The Need for a Common Enemy

Even monkeys and apes are clever enough to use the threat of a common enemy as a way of reducing within-group tensions. Frans de Waal has seen wild baboons resolve a dispute by jointly threatening the members of another baboon troop, and chimpanzees in a zoo making aggressive “wraaa” calls in the direction of the cheetah enclosure, though no cheetah was visible. “The need for a common enemy can be so great that a substitution is fabricated,” says de Waal. “I have seen long-tailed macaques run to the swimming pool to threaten their own images in the water; a dozen tense monkeys unified against the ‘other’ group in the pool.”

In the absence of a common enemy, or of a common goal that can be achieved only if everyone pulls together, groups tend to fall apart into a collection of individuals or smaller groups.

The Nurture Assumption, by Judith Rich Harris

More science here.


From the May 12-18 Economist:

Soldiers in Iraq: Contaminated“:

Of the 1,767 troops questioned by the Pentagon’s mental-health advisory team last September… less than half (47% of soldiers and 38% of marines) felt that non-combatants should be treated with dignity and respect, as required by the Geneva Conventions. …

More worrying, only around half said they would be willing to report a member of their unit for killing or injuring an innocent non-combatant….

The more often and the longer that soldiers were deployed in Iraq, the more likely they were to suffer mental-health problems and to mistreat civilians.

Afghanistan: Hearts, minds and death“:

THE American army this week delivered an apology, and blood money, too, to the families of 19 Afghan civilians killed and 50 wounded by a special forces unit of American marines near Jalalabad on March 4th. …

In the wake of the … shootings, Afghan journalists were quickly on the scene. Several were threatened or had their film erased by American soldiers. One reporter was told: “Delete the photos or I delete you.”

The Economist encouraged the invasion of Iraq.

I read the Economist so you don’t have to.


HBO: Rome: About the Show

Founded on principles of shared power and fierce personal competition, the Republic was created to prevent any one man from seizing absolute control. It is a society where soldiers can rise up from provincial commoners to become national heroes, even leaders of the Republic.

But as the ruling class became extravagantly wealthy, the foundations have crumbled, eaten away by corruption and excess, and the old values of Spartan discipline and social unity have given way to a great chasm between the classes.

Rome: Episode Guide: Summary: Season 1: Episode 10

“Let this be an end to division and civil strife.” After a unanimous vote in his favor, Caesar declares the war over and announces five days of feasts and games honoring his ‘triumph.’

For his first ceremony, the new emperor presides over the public execution of his former adversary, the King of Gauls, who has been kept alive–just barely–in the dungeons of the city. 

In the woods outside Rome, the body of the King of Gauls, rescued from a trash heap in the city, burns atop a bonfire. 

Triumph (episode of Rome)

Vercingetorix of the Gauls is depicted as being executed as part of the Triumph, although this does not seem to have been the practice. Such captives were held, or executed at the Tullianum, not in public as part of the ceremony. Also, had he been executed publicly, he would have been beheaded (or possibly have had his throat slit), not strangled. Stranglings were commonly used to dispose of people, but were done in the tullianum, as said above, not in public. It is generally assumed that Vercingetorix was executed by strangling in the prison after being featured in the triumph, though the possibility he may have been publicly executed at the Gemonian stairs is not completely excluded.

The Grand Chessboard

It’s so annoying when a newspaper I otherwise like has neo-imperialist politics. Last week’s Economist, for example, opines that Britain, a country that has no militarily hostile neighbors and hasn’t been invaded in centuries, must have nuclear weapons for self-defense, but Iran, in much more difficult circumstances, must not. And the Wall Street Journal‘s editorial page is usually much worse.

So I was surprised by a recent WSJ guest editorial by chessmaster Garry Kasparov that sounds a lot like Benjamin Schwarz & Christopher Layne‘s “offshore balancing” strategy (see “A New Grand Strategy“), promoted here on before the Iraq invasion.

Chessboard Endgame: Obsessed with Iraq, we’ve lost sight of the rest of the world,” (a weird title, since the author lives in Russia) by Garry Kasparov:

… The attack on the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan went so well that the U.S. and its allies did not appreciate all the reasons for the success. Almost every player on the world stage benefited from the attack on Afghanistan. The rout of the Sunni Taliban delighted Iran. Russia and China have no love for religious extremism near their borders. India was happy to see the U.S. launch a direct attack on Muslim terrorists.

… Not only was there a confluence of world opinion aided by sympathy for the U.S. after 9/11, but the proverbial bad guys were undoubtedly bad, and we knew where they were.

… America’s role as “bad cop” has been a flop on the global stage. Without the American presence in Iraq as a target and scapegoat, Iraqis would be forced to make the hard political decisions they are currently avoiding. We won’t know if Iraq can stand on its own until the U.S. forces leave. Meanwhile, South Korea and China refuse to take action on North Korea while accusing the U.S. of provocative behavior. How quickly would their attitudes change if the U.S. pulled its troops out of the Korean Peninsula? Or if Japan — not to mention Taiwan — announced nuclear weapon plans?

