Posted by Curt on 2 January, 2015 at 11:08 am. Be the first to comment!


Richard Fernandez:

An acquaintance related a conversation he had with a friend from South Asia.  ”Americans are bad people,” the South Asian said. “Why do you say that?” my friend asked. “Because president Obama is a bad man and Americans share in the guilt for electing him.” Welcome to the world of guilt by association, a theory with a long and bloody history which is making a comeback on the world stage.  In ancient China the most severe punishment for a crime was the so-called “nine familial exterminations [1]“. This is the epitome of collective punishment. The nine familial exterminations were:

typically associated with offenses such as treason, the punishment involved the execution of all relatives of an individual, which were categorized into nine groups. The occurrence of this punishment was somewhat rare, with relatively few sentences recorded throughout history. There were also variants of the punishment found in ancient Korea and Vietnam.

The practice has not completely died out as Vladimir Putin [2] has recently demonstrated. He made news in Russia by incarcerating “the apparently apolitical younger brother of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, in what seems like an effort to ensure his good behavior.” It’s not quite as severe as the “nine familial exterminations” of ancient China, but it is an idea in the same vein.

taking hostages from the family of political rivals was a common practice in Europe during the Middle Ages and indeed in feudal societies around the world. A political leader would demand high-ranking captives, often the sons of lesser nobles, as evidence of their good faith in pledging him their allegiance, or take hostages to ensure safe passage or a truce during wartime. Hostages served as guarantees for international treaties.

Modern terrorism is in many ways just a revival of customary tribal retaliation or the application of ‘guilt by association’. The September 11 hijackers had no particular beef with the individuals in the World Trade Center. They were out to slaughter anyone in New York. None of the people in New York had to be individually guilty of anything. They were simply the most handy targets available to expiate the collective Western guilt for its real or imagined offenses against Islam.

The participants of the Jihad see it as a matter of “them” against “us”. Even though Western politicians are at pains to deny there is any “them”, “they” know who “they” are, despite the fact that “we” do not acknowledge who “we” are.  ’Us’ versus ‘them’ pervades everything. When the Taliban could not strike at the Pakistan military directly it struck at the Pakistani Army Public School [3] in Peshawar.  The hand-wringing articles asking why innocent children were attacked miss the point completely.  To the Taliban there are no “innocent children”.  In a world of collective guilt there is naturally only collective punishment.

The clash between the culture of collective punishment and the Western idea of individual guilt was on display when the FBI decided to investigate reports that private companies were privately retaliating against hackers who had attacked their companies. Michael Riley and Jordan Robertson write in Bloomberg [4] that the FBI is jealously reserving the administration’s right to act against hackers — or not to act against them.

U.S. officials have shown little appetite to intervene as banks, retailers, casinos, power companies and manufacturers have been targeted by foreign-based hackers. Private-sector companies doing business in the U.S. have few clear options for striking back on their own.

That has led a growing number of companies to push the limits of existing law to consider ways to break into hackers’ networks to retrieve stolen data or even knock computers offline to stop attacks, the cybersecurity professionals said in interviews. Some companies are enlisting cybersecurity firms, many with military or government security ties, to walk them through options for disrupting hacker operations or peering into foreign networks to find out what intellectual property hackers may have stolen.

In one case, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is looking into whether hackers working on behalf of any U.S. financial institutions disabled servers that were being used by Iran to attack the websites of major banks last year, said two people familiar with the investigation. JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) advocated such a move in a closed meeting in February 2013, these people said. A bank spokeswoman said no action was ever taken. Federal investigators are still trying to determine who was responsible, the people said.

As far as the authorities are concerned, only the collective state may legitimately mete out justice —  then only upon the guilty individual. This is the exact reverse of an individual or individual company engaged in retaliation against a collective target.  Unfortunately hacking by its very nature is designed to obfuscate the precise source of the attack. You can sometimes identify only the Usual Suspects.  And you cannot retaliate against the Usual Suspects.  You can only punish convicted individuals.

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