Facebook

Slashdot’s running an article which mentions the possibility that Facebook is sharing your information with the CIA. Naturally, the neurotic crowd on Slashdot is outraged by the very possibility that this could be happening.

Now, I’m all for privacy. I don’t think the CIA (or NSA, technically) should be listening to our calls or reading our e-mails; in more general terms, spying shouldn’t be done without a warrant or exceptional probable cause (as in, if you’re spying on someone without a warrant, 19 times out of 20 it should yield a guilty result). But seriously, why is the fact that the CIA might get information from Facebook a big deal, or even surprising? Every time there’s a possibility of information being shared, people act like they were forced to join Facebook and update their profile. (Remember the news feed controversy from a couple years ago?)

I’ll just say right now that if I ran Facebook, I’d willingly give all information to the CIA. I wouldn’t hide it, I’d come right out and say “watch what you type, you’re being monitored.” Maybe people would watch what they post. People act as if their information that they post publicly on the Internet for people to see is safe as it is. It’s a bad analogy, but just as the only sure way to avoid pregnancy and STDs is abstinence, the only way to achieve complete privacy on the Internet is to not post the information.

I also wonder how much the CIA is even interested in Facebook. Does Osama bin Laden have a Facebook profile? Are they checking his status every day to make sure it doesn’t say “Osama is currently executing Operation: Bomb Stuff…lol!”? Or maybe “Mahmoud is testing Iran’s nuclear missile system on Pakistani soil! Come and get me!” No one posts stuff like that (and if they do, citizens had better be alerting people).

All in all: conspiracy theorists need to get a life and consider the value of information that might be at risk. And everyone else: watch what you post. It can protect you from the gossip queens at school, the sexual predators in your neighborhood, and the CIA. (That would make a great Carnac script…)

Curveball

Recently read the book Curveball, by Bob Drogin, for my political science class. If you have any interest in U.S. intelligence or foreign policy at all, I highly recommend this book. It tells the story of Curveball, the codename of a single Iraqi who defected to Germany in the late 90s and gave the Germans the intelligence that eventually sent the United States to war in Iraq. If you don’t want me to spoil the ending for you (haha), don’t keep reading.

Spoilers

The defector turns out to be an outstanding con man. Everything he said made logical sense, but was just completely false. That alone would not be an issue, a lot of people are good con men. Here are the major problems that the book brings up.

  1. Second-hand intelligence. The CIA never saw the guy before it was too late. The Germans passed intelligence regarding their conversations with Curveball through low-security reports to the DIA. The DIA, after watering down the intelligence even further, passed them to the CIA. The CIA was getting information that was filtered…twice.
  2. Egos. The CIA was never able to admit its mistake, even before the war started. There’s a great scene in the book where George Tenet, the director of the CIA at the time, is assisting Colin Powell in his preparations for that famous address to the UN back in 2003. In the scene, Powell asks Tenet if he will back everything, and Tenet confirms that he will, even though he knows that some of that information is bad.
  3. The bureaucracy. Once CIA personnel were on the ground in Iraq, the search for the WMDs was chaotic at best, mostly due to the lack of an organized plan. At one point, someone notices that its mid-July of 2003 and no one has kept track of where troops have already searched for WMDs. Additionally, DIA and CIA personnel were fighting so much that almost nothing got done.

Does this tell us we shouldn’t be in Iraq? It’s tough to say. In retrospect, it’s easy to look back and say that we should never have gone because the weapons were never there. On the other hand, what if they were there? President Bush, based on the information he had available, felt that these weapons were too dangerous to have even a few. My belief is that we should be there, for a couple of reasons.

  1. Strategic location. Iraq borders Iran, and Iran is bordered on the other side by Afghanistan. Having two US-friendly (or even better, US-occupied) countries surrounding Iran has probably kept them from developing nuclear weapons.
  2. Humanity. For all that everyone says, “We should be helping in Darfur,” just a few short years ago Iraq was a very similar society. It’s trendy to bash Bush and claim that he doesn’t care about the citizens of Iraq and just cares about the oil, but apart from overthrowing a totalitarian government, the operations in Iraq have included building hospitals, roads, and running water.

On that note, Bush’s final State of the Union address is on tonight. I always like the State of the Union, because I think its the one night that everyone on Capitol Hill takes a break from automatically hating Bush and shares some optimism for once. It’s an important night; I think everyone should watch it, or read it or at least read the Cliffs Notes when they get here tomorrow morning. We are heading into a pivotal year for our nation and this administration.