… As the world’s sole superpower, the U.S. has become a lightening rod. Any intervention causes resentment, and even many traditional allies oppose U.S. plans almost out of hand. America’s overly proactive foreign policy has also allowed other nations to avoid responsibility for their own safety, and to avoid making the tough decisions that come with that responsibility.

… All the allied troops in the world aren’t going to stop the Iraqi people from continuing their civil war if this is their choice. … As for stability, if allied troops leave Iraq: What stability? … Without change, we are expecting a different result from the same behavior, something once defined as insanity.

Readers might want to check out the Peace section of my science blog.

Worldwide Democratic Revolution Update

From The Economist — “Ethiopia and Somalia: The rumbling rumours of war“:

… The spectre of a hostile Christian Ethiopia bearing down on Somalia has rallied Somalis behind the Islamists. Somalia’s Islamists have spread a similar fear among Ethiopians, giving succour to Mr Zenawi’s unpopular and isolated government.

…Mr Zenawi has turned Ethiopia into a police state. Many of the opposition are in prison on trumped-up charges carrying the death penalty. Tens of thousands of young Ethiopians were sent to prison camps after last year’s poll. A few still languish there; others have fled abroad. Several judges have defected, fearing for their safety.

The press has been crushed, foreign correspondents expelled and many journalists and editors put in jail. The government has hired foreign specialists to help it shut down dissident websites, tap telephones and track e-mails. …

American military intelligence now works closely with Ethiopia, sometimes taking up whole floors of hotels in Addis Ababa. But experts in the region question the reliability of American intelligence.

The European Union is against America’s plan to send UN peacekeepers to the region and, by the by, is sceptical of recent American warnings that Somali jihadists have been planning suicide attacks on Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. America’s reluctance to encourage negotiation with the Somali Islamists suggests it may want to provoke, isolate and defeat them by force, with Ethiopia providing the muscle.

So war is in the offing….

~ Sam Koritz

Why Didn’t the US Warn Us about the 9/11 Terrorists?


I was reading the July 17 New Yorker & found “The Agent: Did the C.I.A. stop an F.B.I. detective from preventing 9/11?” (pdf file here) by Lawrence Wright. It’s a long article, so some excerpts follow, starting with the main point:

In March, the C.I.A. learned that [known Al Qaeda plotter & later 9/11 hijacker] Hazmi had flown to Los Angeles two months earlier, on January 15th. … Once again, the agency neglected to inform the F.B.I. or the State Department that at least one Al Qaeda operative was in the country. Although the C.I.A. was legally bound to share this kind of information with the bureau, it was protective of sensitive intelligence. The agency sometimes feared that F.B.I. prosecutions resulting from such intelligence might compromise its relationships with foreign services, although there were safeguards to protect confidential information.

More excerpts:

The C.I.A. had officials in Yemen to collect intelligence about Al Qaeda, and Soufan asked them if they knew anything about a new operation, perhaps in Southeast Asia. They professed to be as puzzled as he was.

On Soufan’s behalf, the director of the F.B.I. sent a letter to the director of the C.I.A., formally asking for information about Khallad [an al Qaeda link between the Cole and 9/11 attacks], and whether there might have been an Al Qaeda meeting somewhere in Southeast Asia before the bombing. The agency said that it had nothing.

In April, 2001, Soufan sent another official teletype to the C.I.A., along with the passport photo of Khallad. He asked whether the telephone numbers had any significance, and whether there was any connection between the numbers and Khallad. The C.I.A. said that it could not help him.

In fact, the C.I.A. knew a lot about Khallad and his ties to Al Qaeda.

If the agency had responded candidly to Soufan’s requests, it would have revealed its knowledge of an Al Qaeda cell that was already forming inside the United States. But the agency kept this intelligence to itself.

In 1998, F.B.I. investigators found an essential clue — a phone number in Yemen that functioned as a virtual switchboard for the terror network. … But the C.I.A., as the primary organization for gathering foreign intelligence, had jurisdiction over conversations on the Hada phone, and did not provide the F.B.I. with the information it was getting about Al Qaeda’s plans.

The C.I.A. learned the name of one participant, Khaled al-Mihdhar, and the first name of another: Nawaf. Both men were Saudi citizens. The C.I.A. did not pass this intelligence to the F.B.I. … However, the C.I.A. did share the information with Saudi authorities, who told the agency that Mihdhar and a man named Nawaf al-Hazmi were members of Al Qaeda. Based on this intelligence, the C.I.A. broke into a hotel room in Dubai where Mihdhar was staying, en route to Malaysia. The operatives photocopied Mihdhar’s passport and faxed it to Alec Station, the C.I.A. unit devoted to tracking bin Laden. Inside the passport was the critical information that Mihdhar had a U.S. visa. The agency did not alert the F.B.I. or the State Department so that Mihdhar’s name could be put on a terror watch list, which would have prevented him from entering the U.S.

The C.I.A. asked Malaysian authorities to provide surveillance of the meeting in Kuala Lumpur, which took place on January 5, 2000, at a condominium overlooking a golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus. … The pay phone that Soufan had queried the agency about was directly in front of the condo. … Although the C.I.A. later denied that it knew anything about the phone, the number was recorded in the Malaysians’ surveillance log, which was given to the agency.

