Cost-Benefit Analysis Of NSA Surveillance Says It's Simply Not Worth It

from the do-some-math dept

The incredible thing in the defense of all of these NSA surveillance programs is that defenders always go back to examples like September 11th -- suggesting that if one of these programs stops another attack, they'll be worth it. And while such attacks are devastating in so many ways, we all implicitly recognize that there is a cost to preventing another attack, and certain costs are simply too high. We'd be much less likely to have another attack, for example, if we grounded all airplanes permanently and never let anyone enter or leave the US. But, obviously, that's a "cost" that is way too high. Yet, for some reason the defenders of these programs seem to pretend that there are no costs at all. Yet, there are huge costs. We've already discussed how the NSA's surveillance activities are hurting American businesses and why the tech industry should be furious about these efforts -- and that cost is becoming clearer day by day.

A new study suggests that the direct losses to US tech companies from people and companies fleeing to other services (often overseas) is likely to be between $22 billion and $35 billion over just the next three years. Germany is already looking at pushing for rules in the EU that would effectively ban Europeans from using services from US companies that participate in NSA surveillance programs (which is a bit hypocritical since it appears many EU governments are involved in similar, or even worse, surveillance efforts).

And... for what benefit? We've already seen multiple Senators point out that the NSA and its supporters have yet to provide a single shred of evidence that the bulk collection of metadata (the Patriot Act Section 215 program) was necessary in stopping any terrorist activity. So the "benefit" on the other side of the equation appears to be absolutely nothing. How could it possibly make sense to have a program which costs billions to our economy -- and directly to one of the few rapidly growing and expanding sectors of the economy, which also has tremendous productivity benefits for nearly all other parts of the economy -- for no benefit at all?

The fact is that big terrorist attacks are flashy and attention grabbing. They pack an emotional punch. I still remember quite clearly watching the towers fall in NYC over a decade ago. But we have to face facts: those things are extremely low probability events. A recent look at the probability of getting killed in a terrorist attack compared to almost any other cause of death shows that you're much more likely to be killed by a toddler than a terrorist. And the list goes on. Click the link above and it shows what incredibly small probability event terrorist attacks are.

This doesn't mean that we shouldn't make efforts to stop terrorist attacks. We should. But they need to be within reason, and with a real recognition of both the costs and the benefits. We don't spend nearly as much trying to stop death from fireworks, yet they're 14 times more likely to kill you. You're nine times more likely to be killed by a police officer than a terrorist. Yet, we don't violate everyone's privacy to stop cops from killing people. You're 4,706 times more likely to be killed by alcohol than a terrorist. And yet... drink up. People take risks. We certainly try to minimize those risks but within reason.

If the costs are astoundingly high while the benefits are slim to none, then such programs shouldn't even have been seriously considered in the first place, let alone implemented and defended vigorously (and misleadingly) by those in power.


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    BentFranklin (profile), Aug 9th, 2013 @ 6:34am

    Thank you! I've been wanting to rad something like this for months. Don't forget to add the costs associated with their blank-check budget.

     

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    Ninja (profile), Aug 9th, 2013 @ 6:44am

    I don't think the companies supplying the surveillance circus care. If they get away with a lot of money it doesn't really matter if the Govt goes bankrupt. I mean they'll have their yachts, hookers and cocaine anyway, no?

     

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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Aug 9th, 2013 @ 8:08am

    Thank you

    I've been complaining about the lack of toddler prevention for *years.*

     

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    RyanNerd (profile), Aug 9th, 2013 @ 8:11am

    Gravy Train isn't going to stop

    As long as our representitives have been bought and sold by special interest groups.

     

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    John Doe, Aug 9th, 2013 @ 8:11am

    Cost vs. Benefit?

    You seem not to understand how big government works. A cost/benefit analysis is never done for a government program. If it was, we would have a much, much smaller government.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 9th, 2013 @ 8:14am

    Cost benefits are not performed because it is not "their" money. It is really easy to spend other people's money. Even more so when there is no accountability, transparency or oversight.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 9th, 2013 @ 8:16am

    It's so cute how you keep using the phrase "within reason." I look forward to seeing your faith in humanity rewarded.

    *holding breath*

     

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    out_of_the_blue, Aug 9th, 2013 @ 8:18am

    You pre-load this with "to the people". NSA has other goals.

    You've a keen grasp of the obvious so long as constrained by the wrong premise. But those who control NSA do not have the public good as even secondary goal. Just forget that and assume they're ultra control-freaks; you'll still be short of the truth, but at least thinking along the right path.

    When you think surveillance, think Google!

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 9th, 2013 @ 8:25am

    i would be very inclined to agree with that analysis, but the various, totally insecure megalomaniacs at the top of the security agencies food chain, the apex predators, that think the spying continuously on as many people as possible, in as many ways as possible, in as many places as possible, has to continue, may well disagree with you!

