How Could An Anti-Terrorism Joint Task Force Press Release Be So Inane?

April 4, 2011

File this one under - oh, for godsakes, really?

Reprinted below is the entire press release as posted on the United States Department of Justice website:

Department of Justice

Office of Public Affairs


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

United States and European Union Launch Formal Negotiations for an Agreement to Protect Personal Information Exchanged in the Context of Fighting Crime and Terrorism

The following is a joint statement on behalf of the United States and the European Union:

On March 28, 2011, the European Union and the United States opened negotiations on an agreement to protect personal information exchanged in the context of fighting crime and terrorism.   The negotiations will build on our long-standing, robust cooperation and agreements in this area. The United States and the European Union are committed to ensuring a high level of protection of personal information, while fighting crime and terrorism.   The United States and the European Union are strongly determined to reach, without delay, an agreement that will advance our mutual goals.

Office of Public Affairs

Okay, so what did we learn from this March 29th press release - what was so urgent as to make it eligible "FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE?" 

The Launch

According to the headline, the US and the European Union have launched formal negotiations. I wonder what wordsmith came up with the term "launched?" I like that image - some boat that is being christened and sent bounding into the ocean.  Hopefully, not another Titanic.

Now that our good ship is under steam, where is it headed?  Oh, we're going to negotiate an agreement. My, oh my, that's truly an earth-shattering bit of hot news; and to think, I may have missed it if the good folks at the Department of Justice hadn't issued their immediate press release. Go figure, I have been wasting my time worrying about North Africa, the Middle East, and Japan. Little did I know that there was an urgent effort underway to negotiate an agreement between the US and the Europeans.

What, pray tell, are we hoping to reach international agreement about? Apparently, there is some disagreement as to how best "to protect personal information exchanged in the context of fighting crime and terrorism." Really?  You mean to tell me with terrorists running all over the world, there is a debate between the US and the Europeans as to whether we're providing enough protections for personal information that we pass back and forth in that war on terrorism? 

Facebook for Terrorists?

Lemme see if I got this down pat. John Doe has been uncovered as a terrorist planning to set off a car bomb in Times Square  and some imbecile - not saying our imbecile, could be some bureaucratic nincompoop in Paris or Rome just as easily as in Washington, DC - doesn't want to violate this suicide bomber's privacy by letting folks know that on his Facebook page he's posted a profile that says something like:

Young, aspiring international suicide bomber seeks similarly minded female who likes long walks on the beach, jazz, and is a Sagittarius. Serious replies only. Must send photo.  Will provide one-way ticket to America.

Of course, the concern is probably not so much about the bad guys as it may be about naming names of folks who may have been innocently implicated in some plot.  I get that but given the commonsense of such a concern, do we really need to have an international conference to negotiate an agreement for such an issue?  Of course, that's probably why I'm the poor shlub writing this blog and not one of those jet-setting diplomats.  In my defense, the one thing missing from this idiotic press release is a concise explanation of what personal information everyone is trying to protect.

Frankly, as silly as I find the press release's headline, I'm hard pressed to find any more meaningful information in the body of the document.  However, that's the art of the legion of folks who earn a living in government by bedeviling the rest of us with regurgitated prose and press releases that say nothing but take many words to achieve that vacuous accolade.

Toking the Joint (Statement)

Alas, brace yourself, but they've issued a joint statement.  Yes, according to this urgent press release, the US and the European Union issued a joint statement - about what, you ask? Oh, a joint statement that re-states the meaningless jabber in the headline.  We are caught on a Mobius Strip, and where we begin we end.

Among the more informative bits of surplusage - hey, this is a blog about an international agreement to negotiate an agreement and I thought I'd toss in some French-sounding word to impress you with my worldly ways - is that the negotiations will build on some long-standing, robust cooperation and agreements in this area. Of course, if there's so much history of robust cooperation, then why the hell do we need to hold some time-wasting meeting to negotiate the agreement?  Can't someone just make a phone call or something? 

Come to think of it, didn't we just reach a quick agreement to impose a No-Fly Zone over Libya?  Funny, I don't recall a press release stating that NATO, the US, and Arab interests were issuing a joint statement that they were going to try to negotiate an agreement about protecting the Libyan citizens from Qaddafi (by the way, whatever happened to Gadaffi, Khaddafi, Khaddafy?).


Gotta tell you, I'm not exactly sure that even with all my libertarian leanings that I was truly concerned about ensuring protections for personal information when the NYPD and other anti-terrorism agencies stopped that madman who was trying to blow up Times Square.  Not saying that I don't value my privacy rights - I do.  Nonetheless, the priorities here seem to be that first, we make sure that we don't publish any terrorist's unlisted phone number. Then, we try to stop that improvised explosive device that's been planted in the elementary school.

Frankly, I was intrigued to learn that the US and the European Union are not only committed to protecting personal information but are also "strongly determined to reach, without delay, an agreement . . ."  Not quite sure of the distinction between being committed and being strongly determined but, hey, go for it.

The takeaway from all this is that the US and Europeans are eager to negotiate an agreement about something to do with personal information in the fight against terrorism (and, okay, they also threw in crime there too).  I just have to wonder how much money was spent preparing the press release about this eager desire and why anyone thought there was anything here that was worth reporting - much less doing so immediately.