Wednesday, August 31, 2005

❄ Imperial Decline

In imperial China it was said that natural disasters meant withdrawal of the ‘mandate of heaven’ from the ruling dynasty.

The more modern explanation is that dynasties, in their later years, failed to give attention to the maintenance of water-control systems, lost capability to collect needed revenue, and spent monies they did collect to maintain the Imperial writ on their borders where it was challenged.

We want to learn from design failures, as well as design projects, and projects brought to completion.

The Question

Did the White House’s withholding flood-prevention funds from New Orleans lead to more serious consequences for that city in Hurricane Katrina—29 August 2005—and its aftermath?


Will Bunch reports that a number of engineering and planning projects were refused funding, or funded at reduced levels. About a US Corps of Engineers propsal he writes:

“In early 2004, as the cost of the conflict in Iraq soared, President Bush proposed spending less than 20 percent of what the Corps said was needed for Lake Pontchartrain, according to a Feb. 16, 2004, article, in New Orleans CityBusiness.

“On June 8, 2004, Walter Maestri, emergency management chief for Jefferson Parish, Louisiana; told the Times-Picayune: ‘It appears that the money has been moved in the president’s budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that’s the price we pay. Nobody locally is happy that the levees can’t be finished, and we are doing everything we can to make the case that this is a security issue for us.’  ” [1]

The Political Design Problem

Design a study, which respects scientific and engineering judgment, to assess (a) whether, and to what degree, the proposed funding could have mitigated effects of Hurricane Katrina, and (b) why the Administration made the alleged reductions and refusals.


[1] Will Bunch, “Did New Orleans Catastrophe Have to Happen? Times-Picayune Had Repeatedly Raised Federal Spending Issues”, Editor and Publisher, 30 August 2005.  Bunch reports for the Philadelphia Daily News, and much of his article can be seen on their website at his blog, Attotood.

[Political Design 2005.08.31 Post A13.]

Friday, August 26, 2005

❄ Iraq [II]. Gareth Porter on Exit

The Question

Is there a ‘third way’ between abrupt withdrawal and an endless stay?


Dr. Gareth Porter has published a proposal, “The Third Option in Iraq: A Responsible Exit Strategy,” which is distinguished by its sensitivity to process and consequences.

The Political Design Problem

How can the Americans get out of Iraq?


[1] Dr. Gareth Porter, “The Third Option in Iraq: A Responsible Exit Strategy,”, Journal of the Middle East Policy Council, v 12, n 3, Fall 2005.; or as a pdf document.

[2] Cf. Post A07: Getting Out of Iraq.

[Political Design 2005.08.26 Post A12.]
[Thanks: Alec Stefansky pointed out Gareth Porter’s article to me.]

Thursday, August 25, 2005

❄ North Korea [II]: Light-Water Reactors

Rose Gottemoeller comments on the nuclear negotiations with North Korea that

“Sometimes in a difficult negotiation it makes the most sense to point silently to a principle already established and then move to bolster that principle from an entirely new direction.” [1]

She points to the remnant but extant Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO) as the nub from which North Korea’s wish for a light-water reactor program could materialize. Support could come, she suggests, by extending to North Korea an existing US Department of Energy program for cooperation in non-controversial peaceful uses of nuclear materials.

The Question

Are there other principles ‘already established’ which could contribute to an exit from this impasse? Other lateral moves to ‘bolster’ those principles?


North Korean Foreign Minister Paek Nam-sun told the ministerial meeting of the 12th ASEAN Regional Forum, on 29 July 2005, that “if the nuclear issue finds a satisfactory solution, we will return to the NPT and accept the IAEA inspection.” [2] Is the principle that IAEA inspections can adequately monitor a declared site á propos?

The Political Design Problem

Cf. earlier note on North Korea [A03].


[1] Rose Gottemoeller, “The Process in Place,” The New York Times, 23 August 2005.

[2] Xinhua News Agency. “North Korea to Rejoin NPT If Nuclear Issue Resolved Satisfactorily,” 1 August 2005.

