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The Current Transcript for February 16, 2016
Host: Anna Maria Tremonti
STORIES FROM THIS EPISODE
She was able to go setup profiles on Facebook that we had no idea about, and a minor should not be able to do that. We had no idea who she was talking to.
ANNA MARIA TREMONTI: She was just 13, technologically savvy but still a little girl. In fact, when she was lured away from her Virginia home last month she took her Minions blanket with her. Nicole Lovell's murder has parents across the US and Canada reeling because her alleged killer allegedly got to her by using Kik, the Canadian messaging app created by University of Waterloo students, one of a number of popular anonymous social media apps that lock out parents, administrators, and apparently homicide detectives. In a moment, the questions around moral and ethical responsibility in the development of apps. Also today, dark money.
Take a private interest and make it look like it's a public interest. You don't talk about fighting regulations because it's going to help your bottom line. You talk about fighting regulations because it's about freedom.
AMT: Investigative Journalist Jane Mayer followed a money trail that wound through the boardrooms of some of the most powerful corporations in America. Millions that was used with stealth to influence and bend public policy on everything from climate change to trying to discredit Barack Obama. And as she learned more, one corporation began to follow her. Jane Mayer on the billionaires behind the rise of the radical right in half an hour. And two months ago the government of Nigeria announced a technical victory over Boko Haram.
Those displaced by Nigeria's deadly Boko Haram insurgency were queuing for rations when two female suicide bombers detonated their explosives.
AMT: But if they have won a war they are still in a battle as the brutal extremist insurgency shifts tactics and uses children to terrorize communities. We are on that story in an hour. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti, this is The Current.
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Anonymous Kik app scrutinized after murder of Nicole Lovell
Guests: Moriah Balingit, Marc Goodman, Chris MacDonald
My daughter Nicole Lovell, Coley is what we called her. Coley had a passion for pandas, music, dancing, and dreamed of being on American Idol someday. Her favourite colour was blue. Nicole was a very lovable person. Nicole touched many people throughout her short life.
AMT: The voice of Tammy Weeks, the mother of murdered Virginia teen Nicole Lovell, speaking at a press conference. Nicole Lovell went missing on January 27th. Police say she was stabbed. Two Virginia Tech students David Eisenhauer and Natalie Keepers have been charged with premeditated kidnapping and killing of the thirteen year old girl. It's believed that an anonymous messenger app called Kik was used to establish a relationship and then lure her to her death. Nicole Lovell's neighbour Stacey Snider said her daughters gave police a lead that led to the arrest of David Eisenhauer.
She was talking about this boyfriend she had that was eighteen and went to college and his name was David. She showed some text messages from Kik and pictures, and that's what the girls told the police officers when they asked. They shouldn’t have to worry about college kids messing with them, talking to them or nothing. It makes you want to take your kids and run and hide.
AMT: Well for more on the details surrounding the death of Nicole Lovell, I'm joined by Moriah Balingit. She is a reporter with The Washington Post. She's been covering the story. She's in Washington, DC. Hi.
MORIAH BALINGIT: Hi, thank you for having me.
AMT: What can you tell us about this case?
MORIAH BALINGIT: Well, it's really, really shaken the community there. The community that Nicole grew up in is a small town where most of the population is made up of Virginia Tech students. Kids grew up idolizing Tech students, so it's really, really shaken the campus and the community, what happened there.
AMT: So how was anonymous messaging believed to have been used in this murder?
MORIAH BALINGIT: Well it's not entirely clear exactly how they met but we know that they met somewhere online. A friend of Nicole's actually told a colleague of mine that she believed they met on Facebook. And then they were messaging on Kik we believe. Kik actually says company officials from tech said that they provided information that helped lead police to David Eisenhauer and Natalie Keepers, the two who have been arrested in her death.
AMT: Does that include content of messages or is content of messages not available on such an app?
MORIAH BALINGIT: So the company didn't disclose precisely what they gave to police. But oftentimes we know that with these web-based messaging apps, those kinds of things are not available.
AMT: Kik is based in Canada. Did that have any bearing on the American investigation into this murder?
MORIAH BALINGIT: Again that's something that's not entirely clear. But we do know that can pose some barriers for folks. We've spoken to local law enforcement who said that it takes a little bit longer sometimes, that sometimes they can’t get the cooperation that they want. Kik occasionally will require a Canadian court order or sometimes our local law enforcement will have to go through a federal law enforcement agency to get what they need from a Kik.
AMT: It's certainly not the only anonymous app. Have there been other instances where they have been believed to have been involved when someone was put in danger?
MORIAH BALINGIT: Yeah absolutely. There’s been other anonymous apps. I've covered extensively an app called After School which is sort of a Yik Yak for high school students that shuts out parents, it shuts out the administrators and it’s anonymous by default. So kids occasionally were, there was cyber-bullying that was occurring. And they were occasionally posting very frightening threats onto these apps. And that's another app where, again, it can be difficult to trace the users because the app is, by design, anonymous not only to the broader public, but also to the creators, to the people who-- to the engineers; it's designed so that even they can't know who's posting the messages.
AMT: Maybe just spell out for us the attraction of such things.
MORIAH BALINGIT: Well you know, certainly people can create alternative identities online. And I've talked to the creators of the After School app for example, and they wanted to create a forum, a safe space they called it, where teens could discuss sensitive issues. Where they could talk about things like how to come out to their parents or, you know, I'm deeply depressed how do I deal with that, things like that. So that's certainly part of the appeal but it also obviously creates sometimes a fertile environment for nefarious activities.
AMT: Almost like a safe space so that they wouldn't be bullied if they wanted to discuss something sensitive that other people could pick on.
MORIAH BALINGIT: Yes, exactly, so they wouldn't have to reveal their identity. They wouldn't have to, you know, for example with homosexuality, they wouldn't have to come out to the broader public to kind of get questions answered about how do I deal with these feelings.
AMT: What's the attraction for criminals?
MORIAH BALINGIT: Well, obviously they can be whoever they want to be online. They can establish a relationship with somebody. They can kind of say whatever they want to say. You know they can and certainly for vulnerable teenagers, they can again, kind of lure them and establish a romantic relationship online.
AMT: So where's the case now?
MORIAH BALINGIT: So at this point, Natalie Keepers was just denied bail. The two of them will have a preliminary hearing in late March, and that's sort of where the case stands. We're slowly but surely learning more details about Nicole and how she may have met this young man. And we're learning more background about the two that have been arrested, who seem to be people with really bright futures. It's very confounding as to why they would do something like this.
AMT: Moriah, thanks for your time today.