     

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    AmericasEnemies, Aug 9th, 2013 @ 8:27am

    The toddlers hate us for our freedom, and lack of diapers

    Mike, I think you may just have accidentally revealed Americas redacted enemy from the Manning trial. Clearly the intelligence community must save us all with a war on toddlers, these screaming bundles of tiny terror must be stopped. Also, from the intelligence communities point of view a war on toddlers is the perfect war, since we were all once toddlers we are clearly must all be watched lest we start to sympathize with the wee nippers.

     

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    John Fenderson (profile), Aug 9th, 2013 @ 8:37am

    Don't forget the biggest cost of all

    The cost to our freedoms.

     

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    AC Unknown (profile), Aug 9th, 2013 @ 8:38am

    Re: You pre-load this with "to the people". NSA has other goals.

    Shut up, get off the internet, and hold your breath until you pass out.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 9th, 2013 @ 8:39am

    Re: Cost vs. Benefit?

    Our government is bloated, inefficient, and throws money into pits of fire that churn out no reward. Maybe we should have a much smaller government.

     

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    Zippy, Aug 9th, 2013 @ 8:39am

    What would happen, I wonder, if both NSA headquarters and the new spy center in Utah were both destroyed? Theoretical question, of course.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 9th, 2013 @ 8:40am

    Re: You pre-load this with "to the people". NSA has other goals.

    We've already figured that out months ago (years, when it comes to non-NSA government departments). We're talking about how government should be, and how Americans in general presumably want their government to be.

     

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    Alt0, Aug 9th, 2013 @ 8:49am

    "You're nine times more likely to be killed by a police officer than a terrorist."

    This is the Turtle / Hare story:
    Terrorists drop huge numbers for a single event while the police just keep on doing one-offs.
    If it were event based rather than the number of deaths it would be more like 1000 times more likely.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 9th, 2013 @ 8:54am

    Anti-terrorism is now a greater threat to the American public than terrorism. Forget the War on Terror, we need a War on Anti-Terror.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 9th, 2013 @ 8:57am

    Readers may also be interested in this related batch of crunchy budget numbers.

     

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    ethorad (profile), Aug 9th, 2013 @ 8:57am

    Re:

    I think you'd get a call from your local friendly men in black to ask you some serious questions about a post you made on a subversive website

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 9th, 2013 @ 8:58am

    US-based cloud computing is dead

    We now know that as soon as any US-based cloud provider reaches significant size, they will be backdoored. Whether it's covertly or with their cooperation (perhaps as the result of demands/threats) it's inevitable.

    It remains to be seen whether this is true in other countries.

    But since we now KNOW this about US-based cloud provider, we have in our hands an existence proof that a nonzero number of backdoors exist. And as anybody with even a little bit of skill in security will tell you, once a service has been backdoored once...it's MUCH easier to backdoor it twice.

    That will now happen. (It's probably already happened.) After all, J. Random Bad Guy can't show up at Amazon's door and demand that AWS be backdoored: but the NSA can. What J. Random Bad Guy can do is skip that first step, look for the backdoor that he knows is there, and figure out how to use it to his own advantage. Or how to use the backdoor it creates. Or how to feed it bogus information. Or...the possibilities are myriad.

    The Chamber of Secrets has been opened.

     

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    Michael Donnelly (profile), Aug 9th, 2013 @ 8:58am

    You missed the biggest hard cost.

    Mike: what about the money that the NSA itself is actually spending? It's easy to get caught up in the privacy issues and the financial impact on American business. Those are real and very serious.

    But what's being overlooked, probably because it's classified, is how much the program is costing US taxpayers directly. Data centers don't build themselves. Huge checks to telcos to turn over a shitload of data don't appear from thin air. Litigating the hell out of all these indefensible positions takes a lot of effort.

    So we're all paying quite possibly a substantial amount for this nothing.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 9th, 2013 @ 8:58am

    Re: Thank you

    Those are called , 'condoms', man.

    Or, as they're known in Congress, "counter-ethical delivery services."

     

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    th (profile), Aug 9th, 2013 @ 9:06am

    Your analysis is wrong-headed

    It's not the right analysis to do- what are the odds / slipping in the bathtub type analysis.

    The question isn't what have they done historically- that's a false statistic in the Black Swan sense. The question to ask is- given what is technically feasible, what COULD they do in the near future?

    Much more worrisome.

    There's a lot of false tropes running around amongst my (liberal) side of the world, amongst them is this one. The od3ds of dying in a terrorist attack are.. fill in the blank.

    The "odds" are only interesting when the phenomena under study is produced by the intersection of variables which themselves are not intentional, that is, not subject to direct human determination or intentionality, not to say involvement. They are random, independent variables.

    You can see how this thinking breaks down in the analogy of the chicken and the farmer. The chicken reasons that the farmer is a great guy who feeds him reliably. Chicken has statistics to back this up.

    Then one day, c4hicken gets a big surprise.

    The problem with the chicken's thinking was the farmer's actions were not the effect of random variables interacting with each other to produce an outcome- the farmer feeding the chicken.

    The reality was, the farmer was just consciously waiting for the chicken to reach the age of slaughter.

    Slipping in the bathtub or dying by car accident or even the rate of suicide in an age bracket is not collectively determined by human intent, although of course a single suicide is.

