Wag the Syrian Dog
“Wag the Dog” is a political strategy in which a national leader starts a military operation to divert negative attention away from himself. In 1997, Hollywood produced a Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman movie by the same name about an American President caught up in a sex scandal that decides to start a war in the Balkans to distract the public. Eighteen months later with President Bill Clinton facing a sex scandal, he started a war in the Balkans.
With embattled President Barack Obama facing a scandal about electronic spying on the private lives of almost every voter in America, it should not be surprising that he would make “a decision to provide lethal assistance,” including weapons, ammunition, and air support, to the Syrian rebels. Using wag the dog might have worked in the past, but the mushrooming privacy scandal seems destined to grow.
The White House announced that because the Syrian government used chemical weapons against rebel forces, who are mainly composed of foreign fighters, Syria crossed a “red line” that morally requires the United States to intervene to protect the rebels. In reality, despite substantial U.S. covert military aid, the rebels’ main northern bastion of Aleppo is now cut off from resupply, and the rebels are in danger of being defeated by the Syrian government. The situation is very reminiscent of the U.S. military intervention to institute a no-fly zone to stop loyalist forces of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi from capturing Benghazi and ending the Libyan rebellion.
The real White House crisis is taking place in Hong Kong, where NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden is slowly and artfully revealing the breadth and intrusiveness of the U.S. government's top secret foreign and domestic surveillance programs. After exposing the National Security Agency’s PRISM program (which gave U.S. government officials easy access to all data held by Google, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, and Skype) to the Guardian and Washington Post newspapers, Snowden revealed National Security Agency documents to Honk Kong’s liberal South China Morning Press. This new information proved the NSA is hacking 61,000 computer systems around the world. The NSA is also actively hacking companies, public officials, individuals, and the Chinese University in Hong Kong.
The timing of the Snowden’s releases of American spying on China happening during the summit with Chinese Premier Xi Jinping has been an unmitigated disaster for the Obama Administration. The Chinese were shocked two weeks ago when the Administration leaked to the U.S. press that the agenda for the summit would be an attempt to restrict China from corporate espionage and theft of intellectual property in America. The hypocrisy of Snowden’s disclosures of intrusive spying on China by the U.S. generated an explosion of anti-American anger in Hong Kong. The city now expects a mass parade this Saturday in support of granting Snowden political asylum.
Bloomberg just reported that thousands of U.S. technology, finance, and manufacturing companies are working closely the with U.S. security agencies to provide sensitive information in return for access to classified intelligence. As an example, Microsoft provides intelligence agencies with prior information about bugs in its popular software.
Larry Page, chief executive officer of Google Inc., claimed he had never heard of a program called PRISM until after Edward Snowden’s disclosures. Although Page swore he would never grant the U.S. government direct access to its servers, Bloomberg sources describe Google as one of the “trusted partners” of the NSA. In fact, the agency’s main surveillance program, called Accumulo, is built on Google's proprietary BigTable data-base platform.
Accumulo has "fine-grained" access controls and server-side programming mechanisms that can modify data that is written to disk on target data servers. This provides PRISM with “cell-level access labels” that allows their agents to plant a “Trojan-horse” on the machines of almost any computer users.
Google has agreements with the CIA, the FBI, and branches of the U.S. military that gather data useful for intelligence or cyber-warfare units. Company executives are motivated not only to help national defense, but to also gain access to espionage on their foreign competition. Following an attack on his company by Chinese hackers in 2010, Google co-founder and native Russian, Sergey Brin, was provided with highly sensitive government intelligence linking the attack to the People’s Liberation Army of China.
The Obama 2012 re-election campaign relied on Google Chairman Eric Schmidt to recruit talent, choose technology, and coach the campaign on strategy to unify the “Big Data” from vast commercial and political databases that micro-targeted which individual voters were likely to support Obama or be open to his message. They tried to then convert individuals into supporters through personalized contact via Facebook, e-mail, or a knock on the door. Schmidt described the analytics team as “people scientists” who used Big Data to predict “how people will behave when confronted with a choice or a question.” After the election, the analytics team was hired by Google.
The overt intervention of the United States in the Syrian civil war will undoubtedly result in a big spike in the 93,000 dead and over 1.5 million refugees. I have not found anyone who can justify why such military intervention is in America’s national interest. But after eight days of Edward Snowden’s daily revelations of how the Obama Administration eviscerated Americans; personal privacy caused the current Newsweek Magazine cover to be titled “Hit the Road Barack,” a war in Syria may not be enough to distract an unhappy public from the Obama scandals.