting that disagreeing with the government is not treason, too: and I've written about that before.

Related posts:

1 Excerpts from CNN's State of the Union with Candy Crowley transcript
"The big question that's always asked, are we safer now than we were a year ago, two years ago? In general?"

"I don't think so. I think terror is up worldwide, the statistics indicate that, the fatalities are way up. The numbers are way up. There are new bombs, very big bombs, trucks being reinforced for those bombs. There are bombs that go through magnatometers. The bomb maker is still alive. There are more groups that ever and there's huge malevolence out there."

"So congressman, I have to say, that is not the answer I expected. I expected to hear, oh, we're safer. Do you agree?"

"Oh, I absolutely agree that we're not safer today for the same very reasons.

"So the pressure on our intelligence services to get it right to prevent an attack are enormous. And it's getting more difficult because we see the al Qaeda as we knew it before is metastasizing to something different, more affiliates than we've ever had before, meaning more groups that operated independently of al Qaeda have now joined al Qaeda around the world, all of them have at least some aspiration to commit an act of violence in the United States or against western targets all around the world.

"They've now switched to this notion that maybe smaller events are okay. So if you have more smaller events than bigger events, they think that might still lead to their objectives and their goals. That makes it exponentially harder for our intelligence services to stop an event like that."


"So, one of the things that the senator said was that there is more hatred out there, more - and why is that?"

"I think there is a real displaced aggression in this very fundamentalist, jihadist, Islamic community. And that is that the west is responsible for everything that goes wrong, and that the only thing that's going to solve this is Islamic Sharia law and the concept of the caliphate.

"And I see more groups, more fundamentalists, more jihadists more determined to kill to get to where they want to get. So, it's not an isolated phenomenon. You see these groups spread a web of connections. And this includes North Africa, it includes the Middle East, it includes other areas as well."

"Lots of times we look at kind of some of these splinter groups going, yeah, but their interest is local."

"And here's the - but here's the concern of that. Now, remember, you have somewhere near 25 states that have some failed level of governance, meaning they can't secure large spaces of their own country. Those are always attractive for safe havens when it comes to any terrorist organization. And we're finding they're taking advantage of that.

"So you see what's happening in a place like Syria where you have a pooling of al Qaeda members and affiliates of al Qaeda in a way we've never seen before at the level of numbers that we have never seen before, and here's the scary part of this, some thousands of people showing up to participate in that in their mind jihadist effort are westerners, meaning they have western passports.

"A percentage of them have already gone home, including the United States, by the way, is included in that western number. We are very, very concerned that these folks who have western paper have gone there, participated in combat events, are trained, are further radicalized, now have the ability to go back in western countries.

"We know that those–"

("Feinstein: 'Terror is up worldwide'," CNN's State of the Union with Candy Crowley transcript, CNN (December 1, 2013))

Kiev Police: When Crowd Control Goes Horribly Wrong

First, the good news: The Kiev chief of police seems to realize that storming a camp of protestors doesn't make his troops look good.

Not-so-good news: folks who want Ukraine's government to sign an agreement with the European Union and hold elections got attacked by police in Kiev. That's their version. The chief of police says that the protestors started it. Maybe he's right, maybe not.

More good news: Ukraine's Viktor Yanukovych, the country's current leader, says that he's "deeply outraged" by what Kiev police did. It's probably the only sensible thing he could say at this point: but political leaders don't always act sensibly.

The War on Terror: Accepting the 21st Century, or Not

In a way, Saturday's attack has very little to do with the war on terror.

As far as I can tell, Saturday's attack by Kievan police has nothing to do with Islamic extremists, or religion of any sort.

Nobody seems to have used car bombs, yelled "down with the Great Satan America," or sent anthrax through the mail.

However, I think the incident illustrates the sort of conflict we call the war on terror.

On the one hand, we have folks who seem to like the 21st century and think their country should get involved in current international affairs.

On the other are folks who might reasonably be expected to like things pretty much the way they were in the 'good old days.'

Control and Change

For some in Ukraine, that would be before the Soviet Union unraveled in 1991; for others, before 2004. That's when reformers forced a reasonable facsimile of an honest election down the throats of Ukraine's rulers.

For folks who like the status quo, particularly those who have had unquestioned control over the lives of others, this is not a pleasant era. Change is always happening, but we're in a time of great and rapid change.

I like it this way, but as I said: many don't; and some are willing to kill, rather than give up control.

Sunday in Kiev

Folks who want change in Ukraine are planning a very large public demonstration in Kiev today. They'll probably attract more people to their demonstration, and support around the world: thanks, I strongly suspect, in large part to the daft actions of Kiev police Saturday.

In the news:
More about Ukraine:
Somewhat-related posts:

Friday, October 4, 2013

Washington DC: Evacuations, Pursuit, Death, and Assumptions

(From New York Magazine, used w/o permission.)
Miriam Carey, deceased.

Life, Death, and Opinions

A woman driving a car in Washington DC yesterday caused alarm by apparently attempting to run a barricade near one of the major buildings.

This action prompted a variety of security and law enforcement measures, including evacuation of some areas and pursuit of the vehicle which triggered the alert.

The car's driver, a woman, refused to stop for police and fled. At least two police officers were injured in pursuit of this vehicle. Police later shot and killed the driver. She did not have a firearm in her possission. A baby was found in the car and removed to a safe location.

That's what I'd heard and read in news reports as of early this morning. There was a great deal more, mostly about how folks felt about the situation: which I found interesting but not particularly informative.

This morning, someone drew my attention to an op-ed about Miriam Carey's death.

The op-ed told the story of a defenseless woman, confused by a big city and traffic. The writer went on to describe how she innocently encountered a barricade and was needlessly "surrounded by multiple police vehicles" and men with guns.

In a manner reminiscent of the heroine in an old-time melodrama, the woman fled in a panic-stricken effort to save her baby. Then the bad men shot her.

