Archive for September, 2005

Repression and Routers

Sunday, September 25th, 2005

Shi Tao was an editor with the Chinese publication Dungdai Shangba. He was a recently sentenced to 10 years in prison for communicating with foreigners via e-mail. His crime was “illegally providing state secrets to foreign entities,” a common charge in China used to suppress independent journalism. What makes Tao’s case particularly worrisome is that Tao was tracked down via his supposedly anonymous Yahoo e-mail account with the cooperation of Yahoo’s operations in China. Jerry Yang, one of the founders of Yahoo, as well as the entire corporation, has come under criticism in the Internet community for their cooperation. Yahoo’s defense is that they have no choice but to comply with the laws of the countries in which they operate.

Yahoo’s position is not courageous or noble, but it is hard to articulate a realistic alternative corporate position for Yahoo. The option of all major free e-mail suppliers like Yahoo, Google, and MSN pulling operations out of China would not seem viable. Even if these companies were willing to forgo such a lucrative market, many Chinese would be left with far fewer e-mail options and these would likely be even more controlled by the Chinese government

While it is clear that cooperation with the Chinese government’s efforts to intimidate journalists facilitates repression, there are other cases that are not so clear. Should, for example, Yahoo cooperate with the US government, presumably acting with court authorization, to track down e-mailers using Yahoo to conspire to commit a terrorist act? On one extreme, one would not want Yahoo to cooperate with Chinese repression of journalism and at the other extreme we would expect cooperation against terrorism. In the close cases, it might not be wise to have Yahoo or other corporations deciding when cooperation would be warranted. Perhaps, the best we could expect from Internet providers like Yahoo is that they provide tools to help maintain privacy. Perhaps, if they incorporated encryption by default in their e-mail services, they could do far more to protect personal liberty.

The old conventional wisdom was that political and economic liberties are inseparable. If a government tried to allow economic liberty to release market forces and to grow wealth, it would inevitably lead to the destruction of barriers protecting political repression. Modern, economically free societies require transparency and rapid communication. It is difficult to maintain political control under such circumstances. This conventional wisdom held that putting political censors between people, slows down communication and is incompatible with the rapid pace of modern economies. Perhaps, this conventional wisdom is being shattered by rapidly evolving technology.

China is on the forefront of marrying a modern economy with rigorous political orthodoxy. They are already using their control over the Internet infrastructure to block out political apostasy. If a user points a browser to a prohibited URL, the user receives a benign-appearing “File not found” message. It is difficult to distinguish between the suppression of free speech from ordinary network failures; censorship with a gentler, less aggravating face.

Up until this point, the level of political censorship was limited by the technical capacity to search for offending key words and to block offending IP addresses. To help in enforcement, China employs legions of Internet police. With a planned new upgrade in their communications infrastructure and a new generation of smart routers from Cisco and other manufactures, China is looking forward to a greater capacity for censorship. If censorship can be carried out efficiently at the router level, then perhaps it will be possible to have political censorship without slowing down the commercial communications necessary for a modern economy. Even more depressing, as manufacturers develop new censorship hardware for China, the technology will be available to others, less able to fund the development of such new capability, but certainly willing to employ it if available.

In the face of this development, perhaps there are some glimmers of hope. The personal interactions between people in and out of China, the travel incumbent in commercial societies, will inevitably expose the Chinese to the habits of free people. The willingness to question authority and a personal ease associated with knowing no one is listening over one’s shoulder with inevitably infect Chinese culture. Indeed perhaps, it is these same qualities that insure success in the market. The economic success of those who possess such a disposition may leak over into their political dispositions as well.

It is a race between improvements in censorship technology and the inherent need for freedom and openness, coupled with the evolution of technological counter measures. The winner is not yet clear.


Cherry, Steven, “The Net Effect,” IEEE Spectrum, 38-44, June, 2005.

Frank Monaldo — Please e-mail comments to

This page last updated on: 09/25/2005 19:55:57

Wrong Words at a Bad Time

Sunday, September 11th, 2005

Almost faster than the response of Coast Guard helicopters in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Left mounted its attack on the Bush Administration. Nothing is too hurtful that it cannot be cynically exploited by the Left’s perpetual anger with President George W. Bush.

