how the NSA made Gmail unpatriotic

Nov 3, 2008

NOTE: This post is seriously off-topic for this blog; but it is a subject upon which I regularly get questioned by friends and family…so I’m posting it here for public discussion.

Twenty-one years ago, I took the following oath of office as a new basic cadet at the U.S. Air Force Academy:

I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.

This is an oath I have been bound to for 21 years and am still as a commissioned officer in the Texas Air National Guard.

As any school child in the US can tell you, the first ten Amendments to the Constitution are called the Bill of Rights. They include declarations of Americans’ rights to free speech and freedom from unreasonable searches.

The First Amendment guarantees the right to free speech and states:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Similarly, the Fourth Amendment provides for the protection of our privacy from unwarranted prying eyes of the government:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Unfortunately, for decades since Cold War technology enabled it, those rights have gone unprotected–or selectively protected–for some Americans. After 9.11.01, with the introduction of the Patriot Act, lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle essentially denied these fundamental rights to all Americans enabling the now standard practice of the NSA (and who knows what other government agencies) to collect as much data about all of our communications as possible. These communications include not just public ones–blog posts, tweets, Facebook statuses, etc.–but ones that are reasonably considered private–text messages, emails, details about phone calls, etc.

Until last summer, when Edward Snowden’s revelations about our own government’s widespread data collection and spying on US citizens became public, I was a long-time user (think back to when Gmail was invite only!) of online email and storage services by Google, Dropbox, Box, and others based in the US. These are all technologically great services that exemplify the functionality, beauty, and cross-platform elegance many of us have come to love about online services. Since the initial news broke; however, there has been a nearly non-stop string of additional, ever-troubling disclosures about the NSA’s compromise of nearly every US-hosted web service imaginable.

For one sworn to support the Constitution, this is a big deal.

Because their compromise by the NSA is directly opposed to the rights established and guaranteed by the Constitution, I no longer believe using any of these services is the right thing to do. In other words, knowingly using a service that violates the basic rights afforded to Americans is anti-patriotic because it defies the Constitution. These rights and this argument has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not we as citizens have anything to hide–quite honestly I don’t. It’s a matter of principle, like the initial struggle that formed our nation. I no longer use these services because they (willingly or not, depending on which sources you believe) directly oppose the fundamental rights upon which our grand country was established.

So what services do I use? Great question. Over the past seven months, I’ve tried out many different services from around the world that offer various levels of security and privacy for their email and storage. Currently I use:

  • email: Posteo email — for 1 euro (about $1.30) per month you get email hosted in Germany (read up on their privacy laws if concerned) with 2 GB of storage (more storage is cheap), IMAP/POP, webDAV-accessible calendar, English-capable webmail interface, etc. The UI isn’t as fancy as Gmail or Yandex mail, but it’s plenty good enough.
  • online storage: Tresorit for encrypted storage (encryption takes place on your machine before being uploaded…this is important) / Jottacloud and Telekom-DE mediacenter for unencrypted storage that is easy to share. Each of these services is hosted in EU nations that are not keen on letting the US pry on their customers.

Is this a perfect solution? Nope. Can US spooks find their way into anywhere they really want to be? Probably. Like I said, it’s a matter of principle and a small one–a band-aid of sorts until such time as we the people can make legislative changes to prevent future disregard of our foundational American rights.

One final note: if you’re interested in signing up for Tresorit or Jottacloud, drop me a note (tcjudd AT posteo.org) and I’ll send you an invite. We’ll both get more storage that way! Also, if you’re intimidated by the German-only sign-up process for Posteo, let me know in the comments and I’ll put together a translated tutorial.

photo credit: Creative Commons | Kevin Dooley via Compfight

The RPA ‘Double-Tap’: Ethical Engagement or Moral Monster?

