April 1, 2013, at 3:45 AM

If you're gay, it's hard not to feel optimistic these days. We're a small part of the population, but a solid majority of Americans and much of the political elite is on our side and wants to guarantee our political equality under the law. I was reminded early this morning that despite the amazing progress, life for some of my younger gay friends is, and will remain, quite hard.

I don't mean, or just mean, gay kids who are bullied in schools. That problem has the attention of educators and activists.

I mean this: You're 17, 18, 19 years old. Your family kicks you out. Maybe your father abuses you. You have no money. You have no place to go. You don't live in a city with a vibrant supportive gay community. Or you don't live in a state with a strong domestic/adult dependent abuse safety net....  More»


What's been one of the most effective ways to figure out where Taliban forces and other bad guys hide their improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan and Iraq?

It's not a dog or a ground-based technology.

It's a classified program, called Red Dot.

According to what's been said publicly, Red Dot involves the tactical use of signals intelligence (SIGINT) and measurement and signature intelligence (MASINT) satellites operated by the National Reconnaissance Office. As Matthew Aid points out, the amount of power that any IED could possibly emit is infinitesimally small, probably on the order of a large cell phone battery. That means that the U.S. can detect (probably) the unique RF frequencies associated with IEDs passively. I assume that our satellites have some sort of interrogation capability, one that allows it to "ping" the ground ...  More»

April 1, 2013, at 8:36 PM

It's a race for America's cap. 

Today, employers around the country will submit as many H1-B visa applications as they can, hoping to get federal approval before the cap of 80,000 is triggered.

Immigration reform will no doubt expand the H1-B program, but for the next year, at least, only 80,000 new visas will be issued. The visas expire in six years, meaning that many researchers, post-docs, and young technology workers may be forced to go home simply because... well, because their application was not processed in time, or because someone else bumped them out of the way.

Neil Ruiz of the Brookings Institute says that the cap was met in just 10 weeks last year, implying that demand for the visas far outpaces the artificial limit that Congress has imposed on these specific skill work permits....  More»

April 2, 2013, at 12:45 PM

Sometimes, the best way to get a handle on the unpredictable is to label it with a completely random numerical value. Oddsmaking is a combination of magical thinking, intuition and sheer chance. With that in mind, here are the odds that Vegas bookmakers might want to give to the following world events:

1. North Korea starts a war with South Korea: 10% My biggest fear is that the West believes that North Korea does not actually feel threatened and is simply posturing. But that assumption has almost never, ever held water for any conflicts. It's been a huge blind spot; us assuming that our sense of rationality applies in a world governed by semi-rational statecraft principles.  Still, Kim Jong Un is not entirely cosseted by peoples unaware of world norms....  More»

April 2, 2013, at 4:00 PM

Fact: By the end of 2014, U.S. troops will not be withdrawn from Afghanistan. The Afghan army might well be "responsible for its own security," as President Obama pledged, but only with more than 10,000 U.S. combat and support troops nestled by their side. Not only has the Pentagon not committed to a specific withdrawal date for all non-Special Operations forces, it remains opaque about whether the U.S. deployment in 2015 will look like it does in Iraq, a country with whom the U.S. has a very different standing agreement.

What will U.S. troops be doing? Targeted counter-terrorism, yes: The "drone" war, but well within the confines of a battlefield that Congress recognizes. (Afghanistan will still be the base for U.S. incursions — either secretly on the ground, or more likely using unmanned aerial vehicles — into Pakistan....  More»


In the aftermath of the SEAL Team Six raid on Osama Bin Laden,  I reported, based on two sources, that an advanced surveillance drone, the RQ-170 Sentinel, had prowled above the scene in Pakistan, undetected by the country's radar and air defense surveillance systems. No one picked up on this nugget, which was relatively unimportant in the scheme of things, until the Washington Post advanced the story: that drone had been back and forth across the Afghanistan border quite frequently, helping CIA officers and agents on the ground map out Abbottabad. The Post noted that I had first reported the use of the drone.

Moments after the article was published online, I received an e-mail from James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence....  More»


Officially, the U.S. may be backing down from its well-planned series of information operations designed to show North Korea that it is serious about deterrence and power, lest there be misperceptions that could magnify misunderstandings. This is not a silly telegraphed retreat: The U.S. had no idea, or would not believe, how truly scared Soviet leaders were of a U.S. first strike in 1983, and went ahead with a war games exercise that nearly precipitated World War III. 