    They're events which while effected3 by random variables, like rain and car crashes , do not effect each other - no one is deciding and then directly determining how many car crashes there are going to be.

    Random variables interact rand3omly and prod3uce the effects. These random variables have the property of being normally distributed- the frequency of each of their values taken together form a Bell curve.

    The interaction of independent, normally distributed variables is where you can productively ask "what are the odds?"

    For terrorism you have to ask- what can they get a hold of technically-wise and how much damage can it inflict on how many people.

    THAT "calculation" is highly distressing.

    Remember this also. A tactical point. Those who counsel "don't worry" lose 100% of their credibility and ability to determine future directions when the worse than you ever thought shit hits the fan.

    So you have a more than one dog in this fight.

    Better to map out what terrorists could do, what would be the effect if they did it and then facilitate a public discussion about upsides / downsides to various prophylactic measures like the NSA program relative to what could realistically happen.

    THAT would be a unique and very positive contribution to this discussion.

    Other than that, when they get through, and they will, the follow on events, like those after 9-11 of which the NSA program is one, will be haphazard, instrumental, unethical and divisive.



    But terrorism is exactly the opposite.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 9th, 2013 @ 9:43am

    "A new study suggests that the direct losses to US tech companies from people and companies fleeing to other services (often overseas) is likely to be between $22 billion and $35 billion"

    "suggests", "often", "likely". These don't sound like facts. Scare tactics to promote an agenda? How is that any different than the NSA using 9/11?

     

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    Ninja (profile), Aug 9th, 2013 @ 10:00am

    Re:

    Read the original yourself.

    http://www.itif.org/publications/how-much-will-prism-cost-us-cloud-computing-industry

    Read page 3 of the document. It's providing some rough numbers based on reasonable assumptions and data. From the document itself:

    Just how much do U.S. cloud computing providers stand to lose from PRISM? At this stage it is unclear how much damage will be done, in part because it is still not certain how the U.S. government will respond. But it is possible to make some reasonable estimates about the potential impact

    And the Government is responding pretty badly.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 9th, 2013 @ 10:07am

    Re: Your analysis is wrong-headed

    Those who counsel "don't worry" lose 100% of their credibility and ability to determine future directions when the worse than you ever thought shit hits the fan.

    On the other hand, those who counsel "live in fear" just brush off their own loss of credibility and carry on when proven wrong. Maybe those who counsel "don't worry" should take a page from their book. Maybe if the shit hits the fan, the Dontworriers can just state "This was impossible to predict or prevent." No matter how often or how loudly this particular shit has been predicted and warned against.

    There, problem solved.

     

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    Hephaestus (profile), Aug 9th, 2013 @ 10:18am

    Statistically over a thirty year period you stand a slightly better chance of being killed by lightening. 100 plus, deaths every year by lighting and less than 100 a year killed by terrorists (including 9/11).

    Everything they do seems like a waste just based on those numbers...

     

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    th (profile), Aug 9th, 2013 @ 10:22am

    Re: Re: Your analysis is wrong-headed

    No fair.

    First, you didn't addres2s the substantive criticism of the major point of "odds based analysis" I leveled . It's not a detail- it goes to the heart of what it is to reason about terrorism.

    Secondly, I am not counseling "live in fear". I am saying that we should live in reality- the reality that we probably will get hit- without fear (terror, paralyzing fear) but WITH acute and foreknowledge of the possible scope and specific nature of what might occur.

    In this way we can begin to secure the Constitution against those who in a fit of panic would usurp it, or usurp it further if that sounds better to you.

    Finally, if by "live in fear" you mean "we will get hit, we just haven't yet", if that is what "live in fear" is your shorthand for, then their position is unfortunately harder to assail. Yes, I get it could be used cynically to repel all attempts at disproof, OK, but how would you distinguish that from their just being factually correct? You have to allow that a future attack of unknown (and as of now, unconsidered by the general public) scope and is not only possible but likely given the motivations and public utterances of the terrorists.

    The way to get by this that is just what I was arguing for- ask: what it possible (within reason), what would the damage be, what is the price we would be compelled to pay and given that information, what can we agree is prudent now? What is an acceptable response afterwards?

     

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    th (profile), Aug 9th, 2013 @ 10:24am

    Hephaestus

    Hephaestus, see my posts for a rebuttal to this.

     

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    Headbhang, Aug 9th, 2013 @ 10:29am

    Benefits

    Damn, it's almost as if there were other benefits that are not publicized...

    Of course it can't be, though, because all governments want is to make their citizens SAFE and nothing else.

    Well, safe from terrorists, at first. Toddlers watch out; you're next.

     

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    lucidrenegade (profile), Aug 9th, 2013 @ 10:40am

    You are 5387 times more likely to be killed by a terrorist than seeing a post that makes sense from out_of_the_blue.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 9th, 2013 @ 10:51am

    Re: Cost vs. Benefit?

    You're close but not quite there. In government cost benefit is done all the time. The problem it never examines the benefits of doing nothing because whenever the government sets out to look at a potential project the money for it already exists and needs to be spent.