[Political Design 2005.08.25 Post A11.]

Thursday, August 18, 2005

❄ 9.11 Commission [III]

Did the US Army have the names of Mohammed Atta and three of his accomplices, identified as an Al Qaeda cell, in 2000? More on the ‘Able Danger’ controversy, noting especially the deft move of 9.11 Commission chair Thomas H. Kean to put the next step up to the Pentagon.

The Question

How can the members of the 9.11 Commission best pursue whether they were denied crucial information?


The first job is to determine whether assertions of fact are sound, while not taking onto the Commission’s members the task of making that judgment. Commission Chair Thomas H. Kean has

“ . . . called on the Pentagon on Wednesday to move quickly to evaluate the credibility of military officers who have said that a highly classified intelligence program managed to identify the Sept. 11 ringleader more than a year before the 2001 attacks. He said the information was not shared in a reliable form with the panel.

“The chairman, Thomas H. Kean, a former Republican governor of New Jersey, offered no judgment about the accuracy of the officers&146; accounts. But he said in an interview that if the accounts were true, it suggested that detailed information about the intelligence program, known as Able Danger, was withheld from the commission and that the program and its findings should have been mentioned prominently in the panel’s final report last year.”  [1]

Shifting the move to the other ‘player’ is a standard option in diplomacy, and was treated as a formal ‘move’ by Thomas Schelling in his Strategy of Conflict. [2]

The Political Design Problem

What can we learn about ‘move shifting’ in a negotiation between two parties who are not adversaries, but may have different interests or different views to express?


[1] Philip Shenon, “9/11 Panel’s Leader Requests Quick Assessment of Officers,”
The New York Times
, 18 August 2005.

[2] Thomas Schelling, The Strategy of Conflict (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1960).

[Political Design 2005.08.18 Post A10.]

❄ Palestine [I]: Access

Israel claims the right to control the borders of Gaza and the West Bank. This means that Gaza fishermen must remain inside a zone defined by Israel, that movement between Gaza and the West Bank is Israeli-controlled, and that all Palestinian trade must pass through Israeli controls. Moreover, Israel destroyed the Palestinians’ international airport after the onset of the Second Intafada. Israel asserts that these controls are necessary for its security. But the effect of the controls is to deny Palestinians economic security and freedom to come and go.

Disputes about access pose some of the most intriguing problems in political design. In the case of Israel and Palestine, results of the 1967 war are the basis for Israeli claims to sovereignty and border control far beyond its pre-war bounds. A distinction can be made between the pre-war line separating Israel from the West Bank [about which sovereignty would imply no doubt concerning Israel’s right to control entry (subject to the reservation that Palestinian rights to return remain contested)] and the external borders separating Gaza and the West Bank from other states and from non-Israeli waters and airspace.

The Question

Could Israel be brought to accept that it is more in its interest to enable normal Palestinian movement than to insist that the ‘risks’ to its security require enforced controls?


A viable Palestinian economy requires, of course, a stable area not subject to an Israeli claim it may destroy what it chooses. Given Israeli non-intervention, there are four further requirements: free access to the sea to and from Gaza, international air access, freedom to import and export across land borders, and one or more effective connections between the West Bank and Gaza. Palestine, not Israel, would set and administer the rules governing its side of the borders. On the Gaza-West Bank connection, for example, there are proposals to construct a road or rail corridor, elevated, depressed, or on the surface. [1]

Delicate negotiations are taking place with respect to Israeli controls, including controls on movement to and from Israel. Israel’s departure from Gaza, however, does not imply an end to the controls boxing the Gaza rectangle. Nor, at this juncture, is there evidence Israel is prepared to give up,in any respect, its claim of a residual right to govern movement. Instead, Israel retains the ‘unilateral high ground’ by exercising physical control, which no international body is ready to contest by force.

Would it be unjust, for example, to argue that Israel’s freedom to trade with the world should be no greater than that of the Palestinians? Or that Israeli aircraft should have no greater freedom of access to international airports than Israel acknowledges the Palestinians may enjoy?