The very first critical barrage was that because of Iraq, there would not be enough National Guard troops to help out in the aftermath Hurricane Katrina. It turned out there are more than enough troops and that their experience in Iraq suited them to dealing with Hobbesian State that some areas of New Orleans had descended to under decades of Democratic Party leadership.

Then there was the instantly responsive Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. who raced to press blaming Hurricane Katrina on the Bush Administration’s failure to accept the Kyoto Protocol. Bush gets too much credit for this. After all, the Senate, which requires a two-thirds majority to pass a treaty, rejected Kyoto 93-0. There were a lot of Democrats included in those 93 votes.

Even given legitimate and thoughtful concerns about the effects of global warming, the association of any particular storm with a long-term climate trend is essentially unknowable and irresponsible. Moreover, if people like Kennedy had not vigorously opposed the extension of civilian nuclear power and if the US had developed nuclear power to the same extent as it is used in France for electricity generation, we would have exceeded the reduction in carbon dioxide emissions mandated by Kyoto. If we emit more common dioxide than we need to, the environmental Left is one reason.

Initial impressions of the response to the devastation pointed to lethargy on the part of federal authorities. Though this critique is apt, the more we learn about what happened after Katrina, the clearer it is that state and local officials may have been the key impediments to a more timely humanitarian response. Calls for evacuation came late despite accurate storm predictions. Once a mandatory evacuation order was given, state and local officials did not follow their own plans by evacuating hospitals and using buses to transport those without transportation to shelters on higher ground.

Immediately after the storm winds subsided and before portions of levies broke inundating streets and making them impassible, the Red Cross was trying to deliver truck loads of water and meals to the Super Dome and Convention Center in New Orleans. T hey were prevented from delivery by the Louisiana Department of Homeland Security. Apparently, the Super Dome and the Convention Center were “shelters of last resors” and Louisiana did not want to encourage people to stay there by sending supplies. In retrospect that was a grievous error. Indeed, it was the images of people suffering at those two venues that painted a picture of a city out of control.

There will undoubtedly be many investigations detailing mistakes made at all levels of government and by citizens themselves. Some mistakes will have been caused by inadequate systems in place, others caused by incompetence or stupidity. There will be political recriminations, as there should be. Politics, as cacophonous and chaotic as it is, is our collective way of sorting out issues.

However, when political recriminations unnecessarily and indiscriminately undermine public comity and exacerbate race relations they become destructive. Over time, the nation is healing from a long history that included slavery and racial discrimination. Scraping the scabs off such healing for political gain is despicable.

One might dismiss sharks trolling far off the mainstream like rapper Kanye West who asserted that the problems of getting aid to people in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina was because, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” What about supposedly responsible spokesman?

Never one to be rhetorically outdone, Howard Dean, Chairman of the Democratic National Committee argues that, “Race was a factor in the death toll from Hurricane Katrina…” Those who are economically better off will generally fair better in most situations and there remains too great a correlation between economic well-being and race. However, to focus on race at this point does not appeal to the better angels of our nature. It divides rather than unites and nurtures despair rather than hope.

Great challenges can reveal the nobility in people. New Orleans may arise from this catastrophe an invigorated city, united as a community, and better fortified against natural calamity. Ugly words will not help.

Iraq and Al Qaeda Connection

Monday, September 5th, 2005

Conventional wisdom, once set, is difficult to budge even under the pressure of persuasive proof to the contrary. This is especially true when the conventional wisdom reinforces the common narrative of the main stream media. One axiom of conventional wisdom is that there was no relationship between Saddam Hussein’s Iraq regime and al Qaeda. The existence of a relationship would increase the probability that Iraq might provide logistical or even chemical weapons expertise to al Qaeda. On the other hand, the absence of any relationship between al Qaeda and Iraq would minimize the potential threat posed by Iraq to the United States.

