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March 2, 2013, at 8:30 PM

It does not surprise me that the Commander of the Military District of Washington has decided to ignore PFC Bradley Manning's contrition, and his time served, and seek the secrecy leak equivalent of the death penalty.

The government has a lot of equities to protect in the case. Some are legitimate, others are not, and others are incidental to the case itself but essential to the functioning of a democracy with secrets.

Manning committed a crime by disclosing secrets. He saw himself as a revolutionary, a political critic who would spark debate about U.S. foreign policy. The Army should not have deployed him; he fell through the large but unavoidable holes that make up the service's mental health screening process. His 1,000-day imprisonment without trial was exceptional and unwarranted....  More»

 
March 3, 2013, at 8:21 PM

Steven Brill's magnum opus on health care costs graces the cover of TIME, and it's worth reading in full. But it's also an essay of substantial girth, much like many Americans themselves. I've read the 26,000 word piece a few times — hey, what else is there to do in Los Angeles on a balmy weekend? — and I've summarized the 10 talking points I found most fascinating. Brill's piece is liberal in the classic sense, and broadly sympathetic to ObamaCare, but it is by no means a down-the-line defense of the Democratic Party's interventions in health care....  More»

 
March 3, 2013, at 8:25 PM

To the outside world, there are things about North Korea even more confusing than Dennis Rodman's sudden renaissance as a diplomat. One is why China bothers to care so much about North Korea, to be its patron and protector, its representative to the outside world. 

Max Fisher of The Washington Post has a pithy summary: "No war, no instability, no nukes." Six words, three reasons, each worth unpacking a little. 

Obviously, China does not want North Korea to go to war with South Korea, or with any other country in the region. The reasons are as self-evident as they would be if Canada were to declare war on Mexico....  More»

 
March 4, 2013, at 9:49 AM

Headline: World Doesn't End With Sequester; Democrats Pessimistic. 

So President Obama formally lopped off a part of the government on Friday. Watching the politicians on the Sunday shows, the anti-climax seems to have emboldened Republicans and genuinely spooked Democrats.

Democrats have long believed that the Republican ability to resist tax cuts stems from the lack of causality that people perceive between a government action and their own lives. Since the sequester did not shut down anything immediately, the causal chain is not being established. The sequester won't condition Americans to link the budget to their lives until they actually experience a long line at the airport, or until they know a relative who has been furloughed, or until they try to go to a national park that cannot open....  More»

 
March 4, 2013, at 3:16 PM

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has come out of his shell. He's speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference for the first time, and he's giving interviews that suggest he wants to be a participant in the debate about the future of the Republican Party. 

Bush is an ideal Republican presidential candidate. He has a national stature, an enviable record as governor, a solid temperament, and nothing significantly scandalous in his past. He is one of his party's best voices on immigration.

But he is a Bush. That's going to be a problem. It's not going to be an insurmountable problem, but the Republican base is definitely wary of the Bush brand and will not embrace him, no matter how hard he tacks to the right. The American people, of course, have two trillion-dollar wars in their Bush memory bank association....  More»

 
March 5, 2013, at 11:28 PM

Death has a way of canonizing even the worst scoundrels. But Hugo Chavez, the recently departed president of Venezuela, is one of those unique, almost ahistorical figures who polarizes, even in repose. 

If you are an American foreign policy official or buy in to the Washington consensus, you view Chavez through the dichotomy of stability versus instability. Was he, fundamentally, a "stable force for the region?" In Washington, the world is broken up into regions largely dictated by the geography of the Cold War bureaucracy. Washington prizes stability above all else because stability does not impede the free flow of commerce or upset the...  More»

 
March 5, 2013, at 11:47 PM

Ron Fournier, the editorial director of National Journal and former chief Washington correspondent for The Associated Press, understands as well as anyone the sequence of events that led to the hangman's noose of a sequester that slammed down on the government last week. He understands that President Obama and Democrats have proposals that offer a mix of real spending cuts, entitlement cuts, and tax increases, to reduce the deficit by a prescribed amount.

He also understands that Republicans refuse to deal with any proposal that includes any revenue increases short of complete tax reform, even one that would cut $5 of spending for every $1 of revenue...  More»

 

President Obama is partly to blame for Rand Paul's filibuster of CIA director-to-be John O. Brennan.

Here is why: Obama inherited a difficult and complex counter-terrorism strike policy from President Bush and amped it up by a factor of about four. He promised more transparency, and not just to the intelligence committees, but to the public. And had he not promised transparency, the urgent global reach of lethal U.S. counter-terrorism assets requires it as a matter of legitimacy. 