Should a ‘democracy’ representing ‘the free world’ reward Israel by budgetary subventions while Israel controls Palestinian freedom of movement?

The Political Design Problem

Is there some mix of incentives and disincentives, or guarantees and provisions, or smart constructs, which could shift the balance between ‘interest’ and ‘risk’ to the side of interest?


[1] Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI). Gaza-West Bank Passage.

[2] US Embassy. London. “Wolfensohn Reviews Gaza Development Plans after Israeli Withdrawal.”  26 July 2005

[3] Agence France Presse. “Access to West Bank vital for Gaza economy: Wolfensohn”nbsp;  3 August 2005

[4] Mustafa Barghouthi, “Make sure ‘Gaza first’ is not ‘Gaza last’ ”. Op-ed. International Herald Tribune, 19 August 2005.

[Political Design 2005.08.17 Post A09. Cite 4: 2005.08.19.]

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

❄ Iran [II]: Use of Force?

Classic strategy assigns a place to ‘threats’, especially the threat to use force, and ‘deliberate ambiguity’ which leaves the other party unsure whether force will or will not be used. Thomas Schelling further suggested a “strategy that leaves something to chance”, including the risk that restraint will fail. [1]

GW Bush’s stock answer-book has been filled with phrases to use when asked certain questions. When interviewed on 11 August 2005 by Israeli Television Channel 1 he was asked what the United States would do if diplomacy failed to “make sure that Iran does not have a [nuclear] weapon”, Bush’s declared aim. This exchange followed:

THE PRESIDENT: Well, all options are on the table.

Q: Including the use of force?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, you know, as I say, all options are on the table. The use of force is the last option for any President. You know, we’ve used force in the recent past to secure our country. It’s a difficult -- it’s difficult for the Commander-in-Chief to put kids in harm’s way. Nevertheless, I have been willing to do so as a last resort in order to secure the country and to provide the opportunity for people to live in free societies. [2]

The Question

In designing a strategic approach toward Iran, what place is there for threats of force?


The threat of force—US military force—anchored the UN Security Council’s call in Resolution 1441 for Iraq to admit UNMOVIC and IAEA inspectors. Even many who believe GW Bush was reckless to disregard the inspectors and launch war acknowledge that Saddam Hussein accepted inspection on UNSC terms because Washington threatened war if he did not.

On the other hand, the phrases ‘all options’ and its equivalents have been used in the past as a coded reference to mean ‘even nuclear weapons’. Was that GW Bush’s intent?

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder responded directly to Bush’s 11 August interview. The Irish Times reported that

“ ‘Take the military option from the table. We know from experience that it’s for the birds, ’ he bellowed to a crowd . . .

“Mr. Schröder said that no one was interested in letting Iran become a nuclear power, but that the ongoing dispute must be resolved by developing a ‘strong negotiating position’ through peaceful means and not through military aggression.

“ ‘For that reason I can definitely rule out that a government under my leadership would participate in that,&146; said the German leader.” [3]

At the time of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s April 2005 visit to Crawford commentators drew parallels between Iran in 2005 and Iraq in 1981, when on 7 June 1981 Israeli aircraft attacked Iraq’s Osarik nuclear reactor which Israel believed was a key element in a nuclear weapons program. The New York Times wrote of Sharon’s “spreading photographs of Iranian nuclear sites over a lunch table” but said Sharon had given “no indication that Israel was preparing to act alone to attack Iranian nuclear facilities.” The Times noted that Vice-President Cheney had spoken of that possibility publicly in January 2005. [4]

The Political Design Problem

Under what circumstances, if any, given Iran’s ongoing interest in the nuclear fuel cycle, could US threats to use force against Iran be ‘credible’? meet approval of major EU states? of the UN Security Council?


[1] Thomas Schelling, The Strategy of Conflict (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1960).

[2] Israeli Televsion Channel 1, Varon Deckel, Interviewer. Crawford Texas, 11 August 2005.