Al Qaeda and its leaders Usama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri issued a fatwa in 1998 declaring war on the United States, urging Muslim’s to kill Americans wherever possible. Indeed, it was the “individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it.” Pursuant to this fatwa, al Qaeda operatives managed to kill 3,000 Americans with terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

The conventional wisdom that al Qaeda and Saddam’s Iraq were not allied or cooperating was buttressed by the preliminary, tentatively and carefully worded conclusion of the 9/11 Commission’s that it could find evidence of no “collaborative operational relationship” between the two. However, as is want with media shorthand the headlines became, “9/11 panel sees no link between Iraq, al-Qaida.”

In the political aftermath of the Iraq War, it is often conveniently forgotten that the Clinton Administration and other Democrats first made the strong case for an Al Qaeda and Iraqi relationship.

Before the Iraq War, Senate Intelligence Committee Vice-Chairman, Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) saw a “substantial connection between Iraq and al Qaeda.” Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CN) reported that, “I’ve seen a lot of evidence on this. There are extensive contacts between Saddam Hussein’s government and al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.” Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) “[Saddam Hussein] has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including al Qaeda members, though there is apparently no evidence of his involvement in the terrible events of September 11, 2001.” The Clinton Administration’s legal indictment in Federal Court against bin Laden in 1998 claimed, “Al Qaeda reached an understanding with the government of Iraq that al Qaeda would not work against that government, and that on particular projects, specifically including weapons development, al Qaeda would work cooperatively with the government of Iraq.”

Additional consideration of the evidence included in the 9/11 Commission Report plus the availability of new evidence that has come to light since the liberation of Iraq paint a picture of a level of cooperation between Iraq and al Qaeda that may have indeed endangered US security. This does not mean that Iraq Intelligence was operationally involved in the specific events of September 11. This straw man claim has never been made. However, it does mean that the level of cooperation and contacts of Saddam’s Iraq and Al Qaeda were sufficient that it would be irresponsible to ignore or dismiss it as insubstantial.

Much of this emerging picture is visible from public documents and has been pulled together by Stephen Hayes in Connections. A lot of dots are being connected and new dots are emerging to complete a picture of the pre-war Iraqi an al Qaeda connection. Here are a few of these dots:

The most conspicuous evidence of Iraq and al Qaeda cooperation is al Zawahiri himself. Al Zawahiri who, with bin Laden helped issued the fatwa against the United States, was in Afghanistan with al Qaeda fighting the US and was injured. He fled to pre-war Iraq and has subsequently led the insurgency against the Coalition and the new Iraqi government. Al Zawahiri was no stranger to Baghdad. He consulted with Iraqi officials during a visit in 1998 and received $300,000 for his efforts. It takes an ideologically-blinded eye not to see at least professional terrorist courtesy between Iraq and al Qaeda in al Zawahiri’s Iraqi visit, his refuge in Iraq after fighting in Afghanistan, and his present leadership of the Iraqi insurgency.

The US government has released information from interrogations of detainees from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba indicating an al Qaeda detainee had traveled to Pakistan with an Iraqi intelligence agent to blow up the US and British embassies. That plot was thwarted.

Captured documents from the Iraqi Intelligence Service indicate that they regarded al Qaeda members as useful assets. One Iraq Intelligence Service memo urged ties to al Qaeda and specifically averred that, “Cooperation between the two organizations should be allowed to develop freely through discussion and agreements.”

The Iraqis provided asylum for Abdul Rahman Yasin who was involved in the 1993 al Qaeda bombing of the World Trade Center. Iraq did not plan that 1993 World Trade Center bombing, but was apparently happy to protect someone who did.

Unwinding the intricate ties and relationships of intelligence services and terrorist organizations is always going to be a difficult an unsatisfying task. There is no clear way to assign accurate weights to the information found. The credibility of sources is usually murky. Conclusions must always be tentative. Often the patterns that appear to emerge are at least as much a function of the internal narratives of the viewers as of the data. Nonetheless, the burden of proof now appears to have shifted from those who were always concerned about the dangers of relationships between Iraqi intelligence and al Qaeda to those dismiss the pre-war Iraq-Al Qaeda relationship.