We can be sure that the discussions in such data reviews will never include such raw references to the realities of the looming drone attack as "murder," "elimination," or "killing the family." Instead, a special euphemistic jargon is used to make sure no members of the Triad are made uncomfortable, and there are many ways to ensure that they will reach the right decision. The so-called "MYCIN" system comes to mind. This technique is well-known in medical diagnostic circles: it analyzes the symptoms of a disease and produces a diagnosis for the doctor to look at that has the greatest probability of being correct. I once worked with this technique, and, although it is quite ingenious, it has the drawback that it can give you a pretty certain diagnosis that you have either cholera or the stomach flue. Of course, the doctor then makes the final diagnostic judgment based on his experience, education and gut feelings.
All this means that our Triad is expected to play the role of a doctor; in the end, they must come up with a decision. But here the similarity ends. Unlike the doctor, who can ask for additional tests or reject the MYCIN results entirely, the Triad has no such power. They are there only to give a go-ahead or to reject; they have no feedback capability, since it is assumed that all the preliminary deliberation has been done for them.
Now, let's consider this. If the Triad members are in fact relieved of all "ethics subroutines," what criteria can they use to make their life-or-death decision? If they give a go-ahead for the drone strike and the machine does its job, the goal and purpose of their activity will be accomplished, and their pay will have been earned. If the machine for some reason were to fail to kill the target--that would be the machine's fault and the members of the Triad could still say they did their best. If, on the other hand, the Triad members themselves were to decide against the strike, they would bring upon themselves a long and grueling explanation process. In that process, they would undoubtedly be viewed as the brakes on an otherwise perfectly lubricated process--which could well lead to their replacement. In making their decision, therefore, the members of the Triad already know that, while nobody will disparage or replace them for killing, not only will nobody reward them for stopping the kill, but they are almost certain to suffer for doing so. Considering those realities, what decision do you think the Triad members will almost inevitably make after watching the PowerPoint presentation? Knowing human nature, isn't it obvious that with time they will make a go-ahead decision in their minds even before the data is presented to them? And what will then become of them?
As we unravel the "decision tree" process step-by-step, we should acknowledge this inconvenient truth: that secret bureaucratic agencies have a life of their own. Each one is an organism whose sole purpose is to make sure its existence is justified, to continue to receive funding and support, and to survive. It will do ANYTHING to meet those objectives, just as any one of us would do as an individual in similar circumstances. That insight leads to one inescapable conclusion: that honest, moral people with high professional integrity cannot be a part of an insulated bureaucratic mechanism: they contradict its very purpose and its needs.
That said, however, we are left with an obvious question: In this dangerous world, how can we deal with issues of security in the absence of secret agencies? What can replace them? I would argue that it is not these entities in themselves, or the people who work in them, that are the problem, but the goals they serve. The goals must never be immoral. They must never be tied to unlawful actions, to violations of other nations' sovereignty, or to any kind of activity we ourselves would not tolerate if it were perpetrated against us. Really, folks, would we want some Chinese Triad to decide our life or death? That would be a bad call. Then why are we allowing such depredations to develop on our grounds and function in our name? Can you imagine the wave of fear and hate we create? After all, those goals and activities of the secret organizations are defined by us, for us and executed in our name.
One of the most shameful moments of my youth is associated with the concept of a neutron bomb. The idea of that weapon was to kill only humans, or any other living beings, while leaving buildings and civil infrastructures intact. I remember discussing such bombs when I was young and stupid and cocky with other teenage boys who were also all hormones and no brains and wanted to look cool and senseless. I remember how much the concept fascinated us, how we liked it, how we approved of the idea of making war so clean and perfect. To me the notion that you could just evaporate all those people who were pursued as your enemies turned war into an exciting video game. I remember us laughing, clueless idiots that we were.
What a shame. Now in
my fifties and a parent myself, having read all the books about World War II,
whatever happened in my hometown and
elsewhere, I have certainly changed. I learned how far the Germans actually
went in "eliminating all the humans," and about the nuclear bombardment of
Japan. Then, when I saw what our own forces did and what we here had become, I
became deeply ashamed. I will forever carry that shame, and it helps
me. It keeps me immune from the naïve and dangerous notions I carried with me
as a boy. I am not a teenager anymore.
I only wish we could all grow up. If we did that, we would realize
that, for us, the primary objective of organizations
that bring death by the soulless machinery of bureaucracy should be to eventually go out of business. Such organizations have existed,
and still exist, due to our failure to make the world a better place. They
exist because of our fear, our worries, our shallowness and our ignorance. They
exist because we are not sure of ourselves.
We issue licenses to kill
because we are afraid. It is time to stop being afraid and to revoke those licenses once and for all. We
started the insanity and we must stop it. It is all about us.