Covert vs Clanedstine, was Re: WAR: appropriate first use (was: If we do get Afghanistan...)

From: Michael M. Butler (
Date: Sat Nov 24 2001 - 19:44:33 MST

"Robert J. Bradbury" wrote:
> Actually, I think it will be unlikely to be a problem if any
> secular democratic society acquires military nanotechnology.
> We've generally avoided the use of offensive technologies
> unless we are attacked first. Now whether they would be used
> for covert operations remains an open question. If the small
> arial drown reconnaissance technology is an example, military
> nanotechnology might actually save lives since the *really* bad
> apples who promote terrorism can be surgically removed.

> Now, of course the risks become whether or not one turns those
> technologies against ones own citizens or whether they become
> tools that political parties use against one another. Those are
> cases where "first use" really threatens to open a can of worms.
> Robert

Significant sidebar:

Lots of people don't keep this distinction in mind, and it's a useful one,
so at the risk of sounding too much like an armchair saber rattler or wargamer.
There is an important notional distinction between "covert" and "clandestine".

Covert: an operation or event whose source is concealed or deniable.
A failed covert activity gets outed--and either categorically denied or
eventually acknowledged, sometimes (eventually) both. The objective is
to sanitize/sterilize the identity or allegiance of the operators, not
the operation. Examples abound.

Clandestine: an operation whose very existence _remains concealed_ effectively.
The world at large, and the target in particular, stays unaware that the action
or event in question ever took place. Hypothetical example: US special ops
stealing or sabotaging suitcase nukes.

There is always historical-phenomenological uncertainty both ways. Some people
categorically deny everything, and some other people assume those people routinely lie.
And then, who gets to know what, and just what it means to say one knows something,
walk us right over the aisle to X-Files land, adjacent to a certain erstwhile
frequent TWA-800 poster to this list.

But the notion that everything is eventually known about what goes on is, dare
I say it, a bourgeois conceit, and one in which I myself have steeped comforted. :)

Thanks for the links, Robert!


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