Dealing with Reality

I am sorry that Miriam Carey is dead.

I think it's possible that some folks driving in Washington DC may be unaccustomed to urban traffic. Some may even be unaware of events in 2001 which led to some of today's inconveniences, and encouraged authorities to take apparent attacks seriously. But my guess is that very few manage to trigger evacuations and injure law enforcement officials in a pursuit.

The account may be true, although the reporter was apparently able to interview a dead person.

Or the account may more accurately reflect the reporter's default assumptions.

I'm more inclined to believe the latter: particularly since it seems to reflect a belief that all police are evil oppressors.

Obama and a Dental Hygienist

Apparently Miriam Carey was justified in her actions yesterday: from her point of view.

From my point of view, this is sad:
"Miriam Carey Thought Obama Was Watching Her"
Joe Coscarelli, New York Magazine (October 4, 2013)

"The woman killed by police in Washington, D.C. yesterday following a car chase from the White House to the U.S. Capitol underwent a mental-health evaluation last year, CBS reports. As previously noted, 34-year-old Miriam Carey was believed to be suffering from post-partum depression. Her boyfriend contacted police about her condition in December, when she told officers in Connecticut 'that she was a prophet, that President Obama would place the city of Stamford under a "lockdown," and that he had her and her residence under electronic surveillance.'

"Despite the incident, she was not known to the Secret Service before yesterday, according to CBS.

"CNN reports that investigators found the schizophrenia and bipolar medication Risperidone at Carey's Stamford apartment, as well as the antidepressant Escitalopram and 'a letter addressed to the boyfriend ... [that] appeared to contain white powder.'..."
I don't know what Connecticut law enforcement policy is for dealing with folks who say that they're a prophet. Maybe they should tell the Secret Service about everyone who makes similar claims, or warns of coming government oppression. Then again, maybe not.

As for the "white powder," I'm pretty sure that someone will grab that factoid and spin a tale of conspiracy and bioterrorism. At this point, I think it's white powder: and that's all I know.

Mental Illness, an Inquiry, and Assumptions

I'd be surprised if folks in law enforcement didn't start an inquiry after an incident like yesterday's. There were too many loose ends: why did the woman try to get around White House security; is the dead woman actually Miriam Carey; could this incident have been avoided?

Unlike the 'victim of bad men' op-ed, this BBC News piece sticks fairly close to facts and reasonable speculation.
"US police launch inquiry after deadly car chase"
BBC News (October 4, 2013)

"An investigation is under way after a police chase through the heart of Washington DC ended with an unarmed woman shot dead and two officers hurt.

"The woman identified as Miriam Carey of Stamford, Connecticut, had a one-year-old girl in the car. She was unharmed.

"Authorities have searched a home in Stamford believed to be Ms Carey's.

"On Thursday, her car attempted to bypass a security gate at the White House, and police opened fire as she sped off towards Capitol Hill.

"'Mental illness'

"Ms Carey, a 34-year-old dental hygienist, was said to have suffered mental illness in recent months.

"Law enforcement officials suggested the incident may have stemmed from a delusional obsession with US President Barack Obama and a belief he was stalking her, local media reported.

"Chief Jonathan Fontneau of the Stamford police said that officers had been called to her home there 'at least once' but that she had no criminal background...."
The BBC also mentions that Miriam Carey was driving a black Infiniti sedan. Interestingly, I haven't run into an impassioned plea that black cars, sedans, or Nissan's Infiniti, be more heavily regulated: or banned outright.

On a more serious note, I think that people do things using technology; not that technology makes people do things. And that's another topic.

Related posts:

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Washington Navy Shipyard: Death, Security, and Voices

What happened at the Washington Navy Shipyard yesterday morning is starting to look less like a terrorist attack, and more like what the CDC calls workplace violence:
  • "Occupational Violence"
    Workplace Safety & Health Topics;
    The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH);
    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
After killing a dozen people, Aaron Alexis was killed in a confrontation with authorities. Families are mourning their dead, law enforcement and national security outfits are working at sorting out what happened and why, and journalists are cranking out copy for news services.1

News and Views

I don't have a boss and a deadline, for which I'm duly grateful. I suspect that many reporters aren't as daft as their work suggests.

When your job depends on submitting a fixed number of words in less than enough time, researching a story could be difficult. Add to that the knowledge that editors expect to see 'proof' that whatever happened supports their preferred reality: I'm glad I'm not a journalist.

Happily, we no longer depend on old-school information gatekeepers. And that's another topic. (August 14, 2009)

I won't pretend to be "unbiased" in the sense of having underlying set of assumptions about reality. I do, however, try to distinguish between facts and assumptions. More topics.

He Heard Voices

It's possible that someone used Aaron Alexis, exploiting his reported mental problems. The Associated Press says he'd been treated for paranoia, had trouble sleeping and heard voices in his head. Someone like that could be encouraged to act against his own best interests.

Someone may be trying to convince others that Aaron Alexis was sent by the CIA, Big Oil, Al Qaeda, or lizard men. I don't think so, but I'm one of those folks who enjoy conspiracy theories in fiction: not as a basis for public policy

Applying Occam's Razor, I think it's much more likely that Aaron Alexis acted alone.

On the other hand, I hope that investigators are looking very carefully at Mr. Alexis' life, particularly the last few years. I don't think lizard men are behind those deaths: but as I said, someone could have used Aaron Alexis as a weapon.


Aaron Alexis almost certainly got into one building using an employee pass, but had to shoot his way into another. The pass he apparently used was either his own, or one he shouldn't have had.

I've seen both possibilities reported as facts. Like I said, I don't have a boss and editors telling me what to write: so I don't know if he had a pass, and if so whose it was.

Either way, he shouldn't have been able to get onto a naval base with those weapons. Apparently employees don't have to go through a metal detector on their way in. That may have saved some money, and kept "privacy advocates" happy: but in this case it was a lethal oversight.