MORIAH BALINGIT: Yes. Thank you so much.
AMT: Moriah Balingit, reporter with The Washington Post joined us from Washington DC. Well our next guest has expertise in cyber-crimes and the threats that messaging apps can pose to children and teens. Marc Goodman is the author of Future Crimes. He has been a futurist in residence to the FBI, also a senior advisor to Interpol. He joins us from Washington, DC. Hello.
MARC GOODMAN: Good morning.
AMT: Interesting she makes the point that some of these anonymous apps really were about creating a safe space.
MARC GOODMAN: Well that may have been the intention but once people have the veil of anonymity, we see that their behaviour isn't always the most socially conscious or polite.
AMT: So how inevitable was a case like that of Nicole Lovell?
MARC GOODMAN: I think that if you look across the history of the Internet, all of the technologies that have been created, from the very early ones whether they be AOL or a Prodigy or Compu-Serve, fast forward to the early days of Facebook and today. They've all been abused one way or the other. If you give people a forum in which to be anonymous, particularly when you have services that are targeted towards young adults whether at the college or high school level, we've seen these problems on many occasions before.
AMT: And we should just say Kik is believed to have been one of the factors in this. I guess we'll wait to see what actually transpires throughout a court case. But can you give us a sense of how prolific messenger apps are among children and teens?
MARC GOODMAN: Well, they are incredibly popular. You know computers, meaning the desktop and the laptops that the so-called older generations use, meaning anybody over 30, have been shunned in favour of these new devices. Particularly, mobile phones, smart phones, kids are using them 24-7. Any parent can see and knows that. The challenge is that most parents don't have access to what their kids are doing online. There’s sort of an indifference to what's happening or the kids may be more technologically sophisticated than their parents. You know when you had a big computer sitting in the living room, parents could see what was going on, what their kids were doing, but that's no longer true.
AMT: So how can Nicole Lovell’s online activity serve as a warning to parents?
MARC GOODMAN: I think that's exactly what should happen. The fact of the matter is it's easy to say that Kik is bad or Yik Yak is bad. But as I mentioned, every one of these services, there have been people who have been lured and either murdered or sexually abused on websites such as Craigslist. Certainly people this has happened on Facebook and all social media sites. The thing that's a little bit different about Kik is that they do not record, allegedly, the conversations between parties and it's fully anonymous which means that there's no verification. There's no verification of the person's name, where they say they live and beyond that, there is no verification of age. So I think parents need to be aware of those tools. Parents need to be fully involved with what their kids are doing online right? They are paying for those telephones. The kids generally are not paying for them for themselves, and they should have access to the data, they should have access to the passwords on the devices, they should be monitoring. And there is even special software so that parents can use to track their children physically, in the real world via their mobile devices and as parents they may want to consider that.
AMT: You know and you deal with law enforcement. Messages can apparently be, you can confirm they were sent but the actual messages when it comes to the prosecution of an alleged crime, then becomes a problem too right? If the message doesn’t exist?
MARC GOODMAN: Right, so that's a decision made by the people who make these apps. So for example in law enforcement you can go ahead and serve a subpoena on companies like Facebook or Twitter and have them pull those messages because those messages are kept for a period of time and laws vary from country to country. The European Union has different standards and people have to find that balance between privacy and security. You know you wouldn't want the government to have permanent access to all of these data for twenty years. But for short term investigation such as this case we have under discussion that could be useful. In the case of Kik, again they claim that they don't keep those messages and that's probably because they want to seem cool to the younger generation and they feel as if they can speak in confidence and freely without being monitored and all children are trying to find that boundary where they can assert their own personhood.
AMT: Now let me ask you, so as of February 4th of this year, after Nicole's murder, Kik requires their users be at least 13 years of age, which is actually her age. What do you make of that attempt?
MARC GOODMAN: I think it's window dressing. They're still doing nothing to verify the identity of people. In the United States they say that you have to be under or sorry over 17 to go into a movie, and everyday teenagers go into movies that are not 17. So, unless there's some enforcement mechanism behind it, just changing the rule I believe will have zero impact.
AMT: Now Kik was asked to come on this program. The company declined, it sent us a statement and I'll read it in part. Online Safety is Kik’s number one priority as a company. This is a quote “we are reviewing all aspects of safety in an effort to further improve the experience of our users and to address the concerns of parents. We know that actions matter much more than words so we will share more details as we make progress. We encourage concerned parents to read our guide for parents available through Kik’s website.” What do you think? Good enough?
MARC GOODMAN: In Kik’s defence they are doing some things right. If you go to their website they do have a guide for parents they even have a guide for law enforcement. They make it very clear on their website how law enforcement can contact them, how law enforcement can issue emergency requests, so they are trying to do the right thing. But this comes down to an engineering issue. The way that the app is engineered limits what they can do. Ultimately, even if Kik went out of business tomorrow there would be Yik Yak or Snapchat or 500 other apps that people can use. So yes there can be regulations around this, but the fact of the matter is it is incumbent upon parents to understand what their kids are doing online.
AMT: Mark Goodman thank you for your time today.
MARC GOODMAN: Thank you.
AMT: Marc Goodman author of Future Crimes, he joined us from Washington DC. Well apps that offer anonymity or the promise of self-destruct functions raise questions about business ethics. I'm joined by Chris MacDonald. He's a professor of ethics at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University. He is a Toronto based ethics consultant, and he joins me now our studio. Hi.
CHRIS MACDONALD: Hi.
AMT: Where does the discussion of ethics enter this conversation?
CHRIS MACDONALD: Well, I think it enters from the point of view of the social responsibilities of the companies that are involved here. You know there's nothing wrong with trying to make a profit by offering people a product that they're willing to pay for, that they think is going to be useful or enrich their lives in some way. But you're never exempt from examining the full impact of your product. And that includes the impact on innocent third parties or users who are too young to understand the implications of the product.
AMT: To what extent do you think people behind these apps, Kik was started by students at University of Waterloo, that they're thinking ahead about potential misuse?
CHRIS MACDONALD: Yeah, I mean, it's easy to imagine getting caught up in the thrill of starting something new, and the thrill of a new technology. In the idea that you could be the next big thing you could be the next Twitter the next Snap Chat. And I think what companies really need to be doing is thinking not just about how can we make this a technically excellent product, but how can we make this a product that's actually going to serve people well. Because if you've got a product that people are going to pay for but only at the cost of hurting people, then it's just not yet a good product and you need to work harder. You need to be better at your job.
AMT: So what are some of the steps an app maker can or should be expected to take to ensure that a product would be used appropriately?
