Monday, November 16, 2015

The War of Information.

The Iraqi and Lebanese insurgencies, BlueHypercane, (Wiki.)
Zach Neal



The terrorism threat of ISIS/Daesh is composed of phases. The first phase is military. This can only be dealt with using a coordinated military strategy. It can only happen on the ground, in a specific location, that is to say Syria and Iraq and contiguous territories. This is just what you don’t have with so many players, so many factions, and so many splinter groups.

They’re fighting each other just as much as they’re fighting ‘the West’. They are fighting for independence, they’re fighting for ideology or religion, they’re fighting in some cases for national survival. ISIS/Daesh is fighting to found a fundamentalist nation-state, one with obvious expansionist aims.

Combatants are scattered all over the place and this is why outside powers will often choose a side or group to act as proxies.

I can’t say whether Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s election promise to pull aircraft out of the conflict is the right decision. My instinct is that it’s not. If you don’t contribute to the effort, you have little moral weight in negotiations that may ultimately lead to a solution. 

The Canadian news establishment has just reported that Mr. Trudeau has told the G-20 conference that Canada will withdraw strike aircraft and focus on training Kurdish fighters—to be our proxies, and this will be our contribution.

In the past, ISIS/Daesh threatened Canada and its citizens. As a citizen, I suppose I’ve calculated the odds. I’m not too worried about it. Yet some of my friends are worried and people do worry. They will worry. There is that hysteria after a successful attack. Hysteria is no basis for sound decision-making.

It really isn’t that difficult to pull off a successful attack against unarmed civilians, in a peaceful, orderly context such as the typical Canadian city. This is especially so with the martyr mentality, where personal survival is not a big consideration.

Some have argued against allowing 25,000 refugees into this country. The public relations ‘victory’ that this would bring is a plus. Screening will be done on all applicants. I have a fair amount of confidence that this can be done properly, and yet at the same time, it probably is a good way to sneak moles, long-term undercover operatives, into Canada or any other country. 

Yet the fact is, that they will be thoroughly screened.

With everyone’s attention on refugees, the next terror cell leader may very well fly in from Tokyo on an Indonesian or other passport. The fact that everyone is focused elsewhere, would be a big help to such an individual, especially if they haven’t attracted prior notice and if they’ve been in and out of the target country multiple times with no issues already. Yet refugees will no doubt be monitored, some more closely than others, after arriving in this or any other country. Most would cheerfully accept that, in some limited sense, serene in the knowledge that they are innocent, and that they are welcome here, and then there is the whole fact of their escape, their survival, and ultimately, they will prosper and come to love this country. I have no doubt they will thank their God for that mercy.

The people who are arguing against admitting refugees are essentially conservative in their views—they’re going to argue against any form of immigration, under any circumstances and it is best to note that tendency.

The second phase is terrorism. This can be fought in several ways, some of which take place at our own borders and within those borders. It can also be approached on the ground in the Middle East, (or any great international transportation hub), using intelligence resources and the surveillance techniques available. This is in order to identify and apprehend bona fide terror suspects before they reach our borders.

After a successful terrorist attack, the natural impulse is to react—to do something under the pressure of events and public opinion.

After 9/11, the United States, its citizens and its government were humiliated. They were grieving. They were in a state of shock—and loud voices cried out for justice, for vengeance, and for war. Ultimately, they got their way, they got their victory, and it was impressive enough when seen on TV. The legacy of that is symbolized by Guantanamo Bay. The U.S. also lost a lot of moral authority among secular, moderate Muslims, and because of their actions, have contributed to the radicalization of some of the more marginal members of that and their own society. This is true even with modern, precision-guided weapons, which cannot guarantee that there will be no collateral damage among innocent civilian populations.

The ‘successful’ wars in Iraq and Afghanistan really haven’t negated the problem of terrorism. Some of that terrorism was refocused on the region, as factions engaged in a power struggle which still ensues. We have won a thousand battles and the war continues.

The third phase is financial. Wars, insurrections, cannot be conducted without funding. This is the most covert phase and therefore the most difficult to combat. Air strikes to take out oil targets, all that seems simple enough. Who are the customers buying the oil? Where is that oil going? I tried to explain to my brother that it really doesn’t have to go that far. It just has to be cheap, and available, and someone will buy it. There are a thousand middlemen. There are pipelines, roads, trucks, ships all over the region, and everyone likes money. Some of them probably do hate ‘the West’, or at least don’t like us quite so much as they like their own people. That part is understandable. Using Intelligence to follow the money trail and the arrest and criminal prosecution of principals would appear to be the only effective strategy. It is also extremely time-consuming and requires long-term commitment from a number of parties. It also requires thorough cooperation among quite a number countries, some of which are unstable, disintegrating like Syria, or ambiguous in their attitudes.

Some of them are not particular friendly to the West, like Iran.

