back to article Why Bletchley Park could never happen today

Following the torrent of revelations about US and British government surveillance unleashed by whistle-blower Edward Snowden, we now know what many had previously guessed: with a few exceptions*, the spies have the electronic world pretty much wired. Some spied-upon countries – such as Brazil and Germany – have reacted …


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  1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

    I think the revelations of Snowden and Manning have answered that one pretty thoroughly.

    No one.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

      "I think the revelations of Snowden and Manning have answered that one pretty thoroughly. No one."

      Yes and no. There are all manner of legal, constitutional, and regulatory checks on the agencies in question. The problem is that those charged with exercising those checks have failed to exercise due care, and what we see is an outcome of "regulatory capture". Those who should be holding the spies to account, and keeping their actions in check have instead rubber stamped anything they were asked to do, failed to be pro-active in investigating what the agencies are doing, and then failed to hold to account said agencies when inappropriate behaviours are apparent.

      One thing to bear in mind is that almost anything the NSA can do, it would seem likely the Russians and Chinese can and are doing. Hobbling NSA and GCHQ won't stop that, but would mean that "our side" wouldn't know what "their side" know about us, and "our" secrets would still be exposed to countries that have every interest in exploiting that data. Unless somebody can come up with some real, unhackable security that works (which I'm struggling to see), maybe we do have to accept that there is very little privacy in the digital world?

      1. DaLo

        Re: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

        "One thing to bear in mind is that almost anything the NSA can do, it would seem likely the Russians and Chinese can and are doing."

        That is not actually true. A foreign power cannot go to a US company and demand that a backdoor is placed in their software or that their private keys are handed over. The foreign power can also not go to a US court and demand a secret court to agree that they have sweeping powers and that companies must comply and not talk about.

        Although other spy agencies are obviously utilising 'hacking' and social engineering to get into computer systems they are also being searched for and malware and systems access being blocked. You would not end up in court for actively trying to block a foreign power from getting access to your system, whereas you might if it is a local agency.

        1. John Hughes

          Re: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

          "That is not actually true. A foreign power cannot go to a US company and demand that a backdoor is placed in their software or that their private keys are handed over."

          But, unfortunately it seems that a Foreign Power (the US) can go to French, German and UK companies and demand that backdoors are put in place.

          Heads need to roll over this affair - British, French and German heads.

          The NSA is getting away with this shit beacause the default has been "do what the Americans want".

          1. Prndll

            Re: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

            "That is not actually true. A foreign power cannot go to a US company and demand that a backdoor is placed in their software or that their private keys are handed over."

            It doesn't have to be demanded. The companies your referring to will do it willingly while claiming they didn't know or don't have the kind of control needed to prevent it.

            People will buy (and have in their homes) all those things that are made by the other guy. Then complain when a problem is found.

            Facebook is a great example of this.

        2. Marketing Hack Silver badge
          Big Brother

          @DaLo Re: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

          You think the Chinese government can't go to an equipment or software supplier and tell them that they have to insert a Chinese backdoor if they want to sell in the Chinese market? Sure they can, and with the size of the Chinese market that is a proposition that will probably be considered. Sure, doing that can screw things up for sales in the American market--PROVIDED that it is found out. But until the Snowden leaks, how many people could credibly say that the NSA was having backdoors installed in hardware and software for at the very least select IT deployments that were going to customers who were NSA target , or that the NSA was abusing it's dual mandate to promote IT security in order to identify vulnerabilities that it could exploit in service of its primary mandate of gathering SigInt.

          You can get backdoors installed, provided you are an important enough customer or you have the political/regulatory authority to inflict disproportionate pain on a vendor that doesn't comply.

        3. RTNavy

          Re: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

          But how many US Companies are actually outsourced laboratories based around the Globe? That means local employment and local "spies" available to plant all sorts or code or devices into these products FOR ALL to see and use.

        4. jonathanb Silver badge

          Re: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

          The Chinese government did go to various American companies and ask that back doors be placed in their systems. Google said no, and decided to pull out of the country. Yahoo and Microsoft presumably decided they would comply with local laws and continue trading in the country. Chinese companies like Baidu, Renren and Sina Weibo will obviously comply with local laws and provide Chinese authorities with the information they ask for.