CHRIS MACDONALD: It's a tough thing. Because you can never foresee, fully the range of ways of which someone is going to use your product. And as for nefarious uses, I mean evil intentions are sort of like water, it finds a way in. I think small companies can do a lot to learn from big companies. If there's a privacy mistake that either Facebook or Twitter hasn't made yet, that would be surprising. So if you look at the history, and those companies have the advantage of hindsight, because they've sort of been there done that with a lot of these issues. And the smaller companies really need to be looking to those companies not just as role models for technical success but for role models in terms of getting better at serving the horizon, thinking creatively, testing rigorously, to try and figure out the ways in which your product is really going to be used.
AMT: How is this covered in business schools and how do you talk to students about this now?
CHRIS MACDONALD: This specific issue may or may not come up in a particular class, but we do try and emphasize that it's not just about coming up with a product. I mean we are business schools. We want to tell students that it's okay to go out there and try and make money if you're making money by providing people with a product they want they want that's great but you've got to be thinking about those social implications. How is this going to really affect your users your customers, a whole range of stakeholders? And if you're not doing that you're not doing your job right.
AMT: And of course not everybody who's building an app is actually in a business school. Some of them are in the parents' basement.
CHRIS MACDONALD: There are thousands of entrepreneurs out there who aren't required to take my ethics class. And I think what that means, that doesn't mean that they're not going to be ethical and responsible business people. But they really need to do their homework. They really need to look at the history of their own industry for that matter because the history is out there and these problems have happened time and time again.
AMT: So it's time for actually this to be part of the discussion?
CHRIS MACDONALD: I think it absolutely needs to be part of the discussion, in the tech industry generally and in this subset of it. Fostering communication is a terrific thing and finding new ways to let people connect is a terrific thing. But, you've got to do it right or you just haven't provided a good solution.
AMT: Could public pressure or bad PR force companies to rethink a business model?
CHRIS MACDONALD: Sooner or later, but we'd like it to be sooner rather than later. I think companies need to, I think investors increasingly want this. They want people to be thinking ahead because investors like to take risks but they like to take measured risks. Some of the kinds of social and financial, legal risks that you're talking about here are scaring away at least some investors from what I've seen.
AMT: Is it is enough to put an age limit on who uses something?
CHRIS MACDONALD: Age limits are probably a good start. That's probably part of doing due diligence. But you know it's easy enough for any half savvy kid to get around an age restriction.
AMT: Well, that's the other thing right, you can be technologically savvy but very naïve which is what we've just seen.
CHRIS MACDONALD: Yeah absolutely, and I think manufacturers of new products need to think about the full range, right? Not just think of the ideal kid or what they were like when they were thirteen, but think about the full range of kids are going to be using their products. You can never prevent 100 percent of problems, but I think companies owe it to us and owe it to their users to show that they've at least done their due diligence to try to stem the worst kinds of abuses and missteps.
AMT: So what kind of moral weight comes with something that becomes so popular?
CHRIS MACDONALD: I think it's an enormous responsibility. If you're running a mechanism that allows millions of people to communicate, you can be proud that you're facilitating millions and millions of positive connections but you should also recognize that as the popular saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility.
AMT: More discussion for your class I'm sure.
CHRIS MACDONALD: Absolutely.
AMT: Chris MacDonald thanks for coming in.
CHRIS MACDONALD: My pleasure.
AMT: Chris MacDonald professor of ethics at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University. He's a Toronto based ethics consultant. We want to hear from you on this. Do you have kids who use anonymous messaging apps? How closely do you monitor their correspondence with other users? Do you think parents should be more active in monitoring the apps their kids use, or is it up to the manufacturers to make sure children cannot be duped? Let us know what you think. You can tweet us we are @thecurrentcbc. Leave a comment on the story on our Facebook page or e-mail us by clicking on the Contact Us link cbc.ca/thecurrent.
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Journalist Jane Mayer follows money trail to billionaires behind U.S. radical right
Guest: Jane Mayer
AMT: The covert war of dark money and conservative US politics.
People aren’t going to scare me off. I mean, I've been doing this for 50 years. But I'm kind of like Martin Luther when he was on trial. And he said, here I stand; I can do no other. I mean, I dedicate my life to this. These ideas, the ideas we've been talking about transformed my life. And so it's my mission, I feel a moral obligation to help other people learn these and transform their lives.
AMT: Well, that's conservative billionaire businessman Charles Koch on MSNBC. For Democrats, Charles Koch and his brother David have become the not-so-hidden hand of corporate America, ever pushing the country further to the right. As voters show up in droves to back their preference for president in the US primaries it is the flood of money flowing into those candidates’ campaigns that is increasingly important in deciding who gets to the White House. New Yorker journalist Jane Mayer has spent years looking into the political activities of the Koch brothers and other billionaires and writes about her findings in her new book Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right. Jane Mayer joins us from Washington, DC. Hello.
JANE MAYER: Hi.
AMT: What are we talking about when we talk about dark money in American politics?
JANE MAYER: Well, that's the term of art used to describe donations to politics where the donors’ identities are disguised, where you can't know where the money's coming from and it's exploded in recent years in American politics, so that there are now hundreds of millions of dollars sloshing around without most Americans knowing where it's coming from.
AMT: Well, the Koch family plays a big role in this history and the patriarch was a man named Fred Koch. What do we need to understand about him to understand the politics of his sons?
JANE MAYER: Well, so, Fred Koch was a very bright man who discovered a new way to refine oil. But he had trouble selling it in the United States. And so he went abroad. First, he took his invention to Joseph Stalin. And he built the oil refineries for the Soviet Union and then after that he went to Germany and he got a project that was personally green-lighted by Adolf Hitler to build what became the third largest oil refinery for the Nazis and it became key to the Nazi war effort. He built it before World War Two, but it created much of the high octane fuel needed by the Nazi Air Force in World War Two. So, it's an ugly chapter, unknown chapter in what is one of the most amazing American companies. And that's not to say that the father was a Nazi. What it is to say is he was a hard driving businessman looking for ways to make money any way he could. He came back to America and, according to people I interviewed, had a fair amount of guilt about what he had done. And so he particularly rued the day that he'd worked with Stalin and he became extraordinarily anti-communist. He helped found the John Birch Society in America, which was this very, very ultra-right wing group that saw communist conspiracies everywhere. And that then was the kind of political orientation in which the Koch brothers grew up.
AMT: And in response to the stories that you have made public Koch Industries in the early days, Koch Industries put out a statement saying, I'm quoting here, “To cherry pick one project among hundreds during this time frame and then use it out of context in order to further an agenda-driven story line is grossly inaccurate.” How do you respond to their criticism?
