Looking through online job postings for open source information about defense programs is de rigeur, but there's a lot more in there than just the names of the largest NSA databases. When I began to report on intelligence, I set up several Google Alerts that included specific phrases or acronym/number combinations that, while unclassified, are only used for national security purposes. One is "TS//SCI" — as in TOP SECRET DOUBLE SLASH SCI, which is a baseline qualification for most of the open positions.
I've noticed two major trends in these job listings. There is an enormous appetite for cleared cyber-security technicians and for intelligence analysts with experience working on the Counter IED account. The first is easy to understand, given how voracious U.S. Cyber Command has become.
The second is more disturbing.
If these online job postings correlate in any way with national security priorities, and I think they do, it would seem that the only thing the U.S. government is really doing in the world, right now, is trying to counter the threat posed by improvised explosive devices to U.S. and Afghan troops in the latter's country. Many of the listings suggest that the applicant have prior knowledge of the Haqqani network, which reminds me up front about the validity of our basic definition of terrorism. The Haqqanis do not recognize the Durand line, maintain a very parlous and often broken relationship with the Pakistani government, provide arms and fighters to the Taliban, and pose no threat to the U.S. homeland whatsoever. Of course it is necessary and worthwhile to have as many people as possible protecting U.S. troops from IEDs. But when U.S. troops leave in a year or so, the Haqqanis will still be there.
If you judge a country's national security policy by what its people actually do and what actually happens, and ignore posture statements, strategic white papers, and glittery rhetoric, there is grittiness that even the Obama administration would probably acknowledge. As Adam Elkus has noted, policy makers often tragically conflate means with ends, instead of carefully figuring out whether means are suited to ends. It is especially difficult when the strategy itself is indirect, where interventions are small and covert, and where U.S. troops facilitate instead of fight.
What do you call a policy like this?
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