But absent an opaque speech from the attorney general, a cautious memorandum that left more questions than it answered (a memo that was strategically leaked way too late for it to mollify critics), and another Obama promise of more transparency, the national security establishment has wrapped itself in the familiar and comforting cloak of secrecy....  More»

 

I feel a little uncomfortable using The Week's platform to promote my new book, but at the same time, I'm kind of proud of what D.B. Grady and I turned out, and I've spent a lot of time this week giving some other publications a sneak peak at certain passages. This post rounds them all up. I won't do this again — I promise. In fact, tomorrow, I'll give you a preview of two other books by rival authors, both of which are guaranteed to make big headlines when they come out in April. 

First: the story of how U.S. Special Forces infiltrated the ISI and set up a spy network to parallel the CIA's.. right when Pakistan's tribal regions began to see a resurgence of al Qaeda activity. From the Atlantic:...  More»

 
March 10, 2013, at 12:34 AM

In April, two of the best intelligence reporters on the planet will release long-awaited books, and if you're as fascinated by the debate about targeted killings, extra-legal warfare, what the military ought to do and what intelligence agencies ought to do, you'll want to read both of them.

The first, coming to bookstores on April 9, is Mark Mazzetti's The Way of The Knife: The CIA, A Secret Army, and the War at the Ends of the Earth

Mazzetti tracks the rivalry and close collaboration between the CIA's Special Activities Division, which turned into a terrorist assassination wing of the government, and the Joint Special Operations Command, the military's umbrella organization for its counter-terrorism forces. The CIA and JSOC operate under different laws, have different oversight regimes, and are subject to varying degrees of accountability...  More»

 
March 10, 2013, at 4:43 AM

The first time I was invited to the Gridiron Club dinner in Washington, I protested against the tails. I don't wear tails. And I dreaded what I assumed would be a self-indulgent celebration of an age of bonhomie that got out of town the day Fanny Foxe jumped into the Tidal Basin. But the night was actually kind of fun. President Obama has twice addressed the Gridiron; there is also a designated Republican and Democratic speech-maker. They hire professional comedians and speechwriters to help them craft their remarks, so they tend to be pretty funny. To an outsider, though, they can be opaque. So, thanks to the White House transcription, I can provide some context for the president's light-hearted jibing at the press corps. Like most speeches of this kind, the structure of similar....  More»

 
March 11, 2013, at 4:12 PM

A federal judge has blocked the implementation of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's ban on big-sized sugar drinks, limiting, for the moment, the reach of Mr. Bloomberg's concern for our intimate drinking habits. As a rule, I'm skeptical of interventions like these for two reasons. One: There is little evidence that they work, especially when they are touted as remedies for a complex multicausal problem like obesity. Generally, restricting access to sugary drinks in one place will simply move the offending behavior out of that place, and since sugar is rather addictive, kids will find somewhere else to make up for their deprivation. The second reason is that I don't feel comfortable being judged by the government for my food choices. Implicit in that feeling is a worry that poorer people would be disproportionately burdened by the new rules....  More»

 
March 11, 2013, at 5:02 PM

This blog post is not an endorsement, per se, of Virgin America, the upstart airline with a cool vibe that takes me across the country.

It is an endorsement of what Virgin America has done with the interior of their jets. I've noticed that passengers tend to be calm and tranquil as they board, as they fly, as they depart. When situations arise that would normally flare a temper or two, for some reason, the flares are extinguished almost immediately. It's as if something is in the air. Or maybe it's the New Age-y music that plays before you have to turn your electronic devices off....  More»

 
March 11, 2013, at 11:53 PM

The attention paid to Chinese cyberwarfare may be increasing, and warnings of doomsday from the government correspond to the new attention, but a new report from Mandiant, the company hired by The New York Times to cleanse their servers after a Chinese attack, suggests that, at long last, private companies are beginning to devote the resources required to fend off these deaths by a thousand cuts.

In the past, embarrassment, risk aversion, and a sense that if a state does it, our state has to respond to it, has prevented the development of cyber-defense best practices, even for companies that control big systems that touch our lives daily. In 2011, only 6 percent of Mandiant clients discovered a cyber intrusion on their own. In 2012, 37 percent discovered the intrusion before Mandiant set up a wall around their systems....  More»

 

Call it back-alley government: full of cans kicked, with no one bothering to take responsibility to clean it up. To borrow a metaphor from criminology, if the neighborhood shows signs of decay, if no one takes pride in its upkeep, then behavior will adjust accordingly. Republicans certainly hate government and say that it doesn't work, and then (as P.J. O'Rourke says), "they get elected and prove it." Democrats miscalculated during the debate over the parameters of the sequester, and everyone took the bait. It turns out that Republicans are unmoved by major defense cuts....  More»

 
March 12, 2013, at 9:34 PM

For journalists covering cyberspace, the story well is full. Chinese cyber espionage. U.S. cyber attacks against Iran. Budget crunches. New cyber-warrior teams. A secret "executive order" on cyberspace. Senior officials complaining to Congress about cyber-authorities. Congress complaining that companies aren't doing enough. Companies begging for guidance and risk-sharing. At least there is debate and discussion. A lot is muddled and unclear, though. Here's a brief attempt to answer five common questions about what the heck is going on.

