For days now, surveillance hawks have been complaining that terrorists probably used encryption in their attack on Paris last Friday. That, in spite of the news that authorities used a phone one of the attackers threw in a trash can to identify a hideout in St. Denis (this phone in fact might have been encrypted and brute force decrypted, but given the absence of such a claim and the quick turnaround on it, most people have assumed both it and the pre-attack chats on it were not encrypted).
I suspect we’ll learn attackers did use encryption (and a great deal of operational security that has nothing to do with encryption) at some point in planning their attack — though the entire network appears to have been visible through metadata and other intelligence. Thus far, however, there’s only one way we know of that the terrorists used encryption leading up to the attack: when one of them paid for things like a hotel online, the processing of his credit card (which was in his own name) presumably took place over HTTPS (hat tip to William Ockham for first making that observation). So if we’re going to blindly demand we prohibit the encryption the attackers used, we’re going to commit ourselves to far far more hacking of online financial transactions.
I’m more interested in the concerns about terrorists’ claimed use of PlayStation 4. Three days before the attack, Belgium’s Interior Minister, said all countries were having problem with PlayStation 4s, which led to a frenzy mistakenly claiming the Paris terrorists had used it (there’s far more reason to believe they used Telegram).
One of those alternatives was highlighted on Nov. 11, when Belgium’s federal home affairs minister, Jan Jambon, said that a PlayStation 4 (PS4) console could be used by ISIS to communicate with their operatives abroad.
“PlayStation 4 is even more difficult to keep track of than WhatsApp,” said Jambon, referencing to the secure messaging platform.
Earlier this year, Reuters reported that a 14-year-old boy from Austria was sentenced to a two-year jail term after he downloaded instructions on bomb-building onto his Playstation games console, and was in contact with ISIS.
It remains unclear, however, how ISIS would have used PS4s, though options range from the relatively direct methods of sending messages to players or voice-chatting, to more elaborate methods cooked up by those who play games regularly. Players, for instance, can use their weapons during a game to send a spray of bullets onto a wall, spelling out whole sentences to each other.
This has DiFi complaining that Playstation is encrypted.
Even Playstation is encrypted. It’s very hard to get the data you need because it’s encrypted
Thus far, it’s not actually clear most communications on Playstation are encrypted (though players may be able to pass encrypted objects about); most people I’ve asked think the communications are not encrypted, though Sony isn’t telling. What is likely is that there’s not an easy way to collect metadata tracking the communications within games, which would make it hard to collect on whether or not some parts of the communications data are encrypted.
But at least one kind of data on Playstations — probably two — is encrypted: Credit cards and (probably) user data. That’s because 4 years ago, Playstation got badly hacked.
“The entire credit card table was encrypted and we have no evidence that credit card data was taken,” said Sony.
This is the slimmest amount of good news for PlayStation Network users, but it alone raises very serious concerns, since Sony has yet to provide any details on what sort of encryption has been used to protect that credit card information.
As a result, PlayStation Network users have absolutely no idea how safe their credit card information may be.
But the bad news keeps rolling in:
“The personal data table, which is a separate data set, was not encrypted,” Sony notes, “but was, of course, behind a very sophisticated security system that was breached in a malicious attack.”
A very sophisticated security system that ultimately failed, making it useless.
Why Sony failed to encrypt user account data is a question that security experts have already begun to ask. Along with politicians both in the United States and abroad.
Chances are Sony’s not going to have an answer that’s going to please anyone.
After one in a series of really embarrassing hacks, I assume Sony has locked things down more since. Three years after that Playstation hack, of course, Sony’s movie studio would be declared critical infrastructure after it also got hacked.
Here’s the thing: Sony is the kind of serially negligent company that we need to embrace good security if the US is going to keep itself secure. We should be saying, “Encrypt away, Sony! Please keep yourself safe because hackers love to hack you and they’ve had spectacular success doing so! Jolly good!”
