Showing posts with label terrorism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label terrorism. Show all posts

Friday, November 13, 2015

Stand with Paris

Its hard to believe that its been almost 15 years since I watched a video of a second plane fly into the World Trade Center. I remember panic thinking about my family in NYC - was anyone in the city that morning?

A few short years later brought the British bus attacks and another moment as I realized that the family of a close friend was commuting through London that day.

Tonight the target was the city of lights and Camus and Curie and Poincare. A city-wide series of shootings & bombings were launched in Paris that bear a troubling resemblance to the similar series of murders in Mumbai. Once again the targets are ordinary people who play no role in global politics. Concert goers. Soccer fans.

I hope it is still possible to stop this type of violence. I hope it does not spark further violence or serve as an excuse to turn Paris into a DMZ. I hope that this tragedy brings out the absolute best of the French and those of us who share her values.

No matter what happens, we can rely on the fact that Paris will survive tonight's murders. Paris survived Hitler. Paris survived Napoleon and Louis and Robespierre.

Paris will survive this.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

"Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium" (TRAC) labels internet trolls "extreme right wing terrorists"

In my internet travels today, I came across a group called the "Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium" (TRAC). TRAC claims to provide:
"researchers in the fields of terrorism studies, political science, international relations, sociology, criminal justice, philosophy and history with content that provides comprehensive data and analysis for complex topics."
I assume that one of those complex topics is terrorism, both because of the name, and because their website is a large list of various groups and individuals that TRAC describes in a few incendiary paragraphs before pigeon-holing them as terrorists.

TRAC claims they have a lot of these profiles:
"With tens of thousands (and expanding) web pages of information, over 4,650 (and expanding) group profiles, and 2,800 consortium members, TRAC provides many ways to efficiently access information."
These profiles are apparently compiled into a database, which they sell subscriptions to. Individual user prices that are posted on the website are between $500 - $750 per year.

Sure enough, a lot of these profiles point the finger at groups that would ordinarily be labeled as terrorists (even though the term itself is a contested one). al Nusra is there, as is the Islamic State. But some of the profiles just don't seem to make all that much sense. There is a profile for the "Communist Workers Group" that are labeled as "Left Wing Terrorist Groups (Marxist)". The only additional information provided is a single sentence that indicates the group was formed in 2001 and has since been disbanded. There have been multiple organizations operating under that name - including the American Communist Workers Movement (now the Marxist-Leninist Party, USA) and the Revolutionary Communist Workers Movement of Turkey. But neither of those groups were formed in 2001 - and neither were involved in overt acts of violence that I am aware of.

More troubling is the Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium's habit of labeling groups of teenage internet trolls and hacktivists as terrorists. Among the groups targeted by TRAC for outting as violent extremists are the Rustle League, Goatse Security and GNAA. These three groups came to national attention largely by performing obnoxious by largely harmless online pranks. Goatse Security actually managed to obtain a cache of Apple ID user information for which group member Andrew Auernheimer was convicted of some form of computer crime. That was the worst of it. None of these groups have ever been accused of engaging in violence.

TRAC prints a small-print, below-the-fold disclaimer that can be viewed by clicking a button below each scare-mongering profile (typos included from the original):
"Groups and individuals included in TRAC's database range from actual perpetrators of social or political violence to more passive groups that support or condone (perhaps unwittingly) such violence. The spectrum of violence represented by these groups is vast, from Jihadists who bomb train stations to financial institutions that transfer funds. Some groups that originally engaged in violence but have since become legitimate political parties are included to providehistorical [sic] perspective. TRAC is in no way attempting to determine whether groups or individuals are terrorists--only to convey reported information about theiractivities [sic] and official State status. While TRAC attempts to ensure the accuracy of its TRAC database, the entries in the database are from numerous different sources. Hence, TRAC cannot and does not warrant the accuracy of the entries in its database.The editors of TRAC may modify these entries at any time andwelcome [sic] comments and suggested corrections or additions. Please write vkhan@tracterrorism.org or hit the "Add Additions" button on the page of the group profile about which you wish to comment."
My favorite part of this disclaimer is the part where TRAC "does not warrant the accuracy of the entries in its database" which is a bit like a car dealer not warranting that your new automobile will drive off the lot. I also enjoy the bit at the beginning in which TRAC states that those who unwittingly condone violence fit the bill for terrorism. Ignorance is no defense!