That said, I doubt that the military deception/special technical operations part of this campaign is over. A group of radio monitoring enthusiasts dutifully log all of the broadcasts on the Air Force's High Frequency Global Communications System. The HFGCS, stood up in 1992, is a reliable, redundant worldwide communications network that allows deployed aircraft ...  More»

April 5, 2013, at 10:22 AM

When Britain struggled to protect its military secrets after the first World War, the worst abusers were not rank and file intelligence officers in the low ranks of what would later be known as the Secret Intelligence Service, of MI-6. Actually, two prime ministers, Winston Churchill and David Lloyd George, gave the cabinet office the greatest headaches, wanting to disclose oodles of sensitive information in their self-serving memoirs.History repeats. In the United States, for all the official whining about compromised government secrecy, the evidence that political appointees and senior military officials truly want to stem the outflow of classified information is scant. Indeed, it seems like the government goes out of its way to create a zone of freedom, within which policy-makers of a certain echelon can carefully traffic in sensitive information...  More»


As he decides whether to run for president in 2016, Jon Huntsman, the former governor of Utah, is making a case for a modified conservatism.

Huntsman was an advance man for Ronald Reagan in 1980, and speaking at the Reagan Library here in California last week, he located the origin of his beliefs in what he saw Reagan standing for. "The pride I felt was that of being, even as a lowly advance man, part of a team that was accomplishing the people's work; confronting and solving big problems that allowed the American people to forge a national renewal and close the trust deficit between the country and our political leadership," he said. "That is not an imagined past, that is what President Reagan and the Republican Party did."

That would be, of course, a governing conservatism, one that accepts the reality of modern life and actively works to make...  More»


For some reason, human beings need three examples to believe in a proposition, so here are three reasons to think that the partisan gridlock that paralyzed Congress for the past several years is beginning to ease. 

1. The prospects for passing a major overhaul of immigration laws remains high. The media fetishizes the role of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, positing that somehow, if Rubio bolts or begs off from the task, immigration reform is dead. I think pundits are confusing Republicans rallying around Rubio as a personality who will be a viable presidential candidate with the much different optics and effects of passing an immigration bill. On the news, you might hear something like: "Marco Rubio was seen frowning today, and so immigration reform looks dead....  More»

April 9, 2013, at 9:13 PM

When I was growing up, Stephen Hawking was pretty much the closest thing to a genuine hero I had. But before I saw A Brief History of Time, thinking about physics was like watching water boil. All I could think about was the scientist's incredible mind-power, which seemed to make any of my bothers seem small. 

Today, a friend texted me that Hawking was in the neighborhood. Apparently, he was visiting with doctors and scientists at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, better known as The Place Where Celebrities Are Treated For Exhaustion....  More»


In 1967, the literary theorist and scourge of modernists, Roland Barthes, wrote an essay announcing the imminent death of the author. No longer, in the information age, (if ever) could the author of a work influence its reception, its meaning. Now, 45 years later, authors are still around, and so is Barthes' observation, having become a foundational principle of crit-lit. But the modern incarnation is much more prosaic. Authors might be alive, and maybe even have some influence over how their work is received, but damn it if they can get published and make a living off of it. The irony is not lost on me: The day my book was published, my publisher essentially went out of business.

In a New York Times op-ed, Scott Turow writes that trends in technology and commercial publishing have devalued copyrights to such an extent that everyone ...  More»


Mark Mazzetti, who covers intelligence and national security for the New York Times, spent 15 months working on The Way Of The Knife: The CIA, A Secret Army, and a War At the Ends Of The Earth. The main focus is the evolution of the CIA's targeted killing program, which Mazzetti locates in a secret 2004 agreement between the U.S. and Pakistan. It is, for the moment, the definitive history of how the intelligence agency became something much more like a paramilitary wing — de-evolving, in a sense, back to the days when the agency's adventurism influenced foreign policy around the world....  More»

April 11, 2013, at 11:57 PM

I recently predicted in this column that whatever phone-type integration Facebook was cooking up would be a game-changer for the company. Boy was I wrong. Early reviews of whatever the heck it is that Facebook is debuting tomorrow suggest that, at the very least, an interface that replaces an interface and actually hurts functionality isn't going to be well-loved.

It got me to thinking, though. Given the current state of smartphone technology, just what type of accouterment would have to come with a new phone in order for it to truly qualify as game-changing? Yes, a bendable screen would be cool, but in terms of functionality — eh. Functionally, what's the killer app? I assume that Samsung, Google, Apple, HTC, and others have teams of smart people whose sole job it is to figure out what innovation would make life easier, simpler, more...  More»

April 12, 2013, at 12:12 AM

Rep. Doug Lamborn's 15 minutes of fame begins and ends with human error. I'm betting that's the case, anyway. In a Congressional hearing, he read a paragraph from a Defense Intelligence Agency assessment of North Korea's nuclear capability:

"DIA assesses with moderate confidence the North currently has nuclear weapons capable of delivery by ballistic missiles. However, the reliability will be low."

