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Even though President Obama ordered his national security cabinet to shift the locus of the drone wars from the Central Intelligence Agency to the military's Special Operations Command, the New York Times reported Sunday that, while the number of strikes has slowed to a trickle, the CIA plans to be in the drone business in Pakistan and Africa for quite a while.

The Times attributed the delay to institutional resistance in the CIA and to a recent series of counterterrorism operations that killed civilians, which increased doubts about the efficacy of the shift itself....  More»

 

Don't be surprised that Russian special forces and military intelligence are stirring up resistance in eastern Ukraine. When acute conflicts seem to simmer, Americans lull themselves into a false nap of security. It's false because Vladimir Putin's timeline is significantly longer than ours. We care about the Crimea, today, or what happens in Ukraine, tomorrow. Putin has the luxury of time; he cares what happens next year.

The "resistance" is artificial, of course. People power in the late 20th and early 21st centuries has been generated more often than not by foreign governments that have their own agendas, and not by indigenous forces....  More»

 
April 8, 2014, at 2:32 PM

The U.S government today released a precise accounting of its strategic nuclear forces, something it is required to do by treaty, and it's worth a careful read.

The world now knows that, by February of 2018, the U.S. will have approximately 400 intercontinental ballistic missiles, down from 450; 240 submarine-launched ballistic missiles, down about 50; and 60 nuclear-capable heavy bomber fighters (B-2As and B-52Hs), converting 30 B-52s to a non-nuclear role.

Since most of the nuclear payloads contain multiple warheads, the U.S. must also disclose the number of strategic nuclear weapons it will maintain on an alert status....  More»

 

A few months ago, after nearly a decade of contentious litigation and with many conspiracy theories spawned, the Pentagon released the Holy Grail of Sept. 11th, 2001, documents: transcripts from the emergency conference calls initiated by the National Military Command Center.

For years, the government insisted that the entire conference was classified because the disclosure of any parts could be combined with existing public information to give adversaries a window into how the military responds during an acute crisis, as well as how the government's continuity of government programs work....  More»

 
April 10, 2014, at 8:00 PM

The USS George Washington, one of the Navy's 11 aircraft carriers, needs money for fuel. A gas card won't do. It takes several years to refuel an aircraft carrier, at a cost of more than $1 billion.

But the squeeze has real world consequences. Congress insists that the Navy keep 11 carriers afloat. Right now, budget forces are conspiring to kill at least one. And since the George Washington is supposed to begin its refueling cycle in 2016, the refueling costs are highly vulnerable to the budget cleaver.

The more the Navy delays the decision, the more expensive the refueling process becomes....  More»

 

Col. Miles Kara (Ret.), a highly credentialed member of the congressional joint commission that investigated the 9/11 attacks, is one of the most dogged and least ideological of those who believe that the ground truth of what happened that day has not been fully and faithfully disclosed to the public. In that sense, Kara wants the truth. But he is not a 9/11 Truther; he is not, so far as I can tell, an adherent to the discredited theories about who planned the attack, who carried it out, whether the U.S. government "allowed" the attacks to happen deliberately, or whether the attacks were a deliberate "false flag" operation to shock the world out of ...  More»

 

Funny question in the headline, yes?

But since President Obama worries more about the threat of terrorists' improvised nuclear device going off in a major American city than anything Russia can throw at us, I was wondering if the government had deigned to share with us citizens any tips for, you know, surviving something their own intelligence points to as the likeliest unlikely Black Swan event.

Well, no. And yes.

No — very few people in Washington, D.C., who work for the government have any idea what they would do if a 10-kiloton nuclear device exploded at the intersection of 16th and K streets....  More»

 

Geoffrey Stone, a University of Chicago law professor, friend to the president, and member of his intelligence policy review committee, writes in The Daily Beast today that Congress should enshrine some sort of special protection into law for the reporter-source relationship. It is an essential element of democracy, he says. And we tend to protect essential instruments, particularly those (like the lawyer-client relationship and marriage) which reflect and strengthen fundamental values.

The press professionalized in the early 19th century, fighting against consolidated corporate power and consciously assuming the role of watchdogging the expanding...  More»

 
April 24, 2014, at 8:31 PM

In the realm of fixing inequities in the immigration system, President Obama's use of the executive branch instruction has been the most powerful.

And on the anniversary of one of those declarations — which established a procedure for hundreds of thousands of children of undocumented immigrants to work and live without fear of deportation — the administration is considering a series of new steps.

Some of these are small; others would have considerable effects on the system. Because the efforts to pass a more comprehensive bill are still alive in the House of Representatives, any action that considerably shifts the optics of the debate...  More»

 

Liberals have finally cracked the nut of inequality. They've managed to write books about social justice and corporate corruption that large audiences want to read. Thomas Piketty, the French economist whose Capital in the 21st Century has sold about 40,000 copies to date, the largest haul in Harvard University Press' history, is a la mode right now. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) is already a best-seller. And Michael Lewis' latest narrative story about how fat cats manipulate the technological neutrality of Wall Street to game the system — well, that makes three, and three is a trend....  More»

 

Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, has a long racial rap sheet. It has not been hidden.