        5. AussieinHK

          Re: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

          Crap. You think the Chinese don't influence foreign companies and the data they collect? Ask Google and Yahoo...

        6. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

          Re: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

          "That is not actually true. A foreign power cannot go to a US company and demand that a backdoor is placed in their software or that their private keys are handed over."

          Demand, no. Put an operative inside the company to do the job? Easy.

          Keep in mind, the NSA had a mole: Snowden. A Booz Allan Hamilton contractor. Aside from his altruistic motives, what he did could be repeated as we speak by numerous others. Only the beneficiaries of their work would differ. And if their leaks don't reach The Guardian, we may never know of their existence.

        7. P. Lee Silver badge

          Re: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

          The other part of the equation is the wire-tapping and use of international cooperation to get around your own laws. China can tap its own infrastructure, but asking the UK, Australia and USA to filter off traffic for it to analyse probably wouldn't get it very far. China's reach into critical parts of the internet is rather more limited than the West's.

        8. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

          "A foreign power cannot go to a US company and demand that a backdoor is placed in their software or that their private keys are handed over."

          But they could, however, go to one of their own companies that just happens to be manufacturing components or devices for a US company and insist on some strategic 'tweaks' to the blueprints...

      2. breakfast

        Re: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

        In fairness, there isn't much point worrying about what the Chinese know about us if a) we use chinese kit for almost all of our network infrastructure and b) China owns more of our currency and major businesses than anyone else. If we got into some kind of fracas with them they would just have to sell all the things they own and western capitalism would be over. They are making a gradual, careful and well planned move to taking over the world and fair play to them, it's probably going to succeed.

        1. Gav

          Re: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

          "they would just have to sell all the things they own"

          Who would buy them? With what currency? What would happen is their "ownership" of them would be invalidated and their certificates of ownership worthless. Suddenly all the things they owned in our countries would be owned by us again.

          Not to say that this wouldn't have many bad repercussions for international trade.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

        @ Ledswinger

        No, no and no ... president Obama is said to have personally known about the wiretapping of Angies phone in 2010, I assume it is the same for all other stuff ... they all damn well knew what they were doing, and they knew it was "legal" ... patriot act etc ...

        This is not just some rogue spys that have gone mad, this is institutionalized surveillance, as soon as info of some deal was detected and an American company was about to lose said deal, the information was passed on to the American company ... this has happened several, no, multiple times. Think of aerospace, credit card alternative in Russia ... I am even sure they looked into the MS-Nokia deal and helped MS get in for "cheaper".

        Silly thing for Blighty is that the same cannot be said when it was for the benefit of British companies, sometimes even British companies were "betrayed" by their government in favor of US companies ... BAE must be very happy to hear all this, believe me.

        BTW, while at it .... We knew already that the US was wiretapping frenetically across the EU. because of the prism installations in the UK - I do not really understand why this is news. I mean, Snowden only provided proof to the bloody obvious ... based on several documentaries I have seen, it appeared that the installations in the UK were "big enough" to wiretap every single mobile phone conversation in Europe - this was news probably some 5 or 6 years ago, to me at least.

        So no, you live on some other planet, have not read the news in the last 15 years, or simply fail to analyze it ... I am sure you fell for "Mandela is a terrorist" back in the 80's and still believe JFK was assassinated by some lone gunner, thought so.

        BTW, contrary to popular belief, some Dutch investigators found out some 7 or 8 years ago who killed JFK ... that info might be censured in your country, so I cannot really blame you for not knowing who exactly took which shot ... but still ... as Coldplay sing: Open up your eyes.

    2. James Micallef Silver badge

      Re: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

      About time that the 'custodes' got out of their little bubbles and start interacting with the real world:

      "One implication is that governments should consider moving funds from signals intelligence (sigint) to human intelligence, the real-world spies that infiltrate terrorist groups."

      Of course, that would mean (shock, horror) lots less budget and shiny toys for GCHQ / NSA etc to play with. Also, would the general public be happy for that budget to be diverted to MI(x)* / CIA considering that these aren't the most popular agencies either?

      Also, how easy is it nowadays for an individual spy to remain anonymous, unphotographed etc in a world full of cameras and were likely as not all their life from age 10-12 onwards is highly documented and public-ish?