After what happened yesterday, it's obvious that Mr. Alexis shouldn't have been allowed into the Washington Naval Shipyard yesterday. He probably shouldn't have been allowed to get a job with a subcontractor that brought him to the base in the first place.

That's obvious today. How obvious it would have been when he was hired: I don't know.

Mr. Alexis' general discharge from the Navy was upgraded to an honorable discharge because there wasn't enough evidence backing up misconduct charges. Maybe the charges were bogus, and he really is a victim of discrimination: maybe not. I don't know.

However, if half of what's been reported about his background is accurate, Aaron Alexis shouldn't have been given clearance to work on computer upgrades at a major military base. With my background, I probably wouldn't get that sort of clearance: even if I had the necessary skills.

Computers, Guns, and Keeping Up

Since Aaron Alexis was working with The Experts on a computer upgrade, it's possible that he had the skills and access necessary to provide himself with a valid-looking employee pass that he shouldn't have had. If that's the case, The Experts, Hewlett Packard and the Pentagon should take a hard look at their security.

We use technology today that was literally science fiction in my youth. Thanks to my eclectic job history, I've kept up with most of the major developments. Folks my age, whose successful career paths led them to positions of importance? I'm not sure that some of them really understand the Information Age. Still more topics.

Unlike some of my contemporaries, I like tech: and think that people use tools to do things, not the other way around.

Technology and Free Will

I don't think guns made a sleep-deprive paranoiac kill a dozen people. Human beings were quite capable of acting badly for uncounted ages before firearms, and I think we'll continue to be trouble when an assault rifle is displayed alongside a crossbow and a palstave in some museum.

I have no problem with people using dangerous technology like LP gas, guns, or computers. I also think that every society needs to find common-sense ways to control how they're used. (June 27, 2008)

Somewhat-related posts:

1 From the news:

(FBI, via CNN, used w/o permission.)
"The FBI identified Aaron Alexis, a 34-year-old military contractor from Texas, as the dead suspect involved in the shooting rampage at the Washington Navy Yard on Monday, September 16. Authorities said at least 12 people -- and the suspect -- were killed in the shooting."

"Vetting military contractors: How did Navy Yard gunman get in?"
Josh Levs, with Drew Griffin, Mariano Castillo; CNN (September 17, 2013)

"The shooter at the Washington Navy Yard had a 'pattern of misconduct' as a Navy reservist, had sporadic run-ins with the law, and had contacted two Veterans Administration hospitals for apparent psychological issues, sources have told CNN.

"Somehow, none of that prevented Aaron Alexis from getting clearance to the Washington Navy Yard as a subcontractor.

"In the wake of the horrific incident that left 12 victims and the gunman dead, lawmakers and military experts are calling out the vetting process for contractors and subcontractors. Did the military even know the things about Alexis that news agencies managed to find out within hours?

"Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican who serves on the Intelligence Committee, said she now questions 'the kind of vetting contractors do.'

" 'Washington needs a lot more answers,' Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-Washington, said in an interview Tuesday with CNN.

"The incidents in Alexis' past 'should have been a red flag that maybe we need to delve a little deeper into this individual,' said retired Navy Cmdr. Kirk Lippold.

"The Navy had sought to give him a 'general discharge' due to at least eight incidents of misconduct while on duty, but ultimately had to give him an honorable discharge due to lack of evidence to support the sterner measure, a U.S. defense official said Tuesday.

"But he went on to work for a group called The Experts, which was subcontracting with Hewlett Packard on a large military contract.

"With security clearance, he worked from September 2012 through January in Japan. His clearance was renewed in July, and he worked at facilities in Rhode Island, North Carolina and Virginia for weeks at a time upgrading computer systems, according to Thomas E. Hoshko, CEO of The Experts...."

"DC gunman was suffering host of mental issues prior to shooting, report says" (September 17, 2013)

"Navy veteran Aaron Alexis, who killed 12 people at a Navy building in Washington Monday morning, had been suffering a host of serious mental issues, including paranoia and a sleep disorder, law enforcement officials told the Associated Press.

"Alexis had been hearing voices in his head and had been treated since August by the Veterans Administration for his mental problems, the officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the criminal investigation in the case was continuing.

"Alexis, 34, was discharged from the Navy two years ago after serving hitches in Texas and Illinois....

"...He most likely gained entry into the facility with a CAC card, or a common access card. The system does not require workers to pass through a metal detector and usually only requires employees to show the card. Senior military officials tell Fox News that he most likely shot his way into building 197, because that building requires a separate pass he did not have.

"Washington Mayor Vincent Gray said there was still no motive for the shootings and no indication of terrorism 'although we haven't ruled that out.'

"While some neighbors and acquaintances described him as 'nice,' his father once told detectives in Seattle that his son had anger management problems related to post-traumatic stress brought on by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He also complained about the Navy and being a victim of discrimination...."

"Navy Yard: Aaron Alexis 'treated for mental health' "
BBC News (September 17, 2013)

"The ex-US Navy reservist who killed 12 people and wounded eight at a Washington DC Navy installation had received treatment for mental health issues, US media have reported.

"Aaron Alexis, 34, was treated for paranoia, trouble sleeping and hearing voices, the Associated Press reported.

"A contractor for the Navy, he had a valid pass for the secure site at the Washington Navy Yard, authorities said.

"Alexis was shot and killed by police during the attack...."

"Authorities question vetting of Washington gunman who killed 12"
Mark Hosenball and Ian Simpson, Reuters (September 17, 2013)

"Washington authorities questioned on Tuesday how a U.S. military veteran with a history of violence and mental problems could have gotten clearance to enter a Navy base where he killed 12 people before police shot him dead.

"The suspect, Aaron Alexis, 34, a Navy contractor from Fort Worth, Texas, entered Washington Navy Yard on Monday morning and opened fire, spreading panic at the base just a mile and a half from the U.S. Capitol and three miles from the White House.

