Saturday, March 14, 2009
There are two separate issues here (usually I do three so I am getting better,) First is the question as to whether there are any circumstances that justify the government either directly or through a regulated agent inquiring into a persons religious or political beliefs. The second issue is as to whether if there is any such justification there is a tinkers chance in hell that this procedure could achieve its desired purpose.
For the first question I must reluctantly hold that while the ideal is that people interact solely as functional objects, whose opinions regarding art, politics, religion or deportment are equally personal and irrelevant to the outsider except insofar as they are revealed in a commercial transaction, that can be presumed as lawful unless they produce an immediately unlawful effect, the reality is otherwise. Seventy eight years ago the American Secretary of State Henry Stimson could say that "Gentlemen did not read each other's mail." Maybe less than ten years ago we could still believe that one could only become a subject for a security inquiry by either a reasonable connection to a specific criminal investigation or by voluntarily submitting oneself to review for the purpose of obtaining a clearance for a job in the government. Now however the very speed of communications, the porosity of borders and the complexity of hostile conspiracies, make it important that we attempt to preemptively identify cases where otherwise routine financial or other communications could reveal either a link to an enemy network or a target that an enemy may seek to exploit.
The second question then becomes important. Let us say for argument that the government has a legitimate interest in knowing whether Mr Nelson is someone that al-Qaeda is likely to assassinate, producing a liability for the bank that he does business with and imposing a duty on the authorities to monitor him for his protection or to identify efforts to approach him or if he is the agent himself of a hostile power who seeks to use the banks to harm others. The problem is that this policy is clearly unlikely to achieve any useful purpose. First because the people executing it are either junior employees of the bank acting outside of their expertise and therefore likely to make a hash of it or low level employees of the government, think airport security, and likely to make a hash of anything.
In fact political pressures make it unlikely that any such program would be allowed to usefully target what would be called in Intelligence work the Essential Elements of Information needed to evaluate the threat. Indeed they are unlikely to target what a real threat could be. That is why the questions are not only badly asked but are not the result of an interrogation program that trains a professional to elicit useful information. No pro expects the bad guy to say on his bank application that he is a member of al-Qaeda or of the FSB, so if the question is thrown out it is buried, as a legal gotcha for later, among more useful questions. If profiling is needed, that is to find people likely to be collaborating with bin Laden's or other hostile agencies, then it may not be as crude as asking "Do you know any arabs or russians?" but it should be intended to find that out even if a fog of questions about "Are you a Tory and do you believe in Global Warming?" is wrapped around the topic. If the window dressing questions are to objectionable though they produce hostility and become self defeating.
Agreed, that is why I think that a set of very basic questions on the mass level, that could be reviewed with other indicators to select candidates worth a full interview by professionals, makes more sense. Bank Officers are not Intelligence or Law Enforcement Officers.
What questions might be useful as red flags?
Are You Or Any Of Your Immediate Family Or Close Associates senior officers or Directors of a corporation with gross revenue over $10,000,000?
AYOAOYIFOCA elected or appointed officials at the national level at sub-cabinet rank or higher?
AYOAOIYIFOCA military officers of senior (General officer or equivalent) rank?
AYOAOYIFOCA on an airline "No Fly" list or been asked to surrender a passport within the last 7 years?
AYOAOYIFOCA citizens or nationals of any of the following countries? (list to be reviewed)
Best for the last to simply require that a current passport be requested and checked as part of the opening an account process, with a question as to whether all foreign travel within the last 7 years is indicated.