Monday, July 28, 2014

Frederick Forsyth on freedom and security

Frederick Forsyth's latest thriller, "The Kill List", is as you'd expect, topical and gripping. An evil Islamic propagandist on the US Pesident's weekly-reviewed assassination list is tracked down and eliminated, using all the sophistication of computer hacking, spy drones and massive databases.

Forsyth's fiction is built on well-researched fact. The Presidential "kill list" really exists, and so does the secretive behemoth of Joint Special Ops Command (J-SOC). Here is an extract from Chapter Two:

"Nine Eleven had triggered a sea change in the American Armed Forces and governmental attitudes to any even remotely conceivable possible threat to the USA. National alertness inched its way towards paranoia. The original sixteen intel. gathering agencies of the USA ballooned to over a thousand.

"By 2012 accurate estimates put the number of Americans with top secret clearance at 850,000. Over 1,200 government organizations and 2,000 private companies were working on top secret projects related to counter-torrism and homeland security at over 10,000 locations across the country. [...]

"The most fundamental increase was in Joint Special Ops Command, or J-SOC. This body had existed for years before Nine Eleven but as a low-profile and principally defensive structure. Two men would convert it into the largest, most aggressive and most lethal private army in the world.

"The word 'private' is justified because it is the personal instrument of the President and of no other.  It can conduct covert war without seeking any sanction from Congress; its multi-billion dollar budget is acquired without ever distrubing the Appropriations Committee, and it can kill you without ruffling the even tenor of the Attorney General's office. It is all top secret."

After this, I anticipated some moral complexity in Forsyth's story, but it concentrates on procedure - how the goodies finally get the baddies. Still, maybe he feels he's given us enough to think about here. After all, a novel is not a lecture.

For freedom and civil rights do seem to matter to him. Here he is in the Daily Express four years ago, commenting on David Davis' 2008 resignation on terror legislation issues:

"He resigned on a point of principle and that principle was the systematic annihilation of chunks of traditional British rights and freedoms by Labour on the usual grounds of “secooooority”. It happens he regards civil rights as damned important, hardly the hallmark of a hang-’em-and-flog-’em dinosaur.

"If to blow away your career on a point of humanitarian principle is “Right wing” some newspapers need a new dictionary. He is actually a traditionalist and things such as habeas corpus, presumed innocence until conviction and no detention without charge are traditional British rights."

How much does J-SOC cost? A secret, though it's thought to be in the billions. And how many lives has it saved - net, discounting for the innocents killed in Hellfire missile strikes and the like? Would the same money spent elsewhere do more good for less expense - for example, the $1,928 estimated cost per life saved in improving neonatal care?

And there are so many other ways to save life in the USA:

Source: Wikipedia

Instead, we have CIA torture (this from Texas Republican Ron Paul, who calls for the Agency to be shut down), and as Washington's Blog says, the crushing of dissent not only abroad but inside the US, plus the backing of ultra-violent groups in foreign countries.

And terrorist attacks on US citizens abroad?


Figure 2-01. Leading causes of injury death for
US citizens in foreign countries, 2009–20111,2

Time for an enquiry into the cost-effectiveness of carte-blanche blank-cheque security arrangements?


All original material is copyright of its author. Fair use permitted. Contact via comment. Unless indicated otherwise, all internet links accessed at time of writing. Nothing here should be taken as personal advice, financial or otherwise. No liability is accepted for third-party content, whether incorporated in or linked to this blog; or for unintentional error and inaccuracy. The blog author may have, or intend to change, a personal position in any stock or other kind of investment mentioned.

1 comment:

Paddington said...

Some estimates put the Pentagon 'black budget' at $200 billion per year or more. That includes $4 trillion since Reagan spent on the completely useless 'Star Wars.

Also recall that the CIA had its own B-52's bombing Laos and Cambodia during the Vietnam War.

If you want it big and expensive, the the US military is the way to go.