     

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    th (profile), Aug 9th, 2013 @ 11:01am

    Re:

    lucidrenegade read my post in reply?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 9th, 2013 @ 11:05am

    Re: Your analysis is wrong-headed

    You don't seem to understand at all the point being made when people point out what the odds are. They're not arguing that it's a random circumstance that can't be controlled. They're arguing that an exceedingly rare event shouldn't warrant this kind of expenditure as a response. They're pointing out that it would be difficult to find the right variables to trigger 'prophylactic measures' given the exceeding rareness of the event. They aren't counseling 'don't worry,' they are counseling resiliency.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 9th, 2013 @ 11:06am

    Re: Re:

    We can all see your post, there's no need to advertise it.

     

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    Digger, Aug 9th, 2013 @ 11:06am

    EASY way to overtax the NSA sifters...

    Suggest that all spammers start including names of presidents (current and former), global leaders, terrorists, criminals from most wanted lists in the e-mail headers...

    These names, repeatedly sent millions if not billions of times a week should overload their queries handily...

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 9th, 2013 @ 11:08am

    Re: Re: Re: Your analysis is wrong-headed

    What I'm trying to say is the specific tactical problem you set up for the "Don't worry" advocates doesn't exist. It pretends that a "live in fear" policy doesn't lead to horrible disasters with immense costs and human suffering and death, or that they can't be tracked back to that very policy, at least. But it does and they can.

    Take a "Live in Fear" president who causes [current number] of military deaths and [current number] of civilian deaths in a chase for imaginary weapons in a country with imaginary 9/11 terrorist ties.

    Compare him to an imaginary "Don't worry" president saying: "9/11 was a singular event, obviously these guys were nuts. Let us mourn and let the police do their job."

    Can you really cook up a scenario where that imaginary president ends up with more blood on his hands than the real ones we had? I can't.

    I.e. this problem is inherent to all policy and as we have seen the "live in fear" folks know how to address it.

    And yes, I haven't picked up anything else you said, that's true. I have no problem with anything else (unless of course it's based on said notion that Dontworriers face a special set of problems, because they don't).

     

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    th (profile), Aug 9th, 2013 @ 11:17am

    Your importing into your reasoning the idea of rarity. What is that rarity caused by? Earthquakes are rare. Pandemics are rare. These are rare because they're natural phenomena. That fact is highly relevant to reasoning about their risks- they nature will insure that they will continue to be rare.

    Terrorism is not a thing like those. You can't count on nature keeping it either rare nor of certain defined scope.

    So doing a rearward looking body count and developing stats around that tells you nothing- no information- about the future. It's just falsehood.

    The author of this article is engaging in fallacious reasoning.

     

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    th (profile), Aug 9th, 2013 @ 11:33am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Your analysis is wrong-headed

    Costs on both sides need to be taken into account, I agree. A full ac4counting of the human cost of the Iraq War is beyond the scope of this thread, obviously. I have no problem with this most recent post of yours.

    What ARE the possible consequences of terrorists using advanced technology against us ? What are those technologies and what could you do with them./ because THAT is the thing driving everything (I assume) you detest from both the government and the terrorists.

    You should know that thing. We should be hearing about what might be done, today, 10 years from now, 20 years from now.

    The point of going into Iraq was to establish a functioning democratic / modern state in the M.E., however it has or will turn out, that was the strategic aim. The strategy is, guys like bin Laden and al-Zawahiri are borne of swamps like Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Repressive shitholes (yes that we supported). So let's drain that swamp.

    bin Laden hated the Iraq invasion for just that reason. Same reason he hated Iraq Wa1r I. He was trying to position himself as the protector of SA so he could later over throw it from the inside and, in his mind, use SA oil and wealth to establish a caliphate . It's not even a hypothesis- it's was his stated intention.

    When the US got the job of protecting SA bin laden freaked out, watching his fine plan go up in smoke. When the Iraq War happened, the prospect of an other-than-100%-repressive regime in ME was totally threatening to him. It's the Westernization of the ME via democracy and representative govt. A worst case scenario for him. He explicitly hated democracy and saw it as the biggest threat to his Taliban vision of the ME.

    So in so far as we deprived him of that SA scenario and started the idea of representative govt in the ME, and we did, then it may have been worth it.

    Just saying, thinking about terrorism isn't a game of counting bodies.

     

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    John Fenderson (profile), Aug 9th, 2013 @ 11:37am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Your analysis is wrong-headed

    The point of going into Iraq was to establish a functioning democratic / modern state in the M.E., however it has or will turn out, that was the strategic aim


    Every time someone says that (and it could be true, I don't know), what I hear is an admission that attacking Iraq was powerfully immoral and probably a war crime.

