Thursday, July 18, 2013

Introduction to a Course on Civics and The Intelligence Community

My response to the Ed Snowden affair as it has played out so far is to be appalled at the level of knowledge of my friends and fellow citizens about how their government works.  So what I plan to do here is to create a very time efficient course in civics and intelligence based on documents publically available on the Internet.

Please read a few more paragraphs before you completely give up on this idea.

The course will be

    (a) select, it will be as short as possible to make as good use of your time as possible,

    (b) based on primary sources available on the Internet

    (c) focused on background, history and nuance intended to make your beliefs and arguments
    robust (see note 1)

What this course will NOT be

    (d) it is not intended to change your mind on fundamental issues, whether our government is
    moral or immoral, good or bad.  You already have your mind made up, I am pretty sure.

But it will try to help explain such things as

    (e) what do people mean when they say that Iran-Contra was illegal but what Snowden revealed
    was probably legal (even if it may merely prove to you that the laws need to be changed)?

    (f) even if what Snowden revealed was legal, in some technical sense of the word, what does it
    mean to say that we wish to challenge the constitutionality of those laws (which is one way to
    change the laws, but by no means the only way).

Furthermore, you may even understand certain nuances like the following:

    (g) whatever Snowden's motivation, he should not have had access to the wide breadth of
     information and there is something very wrong here, very wrong indeed, and people in the
     intelligence community, right or wrong, must be reeling.

Whether you like it or not, and I dont really care, (g) is going to affect our country at least as much as any of the others, so you may as well spend a few minutes trying to understand it.

Or not. Whatever you want.

Furthermore, I am going to try and explain to you some history that motivates their behavior. Now, I happen to think that if this behavior was exposed to a wider audience and not merely voted on by the elite (which is the very basis of our government, it is not a direct democracy, it is a so-called representative democracy for better or worse), then the American people might very well vote against this behavior.  I wouldn't vote against that behavior, mind you, I would support it wholeheartedly, but that is just me.

Finally I have one more important goal, and it is to try and convince you of the following:

    (h) although we may not know the details of what is happening in this world, in broad strokes
    there is quite a bit that you can know about what is going on, and this information can be
    used to inform your beliefs and what you tell your elected representatives, not that they
    care what you think because you are not rich, but that is another problem.

What I mean by that is this: you did not need Snowden to know most of this, at least the part I have read about. No shock or surprise should have been generated (except for maybe a few details, and even those I am told were already made public but I did not notice).

Thus one result of our little course is to help you not be surprised in the future.

Now that is a worthwhile goal, isnt it?

I promise to make this as concise as I can, but you will be expected to spend about 1/2 hour a week reading documents I point you to, for maybe about 10 weeks.  This course will begin, intermittently, after SIGGRAPH.  The course will last longer than 10 weeks because I will not be able to work on it every week.

Thank you, or maybe you should be thanking me.


1. The classic example of this approach is the a pro-arms-control group called the Federation of American Scientists ( which has worked in support of treaties limiting or eliminating nuclear weapons for a very long time. Their approach is that in order to argue cogently for arms control, that you must be well-informed on the issues of nuclear and conventional arms, and thus they have (or had) one of the best web sites on the internet for researching these things. Unfortunately, the best parts of this database has been turned over for maintenance to, and the only problem with that is that they charge a fee to review that database for more than a few documents. If you were interested in that topic, I think it is worth their nominal fee. Those of us who are impoverished in America can not even consider it, and therefore can not participate in our democracy.  Which is intentional. 

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