      *5 or 6?

      1. Scorchio!!

        Re: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

        Although some terrorists do go 'off grid' much of their material is not. It would be stupid to scrap our capabilities. Indeed, if we did there would be a swift rush to use the media that our sigint scrutinises. The same argument applies to nuclear weapons. These things cannot be magicked away.

        1. Gav

          Re: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

          "It would be stupid to scrap our capabilities"

          That would depend on who you are calling "our". Right now I'm not feeling the NSA is part of "us". It feels much more that they are yet another "them".

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

            No American organisation is part of "us" from a UK or general European viewpoint.

            Indeed, it is strongly arguable that the USA have done and continue to do more harm to UK business and the population's rights and safety than almost any other country, from subverting our government policies and security to directly providing money and arms to the IRA, including a barely disguised aim to disrupt and destroy British influence and interests in its former empire, spying on its industry and putting administrative and bureaucratic obstacles in the way of British and other non-USA businesses operating in the USA. Heavens, in WW2, the families of Cheney and other American "leaders" were selling oil and much else to Germany until Rooseveldt made clear which side should be supported. A book about an American ambassador to Germany in the 1930s makes clear how difficult he found it to report Nazi actions, e.g. against even American Jews in Germany, because of the pro-nazi sympathies of his American upper-class staff and the American foreign office.

            Joseph Kennedy had to be repatriated because, as ambassador in London, he was spying for the nazis. Do not imagine that these attitudes have really changed.

            I do hope that Cameron and friends do not really believe that the NSA (and possibly GCHQ as their willing poodles) were not spying on them just as on Merkel, Hollande and others. Even if, by some miracle, they were not spying on Conservative ministers, we can be sure that the official Opposition and other groups were of interest, quite apart from industrial espionage.

    3. John Hughes

      Re: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?


      The answer is:

      Manning and Snowden.

      AND US!

    4. Oh Homer Silver badge
      Big Brother

      "We love our spooks"

      Yes, when they're defeating fascism, not when they're helping it.

      1. Oh Homer Silver badge

        Bletchley Park 2.0 already happened

        It's called GCHQ.

        1. Steve Knox Silver badge

          Re: Bletchley Park 2.0 already happened

          If you'd read the article (or even a smattering of the relevant history), you'd see why GCHQ is nowhere near the class of Bletchley Park, in almost every definition of the word class.

          1. Oh Homer Silver badge

            Re: Bletchley Park 2.0 already happened

            Lacking class doesn't alter the fact that GCHQ is an intelligence agency. Indeed the only significant distinction the article makes between Bletchley Park and GCHQ is that the former was a secret, whereas the latter merely tried and failed to operate in secret. That's a pointless and vacuous analysis in comparison to the much more significant difference that Bletchley Park operated to defeat fascism, not serve it as GCHQ does.

      2. big_D Silver badge

        Re: "We love our spooks"

        Exactly. Back then we were fighting a specific enemy, we had declared war on them and we were spying on them. Three green lights in a row.

        Now we have no specific enemy, just the nebulous term "terrorists", the USA hasn't declared war on any specific country and they are spying on them. Red, red, murky grey!

        That is the problem and that is why we are getting more whistleblowers.

        Last time I looked, the US Government and the NSA had not declared war on Germany, Brazil, the UK and they are not involved in being hostile against the USA, well, they weren't until Snowden told them they were being spied upon...

        Fighting against terrorists is all well and good (although when the US declared war on terrorists, I was expecting them to turn up in Northern Ireland and the Basque region, but I guess they meant "terrorists operating out of areas with oil interests, you can deal with your own poor terrorists"), but the NSA is basically treating the whole world and all its citizens as terrorists until proven irrevocably guilty and eliminated by a drone strike.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

      Do spies like Ginger Cake and Custard? Sorry, I've no idea. It didn't feature much in any Bond film I've seen.

    6. jonathanb Silver badge

      Re: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

      Who polices the police? Maybe the police police police the police. In that case, who polices the police police? Ultimately you need to have someone at the top you can trust.

      1. Richard Gadsden

        Re: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

        Competition. Have two organisations that each police the other. Institutional loyalty and competitive instincts will drive them to do a good job.