     

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    That One Guy (profile), Aug 9th, 2013 @ 11:44am

    Re:

    I've got a better idea: How about we stop having vague, unfocused 'wars' every couple of years and go back to how things are supposed to go, where the enemy is identified, they enemy is eliminated, and the war is over.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 9th, 2013 @ 11:46am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Your analysis is wrong-headed

    Correction, you don't want a discussion about terrorism to involve an actual body count because the absolutely minuscule body count would make its prevention a logically low priority. So you want the discussion to be about what a hypothetical worst case scenario would look like. The reality is that a small problem warrants a limited response and people are pointing out the odds not because they think or are arguing that terrorist attacks are just independent random events that could be stopped but because a rare event isn't worth spending shit-tons of money to stop because the cost to stop it on a per event basis is too damn high.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 9th, 2013 @ 11:48am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Your analysis is wrong-headed

    Didn't the USSR basically use the same logic in establishing the eastern bloc? I'm sure they thought there were doing them a favor too.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 9th, 2013 @ 12:01pm

    Re:

    Human behavior and decision making isn't some magic black box that no one understands and where 'anything can happen.' It observably conforms to exactly the same bell curve as almost everything else in nature and the fact of the matter is terrorists are current outliers. What kind of bullshit logic is 'well it might not always be so so we have to treat it like it isn't so even though we all know it is so now?' You are engaging in fallacious reasoning.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 9th, 2013 @ 12:04pm

    Re: Don't forget the biggest cost of all

    Never attempt to win by force what can be won by deception.
    - Niccolò Machiavelli

     

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    Kal Zekdor (profile), Aug 9th, 2013 @ 12:31pm

    Re:

    While true that predicting future incidents of a non-correlative event (such as a terrorist attack) from past data is a logical fallacy (the gambler's fallacy, to be specific), the statement of "odds" in the article was a rhetorical tool, and was not intended (so far as I can see) to be taken as either mathematical nor logical fact.

    It was simply an attention getting means of indicating that terrorist attacks, while not an independent event, have a historically low frequency. While early deterrence of the event brought by a preventative measure does count as a success, due to the overwhelmingly low (relative to preventative expenditures) economic impact of terrorist events the cost of preventative measures must necessarily be proportional.

    A simplified equation of equitable expenditure for prevention of terrorist attacks would be:

    CostOfAvgAttack * (BaseAttacksPerYear - BaseAttacksPerYear * (1 + ChangeInFrequencyByActions) + PreventedAttacks) = CostOfActions

    (Note that this equation does not take into account changes in attack severity (and hence cost) by actions taken, as that would be too complicated for this simplistic example.)

    Unfortunately, this equation is rather hard to solve due to the difficulty of pricing the impact of the average event (mainly due to difficulty of pricing human lives), and the fact that the attacks per year is not an independent variable, but fluctuates based on actions taken. Because of the interdependent nature of the equation, it's difficult to predict beforehand whether an action taken will have net cost or benefit.

    However, once an action is taken, and data on its effects is gathered, it can then be determined if it was "successful", in that it prevented more in losses than it cost to implement. For actions which are grossly in the red as given by this cost/benefit analysis, there is a clear need of discontinuation.

    These broad surveillance programs have a clearly established and demonstrably high cost associated with them, but very little in the way of verifiable success. From a purely economic view, they have been a colossal failure, doing more harm than the events they purport to stop.

     

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  47.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 9th, 2013 @ 12:43pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Your analysis is wrong-headed

    Well, the problem with Iraq maybe wasn't so much its swampiness as such. More that it was found swamping around in Kuwait instead of Iran?

    And I imagine for all his hate, Bin Laden was Realpolitiken enough to appreciate the Iraq recruiting campaign we handed to him.

    But I admit I never really thought about what Bin Laden was thinking. Even back in the days when he was thinking. So yeah, if he had such plans and if a war of aggression against a third party was essential to thwarting them, then possibly it was worth it. Though in my experience that sort of reasoning is great for a game of chess, but not so great anywhere else.

     

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  48.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 9th, 2013 @ 1:09pm

    Re: Re:

    Another way of looking at this:

    If we (the US) had not spent trillions of dollars creating terrorists (via war, torture, rendition, drones, invasion, starvation, economics, politics, etc.) then we would not need to spend trillions of dollars defending ourselves from them.

    Shorter version: the US of 2013 would be vastly safer if the US of 1962-2012 had done nothing.

     

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  49.  
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    lucidrenegade (profile), Aug 9th, 2013 @ 2:56pm

    Re: Re:

    What the hell are you talking about? What I said had nothing to do with you.

     

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  50.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 9th, 2013 @ 3:27pm

    Re: what would happen

    The agency has a huge budget, I expect they would continue operating from the back-up site.

     

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  51.  
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    th (profile), Aug 9th, 2013 @ 3:32pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Your analysis is wrong-headed

    War crime- possibly, yes..a known to be false pretext was used. I am just saying that you may be correct under the current laws. I am not agreeing that it was a bad thing per se. Maybe it was a good thing. It sounds as if I am saying war crimes are good things (I am not as a rule.. just for the record). In this case it may have been the best thing to do and a war crime, both. The world is like that , or can get like that. There is no upper limit to the complexity and uncertainty of the geopolitical situation you can get handed.

     

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  52.  
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    th (profile), Aug 9th, 2013 @ 3:43pm

    Re: Re: Your analysis is wrong-headed

    I do understand the point. The "exceedingly rare" part of the argument is what I took issue with. The rarity is neither a guarantee of future rarity nor is it a limit to what one single, and therefore rare, occurrence could unleash.

