The Pavlovian Politics Of Terror

dronetoy2220px-Red_Light_CameraBelow is today’s column on the calls for expanding security and surveillance powers in the aftermath of the Boston bombing. (An Internet version ran last week but was updated for print) [I untangled one line that was changed in editing]. My greatest concern is that the Boston response will become the accepted or standard procedure in shutting down cities and ordering warrantless searches. No politicians wants to be seen questioning the necessity or efficacy of such measures out of fear of appearing “soft” on terror.

For civil libertarians, all terrorist attacks come in two equally predictable parts. First, comes the terrorist attack, followed by an explosion of politicians calling for new security measures and surveillance.

It is the Pavlovian politics of terror. Before we even understood the facts about the Boston attack, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he would add even more cameras around the city even though Chicago already is one of the most surveilled cities in the United States.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg seemed to move from Big Gulp to Big Brother in seeking to reduce constitutional rights as if they are no more vital than the oversized sodas he famously tried to ban. Bloomberg simply proclaimed, “Our laws and our interpretation of the Constitution, I think, have to change.”

Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., demanded more surveillance of Muslims in general. Meanwhile, Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., wants more drones in the United States.

The terror bell rings, and politicians start to salivate over new security measures — protecting citizens from their own freedoms.

Appearance of safety

None of these proposals would have likely stopped the Boston bombings. Of course, the outcome might have been altered using already existing government authority better, following up on warnings from Russia, for instance.

Likewise, no one is seriously discussing the necessity of shutting down an entire city to look for the suspect and conducting warrantless raids on countless homes (forcing some families into the streets with hands in the air) on the mere chance that one of the bombers might be inside.

‘Containment zone’

Indeed, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was ultimately found outside the “containment zone” once authorities abandoned near martial law. With people allowed out of their homes and with millions of new eyes on the street, Tsarnaev was quickly spotted hiding in a boat.

Regardless of those facts, politicians need to be seen as actively protecting public safety rather than simply allowing our already strong security measures to do their job. The easiest way to be seen doing something is by demanding more surveillance, reduced privacy and an expanded security state.

The suggestion is that more security measures necessarily mean more public safety. They don’t. Even the most repressive nations face terrorism.

Does more security work?

We need to keep this attack in perspective:

Two brothers built homemade bombs with common pressure cookers. They placed the devices in one of the most surveilled areas of Boston with an abundance of police present and just walked away.

No one is seriously questioning the value of having increased surveillance and police at major events. That was already the case with the Boston Marathon.

However, as a thousand papercuts from countless new laws and surveillance systems slowly kill our privacy, we might want to ask whether a fishbowl society will actually make us safer or just make us feel that way.

Jonathan Turley is a law professor at George Washington University and a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors.

April 29, 2013

65 thoughts on “The Pavlovian Politics Of Terror

  1. A thousand cuts caused by thousands of eyes in the sky. Since the police want to have more cameras watching us, why not keep more cameras filming their activities? We will only lose more of these rights if we do not stand up and refuse to be silent.

  2. Bingo….Raff….I could not agree more….as in OS thread…. I posted about the wifi chips in credit/debit cards….Even more spying and tracking devices by the government….. when is too much government intrusion too much?

  3. CNN did a report on Vapor-Bomb dogs which likely would prevent such an attack. What about hiring more cops on the street instead of squandering money on tanks, drones, etc?

  4. One of the women who works on C street (and K Street) in DC was sitting at the bar at the Willard Hotel and revealed some thing quite revealing besides her upper torso attributes. She said, rather confidentially I might add, that Rep King, who is some guy from New York that I never heard of, is “soft on terror”. When I asked her to further explain she merely said that they were having a “twist” (God only knows what that is) when a news show came on the tube in the room in the Willard that was about some Boston bomber, and “he went soft”.
    My half blind guy went off with her for awhile and I will report back later. She said something to the effect that if Congress cant get it up then the Bombers will take over. But then she mentioned that The Bombers was some Canadian hockey team coming to town. So, I just dont know the score on all this.
    BarkinDog, live from the Willard.

  5. Oh, the reason I bring it up in here is that she said that her name was Pavlov and I thought that it had to do with something on this blog topic. She looked at me and said that she needed a dog so there is hope.