But we can’t, at the same time, be complaining that Sony offers some level of encryption as if that makes the company a material supporter of terrorism. Sony is a perfect example of how you can’t have it both ways, secure against hackers but not against wiretappers.
Amid the uproar about terrorists maybe using encryption, the ways they may have — to secure online financial transactions and game player data — should be a warning about condemning encryption broadly.
Because next week, when hackers attack us, we’ll be wishing our companies had better encryption to keep us safe.
It is a little hard to get too excited about this weekend’s games with all of what is going on across the pond in Paris. My daughter had been scheduled to be in Paris yesterday and for the weekend until a last minute change in one of her classes left her still in England. You cannot imagine how relieved we were that she was not there. But there are friends of this blog that do live in Paris and/or have significant family there, and our thoughts go out to them.
With that said, we’ll take a brief look at the sporting festivities this weekend, even if the realities of the world have brutally reminded us that games are just that. In fact, there was a rather large soccer match in Paris between France and Germany that got that reminder up close and personal yesterday.
In the college ranks, by far the biggest matchup is in the Big-12 where Oklahoma travels to Baylor. The Bears are a home favorite by 3, but Oklahoma is more than capable of pulling off a win. Baylor was once in the top four in rankings, but now is not. If they want a spot in the playoff, the push starts today. The Ducks are at the Tree in the Pac-12 in another make or break game. The Ducks are having a really down year for them, but they are getting healthier and they can really wound the standings by felling the Tree tonight. I look for an upset here, though will be rooting for the Trees. Alabama is a Mississippi State, where the Bulldogs are tough, but there is no reason to believe the Tide won’t keep rolling.
In the NFL, the game of the week is obviously the Lions at the Pack on the Tundra. Naw, just kidding, the Kittehs haven’t won on the Pack’s home turf in 24 years, and they are not going to start now. The real game of the week is the Cards at Seattle, which is the Sunday Night game on NBC. Unlike last year, the Cards are pretty healthy for their trip to the Northwest. But so are the Squawks, and both teams are coming off a bye week. I am going to go with Seattle here simply because they are at home, if it was in Phoenix, the edge would go the other direction. The other big game is the Patriots at the Gents. Eli has always been Good Eli against Bel, Brady and the boys, and the Giants as a whole sure don’t fear them. But New York’s defense is not what it once was and Brady is on a mission. Take the Pats here, but it will be interesting to see how it plays out.
The Brazilian Grand Prix is this weekend. Practice has been fairly predictable, and qualifying has not gone off yet, so no grid to report. But the racing is almost always good at Autódromo José Carlos Pace in Interlagos. Personally, I am hoping for a big race from Felipe Massa in his home country. And Massa usually does race well at Interlagos.
Lastly, the second Democratic debate is, for some idiotic reason, Saturday night. Are the Dems trying to be irrelevant, or just stupid? One thing is sure, the Paris attacks will loom large over the affair. Hard to see how this doesn’t favor Clinton, as Bernie and O’Malley have nowhere near the chops to hang with her on this kind of subject. Sanders, distressingly, still has little to no meaningful foreign policy in his stump speeches. That was always going to catch up to him sooner or later, methinks it is sooner now.
The music today is the French national anthem. La Marseillaise is a gorgeous anthem. I had not heard it in many years, and had forgotten how beautiful it is. I usually hear national anthems from other nations in relation to Formula One, but there have been no winners from France in a while.
Politico has a big piece tied to a Showtime documentary on the living CIA Directors. As should be expected of a collection of paid liars, there are a lot of myths and score settling, most notably with expanded George Tenet claims about the strength of the warnings he gave about 9/11.
But I’m most interested in this insight, which seems very apt given recent intelligence failures and successes.