    I am not arguing for anything more than a serious, informed contemplation of just that- what could happen.

    My goal in arguing that we need to bring this into our collective cultural consciousness is so that we are prepared, as a people and in advance, for a far more lethal / devastating attack and will not overreact, i.e. shred the Constitution.

    When people are taught to deal with overwhelming, horrifying situations, they rehearse so that when it happens, their reactions are mechanical. I am arguing for something like this on the socio-political realm.

    I want us to 1 know what could happen 2) what the down and dirty consequences could be 3) decide beforehand what we'll do both domestically and internationally and 4) all be in agreement.

    That process is not taking place, just as it wasn't in place before 911 , which is why we had John Yoo and Cheney making it up as they went along with nation dividing consequences all the way up to Snowden. This not wanting to talk or think about it is how we got here, where we don't want to be.

    The rarity of the event means nothing because it's not prospective of the future in any way and not a restraint on the degree of damage which could result either.

     

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  53.  
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    th (profile), Aug 9th, 2013 @ 3:45pm

    Re: Re:

    It's a misconception that individual human decision making is subject to Bell curve analysis because humans display statistical regularities in some domains.

     

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  54.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 9th, 2013 @ 4:03pm

    Re:

    maybe you shouldn't do that, unless you have a death wish

     

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  55.  
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    Thorsten Roggendorf, Aug 9th, 2013 @ 4:08pm

    Hostpital Germs

    All these examples are more or less entertaining and help put things in perspective. But to me what really shows the absurdity of our daily two minutes hate fix is hospital germs. That's because this is a field where government could easily save thousands of lives annually without any cost to the state and little cost to the health system. But they don't. It would likely even safe cost in the health system because a lot less treatment of this malady were necessary.

    In Germany its almost a million infections yearly with tens of thousands of lethal cases each and every year. With draconian hygiene rules that are strictly controlled and enforced many, many lives could be saved without doing more harm than better employment opportunities in hospital cleaning and more frequent hand disinfection for hospital staff. But that's obviously not what this about. Quite some time ago I've written a German piece titled, something like "Terror comes out of the tube". Truth. That's whence.

     

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  56.  
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    th (profile), Aug 9th, 2013 @ 4:09pm

    Re: Re:

    Thanks for addressing the issues directly. I agree there needs to be proportionality in response. In fact, that is what I am arguing for and afraid we won't display in the future.

    As far as preventative measures go, they exist on many levels, everything from spying and interdiction (NSA / CIA ) to propaganda and PR to supporting democratic movements that will result in durable democratic institutions, as opposed to the one person, one vote, one time regimes that sometimes get in through democratic elections.

    I am a drain the swampper as it were. Draining the swamp is costly or c4an be but we created a lot of that swamp so I think we (American tax-payers) should just STFU and foot the bill.

    I also believe that draining the swamp is ultimately much less costly than deciding not to owing to the very rapid advancement in technology and the wide spread dissemination of specific technical knowledge. Not only that, but also the very large number of say ad3vanced math PhDs and biochemistry PhDs educated in the West who return to home countries whose populations hate the U.S..

    I think of us as in race against time. Thanks to advances in home and small scale fabrication, nanotechnology, the globalization of trade etc there will come a time when the number of people needed to build something very very bad3 will effectively fall to some very small number. Before that time comes, we have to have understood, identified and neutralized the sources of guys like bin Laden. The goal is to buy as much time as possible. It means an active posture in world affairs, stopping specific bad guys and also "invading" them democratic values. That's what bin Laden feared the most- the ascension of the West not geographically by in the battle for minds, for belief systems.

    His chief gripe was we (advancing Western notions of freedom, sexual equality, religious freedom) would not leave him alone to impose Sharia law. People were not "free" to be spiritual in a way that only living under Taliban style Sharia can provide a society. Literally, that was his problem with the US and all Western nations and globalization.

    This is so far removed from any way we think it's hard to grasp. There's nothing to say here, it IS a battle for realities, for visions of what "freedom" is. I'll bet you share with me Western notions of freedom. Those notions are what we're fighting for. The fight involves us in seeming paradoxes of privacy, freedom and war.

    I am ad3ding this because I think it's easy to focus in on NSA abuses and such like while forgetting the larger context all this exists2 in.

    HTH

     

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  57.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 9th, 2013 @ 4:20pm

    Re: Re:

    Worry, spend butt loads of money and change the culture; they win. on't worry, don't spend butt loads of money, and don't change the culture we win.

    They are laughing their asses off at their win.

     

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  58.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 9th, 2013 @ 4:22pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    He thinks he's a bright cove, but he's just an inflated ego shouting look at me, look at me.

     

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  59.  
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    JMT (profile), Aug 9th, 2013 @ 4:42pm

    Re: Your analysis is wrong-headed

    "The question isn't what have they done historically- that's a false statistic in the Black Swan sense. The question to ask is- given what is technically feasible, what COULD they do in the near future?"