JANE MAYER: Well, you know, I think they're doing the best they can to try to deal with what was a public relations fiasco for them when this came out. I mean, you know, they haven't denied the truth of it. All they're saying is, you know, we only built one Nazi refinery. Why are you picking on us? It was, of course, a refinery that, according to the scholars I interviewed about the oil business in Germany, was really key to the war effort during the World War Two years.
AMT: Tell us more about Charles and David Koch.
JANE MAYER: Well, okay. So there are four sons and they formed one team. The brothers kind of split and had an epic rivalry between them that ended up with them suing each other for 20 years, in these two teams and even hiring rival private eyes who went into each other's garbage. What they were fighting about was control of the family company, Koch Industries, and their portion of the family inheritance. They all inherited several hundred million dollars from their father Fred Koch, but they wanted more. And so you can see there's this long, kind of, epic legal history of fighting between them and Charles and David are the team that succeeded in the end, in getting a hold of Koch Industries, and have become the leaders of this free market, political libertarianism in America for the last 40 years.
AMT: So when did the Koch brothers decide to start using their wealth to seriously try to bend the political system to their philosophy?
JANE MAYER: Well, this is what kind of amazed me is it's been going on at least since 1976. I found a paper that Charles Koch wrote where he’s maybe, I guess, in his 30s at that point. He's not a really young person. And he's saying we need to build a movement. It's a radical movement that will destroy- that’s his word- the statist paradigm and basically take on the idea of government. His first attempt really in overtly influencing politics in particular is in 1980 when he convinces his younger brother David, who always kind of goes along with what Charles wants, to run as vice-president on the Libertarian ticket in America for president. They're running against Ronald Reagan that year, in 1980. They're running from the right because they're so far right themselves they think Reagan is a liberal sell out and so they want to try to have a more conservative candidate which is what the Libertarians are running. And they do terribly. David puts millions of his own money into this. He pays for sixty percent of the whole campaign and he gets something like one percent of the vote. They go back to the drawing board, these brothers, and they think, okay, we're not going to win it the old-fashioned way through elections; we're going to have to do something else. If we want to impose our minority views on this country, we're going to have to find another way to do it because we're not going to win elections. And so at that point they begin thinking how to plan a kind of secretly-funded movement that will wage a war on the way Americans think and change the ideology in the country.
AMT: You write about something called Kochtopus. Am I saying that right?
JANE MAYER: Well, that's what they say. It's actually a word I didn't invent. The Libertarians themselves came up with this nickname for the Koch's political machine. And, yes, the Kochtopus is an extraordinary machine built to change politics in America. It's got tentacles- that's why the Kochtopus, I guess- and is, to some extent, likes to lurk in the shadows. So you see, there's a chart in the front of the book and in the back of the book showing all the different organizations that are funded by the Koch fortune. And these organizations appear to be independent and in many cases kind of spontaneous citizens groups. In fact, they share similar kind of central funding.
AMT: And yet they ripple out in your diagram at the front of the book, yes. Your book actually begins with an extraordinary meeting of billionaires soon after Barack Obama is sworn in as president in 2009, in fact, right as he’s sworn in. Tell us about that meeting.
JANE MAYER: So, this is when we get to the more modern phase of the impact of all of this and it's sort of why it really matters. So, after Obama was elected and is inaugurated in 2009 most of the world's attention was riveted on this first African-American president and the promise that he brought. Whether you supported him or not, it was quite, you know, an amazing spectacle. But there was a secret meeting taking place almost at the same time right on the west coast of America where something like 400 of the richest and most conservative businessmen were organized by Charles Koch to get together and pla: How could they nullify this election? How can they stop Obama from changing America in the way that he was elected to do?
AMT: They were at a resort in Indian Wells, California.
JANE MAYER: That's right. And they've got two senators out there debating in front of them, who are both conservative Republicans and they present, pretty much, the two paths ahead for what conservatives could do to oppose Obama. One senator, John Cornyn, suggests they need to cooperate with the Obama administration and try to get the best deal they can- sort of the traditional version of dealing with the opposition. The other, Jim DeMint, is radically opposed to doing anything with Obama and says we need to obstruct everything. The only thing we can do is try to stop him. And it's that point of view that the donor group that's gathered there supports. The pandemonium kind of breaks out in support of that. And that is the beginning of kind of the blueprint of how this tiny, cadre of extraordinarily wealthy conservatives went to war against the Obama administration, even, almost as soon as he was inaugurated.
AMT: And am I right in understanding there almost no women at that meeting?
JANE MAYER: Well, there were some wives and maybe even some daughters, but these are basically business men. And they are also-- Some of the business men in this group are incredibly well known players in American finance, but what is important, I think, to know is and the reason it's called Dark Money is they want to hide their fingerprints. So when this group gets together, and they meet twice a year, they go to great lengths to try to keep the public from knowing what's going on. They've even resorted in one meeting to having these noisemakers that they put around the premises that would create a kind of sound of white static. So if anybody, like, from the press were outside of the resort and trying to listen, nobody could hear anything.
AMT: Well, where has Koch money had the biggest impact on American politics?
JANE MAYER: Well, I think if you're trying to look for one issue maybe that they've really overwhelmed it's probably their ability to have stopped Obama from doing what he had hoped to do about climate change. He had from the start talked about how it was necessary to address climate change and begin to institute some kind of reforms to move America off of fossil fuels and towards renewable energy and it’s this issue, more than anything else, that really threatens Koch Industries’ bottom line and the bottom line of many of the other donors in the group. There's a huge number of fossil fuel interests that are involved in this secret donor group. And so they have actually done a pretty amazing job of tying the US Congress up in knots by strategic campaign contributions, by threatening to run candidates against anyone who breaks with their orthodoxy, and actually running candidates against anyone who breaks with their orthodoxy. I mean, I've interviewed a number of people in this book who describe how they got knocked out by Koch money when they decided to try to do something about climate change and it's formidable.
AMT: And you say running candidates, meaning backing them financially.
JANE MAYER: Yes, and often, again, we're talking dark money. The money trails are sometimes hard to see at first, but, for instance, the largest of the Kochs' political groups on the ground in America at this point is something called Americans for Prosperity and it looks, again, like an ordinary political organization, a pressure group, but it is in fact originally founded by the Kochs and funded by them and many of the people in their donor group. For instance, it ran just vicious ads against anyone who had voted for the cap and trade bill that was in in Congress in 2010. There was an effort to try to put a price on carbon pollution. The Koch Industries and the various Koch foundations spent more than Exxon Mobil in fighting climate change science over a number of years. I mean, that's just a stunning record. But the impact you can see in public opinion polls. It used to be that environmental ism was kind of a bipartisan issue in America. Republicans supported doing good by the environment, as did Democrats, but as the money has flowed in it has had the effect of really polarizing public opinion. So that now, I mean, if you look at the 2016 Presidential race, there's not a single Republican candidate for the president who will acknowledge that global warming is real and a serious problem.