What’s the CIA’s mission? Is it a spy agency? Or a secret army? “Sometimes I think we get ourselves into a frenzy—into believing that killing is the only answer to a problem,” says Tenet. “And the truth is, it’s not. That’s not what our reason for existence is.” When Petraeus became CIA director, his predecessor, Hayden took him aside. Never before, Hayden warned him, had the agency become so focused on covert military operations at the expense of intelligence gathering. “An awful lot of what we now call analysis in the American intelligence community is really targeting,” Hayden says. “Frankly, that has been at the expense of the broader, more global view. We’re safer because of it, but it has not been cost-free. Some of the things we do to keep us safe for the close fight—for instance, targeted killings—can make it more difficult to resolve the deep fight, the ideological fight. We feed the jihadi recruitment video that these Americans are heartless killers.”
This is, of course, the counterpoint to Hayden’s claim that “we kill people based on metadata.” But it says much more: it describes how we’re viewing the world in terms of targets to kill rather than people to influence or views to understand. Hayden argues that prevents us from seeing the broader view, which may include both theaters where we’re not actively killing people but also wider trends.
Which is why I’m so interested in the big festival the US and UK — David Cameron, especially (of course, he’s in the middle of an effort to get Parliament to rubber stamp the existing British dragnet) — are engaging in with the presumed drone-killing of Mohammed Emwazi, nicknamed Jihadi John by the press.
Given that ISIS has plenty of other fighters capable of executing prisoners, some even that speak British accented English, this drone-killing seems to be more about show, the vanquishing of a public figure rather than a functional leader — contrary to what David Cameron says. As WaPo notes,
“If this strike was successful, and we still await confirmation of that, it will be a strike at the heart of ISIL,” Cameron said, using an acronym for the Islamic State.
Cameron alternated between speaking about Emwazi in the past and the present tenses, describing him as a “barbaric murderer” who was the Islamic State’s “lead executioner.”
“This was an act of self defense. It was the right thing to do,” he said.
But it is not clear that Emwazi had a meaningful role in Islamic State’s leadership structure. Analysts said the impact of his possible death could be limited.
“Implications? None beyond the symbolism,” said a Twitter message from Shiraz Maher, an expert on extremism at King’s College London.
It also might be a way to permanently silence questions about the role that British targeting of Emwazi had in further radicalizing him.
And all this comes just a few weeks after ISIS affiliates in Egypt claim to have brought down a Russian plane — depending on how you count, the largest terrorist attack since 9/11. Clearly, the combined British and US dragnet did not manage to prevent the attack, but there are even indications GCHQ, at least, wasn’t the agency that first picked up chatter about it.
Information from the intelligence agency of another country, rather than Britain’s own, led the Government to conclude that a bomb probably brought down the Russian airliner that crashed in the Sinai.
It was reports from an undisclosed “third party” agency, rather than Britain’s own GCHQ, that revealed the so-called “chatter” among extremists after the disaster that killed all 224 passengers and crew – and ended with the suspension of all British flights to Sharm el-Sheikh, according to authoritative sources.
British officials are said to have asked whether the same information had also been passed to Egypt, and were told that it had.
Sources declined to say which friendly country passed the information. The US and Israel – whose own borders have been threatened by Isis in Sinai – as well as Arab nations in the region all have an interest in monitoring activity in the area.
So while it’s all good that the Americans and Brits took out an ISIS executioner in Syria — thereby avenging the deaths of their country men — it’s not like this great dragnet is doing what it always promises to do: prevent attacks, or even understand them quickly.
Perhaps that’s because, while we approach ever closer to “collect[ing] it all,” we’re targeting rather than analyzing the data?
In 2003, Anti-Free Trade of Americas protests were dubiously invoked (they were also invoked to investigate peace protestors in Pittsburgh that year).
In 2007, the FBI tied the event with four other open cases, including two government trespass ones, a bank robbery, and a corruption case.
In 2009, it was the expected presence of peace activists under investigation (among other things) for ties to Palestinians and Colombia’s FARC.
The two undercover officers who long tracked this group, “Karen Sullivan” and “Daniela Cardenas” attended that year to spy on the event.