    Let's imagine a pretty horrific scenario where terrorists become ten times more effective at killing Americans than they currently are. I can't imagine how that could possibly happen, but anyway...

    Using the top four examples in the link provided in the post, you would still be 1760 times more likely to die from heart disease than from a terrorist attack, 1257 times more likely to die from cancer than from a terrorist attack, 1100 times more likely to die in an airplane accident than from a terrorist plot involving an airplane,and 105 times more likely to die from a car accident than from a terrorist attack.

    in other words, terrorism would need to increase by several orders of magnitude before they could be reasonably compared to things that kill people by the thousands every day. But the actual point of the post was not the likelihood of being killed by a terrorist, but the cost of trying to prevent these deaths, which is grossly out of proportion to the risks even in the extremely unlikely situation that those risks increase dramatically in the future.

     

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  60.  
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    Kal Zekdor (profile), Aug 9th, 2013 @ 4:59pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    One could easily make the argument that "draining the swamp" is an overly aggressive move and results in the creation of more terrorists. That kind of interference with sovereign nations is the main source of the US hate abroad. (Not any of that BS about hating us for our freedoms.) I don't have the domain knowledge or data to argue this one way or the other, but if both inaction and action lead to the same result, then inaction is the preferred choice.

    As you said, it was our interference with bin Laden, that we "would not leave him alone to impose Sharia law", that resulted (at least in part) in terrorist action. The vitriol cruxes on the interference, not the abstract ideology.

    Any increase in technology that makes asymmetrical attacks easier is irrelevant. We need to decide, as a nation, via a level-headed analysis, what we are (or are not) willing to sacrifice in order to protect ourselves. There is no perfect security. That is a hard fact that people need to deal with. Once they get past that, then it all becomes a matter of "acceptable risk". Reducing risk is a game of diminishing returns; once we have reached a level we deem acceptable, then, despite any emotional overreactions to one-off events, we need to maintain that level of risk.

     

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  61.  
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    th (profile), Aug 9th, 2013 @ 7:17pm

    Re: Re: Your analysis is wrong-headed

    Given a clear and non-windy night, anthrax spores distributed over 300 km would kill millions, perhaps up to 3 million. If it was windy then the concentration would be lower and the casualties fewer, 50k to 1 million say. These are very bad numbers on par or even exceeding even a hydrogen bomb.

    This is just what can be done with relatively crude, non-designer biological weapons, Other thinkable scenarios for the coming decades are even worse, much worse. Designer devices utilizing nanotechnology have no theoretical upper limit to their destructiveness.

    The problem is we're dealing with an enemy that is fighting on an unseen spiritual plane what they take to be ultimate evil. Worse, they can and do believe the in the crudest compensatory schemes for jihadiis. Dying is not just not a problem and wiping everyone out is actually a thinkable option because , basically, they believe in magic and the magical outcomes magic can render for the pious.

    It's no joke. That world view and civilization are fundamentally incompatible. People walking around with that world view cannot be mass produced and any one of them is a major threat to all of us.

    This problem is of a magnitude we've not only not faced, but don't even have a framework to contain or deal with. There is no plan for scouring the minutia of individual's belief system and seeing if they're intersecting now with, or are capable of in the future, technical know how.

    It's a real problem, sui generis. What we're living through is a time in history when we (we == intelligence agencies of the West) are thinking through this problem and3 trying to deal with it with the tools we have. That is what all this shit, from 9-11 to Iraq to Snowd3en and3 the NSA is all about.

    To tell you the truth, it's probably going to lead to a radical restructuring of society in ways we can't think of and if we could, we wouldn't like much, because it's so intractable on the face of it. Nothing we have in law of technology can really solve it. It's a BFD and drives all these is2sues we're talking about.

    That's a big picture overview. Right now, I think we need to do what I wa1s s2ugges2ting- hammer out beforehand what our response will be to the next attack.

     

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  62.  
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    th (profile), Aug 9th, 2013 @ 7:50pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Re bin Laden, establishing Sharia in SA and the rest of traditionally Islamic nations was a first goal (however dream-like it may have been). He had already stated that because democracies explicitly elect leaders, every civilian American was responsible for the crime of stopping Sharia from being established and could be killed despite the Koran explicitly forbid3ding killing non-combatants.

    Beyond that, he argued that since he was living by (his interpretation of) the Koranic dictates, then the fact that he did not have the religious authority to issue fatwas was irrelevant since, by his own reasoning, he wa1s upholding the Koran and other reconciliatory voices in Islam were not. He was nothing if not self-affirming.

    People not only think up this shit but buy into it.

    Nothing we could do or refrain from doing was going to stop his expansionistic lust for power over the lives of others. All this shit about being mad because we were in SA or whatever is just an attempt to divide the enemy and get what he wanted- us out of the way so he could get the show on the road in earnest. Afghanistan society was just a starting point. al Zarahiri wanted Egypt to be next. bin La1den wanted Sa1udi Ara1bia which wa1s not cons2ervative enough for his vers2ion of Islam.

