Today's Blogs

En Guard

Bloggers try to make sense of an apparent decision by the Bush administration to designate an Iranian military wing a terrorist organization, and they are thoroughly creeped out by China’s new ultra-zoom street-corner surveillance.

En guard: The Bush administration “may soon” announce that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corp—the largest section of the country’s military—is now a terrorist organization. It’s long been accused of sponsoring al-Qaida in Iraq, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Hamas in Palestine, but critics worry that by targeting a state agency as indistinguishable from enemy combatants, the United States is headed for yet another war in the Middle East.

Counterterrorism wonk Douglas Farah writes that the Quds force—the Revolutionary Guard’s most elite unit—is, much like ragtag members of the Mahdi Army in Iraq, not beholden to a central authority: “The Force seems to be the interlocutor between the Iranian military apparatus and al Qaeda, a relationship that has waxed and waned over time. Despite the strong hatred that often exists between Shi’ite and Sunni groups, they can, on occasion, work together.”

Liberal Matthew Yglesias is unsurprisingly dour: “It’s taken a few years, but we’ve managed to move now from a situation in the winter 2001-2002 where the US and Iran were cooperating against our mutual deadly foe—al-Qaeda—to one where Iran is officially one of the enemies in an open-ended struggle against God knows whom.” And leftist Will Bunch at Attytood * thinks the new designation is a shrewd political move by a White House bent on another war: “How could Bush stage an attack on Iran without the authorization of a skeptical, Democratic Congress? Today, the White House has solved that pesky problem in one fell swoop. By explicitly linking the Iranian elite guard into the post 9/11 ‘global war on terror’ in Iraq and Afghanistan, Bush’s lawyers would certainly now argue that any military strike on Iran is now covered by the October 2002 authorization to use military force in Iraq, as part of their overly sweeping response to the 2001 attacks.”

Conservative Michael Rubin at the National Review’s Corner notes an important contradiction: “Given that the Iranian ambassador in Baghdad, Hassan Kazemi Qomi, is a commander in the Qods Force, an elite Revolutionary Guards’ unit, does this also mean that it is U.S. policy to negotiate with terrorists?”

Righty Allah at Hot Air wonders about one thing: “How odd that Bush would make that move before Petraeus’s progress report, though. One of the selling points of the new strategy for the left is that we’ve begun meeting, however tenuously and painfully, with Iran to discuss Iraqi security. This is going to make the negotiations more difficult than they already were, which only makes it easier for the left to say that we haven’t made any real progress on the diplomatic front either so we might as well pack it in.” One more question, this time from Jane Roh at the National Journal’s Gate: “There’s nothing in either account in the Washington Post or New York Times that indicates the topic is highly controversial within the administration. Heated internal debates have fueled quite a few leaks to the press from individuals alarmed by one executive action or the other. So, why leak the news when both papers report the unprecedented decision is all but a done deal?”

Read more about the Revolutionary Guard’s supposed new terrorist label.

Somebody’s watching you: Shenzhen, a Chinese city of more than 12 million people, is the test site for a new policy of citizen surveillance. The government is installing 20,000 police cameras that, in conjunction with American-made computer technology, can recognize the faces of passers-by and cull information on them as detailed as religion, medical-insurance status, and number of offspring. Police will also have access to, on request, 180,000 cameras operated by business and local agencies.

Hrafn Thorri Thórisson at Think Artificial isn’t thrilled that China of all countries is spearheading this program, but doesn’t “see much wrong with using AI software to track faces, provided that they’re used through highest security standards to prevent humans from abusing it. There isn’t any difference in having the eyes of police officers on the street than the eyes of one’s and zero’s. If anything, it’s better, because what the system sees doesn’t need to be revealed unless criminal activity is detected and hence our privacy gets better protection.”

“[W]ill the system work?” asks Gareth Powell at China Economic Review. “And the probability is that it will not. It sounds like a computer sales executive’s dream but the difficulties in making such a system operate without falling over are immense. Any consultant or analyst who has been involved in such proceedings will agree that the programming and technical problems involved are several magnitudes more difficult than, say, a banking system.”

Darryl Mason at Your New Reality points out that because Texan and Californian companies are sponsoring the new program, there’s a good chance Asia is field-testing technology that’ll soon come to the West. “That there is so little opposition to an ultra-surveillance state, as personified by the participation of hundreds of millions of people on social network sites, like MySpace and Facebook, who are easily encouraged to share the most intimate details of their lives, their thoughts, emotions and spending habits, surely would have surprised the likes of George Orwell and Aldous Huxley.”

Read more about Shenzhen’s surveillance program.

Correction, Aug. 16, 2007: The article originally misspelled the name of Will Bunch’s blog Attytood. (Return to the corrected sentence.)