Ends and Means

I have just read the memoir of Michael Hayden, USAF General and former head of both NSA and CIA. The book is interesting and mostly well-written. It appears, as much as such a memoir could be, honest and truthful.

The torture of detainees undertaken by CIA personnel took place before Hayden was Director, so he could absolve himself of it completely. But, as he did while Director and subsequently, he defends strongly and bravely his CIA staff, who acted under what they believed were legal orders and within what they believed to be constitutional limits. This defence is admirable.

How one could imagine that torture would be legal under a constitution which prohibits cruel or unusual punishments remains one of the great mysteries of our age.  Hayden, however, also defends the torture itself.  He does so on grounds of effectiveness, grounds which are demonstrably, and which have repeatedly been demonstrated to be, spurious.  It is no good Hayden, or any other official paid by the public purse, saying “trust me, I know”.  We live in a democracy, and we need, we citizens ourselves, to see the evidence.  It has not ever been provided, at least not definitively and uncontestably.

Such a defence is essentially that the end justifies the means.  As a Roman Catholic, Hayden should appreciate the counter-argument that rebuts this defence: that certain means may vitiate, or irredeemably taint, the ends.   So, even if using torture were to be more effective than not using it, we still should not use it.   We should not because torture is contrary to our values as a humane, civilized, society, respectful of  human dignity, and because using it undermines any claims we may have to moral superiority over our terrorist enemy.

Like players cheating in sports, support for torture shows what sort of person you are, and what values you consider important. Hayden seems like an intelligent, thoughtful, and humane person, so it is a great pity that he, and others in the Bush 43 administration, came to view torture as acceptable. Not everyone in CIA thought so, which was, indeed, how we citizens came to learn about the secret detention camps and the torture in the first place.

Michael V Hayden [2016]: Playing to the Edge: American Intelligence in the Age of Terror.   New York: Penguin Press.

Scotland under cyber attack?

In the past, global empires such as those of Rome or Britain or France could face attacks from anywhere across the empire.   Britain, for instance, fought Imperial wars in Southern Africa and Afghanistan.   The Internet takes us back to that situation – any country, no matter how small or obscure, potentially faces cyber espionage or incursions or attacks from people anywhere in the world.   Ask Estonia or Denmark, both small countries that came under attack from cyber attackers.
The Roman Empire never did manage to subdue the belligerent peoples in what is now Scotland.   How ironic, then, that Scots nationalists seem not to have realized that an independent nation will need to defend itself from global attack.   MP Rory Stewart has reminded them, asking some hard, clear-light-of-day, questions about the romantic, candle-lit, vision of Scottish independence.   Questioning Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s Deputy First Minister, who was appearing before the UK House of Commons Committee on Foreign Affairs, Stewart asked about independent Scotland’s plans for intelligence and security:

Sturgeon came under repeated pressure from the Tory MP for Penrith and the Border, Rory Stewart, a former army officer and Foreign Office diplomat, to explain how an independent Scotland would build, equip, train and fund its own spying and security services.
Stewart said the UK’s current annual spying and security budget did not include the total historic costs of building and equipping its intelligence services, from setting up secure intelligence units in overseas embassies, training its agents, to building and equipping GCHQ.
It would cost billions, he said, to set up the secure communications Scotland needed for its intelligence agencies. For instance, if an independent Scotland wanted to have the same number of embassies overseas as Ireland, which has 97, or Finland, which has 93, it would cost hundreds of millions to equip them.”