The salami slice and pulse strategy against our freedom

A government with authoritarian-minded bureaucrats and politicians (or simply with fearful pussy bureaucrats and politicians who are hysterically fearful in a honest way) cannot turn a democratic, free country into a total surveillance and omnipotent police state overnight. This can only be done at the pace permitted by the people.

The agenda towards more snooping, more surveillance, more police powers was kept in check till the early 1990's by the need to be different than the Warsaw pact. Total surveillance, unlimited detention, torture and the like were perceived as 'communist' government actions, and largely unacceptable in the West. Only minorities (black civil rights movement in the USA, for example) and foreigners in foreign countries (CIA torture in Latin America) were exposed to such methods.
This barrier fell with the demise of the Warsaw Pact; soon thereafter, the roots of a surveillance state had their breakthrough. Germany introduced a telephone surveillance law in the mid-90's, for example. Just as it was still publicly exasperated by the revelations about what the STASI did in East Germany.

Huge steps faced huge opposition and were rare without much support, of course. Small steps towards more surveillance, more snooping, more police and intelligence services powers were made instead; the salami slice approach. ideally, no single slice was large enough to mobilize the critical mass of political opposition. The next slice was in order once the people had accustomed to the last one. It was quite the same as with the creeping militarisation of foreign policy in Germany since the mid-90's.

Some slices cannot be kept small, though - the expansion sometimes bumps into taboos, and overcoming those means the slice will be large and visible. That's when hysterias are being provoked and exploited ruthlessly.
Every terror attack - domestic or abroad, "successful" or foiled - draws the pro-authoritarians into the spotlight, and they pretend loudly that breaking freedom-protecting taboos adds security. They even do it when the country hit by a "successful" terror attack actually already had gotten rid of said taboo, proving that this wouldn't protect. Effectiveness doesn't matter, of course: The authoritarians do this as a matter of principle and ideology, not because it would actually work well. 
Shortly thereafter, some bill is drafted for taboo-abolishing legislation that makes us less free and the government less restricted, more powerful.

And thus we're getting salami-sliced into a less free society, and pulsed by actually negligible acts of terror into giving up even large chunks of freedom.

This strategy works. It doesn't win every battle, but it's about to win the war because there's no antagonist strategy rolling all the rubbish back. You cannot win by defending only if the attacker doesn't get depleted.

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I didn't add links to this text because I had dozens of old Defence and Freedom blog posts in mind while writing it. See for yourself:

A recent example is being provided by the British, with the serial liar Blair as one of the instigators:
It has all the features: Breaking of well-founded taboos, known to be ineffective rubbish, exploiting the post-Hebdo hysteria, attempt to make the legislation low profile (keeping the slice size small).


For your next Sci-fi movie set in about 2040 ...




On defence policy and alliances

The discourse on "security policy" lacks a certain clarity of thought and clarity of purpose in my opinion. It's very much possible and even outright likely that resources will be wasted, avoidable hostilities be created, wealth, health, freedom and lives be lost if nations follow a path in "security policy" without such clarity of thought and clarity of purpose.

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Humans live in groups because this is mostly the better way to live, and as groups they communicate and deal with other groups through representatives. Much of this is engrained in our genetic heritage apparently, but we have evolved our groups quickly during the last couple thousands of years. Clans were replaced by tribes, and tribes were replaced by states. States have created multi-state groups - even alliances with their own bureaucracy. Our instincts did not match this development because it was too quick. Much of our instincts suits the hunter-gatherer band much better than it does a modern state. Thus we need to think with great clarity and overrule our instincts often in order to achieve better outcomes.

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Defence policy is first and foremost about warding off the loss and suffering brought about by war on one's own soil. It extends to warding off as much of the loss and suffering brought about by war in general - even if war was forced onto the state.
Security policy follows a broader definition. It extends as far as influencing the threat and outcomes of war in distant places, in an attempt to garner advantages for oneself. Said "oneself" is never the whole population or citizenry of one's state, but typically a special interest group or conglomerate thereof.

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Almost no group has ever been able to defend itself or will ever be able to reign do so without the tolerance by other groups. Even great powers thus seek cooperation with or allegiance of other states, supra-state institutions  and even non-government groups.
Some weaker states sense threats to themselves which don't believe to be able to ward off with their own strength. Others believe this to be possible, but still consider cooperation with other states to be more favourable.
These states have good reasons to look at alliances as an institution which enables their defence policy to accomplish its mission, and typically so for much less effort than if defence policy was done in isolation. A state which believes itself to be able to defend itself and still enters an alliance would be led by fools if the resources allocated to defence policy wouldn't be reduced ceteris paribus to match the improved situation.

Weak states' leaders in a strong alliance are exposed to the same temptations as the leaders of strong states: The temptations to use the power at hand for policies which don't provide the public good of security against war's losses and sufferings, but advantages to special interest groups. Said special interest groups could even be foreign groups, such as (supposedly) ideologically aligned groups. It could also be a single ruler himself, driven by a taste for playing games with the game pieces available to him or her.

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"Security policy" as well as "defence policy" could also be defined on basis of misconceptions about the outside world. Pre-historic hunter-gatherer groups may have misjudged the intentions of another group they met. Today's politicians, lobbyists, pundits, scholars, flag officers and interested citizens could easily misunderstand a foreign group's motives, capabilities, actions and plans. Ignorance about expenses required or benefits gained by certain policies usually leads to poor judgements as well. More general forms of incompetence aren't rare either.
The result could be wasteful and the actions could self-defeat their purpose - even without any pattern of anti-social motivations on part of the actors.