  6. It is the Pavlovian politics of terror.

    No, its the propaganda machine trying to make you think rational people really want this.
    And it’s complete BS.

  7. BarkinSam was an uncle of mine. His nickname was BS. We have a propaganda machine in the marina where this Dogalogue Machine is located that is connected to my iPhone here at the Willard. The propaganda machine is a tv and it is always on Fox News. There was some woman on there last night, name I forget, who worked for Bushie 43, who says that we absolutley have to invade Syria. or however ya spull it.
    Pavlov and my half blind guy Pal came back from their “outing” as she called it and she gave me a squeeze but that was it. She seemed happy and half blind guy is at the bar grinning like a Cheshire cat. But we are not at the Cheshire, we are at the Willard. In DC, the town with all the acronym letters for geography. Pavlov calls me BD. I will let you know if Pavlov gets a dog. I might have to scroung up some money.

  8. as I said previously, I am all for cameras in every room, hallway, elevator, and stairwell of every public building where public business is conducted. The cameras should have sound capability as well. I would also support a camera strapped to every elected official (with sound). The camera is to be operated 24 hours day and if for any reason if it is turned off they are immediately terminated from office.

  9. we might want to ask whether a fishbowl society will actually make us safer or just make us feel that way.

    I think it will do neither. People at first think oh anything to make us safer, regardless of the logic of what is proposed. And then they forget that these actions were put into place. I wonder how many people if asked would remember that there are cameras already observing us when we are driving for instance, absent maybe remembering the redlight cameras.

  10. “The Pavlovian Politics of Terror” could not be a more apt and concise explanation of what is going on here. Thousands of years ago the first leaders discovered how effective frightening their populations was for solidifying their power and making profit however you measure it. Today in our digital world it has become even more effective. Fear is a great tool for mischief-makers. One of the many memes that came out of this bombing was the one about Boston being “knocked down” but would spring back. A tragedy occurred, but that didn’t in any way diminish Boston, yet our punditry latched onto this meme as a way of further sensationalizing the bombing and justifying the over the top reaction to it.

    On 9/11 I ran a program in the Borough of Queens. The other boroughs of NYC were unaffected, as was Manhattan above 42nd Street. The subway closings were a function of the fact that the WTC was a subway hub. NYC wasn’t brought to its knees and neither was the U.S., despite the loss of life. Yet from this admitted horror, this country in the grip of fear launched two unjustified wars, killed hundreds of thousands of people and turned away from our Constitution. The Boston Bombings was terrible, but the West Texas explosion was more devastating to its population and also may be a result of criminal negligence. However, Texas can’t be used to scare the population and override the Constitution, Boston can and that is just what is happening.

  11. How about cameras in our homes, installed by the government? (You won’t even know that they’re there. Go on about your business now…)

    Would that be a bridge too far?


    And what Paul said. And let’s include law enforcement. Just a little experiment…

  12. When you look @ the still photos of these two shitbirds it is obvious they stick out. Their facial expressions give them away even to the untrained eye. Well, our pols are protected by people who would have seen these guys immediately. That’s another rift on this topic.

  13. “Bloomberg: New Yorkers will ‘never know where our cameras are’”

    Published time: April 26, 2013 22:49

    “New York City police officials intend to expand the already extensive use of surveillance cameras throughout town. The plan, unveiled Thursday, comes as part of a drive for increased security around the US following the Boston Marathon attack.

    New York City Police Department Commissioner Ray Kelly announced the plan during a press conference with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, in which the two announced that the suspected Boston Marathon bombers were planning to attack New York next. The pair said they hope to discourage criminals by using so-called “smart cameras” that will aggregate data from 911 alerts, arrest records, mapped crime patterns, surveillance cameras and radiation detectors, among other tools, according to The Verge.

    “You’re never going to know where all of our cameras are,” Bloomberg told reporters gathered outside City Hall. “And that’s one of the ways you deter people; they just don’t know whether the person sitting next to you is somebody sitting there or a detective watching.”

    Kelly said the Domain Awareness System, nicknamed “the dashboard,” would centralize already existing data captured on the between 3,500 and 6,000 cameras already placed throughout the city with new technology developed in conjunction with Microsoft. The project is expected to take three years to complete and cost between $40 and $50 million.