Reaper Remotely Piloted Air System (RPAS)

After what seems like forever, my Air Force-sponsored master’s thesis is completed, graded, and now released to the world or whomever is interested…

Title:  The RPA ‘Double-Tap’:  Ethical Engagement or Moral Monster

Abstract:

The ethical philosophy known as the Just War tradition (JWT) has governed the use and restraint of force on the battlefield for all of modern history. Its tenets are inextricably linked to International Humanitarian Law and the Law of Armed Conflict and, as a result, are both morally and legally binding on American warfighters.

Throughout the past decade, remotely-piloted aircraft (RPA) have gained great popularity on the battlefield, but their use has not gone uncriticized. Little to no literature has been produced examining the ethical implications of RPA tactics, including the tactic known as the ‘double-tap’ where one target is struck multiple times in a single attack.

This paper uses unclassified reports of every known American RPA strike since 2001 and evaluates those determined to be ‘double-taps’ against the Just War jus in bello criteria of discrimination and proportionality to determine how often these attacks violate the ethical constraints on war. The research here finds that 60 percent of the time US ‘double-tap’ attacks violate the principles of Just War and recommends either a modification of American rules of engagement to ensure future employment can be done according to these long-standing ethical and legal rules.

Download the entire paper here.

photo credit: Crown Copyright | UK Ministry of Defence

consumed with legality while ignoring morality

Law Books

We live in a society where questions of legality abound and questions of morality are all but ignored.  When deciding a course of action, we have little hesitation about asking “Is it legal?” but typically fail to ask “Is it right?”  A recent example comes from the leaked DOJ memo containing legal rationale for the killing of American citizens who have joined Al-Qaida or an ill-defined “associated force.”  The memo outlines why, in the opinion of the DOJ and current administration, such activities are considered legal.  Following its release and subsequent public outcry, Sen Lindsey Graham (at the opposite end of the political spectrum) supported the President’s position and issued a statement saying, “The process of being targeted I think is legal.”

One of the many issues in this scenario is the question of legality vs. morality.  Lawmakers (like Obama [as Senator] and Graham) make laws.  Lawyers (like Obama and Graham) practice law.  In theory, I’m certain that most lawyers, judges, and lawmakers genuinely desire moral laws…but there is absolutely zero guarantee that what is legal according to the law is also moral (exhibit A: slavery).

Where are those asking whether such things as targeting killings (of American citizens or others) are morally right?  Reading the outcomes of our judicial system, it seems that just about anything can be argued to be legal, but where are the discussions of morality?  They are, in large part, nonexistent.

This is true not only in politics.  As a military chaplain, one of my mandated charges is to serve as a moral and ethical adviser to the chain of command.  While I have been consulted on personal ethical matters time and time again by commanders and individual airmen, I have never once been consulted on matters of morality regarding command decisions.  The JAG, of course, is consulted routinely to ensure whatever course of action is legally defensible.  It seems commanders can be easily removed for taking actions that are illegal, but as long as they are legal there seems to be little concern for whether or not they are ethical.

Simply because something is legal does not mean it is right.  We must to be concerned with both.

photo credit: Creative Commons | Mr. T in DC

On Sending Folks to War

[Last Friday I had the privilege of seeing one of our Texas Air National Guard units off to war.  For their security and that of their families I won't mention the unit name, deployed locations, dates, etc.]

At once, I have the strangest and most wonderful “job” in the military. I am a chaplain. It’s part of my “job” to talk to people–to be there for them, to get to know them, and just to be with them. They call me ‘padre,’ ‘ preacher,’ or ‘our chaplain,’ which are all titles I am proud to bear because I am proud to serve them and to serve with them. I genuinely enjoy being with my troops.

Today was different.

It was different, because today I sent people that I know and love off to war. I visit with these folks each time we assemble. I see some of the full-timers during the week at Ellington. I joke with them. I cry with them. I drink coffee with them. I talk of serious events and about their favorite ball teams. I lead them in worship. I pray with them and for them. I read them the Word of God. I offer them the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Sacrament.

