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Sunday, January 01, 2006

A recent exchange with the Old Friedman Gang

On 1/1/06, Shep wrote:

To all,
I did attach the WSJ Opinion article which initiated my email. I found it to be an excellent expression of how the way to defeat the extremist is for Islam to engage each other and to begin to denounce the fanatical elements that thrive in the ambiguity and indifference to them.

I read it, thanks. I don't believe the US is in a good position right now to influence people's thinking. For example, right this minute I'm watching a BBC report in which they are interviewing womens' rights activists in Iraq. These women are convinced that Iraq is on the threshhold of a period of harsh religious and cultural repression.

Chatter is not people emailing stories about Aunt Betsey on Christmas Eve or the latest on Jennifer and Brad. I even remember you talking about how Internet and email surveillance is done.

Here's where we differ. You assume that the people listening to the chatter know what they are doing and know what they are listening to - I don't make that assumption. I have two objections, neither one of which has to do with the morality or the legality of spying on people (I leave that to Dan):

1) The sampling methods being employed suck big time. The listeners are relying on technology and mass number-crunching to do the job. This is typical of what I call the "Microsoft approach" to gathering and processing information: just keep throwing more money, more CPU cycles, and more lines of patched-to-hell code at the problem, it will give eventually. These propeller-heads don't have the background knowledge, they don't know 2% of what they should know about the people they are listening to (spying on). The result is propaganda, not intelligence that is going to protect anybody worth a damn. It's make-believe, political intelligence.

2) The use to which the "intelligence" gained in this way is put simply pushes the danger into the future.

the NSA is trying to make connections between people.

Yes. Without the slightest discretionary knowledge to make sense of those connections.

Wow! 2 email addresses? Does that mean that I have somebody in my address book who has OBL's address in his/hers?

I would put a 50/50 bet on one of us, not likely me, is that close. Three addresses is a certainty for sure.

Leaving aside the question of OBL having an email address in the first place, I'd say your world view is a bit on the claustrophobic side. Even if your estimate was literally true it wouldn't do us the slightest bit of good in finding the sonofabitch.

What fraction of the world's over 8 years of age population has a functioning email address that they have used in the last 12 months?

Could it be as much as 10%?

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