AMT: And in your book, you actually point out that one of the Koch companies actually is involved in- it's got ownership or partial ownership of oil sands or oil in Alberta.
JANE MAYER: Yes.
AMT: And one-quarter of the Alberta oil that goes into the states is actually sent there by Koch companies.
JANE MAYER: Yeah, there's a strong relationship, actually, between Koch Industries and Canada. It's interesting that there's one refinery in particular that really is considered the crown jewel of Koch Industries and it's in Rosemont, Minnesota and it's the one that has a huge profit margin and has done more than anything else to really make the Kochs the fifth and sixth richest men in America. And that refinery gets most of its oil from Canadian tar sands and heavy, you know, sort of dirty crude out of Canada. Its positioned geographically to get that oil and what it does is it then refines it and sells it at the regular price of oil, but because the oil comes in cheap, there’s a better profit margin there. And so, you're right, it apparently accounts for a whole entire quarter of the Canadian oil coming into America comes through that one refinery and through Koch Industries.
AMT: Democratic presidential candidate- Presidential nominee candidate- Bernie Sanders has made running against Wall Street and the Koch brothers, in particular, part of his message. What does the success of his campaign say about the US public mood toward big money coming into Washington campaigns?
JANE MAYER: Well, I think we've reached kind of a boiling point on this issue. I mean, everybody remembers in 2010the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision allowed unlimited spending. It became not just by corporations and unions but also by individuals and a lot of that money was then channelled through these dark money groups, which had not been expected by the court. So it became almost unlimited, invisible spending and at that point I think that the public really has become increasingly disgusted. If you look at polls, something like 90 percent of Americans, which, of course, means many Republicans in addition to Democrats, are against that Citizens United decision and there's a feeling of great discomfort, I think, that our democracy is being manipulated, it feels like, by a tiny group of disproportionately influential people who have influence because of their money.
AMT: You know, The Wall Street Journal, your former employer, said in a review of your book that you ignore the wealthy political donors such as Google's Eric Schmidt or the billionaire environmentalist Tom Styer because they don't fit into your narrative that oligarchs are a threat to democracy. How do you respond to that criticism?
JANE MAYER: Well, I mean, my old paper’s editorial page-- It's a great paper, actually, the news side, but the editorial page is very aligned with these same interests, so it kind of represents their point of view. There's big money on the other side too. And I think all big money is a problem, whether it's big liberal money or big anything else money, especially if it's secret, which is what most of this money is. But what you've got to know is that in the last campaign, in 2014, 80 percent of the dark money was on the right. And if it had been the other way around, I'd be probably writing a book about the dark money on the left, but it's that's not really where all the dark money is. When you're a reporter you've got to follow the news and you've got to follow the money and this is where it takes you in America right now.
AMT: You also note in your book that at least two Supreme Court judges have been at Koch sponsored events. These are judges who were part of the Citizens United decision.
JANE MAYER: Well, you know, former judge now, it included Judge Clarence Thomas and Justice Scalia, who, of course, just recently died. And, yes, they have attended some of these secret donor sessions. The Supreme Court judges in America have a rule that's different from the rest of the judges. They are considered above conflict of interest. It's up to them what their interests are and whether to step aside and so they have actually gone to these gatherings with the Kochs.
AMT: And, well, let’s just talk about Judge Scalia now, because you see that there's a real fight shaping up on President Obama's announcement that he will actually announce a replacement for him before the end of his term and republicans wanting that to happen with the next president. Are you watching that? What are you thinking?
JANE MAYER: Yes, of course. I mean, what you can see is that the stakes are huge in this election and they always have been, but now this makes it even more clear, it focuses the mind on it, I think. And the Conservatives, like the Kochs and the other big donors who have huge business interests in the country, have so much riding on Court. If you take a look at one of the biggest cases that's sitting in front of the Court right now, it's a case having to do with labour unions, that the Kochs and organizations that are part of, what we were calling, the Kochtopus have filed tons of Amicus briefs and their money flows through many of the legal challenges that are on this particular case. And so they've got tons at stake and it explains to some extent why they are putting so much money into this election. I mean, they've promised to spend 889 million dollars- not just their own money but of their donor group- in this coming presidential campaign. And it's because so much is at stake, including, of course, the Court.
AMT: You write that the Koch brothers respond aggressively when they feel they are being challenged. Tell us about your own experiences after you started investigating Koch Industries and the brothers for this book.
JANE MAYER: Well, I'm just one of many people who have had this experience, but, for me, it was a first as a reporter. What I discovered was that they had their operatives in Washington who work for Koch Industries- and I named them in the book- set up a little kind of boiler room operation to do opposition research into me. They even hired a private eye who turned out to be the former police commissioner in New York City. So they were going for some big names and I was told by a source that their aim was to dig up what, the quote was, “dirt, dirt, dirt.” And if they couldn't find it, they'd make it up and so they did actually come up with something that they made up about me that they tried to plant in news stories, claiming that I was a plagiarist. It turned out to be phony and so nobody would run it. But it was an effort to sort of discredit me because they didn't like the tone of the reporting I was doing. I was an investigative reporter trying to disclose some of the secret activities they were involved in.
AMT: We did contact Koch Industries to see if it wanted to comment on your book. The company sent us of a statement I'm going to read it to you. This is a quote: “It is unfortunate that Jane Mayer relies on questionable sourcing and sensationalist framing to weave together half-truths intended to portray most actions taken by the Koch family and Koch Industries as ominous and shrouded in scandal. The reason why the Koch family and Koch Industries engages in public policy is to help people improve their lives through a system of mutual benefit,” end quote. How do you respond to that one?
JANE MAYER: Well, it's kind of-- You know, I just-- I'm sorry that they don't give out real interviews so that you could actually press them on real questions. They had every opportunity over and over again to tell their story if they felt that they're not represented; I asked them for five years. And they still do. I'd still be really happy to interview them. But, you know, I did my best to talk to everybody on all sides of this issue and they've never been able to really show anything incorrect in the stuff that I've been writing about them, so I've tried very hard and I feel that you know that it's a contribution or the best I could make.
AMT: When you look at the political landscape today, would you say the Koch brothers and the right wing billionaires that you write about wave won, are winning?
