Tuesday, April 16, 2013

After a tragic event, let's remember that First Amendment and Second Amendment rights are linked

It is very early in the investigation of the terrible event at the Boston Marathon Monday, but the earliest evidence tends to suggest relatively amateurish, homemade devices (the "pressure cooker" according to recent reports), possibly by a small group or even one individual, possibly domestic and not foreign-sponsored.
Already, a few reporters have noted that directions for making such devices are available on the Internet, as would be devices making more powerful or dangerous devices such as those often speculated about in the media since 9/11. CNN discusses the articles based on AQAP ("Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula") in conjunction with "lone wolf" activity here
There could occur a natural parallel to the gun debate, that the facility to post “dangerous” speech is a hazard to others and should be curtailed, just as in the gun control debate there is a philosophical divide over whether or how we should all become our “brother’s keepers”.   I had touched on this point as a moral issue on a Dec, 18, 2012 posting about a sermon given here in Arlington VA  at a local Presbyterian church.
But of course, much of this information is available overseas anyway, and much of it is passed among extremist groups  and militia “hand to mouth”, so it is quite questionable how much role the Internet plays in abetting incidents like these.  They have always occurred.  Posting such details would probably violate the TOS of most mainstream ISP’s and service providers. 
In fact, in the normal process of education, people come into potentially “dangerous” information as a matter of course.  Information you learn in high school chemistry (and have to know to pass the SOL’s in Virginia, at least) could be misused.   In the Army, people learn to use weapons.  In Army Basic, I learned how to take apart, clean, and reassemble an M-14, and even for someone as clumsy as me, it wasn’t hard.  This information and know-how is ubiquitous. 

CNN, on AC360 Wednesday, offered a counter to this insinuation, suggesting that investigators should use "crowd sourcing" of user-generated videos and images to help catch perpetrators. 
I can remember right after 9/11 that authorities expressed concern over the possibility that amateur websites (well before the age of social media and blogs as we know them today) could be hijacked by terrorists for the purpose of planting “steganographic” cues for further action.  But this plausible development did not actually occur as far as I know.   However, one posting on another site of mine in which I talked about the nuclear threat was hacked in April 2002, but no such other incident occurred thereafter. 
On Saturday, April 13, I reviewed a book by Michael Maloof (“A Nation Forsaken”) in which the author mentions the idea that directions for terrible weapons like RF or flux devices can be found on the Internet and even mentions examples.   I have known about the possibility of such devices being made or used ever since I was in the Army (in 1969), and have the long-held impression that  (fortunately) making or deploying them is much more difficult than some writers and publications have suggested.  The mainstream press has not discussed these very much (focusing mainly on nuclear and radioactive devices).  Nevertheless, as someone who inherited some utility stocks, I may be in a position to investigate myself, with some objectivity, how well prepared the power grid and Internet is to defend itself against what sound like (as discussed in some publications) existential threats.   

Picture: Near GWU in Washington DC as I returned to the Metro some time after learning of the event on the cell phone.  The robin on the brick stump looked right at me and wouldn't budge.  

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