July 18, 2009

IT as a Surrogate Weapon

There is a fascinating controversy going on now over the CIA plans to kill known al Qaeda terrorists. Should we “stoop to their level” and take them out or is this “assassination” style technique out of bounds for a free and democratic society?

Wow. I don’t think too many Americans the day after 9/11 would be asking that question.

We are quickly swayed by the events of the times and our emotions at play.

When 3,000 people—mostly civilians—were killed in a vicious surprise attack on our financial and military hubs in this country; when the Twin Towers were still burning and crashing down; when smoke was rising out of the Pentagon; and when a plane crashed in Pennsylvania—I think most of us would say, these terrorists need to be dealt a severe and deadly blow.

Who would’ve though that just a mere 8 years later, questions would abound on the righteousness of killing the terrorists who planned, executed, and supported these murderous attacks and still seek every day to do us incredible harm—quite likely with chemical, nuclear, biological, or radiological (CNBR) weapons—it they could pull it off in the future.

We are a society with a short-term memory. We are a reactive society. As some have rightly said, we plan to fight the wars of the past, rather than the wars of the future.

We are also a doubting society. We question ourselves, our beliefs, and our actions. And to some extent this is a good thing. It elevates our humanity, our desire to do what is right, and to improve ourselves. But it can also be destructive, because we lose heart, we lose commitment, we change our minds, we are swayed by political currents, and to some extent we swing back and forth like a pendulum—not knowing where the equilibrium really is.

What makes the current argument really fascinating to me from an IT perspective is that we are okay with drones targeting missiles at terrorist targets (and even with a certain degree of civilian “collateral damage”) from these attacks from miles in the sky, but we are critical and repugnant to the idea the CIA wanted to hunt down and put bullets in the heads of the terrorists who committed the atrocities and are unwavering in their desire to attack again and again.

Is there an overreliance on technology to do our dirty work and an abrogation of hands-on business process to do it with our own “boots on the ground” hands?

Why is it okay to pull the trigger on a missile coming from a drone, but it is immoral to do it with a gun?

Why is it unethical to fight a war that we did not choose and do not want, but are victims of?

Why are we afraid to carry out the mission to its rightful conclusion?

The CIA, interrogators, military personnel and so forth are demonized for fighting our fight. When they fight too cautiously—they have lost their will and edge in the fight, we suffer consequences to our nation’s safety, and we call them incompetent. When they fight too vigorously, they are immoral, legal violators, and should be prosecuted. We are putting “war” under a huge microscope—can anyone come out looking sharp?

The CIA is now warning that if these reputational attacks continue, morale will suffer, employees will become risk-averse, people will quit, and the nation will be at risk.

Do we want our last lines of defense to be gun-shy when the terrorists come hunting?

According to the Wall Street Journal, “one former CIA director, once told me that the ‘CIA should do intelligence collection and analysis, not covert actions. Covert actions almost never work and usually get the Agency in trouble.’”

The Journal asks “perhaps covert action should be done by someone else.” Who is this someone else?

Perhaps we need more technology, more drones to carry out the actions that we cannot bear to face?

I believe that we should not distinguish between pulling the trigger on a drone missile and doing the same on a sniper rifle. Moreover, a few hundred years ago the rifle was the new technology of the time, which made killing less brutal and dehumanized. Now we have substituted sophisticated drones with the latest communication, navigation and weapons technologies. Let’s be honest about what we are doing – and what we believe needs to be done.

(As always, my views are my own and do not represent those of any other entity.)


No comments: