War on Terror

Former Homeland Security Adviser Explains Why He Admires the UAE's Dictators


In a recent New York Times op-ed piece, Richard Falkenrath, who served as deputy homeland security adviser in the Bush administration and now works for former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff's consulting firm, explains why the BlackBerry ban that the United Arab Emirates announced last week "met with approval, admiration and perhaps even a touch of envy" from "law enforcement investigators and intelligence officers." The ban is perfectly reasonable in light of the UAE's legitimate security concerns, Falkenrath says, "because Research in Motion, the Canadian company that provides BlackBerry services, refused to modify its information architecture in a way that would enable authorities to intercept the communications of select subscribers." In other words, the company declined to facilitate the authoritarian regime's snooping on BlackBerry users—a position that strikes Falkenrath as plainly unacceptable:

Monitoring electronic communications in real time and retrieving stored electronic data are the most important counterterrorism techniques available to governments today. Electronic surveillance is particularly vital in combating global terrorism, where the stakes are highest, but it is a part of virtually all investigations of serious transnational threats….

The United Arab Emirates is in no way unique in wanting a back door into the telecommunications services used inside its borders to allow officials to eavesdrop on users. In the United States, telecommunications providers are generally required to provide a mechanism for such access by the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act of 1994 and related regulations issued by the Federal Communications Commission. As a general principle, information-service providers here must provide a means for federal agencies, usually the F.B.I., to view the ostensibly private data of their subscribers when lawfully ordered to do so.

The F.C.C. is not, however, a national security agency: it is an independent, bipartisan commission whose members serve fixed terms. The commission interprets a variety of statutes and balances many different interests, including the business success of telecommunications providers and the convenience of consumers, and its rulings are subject to legal challenge in the courts.

As a result, there remain a number of telecommunication methods that federal agencies cannot readily penetrate. Given the way the F.C.C. operates, the prospect of it taking a swift, decisive action to make these services accessible to the government is almost inconceivable. Hence the envy some American intelligence officials felt about the Emirates' decision.

Yes, dictators sure are good at avoiding legal barriers to surveillance. They are also never stymied because "governmental intrusion into ostensibly private communications offends liberal sensibilities," as Falkenrath dismissively describes civil libertarian concerns about snooping in the name of national security. Here are some other obstacles the UAE avoids, according to the State Department's most recent report on the country's human rights record: elections, representative government, an independent judiciary, governmental transparency, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, and freedom of religion. The State Department adds that "there were unverified reports of torture during the year," that "security forces sometimes employed flogging as judicially sanctioned punishment," that "arbitrary and incommunicado detention remained a problem," and that "legal and societal discrimination against women and noncitizens [who represent 80 percent of the population] was pervasive."

Neverthless, says Falkenrath, "the Emirates acted understandably and appropriately" in banning BlackBerries. The lesson of this episode, according to Falkenrath: "Governments should not be timid about using their full powers to ensure that their law enforcement and intelligence agencies are able to keep their citizens safe." Some governments, of course, have fuller powers than others, which makes their citizens (and noncitizen residents) extra safe.


NEXT: Born in the U.S.A.

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  1. “””Yes, dictators sure are good at cutting through bureaucratic barriers to surveillance””

    Sadly, it’s not just for dicators anymore.

  2. What heace we learned from this op-ed piece?

    When it comes to authoruitarian ejaculate, Richard Falkenrath swallows. And begs for more.

    1. I wonder if he forces his wife to wear a niqab.

      1. you mean like this woman?

  3. The State Department adds that “there were unverified reports of torture during the year,” that “security forces sometimes employed flogging as judicially sanctioned punishment,” that “arbitrary and incommunicado detention remained a problem,”

    Wait, what? The US State Dept. is reporting on torture, corporal punishment, and incommunicado detention in other countries as human rights abuses?

    I…I got nothing.

    1. You forget, It’s OK when The Right People are in charge. They would NEVER abuse those powers, and they promise, when this crisis has abated they WILL lay down these powers you have given them. They love the republic, they love democracy!

      1. For he IS Consul Falkenrath, and he IS sworn to defend the Republic.

        1. Wow, I didn’t realise how much Consul Falkenrath really does make him sound like a sci-fi villain.

          1. I’m going to start spelling his last name as Falkenwrath just to up his sci-fi villain cred.

  4. My front door is hard to penetrate, too. But I guess this guy would like us all to hand him the keys — just in case.

    1. Your front door isn’t that hard to penetrate, I’m sure.

      1. It’s his “back door” that, according to the reports, is exceedingly easy to penetrate.

  5. I’ve seaid it before, I’ll say it again, the intelligence services have largely given up trying to snoop electronic communications. And people who thought that would settle the civil rights argument would be sorely mistaken. They just want blanket laws which force carriers to simply open up their networks so agencies can simply listen on demand.

    1. And then what, people start using one-time pads?

      1. While one-time pads are the closest thing to perfect secrecy if the protocol is used correctly, there are significant disadvantages. Generating the pad itself, destruction of the key after use, and other problems are all security holes. Another problem is the temptation to re-use a key, if one were to run out. Even re-using a key once can compromise the security.

        Using a good public-key system like RSA is probably best.

        1. What the hell are you talking about?

        2. RSA? Watch out for quantum computers.

          1. They still have not proven that p/=np, but current research shows that quantum computers cannot reduce non-polynomial time problems to polynomial time. public key is safe for now.

  6. And besides, a Blackberry retains no valid sporting purpose…

  7. I love it when these power-hungry fucks unwittingly tell us what power-hungry fucks they really are.

    1. If it walks like a fuck and quacks like a fuck…

    2. I don’t really love it, because it’s a shitty reminder how fucked we are.

      1. My ire and indignation seem to diminish not one iota no matter how many times I hear such ridiculous statements.

  8. But in the end, it is governments, not private industry, that rule the airwaves and the Internet.

    Mein F?hrer! I can walk!

      1. Agreed, 100%.

  9. Another reason to sigh when I see one of those “Miss Me Yet?” bumper stickers.

    1. The GOP idiots love the UAE, the Dem idiots love the PRC, and the LP idiots love Somalia. Fuck it, I’m voting for Kodos.

      1. Kodos the Executioner? I hear he’s left Earth to run for governor of Taurus IV. He’s got pretty good libertarian credentials, though I hear he’s got some wacky ideas about eugenics. Not likely to be an issue for a planetary governor, though.

        1. Kodos from Treehouse of Horror VII.

          We’re merely exchanging long protein strands….if you can think of a better way.

          1. You intergalactic hussy!

      2. I haven’t seen a whole lot of GOP love for the UAE. Except for the military and contractors, but that’s on both ends of the spectrum.

        I like the UAE a great deal, but not because of their government, that’s for sure.

      3. Hey man, don’t blame me, I voted for Kang!

    2. It’s like this… If I step in a pile of dog shit, and ten minutes later step in another pile of dog shit, it doesn’t make me miss the first pile of dog shit.

      1. Yeah, my wife sent me a picture of a shirt with that on it, and I made it abundantly clear that no, I did not in fact miss Bush. My idea of an improvement over the current jackass (and jackass Congress) is a little more ambitious, thank you very much.

        1. We must resurrect Coolidge!

          1. A moden coolidge? I wish!

          2. We’ve been over this: Zombie Coolidge is not cool.

          3. He’s not eligible, having served two terms already. We’re stuck with Carter or Bush I if we want to bring someone back.

            1. Coolidge’s first term was less than 2 years, so he would be eligible to run again.

    3. I haven’t seen one of these, but I live in Seattle, so seeing one is probably akin to seeing Bigfoot…I mean Steve Smith.

      I certainly don’t miss Bush. I miss gridlock, because it’s the best we can hope for, sadly.

      1. Problem: when there was gridlock, there wasn’t. After all, it was a Democratic Congress that rubber-stamped Bush’s assaults on civil liberties, OK’d telecom immunity, and embrace bailouts. These guys are ultimately all on the same team, at least when the issue is increasing state power.

        1. The gridlock under the Clinton admin didn’t suck as hard as most years — R congress and D president is about the best you can hope for, which isn’t much.

          1. The gridlock under the Clinton admin didn’t suck as hard as most years — R congress and D president is about the best you can hope for, which isn’t much.

            The fuckers were just taking a breather! Best you can hope for? Dude, set your sights higher…my evening prayers always include a fervent desire for a DC meteor strike!

  10. Yeah, this op-ed was the straw that broke the camel’s back. If they’re not going to pretend, I’m not either. These people rule by nothing but naked force and fiat and the Constitution is a dead letter.

  11. I found the examples he used of great interest:

    “Research in Motion is learning a lesson that other companies have learned before. As we saw in 2000 with Yahoo’s failed attempt to maintain a forum to sell Nazi memorabilia in France, and with Google’s repeated attempts in recent years to deliver uncensored search results in China, no provider of information services is exempt from the power of the state. The stakes are simply too high for governments to cede the field to private interests alone.”

  12. I don’t see anything wrong with flogging as a judicial punishment. After conviction, obviously.

  13. Another thing the powers-that-be in the UAE have managed to avoid is putting a club in the Champions League… despite spending more money than a whole drunken yachting club. Better luck next year, jerkos!

    1. Yeah, their random-seeming spending on Man City hasn’t done them any good at all. Lots of Man City games on TV, though, including a TV station dedicated solely to the club and its games. 24/7. Non fucking stop.

      1. …including a TV station dedicated solely to the club and its games. 24/7. Non fucking stop.

        Wow, that’s moronic. Somewhat off-topic, did they wind up buying Donovan’s contract?

        1. Huh? City? Not that I know of. Everton was thinking about it, but he’s still toiling away in LA. Several clubs are reportedly interested.

  14. But but… teh terrorists might build a mosque in NYC! We must act now!

    1. The terrorists have already won: someone is building a gay bar next to the mosque.

  15. Given the way the F.C.C. operates, the prospect of it taking a swift, decisive action to make these services accessible to the government is almost inconceivable.