Year after year, however — from 2000 until 2009, when consultation with the FBI’s own domestic investigations guide finally led the FBI to shut the long-running investigation down — the FBI found an excuse to track the annual protest of the School of the Americas in the name of counterterrorism preparedness, as FOIAed documents released today reveal in detail.
In other words, year after year, even while recording how peaceful the event was, the FBI still tracked and coordinated with the Columbus, GA police in the guise of counterterrorism preparedness because a bunch of people use their First Amendment rights to protest the murder and torture propagated by the SOA.
Update: I originally got the year this investigation started wrong: it was opened in 2000.
While the focus on racial justice has been on Columbia, MO in recent days, a Judge in Kansas sentenced the white supremacist Frazier Glenn Miller to death for his murder of three people he presumed were Jewish.
A judge has sentenced a white supremacist to death for the killing of three people at two Jewish centres.
Frazier Glenn Miller Jr, 74, targeted the sites in Kansas last year and will be put to death by lethal injection.
Johnson County District Judge Thomas Kelly Ryan said: “Your attempt to bring hate to this community, to bring terror to this community, has failed.”
Miller responded to the sentence, by shouting “heil Hitler” before he was removed from the courtroom.
This is why I don’t support the death penalty: because even when you argue it should only be used for the worst of the worst, like Miller, it usually ends up allowing those people to claim to be martyrs. That’s especially true in Miller’s case–he’s old and ill and would die alone and forgotten in prison otherwise, but now gets to claim to be martyred.
[See update below: Lynch says she didn’t mean how these statements came out.]
It’s bad enough that Attorney General Loretta Lynch refuses to force police to keep records on how many people they kill.
In a conversation with NBC journalist Chuck Todd on a range of criminal justice issues, Lynch said on Thursday that she does not support a federal mandate to report people killed by police.
“One of the things we are focusing on at the Department of Justice is not trying to reach down from Washington and dictate to every local department how they should handle the minutia of record keeping, but we are stressing to them that these records must be kept,” she said at the Washington Ideas Forum, hosted by AtlanticLIVE and the Aspen Institute.
It’s her reasoning I find really troubling.
Lynch said the Justice Department does “encourage” local departments to maintain records on police shootings but that improving police-community relations is more important. She noted that the small size of the average police department could make record-keeping difficult.
“The statistics are important, but the real issues are: ‘what steps are we all taking to connect communities … with police and back with government?’” she said.
It’s all well and good to say communities and their cops just need to get along.
Here’s what the crime story said: “Among some experts and rank-and-file officers, the notion that less aggressive policing has emboldened criminals — known as the “Ferguson effect” in some circles — is a popular theory for the uptick in violence.” A paragraph later, the story continues: “Others doubt the theory or say data has not emerged to prove it.” Two experts are quoted, and the story moves on from there.
Bill Michtom of Portland, Ore., wrote to me about it, calling it a “classic example of false equivalence.” Ta-Nehisi Coates called the suggestion of a Ferguson effect “utterly baseless” in a piece for The Atlantic, noting that one of the experts quoted said that the rise in violent crime in St. Louis had begun before the large protests last year over a white police officer’s fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager.
One of the story’s reporters, Monica Davey, and the national editor, Alison Mitchell, strongly disagree that this is false equivalence or that it was misleading to readers. In fact, they told me, it would be wrong of The Times not to report something that some police officers are identifying as part of their mind-set.
Ms. Davey, who agrees that false balance is infuriating and must be avoided, said in an email that this example simply doesn’t fit the description. For one thing, she said, there is no established truth here: “The question about the validity of this theory simply has not been definitively answered in the way that the earth’s shape has.” And, she said, “police officers must be given some credence in assessing whether they themselves feel that they are behaving differently now — the essence of what some of them have called the ‘Ferguson effect.’ ”
Or, as Ms. Mitchell puts it: “We have the police suggesting that police are pulling back — should we not report that?”