"Investigators are still trying to determine the shooter's motive. Alexis had been given clearance to enter the base on the Anacostia River, despite two gun-related brushes with the law and a discharge from the Navy Reserve in 2011 after a series of misconduct issues.

"A federal law enforcement source told Reuters Alexis had a history of mental problems but gave no details. CNN reported that Alexis had contacted two Veterans Administration hospitals recently and was believed to be seeking psychological help.

" 'It really is hard to believe that someone with a record as checkered as this man could conceivably get, you know, clearance to get ... credentials to be able to get on the base,' Washington Mayor Vincent Gray told CNN.

"He said automatic U.S. budget cuts known as sequestration could have led to skimping on vetting that would have barred Alexis from the heavily guarded base...."

Monday, September 16, 2013

Washington Navy Shipyard: Monday Morning's Off to a Bad Start

(Reuters, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
So far, BBC News seems to have the best summary of what's happened:
  • A gunman has killed at least four people at the Washington Navy Yard, a naval installation in the US capital, officials say
  • Police were called to the scene after reports of shooting at 0820 local time (1320 GMT)
  • Police say that one gunman is deceased and two additional suspects wearing military-style uniforms may still be at large
  • US President Barack Obama has been briefed on the matter by top officials
  • All times in GMT
    (BBC News)

"Going Postal??"

At about 8:20 this morning, Washington D.C. time, someone started shooting at people in the Washington Navy Yard. When news reports started, I thought that maybe one of the 3,000 or so folks who work there decided that today would be a good time to 'get even' with fellow-workers.

It's been a long time since "going postal" became a regrettable stress-management option.

What I've Heard

Now it looks like more than one person has been attacking folks at offices of the Chief of Naval Operations and other naval commands.

Based on what I've heard and read in the news, it looks like more than one person decided to attack the Washington Navy Yard, and that we don't know why they made that decision.

The only victims I've heard identified so far is police officer and one of the shooters. How many people are wounded or killed: those numbers are changing, which isn't a surprise this early in the situation.


What motive the attackers have is important: but I don't know what it is. There isn't enough information available. I'm pretty sure that right now nobody except the attackers know why morning routines got disrupted. If they had associates, those folks know, too.

A half-century back, I wouldn't have been finding out so much this fast. When news did start filtering through, some folks would insist that commies were to blame; others would blame racists or blacks.

Today, I suppose some have already decided that Muslims are to blame. White supremacists probably wouldn't have been accused, since one shooter's ancestors came from Africa and another's from Europe.

At least one of the attackers is wearing something that looks like olive drab military garb: so someone has probably decided that the American military is to blame.

That's not as silly as it might seem, at least to folks who assume that the Pentagon, CIA, and 'they' are conspiring to do something dreadful. With that mindset, the attack could be seen as infighting or a plot to sway public opinion.

Keeping Track

I'm upset about this attack.

I can understand someone being disgruntled with working conditions, or not approving of American policy, or believing that the Federal government shouldn't act the way it does. But that's no excuse for hurting or killing people.

Since there is almost certainly more than one person involved in the attack, It's also very likely that the motive isn't related to someone's dissatisfaction with a job.

Given the meager facts we have so far, I could cobble together a nostalgic tale involving crazed white guys going after blacks who work for the Navy; explaining the black shooter as one of a team of secret commandos dedicated to spreading law, order, and the American way - - - or the other way around.

That, I think, would be an almost complete waste of time: mine and yours.

Instead, I'll get back to what I was working on before, and check in on the news at intervals.

(BBC News, used w/o permission.)

Background: Washington Navy Shipyard

The Washington Navy Shipyard started as a shipyard, was re-purposed as an ordinance, and now is a ceremonial and administrative center for the United States Navy.

In the news:
Related posts:

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Two Pools, Four Towers

It's a bright September morning here in central Minnesota. A school bus went by a few minutes ago.

Like most Americans, folks here are at work, sitting in classrooms, driving or walking, sitting or standing. Life goes on pretty much as it did before 9/11.

Living in the Real World

This isn't Brigadoon, of course, an idyllic place cut off from a changing world.

Ash Street, where I live, is wider now. A young family moved in across the street. They're Euro-Americans; but other new, and old, neighbors have ancestral roots in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Some folks around here seem to assume that Muslims are a particularly dangerous sort of foreigner. Others are equally diligent in expressing shock and horror at the enormities of American aggression.

Me? I'm delighted that folks are still trying to break into America. When my native land stops attracting people with get-up-and-go from around the world, we'll be in serious trouble.

Past and Present

(From Associated Press, via, used w/o permission.)

Names of people killed in New York City, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania, are being read. I think it's fitting to remember the dead; and honor those who serve in America's emergency response services, and the military.

Remembering the past is prudent. So is keeping up with the present.

The Middle East is still far from quiet. Some autocrats are still around. Some countries, like Libya and Egypt, have traded old-school rulers for the troubles that come from developing new governments. I hope they are successful.

Some folks are still trying to force the rest of us into their antique world view:
It's not that simple, of course. Territorial, economic, and other issues keep almost everything involving humans from being "simple."

Looking Ahead

I was born in the Truman administration, and remember the 'good old days' of the gray flannel suit. I was one of those 'crazy college kids' who didn't want a 'successful career.'

I wanted to change the world. My generation made mistakes, some of them appalling. But we also changed America from a nation of WASPs and WASP wannabes to the more obviously cosmopolitan country we have today.

Some folks still yearn for the days when Harper Valley PTAs and Boston Brahmins set the tone, and that's almost another topic.

The 9/11 attack changed Manhattan's skyline, but did not change the way NewYork City or America works: not the basics.

While wreckage from the attack was being cleared away and repairs made to the city's infrastructure, architects and city planners were wrangling over what sort of buildings should replace the old World Trade Center.