Just five years ago, Elgin Baylor, an NBA legend and former Clippers GM, testified to Sterling's plantation owner mentality.

And in 2003, Sterling settled with the Justice Department (it was the largest settlement offer ever!) over complaints that he discriminated against black and Latino tenants at buildings around Los Angeles. The details are incredible.

According to one former property manager, Sterling was obsessed with how black people smell (apparently, they smell bad to him) and thought they clashed with the image he was "cultivating....  More»

 
April 28, 2014, at 10:55 AM

It's hard for something to become the most sensational story in Hollywood, just because there is so much competition. But money usually separates the sordid from the serious. There are allegations of rape against one of Hollywood's most talented directors, Bryan Singer, and they've come out at a moment that could cost the studio that financed his latest film several hundred million dollars.

If the story is true, then the timing matters very little in the moral universe. I have no idea whether Michael Egan's allegations are valid, or whether they approximate a larger truth....  More»

 

Of all the defenses of Donald Sterling circulating, and surprisingly, there are many, one interests me the most. It's that Sterling is being held to a different standard for his racist remarks. Liberals who have said things just as bad will never come under the same degree of scrutiny that Sterling's remarks have subjected him to. Larry Elder, a popular radio host here in Los Angeles, complained today that director Spike Lee, the court-side presence at New York Knicks games, has said stupid, crazy, and weird things, even racially polarizing things, and never gets taken to account for it....  More»

 

The WWE has an NSA problem. Someone is leaking scripts from backstage at the nation's largest sports entertainment company, and it is really pissing off the company's principal owner, Stephanie McMahon. As it should. Even though wrestling's staginess is now openly celebrated, the company has to keep a fig-leaf of kayfabe over their goods, if only for the sake of mystery and history.

Reading through the script is fascinating if you've ever wondered how the hetero-flexible male soap opera is put together. For one thing, the play-by-play of the matches themselves, i....  More»

 

Here is something you probably don't know about illegal immigrants in the United States. There aren't any. Zero. The term, on its face, is willfully misleading.

It is not a crime to emigrate to the United States without a visa. The punishment for overstaying a visa, or for having been discovered in the United States without a visa, is not a criminal penalty. It is a civil remedy; an administrative sanction. That's because the executive branch has the primary right to decide who gets to stay here and who doesn't. So the phrase "undocumented immigrant" is not a politically correct, less-than-harsh way of referring to what are commonly called "illegal immigrants....  More»

 

If it seems like Edward Snowden and the reporters who have access to his archive have given away the farm, think again.

The Office of National Director Intelligence has released, because of a FOIA request, its latest controlled access program classification marking guide. If you're not a complete geek, if you have a life and a job, then this document ought to be of no significance to you whatsoever. But the digraphs, trigraphs, dashes, and slashes that formalize the level classification of a piece of information can tell us quite a bit about the large acres of black redactions beneath them....  More»

 
May 4, 2014, at 2:58 PM

A tubular error of some sort ate about 1,200 words worth of Compass yesterday, rendering a post I'd written about foam rolling fairly useless. Just like foam rollers!

Rather than reconstructing the whole thing, I thought I'd give readers the summary of my argument, along with links to studies and commentary by those who know the subject better.

I use foam-rollers. Everyone at my gym does, because the trainers swear by it, and because there is something seemingly magical about a how a basic foam log can "release fascia" and "elongate muscles" and "prime the body" for working out....  More»

 

Benghazi, as Adam Gopnik once wrote, was a tragedy in search of a scandal. Not able to find a scandal or a smoking gun — the closest being an email from the strategic communications deputy on the National Security Council advising Susan Rice on how to strategically communicate about Benghazi — Republicans have created one. They've bought the guns, fired them, noticed the smoke, and then yelled, "Smoke!" And lo, with the announcement that Speaker John Boehner plans to appoint a "select committee" to probe Benghazi, an entire arsenal of arms is being set up and ready to fire....  More»

 

Occasionally, I'll respond to reader questions and complaints. Two posts of mine attracted some attention, and they call for some amplification.

Thora writes:...  More»

 

As we approach the one year anniversary of the first set of Edward Snowden leaks, a reporter asked me what Americans have learned about the National Security Agency. My first take at answering that question is to reframe it slightly. Americans might think they know a lot about the NSA now, but the difference between what the public thinks it knows, and what it should know, based on the disclosures, is rather large.

