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Technology: The Best Tool To Target Terrorism?

OK, this time it’s personal. It hasn’t been, lately; I’ve been watching the recent carnage in a sort of state of shock. It seems surreal, as if it can’t really be happening. Not part of my world. Too horrible. And sad. And depressing.

Promenade des AnglaisSo, sometimes it’s just easier to distance yourself and hope it goes away; only it won’t. I knew that last Thursday night when I turned on my TV.

There it was: the Promenade des Anglais in Nice. One of my favorite places in the world. I’ve walked that Promenade more times than I can count. You see, our great friends J.L. and M. live there. Since our now fully-grown kids were little we have gone there for extended vacations to stay with them and live the life in the Sunny South of France.

Promenade des Anglais
Promenade des Anglais

We’re not rich, just lucky to have such wonderful friends who let us stay with them – and lucky that the best things in life are free. Like the Promenade. It costs nothing to stroll along, piercing azure blue water on one side, beautiful old Art Deco buildings like Hotel Negresco lining the other. It’s magic. Don’t even get me started on the beautiful people lying on the beach – it’s the French Riviera after all!

But the real point about the Promenade is that it’s much more than just a street. It’s the center of a thriving, cultured, vibrant city, with families and children gathering there in nice weather to just walk along, smile at familiar faces, enjoy the sun and the sea and the fresh salt air. And Be. In Nice. It’s the Center of the Universe when you’re there.

When I saw the truck I blanched. NO! That was not the same sidewalk I was just walking along a few weeks ago. When Martine was recovering from a medical problem a several years ago, the very first thing she wanted to do when we showed up, after she had been basically housebound for a year, was to walk the Promenade. So we did. Cruising down the giant sidewalk, arm in arm, slowly making progress in more ways than one, as we strolled along. We weren’t going anywhere. We were already there. Healing in the warm sun’s rays.

That street means a lot to us.

But there’s more to it than that. I have a confession to make.

I could have stopped this from happening.

Maybe.

I don’t know. 

Cours Saleyah
Cours Saleyah

When we were there a few weeks ago we were walking through the main market, Cours Saleyah. Suddenly I looked up and saw my wife flying sideways through the air, as if she was being fired from a canon, and some maniac marching away from her in a state of rage or something, almost running but looking more like Incredible Hulk out for a brisk walk.

It was bizarre. I didn’t see him bump into her and was not sure what had happened. It was all so fast (sound familiar?),  I was torn between running to my wife’s side and chasing after the guy. I opted for my wife, but I really wanted to go after him.

Then, the lawyer side of me kicked in, I realized that the best that would probably come of it would be that I managed to kick his butt. And spend the rest of our visit sitting in a French jail. Or, let’s face it, much more likely at my age, he would have kicked my butt and I would’ve spent the rest of the visit lying in a French hospital bed.

The thought occurred to me to run looking for a cop, but I knew how that would go… [French cop talking into his radio:  “Sarge, I’ve got some old American guy in a tizzy here, rambling on about how some guy bumped into his wife in the market and walked off without apologizing and he wants me to go find him and arrest him. The only description he can give me is “an angry Arab looking guy”. ]

I can hear them laughing from here. So, I checked on my wife to make sure she was OK (amazingly she was). And let it go. Even after JL came running up trying to pump me up to “Go get that guy!”, who was now long gone, lost in the crowd…

Bouhlel - Terrorism

When I saw the Mad Truck Driver’s photo on TV I blanched again. He looked familiar. OMG! It couldn’t be. And honestly I’m sure it probably wasn’t him. But what if it was? What if I had managed to get a cop to intervene a few weeks ago when this happened? I learned the guy was on probation. That might have landed him in jail so he could celebrate Bastille Day by watching the fireworks from inside a locked cell instead of mowing down babies in strollers.

I wanted to throw up.

I learned more watching CNN. We have been to Nice many, many times, always with our kids until they were out on their own.  I never once, not ever, was warned that Nice was a major recruiting center for ISIS, that their main recruiter was a French National from Nice, or that it was considered basically the regional HQ in Europe for that band of murdering thugs. Who knew? I didn’t know.

