• United States



The Reluctant Ambassador

Mar 08, 20065 mins
Business ContinuityCSO and CISOIT Leadership

When European colleagues ask about U.S. acts of kidnapping and torture, what's an American CSO to say?

I’ve never really considered myself to be ambassador material. That all changed when I accepted my current CISO position with an international organization in Europe. I thought that when I went to lunch with one of my new colleagues, I’d be asked about firewalls, security policy or our new plan to roll out Internet access to every desktop. But because I am one of the few Americans in the organization, I am constantly being asked my thoughts about different U.S. policies or actions.

As a longtime security practitioner with a military background, this puts me in a somewhat awkward position. I try my best to represent the United States in as good a light as possible. However, the headlines about U.S. kidnapping, torture and “extraordinary” rendition have really taxed my diplomatic skills. There is not a day that goes by that I am not approached by someone from a different country asking me my opinion on the latest revelation.

In Italy, for instance, the court has issued arrest warrants for 22 CIA agents who kidnapped a Muslim cleric, Abu Omar, and flew him to Egypt, where he was tortured. Or there is the case of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen who was abducted at JFK Airport on his way home to Canada. He was sent to Syria, where he spent 10 months being brutally interrogated and tortured, without charge. Then there is the German citizen, Khaled Masri, who was abducted in Macedonia and flown to a secret prison in Afghanistan for five months. He was later released, and the U.S. State Department acknowledged he was wrongfully detained.

The Council of Europe, a 46-member rights body, has concluded that allegations of secret CIA prisons are credible and that the United States seemed to have illegally abducted and detained individuals. Based on the Council’s report, the leaders of the European Parliament have agreed to launch an investigation into the existence of secret CIA prisons in Europe. Many European national governments have also pledged to conduct separate national investigations. All of this makes it hard for me to put the United States in a good light.

Frankly, though, I’m not sure what makes me more upset: the stories of the kidnapping and torture allegedly done in the name of the United States, or the fact that-at least the way it looks from here-many Americans apparently just don’t care. Reading the news from the States, it seems that the only ones speaking out are civil libertarians and human rights activists. Is Main Street America too busy with other priorities? Perhaps they are not fully aware of the serious damage this is doing to the reputation of the United States around the world.

America didn’t always behave this way toward its prisoners of war. The respectful treatment that Americans paid toward German and Japanese prisoners of war in World War II and the help we provided their countries after the war paid dividends many times over. Germany and Japan both developed into prosperous democracies and strong U.S. allies. We should keep that in mind as we try to develop the same types of prosperous democracies in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The problem is that apathy breeds complacency. What should be outrageous to Americans becomes simply “the way things are done” and slips into standard operating procedure without a whimper of protest. It seems that the fabric of what it means to be an American is being ripped apart and patched with an ugly remnant called torture, and no one seems to notice. If the time ever comes that individual Americans are tortured for alleged offenses against the government, I fear it will be far too late to raise any type of effective protest.

The greatest resource of America in its roughly 230 years of existence has not been its military power or its economic output; it has been its moral voice. It was the idea that the nation was founded on the unique understanding that governments did not derive their authority from a supposed mandate from heaven, but that every person had intrinsic worth and that governments derived their authority from the consent of the governed. As I explain to my European colleagues, there have been moments in our nation’s history that I am not particularly proud of and the recent revelations about U.S. sponsored kidnappings and torture certainly belong in that category. But throughout our history as a nation, we have been more true than any other to the fundamental principles of democracy and human rights. It is that point that I try to impress upon my European friends.

Are we now going to squander our nation’s greatest resource? I certainly hope not, but I’ve talked with quite a few Europeans who think that we have. It is affecting the way Europeans view Americans and is causing them to rethink their relationship with the United States. It may very well take generations before we regain that trust. In the meantime, the U.S.-European marriage against terror appears to be fast approaching a rocky divorce.

Paul Raines is CISO of a nonprofit international group in The Hague, Netherlands.


Paul Raines is the Chief Information Security Officer for the United Nations Development Programme. In that capacity he is responsible for the information security and disaster recovery planning for the Organisation’s 177 locations around the world. Previously, he worked for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and, like all current and former members of the organization, shared in the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize. Prior to working for the United Nations he was the Chief Information Security Officer for Bloomberg LP and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. He is a graduate of the United States Air Force Academy and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. For relaxation he enjoys opera, Shakespeare, French wine and sometimes just sitting in a cafe with an espresso and croissant reading a good book on Roman history.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of Paul Raines and do not necessarily represent those of IDG Communications, Inc., its parent, subsidiary or affiliated companies.

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