Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Everybody Knows

--Pour féliciter 2016
Marian Kemnsky (Slovakia)

If you make people think they're thinking,
they'll love you,
but if you really make them think,
they'll hate you
--Don Marquis

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich 
--Everybody Knows,
Leonard Cohen

If life seems jolly rotten
There's something you've forgotten
And that's to laugh and smile and dance and sing
--Look on the Bright Side of Life,
Monty Python

"Everybody Knows", or "Accidental Terrorist, II":

Whether mass murders are committed by criminals, crazies or crusaders, all activities that can be conducted by terrorists can be predicted and countered; they all throw off indicators. Adequate Human Intelligence (HUMINT) should be keen to these tells, and it seems they are by the speed with which suspects are identified.

The above descriptive categories are not necessarily discrete and do not negate the humanity of the perpetrator, who has merely amplified his innate human qualities and tendencies to pathological levels. They are simply helpful labels to distinguish a potential "them" from an "us".

And yet, though the pathology and criminality can be predicted, detected and monitored, this failed to occur in Boston, Aurora, Newtown, Ft. Hood, University of West Virginia, San Bernadino or any of the other recent spree shootings that occur with sickening regularity. Why?

Why do our authorities not develop a protocol for response, as though each incident is de novo? We are no longer shocked -- only in the disingenuous sense of Casablanca's Captain Renault. What is shocking is our response to these hideous events.

Why didn’t the police barricade and contain the final scenario? Why no effort to capture the killers? If this was an example of terrorism, then capturing the suspects should have been a primary goal, as live intelligence sources are of vital importance.

Why are the identities of attackers with a tie-in to extremist Islam instantly released, yet they were not on anyone’s radar prior to the attacks? Suggestions of police racial profiling are avoided at all costs, yet immediately following these much-too-many attacks, racial profiling is the order of the day. If we know who the murderers are, why do we close the barn door after the horse is out? 

Beyond this event, we should be mindful of what our responses hath wrought. Last year the U.S. movie-going public rose in admiration of Clint Eastwood's Hollywood fairy tale, "American Sniper", but to the people on the other side of the fence, neither he nor the country he represents are heroic. In fact, the response to such "heroism" has created the void into which Islamic State was birthed.

James Meek had a good piece recently on the bombing of Syria, in which he outlines the obvious, inevitable failures. As in all recent bombing campaigns, "[First] bombing, then IS franchise."

Bombing fails because it is reminiscent of any colonial approach: 

"The country is present, but doesn’t have a voice. ... [A]ir attacks on Syria, before they are an attack on Islamic State, are an attack on Syria, a foreign country, whose citizens have no say in our affairs, and which has not attacked us, or our allies."


It doesn’t make sense for Cameron to argue that air attacks on Raqqa will help prevent IS attacks on London, when the recent attacks in Paris happened 14 months into an intensive series of air raids on and around IS-held areas, led by the world’s leading military power, which has spared no airborne military resources or technology to try to wipe IS from the earth. Russia’s recent experience, losing a passenger jet to an explosive device soon after it began bombing Syria, seems to confirm the intuitive assumption that bombing is more likely to provoke terrorism than to thwart it.
We have been here before, with al-Qaida and then with the Taliban: Western governments have mistaken a super-decentralised network, somewhere between a franchise and an ethos, for an agency with a postal address. The attacks in Paris certainly had IS links – some of the attackers had been to Syria or tried to get there – but most, if not all, were French or Belgian, who sought out IS because they had been radicalised at home, and who did most of their killing with Kalashnikovs from the former Yugoslavia.

It is useful for an IS aspirant to have a Raqqa to go to for training, for battle experience, for validation by a set of jihadi peers. But for a mobile terrorist franchise like IS or al-Qaida, Raqqa is a concept, not a place. Once Osama bin Laden’s Raqqa was in Sudan. Then it was in southern Afghanistan. It could be in Pakistan, in Somalia, in Yemen, in northern Nigeria, in the Russian Caucasus, or all these places at once.

On the bright side, San Bernadino does show that gun control laws are working, as the shooters had to obtain their weapons via an intermediary (a "straw purchase", which is a federal crime.)

The San Bernadino attack forefronts the fact that Islamic State lacks the ability to attack hard targets in the U.S., even when the attackers are willing to die during the execution phase, thus emphasizing their minimal and haphazard capabilities.

[cross-posted @]


  1. Not much to add to your observations re: franchise jihad. I suspect the difficulty that the Western governments have accepting the these mail-order jihadis aren't like the old-fashioned brick-and-mortar nation-state enemies has more to do with their own prejudices. far as the San Berdoo shooters;

    1. You and I both know that it's damn near impossible to capture someone who doesn't want to surrender voluntarily. American cops are trigger-happy sonsofbitches but I'm willing to cut them some slack here.

    2. You and I don't want the sort of country where our cops "know who the murderers are". That would take a level of spying on us that would have taxed the resources of the KGB. The normal chaos and weirdness of civil life pretty much ensures you have to be so crazy as to be nonfunctional to get the cops called on you. And that's a good thing.

  2. And just an observation on "terror" as a crime in general;

    We (as in "we", the People, the American public) don't expect a crimeless world, and were we to do so we would be reasonably castigated as utter idiots. There's no way to ensure a complete freedom from the risk of the sort of thing that we consider as crime without functionally destroying human society.

    Why do we seem, then, to be so insanely fearful of the sort of crime that gets tossed into the hopper labeled "terrorism"?

    Especially since the actual risk of "terrorism" is probably down there with dying in a commercial air crash or from flesh-eating bacteria?