    The commissioner previously said that at least 16 terror plots had been thwarted in New York City since the attack on September 11, 2001, asserting that such law enforcement success show that the surveillance tools put in place since then have been effective. His boast came in the face of the New York Civil Liberties Union and similar privacy advocates who have asked for more transparency on the issue of police monitoring.

    “The privacy issue has really been taken off the table,” Kelly said Thursday. “I don’t think people are concerned about it. I think people accept it in a post-9/11 world.”

    Mayor Bloomberg agreed, using the press conference to slam the “special interests” who have objected to his policies. The American Civil Liberties Union, for one, has criticized Bloomberg’s administration for installing thousands of cameras in Lower Manhattan in a surveillance initiative that has since expanded north through Midtown.

    “The role of surveillance cameras played in identifying the suspects was absolutely essential to saving lives, both in Boston, and now we know here in New York City,” the mayor said Thursday. “We’ve made major investments in camera technology – notwithstanding the objections of some special interests.”

    “People are all worried about privacy,” he continued. “Yes, it is a concern, but given the balance you have between keeping people safe and total privacy, the direction the whole world is going is more cameras and better-quality cameras.””

  14. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

    You want to watch us, then we watch you. No more closed door sessions, no more private conferences, no more redactions.

  15. Blouise 1, April 29, 2013 at 1:33 pm

    What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

    You want to watch us, then we watch you. No more closed door sessions, no more private conferences, no more redactions.


    Agreed, Blouise.

  16. Mike Spindell 1, April 29, 2013 at 11:25 am

    “The Pavlovian Politics of Terror” could not be a more apt and concise explanation of what is going on here …

    You and I are not the only ones who study the “Pavlovian dynamics” that JT has mentioned on several occasions lately.

    Which is actually the dynamics of the amygdala, which Pavlov famously observed closely.

    The intelligence communities, especially military intelligence, want a death grip on that research.

    The PR realm which is the offspring of the “Father of Spin”, Bernays, also has a close working relationship with military intelligence funded research into the realm of the amygdala.

    When Dr. Robert Sapolsky was talking about his lab research into the toxoplasma gondii (“Toxo”) parasite, he intimated that the military was “very” interested in his lab’s research.

    As you recall Mike, his lab observed that Toxo could do nanosurgery on the brain circuits of the amygdala, to the point of completely altering the fear-induced reactive behavior of mammals.

    For instance, mice are naturally very scared of cat urine and cats, a Pavlovian reaction which is a dynamic of the mouse’s amygdala.

    But the Toxo could rearrange the brain circuitry in the amygdala to convert the mice into thinking that cat urine was the sweetest perfume on the planet, and that fear of cats was for wimps.

    Their final sentiment.

    The media lackeys and lapdogs of Big Brother tell us that the American populace seems to think that the tyranny of oppressors smells damn nice now, and that they want the stuff everywhere in every city.

    I don’t buy it, but even if it is a propaganda lie they will not be diverted by weak responses to their propaganda.

  17. Blouise, Love it! Here in Wi. we have as open a govt. as there exists in the U.S. In my seeking out records in many states, counties, cities, our Federal govt. is the LEAST open of any other govt. I needed informants and sources to get Fed records.

  18. I fully expect to see the argument, “If you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear,” to keep showing up, more and more often.

    Of course, those making this argument rarely believe that they will ever be the ones on the wrong end of an invasion of privacy. It’s always someone else…

  19. I once read an interview with a police official in Tel Aviv. He said, “In America you look for weapons. In Israel we look for terrorists.” Unfortunately, we are too afraid of offending people to look for terrorists. Surveillance cameras may make it easier to identify suspects after the crime, but they will do nothing to prevent it. I think that in 20 years, civil liberties in America will be a thing of the past, like walking around without an ID card in the pocket is now. Fortunately, I’ll probably not be around to see the end game, the rollup of the Bill of Rights.

  20. Thanks, AY, I missed this one: “Bloomberg: New Yorkers will ‘never know where our cameras are’.”
    Software and camouflage experts are already figuring out how to defeat facial recognition software. Never tell a true geek they can’t do something. They will prove you wrong.

    I first read the story of British counterintelligence officer and professional magician, Jasper Maskelyne, years ago. He would have had fun with Mayor Bloomberg’s plan.