JANE MAYER: I think they've had tremendous impact and that is why I think the story has to be read. It's really a story I couldn't not write. It's too important. They've shaped policy fights at every level, from local school board fights straight up to the presidential race. They've had a huge impact on what gets through Congress. They have influence in state legislatures all over the country. And so I wouldn't say necessarily they've won everything, but they certainly wield amazing influence and I think all citizens ought to be aware of it.
AMT: Jane Mayer, thank you.
JANE MAYER: Great to be with you.
AMT: Jane Mayer, an investigative reporter for The New Yorker. Her new book is called Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right. She joined us from Washington, DC. Let us know what you think of what she's saying. You can tweet us. We're @thecurrentCBC. Like us on Facebook. Go to our website cbc.ca/thecurrent. Click on the Contact Us link and stay with us.
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Boko Haram uses young girls as suicide bombers in Nigeria attacks
Guests: Hassan Coulibaly, Mausi Segun, Michael Rettig
ANNA MARIA TREMONTI: Hello, I'm Anna Maria Tremonti and this is The Current.
Boko Haram has reverted to using IEDs, improvised explosive device, indoctrinating young girls from 15 years and below to go and explode it in churches, in mosques, in market places, in motor parks. They have now been reduced to that but articulated conventional attacks on centers of communication and population in towns and so on, they are no longer capable of doing that effectively. So I think, technically, we have won the war.
AMT: Well, that is the Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari claiming victory over Boko Haram in December. He was saying that his military's onslaught against the militant group that has terrorized Northern Nigeria for years has reduced it to recruiting young girls to be suicide bombers, instead of executing strategic ground attacks. President Buhari's statement was welcomed as making good on an election promise that brought him to power last year. But in the past week alone, Boko Haram attacked two villages. It killed 30 people in those villages. In another attack, two young girls wearing suicide vests walked into a camp where some 50,000 displaced people were living and detonated their explosives, killing at least 58 people. Hassan Coulibaly is the field coordinator for the International Rescue Committee in Maiduguri, which is in North-east Nigeria, which is where that camp is located. Hello.
HASSAN COULIBALY: Hello.
AMT: What are you hearing about the attack at the camp?
HASSAN COULIBALY: The way that when we said attack, it’s a suicide bombing. You have suicide bomber that sneak in the camp, and then they exploded themselves. That you know in the camp, people are free to go and come out.
AMT: And so how are people reacting to the fact that they can be so vulnerable to these young girls with bombs?
HASSAN COULIBALY: It's happened that it’s not easy to make the difference, who is a suicide bomber, at which time he become a suicide bomber is not known, because most of the people are known by the community themselves. And they have been living with them, they have their relative in the camp, they come out and go, and sometimes they come with a bomb.
AMT: So tell us what kind of work you're doing with the people in the camps.
HASSAN COULIBALY: Oh actually, we are giving humanitarian assistance to the people in the camp, and in the community. You have almost two million IDPs in this town, so what we do, we have in addition, we do give them non-food items. We give them shelter, we give them some support in nutrition and health, and we also work with any others to provide protection. Protection and woman protection.
AMT: Boko Haram has been affecting villages in the northeast. Tell us a little bit more about who has fled to these camps.
HASSAN COULIBALY: One year down the line, Boko Haram was controlling all mosques, I can say 90 percent of the territory in Borno. So they had their own administration and everything, they were able to conquer. And people had to run away for their life. Those who were able to run away, they came in Maiduguri in other states where some people are hosted by house community, and others who don't have a relative or something like that, they are living in camp. We have 125,000 people living in 16 camps in Maiduguri.
AMT: Okay, so from what you see, the government has claimed this technical victory against Boko Haram. It sounds like people are still quite afraid.
HASSAN COULIBALY: Yes, for sure. Boko Haram is no longer having its administration in the towns in the area. But they are using now a guerilla tactic, they are in the bush. At any corner of the bush, they can come in and attack any innocent person. For you to move in the area, maybe you need to have a military escort.
AMT: And how does that compare to what's happening in the urban areas?
HASSAN COULIBALY: In the urban area, what is really happening is like, people are moving in urban and the rural, and then the recruits, it can be young girl, young boy, women. And they do suicide bombing, it can be in a mosque, it can be in a church, it can be in the market. It can even be in someone's place, so people are even scared to go to the market, you are scare to go for any social event. You don't know what to do, even going to the market, you don't know at any time what will happen. You can be, sort of collecting in the road, the way I said, it’s a town of more than three million people. So you don't know in the movement, maybe someone can explode something.
AMT: And so if Boko Haram is taking advantage of these young girls and doing this, is it still going into schools and kidnapping, as well?
HASSAN COULIBALY: No. Okay, you don't have schools open. So in those rural areas, where they used to go and kidnap people, they don’t have access to school. There is no one going to school. They can go to your village. The people who are trapped in the villages, who have not been able to run away. From time to time, they appear in the village, they take food and everything and also they go away with some children and some women.
AMT: Doesn't sound like much of a victory, Hassan.
HASSAN COULIBALY: Hey, the president said technically, so you know, technically, you cannot discuss how technical it is. It has an improvement, but we can’t say that Boko Haram is over, because daily, they attack. Daily, they bomb.
AMT: Okay, well, Hassan Coulibaly, it’s important to hear about this. Thank you for talking to me today.
HASSAN COULIBALY: You’re welcome.
AMT: Hassan Coulibaly, field coordinator for the International Rescue Committee in Maiduguri, Nigeria. Boko Haram has killed at least two hundred people since the president declared victory over the group in late December. Last year, the Global Terrorism Index put out by the Institute of Economics and Peace ranked Boko Haram as the deadliest terror group in the world. It killed more than 6,600 hundred people in 2014. That's an increase of 300 percent from the previous year, and it makes Boko Haram even more deadly than ISIS. Mausi Segun is a Nigeria researcher for Human Rights Watch. She joins us from Abuja, Nigeria. Hello.
MAUSI SEGUN: Hello.
AMT: I just want to pick up on this idea of using young girls as suicide bombers. How is Boko Haram able to get these girls to do that?
MAUSI SEGUN: It’s honestly difficult to tell. But, you know, if you go by the accounts of the girls who either failed to detonate or were arrested just before they were able to carry out, you know, the attack: it seems that one, they could be children of members of Boko Haram, and they might not have known that their parents or their father was a member of the group. And there are also those who had been abducted by Boko Haram, and who, a lot of it, I’m guessing, is really out of fear, and just the fear of disobeying someone in a position of authority. If you understand the position of women generally, and then you can imagine for girls, where they have no personal autonomy, they not take decisions for themselves. It's easy for someone older, especially a male, older person in the community, in the family, to convince them o to just instruct them, and they will simply obey.