Q. How safe are we as a country?...  More»

 
March 13, 2013, at 11:48 PM

Maybe Jacques Derrida, the French dauphin of deconstruction, was right: In the beginning and end was the word. Logos. In war, words matter. Take our drone war, which is not, in point of fact, a war, and involves "drones" only incidentally. And yet the concept of hovering, amoral surveillance machines with missiles attached to them is pretty much the way everyone describes a much different reality. 

1. The drone war is not fought primarily with drones. The United States targets members of al Qaeda, al Qaeda affiliates and now, apparently, affiliates of those affiliates, using a comprehensive array of technical intelligence resources, backed up by fighter jets with conventional bombs, submarines that launch missiles, other platforms that launch missiles, and, sometimes, missiles attached to remotely piloted vehicles....  More»

 
March 16, 2013, at 10:00 PM

I happen to think that Apple will be a technological innovator for years to come, and the excitement that Samsung is now generating is largely the result of a tech press corps that craves a storyline less mundane than "both companies compete." But still, an email Apple sent to its iPhone 5 customers makes me think that the round of bad press is getting to the company's executives, too. The email basically tells me, as an iPhone owner, that I love the product, and it reminds me why I apparently love the product. You know, just in case I happened to catch all the nifty gimmicks that Samsung's Galaxy 4 will carry. So here is why Apple says I love its iPhone:

First, it says that "iPhone has received eight straight J.D Power and Associates awards for customer satisfaction....  More»

 
March 16, 2013, at 10:16 PM

If Sen. Rob Portman's family-driven conversion to the ranks of same-sex marriage support is a tipping point, how much love for gays comes out of the jar? As interesting as it is to see this turn of events among the elites of the Republican Party, apparently extending even to Jeb Bush, who told a CPAC audience that the GOP cannot be perceived as anti-gay, and as fascinating as I find the Rand Paul techno-libertarian movement, I just don't know how quickly the party can shift its views on the issue.

As same-sex marriage becomes more publicly accepted, perhaps it will not be as odious to evangelical Christians as it once was. (There is a reason why some gay rights activists don't want the Supreme Court to decree that same-sex marriage be a Constitutional right — they worry that a lot of otherwise sympathetic voters will sense an overreach and...  More»

 

You wouldn't really know it from reading press accounts about cyber-warfare, but the National Security Agency has been the executive agent for precisely that capability since 1997, according to newly declassified documents. "Executive agent" is the government's term for "the entity that does the stuff." "Capability" is the government's way of saying "weapon."  

In 1997, the following fact was classified as "SECRET," releasable to a few U.S. allies. "On 3 March 1997, the Secretary of Defense officially delegated to the National Security Agency the authority to develop computer network attack techniques." William Black, who held the title of "Special Assistant to the Director for Information Warfare," noted that the new authority "is sure to be a catalyst for major changes in the NSA's processes and its workforce....  More»

 
March 18, 2013, at 11:05 PM

I don't believe the hype. 

Yes, gay marriage is increasingly popular. To my own eyes, it's astoundingly popular, and I'm very happy that it's popular. Nearly 60 percent of Americans now support it. The Supreme Court will hear arguments on March 26-27 on a series of cases that will probably make it a lot easier for gay people to actually get married everywhere. 

Nearly 8 in 10 Americans under 30 support gay marriage. Nearly every Republican I talk to supports it, too, which makes it hard for me to conceive of a world where the GOPers who are potentially available to vote in the party's primaries wouldn't support it....  More»

 
March 19, 2013, at 7:15 PM

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad surely knows that the use of chemical weapons is a red line his army cannot cross. Why even risk it? Why tempt the West to invade? Why tempt Israel to more openly aid Syrian rebels?

It's worth saying that we don't know for a fact that the Syrian Army has unleashed these weapons against the rebels, although House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers told CNN that there was a "high probability" that he had done so. How could the U.S. know this? My guess is that Israel's intelligence apparatus, which knows more about Syria's military that most of its commanders, has signals intelligence suggesting that weapons were used, and probably corroborated it with human sources on the ground. Just a guess. Israel knows where Syria keeps its stockpiles of vesicants, blood irritants, and nerve gases....  More»

 

Congress and the White House battle often about the control of national security information. The executive branch insists it has the only legal right to control what constitutes national security information and who gets to release it. Congress claims an independent right based upon the implied powers of oversight. Often, sniping over leaks is how this debate unfurls publicly.