  21. From Bruce Schneier’s website:

    A tragedy: Sunil Tripathi, whom Reddit and other sites wrongly identified as one of the bombers, was found dead in the Providence River. I hope it’s not a suicide.

    And worst of all, New York Mayor Bloomberg scares me more than the terrorists ever could:

    In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Monday the country’s interpretation of the Constitution will “have to change” to allow for greater security to stave off future attacks.

    “The people who are worried about privacy have a legitimate worry,” Mr. Bloomberg said during a press conference in Midtown. “But we live in a complex world where you’re going to have to have a level of security greater than you did back in the olden days, if you will. And our laws and our interpretation of the Constitution, I think, have to change.”

    There is more at the link.


  22. theatre goon:

    Maybe we can get the privacy issue across by telling people that if they have nothing to hide, they have nothing to fear from a national registry of firearms owners.

  23. Panel seeks to fine tech companies for noncompliance with wiretap orders

    “A government task force is preparing legislation that would pressure companies such as Face­book and Google to enable law enforcement officials to intercept online communications as they occur, according to current and former U.S. officials familiar with the effort.”


    The initial debate over the treatment of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev focused on whether he should be advised of his Miranda rights or whether the “public safety exception” justified delaying it. In the wake of news reports that he had been Mirandized and would be charged in a federal court, I credited the Obama DOJ for handling the case reasonably well thus far. As it turns out, though, Tsarnaev wasn’t Mirandized because the DOJ decided he should be. Instead, that happened only because a federal magistrate, on her own, scheduled a hospital-room hearing, interrupted the FBI’s interrogation which had been proceeding at that point for a full 16 hours, and advised him of his right to remain silent and appointed him a lawyer. Since then, Tsarnaev ceased answering the FBI’s questions.


    Time to Renounce the “War on Terror”

    by Norman Soloman

    Sunday, 28 April 2013 11:07

    Now, on Capitol Hill, the most overt attempt to call a halt to the “war on terror” is coming from Rep. Barbara Lee, whose bill H.R. 198 would revoke the Authorization for Use of Military Force that Congress approved three days after 9/11. Several months since it was introduced, H.R. 198 only has a dozen co-sponsors. (To send your representative and senators a message of support for Lee’s bill, click here.)

    Evidently, in Congress, there is sparse support for repealing the September 2001 blanket authorization for war. Instead, there are growing calls for a larger blanket. Bipartisan Washington is warming to the idea that a new congressional resolution may be needed to give War on Terror 2.0 an expansive framework. Even for the law benders and breakers who manage the executive branch’s war machinery, the language of the September 2001 resolution doesn’t seem stretchable enough to cover the U.S. warfare of impunity that’s underway across the globe . . . with more on the drawing boards. …continues.

  26. Excerpt from Coll’s article, “Remote Control”:

    “…as the Boston Marathon bombing reminded us, terrorist plots can be hatched and carried out by individuals acting independently of any chain of command.

    America’s drone campaign is also creating an ominous global precedent. Ten years or less from now, China will likely be able to field armed drones. How might its Politburo apply Obama’s doctrines to Tibetan activists holding meetings in Nepal?

    Mazzetti closes his narrative with an interview with Richard Blee, a retired C.I.A. operations officer who worked aggressively against Al Qaeda at the Counterterrorist Center before and after September 11th, and who, like the Shin Bet directors in “The Gatekeepers,” has since developed doubts about tactics he once embraced. “In the early days, for our consciences we wanted to know who we were killing before anyone pulled the trigger,” Blee told the author. He continued:

    Now, we’re lighting these people up all over the place. Every drone strike is an execution. And if we are going to hand down death sentences, there ought to be some public accountability and some public discussion about the whole thing. . . . And it should be a debate that Americans can understand.

    That reckoning still seems a long way off.”

  27. Citing security concerns, the Saudi government also denied an entry visa to the elder Tsarnaev brother in December 2011, when he hoped to make a pilgrimage to Mecca, the source said. Tsarnaev’s plans to visit Saudi Arabia have not been previously disclosed. -from the following emptywheel piece

    The Saudi Intelligence without a Name
    Posted on May 1, 2013 by emptywheel

    I had been wondering why John Kerry closed his meeting with Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal the day after the Boston Marathon bombing, followed by Chuck Hagel’s unscheduled meetings in Saudi Arabia later that week.