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, seemed caught off guard. Such statements don't usually make it into a public hearing. They're usually classified. Now, how could a statement like that be "reasonably expected to cause grave or serious harm to national security," which is the baseline standard for classification? The way the intelligence community would see it is this: by giving the North Koreans our assessment of what their capability...  More»

April 12, 2013, at 6:00 PM

...  More»


With the immigration debate about to ramp up again this week, lawmakers are awash in data from advocates on both sides. The central debate will be about the best, most efficient, most secure way to bring undocumented immigrants into the light. But equally as important for the future engine of economic growth is the debate over visas for foreign students and incentives to get them to stay in the U.S. Weirdly, until very recently, those outside the government didn't have a full picture of those who've come here to study. A FOIA request by a Brookings researcher has turned up some very interesting results.

In 2010, nearly 700,000 foreign students studied here — that's about 21 percent of all those who took their college-level instruction outside their home countries....  More»

April 15, 2013, at 10:22 PM

When he heard about the bombings in Boston. David Gomez, a former Senior Assistant Special Agent-in-Charge for Counter-terrorism and Intelligence at the FBI's Seattle Field Office, began to tweet. (He's @allthingshls). For years, he was one of the bureau's top CT agents and criminal profilers, and so he knows his brief. I asked Gomez to answer a few questions about how the FBI will move forward with what surely will prove to be a complex investigation. 

Q: What's the FBI's role now, and why was it so quick to take control of the investigation?

A: "The FBI investigates bombings....  More»

April 15, 2013, at 10:23 PM

"Crude" is certainly an interesting word to apply to an explosive that is capable of ripping flesh from limb, and so I wanted to find out what experts mean they say they an explosive device is not sophisticated.

The answer is two-fold: electronics and chemicals. First, a "crude" bomb is likely to use a timing device — a so-called "command" bomb that does not require an outside stimulus, such as a radio frequency, or pressure, or a laser, to detonate. Secondly, it probably does not contain high-grade explosives, the type that you'd find in, say, improvised explosive devices in warzones....  More»

April 16, 2013, at 8:30 AM

I first learned of the bombings yesterday when my airplane touched down at Reagan National. Several breaking news alerts popped up. About 21 minutes after the blasts, I clicked open one of the many iPhone apps that streams in the radio feeds from Boston's police, fire, and EMS departments.

You can listen to the first 24 minutes of the police department response here. A supervisor, Delta 9-8-4, was on the scene of the second explosion immediately. His instinct: Clear an adjacent road for ambulances. "All officers, watch for secondary devices."

The Fire Department's audio — an engine company reports an explosion at 671 Bolyston Street — is here. "We have reports of two explosions here; we have at least a dozen people with serious injuries....  More»

April 16, 2013, at 2:45 PM

One of the frustrating legacies of September 11 is that a lot of commentators buy into the idea of an artificial, ahistorical "mentality" that somehow kicked in on September 12, a "mentality" that supposedly brought out the best from Americans, erased partisan distinctions, unified the country, and helped New York struggle back to life. 

No: The heroism of 9/11 happened on 9/11. It happened during the terrorist attacks, when firefighters ran into the burning towers, or even when Donald Rumsfeld, ignoring protocol, rushed outside to help tend to the wounded at the Pentagon....  More»

April 18, 2013, at 7:33 PM

Why did a relatively modest, very popular gun control bill fail? A lack of big-think words like "will" and "imagination"? Too little or too much intervention from the White House? Naw. Here are five of the many reasons:

1. An interest group imbalance 
The gun control lobby might have resources now that it didn't have in the past, but its relationship with most lawmakers is nothing like the NRA's. It has not only kept sustained pressure on Democrats and Republicans, but has also actively cultivated relationships with key constituencies in their districts. The NRA is able to generate a lot of smoke without much fire. And politicians will instinctively react to the political pressure that is available to them at moments in time. 

2. The disconnect between the tragedy and the proposed solutions 
Background checks for the mentally ill, a ban ...  More»

April 18, 2013, at 10:19 PM

(S/NF) Last week, I assessed with strong confidence that the disclosure of two sentences from a Defense Intelligence Agency analysis on North Korea was the result of two errors, one committed by the supervisor of the analytical team, and another committed by the member of Congress who disclosed the sentence, Doug Lamborn.