My view is that the introduction of this explosive idea didn’t serve readers well because, in this context, it was mentioned briefly, sourced vaguely, and then countered by disagreement. If police officers are indeed pulling back from their duties, and are willing to be identified and quoted, and if there’s evidence to back it up, that would be worth a full exploration in a separate article. But this glancing treatment could easily have left readers baffled, at the very least.
Things aren’t going to improve so long as cops can just make shit up, in spite of data to the contrary.
Just as importantly, since 9/11, the mandate throughout the Federal government — and especially for FBI — has been to share information promiscuously, including down to local police departments. Some of that information includes untested leads; some of it includes cyber and terrorist threat assessments.
If Lynch is telling us these local police departments don’t have the ability to handle reporting back and forth from the federal government, than the rest of the info sharing should stop too, because it could violate Americans’ privacy and/or expose intelligence streams.
But we all know that’s not going to happen.
Which means Lynch is supporting an asymmetrical reporting system that can’t be used for oversight of the larger system.
Update: Lynch says her statements last week weren’t what she was trying to say.
The point I was trying to make at that conference related to our overall view of how we deal with police departments as part of our practice of enforcing consent decrees, or working with them and I was trying to make the point that we also have to focus on building community trust which is a very individual – very local – practice. Unfortunately, my comments gave the misperception that we were changing our view in some way about the importance of this data – nothing could be further from the truth. This data is not only vital – we are working closely with law enforcement to develop national consistent standards for collecting this kind of information.
More from her statement:
“The department’s position and the administration’s position has consistently been that we need to have national, consistent data,” said Attorney General Lynch. “This information is useful because it helps us see trends, it helps us promote accountability and transparency,” said Attorney General Lynch. “We’re also going further in developing standards for publishing information about deaths in custody as well, because transparency and accountability are helped by this kind of national data.”
U.S. Central Command was notified at approximately 1 p.m. today that a commander of a New Syrian Forces element operating in Syria surrendered some of his unit’s Coalition-issued equipment to a suspected Al Nusra Front intermediary purportedly in exchange for safe passage within their operating area.
“Today the NSF unit contacted Coalition representatives and informed us that on Sept. 21-22 they gave six pick-up trucks and a portion of their ammunition to a suspected Al Nusra Front intermediary, which equates to roughly 25 percent of their issued equipment,” said Col. Patrick Ryder, U.S. Central Command spokesperson. “If accurate, the report of NSF members providing equipment to Al Nusra Front is very concerning and a violation of Syria train and equip program guidelines.”
Earlier this week, Al Nusra Front tweeted an image of a Coalition-issued rifle and claimed that the newest NSF members had handed over all their weapons upon re-entering Syria last week. Central Command conducted an analysis of the image depicted in the Tweet and determined the claim to be false. This determination was based on NSF members reporting that all personnel and equipment were under NSF control and because the tweeted image was an old picture repurposed from the Facebook page of a previously deployed NSF fighter from a different training class.
“In light of this new information, we wanted to ensure the public was informed as quickly as possible about the facts as we know them at this time,” said Col. Ryder. “We are using all means at our disposal to look into what exactly happened and determine the appropriate response.”
That is, CentCom is explaining that when they claimed reports the rebels had handed over their weapons early in the week was a lie, they were wrong. They had based that assertion on the representations of our trained and vetted rebels, including the claim that a picture posted to Twitter was a recycled image (something that happens a lot in propaganda from Syria, from all sides). Given their caveat about whether this latest claim — that the rebels handed over six pick-ups and a bunch of ammunition — may not be accurate, it suggests they still don’t actually know. Which, in turn, suggests they didn’t have the means to vet the tweeted picture, nor do they have enough independent HUMINT coming from the region to be able to fact check what the latest batch of vetted and trained rebels tell them.
This may or may not have to do with the allegations that the intelligence at CentCom is cooked. It, at a minimum, speaks to collection and analysis issues, only the latter of which was covered in the complaint to the Inspector General.