Today was different.

It was different, because today I met many of their families for the first time–wives and husbands, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters. Today, I played with their kids as Mom and Dad embraced for the last time for a while. Today, I held hands and prayed with husbands and wives who were prepared for this day but not ready for it. Today, I exchanged hearty handshakes and smiles with those who looked forward to the adventure, and I gave tissues and a shoulder to those who were afraid. Today, we all bowed our heads in prayer together–those who are faithful to attend chapel and those whom I’ve never heard utter the Lord’s name without a closely-attached expletive. Today, in the midst of the deployment chaos, we stopped what we were doing and asked God’s protection to be upon those who were leaving and those who were left here at home.

Today was different.

It was different, not because it was the beginning of another deployment, but because it was a new kind of deployment for many of our troops. A deployment “outside the wire” where our folks are almost certain to come under fire. “Outside the wire” is the domain of the Army and the Marines, a place unfamiliar to many Air Force folks. “Outside the wire” is where in the harsh reality of war, people kill and are killed.

After we prayed, there was the call to say goodbye and the hurried shuffle of boots and bags out the door. There on the flightline, in Hemingway-esque fashion, our troops waved a final goodbye in the pouring rain and climbed on board the waiting C-130. As the dull drone of the Herc’s four engines revved to life, the plane gracefully lifted off, where it was soon engulfed in the low-hanging clouds and out of sight.

Some saluted. Some waved. Some sobbed.

There is a part of everyone who wears the uniform that wishes they were going too–and an even bigger part that wishes no one had to go at all.

Dehumanization and its Effects on Society

Over the weekend, NPR ran a story/review of Jonathon Littell’s book, The Kindly Ones, which they describe as “the fictional first-person memoir of a cultured German who loves Bach, cherishes great literature — and also happens to be a former Nazi exterminator.”  Interestingly, the writeup on NPR’s website focuses on the sexualization of violence and draws parallels between Nazi Germany and Abu Ghraib at the exclusion of what I think is Littell’s  larger point.  During the broadcast (available on the same web page linked above), Littell talks about the capacity of ordinary Americans (and others) to carry out atrocious acts against other people when placed in positions of “absolute power of life and death over people that their bosses tell them are not human beings and [are told] they can do anything they want with them.”  With this suggestion posed, he goes on to illustrate and support it with comparisons between Nazi Germany, the Balkan wars, and Abu Ghraib.Pain

The larger issue, however, is one that peaked my interest.  Almost two years ago, I wrote about the military’s use of desensitization as a part of military training.  In concert with this sort of training, nations and militaries have often resorted to dehumanization to bolster support for their cause during times of war.  If you don’t believe this, take a look at how we depicted Germans and Japanese on our own propaganda posters distributed during WWII.  Talk to a veteran of WWII, Korea, Vietnam, or the Middle Eastern theater and listen to the words they use to describe the enemy.  Without using the terms here, I think everyone knows exactly what I’m talking about.  By distancing ourselves from our enemies and suggesting that they are somehow subhuman, it becomes easier for us to rationalize and accept killing them, an act that at a very base human level is repulsive.  The atrocities of Abu Ghraib are one of the most poignant reminders that this kind of activities still take place, either as formal training or simply stemming from the individual soldier’s coping mechanisms.

This sort of dehumanization goes beyond times of war, however, and extends to most all acts of hatred and so-called ‘hate crimes’–from the cross-burning racism of the American South to genocide in various parts of Africa to the painting of swastikas on Jewish synagogues around the world to acts of harassment and brutality against homosexuals in the United States.  Look and listen to how people write and speak of those against which they wage any sort of these kinds of deeds.  They are presented as subhuman, unworthy, illegitimate, or (fill in the blank).