1. The appetite for domestic collection increased significantly after Sept. 11, both as a a cause of and a response to the Big Bang-like expansion of the national security state....  More»

 
May 12, 2014, at 4:45 PM

A provocative Washington Post article this morning highlights the effect of long-term unemployment on the waistlines of job-seekers. From a calories in, calories out perspective, this correlation would seem to be so obvious that it might not deserve the newspaper column inches devoted to it. If you work, you're working, and you're burning calories. If you don't work, you're probably more sedentary, and you're burning fewer calories. Ergo, your weight increases.

This explanation also fits nicely with preconceptions we have about fat people. They are lazier, we think, simply unwilling to motivate themselves to move more....  More»

 

No Place To Hide is an exceptionally interesting book, although it doesn't have as much to say about the National Security Agency as I had hoped. It does distill the Glenn Greenwald phenomenon down to the essence of the man himself.

To put it frankly: he does not care if you find him to be a narcissist, a dogmatist, or even self-unaware. He is self-consciously the hero of his own story. If you agree with Greenwald's basic premises about the functions and ambit of the national security state, about the state of journalism, and about the moral corruption of politics, then he deserves to be called whatever he wants to be called....  More»

 

Before Edward Snowden and what intelligence community denizens like to call the "recent unpleasantness," the U.S. government had a plan to deal with Chinese cyber-hacking. Fittingly, it was a secret plan, coordinated by the Department of Justice, the National Security Agency, the FBI, and the National Security Staff at the White House. Chinese cyber espionage had gotten so out of hand, per the premise of the plan, that only radical measures would suffice.

Cyber-hack them back? Nope. Shame them. Shame China. Here's something I wrote last year:...  More»

 
May 19, 2014, at 4:05 PM

The BMW 328d is a pretty damn nice car, the most popular diesel sedan exported by the German auto maker, in fact. It handles beautifully, accelerates quickly — it booms — and, most attractively, it has a better fuel economy than many hybrids: 45 mpg on highways. That's the selling point. BMW is marketing the vehicle as a lower-cost hybrid alternative — a money-saving vehicle, rather than a vehicle that will help save the environment. You'll save thousands on gas. The hybrid versus diesel wars have begun.

In Europe, there are several different diesel variants of the BMW 3 series — BMW offers the 320d and the 325d....  More»

 

This weekend, as I read competing accounts about the sacking of Jill Abramson as executive editor of the The New York Times, I wondered what would happen if Times headline writers had no compunction about going full Timesian on the saga taking place within its own newsroom....

After a Meeting, A Wall Is Punched

A Gothic Tattoo, On Back, Seen as Symbol of Dedication

Baquet Said to be Low-key, Patient, Black

Person In The News: Dean Bacquet, a Manager Who Would Not Edit His Outrage

Person In The News: Mark Thompson, BBC's Savior, Turned to Times Sacred Cows

Recriminations, as Partial Salary Figures Leak

A Correction Is Demanded from Auletta, His Magazine

The...  More»

 

Before you can pay for that rhinestone-studded leather pair of shorts at Kitson, a high-end celebrity-chic retailer based in Beverly Hills, you must get over the following fright. "PROPOSITION 65 WARNING: Warning: This establishment may carry products which contain chemicals known to the state of California to cause birth defects or other reproductive harm."

Holy crap! Kitson causes cancer? Like smoking?

Not exactly. In fact, thanks to a conspiracy between overzealous activists and under-thinking voters, almost every business in California has a version of the Prop 65 warning sign somewhere on premises....  More»

 
May 21, 2014, at 6:36 PM

TIME's Joe Klein, whose mental heuristics about Washington closely match those of the president, has been warning about the Veterans Affairs catastrophe for years. Today he writes:...  More»

 

It's been a year since Edward Snowden first leaked his cache of documents to reporters. More than 1,500 pages of classified material about the National Security Agency's operations have been published, giving many of us a voyeuristic thrill and many others a very incomplete understanding of what the agency actually does. In a weird way, the public now knows a lot more about the NSA. What it thinks it knows about the NSA, however, doesn't exactly correspond with reality.

(Click here to see the full chart.)

That's one consequence of selectively releasing classified documents....  More»

 

Did you make your bed this morning?

If you did, says the country's special operations chief, you're on your way to success.

The commencement address that Adm. William McRaven, the SOCOM commander, Navy SEAL, and all-around bad-ass, gave to graduates at the University of Texas at Austin last week has gone viral. Here, for example, is what he said about making sure to make your bed every morning:...  More»

 

The serving chief of station for the CIA's massive Kabul base was outed this weekend, and ceremoniously so. As you've probably read by now, a White House press liaison traveling with President Obama on his secret trip to Afghanistan sent the designated pool reporter, Scott Wilson, a list of American officials Obama would be meeting with during the visit.

The list included the name of the CIA's chief of station, a serving undercover intelligence officer, along with his title, "Chief of Station."

It is not a felony to disclose the name of a serving CIA officer....  More»

 
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