  2. jabuzz

    No war

    Basically what has changed is we are not in a life and death fight where tens of thousands of people are dying against one of the most evil regimes in the history of mankind. The current war against terror really does not qualify.

    Also anyone surprised by Tempora has a really short memory. It is not that long ago that towers where built to intercept the phone calls between ROI and the UK during the troubles.

    1. Magnus_Pym

      Re: No war


      In a real war people know who the enemy is and what victory looks like. Bletchley Park staff knew that why secrecy was paramount and looked forward to they day they could all stop doing it.

      If any government want to stop whistle-blowers they should convince the people of the expediency of the bad stuff they do. That's not going to be easy because it's all bullshit.

      1. Scorchio!!

        Re: No war

        A surprising argument, coming from someone with your handle, 'Sir Magnus'.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: No war

          In the book, Pym spied on the US in the interests of the Soviet Union.

          A problem with globalisation that governments haven't really spotted is that there is no obvious reason for having any loyalty to the country in which you happen to be born. Many British people owe far more real allegiance to, say, IBM, Nissan or Honda than to the British government.

          If Philby (who must be a large part of Le Carre's Pym) decided that the British aristocracy was rotten and its government corrupt, and that Communism offered a better future for humanity once the United States was defeated, he might have been wrong but it is a consistent, coherent proposition that, in his mind, justified spying on the US on behalf of both Britain and the Soviet Union - which is what he always claimed to have done.

          1. Scorchio!!

            Re: No war

            "If Philby (who must be a large part of Le Carre's Pym) decided that the British aristocracy was rotten and its government corrupt, and that Communism offered a better future for humanity once the United States was defeated. [...]"

            Philby was one of a number of people recruited because of their belief in fairies at the bottom of the garden, and that they knew better than others. Along with the like of Eric Hobsbawm (a lifelong friend of Ralph Miliband [ ] who felt that the loss of 20 millions would justify a victorious socialism) they sided with the butcher, Stalin and his corrupt 'socialist' aristocracy. That was the point about Le Carre's work; this was a constant struggle during which western democratic countries evolved, while the empire of the USSR became more brutal, more paranoid and engaged in even greater military adventurism. By the time the setting in which Le Carre's book was chronologically apt the aristocracy were in decay and almost completely irrelevant, whilst the repression of the proletariat, by its vanguard, in the USSR was plotted by the likes of Charter 77; the Czechs, the Hungarians, these peoples were mauled by the invading, undemocratic east. After WWII states in eastern Europe were swallowed up by the adventurism of the eastern empire, which greedily sucked in their resources in return for 'protection' and the purging/liquidation of 'enemies of their people' (these people, who had false consciousness, could be 'guilty' merely of 'revisionism', or disagreeing with Leninist-Marxism [...])

            All of the apostles, and other Leninist Marxist twits supported a bankrupt system that was brutal, harsh, violent and economically foundering except for those few components which were in private hands, the allotments on which private individuals maintained high productivity, whilst the collective farms had increasingly worse results (as with all other state enterprises). Leninist-Marxists, both in the International and in the heart of the USSR, had necessarily to overlook these failures, partly because at home they would have been purged by Uncle Jo (as we once misguidedly called him), and partly because the pain of cognitive dissonance for those in the west would have been intolerable, given that this was their religion. To say nothing of feeling foolhardy for supporting such egregious bullshit (I am currently bereft of adjectives in this context, having read lotus eating posts in which people complacently suggest terrorism is not a problem because they have not seen any).

            The collectivisation process, in which the kulaks were variously dispossessed, slaughtered, persecuted, locked away and tortured [...] was a part of the utter ruination of the then USSR, in which after the revolution monks and nuns were gaoled, whilst murderers, rapists and thieves were released because the dictates of PC socialism held that society was responsible for their crimes (and let's face it they made excellent NKVD, KGB and other bullies), something from which those who believed in fairies at the bottom of the Marxist garden averted their eyes, especially when the commanding idiot of these 'useful idiots' ignored British warnings - and germane to the current debate, these were supplied only because we had broken German code - of a forthcoming invasion of the USSR by Stalin's pal in Berlin.