Pools lie where the twin towers used to be, part of a memorial. Most of the new World Trade Center's offices will be in four towers. Tenants like the Vantone China Center and Condé Nast expect to move in this coming December, or maybe early 2014.

There's a bit of Americana built into One World Trade Center. It's the tallest building in the western hemisphere: 1776 feet high.

(From , via CNN, used w/o permission.)
"One World Trade Center rises above the lower Manhattan skyline in New York. Twelve years after terrorists destroyed the old World Trade Center, the new World Trade Center is becoming a reality in 2013...."

(From World Trade Center, used w/o permission)

In the news:
Related posts:

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Syria, Chemical Weapons, and More of the Same

Syria is in the news, as usual.

This time, Syria's government seems to have been caught using chemical weapons to kill folks who aren't on the 'approved' list:
The bodies used to be Syrians: civilians who either didn't express enough enthusiasm for Syria's boss, or were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Chemical Weapons: So What?

An acquaintance of mine asked 'what's the big deal with chemical weapons? Aren't people just as dead if they're shot?' He has a point: dead is dead.

I think part of the issue with chemical weapons is emotional: perhaps thanks to WWI and WWI-era propaganda, and experience, quite a few folks simply don't like chemical weapons.

Another problem with chemical weapons is that they're notoriously hard to control: unless the attacker simply wants to kill a large number of folks in a particular town or city, and doesn't care who dies.

Finally, although it is possible to die slowly from a bullet wound, my understanding is that most chemical weapons tend to subject victims to a prolonged and painful experience before they finally die. It's one thing to kill someone quickly; quite another to torture the victim first. I'll grant that there's an emotional component to this aspect of chemical weapons, too: but I think that torturing innocent people is wrong, even if I felt like doing it.

America, Syria, and Getting a Grip

The American president seems to be deciding that something military should be done about Syria. He's probably right, but I expect many folks who didn't vote for him to start imitating folks who didn't vote for the previous president.

I didn't vote for the current president myself, and strongly disagree with him on many policies: but that doesn't mean that I'll disagree when he does make a little sense.

Radio news said that the president doesn't plan to send in ground forces. Okay: I believe that. I'm concerned that he'll set up a situation where the next president will have to send ground forces into a seriously messed-up situation: but that may not happen.

I'd like to believe that Syria's leadership would decide to start acting nice, if someone would ask nicely. I'm pretty sure that this won't happen.

Syria's boss and his enforcers have manged to act so badly that even their regional allies decided to step back a few paces, metaphorically speaking. In the Middle East, that's saying something. Sadly.

Related posts:

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Egypt, Opinions, and Cautious Optimism

Mainstream news from Egypt is like most old-school journalism: death; bloodshed; more death; "the center cannot hold;" and all that.

Now and then a journalist decides that talking to folks who aren't trying to topple a regime, or struggling to hold power, might be a good idea. In this case, I think the results are encouraging:
"Muslim Brotherhood's bid to scapegoat Christians failing, say Egyptians"
Lisa Daftari, (August 25, 2013)

"As their nation descends into violent chaos, Egyptians are increasingly blaming the Muslim Brotherhood, despite attempts by the Islamist group to scapegoat Christians and the military, according to several sources who spoke to from Cairo.

" 'The Muslim Brotherhood has lost all sympathy with their points due to their violence,' said a Long Island, N.Y., Egyptian-American, who is in a Cairo suburb for a family wedding.

"The man, a Coptic Christian who asked that his name not be used until he and his family are safely back in the U.S., told he arrived in the Cairo suburb of Heliopolis last weekend, just days after Muslim Brotherhood supporters began clashing violently with security forces. Since then, nightly curfews, angry mobs and closed roads that cut off supplies to restaurants and groceries have made his homeland unrecognizable...."

One Man's Opinion

I could say that this Egyptian-American doesn't count, because he doesn't live in Egypt. Besides, he's a Christian: so I could pick from a broad range of stereotypes.

More to the point, that's just one man's opinion.

I don't blame him for keeping his head down until he was out of Egypt. There's quite a bit of trouble in that country, ever since Egypt's military decided that Egypt didn't need a rogue president. Folks who like the way President Morsi was 'protecting' Egypt from those who disagreed with Morsi's brand of Islamist rule were understandably upset, and by now the body count is over 1,000.

One Woman's Opinion

I do not think that the trouble with Egypt is that they've got Muslims there. I've run into too many folks who follow Islam and think terrorism is a bad idea:
"...A Muslim woman named Nina told most citizens - Christian and Muslim - are solidly behind the military, which has been criticized by the west for its decisive crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood supporters.

" 'I am Muslim and I am against terrorism and I support the revolution [which ousted Morsi] and I support all the decisions of the Egyptian army forces,' she said. 'We love Egypt so much and we hope the foreign countries stop misunderstanding about us and the situation now in Egypt.'..."
(Lisa Daftari,
Well, that's just one woman's opinion.

Let's see what one of those 'religious' people say:

Another Man's Opinion

"...Even at mosques, the tide seems to be turning against the Muslim Brotherhood, according to one man who spoke from Cairo.

" 'They gather around mosques, from five to 100 of them, to show they are important and the goal is to go and cut off the roads and rally to get more supporters,' he said.

" 'Sometimes during Friday prayers, the sheikh wants to push people to support the Muslim Brotherhood, but modern Muslims are dominant and not deceived anymore with fake words that defending the Muslim Brotherhood is defending Islam,' he said...."
Some Muslims probably still keep themselves isolated from the rest of the world. I think a few folks from any large selection of humanity are trying very hard to stay ignorant. Many of us, though, seem to be willing to learn what's going on outside our neighborhood.

