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Belmont Club

The Query

April 30th, 2013 - 9:51 pm

The Daily Mail reports that Saudi Arabia warned the US in writing about Tamerlan Tsarnaev in 2012.  The Saudi official cited by the Mail said the warning “was separate from the multiple red flags raised by Russian intelligence in 2011, and was based on human intelligence developed independently in Yemen.”

Citing security concerns, the Saudi government also denied an entry visa to the elder Tsarnaev brother in December 2011, when he hoped to make a pilgrimage to Mecca. Tsarnaev’s plans to visit Saudi Arabia have not been previously disclosed.

The article says the warning letter was given to the DHS. But while one DHS official confirmed knowledge of it to the Mail, the agency itself denied ever having heard of the Saudi warning.

‘DHS has no knowledge of any communication from the Saudi government regarding information on the suspects in the Boston Marathon Bombing prior to the attack,’ MailOnline learned from one Homeland Security official who declined to be named in this report. The White House took a similar view. ‘We and other relevant U.S. government agencies have no record of such a letter being received,’ said Caitlin Hayden, a spokesperson for the president’s National Security Council. …

The high-ranking Saudi official whom MailOnlne interviewed provided a wealth of detail about the warning he says his government sent to the United States. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to talk publicly about foreign intelligence, or about Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic relationship with the United States.

He suggested that the Saudi Ministry of Interior sent the letter out of an abundance of caution in order to be helpful to the United States, even if its intelligence on Tsarnaev wasn’t yet fully developed.

‘With Saudi Arabia it’s always code red,’ he said. ‘There’s no code orange, or code yellow. Always red.’ The Saudi government, he added, alerted the U.S. in part because it believed American authorities should be inspecting packages that came to Tsarnaev in the mail, in order to search for bomb-making components.

Whether or not they finally get their story straight, as the postmortems into the Boston Marathon bombing continue it is likely that many more such tantalizing warnings will come to light. One of the characteristics of retrospective awareness is that events that were dismissed as paranoid or occasioned by mere suspicion at the time acquire a new significance in hindsight. Why? Because the data becomes information under the organizing effect of the right query.

Once the investigators know how to construct a query — know what to look for — it will pick up the pattern of events with remarkable ease. A plethora of evidence suddenly presents itself in place of the previous blank. The problem is not always the lack of data. The problem is often the lack of the query.  The difficulty facing those who want to anticipate an attack is how to construct a query before an obvious trigger event gives the head’s up.

When the FBI interviewed Tsarnaev two years ago they concluded there was nothing “derogatory”. Even assuming that political correctness had nothing to do with their passage through the screen, we can imagine that even after the Russians and other sources added more pieces of the puzzle it was hard to fit them together until the investigators knew what picture to look for.

If anything can be laid at the doorstep of the administration it is why the query took so long to construct once the bombing had happened.  Doubtless they will cite the requirements of the law.

But the problem with judicializing the war on terror is that the trigger events — the incident that incites the query — are by definition legal events. Until you break some law the system doesn’t crank after you. That’s as it should be in a judicial system. But that’s not how it should be with intelligence. The essential difference between intelligence gathering and police work is that intelligence often concerns itself with the future while the cops work largely after the fact — after the trigger event has taken place.

By contrast, for the Saudis everything was “always code red”. You were presumed guilty until they figured you were innocent. This difference in approach underscores why it is difficult to interchange warfare with judicial processes. Warfare is all about pre-emption and doing unto others before they do unto you — at least until the point of victory is achieved. On the other hand judicial processes are a completely different beast. They are all about protecting rights and thus ensure the terrorist is essentially treated in the same way as a civilian.

Any police procedure that didn’t give the Boston suspects the full protection of the law wouldn’t be a police procedure. It’s a wonderful way to enforce the law, but it’s a heck of a way to run a military operation. Imagine if Patton had to Mirandize each and every member of the SS his armies came across. We’d still be fighting World War 2.

Thus, a police approach will be too slow to prevent enemy attacks while on the other hand any sufficiently militarized police operation will dilute or diminish the rights of the general population. That is why war and police work are normally conducted as separate activities. You shouldn’t treat enemy combatants like suspects and you shouldn’t treat Watertown like a combat zone.

But some people think it’s a bright idea to cross the wires. That you improve the flavor by mixing the two distinct approaches up. Then one often gets the worst of both worlds: enemy combatants living a legal limbo in Guantanamo and small army of Boston cops clanking through the suburbs in armored vehicles. The complementary dangers to the Obama administration’s judicial approach to counterterrorism is that you get both lousy counterterrorism and a gradual erosion of the Bill of Rights. It’s heads you lose, tails the terrorst wins. It is the equivalent of a spork or a foon — a kind of hybrid not particularly good at any one thing.

Is it a Spork or a Foon?

Only a really smart guy could have thought the spork up. But it has it’s disadvantages. When you make political promises to everyone everyone gets something. Just not the something they counted on.

The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99

Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99

No Way In at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99

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Top Rated Comments   
The Dear Leader has tried to make the formerly covert drones into public proof that he has fortitude and a policy where none exists. Having dragged the drone into the public arena, his idiot sidekicks regard it, and supportive covert intelligence methods as well, as suitable for politically correct domestic use. At the same time they whine about civil rights for POWs and want to close Guantanamo but can't. If one has a hammer, every problem looks like a nail; if the president has a spork, he looks like an incompetent and to Hell with the problem.