In March, the C.I.A. learned that Hazmi had flown to Los Angeles two months earlier, on January 15th. … Once again, the agency neglected to inform the F.B.I. or the State Department that at least one Al Qaeda operative was in the country. Although the C.I.A. was legally bound to share this kind of information with the bureau, it was protective of sensitive intelligence. The agency sometimes feared that F.B.I. prosecutions resulting from such intelligence might compromise its relationships with foreign services, although there were safeguards to protect confidential information.

The C.I.A. may also have been protecting an overseas operation and was afraid that the F.B.I. would expose it. Moreover, Mihdhar and Hazmi could have seemed like attractive recruitment possibilities — the C.I.A. was desperate for a source inside Al Qaeda, having failed to penetrate the inner circle or even to place someone in the training camps, even though they were largely open to anyone who showed up. However, once Mihdhar and Hazmi entered the United States they were the province of the F.B.I.

Mihdhar and Hazmi arrived twenty months before September 11th. Kenneth Maxwell, Soufan’s former supervisor, told me, “Two Al Qaeda guys living in California — are you kidding me? We would have been on them like white on snow: physical surveillance, electronic surveillance, a special unit devoted entirely to them.” … Because of their connection to bin Laden, who had a federal indictment against him, the F.B.I. had all the authority it needed to use every investigative technique to penetrate and disrupt the Al Qaeda cell.

In the spring of 2001, Tom Wilshire, a C.I.A. liaison at F.B.I. headquarters, in Washington, was studying the relationship between Khaled al-Mihdhar, the Saudi Al Qaeda operative, and Khallad, the one-legged jihadi. … “Something bad [is] definitely up,” Wilshire wrote to a colleague. He asked permission to disclose this vital information to the F.B.I. His superiors at the C.I.A. never responded to his request.

[O]n June 11th a C.I.A. supervisor went with the F.B.I. analyst and Corsi to New York to meet with F.B.I. case agents on the Cole investigation; Soufan, who was still in Yemen, did not attend. The meeting started in mid-morning, with the New York agents briefing the C.I.A. supervisor, Clark Shannon, for three or four hours on the progress of their investigation. … The meeting became heated. The F.B.I. agents sensed that these photographs pertained directly to crimes they were trying to solve, but they couldn’t elicit any further information from Shannon. Corsi finally dropped the name Khaled al-Mihdhar. Steve Bongardt, Soufan’s top assistant in the Cole investigation, asked Shannon to provide a date of birth or a passport number to go with Mihdhar’s name. A name by itself was not sufficient to prevent his entry into the United States. Bongardt had just returned from Pakistan with a list of thirty names of suspected Al Qaeda associates and their dates of birth, which he had given to the State Department. That was standard procedure — the first thing most investigators would do. But Shannon declined to provide the additional information. Top C.I.A. officials had not authorized him to disclose the vital details of Mihdhar’s U.S. visa, his association with Hazmi, and their affiliation with Khallad and Al Qaeda.

There was a fourth photograph of the Malaysia meeting that Shannon did not produce. … Knowledge of that fourth photo would likely have prompted O’Neill to demand that the C.I.A. turn over all information relating to Khallad and his associates. By withholding the picture of Khallad attending the meeting with the future hijackers, the C.I.A. may in effect have allowed the September 11th plot to proceed. That summer, Mihdhar returned to Yemen and then went to Saudi Arabia, where, presumably, he helped the remaining hijackers secure entry into the United States.

[T]he agency frequently decided not to share intelligence with the F.B.I. on the ground that it would compromise “sensitive sources and methods.” For example, the C.I.A. collected other crucial information about Mihdhar that it did not provide to the F.B.I. Mihdhar, it turned out, was the son-in-law of Ahmed al- Hada, the Al Qaeda loyalist in Yemen whose phone number operated as the network’s switchboard. … Had a line been drawn from Hada’s Yemen home to Mihdhar’s San Diego apartment, Al Qaeda’s presence in America would have been glaringly obvious.

After September 11th, the C.I.A. claimed that it had divulged Mihdhar’s identity to the F.B.I. in a timely manner; indeed, both George Tenet, the agency’s director, and Cofer Black, the head of its counterterrorism division, testified to Congress that this was the case. Later, the 9/11 Commission concluded that the statements of both were false. The C.I.A. was unable to produce evidence proving that the information had been passed to the bureau.

[After the 9/11 attacks] the C.I.A. chief drew Soufan aside and handed him a manila envelope. Inside were three surveillance photographs and a complete report about the Malaysia meeting — the very material that he had asked for so many times. … When Soufan realized that the C.I.A. had known for more than a year and a half that two of the hijackers were in the country he ran into the bathroom and threw up.

[T]he next day, Soufan received the fourth photograph of the Malaysia meeting — the picture of Khallad, the mastermind of the Cole operation. The two plots, Soufan instantly realized, were linked, and if the C.I.A. had not withheld information from him he likely would have drawn the connection months before September 11th.