Healthy Reactions to Terrorism

Posted Monday, November 23, 2015 in Online, Mobile & IT by Patricia Seybold

I first heard about the Nov. 13th Terrorist attacks in Paris via email from Donald Callahan, who had previously written from his home in Paris about the EU's ruling nullifying the US Safe Harbor policy. At about 7 pm EST Friday night, Donald alerted me (and the rest of Patty's Pioneers):

"Anywhere from 40 to 60 dead so far. I was this afternoon in two of the three neighborhoods  where the attacks took place later.

The French State is going to react and strike back where all this came from. This is going to have big consequences."

Of course, my family immediately began following the events in Paris on TV and online. We found CNN to be their usual histrionic selves...they were replaying the same images over and over again, since they couldn't do real time footage or reporting. The only moment of levity was the admission by one of their producers who admitted that he was hiding in the bushes near one of the attack scenes. Twitter, on the other hand, was so active, it was hard to keep up. Until finally, someone put out the word to stop tweeting in real time about events unfolding. Then, it just reverted to heartfelt empathy.  No more news or speculation.

My 98-year old mom was very interested in the TV coverage, having lived in Paris in 1960/61 and visited many times since.. she kept saying: "I'm so glad none of this was going on when we were there." But I reminded her that we were in the midst of the Algerian unrest, and my French Lycee was locked down several times due to terrorist events in 1960/61. (Of course we didn't call them that then)...

Highlights of Paris Aftermath

  • I was most touched by the immediate reactions of the residents of Paris to reach out, hug one another, heal, and to celebrate life. This may be a normal human reaction to tragedy, but the French do it SO well! Their point: terrorism will not eliminate our Joie de Vivre! Donald Callahan wrote on November 20th:

"It's 2H30 here, I'm going to bed. But just to inject a positive note. While Paris is still in a state of shock, hundreds of young people (most of the victims were quite young) have braved the bad weather to bring candles and flowers to the Place de la Republique, cry a bit, sing the national anthem ... and then promptly went back to the neighborhoods and cafés that were attacked. Musicians came out, some people even danced in the street ... because we are not afraid and we will live as we want to."

You will not kill our Freedom

  • The unexpected heart-stopping event enabled strangers to connect in new ways. It turned out, for example that Pat Kerpan, one of Patty's Pioneers, was staying in Paris over the weekend en route to a Cloud Security Conference, so he and Donald Callahan met for the first time to swap stories over a couple of beers.
  • I have been concerned about over-reactions to the Paris attacks, including bombing Syria, blaming ALL Muslims, restricting immigrants' access to safe havens, and more invasions of citizens' privacy due to increased illegal phone and internet surveillance.

CyberSecurity Over-Reactions

Unfortunately, US, UK and other political leaders, and leader-wannabes are fanning the flames of fear to ram through more draconian measures that increase, rather than restrict, State surveillance of innocent citizens' electronic lives, all over the globe.

As Donald Callahan correctly pointed out, starting Friday night, November 13th,

"I think there will be a big French military reaction but, curiously enough, these attacks do show that massive privacy invasion does NOT help prevent these sorts of attacks, not much anyway."

"While France always has very high minded discourse on privacy, the French intelligence agencies monitor everything....but that did not stop this thing from happening." 

What we now know is that the terrorists responsible for the Friday 13th Paris attacks did not use encrypted communications, that they were all known to the authorities, and yet, nobody picked up on the several clues that might have prevented the attacks in Paris.

Pioneers' Analysis

Our Pioneers' email list has been extremely active, dissecting, analyzing, putting things into perspective. (By the way, Patty's Pioneers are pretty evenly distributed across the left/right political spectrum.) My take-aways from our private discussions are:

  • ISIS/ISIL does not represent Muslims. In fact, they persecute Muslims. Their goal is to make it so difficult for Muslims to live comfortably in western societies, they join the "Islamist State." Peter Horne shared a link to this really helpful article from the Intercept, Islamic State's Goal: Eliminating the Grayzone of Coexistence between Muslims and the West, in which author, Murtaza Hussain, writes:

    "By launching increasingly shocking attacks against Western targets, the Islamic State is pursuing a specific goal — generating hostility between domestic Muslim populations and the broader societies that they live in."

    For really good background on the Islamic State, our Pioneers' curator, Scott Jordan, also found this most useful article in the Atlantic, What Isis Really Wants, by Graeme Wood that explains the history of the movement.

  • Using this terrorist incident (and others) to increase unlawful electronic surveillance (without a warrant) is opportunistic and wrong.
  • But perhaps there is a role for better data mining and sense-making from legally-garnered information. Phil Gibson commented:

"This terrible event raises again the question for me of 'But how do you know that they could not have caught it with better predictive intelligence and access?'  I want them to have the ability to drill in with judicial oversight. This oversight cannot be automatic."

Donald Callahan asks:

"Putting aside questions of surveillance and encryption, bearing in mind that police work is the fundamental thing; I would be really interested in your opinions  on the potential usefullness of IBM Watson to increase police productivity to find the very small number of really dangerous people in the very big potential jihadist pool."

"I'm struck by the fact that the French and Belgian police already knew a lot about these guys (from open Internet chat rooms, radical mosques etc) but have nowhere near the basic human  resources to keeps tabs on them. The issue is not new sweeping privacy invading powers (pretty much a non issue here) but basic police resources. There is a real productivity problem ."

"Another problem, of course is that they well may use at least some big data type tools (much less than in the US) and they get a lot of potential threats/false positives, which means more wasted time. According to lots of reports, for all of the NSA’s sophistication, they have a big false positive problem."

Several Pioneers chimed in, saying that IBM Watson might be useful (and probably is already being applied in this way). Peter Horne summed it up nicely, when he said:

"Predicting future criminal action in individuals is impossible; otherwise Watson would be used to predict recidivism in the US prison system, the police could arrest mass shooters before they perform their acts, and control bikie gangs who distribute drugs. Terrorism is just criminal behaviour.

Big data won't tell the police any more than what they already know in so far as who is talking to whom; because that is always about police being community-engaged and having feet on the street.  The issue here is how to narrow the scope.

The cost of narrowing scope has to prove a cost benefit of machine time verses human time... if they can prove an honest cost benefit that meets their investment criteria, then that should be the benchmark on which the decision is made."

Personally, I'm making the assumption that international intelligence agencies are already using IBM Watson to try to spot connections that would take human beings too long to see. I'm also assuming that they are carefully monitoring how long it takes for humans to do the same kinds of pattern-matching and analysis vs. how long it takes for Watson to do so. However, I imagine that ordinary citizens will not learn about these efforts any time soon.

Happy Thanksgiving to All US Clients!

We have this peculiar holiday this week in the US. We give thanks for the blessings of food, family, friends, peace, and relative prosperity and we open our arms to those among us who are disenfranchised and alone. I hope that you will join me in welcoming to your hearth and home to neighbors who are less fortunate than you are.


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