    My guess is that - like air disasters and gruesome diseases - we tend to overrate spectacular but rare hazards and underrate familiar, common ones. So a couple of IS-wannabes get our panties in a twist while the regular, plain vanilla drunk driver, corporate miscreant poisoning our water, or Congresscritter conspiring with his CEO buddy to overseas our job get little or no fear out of us.

    More fools we...

  3. Chief,
    Not only are they spectacular, but they are also indescriminate which add to the terror quotient inherent in every scenario.
    For T to be effective as a tool the incidents must become ever more bizarre and unpredictably spectacular and /or bizarre..
    Now for capture alive- we have spent untold amounts of federal money training swat type teams,so pls don't tell me that a sniper couldn't bust out shoulders to facilitate capture.
    Especially in the distances involved in this shoot out.
    Shades of Bonnie and Clyde.
    jim hruska

    1. More precisely, jim, for terror to succeed, it must create a feeling of helplessness in the target population. The general population does not fear the risks Chief mentions because they can fool themselves into thinking they can somehow manage the risk. HIV, for example, did not get the general population's attention until it became common knowledge that it was not caused by homosexuality alone. People at the wheel of a car generally believe they are master of all eventualities pertaining to their driving.

      As long as one can gin up a false sense of security or immunity, risks are not perceived as such. Not so with terrorism. There is very little one can personally do to feel secure from the minuscule odds of being a terror victim. Sure, we can arm ourselves to the teeth, but underneath that NRA bravado is the realization that all the personal firearms in the world will not deter a suicidal zealot.

  4. "Now for capture alive- we have spent untold amounts of federal money training swat type teams,so pls don't tell me that a sniper couldn't bust out shoulders to facilitate capture."

    Sorry Jim, I have to respectfully disagree. I do not believe there was any time to send for SWAT. So it was dealt with by the officers at the scene. And the perps were known to have explosives. Plus were thought to have auto or at least semi-auto high capacity weapons. The perps also were in a moving vehicle. Taking them down immediately was the only option I see.

    It is unfortunate that they bled out before being able to become the " intelligence sources ... of vital importance" that you seem to think they would be. I agree that if cooperative they could have been a good source to find out more about the underlying reasons for her catechization and whether he was self radicalized or had been proselytized. Learning how to counter those tendencies would be worthwhile IMHO. But I don't think they could have added much to what we have found out regarding the IS.

    In any case, snipers are overrated. Yes, I understand they are one more useful item in a military (or police toolbox): a scalpel rather than a chainsaw. But you cannot train everyone to be a sniper and they are not always available. And even well-trained snipers are not the dead-eye shots that Hollywood makes them out to be in the movies of the last few years. Back in my youth in the books and Hollywood of the 1950s snipers were always portrayed as villains or snakes-in-the-grass. Real men stood up to face their enemies.

    Scout/Sniper platoons are much more useful as scouts than as snipers.

  5. I'll second Mike on the snipers, Jim. The tactical situation was not particularly favorable; the shooters in a vehicle, In what looks to have been a featureless freeway or big arterial street. No obvious sniping positions, poor target exposure, probably...lots of movement; just a difficult shoot from the look of it. Should they have tried? Sure, probably . Would they have failed? Probably.

    Like I said; I yield to no one in my general assessment of US coppers as trigger-happy GI wannabes. But I can't be sure that this could have gone any other way...

  6. Al,
    agee, but it's our govt leaders and msm that amp up the threat?
    Mike and Chief,
    doesn't every police car carry an ar15 clone and /or shotgun?
    jim hruska

  7. I'm guessing that the LAPD officers used their Aaaaaarmy training and their in-car rifles/shotguns to ventilate Bonny and Clyde.

    And, in all honesty, I think that the Obama Administration, at least, has been trying to keep hysteria over the San Bernardino shootings to a reasonable level. The "news media" and the GOP, though, as you suggest, are completely batshit. The irking part of that (for me, anyway) is that their motives are different and, while equally loathsome, are not comparable. The "MSM" is just using its hindbrain - in the title of your recent post, "if it bleeds, it leads". The 24/7 news environment has become so shriekingly moronic as to be nearly incapable of NOT blowing this stuff up into the Next Missing White Girl.

    The GOP, on the other hand, presumably knows better. At least the Congressional "leaders" do; they get much the same briefings as the executive branch. Their motives, unfortunately, seem to be to foster as much hysteria, paranoia, stupidity, and rage as possible to use those as a weapon against Obama. That's not the action of a reasonable opposition party; that's burning down your fucking house to kill roaches.

  8. In part, I would attribute a fair portion of the madness caused by terrorism to the American cultural dealing with mortality. My generation used to joke about the Italian-American penchant for always attributing a loved one's death to how "someone killed them". For example, my aunt didn't die of a heart attack, her grandson made her have that heart attack. Mt sister and I can't think of anyone of the preceding generations that just died. Someone "killed them".

    Similarly, Americans have really developed a culture that denies and/or fears man's inevitable mortality, and many modern Christian denominations reinforce this notion. Rather than being a source of sadness, mortality now engenders fear. We no longer have mourning and memorial, but rather, "celebrations of life". No other industrialized culture expends the amount of resources as America does to artificially maintain vegetative life or prolong extreme suffering to delay death.

    As I said above, jim, the masses can fool themselves to think they can minimize the risk of death by disease, drunk drivers and the like. But the random and unexpected nature of a terrorist act makes it very hard to conceive of how to minimize that risk, no matter how minuscule it may be.