AMT: And so this is a change of tactics for Boko Haram, is it?
MAUSI SEGUN: Not exactly. The suicide bombings have been going on since, I think, from about 2011, but increasingly in 2014, as the group begun to move to take over control of towns and villages around northeast Nigeria. From that point on, it began to deploy, and I can imagine from the sheer number of people with that it held hostage within those territories, was able to send out. You know, in some cases, there was a young girl who was interviewed just before she was able to carry out her attack, and she said, at least 50 of them had been dispersed around the northeast to carry out these attacks. And since 2014, as it is quoted, able to successfully carry out those attacks. I think even now that it’s lost control of most of that territory, they’re reverting more and more to using these girls. One, because it’s a lot more difficult to detect and to suspect a young girl of being a member of Boko Haram; and two, because of the traditional, or we could call it religious, clothing that girls and women wear in these areas. It's easy for them to hide any amount [unintelligible] on any of them, the volume of clothing, and the veils that they wear. And so it’s easier for Boko Haram than to have a man who would easily attract attention and be suspected of being a member, to have girls go in and carry out these attacks.
AMT: You know, as you research for Human Rights Watch, you see a lot of things. I’m wondering what you think of this.
MAUSI SEGUN: I just really think that it is despicable. And from one of the contacts that I know has good, is good faith, as well, it’s reliable as an insight into Boko Haram. It’s beginning to cause some disaffection, even among members of the group. [unintelligible] that these young, innocent people, girls and other children are being used by the group in [unintelligible] Understand that most of the attacks seem to be targeted at innocent civilians themselves, who essentially are not party to this conflict that Boko Haram has gotten itself into with the Nigerian authorities or with the authorities and the troops from the neighboring countries. And so, it's difficult to understand if indeed Boko Haram has a cause that it is fighting. Their legitimate enemies and legitimate targets are those combatants on the other side, not innocent civilians. And so it's difficult to swallow that even a group that is beyond the pale like Boko Haram would continually use, you know children who have no cause or no reason to be involved in this conflict whatsoever, and being used in such a cruel and callous manner.
AMT: So is there any validity to this claim of President Buhari that there is some kind of a technical victory over Boko Haram?
MAUSI SEGUN: I mean, I am not a military expert, but just looking at it from the human rights perspective, I don't know what a victory, whether it’s technical, whether it’s practical, can be when the lives of so many people is constantly at risk. And they have very little protection from these marauding, rampaging Boko Haram fighters. No matter how much territory the Nigerian military has been able to recover from Boko Haram, the fact that this group is constantly and unrelentlessly able to carry out these attacks and kill so many people, it doesn’t sound like any kind of victory to me at all, whether it’s techincal or otherwise.
AMT: So if the military has control of some of this territory though, is it not able to provide some protection?
MAUSI SEGUN: That’s the big question: what kind of protection do the people have? As you heard from Hassan earlier on, 90 percent of the people, for example, in Borno State, are locked up in Maiduguri. So Maiduguri has become kind of like a fortress, but there are those who one, for reasons of age, disability, ill health, are able to make that long trip into Maiduguri for security. In these areas and these villages and towns where the military claim to have recovered territory, they are not holding the territory. They are not securing the territory. In many of the areas, it is local vigilantes, who themselves have very little it in terms of, arms or ammunition against Boko Haram, you know, superior firepower, who protect, are providing any kind of protection. There is no functional government. [unintelligible] nothing at all. And so the people are just really completely helpless, and yeah, they just, you know, cannot ward off Boko Haram. Any time they want to carry out and attack or send a message, they simply walk into these villages and the settlements. I think when they come, many of them lack any kind of security at all.
AMT: So what is it about northeast Nigeria that has allowed Boko Haram to be so successful in that part of Nigeria?
MAUSI SEGUN: I think if we look back historically at northeast Nigeria, it’s one of the least developed in terms of all of the developed nations, this is education, health, social infrastructure, economic infrastructure. But at the same time for cultural, and to some extent, religious freedom. They have a very high population density, so you have people, men marrying up to three, four wives, and having, one man alone, and with a family of 44 children. As the shrinking economic activities in that area begin to affect the ability of effective households to take care of their family, you find more and more young people, as they grow up without education, without skills, you know. And the traditional livelihood that they resort to, farming, fishing, the opportunities reducing daily as the water bodies dry up. The climatic and environmental factors also contribute to that. So you have kids in poverty with very little opportunity or prospects for young people. I think it was inevitable that some kind of militancy or rebellion would grow in that environment, and so in looking at what Boko Haram has become, and so very quickly grew to be such a lethal army, it gives not just the Nigerians, but it gives the people who live in that region, we have to look at these factors and how we have helped to cure, and then you know that they've been taken part of what would be after the conflict itself part of the balance of Boko Haram’s target. How the Nigerian state responded to that balance. And another bit has been overuse of the military to repress, to intimidate a hierarch. In many cases, arresting hundreds of people in, in some places, thousands of them.
AMT: Mausi Segun, we have to leave it there, but thank you for your perspective on all of this.
MAUSI SEGUN: Thank you.
AMT: Mausi Segun, Nigeria researcher with Human Rights Watch. She joined us from Abuja, Nigeria. We did ask the Nigerian High Commission in Ottawa to comment on this story, we did not get a response. A consequence of the military crackdown on Boko Haram in Nigeria has been an influx of fighters spilling into the neighboring countries. Several high profile terrorist attacks in West Africa over the past few months are raising concerns that terrorism is a growing regional problem, including last month's attack in nearby Burkina Faso that killed six Canadians. Michael Rettig is watching the spread of Islamic extremism in the region. He is a research associate at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies. Michael Rettig joins us from our Washington DC studio, hi.
MICHAEL RETTIG: Hi, thanks for having me.
AMT: First of all, you know that line, winning the war and losing the battle. So we have the president saying we have technically, we've made progress, but now they're using little girls.
MICHAEL RETTIG: Yes, certainly the technical statement rings hollow when there's hundreds of deaths shortly afterwards. However, Buhari, as a tradition, is a military leader rather than a political one, and you can see what he means in that it is time, really for the challenge to shift towards other parts of security. Boko Haram did have lots of northern Nigeria under occupation, and that's no longer the case. Again, that rings hollow when there's hundreds of civilian deaths shortly afterward, but it does show that police, and maybe border patrols and other things like that, are becoming the areas where we need to be concerned.
