Aux armes citoyens
It would seem natural that small groups and individuals -- connected by a network -- would play a significant role in fighting the networked insurgency. Here's one example. The Opinion Journal describes how Maj Owen West, Spirit of America and Bill Roggio established a fingerprinting system in Habbaniyah with only one thing in common. They were all Americans. Otherwise it was entirely private effort by individuals connected by a private network of familiarity, nationality and shared belief. Here's Bill Roggio's own account of its effect.
I would like to add that not only will this device have a real impact on data gathering and storage, and creating a networked picture of the insurgency, there is also a real psychological effect of this tool on the populace. Several of the young men who were stopped and had their data gathered were clearly nervous about the device. They knew their fingerprint and picture were being taken and stored. Despite Anbar being the backwaters of Iraq, the people still understand technology and modern policing (I've seen CSI on TVs in homes during raids, for instance.). Major West informed me that immediately after the night patrol, "there was a buzz throughout the town" about the device. The Snake Eater may very well serve to deter those less committed to the jihad cause; the part time rent-an-insurgent might view the risk too great.
By slow degrees the poisonous idea that government should be left to do things for the public has taken unconscious hold even of minds that would be consciously opposed to the notion. To be sure, government has a unique role to play in setting foreign policy, in exercising police powers and in national defense. But in the War on Terror where the boundaries between private and organizational movements; politics and religion and even between state frontiers is blurred, the idea of leaving everything to the government is probably a prescription for defeat. It is often forgotten that one of of government's legitimate roles is to mobilize the public. To channel private effort. To recall that the nation consists, not of the "masses" but of individuals yearning to breathe free -- and help.
There is great scope for private initiative in the War on Terror in areas which are both legal and appropriate. Individuals can monitor foreign language broadcasts. Volunteer their language skills. And -- as in this case -- offer their technical expertise in areas where the government is either too slow or ill-equipped to respond. There's a fingerprinting system in Habbaniyah tonight. America put it there. Not the government. But America.