  16. Love those authoritarian states! They really know how to get things done.


    1. The trains in the UAE always run on time, as long as they remember to keep flogging the conductors.

      1. If only we could tap into the power of flogging! Green energy and great motivational power!

        1. Stimulus jobs in the UAE are always flog-ready.

    2. It ain’t just the right wing national security yahoos having a love affair with totaltarian governments. Thomas Freidman wrote this disgusting drivel in an NYT op-ed piece.

      One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages.

      1. Po-TAY-to

      2. Come on, J sub D. Do you want to live in the only industrialized country that has archaic notions like separation of powers and local control.

  17. I just don’t want to see pictures of these people anymore.

    Their words and actions are enough to make me want to cause them bodily harm…but THEN you have to add their smug-shots and I can’t do anything for 15mins except imagining my foot crushing their windpipe.

  18. I was in the room on the Hill for some of the original discussions on “digital telephony”, which eventually became CALEA. The funniest moment was when the FBI helpfully suggested that they could send someone to the POPs (points of presence) belonging to the carriers if they didn’t have the manpower to execute the taps.

    I believe the exact words from one carrier’s rep were “It’ll be a cold day in Hell before we let you into our POPs.”

    The resulting legislation wasn’t particularly desirable or well thought-out from my perspective, but when I look back on that meeting, I realize it could have been far, far worse.

    The thing that galled me was the utter lack of serious consideration for the security vulnerabilities introduced by the backdoors. There is already one good presentation available on the net about how one can subvert the “lawful intercept” capability on a major telecom equipment provider’s gear for all manner of nefarious purposes.

    1. Building in back doors makes about no sense if you want a secure system.

      1. The password is “JOSHUA”.

        1. How about a nice game of chess, professor Falkon?

  19. Awesome snark, Jacob!

  20. The State Department adds that “there were unverified reports of torture during the year,”

    That ain’t even the half of it. The case referenced here: http://www.hrw.org/en/news/200…..rture-case
    ended in total acquittal in a UAE court. It was fun being there when the decision was handed down. Surreal.

    1. “unverified reports,” you say?

      Why not verify these reports by arresting the alleged torturers without judicial process, and using ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ to discover whether they are, in fact, torturers?

      I can’t see anything wrong, morally, logically, legally or otherwise, with my idea. I mean, they’re torturers, right? Who cares about the “rights” of torturers?

      Or are you pro-torture?

      1. What the hell are you talking about?

        The link actually refers to Issa bin Zayed Al Nahyan (one of the SONS of the founder of the UAE) being acquitted of torture in a UAE court despite video evidence.

        The defense was that he was drugged, and the drugs made him run over the Afghan guy with his vehicle several times (the guy miraculously survived and was present during the case).

        1. Actually, the link doesn’t mention the acquittal since the trial hadn’t been conducted yet. However, I can confirm that he was acquitted in a total bullshit verdict, since I was in the country at the time and it was pretty big news.

  21. The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized unless it’s kind of inconvenient for police, intelligence services, etc.

    1. Got to have random drug testing, you know!

  22. So if Team Red are statist knobslobbers who like to spy on you because you might be a terrahist, and Team Blue are statist knobslobbers who like to spy on you because you might not be paying your fair share, who am I supposed to root for?

    1. The four horsemen

  23. Makes me want to go buy a Blackberry to show my support…

    1. But they’re giving in…

  24. When we have a high-ranking former domestic official openly admiring a third-world dictatorship, and it isn’t big news…..

  25. Several drug-warriors have openly voiced their admiration for Mao, and his policy of murdering opium addicts. Compared to that, this would-be Stasi fuck Falkenrath is rather mild.

  26. One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks.But China does very well in this aspect

  27. Just one more reason to ‘go galt’; one more reason to walk away from the whole mess. But where? Ah, there’s the rub.

  28. It’s the next day and this schlub hasn’t been fired yet? So much for “hope and change.” But I suppose some scumbags in FDR’s administration admired the efficiency of the state security police, too.

  29. Just one more reason to ‘go galt’; one more reason to walk away from the whole mess. But where? Ah, there’s the rub.

    I’m off to Panama in December to kick the tires. You might also look into Costa Rica and Uruguay (although Uruguay is doing some hinky things to their tax code, so be careful).

    Look, if I’m going to live in a corrupt kleptocracy, I’d just as soon live in one that didn’t have a nanny state slathered on top of it. Not to mention that at least in Latin America, the bribes are cheap, the cost of living is lower, and the weather is better.

    My biggest concern is that I won’t be able to get out and get into a position to resign my citizenship before the fiscal collapse comes and assets are confiscated.

  30. Falkenrath’s allegiance must rest with
    another country as this country is
    dedicated to the free and the brave.
    People like you made your own bed
    of corruption. Americans are fighting
    back. Long live the Patriots and may
    you succumb to the deserts. If we did
    not have such a crooked government,
    all these inside terrorists acts would
    never have been planted. Brainwashing
    and brain torture. Blame it on the
    other guy with fake pictures.

  31. you can find whatever watch you want on my name

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