Yet Another Man's Opinion

Finally, Osama el-Quossi, a "former jihadist and Salafist cleric," said that the Muslim Brotherhood is trying to blame Egypt's Christians for the current trouble. True, Egypt's Christian minority didn't support Morsi: but quite a few Muslims weren't behind him, either. 'Blame the Christians' doesn't seem to be working:
"...'The Brotherhood lost everything, politically and economically,' Osama el-Quossi told MCN. 'They lost the citizens' sympathy, so they used religion to gain support of ordinary people. '"
(Lisa Daftari,

Living in a Big World

Lisa Daftari probably could have found four other folks in Egypt who would obligingly chant "death to the great Satan America," or whatever slogan is in fashion this year. Although I'm fairly sure that she decided to focus on one among many attitudes held by Egyptians, I strongly suspect that she's reporting what many folks feel.

I think many, probably most, folks don't like being shot at or blown up: preferring to raise their families, go to work, and get on with their lives.

Egypt has around 200,000 Internet hosts, 2,000,000 Internet users, and upwards of 83,000,000 cell phones. Since there are about 85,290,000 Egyptians: folks living there are rather well-connected to the rest of the world.

My guess is that many Egyptians, and Americans, and folks around the world, know too much to believe the old fears about 'foreign threats.'

I'm quite certain that the next few decades, and probably centuries, will be difficult. But I'm also cautiously hopeful that the emerging global civilization will be an improvement over the mess we've had so far.

Related posts:

Friday, August 9, 2013

Change, Pakistan, and Captain America: My Take

Steve Rogers is a comic book character brought to life by Marvel Entertainment and Paramount Pictures. In the last scenes of "Captain America: The First Avenger" he runs from a reasonable facsimile of a 1940s hospital room into New York City's 21st century Times Square.

I think Chris Evans does a good job of mimicking the response of a stressed-out WWII soldier fast-forwarding through about 70 years in maybe seven minutes: tops.

Bear with me. This post belongs in this blog.

I remember most of the decades between WWII and today. This is not the world I grew up in. Technology, customs, and social structures have been changing: a lot. I still haven't quite gotten used to the idea of addressing other adults by their first names.

But 'no complaints.' Change happens.

Abram to Anheuser-Busch in One Generation

Growing up in America, I've been spared some culture shock. My ancestral cultures started changing a thousand years ago, picked up the pace five centuries back, and started the industrial revolution.

I remember the first artificial satellite, and the days when computers used vacuum tubes. Change 'normal' for me.

I have a little sympathy for folks who grew up with hand-woven tents and camels: and whose kids probably know about designer jeans and know the difference between iPhone and Android.

They're experiencing more change than I have: and grew up expecting life to go on as it had since before Abram moved out of Ur. Small wonder that some aren't comfortable with today's world.

That's not an excuse for killing neighbors, though.

Killing Pakistanis

(Naseer Ahmed, via Reuters, used w/o permission)

This man was arriving at a hospital in Quetta, Pakistan. He is one of 27 injured outside a mosque today. Nine folks are dead, but they may not have been the attack's target.

Provincial government minister Ali Mohammad Jattack was driving by the mosque when a few folks started shooting - apparently in the general direction of his car. Other folks who had been worshiping at the mosque may have just been at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Reuters says that Pakistanis have been killing each other more often than usual recently, following a new Prime Minister's election. The implication is that there's a cause-effect relationship, which may be true.

The attacks aren't random. Shi'ite Muslims, a minority in Pakistan, get injured or killed by Sunni Muslims who apparently don't approve of Shi'ites. It's pretty obvious that not all Sunni Muslims in Pakistan feel this way, or there wouldn't even be a Shi'ite minority.

Killing Americans

Meanwhile, the American State Department closed offices in Pakistan, and says that Americans who don't need to be in Pakistan shouldn't go there.

I believe news reports that say that the State Department's actions about Pakistan aren't related to the other embassy closings, a few days ago. More accurately, I accept the idea that the same groups or individuals aren't trying to kill Americans in all these places.

In another way, what's going on in Pakistan and elsewhere around the world is part of something the American government stopped calling the war on terror when the current administration moved in.

Whatever we call it, I'm quite certain that those of us who don't mind living in the 21st century still have to be careful.

Making Changes

Folks who quite sincerely hate what's been happening during the last few centuries will probably continue to kill their neighbors, or die trying. I do not think that the most rigidly dedicated supporters of an ancient way of life will change their minds. But their followers, and their children, are another matter.

Quite a few folks in Iraq seemed convinced that foreigners were evil,. or at least decided that being alive was better than disagreeing with an Al Qaeda boss. Then a UN-backed coalition upset the status quo.

Once the 'evil' foreigners killed enforcers who'd been chopping off heads, and started repairing neglected roads and sewage plants: many Iraqis decided that being free was a good idea.

That must have been terribly frustrating for Iraqis who enjoyed the privilege of killing 'bad' neighbors: but no society is perfect for everybody.

Looking Ahead

Naming a similar phenomenon in northern Africa "Arab spring" isn't making the transition from a pre-Magna Carta world into the Information Age easy. But I'm still cautiously hopeful about places like Egypt.

As for what's happening this week in Pakistan: that's bad news for folks who get killed and injured, and hard on their families. It would be nice if everyone in the world would decide to be nice, and try discussing problems instead of killing folks who disagree. That's not gonna happen. Not soon, anyway.

On the other hand, I'm convinced that most folks prefer raising families, going to work, and playing soccer - or whatever the local pastime is - to dodging bullets and cleaning up after suicide bombers.

'Winning the hearts and minds' may be a cliche by now, and simply won't work for diehard xenophobes of any ilk. But like I said, I'm cautiously hopeful. I think most of us can learn that 'foreigners' aren't demonic emissaries, and that 'change' doesn't mean 'destruction.'

Related posts:

"Gunmen in Pakistan kill nine in attack at mosque on Muslim holiday"
Katharine Houreld; (editing, Clarence Fernandez and Robert Birsel; Reuters (August 9, 2013)

"Volence marred the Muslim holy day of Eid al-Fitr in Pakistan on Friday with gunmen killing nine people in the city of Quetta while a guard in the capital Islamabad shot dead a would-be suicide bomber forcing his way into a mosque.

