$52.6bn and still PRISM etc can't tell the President what he needs

The Washington Post may not have leaked as much as the Guardian but its use of what it found raises wider questions regarding value for money. Add the House of Commons vote last week (and what it says about backbench belief in what our Intelligence Services were told by the Americans and Israelis) and it looks as though we may have crossed a watershed.

I look forward to hearing that the biggest losers from Edward Snowden’s revelations will prove to be those who charged so much to glean so little from their semi-privatised and outsourced surveillance operations. Similarly, if the vote in Congress next week also goes against a “firework display designed to bring about regime collapse”, I look forward to hearing that the biggest losers are the manufacturers of Cruise Missiles and associated high-tech weaponry.

Avoiding a descent into an even bloodier conflict between Salafists and Alawites will, however, also require a much more nuanced understanding of Islam. Most Westerners have no concept of the gulf between those who believe in the mandatory power of tradition and those who believe in Itjihad : rational thinking and the struggle of the mind to understand the will of God in any given situation. That gulf creates divisions between different Sunni groups that are every big as great as those between Creationists and mainstream Protestants. And the gulf between the Alawites and mainstream Shia groups is nearly as great.

Until we begin to understand the differences we will fail to work with those whose traditions of civilsation and democracy date back for at least half a  millenium before the Western World emerged from, bloody ignorance. In cosequence we will destroy that which we are supposedly seeking to support.

At this point I would also like to contrast the power of the Internet in enabling individual research and free-thinking with its danger in creating cyber-ghettoes within which like-minded individuals reinforce each others prejudices. During my recent browsing I have “eavesdropped” on a wide variety of introverted groups, from cyber-security and military to civil liberties and faith groups. I have been struck by the absence of understanding of the views of “others”.

The only genuine meeting of minds between most cyber-security experts and civil liberties devotees is usually when they come face to face, with the prospect of contimuing debate in the pub afterwards. Similarly, those faith groups which accept that God is Love (not the letter of any law) can have constructive face to face over neutral fruit juice. Bringing the alcoholics and the teetotalers together is rather harder