Even by the most egregious abuses of the term "terrorist", those who simply engage in speech do not fit the bill. Likewise, publishing someone's Apple ID is not terrorism. Rustle League, GNAA & Goatse Security are largely apolitical groups that engage in offensive and unpopular speech. Offensive & unpopular speech is not violence - and the idea that organizations like the "Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium" earn a profit by selling lists of people who engage in offensive speech by mis-labeling them violent extremists is troubling on a variety of levels. This sort of mis-diagnosis draws attention away from actual violent extremists. It normalizes the idea that speech is somehow equal to physical violence - a destructive and frankly un-American idea whose ultimate aim is to justify the use of violence to silence speech. And it libels groups who are mis-labels terrorists: the terrorist label is perhaps the only label more destructive to a person's liberty and livelihood in our current culture than "child molester". Employers and customers would rightly not want to do business with a terrorist; it is illegal to do business with those labeled as terrorists by a government in a variety of different ways. Should someone in law enforcement or intelligence take TRAC's nonsense seriously the consequences could be tragic.

If TRAC wishes to compile lists of terrorists, they should focus on groups who engage in political violence and not teenagers and young adults who say silly things on the internet to get a rise out of strangers.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Charlie Hebdo - Martyrs & Heroes of Free Speech

This morning the headquarters of Parisian comedy rag Charlie Hebdo was attacked. Masked gunmen entered the magazine's office and killed 10 employees and 2 French policemen who tried to intervene.

The gunmen escaped, and are apparently at large.

While there has yet to be a formal claim of responsibility, just about everyone with a news press or a TV camera believes that the perpetrators are Islamic militants. Hebdo HQ has already been attacked for publishing funny papers mocking the holy Muhammed; about 3 short years ago, the office was firebombed.

This blog o' mine is focused on fixing computers. Occasionally, we talk about how computers are used (and mis-used) to violate people's privacy. Rarely, if ever, do we get political; excepting once or twice when we have mocked US government attempts to abolish encryption. This post will be an exception.

I take free speech seriously. I have always enjoyed shooting off at the mouth. Moreover, the newspaper racket is somewhat of a family business. Growing up around journos, I have heard all manner of horror stories of people reading things in the funny papers they don't like, and trying to act tough to silence voices they don't agree with.

In the US, this tough guy act is usually limited to lawsuits and brief imprisonment. Its getting worse, though. While the US has occasionally imprisoned journalists in Guantanamo Bay or killed reporters by bombing news agency buildings, reporters here on American soil are relatively safe. The worst a newsman can expect on US soil can expect is getting their head cracked open or a brief stay in detention. When a journalist here is either indicted (like Barrett Brown) or threatened with jail (like James Risen), it tends to make big news.

As the situation slowly and inexorably degrades for free speech acolytes here in the States, so goes the rest of the world. That said, the US is the only country in the world with a First Amendment or anything even resembling it, so the downward trip has been much shorter for our friends abroad. When it comes to the idea that people should be able to speak their mind without fear of violent reprisal (from the state or from someone else), most folks just don't agree.

As such, this post serves as dual protest. First and foremost, I stand alongside the writers of Charlie Hebdo and will do my small part to ensure that violence will not silence their voice.

I don't agree with Charlie Hebdo's politics. In fact, we probably disagree on just about everything. But the staff of Charlie Hebdo has a right to speak their mind. In continuing to speak their mind in the face of continuing threats of violence, they have earned my lasting respect and admiration.

Secondly, and more generally, violence will never be a solution to unpopular speech. The gunman that so senselessly murdered those 12 people today are attempting to bully others into silence. They believe that with enough murder and thuggery they can create a world in their own image. A world that may not believe as they do, but is terrified to speak out in disagreement.

The crime of these men is two-fold. They committed a murder of individuals. And they have attempted to murder the market of ideas which is the hallmark of a free society.

The gunmen have succeeded in their first crime. They made their murder and effected their escape. In their second plan, they will fail. They will fail so long as there are women and men in the world who will speak out in the face of violence.

And so, to ensure that second conspiracy ends in failure to the best of my ability, I reproduce here each one of the cartoons of Charlie Hebdo that has inspired today's violent response. I invite you to share and circulate these images; not because you agree with the cartoons themselves, but because you agree that people should not be killed for ideas.


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