Today, something very different happened. The heads of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence both said in public something that the White House will not: That there is a strong probability that Syria has used chemical weapons. Sen. Dianne Feinstein noted how "highly classified" the information was, and did not want to get into details....  More»

 
March 20, 2013, at 1:45 AM

Ten years ago, the American empiric misadventure in Iraq began. The National Security Archive at George Washington University has compiled the key intelligence and military documents that (mis)led the country's political leadership to war. Human beings brought to the process willful blindness, deliberate lies to obscure a strategic goal, and sincere convictions. They used PowerPoints and memos with codewords to reassure each other that their decisions were correct. 

In late November of 2001, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld visited the headquarters of U.S. Central Command to see the progress made on revising OPLAN 1003-98, which was the DoD's regime change operational plan for Iraq. "98" refers to 1998, when it had last been reviewed and finalized....  More»

 
March 20, 2013, at 9:34 PM

So maybe, as Doc Brown would say, in considering the subject of gay rights and Republicans, I'm not thinking four-dimensionally. My instinct tells me that a presidential candidate who supports gay rights cannot make it through the gauntlet laid down by social conservatives in the GOP primary. Here's why I might be wrong:

1. So if you're Sen. Rob Portman, and you're likely to be in the VP nominee mix in 2016, your support for gay rights separates you from the other potential ticketmates. If you're Marco Rubio, picking Portman would help in Chicago and potentially bring in some credibility with younger voters. By 2016, given the trajectory of the issue, it will probably break 55 to 45 against the GOP or worse.

2. Thought bubble: Marco Rubio came out on a charm offensive on immigration a few months ago and has seen no deterioration in his poll numbers....  More»

 
March 21, 2013, at 12:57 PM

Here's what the Secret Service is saying about the incident in 2007 involving Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and an accidental firearms discharge:

In September of 2007, one of our personnel assigned to the Iranian presidential protective detail accidentally discharged one round from a Heckler & Koch MP-5 into the floorboard of a Secret Service vehicle while conducting an equipment inspection. At the time of the discharge the vehicle was parked in a motorcade staging area at the United Nations. There were no protectees or foreign security personnel in the vicinity of the vehicle at the time of the discharge....  More»

 
March 22, 2013, at 7:38 PM

With the spotlight shining brightly on the Joint Special Operations Command, several of its component units have receded further into the shadows. As secretive as the Army and Navy special missions units are — here I'm talking about the units popularly known as SEAL Team Six and Delta Force — they are relatively easy to write about compared to their cousin, known informally as The Activity.  As ABC News reports, The Activity's missions will now be told in comic book form:...  More»

 
March 25, 2013, at 8:09 PM

At the height of the insurgency in Iraq, when we took a moment to stop and look, we could try to imagine what life was like for Iraqi children trying to go to school, trying to avoid the bullets and bombs that struck, seemingly at random, in their neighborhoods. Or think about the children who knew those killed by an American cluster bomb in Yemen, a bomb that was launched on the direct command of President Barack Obama after agreeing to a target identified in late 2009 by the Special Operations Command. Imagine waking up and trying to sleep wondering if you will accidentally be the next "effect" identified by a foreign force.

But the most vivid picture of what it's like to grow up in a war zone comes from a source much closer to home. A month ago, This American Life aired a two-part radio program about Harper High School in the West Englewood ...  More»

 
March 25, 2013, at 8:52 PM

The Washington Post reported over the weekend that a proposal by officials in Fairfax County, Va., to get the FBI to move its headquarters to a seemingly unused patch of government land next to a Metro station has run into opposition from a secret source. It seems that the CIA is a tenant, and, indeed, has used the facility for years for clandestine purposes of some sort. The Post goes out of its way to give readers a general idea about where this site is, but presumably out of a sense of responsibility or maybe in response to a request from the Agency, does not identify the actual address. 

Reporters makes their own choices, and when it comes to national security, it's OK to err on the side of caution. But far too often, everyone with stakes in the secrecy wars finds themselves focused on precisely the wrong things, or on the trivial...  More»

 
March 26, 2013, at 8:07 AM

After giving the Secret Service a hard time last week, here's something remarkable to think about. Not once, in the history of the Service, has a member of a protective detail ever betrayed his mission or her conscience. Not once. Ever. There are no Aldrich Ameses, Robert Hanssens, no Ronald Peltons or Earl Pitts. More than 110 years of treason-free protection. 

So why does almost every movie about the Secret Service rely on such a betrayal to advance the plot?

Olympus Has Fallen, written and directed by Antoine Fuqua, is an entertaining thriller....  More»

 
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