Some of those states have limited control within their own borders. Some of their infrastructures are known to be corrupt, and sympathetic to the enemy. Saudi Arabia is a Sunni Muslim country. They may well sympathize to a certain extent, in ISIS/Daesh’s struggle with the Shia Muslims, whom they view as heretics. Yet the inevitable result of a strong, fundamentalist state right on their borders can only be to destabilize the Saudi kingdom. Internal opposition forces, conservative or fundamentalist social forces can also see that and try to take advantage of it for their own political gain. There is no doubt that some of the money supporting the terrorists and ISIS/Daesh comes from within Saudi Arabia. It comes from plenty of other places as well, including the U.S., the U.K., and probably every western country where there is money to be made and, essentially, sent home to fuel the revolution. Foreign governments and security services can only offer so much assistance. 

They will do whatever they want within their own borders, this is the logic of power and the holding of power in your own country. To act unilaterally within the borders of Saudi Arabia can only be perceived in negative terms by the Saudis. The fact is, it is up to the Saudis to clean up their own backyard—with all the attendant risks of doing so. For the record, it is also true that the state of Israel, with its continuing policy of occupation, colonization and exploitation of Palestinian lands contributes greatly to instability in the region. This festering sore of western foreign policy (for we have not been able to stop it), also contributes to the radicalization of individuals.

The fourth phase is informational. It is the war of information, and I think it’s vital how we frame this to ourselves and others: this is not and should not be about ‘Islam’, it is and should be about terror, violence, and the rule of law, both domestic and international.

The war of information is broken down into several aspects. The enemy tries to learn about us and we learn about them. That’s intelligence-gathering. Then there is the propaganda war, where they make statements in the media and we make statements in the media. We’re talking back and forth to each other, essentially, an important and timeless aspect of war. Then there is the whole problem of surveillance of friendly populations who may harbour small numbers of enemy operatives. There is a huge amount of information to be collected, analyzed and disseminated. In any conflict, there is communication between enemies. The apocalyptic message of ISIS/Daesh will not appeal to many, and this is certainly true among Muslims themselves. Many of them are secularized and would like nothing better than to continue on that way, making small and incremental social changes that are relatively non-threatening and do not destabilize their own country and their own home. They can make those social and political decisions, reflecting the will of the common person, using their own value system and paying heed to their own sensibilities.

It is so much better if they have the opportunity to do that in peace, plenty and prosperity.

There will always be information and disinformation in a conflict.

This is as true in peace as it is in war.


END





Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Dear Mister Trump: the World Is a Ball.

The world is a ball, sir.





Zach Neal





Dear Mister Trump.

The world is a ball.

Simple geometry would have told the ancients that the world is a globe. In the middle of summer, at this latitude in southern Canada, the sun rises in the northeast and sets in the northwest. Day by day, the angle changes, almost imperceptibly, but over a week or a month it becomes pretty obvious. The stars go around in the heavens, and yet even then the picture changes over the seasons. It is clearly cyclical even to our own personal experience, without getting into any deep analytical thinking.

In winter, the sun rises in the southeast and sets in the southwest. On the solstices, and only on the solstices, the sun rises due east and sets due west.

It would be extremely difficult to reconcile this fact with the notion that those other objects revolved around a fixed, flat Earth. The real question to ancient scholars, astrologers, mathematicians, philosophers, would be why?

Why, sir, should it be so?

Why would the sun revolve around the Earth and yet sunset also go up and down in terms of angle like that. This is especially true when the sun looks like a burning ball in the sky, the moon is not just round, but goes through phases, including a dark, circular shadow on its surface. Then there is the new moon period. It must be accounted for. Because of parallax and the size of the Earth, more than fifty percent of the moon is visible over the lunar cycle. The only way to account for that would be to believe the moon is spherical. Ancient scholars did more than sit around and think. A simple experiment in a darkened room with a couple of spherical objects and a light source would have quickly confirmed a hypothesis: the world might be a ball. It would still only be a theory, although evidence lay all around, if only a man had the wit to see it.

Archimedes, by Domenico Fetti.
With a straight edge of sufficient length, easily checked for straightness by eye alone, the horizon can clearly be observed to be curved. This is even more true when the horizon is viewed from any great height. We rarely see the horizon, as most of us live in cities, in the suburbs, or in places with terrain, brush, or even just inland.

In a sense, we accept that the world is round without ever having the ability to verify it by our own observation.

That is the difference between the average person and someone like Aristarchus or Cristopher Columbus. They had the ability to conduct the experiment. In the 1470s, Florentine astronomer Toscanelli clearly believed the world was round.

Aristarchus’ experiment not only showed that the Earth was round, but estimated the distance to the sun. His solution is surprisingly accurate.

Columbus’ experiment was even simpler. If the world is a ball, and if that ball is a certain size, then going west might be shorter than going east.

His math wasn’t so good, and he thought the planet was even smaller than it actually is.

According to Gibbon, the first compasses were used for navigation by the sailors of Amalfi in the thirteenth century. This knowledge may have been brought back from China by Marco Polo.


Sincerely, your good friend and colleague,

Zach Neal.