"The United States has ordered non-essential staff to leave its consulate in the eastern city of Lahore because of the threat of attack. It has also warned its citizens not to travel to Pakistan.

"In Quetta, gunmen fired on the vehicle of a politician driving past worshippers leaving a mosque, killing nine people and wounding 27, police said.

"Quetta is capital of the southwestern province of Baluchistan, where several militant groups are active, including the Pakistani Taliban, who claimed responsibility for a suicide bomb attack that killed 30 people at a policeman's funeral on Thursday.

"Police official Bashir Brohi said Friday's shooting seemed to have been aimed at former provincial government minister Ali Mohammad Jattack, who was passing by in a vehicle, but the motive and perpetrators were not clear.

" 'I was the target,' Jattack told media at the scene.

" 'They killed innocent worshippers belonging to different communities. This is against humanity, it is brutality on the level of animals,' said Jattack, who was not hurt.

"Brohi said most of the victims were coming out of the mosque.

" 'It was an armed attack on the former minister ... it was not an attack on the mosque,' the police official said.

"In a separate attack in Islamabad, a would-be suicide bomber shot dead a guard and wounded three people as he tried to force his way into a Shi'ite mosque, said witness Raza Mohammad....

"...Attacks against Pakistan's minority Shi'ite Muslims, by Sunni Muslim militants, are increasing sharply.

"The attacks on Friday were the latest in a surge of militant violence since Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took office two months ago, with a string of high-profile incidents in the past two weeks...."

"US withdraws staff from consulate in Lahore, Pakistan, over terror threat" (August 9, 2013)

"The State Department has ordered the departure of non-emergency U.S. government personnel from the U.S. Consulate General in Lahore, Pakistan, and has warned Americans to defer all non-essential travel to Pakistan after a specific threat to that mission, Fox News confirms....

"...'The presence of several foreign and indigenous terrorist groups poses a potential danger to U.S. citizens throughout Pakistan,' the statement from the State Department read. 'The Government of Pakistan maintains heightened security measures, particularly in the major cities. Threat reporting indicates terrorist groups continue to seek opportunities to attack locations where U.S. citizens and Westerners are known to congregate or visit.'

"The personnel drawdown at the Lahore consulate was a precautionary measure and wasn't related to the recent closures of numerous U.S. diplomatic missions in the Muslim world, two U.S. officials told the Associated Press...."

Monday, August 5, 2013

Embassy Closings, Al Qaeda, and Looking Ahead

Embassy closings were in the weekend's news, but I decided to wait at least a day before starting this post. The State Department acting out of "an abundance of caution" is sensible. Jumping to conclusions based on what little I'd seen in the news, not so much.

So far the United States has closed 22 embassies, and issued a travel warning running through August.

England, Germany and France closed their embassies in Yemen on Sunday and Monday.

Canada apparently closed their embassies in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

England is pulling some of their embassy staff from the British embassy in Yemen.

This is a big deal: much more than something to keep folks reading late-summer news.1

Making Points, Making Sense

Taking one set of assumptions, and the fact that the countries with closed embassies are all 'Western,' I could rant about Western capitalistic imperialistic oppression.

Other knee-jerk reactions, coupled with the closed embassies being in Islamic countries, would let me denounce Muslims as being the cause of all problems from Detroit's bankruptcy to Palo Alto's looming parking shortage.

Or I could accuse the 'other' political party of everything from malfeasance in office to high treason.

If I took Frank J. Fleming's advice, I might even get taken seriously:
Since I'm more interested in making sense than making points with diehard followers of some intellectual preference, I'll do 'none of the above.'

Beware Malignant Virtue

I think there's probably a sort of Islamic connection behind the embassy closings and travel warning. The embassies are all in predominantly Muslim countries.

But I don't accuse all Muslims of being part of an Islamic conspiracy to take over the world: partly because many or most of Islamic terrorists' victims are Muslims.

As I've said before: I think Al Qaeda and like-minded outfits have the same sort of relation to Islam that the Ku Klux Klan has to Christianity. Folks with a sort of malignant virtue seem unable to sort out personal preference, cultural values, and eternal principles.

In the short run, executing your neighbors for wearing the 'wrong' clothes or playing soccer may feel good: and may even result in surviving neighbors being 'proper.'

After a while, though, I think folks become dissatisfied with that sort of rigid conformity: even if they had preferred the 'right' clothes and didn't play soccer. Even if the 'proper people' can't be voted out of office, totalitarian regimes don't seem to fare well in the long term. Afghanistan's Taliban was an example.

Looking Ahead

We'll have troubles, as we have for all of recorded history: but I'm cautiously hopeful about the next few centuries and beyond.

That's cautiously hopeful, not naively optimistic. Folks in Egypt are experiencing the sort of occasionally-lethal trouble that goes with changing a society.

Folks who cling desperately to ways of life that were ancient when Abram moved out of Ur won't be happy. Others who prefer being one of a privileged few who control their subjects' lives are almost certainly seeing the end of their era: and, possibly, their lives.

Societies are changing: fast. Too many of us have had a taste of freedom, and know that there's a world beyond our homeland's borders. Worse, for folks who like the status quo, Information Age technology makes communication easy, inexpensive, and nearly instantaneous.

Traditional information gatekeepers have lost control over what 'the Masses' are allowed to see. That's one reason that I'm very concerned about misguided responses to real online threats: and that's another topic.

Related posts:
In the news:

1 Excerpts from the news:
"U.S. extends embassy closures after intercepted al Qaeda message"
Barbara Starr. Chris Lawrence and Holly Yan, CNN (August 5, 2013)

"What started as an unprecedented move to close almost two dozen diplomatic posts for a day has broadened to week-long closures for most of them as the United States mulls the threat of a possible attack.

"A trio of factors prompted officials to extend most of its embassy and consulate closures until Saturday: an intercepted message among senior al Qaeda operatives, the end of Ramadan, and concerns over several major prison breaks in the region.

