I once attended a lecture by the Irish surgeon Denis Burkitt, original identifier of a childhood lymphoma of central Africa, and subsequent champion of a high fibre diet based - as I recall he said - on the careful observation of African turds. It was a good lecture. He observed the incidence of diseases in Africans who lived in the bush and those who lived in the city under the conditions of Western urbanization. The short summary is that the urban Africans developed the afflictions of current civilization (diabetes, hypertension, obesity, diverticulitis etc.), and their turds got distinctively smaller. He suggested that one difference was the amount of dietary fibre.
What does this have to do with the National Security Agency?
Burkitt showed two cartoons about medical research. The first was of a scientist observing disease at smaller and smaller levels with bigger and bigger magnifying glasses, and the second showed Burkitt observing disease from a hot air balloon by means of a telescope. It was a convincing pitch for epidemiology, trying to see patterns from a distance. I'm still trying to find the cartoons.
The National Security Agency seems to be collecting all the information in the world, in order to analyze it by very sophisticated means, with bigger and bigger magnifying glasses, in order to prevent terrorism. Terrorism is not defined. This has resulted most recently in a nonspecific terror alert for the entire world, probably in the Middle East and Africa, but maybe not ('"It's crazy-pants—you can quote me," said Will McCants, a former State Department adviser'). Americans and Brits are leaving Yemen like it was radioactive. What is being retailed by the American National Security State is increased "chatter". Really? Multiple billions have been spent on "intelligence" and that's your best shot?
From the hot air balloon, it is obvious that the United States has been bombing Yemen for years, killing innocent people along the way, bombing that on its face is illegal. For starters, it contravenes Section of the UN Charter (Article 2 Paragraph 4), which in fact, the United States has signed. That's without getting into the Geneva Conventions of 1949, that the US has also signed, including Common Article 3, grave breaches of which (like murder) are war crimes. It doesn't matter what the American Congress has authorized.
This would particularly be my view if I was the one of the Yemenis being bombed. As Jeremy Scahill and his colleagues have courageously shown, the result is mayhem not favourable to the United States. My understanding is that the Strategic Bombing Survey after World War 2 showed much the same thing: bombing made little difference except really pissing off the local population being bombed. That of course did not stop bombing enthusiasts from concluding air power was decisive, as it was in, say, North Vietnam or Libya, where the benefits have been obvious.
In any case if, after illegally bombing a country for some period of time, your multibillion dollar intelligence agency can only tell you there is "chatter" in the Middle East and Africa, possibly Yemen, then you don't have an intelligence agency, you have idiots savants who can't distinguish between small turds and big ones, or even know turds when they see them.
My own country is no better. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service has produced a vague but menacing report in May, 2013, without attribution, or really, evidence (most sources, but not all, were newspaper reports or papers from foundations) seeing the future of al Qaeda. As opposed to this, this, or this.
Is that helpful?This report contains the results of a research project led by the academic outreach program of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) to explore the future of the Al-Qaeda phenomenon. It consists of alternative future scenarios developed during a workshop, as well as four original papers written by individual specialists at the request of CSIS. The report is not an analytical document and does not represent any formal assessment or position of CSIS or the Government of Canada. All components of the project were held under Chatham House rule; therefore, the identity of the authors and the participants is not disclosed.