Whatever the cause, though, it does raise real concerns about how blind CentCom is right now.
Just a few days after our Egyptian allies sentenced 3 Al Jazeera journalists to 3 years in prison, Turkey joined the club, charging 2 UK Vice employees and their Turkish fixer with terrorism. Today, Al Jazeera explained why the Vice journalists got charged: because the fixer uses an encryption technique that members of ISIS also use.
Three staff members from Vice News were charged with “engaging in terrorist activity” because one of the men was using an encryption system on his personal computer which is often used by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a senior press official in the Turkish government has told Al Jazeera.
Two UK journalists, Jake Hanrahan and Philip Pendlebury, along with their Turkey-based Iraqi fixer and a driver, were arrested on Thursday in Diyarbakir while filming clashes between security forces and youth members of the outlawed and armed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
On Monday, the three men were charged by a Turkish judge in Diyarbakir with “engaging in terrorist activity” on behalf of ISIL, the driver was released without charge.
The Turkish official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Al Jazeera: “The main issue seems to be that the fixer uses a complex encryption system on his personal computer that a lot of ISIL militants also utilise for strategic communications.”
Note, the Vice journalists were reporting on PKK, not ISIS, but it wouldn’t be the first time Turkey used ISIS as cover for their war against PKK.
A lot of people are treating this as a crazy expression of rising Turkish repression, that it conflates use of encryption — even a certain kind of encryption! — with membership in ISIS.
But they’re not the only one who does so. As the slide above — and some other documents released by Snowden — makes clear, NSA makes the same conflation. How do you find terrorists without other information, this slide asks? Simple! You find someone using encryption.
While the US might not arrest people based on such evidence (though it did hold Al Jazeera journalist Sami al-Hajj for years without charge), they certainly make the same baseless connection.
Is now calling out those who claim Iran — and not Saudi Arabia — is the biggest sponsor of terrorism.
The Washington Post ran a story last week about some 200 retired generals and admirals who sent a letter to Congress “urging lawmakers to reject the Iran nuclear agreement, which they say threatens national security.” There are legitimate arguments for and against this deal, but there was one argument expressed in this story that was so dangerously wrongheaded about the real threats to America from the Middle East, it needs to be called out.
That argument was from Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney, the retired former vice commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe, who said of the nuclear accord: “What I don’t like about this is, the number one leading radical Islamic group in the world is the Iranians. They are purveyors of radical Islam throughout the region and throughout the world. And we are going to enable them to get nuclear weapons.”
Sorry, General, but the title greatest “purveyors of radical Islam” does not belong to the Iranians. Not even close. That belongs to our putative ally Saudi Arabia.
But if you think Iran is the only source of trouble in the Middle East, you must have slept through 9/11, when 15 of the 19 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia. Nothing has been more corrosive to the stability and modernization of the Arab world, and the Muslim world at large, than the billions and billions of dollars the Saudis have invested since the 1970s into wiping out the pluralism of Islam — the Sufi, moderate Sunni and Shiite versions — and imposing in its place the puritanical, anti-modern, anti-women, anti-Western, anti-pluralistic Wahhabi Salafist brand of Islam promoted by the Saudi religious establishment.
Mind you, I’m not sure I’d say “nothing has been more corrosive” than Saudi extremism. After all, serial US invasions are pretty high up on that list.
But the two together — Saudi complicity and US action — sure do a pretty good job of destabilizing the Middle East.
At Politico, Will McCants has an excerpt from his new book, in which he argues that ISIS differs from Al Qaeda in its apocalyptic vision.
The Islamic State’s brutality and its insistence on apocalypse now and caliphate now set it apart from al-Qaeda, of which it was a part until 2014. We’re used to thinking of al-Qaeda’s leader Osama bin Laden as the baddest of the bad, but the Islamic State is worse. Bin Laden tamped down messianic fervor and sought popular Muslim support; the return of the early Islamic empire, or caliphate, was a distant dream. In contrast, the Islamic State’s members fight and govern by their own version of Machiavelli’s dictum “It is far safer to be feared than loved.” They stir messianic fervor rather than suppress it. They want God’s kingdom now rather than later. This is not Bin Laden’s jihad.