[3] Derek Scally, “Schröder raps Bush on Iran military threat,” Irish Times, 15 August 2005.

[4] David E. Sanger, “Sharon Asks U.S. to Pressure Iran to Give Up Its Nuclear Program,” The New York Times, 13 April 2005.

[Political Design 2005.08.16 Post A08.]

Monday, August 15, 2005

❄ Iraq [I]: Getting Out

Prince George the Reckless is complicitous in launching an illegal ‘war of choice’, ignorantly conceived and imprudently managed, and the White House hopelessly compromised when next it may make claims that matter: that is how we imagine this episode will be judged. But now, we are told, the war is over. That’s the theme of Frank Rich’s column in The New York Times of 14 August 2005.

The Question

If “every war must end,” how could the Iraq War [2003 - .. ] be brought to an end?


GW Bush would have us understand withdrawal as “cut and run”, unworthy of a tough brawler in the ranchlands. Instead the United States will stay “as long as it takes.”

Another approach would be simply to bring the troops home. Or, it has been intimated, substantial numbers of US troops might remain “in the region” to provide ‘security’.

The most convincing program for withdrawal begins with accepting three outcomes: Shia dominance in the south and much of the center, ‘government’ negotiations and settlement with Sunni insurgents, and acceptance of Kurdish autonomy in the north (including control of Kirkuk). And none of these is for the United States to do. US withdrawal could procede, all Iraqi interests and factions understanding that they will have to make the deals and work through the consequences . . . and provide their own security.

The Political Design Problem

How would you compose the coda?


[1] Frank Rich, “Someone Tell the President the War is Over,” The New York Times, 14 August 2005.

[2] Fred Charles Iklé, Every War Must End (New York: Columbia University Press, rev. ed. 2005).

[Political Design 2005.08.15 Post A07.]

Friday, August 12, 2005

❄ Iran [I]: ‘staging’

A key subject of the March 1946 Acheson-Lilienthal Report was staging: could nuclear prohibition be achieved as a series of steps, with performance of one step contributing the confidence necessary to undertake the next step?

The Question

How can Iran’s wish to exercise its NPT rights be reconciled with concerns that nuclear activities could lead to a weapons program?


Here is one approach. According to the Financial Times Service, South African president Thabo Mbeki

“ . . . met Hassan Rowhani, who was then Iran’s chief negotiator, two weeks ago to discuss a proposal which would involve shipping South African uranium yellowcake to Iran for conversion into uranium hexafluoride gas. This would then be returned to South Africa to be enriched into nuclear fuel.

“The proposal is designed to allay fears that Iran could use its facilities to develop nuclear weapons.

“Iran sees the proposal as an interim confidence-building measure, but says it wants to develop the whole fuel cycle for its own civilian use later.”

The key term, if this proposal proves to have legs, is ‘later’.

The Political Design Problem

Can staging contribute to a solution to the Iran impasse?


[1] Financial Times Service. Najmeh Bozorgmehr and Guy Dinmore, “SA offers solution to nuclear restart by Iran,” Irish Times, 11 August 2005.

[Political Design 2005.08.12 Post A06.]

Thursday, August 11, 2005

❄ End the Plutocracy?

“Money is the mother’s milk of politics.”

“The United States is not a representative democracy, but a plutocracy.”

Elected officials and aspirants spend much of their time raising money and, in turn, become dependent on those who fund them.

The Question

Can the link between ‘big money’ and elected officials be broken?


Electoral reform. Can the United States stop the corrosive effects of ‘big money’ by setting a maximum size on campaign contributions? What results of McCain-Feingold?

Do the free speech provisions of the First Amendment require that corporations be free to spend for the candidates of their choice?

Public funding. Some propose public funding of electoral campaigns.

I’m drawn to the ‘pull-only’ rule: rather than candidates’ buying vast advertising time, telephone banks, and lapel pins, why not confine them to their web sites and let each citizen decide whether to look at their messages or ignore them? “Don’t call me, I’ll call you.”

The Political Design Problem

Is there a better way? And how could reform be realized?