(U) You'll recall that in a public hearing, Rep. Lamborn asked the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, whether he agreed with a conclusion that had just been brought to his attention.

(S) Lamborn said that a DIA report on North Korea included the following two lines, which were marked as unclassified. 

DIA assesses with moderate confidence the North currently has nuclear weapons capable of delivery by ballistic missiles....  More»

April 19, 2013, at 5:16 PM

We are still speculating about virtually everything right now, but I feel as though I need to explain why I find the quick and easy conversation about Muslims being radicalized in America to be so illogical and laced with bigotry.

Of course, there is a global violent jihadist movement, loosely organized, that wants to recruit young men to influence policies at home and abroad and perhaps usher in the global caliphate. That ideology motivates some Muslims to kill innocent people.

But you're allowed to be a radical Muslim in America. You're allowed to believe that the Qu'ran proscribes the most elegant set of laws....  More»

April 22, 2013, at 11:53 AM

Consider this a companion post to "The Insanity of Blaming Islam" for the Boston bombings. I'm glad I have a chance to revise and expand my remarks, although I'm really only going to expand upon them. A lot of people who read the piece, which I pecked out after hearing Rep. Peter King call for a vague new examination of Muslim radicalization in America, believe me to be a lot of bad things: anti-American, obtuse to moral truths, committed to apologetics for inexcusable behavior, or blind to the true reality of Islam.

I think many of my critics keyed in on a sentence of two and extrapolated from there....  More»

April 22, 2013, at 8:12 PM

I've been listening to police scanners since I was 16. I joined WFTV Channel 9 in Orlando as an intern, and I got hooked to the Uniden receivers that littered the assignment desk. Media access to police scanners has always been an informal, accepted mechanism of information exchange between the two institutions, although it is starting to fray. In New York and Los Angeles, you can listen to the NYPD and the LAPD do just about everything they do, in real time, in the clear. 

I find this exciting and interesting, if maybe a bit morbid. I also think that public access to police and fire radio traffic is generally a good thing, a way that citizens can keep tabs on an expanding police state, something that encourages the law enforcement community to act in private as they would if they knew people were listening and watching....  More»

April 23, 2013, at 12:09 AM

Why is terrorism different? 

I get that random, rare attacks carried out for ideological reasons are very scary.

But with terrorism, we quickly get to the point where we lose perspective, where we become almost mindlessly obsessed with retribution and vengeance, with gory and often irrelevant details.

Consider: CNN can spend a whole day talking about medical intubation because the terrorist suspect happens to be intubated. 

Maybe it's therapeutic, just like the way we praise ourselves for coming together and being resilient. Maybe it's a function of how we all reacted after Sept. 11, an event in its own category. We are trained to react this way.  I'm not knocking these collective expressions of self-psychology. Social healing is important....  More»

April 23, 2013, at 9:34 PM

One of the most powerful formal checks on government secrecy is the Freedom of Information Act, which compels the government to produce documents upon demand, with some exceptions. Since 1966, as you might imagine, the scope of the exceptions has been the subject of a significant amount of litigation. As you might also imagine, the government likes to define the exceptions broadly, and public advocacy groups like to define it narrowly. 

In general, courts have been reluctant to side with the public in cases involving agencies involved in the national security state, specifically if a "national interest" type of exemption is cited. After all, the executive branch controls what constitutes national security information and decides how to protect it....  More»


The debate over the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act is largely a debate about how Congress will allocate authorities and powers to fight against Chinese cyber-espionage, which siphons off from the U.S. economy as much as $100 billion a year in intellectual property and proprietary information. CISPA is controversial because it vaguely defines what a "cyber threat" actually is, immunizes U.S. companies who share personal information with the government, lacks oversight mechanisms to prevent abuse by the government, and militarizes what is, in essence, a law enforcement function — an FBI and Department of Homeland Security ...  More»

April 24, 2013, at 9:18 PM

With 1,000 FBI agents working the case of the Boston bombing, a suspect in custody and reams of evidence already sifted, there's quite a lot we've learned about the Tsarnaev brothers. The more we've learned, the less we really know. Consider:

1. So Russia told the FBI, twice, that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was a subject of interest to them. The FBI interviewed Tsarnaev and apparently obtained some of his communications and did not find any evidence that he was a threat. Then Tsarnaev goes to Dagestan, a place where many of the 9/11 co-conspirators received their training, for six months....  More»

Load More Articles




Subscribe to the Week