He argues the difference arises, in part, because violence works.
But the Islamic State has deliberately provoked the anger of Muslims and non-Muslims alike with its online videos of outrageous and carefully choreographed violence. It showcases the beheading of prisoners—something Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaeda today, had expressly warned against—and dumps enemy soldiers in mass graves while the camera is rolling. The State revels in gore and wants everyone to know it. And yet it has been remarkably successful at recruiting fighters, capturing land, subduing its subjects, and creating a state. Why?
Because violence and gore work. We forget that this terrifying approach to state building has an impressive track record.
My immediate response to the piece was to suggest the proper comparison was not between al Qaeda and ISIS, but between Saudi Arabia and ISIS. McCants mentions Saudi Arabia, but only to support a historical argument about the efficacy of violence.
More brutal too was the Saud family and its ultraconservative Wahhabi allies, who came to power three times between 1744 and 1926, when the third and last Saudi state was established.
Guess what?! The Saudis are still beheading people, even if Zawahiri is too squeamish to do so. It does so to punish those who question the apocalyptic ideology the Saudis have long used to police order, and never (that I’ve seen) to punish ISIS terrorists.
Though there aren’t many cameras rolling — at least not Western ones — not in Yemen (because they’ve been expelled) and not in Saudi Arabia (because the Western press has little interest in showing the many beheadings our allies carry out).
That’s a point Rosa Brooks makes in this piece arguing that ISIS’ violence is not much different than that used throughout time as part of state-formation (while she talks about our own fight over slavery during the Civil War, she doesn’t mention America’s genocide against native people, annihilation we counted by counting scalps).
The Islamic State can keep right on beheading people, and if we can’t destroy the Islamic State, perhaps we’ll eventually tire of fighting them and decide to cut deals with them. And then, let a few decades pass, and presto! The Islamic State will have a seat at the U.N. — if the U.N. still exists — either as a new state or as a globally acknowledged non-state something or other, and all those terrible atrocities will be politely ignored.
Needless to say, although history suggests that the commission of horrific and widespread atrocities is no bar to entry into polite global society, history also suggests that nothing is inevitable. Plenty of brutal insurgencies and regimes have lived to see their crimes whitewashed and forgotten, but plenty of others have gone down in flames.
When it comes to predicting the future of the Islamic State, there are lots of wild cards. The 24/7 global media environment is quite new, and it’s impossible to say how this — or the universalization of human rights — will affect the Islamic State’s longer-term ability to sustain itself or the international community’s determination to defeat the group. State sovereignty is changing in complex ways, and it’s hard to know what forms global, political, and military power will take 10, 20, or 50 years from now. Elections in the United States may change American military dynamics; China or Russia or any of a dozen other states could decide to cut deals of their own with the Islamic State. Finally, the group remains relatively opaque to outsiders; internal dynamics could also alter its trajectory.
Even so: If I were a bookie, I’d put long odds on the Islamic State being defeated by the United States. The White House can issue as many statements as it wants claiming to have “made considerable progress in our effort to degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State, but I suspect the group will still be going strong five or 10 years from now.
One of the only things that makes ISIS different than Saudi Arabia — other than the latter has been recognized as a legitimate government by other nations, while those same nations recognize Bashar al-Assad as the leader of Syria — is that media, particularly the degree to which the Western press focuses on its beheadings rather than Saudi ones.
So who is responsible (even setting aside the Iraq War’s role in ISIS’s rise) for the effect of its violence, for the efficacy McCants claims it has?
ISIS is doing the same kind of things we tolerate in our Saudi allies. The US would do well to consider why it finds one tolerable and the other the prime enemy.