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Changes in the status quo are more impressive than the status quo and affect our judgement out of proportion. Arriving reinforcements influence soldiers' morale in battle much more than their participation right from the beginning of the battle, for example. Such judgement suitable to bands of hunter-gatherers is ill-suited for decision-making on a state or alliance level. We know people react based on pre-historic patterns and should take this into account regarding the how to do, but not in decision-making regarding what to do. A politician serves his people best if he decides on a course of action without undue influences, but recognises that he needs to take into account undue influences on others in order to succeed.
Back to changes in the status quo; a change in the relative economic or military power usually provokes exaggerated reactions, which can easily lead to avoidable losses and suffering. It is most important to preserve, gain or regain clarity of thought and purpose when one faces events which outright provoke a breakthrough of the primitive self.
Avid readers of international news on security policy or history can easily find many instances of hysteria, irrationality, wastefulness, misjudgement unnecessary hostility and incompetence. These are failures of outgrown hunter-gatherer groups to react with clarity of though and clarity of purpose to their outer world. People suffer and die in the process. Anyone who tries to reduce such failures has a noble goal in life.



[Fun] Satire against Islamophobes

Many people were driven into Islamophobia by propaganda and entertainment. I tried to push back against some of the more extreme misconceptions a couple years ago already, but the French produced a piece of satire on the topic that's so delicious, it deserves to be shown:

click on the image for the full length
click on the image for the full length!

It's too bad so much attention gets wasted on largely imaginary problems.



UK: "Investigative journalists" ~ "terrorists" and "hackers"

"New evidence from other UK intelligence documents revealed by Snowden also shows that a GCHQ information security assessment listed “investigative journalists” as a threat in a hierarchy alongside terrorists or hackers."

The Guardian

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A different article on the (in)efficacy of all the "counter-terror" snooping:

Soon after Snowden’s revelations, Alexander said that the N.S.A.’s surveillance programs have stopped “fifty-four different terrorist-related activities.” Most of these were “terrorist plots.” Thirteen involved the United States. Credit for foiling these plots, he continued, was partly due to the metadata program, intended to “find the terrorist that walks among us.” (...)
(...) Senator Patrick Leahy (...) called the fifty-four-plots statistic “plainly wrong . . . these weren’t all plots, and they weren’t all thwarted.” He cited a statement by Alexander’s deputy that “there’s only really one example of a case where, but for the use of Section 215 bulk phone-records collection, terrorist activity was stopped.” “He’s right,” [NSA director] Alexander said.

New Yorker

A reminder for why I blog on civil liberties topics in addition to classic defence topics: It's pointless to defend freedom against outsiders if you already lost it to a clique of fellow countrymen!


Vintage film about fieldcraft


I think he overdid a bit on the helmet. Even slight head movement would be very conspicuous because so much would swirl around.
The narrator also confused concealment (protection against detection, not against shot) with cover (protection against both) at times.

Isn't it a bit uneasy how much the narrator stresses the importance of being speedy on the foot at times? The movements shown when he says so are largely impossible for a modern infantryman weighted down by 15+ kg of armour alone.



The DEA Just Ended A Secret 15-Year Phone Call Spying Program


"The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has halted a secret, nearly 15-year program that collected virtually all data on international calls between the United States and certain countries, according to documents and officials familiar with the matter.
The sweeping bulk DEA database program was stopped in September 2013"

John Shiffman, Reuters

Please note; the program began in 1998, long before the 9/11 hysteria when Arab terrorists were little more than the baddies in action C-movies.

The quantity of such revelations supports the thesis that the reason for the mass surveillance is not terrorism or some specific threat; it's a systemic issue. The explanation for this should be searched and I think can be found in more general theories about bureaucracies such as Niskanen's bureaucrat, Principal-Agent model etc. or in psychology. It sure seems to be a global and persistent pattern. I don't think that this or that institution is evil or rotten while others are better: I believe the "better" ones are either better at hiding what they do or they have simply been given less resources and/or freedom of action.

Rules and supervision schemes can be devised to limit excesses and to discourage championing of excesses, but first the public needs to consider the issue worthy of its attention and worthy of outrage, or there won't be robust, lasting improvements.
Sadly, the public and especially so the "published opinion" tend to waste attention on irrelevant or marginally relevant topics and give more serious problems and troublemakers a free pass this way.



Military Theory blog posts

Blog texts tagged "Military Theory" were and are a particular object of pride of mine because very few milbloggers address such topics. There are (surprisingly) simple reasons for why my output in this area didn't keep up the 2009-2012 levels:

(1) Train travels
I travelled much by train  for my job in those years, and I preferred two things on long trail travels: Sleeping (uncomfortable!) and thinking about military theory, making notes.

(2) Age
I'm possibly past the age bracket of greatest creativity (yes, there's such a thing)

(3) Common roots
Much of what I wrote was in one way or another linked to a finite set of ideas I already had in 2008-2010. I've probably explored most of the conclusions from that set of ideas.

I'm still confident that I'll be able to easily exceed the quality ambitions of the gazillion of 'military power is sexy' milblogs. I will also push the German spin-off "Verteidigung und Freiheit" soon with a better layout, hopefully with an average of one post per week..

Meanwhile, events in Europe convince me that anti-war and civil liberties contributions are badly needed.