[1] Common Cause: Money

[Political Design 2005.08.11 Post A05.]

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

❄ 9.11 Commission [II]

There’s a claim being made that a US Army intelligence unit (named ‘Able Danger’) had identified, in 2000, four of the 9.11 hijackers as the “only” al-Qaeda cell in the United States, putting their names and visa photographs on a chart ... but failed to make their suspicions known to other US agencies at the time. It’s asserted, further, that when something of this unit was briefed to staff of the 9.11 Commission in 2003 there was no mention of the four names, among them that of Mohammed Atta.

This claim originates with a US Congressman, Curt Weldon (Republican: Pennsylvania) and an unnamed former intelligence officer. Weldon said on the floor of the House of Representatives, 27 June 2005, that

“We have to ask the question, why have these issues not been brought forth before this day? I had my Chief of Staff call the 9/11 Commission staff and ask the question: Why did you not mention Able Danger in your report? The Deputy Chief of Staff said, well, we looked at it, but we did not want to go down that direction.

“So the question, Mr. Speaker, is why did they not want to go down that direction? Where will that lead us? Why do we not want to see the answers to the questions I have raised tonight? Who made the decision to tell our military not to pursue Mohamed Atta? Who made the decision that said that we are fearful of the fallout from Waco politically?

“Were those decisions made by lawyers? Were they made by policymakers? Who within the administration in 2000 was responsible for those actions? This body and the American people need to know.”

The Question

Are these claims true? And if true, who was responsible for blocking notification in 2000, and full disclosure to the 9.11 Commission in 2003?


Members of the 9.11 Commission are already on record suggesting that Congressional committees pursue Weldon’s allegations, and that staff go back to the Commission’s records to see just what was briefed to the Commission.

Recall [Post A01] that the Commission is defunct. Today it’s members can only act as private citizens.

The Political Design Problem

Earlier [Post A01] we put the general problem: how can citizens hold government to account for itself? The Weldon claims pose a specific problem: how can facts, perhaps embarrassing facts, about a secret military unit be confirmed or disconfirmed, and their significant implications be brought out so that citizens can judge?


[1] Philip Shenon and Douglas Jehl, “9/11 Panel Members Ask Congress to Learn if Pentagon Withheld Files on Hijackers in 2000”, The New York Times, 10 August 2005.

[2] Congressional Record. 27 June 2005. Remarks of Representative Curt Weldon. Pages H5243-H5250. [Cited paragraphs are at the end of his remarks, on page H5250.] Via

[3] Jacob Goodwin, “Did DoD Lawyers Blow the Chance to Nab Atta?”, Government Security News, August 2005.

[4] Douglas Jehl, “Four in 9/11 Plot Called Tied to Qaeda in ’00,” The New York Times, 9 August 2005.

[Political Design 2005.08.10 Post A04.]

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

❄ North Korea [I]

A fourth session of six-nation talks on North Korea began on 25 July 2005 in Beijing, thirteen months after the last session. Participants are North Korea, South Korea, Japan, Russia, China, and the United States. [The talks continued for 13 days, and then recessed, with the declared intention to resume in three weeks.] One prime sticking-point was North Korea’s insistence that it not be barred from operating a light-water reactor, and a US demand that no nuclear power program be permitted. The New York Times, 9 August 2005, reported that

“the chief North Korean negotiator, Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan, said the United States had been unwilling to compromise on North Korea’s desire for a peaceful nuclear program and needed to acknowledge its right as a sovereign nation for such a program. . . ”

US negotiator Christopher Hill

“said that the talks began with great promise and that an agreement began to crystallize after four or five days of meetings. He said this optimism prompted the Chinese to begin assembling draft texts based on comments from each delegation. But as last weekend neared, Mr. Hill said North Korea said it wanted a reference to light-water reactors included in the draft statement.

“ ‘That was something that the other delegations wouldn’t go along with,’ he said. ‘These light-water reactors are simply not on the table.’ ”

The Question

How could the six-party talks be brought to an agreed conclusion?