In terms of what policy does one explain the public disqualification of the Fort Hood casualties from the Purple Heart because they were not the result of enemy action, while sanctioning a covert military operation to kill the person who inspired the action? And all relevant actors are/were US citizens. The answer apparently is that in the public political arena we dare not name the enemy as militant islamics, but we can and do name, and kill, the enemy in the covert arena, while the public pretrial of the actual shooter at Fort Hood drags on into its fourth year. They have lost their bearings in a fog of diversity and were not very good at this to begin with.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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On the other hand, "anonymous sources" are not trustworthy - even when they tell us what we'd like to hear.

I want to know, before I start throwing blame around, what the "warning" actually said (and how often the Saudis pass along such warnings, and what their track record), and thus whether mostly ignoring it was sensible without post facto knowledge.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
You folks already know this, but the days when America would send a gunboat to a banana republic if one of our citizens was kidnapped are Long Over. We're nothing to them but milking cows. Not even that; a farmer will defend his livestock.

And they keep making big money deals with insiders, and we keep paying the tab.

I met another quartet of fellows at this gathering: they are conservative Republican activists who live in Long Island. They told me that the system in New York State is wholly corrupt: the Republican campaign managers, they said, are bribed by the NY Democrat machine to LOSE campaigns. The coin? why, the ability to name people to various patronage jobs and get the resultant under the table payoff.

They said the system, in New York at least, is utterly corrupt. This all came up because we were kicking around the Central Mystery -- Why won't the Republican Party Stand And Fight?!? These guys said it's because the Republicans are the auxiliary wing of the Democrats and exist at their pleasure.

Just wanted to give you heartland folks a preview of coming detractions.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment

Now the Boston story is shifting again....

Calling Winston Smith to your stool room....
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Wretchard, an outstanding post covering the differences between war and police work. Even those who follow events fairly closely can miss this distinction. I once had a rousing debate with a retired Army JAG officer about why we shouldn't be treating Islamic terrorists like criminals. He was all worried about due process and could not understand the difference between a ragtag, international army united by a religious credo and a criminal gang.

Your comment about the mosque as a recruiting ground is most apt as well. We can spend the next 100 years killing/capturing the cannon fodder. Until we go after the inciters/recruiters and the financial supporters we will be spinning our wheels.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The cannon fodder are only dangerous when they are given a fatwa to enforce. Were the western public to understand how many death sentences they were under, all subject to enforcement by any Muslim who feels they should make the effort, the character of the struggle would permanently change.

The JAG corps betrayed this country by failing to do its job prosecuting enemy war crimes. They were overwhelmed by the numbers and gave up. But when the JAG gave up, it was the rest of the military that bled for it.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Prime Minister of Georgia Bidzina Ivanishvili admitted that the previous government perhaps had links with North Caucasian militants and terrorists, and Georgian territory was probably used not only for their transit

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Queries and evidence are only relevant in systems where the verdict does not precede the trial. In the world of ideological parrots the verdict most always comes before the trial. I am reminded of that passage in The Hobbit where it was said that the Baggin's family was very respectable because you knew what their opinion was on any subject without the bother of having to ask them.

And so it is when ideologues come into control, whether they be communists, multi-culturalists or whatever. The sole mark of virtue consists of being able to quote their given Bible flawlessly. Critical thinking is not a virtue to the parrot people, it is subversive. It is the gateway to the ultimate crime of questioning orthodoxy.

And just what would happen to the current High Priests of PC if the idea spread that there were enemies existing that were more dangerous than those holding traditional bourgeois values and evil white men?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
With respect Wretchard, we would not still be fighting WWII, we would have been slaughtered. And that makes the current political climate that much more alarming. Much more American blood WILL be spilled, the only question is how much will it take before we can name our enemies correctly and begin the offensive.

At some point ordinary Americans may just, in an unarmed manner, simply displace the administration by climbing over the fences of the White House, daring the Secret Service to open fire on unarmed citizens. God would I love to see that, better to be there when it happens. Peacefully wielding the will of the people is the most potent weapon available to the citizenry. Before that, refusing to pay taxes since apparently we can choose which laws we adhere to and which we ignore. I am all for peaceful civil disobedience, the illegal aliens taught us the way and Holder validated the practice.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
A big part of the problem for Obama is that he has adopted the European "Precautionary Principle".

If you want to identify a proponent, check for characteristic statements.

"Out of an abundance of caution" is one.

"First do no harm" is another.

They love to think they are wise, but in America we utilize a more nuanced form of the Hippocratic Oath, one that advocates action immediate based on probability, rather than waiting for "all the facts". So we invented First Aid/CPR/AED training for ordinary citizens. The events in Boston proved out the wisdom of our choice. There are many victims recovering in the hospital who would have bled out in any European capital.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
" Judicializing the war on terror ", i.e. Lawfare , started as a cudgel to pummel the Bush Administration once the Left saw an opening for attack. The present occupant of the Presidency was an enthusiastic wielder of this cudgel. The idea of Lawfare appeals to those of the Lefty Lawyerly bent.
The demonstrated ineffectiveness of it seems to deter them not.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
DHS, is too busy drafting warnings about the threat of redneck veterans to consider any exterior warnings. Is "its always code red...." a viable excuse to ignore a warning?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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