AMT: So with this crackdown of Boko Haram in Nigeria, what's it looking like in the region?
MICHAEL RETTIG: So I want to be clear with the attacks in Ouagadougou and Bamako in nearby Mali and Burkina Faso, it is a wholly distinct group that's affiliated with al-Qaeda, that folks call al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM. And AQIM and Boko Haram are actually in some sense competitors, as Boko Haram is aligned with ISIS. What we've seen with AQIM is a very disturbing trend towards attacking Westerners. As Boko Haram and ISIS have gained lots of prominence, I think AQIM has sought to maintain relevance by pulling off the spectacular attacks that target very soft targets, such as cafes and hotels. Boko Haram largely at this point is still kind of fighting a local battle, aside from one strange incident in 2011, by and large Boko Haram is attacking, tragically, locals in northeastern Nigeria, and it's seeking to kind of expand its caliphate in that region.
AMT: Okay, and it does want a caliphate, does it?
MICHAEL RETTIG: It does, yes.
AMT: Okay. What kind of threat does it pose to the wider region, then?
MICHAEL RETTIG: Well, what we have seen with Boko Haram is more and more cross border attacks. The region that they occupy in Nigeria borders Cameroon, Niger, and Chad. And recently, there's been lots of attacks in Chad, some in Niger, some in Cameroon, and not just across the border, but even in the capitals of these countries as those other countries have become involved in the fight against Boko Haram.
AMT: And why?
MICHAEL RETTIG: Well, I think Boko Haram is trying to show those countries the cost of becoming involved. At the same time, those countries are realizing that they can no longer afford to not be involved. After the two hundred plus girls were kidnapped in Chibok, which was quite prominent in the news over here, they were instantly spearheaded across the border. And that leaves you with the question, how is the Nigerian military supposed to do that?
AMT: [murmurs in agreement] But you're also saying that they get into these fights with their competing terror groups. What, for attention, or like, what's really going on there? Why would they be competing with AQIM?
MICHAEL RETTIG: Sure. So in terms of global jihad, there is an ideological battle between al-Qaeda and ISIS al-Qaeda, of course, formally ruled by Osama Bin Laden, has always been focused on what terror experts call the far enemy, they want to attack the US, Canadians, Westerners fit large. ISIS is more interested in establishing a caliphate, and that's probably one reason that Boko Haram felt like aligning itself with ISIS.
AMT: And then, so that when it did that last year, that's why it made that pledge? To ISIS, Boko Haram?
MICHAEL RETTIG: I believe so. As I said, however, though, Boko Haram has not truly done much. It's unclear that they take orders from ISIS. The one thing that's been confirmed is, tragically, their violence has gotten much more gratuitous, and their use of social media and videos and gruesome communications efforts has modelled ISIS more of late.
AMT: And why has it been so hard to stop the cross border migration of these fighters and their groups?
MICHAEL RETTIG: Well, the response has largely been military, which is entirely appropriate when you have an armed force fighting you. This has been an insurgency, but the military efforts are always limited by national boundaries. That is changing. There is a multinational joint task force that is supposed to be set up in the near future. It will be headed by a Nigerian general. It will be based in Chad. And it will have a seven hundred million dollar budget if all goes as planned. Where these countries will come together and fight jointly against Boko Haram.
AMT: And are there examples where that's worked in the past?
MICHAEL RETTIG: So that has worked in the past, the very same task force existed, with some success, in the 2000s. It kind of faded away, and we have to make sure that doesn't happen again. At the moment, there have been some challenges. I think two hundred fifty of that seven hundred billion has been pledged, and yet it hasn't been able to get off the ground. And one has to ask why not, with two hundred fifty million dollars. So there may be some political challenges that are still being sorted out.
AMT: So in the two thousands, it was the same group that tried to band together to fight extremism?
MICHAEL RETTIG: It was a similar template, yes And then even in 2015, once Boko Haram was pushed back from the large area that it occupied, that was sort of an ad hoc group, not under this formal African Union approved task force, but a similar group of countries that came together and operated in each other's border areas.
AMT: It's an issue though, because even if you, because they are militarily equipped, but when you fight them militarily, they still, they do the guerrilla insurgency thing.
MICHAEL RETTIG: Correct, and that's what many folks have been saying recently, is that this has switched from an insurgency, or more of a civil war, simply to guerrilla tactics. And the reason we see so much more horrific civilian violence is because sadly, that's what the terrorist groups are now able to do. They're no longer able to face the military the way they were, say, a year or so ago.
AMT: So what role, if any, is the West taking in this region?
MICHAEL RETTIG: So I think the West is playing a productive role. Right now, there are exercises going on in Senegal where the US and, I believe, the Dutch and the Australians and some others, are training Mauritania and Senegal in precisely these sorts of things, patrolling rivers and borders. The US has also been a big supporter of training and equipping the Nigerian Army and many others. However, what I am stressing in my readings recently, is that international support can only go so far without regional cooperation. Ultimately, the US and others can do many things to assist these countries, but if Nigeria and Chad and Cameroon and its neighbors are not directly talking to each other and sharing intelligence about these groups’ movements, there is little that the international community can do to help.
AMT: And let's get back to the idea of using young girls as suicide bombers. The whole vulnerability of children, you know, we've seen children as child soldiers, and now we see them as being co-opted to be suicide bombers. How does anybody make a dent in trying to protect those kids from the people who would use them like that?
MICHAEL RETTIG: Yeah, it's heartbreaking. I think the challenge is that as the military efforts come close to reaching what they can reach in terms of fighting these terrorists, the efforts need to expand. We need to see more border patrols, we need to see more police, we need to see more economic development. They're trying to resettle many of the displaced folks from northeastern Nigeria now, and the government needs to make sure that there are police that protect those schools and that kids are not kidnapped anymore. It really comes down to building solid governance structures of all sorts and not just a military solution. Even in the United States, you see an occasional mass shooting or terrorist attack. These terrorists only need to succeed once. And to really defend oneself against terrorists, you need to succeed 100 percent of the time, and that relies not just on the military or police or anything else, but on a broad layering of many things.
AMT: Yeah, because of course, to terrorize the public, you need one relatively small thing, but it still adds up to lots of death.
MICHAEL RETTIG: Absolutely, and one of the earlier speakers mentioned how horrified the Nigerians are to go out after a young girl does something like that, and that's just totally understandable, and yet, it's a very, very difficult challenge.
AMT: Michael Rettig, thanks for your insights.
MICHAEL RETTIG: Thank you for having me.
AMT: Michael Rettig, research associate at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies. He joined us from Washington, DC. That's our program for today.
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