US fears that a North Korean civil nuclear reactors could be used to create plutonium for a weapons program could be met by putting the program under IAEA safeguards. This is the standard method, called for in the Nonproliferation Treaty. North Korea has said it envisages recommitting to the NPT if an acceptable deal is negotiated. The GW Bush administration scoffed at IAEA inspection in Iraq prior to the 2003-.. Iraq War, but we now know that Hans Blix and the IAEA got it right.

The White House’s penchant for bilateral rather than international assurances suggests something like the ‘portal monitoring’ provisions of the INF Treaty. Soviet families moved to Utah as Soviet specialists kept track of a cruise missile factory, literally standing at the gates to implement an inspection regime; and US personnel did similar duty in the Soviet Union.

Is it necessary that North Korea be open, with visitors, especially South Koreans, coming and going freely, to achieve adequate assurance against a clandestine nuclear program?

The Political Design Problem

Is there a way to achieve ‘adequate security’ while meeting the North Korean wish to maintain a civil nuclear program? Alternatively, is there a way to meet North Korea’s requirement that its sovereignty be respected which does not include its being free to undertake civil nuclear activities?


[1] Jim Yardley, “The U.S. and North Korea Blame Each Other for Stalemate in Talks,” The New York Times, 9 August 2005.

[2] Congressional Research Service. Sharon A. Squassoni. “North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons: How Soon an Arsenal?,” updated May 12, 2005.

[3] Congressional Research Service. Larry A. Niksch. “North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons Program,” updated May 6, 2005.

[Political Design 2005.08.09 Post A03.]

Monday, August 08, 2005

❄ 9.11 Commission [I]: Adventures

The 9.11 Commission—formally the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks on the United States—was created by the US Congress and President via Public Law 107-306, 27 November 2002. The commission members deserve to be remembered: Thomas Kean, Lee Hamilton, Richard Ben-Veniste, Bob Kerrey, Fred F. Fielding, John Lehman, Jamie Gorelick, Timothy Roemer, Slade Gorton and James R. Thompson. With a staff, led by Philip Zelikow, their inquiries led to The 9/11 Commission Report and its recommendations for action.

When the commission’s mandate came to an end in August 2004 the members took an unusual decision: to remain focused on how their recommendations would fare. They created the 9/11 Public Discourse Project, which plans to issue a ‘report card’ in September 2005. To that end they have asked several executive agencies, including the White House and CIA, for information, but only Homeland Security said it planned to respond. From the rest: stonewall.

The Question

What has become of the 9.11 Commission?


Focus first on the smart decision to stay in business , even if as a private group, no longer possessed of subpoena powers. Their decision illustrates design at work. It strives for accountability. Did the bipartisan Commission doubt that Congress would itself be accountable, and hold the Executive to answer?

Second, note the probem which Philip Shenon describes in the New York Times, 7 August. Officials whom the Public Discourse Project has asked to speak with it—including Rumsfeld, Rice, Goss, Mueller, and Card—have simply failed to respond. Most requests for information have been ignored.

This White House cloaks itself in secrecy, and the Republican Congress has done little to prompt disclosure.

The Political Design Problem

So here’s the design problem: how can citizens hold government to account for itself—even on a subject everyone agrees is of paramount importance—when neither Congress nor the Executive judge it in their interest to be subject to rational assessment?


[1] Philip Shenon, “9/11 Group Says White House Has Not Provided Files,” The New York Times, 7 August 2005.

[2] 9/11 Public Discourse Project:

[3] The 9/11 Commission.

[4] Report of the 9/11 Commission.

[Political Design 2005.08.08. Post 2.]

Sunday, August 07, 2005

❄ Tapping the Net

Skype users take note. The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has ruled that, within 18 months, “providers of certain broadband and interconnected voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services must be prepared to accommodate law enforcement wiretaps.” Those who must do so provide “services permitting users to receive calls from, and place calls to, the public switched telephone network”. The FCC announcement offered this explanation:

“The Commission found that these services can essentially replace conventional telecommunications services currently subject to wiretap rules, including circuit-switched voice service and dial-up Internet access. As replacements, the new services are covered by the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, or CALEA, which requires the Commission to preserve the ability of law enforcement agencies to conduct court-ordered wiretaps in the face of technological change.”

