Book Review

The Cost of Counterterrorism Review

My synopsis of Laura Donohue’s The Cost of Counterterrorism: Power, Politics, and Liberty is now up on the JustSecurity blog.  A couple of quick thoughts on the book:

First, it was impossible not to read in various Snowden revelations throughout the book.  It read very much like a prelude to all of the different programs and oversight problems we have learned about over the past year, which suggests that Snowden’s leaks really just confirmed what security critics were already surmising.  Further, considering the book was release right at the start of the smartphone explosion and the rise of “Big Data,” it’s fascinating to see how Professor Donohue talked about the capabilities of these technologies.

Second, my major criticism of the book is that it reads like a bunch of law review articles duct-taped together.  This may speak volumes for how legal scholarship is produced, or how many non-fiction books are collections that build upon a certain idea or original essay. Regardless, it was impossible not to notice how jarring portions of the book were.  Professor Donohue’s overall framework is to compare the national security regimes of the United States with the United Kingdom, and this leads to chapters that bounce from the Irish Troubles to American military policy in Iraq.  The comparison doesn’t always hold, and it some spots feels unwarranted.

Enter the Nexus?

In 2032, a group of genetically engineered neo-Nazis create a super virus that threatens to wipe away the rest of humanity. Coming on the heels of a series of outbreaks involving psychotropic drugs that effectively enslave their users, this leads to the Chandler Act, which places sharp restrictions on “research into genetics, cloning, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, and any approach to creating ‘superhuman’ beings.” The Emerging Risks Directorate is launched within the Department of Homeland Security, and America’s war on science begins.

This is the world that technologist Ramez Naam sets his first novel, the techno-thriller Nexus. Nexus is a powerful drug, oily and bitter, that allows humans minds to be linked together into a mass consciousness. A hodgepodge of American graduate students develop a way to layer software into Nexus, allowing enterprising coders to upload programs into the human brain. It’s shades of The Matrix, but it’s hardly an impossible idea.

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