    It's not he US sticking its nose into other people's affairs that is the problem this time. I agree that in the past we have been wrong and short sighted, but that is NOT what bin Laden was about. He understood that he had to provide some excuse to western audiences that would ma1ke them withdraw from the ME, but what he sa1id3 for western consumption and what he said in honesty to his followers was radically different.

     

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  63.  
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    Postulator, Aug 11th, 2013 @ 9:24pm

    War on...

    We need a war on wars on...

    The "war on terror"? Failing, and killing privacy and freedom. "War on drugs"? Failed years ago, and what is really needed is a sensible approach that recognises some people will get addicted to stuff like alcohol and tobacco, others like heroin, but at the moment all we're doing is giving drug dealers jobs and turning drug users to crime. "War on poverty"? You never hear about it, because nobody who could actually make a difference cares enough to.

    So save all this "war on..." garbage, and focus on actually changing the world for people. You know, the humans who actually matter regardless of what colour they are or where they'e born?

     

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  64.  
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    Postulator, Aug 13th, 2013 @ 2:06am

    War is good

    One thing that seems very much to be missing from all of this is "where are the drivers?" What is going to make people and agencies act in a particular way, that might seem contrary to their nation's interests? So let's take a few steps back.

    The world through most of the 20th century has been in chaos and war. The "War to end all wars" (WWI) was barely over before the foundations for WWII were set through bankrupting the Central Powers (particularly Germany). The reparations from WWI were seen as ridiculous even at the time, and drove Germany into nationalism and close to bankruptcy. Ten years later the great recession came along to drive home the point, and by 1939 the boys were back in the trenches.

    After WWII, everyone went home and lived happily ever after, right? Well, not quite. There were still plenty of people occupying Germany and Japan, making sure constitutions were rewritten the right way, and ensuring that belligerence would not raise its ugly head again any time soon.

    Oh, wait - what are those bloody Commies doing over there? We're gonna have Reds under every bed if we're not careful! So food was dropped into Berlin, wires were sprung up, and an "iron curtain" descended over Europe. And worse, damn Commies were going crazy about that puppet government we have running in China. And the Middle East doesn't like to follow orders (that's okay, the US bumped off quite a few "difficult" people during the 50s). But where the hell is Korea? And what's this Viet Nam place? We best go stomp on all of that, because Communism just ain't the 'Merican way 'o life.

    Oh wait - we have Commies here? Joe McCarthy has a list of names of all these Commies? Well, we better tuck the constitution away for a while and drag those folks in here to answer some questions. (And thus was many a promising film career ruined - but Ronald Reagan made a star of himself in the McCarthy witch-hunts - naming all his ex-friends as "communist sympathisers" and "Un-American").

    So from the 50s to the 70s were wars in south-west Asia, as well as a few verbal skirmishes (and attempted assassinations), and plenty of South American invasions because those guys just kept voting in the wrong candidate. And of course Cuba couldn't do a thing right.

    But then by 1990, things had changed. Sure we had boycotted Olympics, but where's the fun in that? What we did largely during the 80s was spend buckets of money on "my machine's better than yours, my missile's better than yours" diplomacy with the USSR. And, as it strained under the pressure of keeping dozens of ethnic groups together while keeping the world's second-strongest military forced, it fell. Slowly but surely, the USSR broke up - and there was wide rejoicing.

    But hold on, there are also a few problems. There are hundreds of thousands of people devoted to the security of the country, and our biggest enemy is no longer our enemy? Boy, better think about that a second. Of course there were still enemies to keep the focus "out there" rather than "in here", but they were trifling. The first invasion of Iraq was little more than a fireworks show.

    How do you keep "we the people" scared and compliant?

    But then - what if terrorists are our enemies? We've always had terrorism, but let's make it scarier. Let's make it sound like they could get nuclear weapons - in fact, let's say Saddam is in league with terrorists to develop nuclear weapons.

    And so Bush the Dumber invaded Iraq a second time, based on no evidence and flimsy intelligence. Millions of Iraqis have died to make George Junior's world a better place - but there were never any weapons of mass destruction.

    Then we invaded Afghanistan - the actual source of the 9/11 attacks through Al Quaida. Killed a lot of innocent people, but that's okay because they don't speak our language. But we're DOING SOMETHING. And our intelligence agencies are DOING SOMETHING. And we've got sexy new toys in remote mine-detection, we've got these drones that'll just blow the crap out of OMG WAS THAT A BABY? Delete that tape, man - just... delete!

    We have wonderful new things to get scared about now that our traditional wars are out of the way. And we have people who are trained to "deal with" such threats. And we the people don't need to know the details, all we need to do is step aside, and trust that the unfathomable amounts of money that are being spent are in our interests - and if we're spied on just a little bit it's in our interests. And if you need something to be scared about, we can confect it for you wholesale.

    Nobody needs to lose their job. Nobody needs to cancel that next big program. Because we just say boo and the whole world jumps.

     

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  65.  
    identicon
    Ken Haumschilt, Nov 1st, 2013 @ 10:31pm

    Cost Benefit Analysis

    Best blog post I have read all week!! Thank you for putting terrorism in perspective and comparing it to other dangers to life and property.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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