As it stands, this rule applies broadly, for the FCC stipulates that

“The Commission also adopted a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that will seek more information about whether certain classes or categories of facilities-based broadband Internet access providers – notably small and rural providers and providers of broadband networks for educational and research institutions – should be exempt from CALEA.”

The FCC rule has at least two significant consequences. It will impose a cost on providers. And it facilitates a further extension of the capacity to ‘wiretap’. Interplay among the Constitutional requirement of judicial warrants to protect against “unreasonable search and seizure”, insistent ‘law enforcement’ initiatives to win statutory approval of relaxed terms and conditions for electronic and other surveillance, and rapidly-changing technologies complicate this subject in ways which can’t be explored in this brief note. But I will turn to other facets of the issue in later posts.

And this weekend articles have appeared in the Washington Post and Le Monde (where it was the lead front-page article) reporting use by Al Qaeda of the Net, computing, and communications to prepare attacks.

The Washington Post article prompted Dave Farber, Distinguished Career Professor of Computer Science and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University and former Chief Technologist of the FCC, to comment (6 August 2005) in his widely-distributed listserv list that

“Next we will hear how the net must be controlled; how cryptology must be forbidden etc. The end is near of the free wheeling net and it’s benefits djf”

The Question

Can polities design practices which conserve the Net free and accessible while providing adequate protection against organized attacks (‘terrorist attacks’)?


Of course the Net is not absolutely free or accessible. And no measures can guarantee against attack. So we must start in the practical world. And there are many motives for control other than preventing attacks and enforcing conventional laws: consider the wide-ranging copyright controversy. Is this proposal really about catching drug smugglers or preventing ‘terrorist attacks’?

The political case for private conversations: that citizens must be able to discuss the State among themselves free from surveillance by the State. The Net is a medium for such exchanges, especially in a far-flung, numerous polity. But when the capacity to tap is in place, it is not possible to prove that it is not being used for political surveillance.

The case for a Net ‘open and free’ turns on the claim that social value can be best sought and found when inventiveness is least restricted. Hence the case for joint authoring of open software, and the argument that peer-to-peer file sharing can have socially useful purposes unrelated to exchange of ‘entertainment’.

And why should one believe that extensions of ‘wiretap’ can be converted to the prevention of actual attacks? Would the same investment in methods unrelated to ‘wiretap’ be sounder? Is there not a burgeoning of means of communications, and of masquing messages, such that any group with evil intent can find a way to communicate which the FBI did not anticipate?

The Political Design Problem

Design methods and practices to hinder or prevent ‘terrorist attacks’ which do not require imposing controls on the Net.


[1] The FCC press release and two accompanying statements, 5 August 2005:

[2] Steve Cohl and Susan B. Glasser, “Jihadists Turn the Web Into Base of Operations,” Washington Post, 7 August 2005.

[3] Le Monde, 6 August 2005. “La guerre contre Al-Qaida ’intensifie sur Internet”; Eric Leser, “La Toile est devenue une arme essentielle pour les djihadistes. Depuis que les partisans d’Al-Qaida ont été chassés d’Afghanistan, ils se sont réfugiés sur Internet”; Jean-Pierre Stroobants, “Les services de renseignement britanniques sont passés á l’offensive contre les sites Internet islamistes.”

[4] United States Institute of Peace. Special Report #116. Gabriel Weimann, “
How Modern Terrorism Uses the Internet.”

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Political Design

So: blogging again. I’ve another blog at which is long on criticism of the GW Bush administration. Reasoned criticism.

Here I intend a regular, near-daily comment, keyed to a current text. Why is this significant? What ‘stories’ does it reflect? What plans does it imply? What’s my interpretive take, given a vantage which focuses on political design?