William Palfrey was the epitome of a patriot-diplomat. He had served as John Hancock’s chief clerk, and when American forces captured the British ship Nancy and its prized cargo of weapons during the Revolutionary War, General George Washington himself charged Palfrey with off-loading its contents. Washington then appointed Palfrey as paymaster-general of the continental army.
In 1780, Congress appointed Palfrey America’s first consul, our government’s first formal representative to another state, and in December of that year Palfrey set sail from Pennsylvania on the Shillala bound for Bordeaux. Yet, after a stop in Delaware, the 16-gun ship was never heard from again. America’s lone consul had been lost at sea.
Fast forward to August 2013. Intercepted messages from al-Qaeda operatives hinting at attacks on U.S. diplomatic posts lead the Obama Administration to temporarily close 22 U.S. embassies and consulates across the Middle East and North Africa. Former U.S. ambassador Chris Hill called the move “unprecedented.” Twelve tanks formed a ring around the U.S. embassy in Yemen.
Clearly, much has changed since William Palfrey set sail 1780. Yet, the enduring question remains: How should America balance its need for diplomatic representation across the globe against the risks to the individuals charged with carrying out such work? The State Department Wall of Honor currently lists 244 names, and 30 more are currently being considered for inclusion. A closer examination of the 274 American diplomats and aid workers killed in the line of duty reveals some important implications for how we interact with the world.
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Okay, I now have definitive proof that al Qaeda has actually won. It hasn’t achieved the dissolution of the United States, or succeeded in murdering millions of Americans, or re-established the Caliphate, but it has caused our government to debase itself in the name of security. To wit:
My mother-in-law was traveling home to Rhode Island from Washington Reagan airport this past Tuesday night when, passing through the TSA naked-porno machine, she triggered an alarm. […]
She entered the machine and struck the humiliating pose one is forced to strike — hands up, as in an armed robbery — and then walked out, when she was asked by a TSA agent, in a voice loud enough for several people to hear, “Are you wearing a sanitary napkin?”
Remember, she’s 79.
My mother-in-law answered, “No. Why do you ask?”
The TSA agent responded: “Well, are you wearing anything else down there?”
Yes, “down there.”
She said no, at which point, the friend with whom she was traveling, also a not-young volunteer library advocate, came over and asked if there was a problem.
The TSA agent said, again, in full voice, “There’s an anomaly in the crotch area.”
The U.S. Department of Homeland security is working on a project called FAST, the Future Attribute Screening Technology, which is some crazy straight-out-of-sci-fi pre-crime detection and prevention software which may come to an airport security screening checkpoint near you someday soon. Yet again the threat of terrorism is being used to justify the introduction of super-creepy invasions of privacy, and lead us one step closer to a turn-key totalitarian state. This may sound alarmist, but in cases like this a little alarm is warranted. FAST will remotely monitor physiological and behavioral cues, like elevated heart rate, eye movement, body temperature, facial patterns, and body language, and analyze these cues algorithmically for statistical aberrance in an attempt to identify people with nefarious intentions. There are several major flaws with a program like this, any one of which should be enough to condemn attempts of this kind to the dustbin.
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Two suicide bombers attacked recruits at a paramilitary training center in northwest Pakistan on Friday, killing 80 people and wounding 120 more in what a spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban called “the first revenge of Osama’s martyrdom,” according to AFP. The spokesman, who claimed responsibility for the attack, warned of future attacks in Afghanistan and in Pakistan against Americans, and told the AP that the Taliban was also punishing the Pakistani army for failing to “protect its land” during the bin Laden raid—a criticism that has become quite popular in Pakistan these days. Today’s bombing in Pakistan’s Charsadda district near Peshawar, the AP notes, is the first major militant attack in Pakistan since bin Laden’s death and the deadliest this year.
Read more at The Atlantic Wire
Graeme Wood ponders the future of prisons without walls.