            Before this occurred, because Stalin professed the belief that they belonged to the former 'ruling classes' the officer classes were 'purged', and the army had become a headless, pointless socialist wreck (this is something recently proposed by some idiot in the British Fabian society, because it is 'classist'). After the invasion Stalin was forced to concede that his folly had resulted in the deaths of many thousands of Soviet soldiers, reinstated the rank structure of the Red Army and looked to Marshal Zhukov to pull his arse out of the fire.

            Meanwhile, in spite of the stupidity and waste, both of resources and human lives, people continued (and still do) to believe in the Leninist-Marxist fairy at the bottom of the garden. There was no comparison. These people were bunglers and murderers, they meant us no good, and the basis of any resemblance of an alliance with us was that we would distract the weight of German forces from them, hence them pressing us to open another front, even though we were at first too weak, having been defeated by a superior, better equipped German military that had evolved modern tactics to match.

            ...but of course the point about the apostles was that they believed they knew better, they believed in the vacuous concept of 'false consciousness', something which notables such as la Harman in the last Labour government believed, and felt that lying and overriding the electorate was their given right, though not given them by the electorate; rather it came from the circularity of believing in Marxist fairies at the bottom of the garden.

            The moral of the story; all revolutions, all attempts to impose an ideology, by means devious or blatant, are not only condemned to failure, but they also result in the loss of life on a massive scale, from the French revolution onward. These ideas are always imposed on people by others who feel that they know better, false consciousness or otherwise. Until 1997 the concept of gradualism, slow, careful reform, characterised this countries' diplomatic evolution. I don't need to remind you of what happened, except to observe that when people who profess to be socialists try to play population genetics the results are invariably ugly, and how Stalin led a life of luxury even when in his underground bunker (look at for an interesting peek) as the contemporary case of Tony Blair exemplifies, and the leaders of most British trades unions, who live very well thank you brothers. Flats in the Barbican for retired union leaders? Sumptuous pensions for retired union leaders? Animal farm indeed.

            What we protect, by means of intelligence that enables us to be prepared, is valuable. When we fail to scrutinise behaviour in advance of acts we see tall buildings felled, assassinations, people blown up under ground and the toppling of elected governments. That is the point of cold war novels; we protected ourselves, and we wrote about our struggles, even the minutiae of fictional personalities.

            Thank you for reminding me of the book. I have them all, and when I'm home next I'll have to look and see if mice have eaten them. Having lived through those interesting days in an interesting job I feel lucky. I was involved, and am concerned to see people sleeping again or using the argumentum ad hominem to support inactivity as happened some 80 years or so ago.

      2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Re: No war

        In a real war people know who the enemy is and what victory looks like. Bletchley Park staff knew that why secrecy was paramount and looked forward to they day they could all stop doing it.


        Except that the people involved in Bletchley Park kept the secret after the war was finished. When that same technology continued to get used in the Cold War - even though that wasn't a real war either.

        And it isn't all bullshit. There is a real problem with international terrorism. It may be used as an excuse by governments and intelligence agencies to hoover up more power and money than they possibly should. But even that's no easy call. They're going to get blamed when there's a terrorist attack, as has happened with every major recent attack, for failing to stop it. And they're going to get blamed when they gather too much data in trying to do so.

        There is no perfect solution. But denying there's any problem at all, is just plain silly.

        1. pepper

          Re: No war

          Really? I havent seen much of a terrorist problem lately, atleast no more then it ever has been. You have some peaks and some lows on the scales but in general its all still very meh. Its mostly a figment propagated by those with the biggest interest in perpetual war.

          1. Terry 6 Silver badge

            Re: No war

            " I havent seen much of a terrorist problem lately...."

            That's like saying we don't need our "beware of the dog" sign anymore because no one has been bitten here recently..

            Or to put it another way;

            A chap was on holiday at the coast. One morning he's wandering along the edge of a steep cliff.

            He happens to get talking to a local and says that he's surprised there isn't a fence there.

            "There used to be", said the local. "But no one ever fell off so we got rid of it".

            1. Scorchio!!
              Thumb Up

              Re: No war

              "That's like saying we don't need our "beware of the dog" sign anymore because no one has been bitten here recently.."

              Or, as some Romans said "Si vis pacem, para bellum", something which the British forgot in between 1918 and 1939; we paid dearly for that mistake.