One of the very obvious yet unmentioned targets of dehumanization and its resulting atrocities are the unborn.  For many years now, those in positions of real power (government, courts, etc.) or perceived power (academia, special interest groups, etc.) have repeatedly told us that the unborn are not really children in the proper sense and so there is no issue in ‘aborting’ them.  This tactic is nothing more than what Littell described above.  Specifically, our ‘bosses’ have been telling us–we who have the power of life and death via our democratic process–that the unborn are not human beings and we can do anything we want with them.

So what am I saying?

  • Should we continue to ignore the widespread dehumanization of those different from us?  No.  We must be agents of change in spite of the very ‘deep ruts’ of history.
  • Should we marginalize and treat with disdain those who have had abortions?  No.  On the contrary, we should do everything in our power to help them heal.
  • Should we rally the voters to try an overturn Roe v. Wade?  Perhaps surprisingly, no.  As has been pointed out by Little Cog, “abortion is a moral decision…the state should keep its inept hands off of
  • Should we continue to condone desensitization/dehumanization as a means to advance our agendas, political or otherwise?  No.  If we cannot bring others to share our viewpoint without resorting to such despicable practices, perhaps this should be a clue that we are probably wrong to begin with.

Instead…

  • To social conservatives and social liberals alike, you must realize that you cannot rely on government to legislate your understanding of morality because ‘we the people’ are often as guilty of this wrong on the societal/governmental level as we are on the individual level
  • To social conservatives and social liberals alike, you must realize that no one wins when you resort to these tactics to make your case, pass your legislation, or further your agenda
  • To all, we must recognize the powerful effects of dehumanization as it rears its head in many different areas and in many different agendas…in order to reject it

Hurt

A True American Hero

Today, a bit of history about a true American hero…

2nd Lt. Robert E. Femoyer earned the Medal of Honor as a B-24 Liberator navigator Nov. 2, 1944, during a mission over Germany . Despite being severely wounded, he remained at his station for two-and-half hours so that he could guide his bomber back to England. Only on reaching the English Channel, did he permit an injection of a painkiller. Lieutenant Femoyer died shortly after being removed from the aircraft.

Femoyer was from Huntington, W. V., and he attended Virginia Tech before answering the call to duty. He joined the Enlisted Reserve Corps on Nov. 11, 1942.   Femoyer was called to active duty in February 1942 and took basic training at Miami Beach, Fla. He joined the Army Air Corps in February 1943, and became an aviation cadet in July 1943, but did not get his pilot’s wings. In 1944, he graduated from the Army Air Forces Flexible Gunnery School at Fort Myers, Fla.., and the AAF Navigation School at Selman Field, La. He went to the European Theater in September 1944, as a navigator assigned to the 447th Bomb Group’s 711th Squadron.

His Medal of Honor citation reads:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty near Merseburg, Germany, on Nov. 2, 1944. While on a mission, the bomber, of which 2d Lt. Femoyer was the navigator, was struck by three enemy antiaircraft shells. The plane suffered serious damage and 2d Lt. Femoyer was severely wounded in the side and back by shell fragments which penetrated his body. In spite of extreme pain and great loss of blood he refused an offered injection of morphine. He was determined to keep his mental faculties clear in order that he might direct his plane out of danger and so save his comrades. Not being able to arise from the floor, he asked to be propped up in order to enable him to see his charts and instruments. He successfully directed the navigation of his lone bomber for 2 1/2 hours so well it avoided enemy flak and returned to the field without further damage. Only when the plane had arrived in the safe area over the English Channel did he feel that he had accomplished his objective; then, and only then, he permitted an injection of a sedative. He died shortly after being removed from the plane. The heroism and self-sacrifice of 2d Lt. Femoyer are in keeping with the highest traditions of the 447th Bomb Group and the U.S. Army Air Corps.

(the entire story is here, at the Air Force Link)

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Thoughts on the War in Iraq…

I have deliberately kept this blog apolitical in the past, and I’m not intending to make this a political arena now, but there is something I noticed in the debates last week that all the presidential candidates on both sides of the fence fail to understand:

The war in Iraq is political…in fact, all war is politics.