"Originally, officials decided to close 22 embassies and consulates this past Sunday -- a day when they would normally be open for business.

"But Sunday afternoon, the State Department extended embassy and consulate closures in 15 of the locations through Saturday, and added four other posts -- all in Africa -- to the list. This brings the total to 19...."

"US to extend some embassy closures over security concerns"
BBC News (August 5, 2013)
"The US says it will keep a number of embassies in north Africa and the Middle East closed until Saturday, due to a possible militant threat.

"Twenty-one US embassies and consulates closed on Sunday.

"The state department in Washington said the extended closures were 'out of an abundance of caution', and not a reaction to a new threat.

"The UK said its embassy in Yemen would stay closed until the Muslim festival of Eid on Thursday.

"The decision to close the embassies comes as the US government battles to defend recently disclosed surveillance programmes that have stirred deep privacy concerns.

"Security at US diplomatic facilities also remains a concern following last year's attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, where the US ambassador and three other Americans were killed.

"While details of the threats are unspecified, the BBC's David Willis, in Washington, says members of Congress who have been briefed about the intelligence seem to agree it amounts to one of the most serious in recent years - all pointing to the possibility of a major attack, possibly to coincide with the end of the holy month of Ramadan, which ends this week.


"A state department global travel alert, issued on Friday, is in force until the end of August.

"The department said the potential for an al-Qaeda-inspired attack was particularly strong in the Middle East and North Africa.

"Al-Qaeda's affiliate in Yemen, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), has tried to carry out several high-profile attacks in recent years, including one on Christmas Day in 2009 when a man attempted to blow up a trans-Atlantic jet over Detroit, using explosives sewn into his underwear.

"Months earlier, the group tried to kill the Saudi intelligence chief with a bomb on the attacker's body.

"The UK Foreign Office had earlier announced it would shut its mission in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, until Tuesday.

"Meanwhile, US diplomatic missions in Algiers, Kabul and Baghdad are among those which will reopen on Monday, Washington said.

"But its diplomatic posts in Abu Dhabi, Amman, Cairo, Riyadh, Dhahran, Jeddah, Doha, Dubai, Kuwait, Manama, Muscat, Sanaa and Tripoli will remain closed until Saturday.

"The US state department also added African missions in Antananarivo, Bujumbura, Djibouti, Khartoum, Kigali and Port Louis to the list, meaning a total of 19 US embassies will remain closed this week.

"Embassies closed on Sunday, a working day in the Muslim world, included Amman, Cairo, Riyadh and Dhaka...."

"19 US posts to remain closed this week, as lawmakers say terror threat 'specific' and 'serious'" (August 5, 2013)

"The State Department has announced that it will keep 19 embassies and consulates in the Middle East and Africa closed throughout the week 'out of an abundance of caution' in the wake of terror threats that shut them down.

"Posts in Abu Dhabi, Amman, Cairo, Riyadh, Dhahran, Jeddah, Doha, Dubai, Kuwait, Manama, Muscat, Sanaa, Tripoli, Antanarivo, Bujumbura, Djibouti, Khartoum, Kigali and Port Louis have been instructed to close for normal operations from Monday through Saturday, department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

"The State Department also said some of those embassies were already going to be closed in accordance with local customs marking the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

"Those authorized to reopen Monday are in Dhaka, Algiers, Nouakchott, Kabul, Herat, Mazar el Sharif, Baghdad, Basrah and Erbil.

"Capitol Hill lawmakers, including top-ranking members of intelligence committees, on Sunday described the terror threat that closed 22 U.S. embassies and consulates across the Muslim region as the most serious one since before the 9/11 attacks and related to specific act or plot.

"Florida Republican Rep. Tom Rooney, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, told Fox News that U.S. intelligence agents detected a 'very specific' threat and suggested they have known about it for at least several weeks.

"He was among several congressional lawmakers Sunday who said the threat was gleaned from so-called 'chatter' from phone lines, computer outlets, websites and other communication outlets.

"Rooney also said the information is not what intelligence committee members 'see on our regular briefings.'

"The Obama administration's decision Friday to close the U.S. outposts Sunday came the same day as the State Department issued a worldwide travel alert.

"Rooney suggested Sunday the travel warning will not be lifted soon.

" 'If I had plans to travel to certain places in the Middle East, I would probably go ahead and cancel them,' he said.

"Rooney's comments followed Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, telling NBC's 'Meet the Press' that the threats are 'very reminiscent of what we saw pre-9/11.'

"He also described the threats as 'the most serious … I've seen in a number of years.'

"Sources confirmed with Fox News the chatter was picked up over the past two weeks and exceeds anything in the past decade. They also said the extraordinary volume of chatter was preceded by months of 'absolute quietness.'

"The sources said the chatter included Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri demanding that key leaders of the terror network in the Arabian Peninsula step up their activities in the wake of recent killings of top terrorists.

"A Mideast diplomat said al-Zawahiri's 'pressuring' of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to launch new terrorist attacks on American and other Western targets is 'unprecedented.'

"The sources also said the U.S. outpost closings and the travel alert were prompted in part by a series of recent Al Qaeda-led prison breaks that have freed hundreds of operatives over the last month, including one this weekend in Aleppo, Syria. Other recent breaks have been orchestrated in Iraq, Libya and Pakistan and Abu Ghraib, in Afghanistan.

"Maryland Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, also said the intercepted threats came from 'high-level people' in Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

"He told ABC's 'This Week' the information was about a 'major attack.'...

"...The administration's announcements Friday said the Al Qaeda network might target either U.S. government or private American interests.

"The intelligence intercepts also prompted Britain, Germany and France to close their embassies in Yemen on Sunday and Monday. British authorities said some embassy staff in Yemen had been withdrawn 'due to security concerns.'

"Canada also announced it was closing its embassy in Dhaka, Bangladesh."

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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.