              1. Irony Deficient

                as some Romans said

                Scorchio!!, the “Si vis pacem” quote is a paraphrase of what one particular Roman wrote. The British did not forget that between the wars; the generation of men who in their youth saw hundreds of thousands being slaughtered in No Man’s Land during the Great War were (in their middle age) trying to figure out how to avoid subjecting their sons to the same horrific experience. I dont think that it’s entirely fair to judge their choice of actions on the basis of our 20-20 hindsight.

                Regarding Stalin, he was called “Uncle Joe” not due to any sort of international proletarian affection, but in tongue-in-cheek honor of Joseph “Uncle Joe” Cannon, the Speaker of the US House of Representatives in the first decade of the 20th century, after whom Stalin allegedly modeled his own rule.

              2. Jamie Jones Silver badge

                Re: No war

                And from an IT angle, we all of course remember all the comments about the Y2K problem being overhyped...

                "All that time and money spent dealing with it, yet nothing major went wrong!"

            2. PJI

              Re: No war

              Oh dear, more 'ealth 'n safety. Fancy, a cliff and no fence. Wonder how many thousands and thousands of kilometres of unfenced cliff, ponds, lakes, beaches there are in Great Britain, let alone the whole of Europe. What an appalling analogy, and yet perhaps not.

              "Security" against "terrorism" is the fence. Freedom, with all the risks it entails, is the lack of a fence. I suggest that those seeking safety ask to be confined in a prison or a nicely fenced field, with a cuddly politician passing laws and monitoring their telephones, conversations, friendships, affiliations all in the name of safety against terrorism, paedophilia, child-stealing gypsies or whatever the latest scare factor is. Let the rest of us enjoy life, even if it means falling off a mountain while climbing sometimes, capsizing in our sailing dinghies, twisting an ankle or freezing to death while on a \Winter walk. At least we shall use life and freedom. You can stick with your fenced, cotton wool wrapped, but absolutely safe world. Ever read, "When the machine stops"?

              Freedom, justice and absolute safety are incompatible. On this ground alone, the all-pervasive spying ability of our government departments must be curtailed and a country should never enable or permit another state to spy on its citizens, their industry, their business or their opinions.

              Of course, any country may believe it is justified in spying on another. But the current scale and ability, along with collusion, is far beyond what is acceptable between countries not at war (please, terrorism is not a war between states, whatever the propaganda says), if sufficient trust and freedom of movement for international cooperation are to survive.

              You know, in Syria there are various sides fighting. These sides may be labelled, "government", "regime", "rebel", "freedom fighter", "terrorist", "resistance", "opposition", "defender", "aggressor". It all depends upon one's interest and point of view. The same is true in Europe and USA. The citizen spied on today is a "suspect". Perhaps he is simply in the wrong political party or none. Perhaps he expressed some view misunderstood by some frightened official. But, once he is being monitored, he is no longer safe and if government takes a wrong turn, he may be in actual danger.

              No one with half a brain or education can support all pervasive spying within a country or between "allies". Worse, in the current cases, it is not clear that the spying was within the laws of the countries paying for it.

          2. John Sturdy

            Re: No war

            If terrorism were to disappear, the focus would shift to `domestic extremism'. And a lot of that would probably disappear if the government spent similar amounts on the population's psychiatric health.

          3. tom dial Silver badge

            Re: No war

            For the sake of argument, does that lack of much terrorist activity indicate that NSA et al. activities are unneeded, or does it follow from their success? It is worth noting also that whether there is "much of a terrorist problem" is location and situation dependent. Perceptions in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Pakistan might well differ from those in the US or UK.

            That said, the type of data collection being done cannot prevent all terrorist attacks or even the worst. At best it can improve the ability to identify, track, and capture those who have committed terrorist acts or are planning them, but only if carried out a scale like that being reported. And it is most likely to succeed against terrorists who are not very bright, not very careful, or not very skilled at their chosen occupation. We are correct to doubt that marginal gains in the ability to track and catch terrorists (and other criminals) warrants the expense, and the general creepiness, of these programs, as well as their potential for serious misuse. Our elected officials, eyes fixed firmly on the daily news cycle and whose long term concern is the next election, have done a rather poor job representing us.