But there they were. The experts. Pundits talking about how Nice was THE hotbed for terrorists in all of Europe. I about fell over.

Which brings me to my point.

IF I had known that, I WOULD have gone more than out of my way to follow up with the cops. When it happened, I turned to our little group and said, “That guy is the type of guy who is a terrorist, the way he intentionally plowed into us without batting an eye. It’s the mark of a real sociopath.” Or words to that effect. Expletives have been deleted.

Where does that leave us? In a post I wrote right after the big Paris attacks I suggested that this fight is all about intelligence and information sharing and adopting more of an international law enforcement approach to obliterating these criminals from our lives.

They are first and foremost criminals. The fact that they seem to recruit the dregs of society, frequently people with criminal records, like this guy or the Charlie Hebdo murderers, says it all. They are not waging war. They are brutally mass murdering people in cold blood with cold calculated premeditation and intent. I don’t know about you, but where I come from we call that Aggravated Murder.

But here’s the real rub. I’m an international criminal lawyer who’s worked on criminal cases on three continents, my buddy J.L. is an expert on Middle Eastern issues who likes to talk about this stuff all night (he wrote a book about Qatar years before most Americans had ever heard of the place), my former classmate from Stanford Law, Ron Noble, was the Secretary General of Interpol for years until he retired recently, and I spend oodles of time in Nice.

And I did not know that Nice was the hotbed for Jihadi terrorists in Europe?

WHY ON EARTH NOT???

When I say it’s about information it’s not brain surgery. It’s basic. People need to get involved. It is not going to go away by itself, and it’s not going to go away because a bunch of guys in uniforms start detaining everyone with Arab roots. What we need is a centralized international database, where information can be collected, organized and analyzed and, ultimately, reviewed by a coordinated international agency that has access to all of the combined collected data that exists in the world regarding terrorism.

Sound impossible? Guess again. Ever go online to look for golf clubs? Wonder why when you go to check the weather there’s a photo of a shiny new set of clubs beaming out at you right next to “Today’s Temperature”? Data mining is the entire reason companies like Google and Facebook and Amazon are so huge.

Everything we do, read, say, everywhere we go, eat, shop is collected, organized, analyzed and acted upon instantly. Why can’t we do that with terrorism? Am I being hopelessly naïve, just demonstrating my ignorance about technology? Maybe I just don’t know. But how come Facebook already knows that I just looked up Hotel Negresco to check the spelling as I wrote this?

There’s some more to this tech piece.

Anonymous - TerrorismAnonymous, a group I find endlessly interesting, manage to jam and disrupt and invade any database they feel like at will. They hack and search and destroy information with gay abandon whenever the mood strikes them.

So how come the United States Government with super duper technology experts by the thousands, hacking away all day for the NSA and CIA and the rest, how come they can’t manage to take down all the ISIS propaganda web sites promoting terrorism? I mean, how hard can that be? I don’t know. I’m just asking.

Back before Thanksgiving I was complaining that the international approach needs to change. And improve. We need to apply the same level of technology and expertise we use to sell people golf clubs (and make lots of money) to fight terrorism (and protect lives).

This is so long overdue.

 

I know plenty of this is already happening. But I am also sure, watching all of the governmental dysfunction going on right now, from Brexit to Trump to Coups in Istanbul, that it isn’t being implemented properly. That has to stop.

What needs to start is a world wide web (sound familiar?) of cooperation and sophisticated information sharing, devoid of turf wars and political agendas, with dedicated professionals focused on one thing and one thing only: Eradicating terrorism and murder. Implementing internationally shared data mining to collect information from ordinary citizens like me, after letting us know what to look for and where to report it.

I know NSA is checking my phone calls, but I also know that there was nowhere for me to easily go to report that nut in Nice. If there had been, and if I had known Nice was a problem spot, maybe none of this would have happened. Who knows? I don’t know.

Oh, but of course there is the whole invasion of privacy Big Brother owning and controlling your life and potential rampant vigilante-ism downside to all of this.

About that? Hmmm. I don’t know.

 

 

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