Beneath Obama’s Announcement This Morning

Later this morning, President Barack Obama will deliver a speech at the Department of Justice. The topic will be his conclusions on surveillance by the national government. The speech follows several months of controversy unleashed by Edward Snowden’s leaking of information on how the government has gathered data on citizens and groups.

I want to remind you of what’s beneath this speech and the ongoing controversy on surveillance. I’ve said this before but it bears repeating.

The war on terror, the war on al Qaeda, the war on radical Islam, call it what you will, is essentially an irregular war waged globally. One side–embodied by the terrorists of 9-11–relies exclusively on unconventional tactics such as bombings, hijackings, hostage-taking, and other similar methods. The other side–embodied by the US and various allied nations–has responded, sometimes with formal warfare and other times with their own versions of irregular tactics. That’s the war we’ve been involved in since 2001. (I date the beginning to Iran’s seizure of hostages in 1979)

I made the point almost thirteen years ago and I’ll make it again: in irregular warfare, information is the one vital commodity. Though other factors come into play, nothing compares in scale and proportion to the criticality of information in either conducting irregular operations or thwarting them. Shock and surprise are at the heart of irregular war. Information is the blood pumping through the heart.

That’s why information-gathering immediately became so significant in the Bush Administration’s handling of the war. That’s why it continues to be in the news, even more than the actual day-to-day activity of American troops stationed around the world. That’s why Obama’s speech will happen today.

It’s that important.