            1. PJI

              Re: No war

              A man was travelling on the train from London to Brighton, when he saw a fellow passenger screwing up pieces of paper and throwing them out of the window. "Why are you doing that?" he asked. The other answered, "It keeps the elephants away.". "But there are no elephants in Sussex." "I know, effective is n't it?"

            2. Vic

              Re: No war

              > does that lack of much terrorist activity indicate that NSA et al. activities are unneeded, or does it follow from their success?

              Well, from this side of the Atlantic, our terrorist issue pretty much disappeared the moment Americans stopped funding it...


            3. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: No war

              What if the terrorist attacks in our countries were insider jobs to swiftly loosen the barriers of freedom, who knows, these attacks do help the Israeli government depict stone-throwing kids as terrorists ...

              I hear black choppers, will be back ...

              Just another quicky: ... [knocks on the door] No, I have no particular love or hatred for jews, muslims, christians, UFO believers or jedi ... I consider them all equally worthless things to believe in and as long as nobody forces me into believing that stuff ... ;-)

              [more knocks on the door]


          4. Scorchio!!

            Re: No war

            "Really? I havent seen much of a terrorist problem lately, atleast no more then it ever has been"

            One of the problems with psychiatric patients is that, as soon as their psychotropic medication kicks in, they consider themselves better and not in need of their medication. When they are ill they sing a different tune. Again the other day some people were arrested on grounds of planning/preparing terrorist acts. That you do not see dead bodies means absolutely bugger all, except probably that the intelligence and security system works. When dead bodies are dredged up from the underground it has failed, and people start to squawk. Not unlike psychiatry, and general medicine too, where failure to complete a course of antibiotics merely strengthens the resistance of remaining microbial organisms to the medication.

        2. Mike Richards Silver badge

          Re: No war

          I don't remember a huge backlash against the intelligence agencies after previous attacks in the UK.

          Huge hatred for the people who did it, but no normal people (obviously the likes of Blair, Straw and Blunkett don't count) were demanding our rights be thrown into the Moulinex on the spurious grounds it would make us safer. If anyone was saying the intelligence services had failed it was the politicians who promptly proceeded to shower them with more money and power.

        3. Scorchio!!
          Thumb Up

          Re: No war

          Until the next batch of bodies is dragged from the underground, or wherever, people will nay say.

          1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

            Re: No war @Scorchio!!

            "Until the next batch of bodies is dragged from the underground, or wherever, people will nay say."

            And I, and many others, will still say "Nay". I will not be stampeded into believing in a war that doesn't exist merely because a few people with violence on their minds kill a few people. I will not believe that there is a significant, co-ordinated risk to me, society at large, or the country, from Al Qaida or any other group except short-termist, cowardly career politicians, and the likes of you who wish to give the government the power to do what they will based on nothing concrete.

            For dog's sake, man, stop living in fear!

        4. RobHib

          @I ain't Spartacus -- Re: No war

          "There is a real problem with international terrorism."

          The question is why.

          There's always been a few nutters with a grudge against society and there probably always will be but they're not the main threat. Most terrorism of recent times comes from people who either perceive they've been hurt or who have actually been hurt by policies of the countries of whom they are threatening.

          Since the Reagan Thatcher years and the downfall of communism the West has indulged itself in an orgy of internationalism, rampant capitalism, free trade, international treaties, multinational companies, etc. There's exploitation of third-world resources, exploitation of pharmaceutical patents, imperial imposition of intellectual property 'rights', exploitation of third-world labour (Pakistani building collapse etc.), cultural imperialism and so on and so on—much of which has disadvantaged those who've little power to fight against it.

          Even in instances where the West's wrongdoings are just perceptions, they're strong and firmly held. And why not? The recent behaviour of the West's bankers—those one would expect to be the most trustworthy—were found to be morally corrupt—is just another of many signals the West is sending as to its disingenuousness.

          Until the West straightens out its questionable ethics and genuinely tries to make the world a fairer and more equitable place, there'll always be those who'll take extreme and terrible measures to 'right' things.

          To date, terrorism hasn't made the West blunt its behaviour, thus perhaps the current 'threat' is the price it's prepared to pay for its continued indulgence.


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