In the early nineteenth century, Carl von Clausewitz famously wrote, “War is an extension of politics by other means.” In other words, the continuum of political action that contains such things as diplomatic negotiations, treaties, embargoes, sanctions, trade, and other day-to-day things also contains, on its outer fringes, war. War is politics–bloodier, louder, and more costly (in terms of human life) than other areas of politics. But at the end of the day, war is always political…and that is neither good nor bad, it just is.

Specifically with regards to the war in Iraq, the political ideology behind the war (from the beginning) was to replace a heinous, murderous dictator with a democracy. Whether one agrees with the premise or not, this is why the was began.

As a military officer and armchair military historian and tactician, it seems evident that this ideology requires several long-term political goals, including:

  • Development of an internal police force / military capable of protecting the citizens of Iraq against internal and external threats
  • Creation of the ability to repair and extend the national infrastructure
  • Development of the ability to create / foster international relationships with the goal of increasing domestic security and providing the opportunity for foreign and domestic economic growth
  • Establishment of a viable democratic government able to maintain control of the nation in order to a) make democracy a more alluring form of government than other alternatives (willing change) and b) make democratic government ‘worth fighting for’ against those who would subvert it (unwilling change)

In order to achieve the long-term goals, this ideology immediately requires tactical and strategic military victories in order to establish an environment conducive to the growth, nurture, and development of the long-term objectives.

So how are we doing?

  1. We are relatively successful with our immediately necessary goal of tactical military victories
  2. We do not seem to be seeing any significant progress toward achieving our long-term political goals
  3. We appear to be losing military advantage and political / national will

Unless there are significant improvement in areas two and three, above, we run the risk of losing the war in a manner not all that different from what we experienced in Vietnam, where we were tactically successful (militarily) but failed strategically and politically. Am I making hasty and emotional comparisons to the Vietnam War? No! However, as time progresses, the risk of losing the war increases and the likelihood of victory decreases, similar to what we saw in another decade in another theater.

Our military power is weakening over time due to troop burnout, aging equipment, troop retention issues, a loss of battle-experienced soldiers/officers, and lack of timely tactical adaptation from convention to low intensity (i.e., guerrilla warfare) tactics. To argue to the contrary is nonsensical. Simultaneously, our political power and national will are weakening due to the length of the war and the questionable legitimacy (in the eyes of many) of the original ideology. Two hundred years ago, Clausewitz cited the need for overwhelming military strength and national will as essential for victory in war. Based on his wisdom and our current situation, are we currently in a situation where the war is unwinnable? I don’t think so…not yet, anyway.

Despite what we may see and hear in the media, there is no reason why the US should not be able to achieve victory in Iraq:

  • We are familiar with the terrain and physical environment
  • We are equipped with the proper equipment (though we need to continue upgrading, maintaining, and replacing that equipment as it ages)
  • We are prepared at some level to train for, fight, and win in low-intensity conflicts (though I think we have forgotten some of the tactical lessons from Vietnam)
  • As a nation we largely (?) believe in the legitimacy of fighting for causes of right and wrong

Given these reasons, it is reasonable to expect that victory is possible even without the benefit of a powerful multinational coalition. As in Vietnam, we must be acutely aware at all levels that tactical victory does not necessarily translate into strategic victory (militarily) or overall political victory (achieving our political ends). Additionally, we must also be aware of the reality that war is an extension of politics–our ultimate aim here is political, not merely (or even primarily) military. Consequently, we cannot expend all our attention or resources trying to achieve military victory while letting political ends languish. In short:

  • If we are militarily superior but fail to realize our political goals, we can never reach the point of military withdrawal without admitting defeat because…
  • Failure to achieve our political ends is defeat

Maybe later I’ll put on my chaplain hat and write some thoughts on what our course of action as a nation must be morally if we reach the point where the war becomes unwinnable…but those are different thoughts for a different day.