    The Daily Mail claims this is why:

    The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia sent a written warning about accused Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in 2012, long before pressure-cooker blasts killed three and injured hundreds, according to a senior Saudi government official with direct knowledge of the document.

    Citing security concerns, the Saudi government also denied an entry visa to the elder Tsarnaev brother in December 2011, when he hoped to make a pilgrimage to Mecca, the source said. Tsarnaev’s plans to visit Saudi Arabia have not been previously disclosed.

    It even reports Prince Saud had an unscheduled meeting with President Obama the day after meeting with Kerry.

    Now, the article implicates the Saudi Interior Ministry, though perhaps Saudi Interior Minister Mohammed bin Nayef is not the senior Saudi official with direct knowledge of a report handed from the Saudi Interior Ministry to (the article says) top people at the Department of Homeland Security. (Keep in mind that MbN rarely gives or at least gave anything to the US without going through his old buddy John Brennan, though also note the DM included his picture in the article.)

    But there are other things about this I find interesting. First, the publication in the DM, which feels more like an info op than a report to, say, the WaPo. Then there’s the DM’s inclusion of people like House Homeland Security Chair Michael McCaul in its article (and, apparently, confirmation of a “Homeland Security Official” that the letter exists, which sounds like the same person as the HHSC aide quoted anonymously), heightening the partisan nature of this scoop.

    Then there are apparent logical contradictions in the story, such as the detail that the Saudis apparently didn’t share Tamerlan’s name, but nevertheless expected the US to sort through his mail to get bomb components he could have gotten (and appears to have gotten) in a store.

    It ‘did name Tamerlan specifically,’ he added. The ‘government-to-government’ letter, which he said was sent to the Department of Homeland Security at the highest level, did not name Boston or suggest a date for his planned attack.


    The Saudi government, he added, alerted the U.S. in part because it believed American authorities should be inspecting packages that came to Tsarnaev in the mail in order to search for bomb-making components.

    There’s the suggestion this intelligence came from Yemen.

    He dismissed the idea that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was likely trained by al Qaeda while he was outside the United States last year.

    The Saudis’ Yemen-based sources, he explained, said militants referred to Tamerlan dismissively as ‘the volunteer.’

    ‘He was a gung-ho, self motivated jihadi who wasn’t tasked by a larger group,’ he said.

    Then, finally, there’s this: the brag about the four plots the Saudis tipped us off to.

    ‘This is the fourth time the Saudi Arabian government has given the U.S. specific intel’ about a possible terror plot, the official said, citing prior warnings about Richard Reid, the so-called shoe bomber who repeatedly tried to light a fuse in his shoe to bring down American Airlines flight 63 bound for Miami in December 2001.

    He also cited the 300-gram ‘ink-cartridge bombs’ planted on two cargo planes headed for the United States from Yemen in October 2010. Those explosives were intercepted in Dubai, and at an East Midlands airport in Great Britain.

    The DM names two plots: Richard Reid and the toner cartridge plot.

    It doesn’t name another obvious one of the four: the Saudi double agent UndieBomb plot last year, which appears to have been designed to provide the justification to allow signature strikes in Yemen.

    And the fourth?

  28. Clap on, clap off… the “Clapper”:

    Spy Chief Apparently Knows How Boston Intel Probe Will End

    By Spencer Ackerman

    “An inquiry into whether U.S. intelligence agencies could have done more to help prevent the Boston Marathon bombing is just getting started. But America’s top spy is already convinced that the deadly April 15 attacks do not represent an intelligence failure.

    As Bryan Bender of the Boston Globe first reported, the inspector general overseeing the 16 U.S. spy agencies will conduct a “broad review” of how the intelligence community handled whatever information it had about the bombings.

    That review did not come at the behest of James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, the nominal boss of those spy agencies. Shawn Turner, a spokesman for Clapper, says it’s an independent initiative of the Intelligence Community Inspector General along with the internal watchdogs for the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security.

    Yet before the inquiry has concluded, Clapper is satisfied — as he first said last week, before any review even got started — that the intelligence agencies didn’t drop the ball on Boston.””

    “Well done” then? Jesus.

    Don’t let anyone kid you. The U.S. is tracking some people like dogs. There is an apparatus in place that, truly, is not to be believed. That this guy and his brother were missed? Well, let’s just say that it’s difficult to comprehend…

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