To prevent future leaks of classified information and to keep pace with chameleon-y enemies, the NSA needs to hire more Edward Snowdens, not fewer of them.

Right after Snowden became a household name, the New York Times' David Brooks self-satisfyingly blamed an entire generation of Americans for the actions of one.

After noting that Snowden seemed to like living in a lot of places, Brooks wrote that the man was the "product of one of the more unfortunate trends of the age: The atomization of society, the loosening of social bonds, the apparently growing share of young men in their 20s who are living technological existences in the fuzzy land between ...  More»


I was on vacation, checked out, on the beach, dude, when I heard about the crash of Asiana Flight 214. My news-y instincts kicked in, as they always do, always pissing off my friends and family, and I started to Tweet. Oh, was I clever and quick. I've already aggregated so many critical information streams, scanner feeds, photo feeds, Twitter accounts, and websites that it was quite easy to become a hub of information in no time, even though I'm not a pilot, not a San Franciscan, have no human sources in the Bay Area, and have no access to the larger canvasses of television or radio.

Go me. After a few minutes of Tweeting, my stream started to fill itself with meta-Tweets, or Tweets about Tweeting. They were self-congratulatory Tweets from people who spend their days on Twitter....  More»

July 9, 2013, at 10:00 PM

The more complicated planes get, the harder it is to fly them. There are more ways for pilots both to mess up and to compensate for their mess-ups, and there are more dials, flashing lights, and doodads for them to keep watch on. That said, there are a few basic principles of flying that apply to the Asiana crash, principles that might be obscured by some of the aviation lingo that's being thrown around. I'm not a pilot, and so I write only as an interested observer who is, himself, trying to understand what happened. My own definitions may not be precise enough for the FAA or Cockpit Confidential, but I hope they help explain some of the concepts....  More»


The pilots of Asiana Flight 214 were not two truculent white dudes from Illinois who speak without distinguishable accents. They were Korean. And that means, according to some, that they must be essentialized as Koreans before we can understand their actions as pilots.

From NBC News:...  More»


In movies, writers are generally allowed a couple of freebies. We're willing to suspend disbelief and not let something that seems patently absurd stand in the way of our enjoyment. Every good movie has to bend reality just a little. But that doesn't mean that the movies have to bend them in the same direction.

Here are two tropes common to political thrillers about presidential assassinations, White House destruction-ation-xplosions and such.

1. There's always a rogue Secret Service agent. This is the easy way to get around the "White House is an impenetrable fortress" stumbling block.

2. The bad guy always has nuclear destruction on his mind and must access the presidential football in order to launch nuclear weapons.

I don't like these tropes. They're kind of easy, and they're also terrifically implausible....  More»


This is not an "I Told You So." It was apparent fairly quickly that while the external political pressure on Republicans to pass immigration reform increased dramatically after the last election, the forces that hold the party together haven't abated.

Stars have aligned in weirder ways before, but I'm on the side of those who thinks that the House simply will not pass any immigration bill that makes "amnesty" a possibility.

Here's what's been constant:

The GOP leadership has not had control over its rank and file since the advent of the Tea Party movement, or, really, since the election of Barack Obama, or even since the nomination of John McCain....  More»

July 11, 2013, at 6:13 PM

Speaking of immigration, who will benefit marginally if immigration reform doesn't pass? A few theories.

One: Democrats will be able to successfully make the argument that Republicans have no interest in passing a bill, and that Hispanics shouldn't expect to see one until there's a Democratic speaker, and, also, that they shouldn't punish the president and Democrats because they tried their hardest.

Two: The Greens have an opening.

The Greens? Why would anyone even pay attention to them? To help ease the existential anxieties of some Greens I know, I want to show them a little love.

Here's what's interesting. The Greens hate "the two-party duopoly." It gets nothing done, they insist. That's the basic premise for their appeals on a local level. But that's not specific enough, or even interesting enough, for any cohort of voters to consider, probably because...  More»

July 12, 2013, at 11:29 AM

The Pentagon is sending the alarm about the impact of budget cuts in the next fiscal year, and that alarm is loud and annoying. It's scary if you've got a job attached to one of the projects associated with Pentagon cuts.

Last week, I spoke to a Marine, a 20-year-old, who is stuck in Hawaii (I know, poor guy) because the military has no money to further train him or transfer him anywhere else. His career is kind of stuck until Washington figures out how to think outside the historical moment.

Earlier this week, I started to read Sam Stein's reporting on Head Start mothers whose lives have been turned upside down by the sequester cuts. It's pretty difficult stuff to get through. You come away asking yourself why the government would knowingly contribute to the suffering of its citizens....  More»

July 13, 2013, at 10:48 PM

I didn't want to weigh on Trayvon Martin's death even though I grew up in a white gated community very close to Sanford, Florida.

For those who follow the case, it seems that, no matter what you say, who you are determines what you apparently believe. Or, you had to believe something absolutely, from the start, about the case, and carry it through to the end, and its logical conclusion.

From the beginning, I thought that George Zimmerman did it -- that is, he racially profiled a young black kid, got into a fight with him, and shot him when the fight got out of hand....  More»

July 16, 2013, at 7:34 PM

After all is said and done, what do Eliot Spitzer and Anthony Weiner have in common?

We've seen their wangs. They have nothing left to be ashamed of.

Shame is a driving force in life and politics. Its absence is supposedly the public persona that most in Washington create for themselves. They are strong, true to their values, full of rectitude and passion, governed by the higher order impulses in life. Absurdly, we're supposed to take these visions seriously, as if somehow all of these morally pulchritudinous people live in a city that, strangely, operates along the axes of self-aggrandizement and accumulation of influence and wealth.

Both Spitzer and Weiner had sophisticated and heavy public personas. The moment that their private lives became public, those personas popped like a stock market bubble....  More»

July 16, 2013, at 7:53 PM

This week's congressional dysfunctional is brought to you by the letter "P." Forget Democrats and Republicans: The party of the moment is pity.

Yes, yes, Congress is polarized, Republicans aren't a governing party anymore, Democrats lack spines, everyone is beholden to corporate interests, and the open source world is changing how politicians interact with their constituents.

None of that has anything to do with the theatrics over the filibuster.

Every so often, Congress, frustrated and angry that the public bears them so much ill-will, decides to remind us that their inability to get stuff done is our fault....  More»

July 23, 2013, at 8:44 PM

Earlier, I surmised that politicians who've had their junk exposed before national audiences are in a position to be more honest in office. But Anthony Weiner's private behavior shows the flip side of having no shame: An ability to think he can avoid the consequences of social judgment entirely. It wouldn't bother me if Weiner continued to sext after his resignation so long as he admitted that, to him, such behavior was not immoral, not wrong, and not a violation of whatever boundaries he and Huma Abedin have set for their marriage. Also, discreet. He had to be discreet.

Instead, he insists that the behavior is wrong, that he learned his lesson, and that his wife has forgiven him. What lessons has he learned? Not clear.

It's unseemly that he seemed to promise his paramour a blogging job in exchange for getting rid of the incriminating messages,...  More»

July 23, 2013, at 9:04 PM

Seems like, in major league sports, everyone dopes. And no one, except people who are paid to pontificate about such things, seems to care.

Take together the perceptions that:

(a) the public does not show its outrage by refusing to attend baseball games;

(b) corporations voice displeasure by refusing to buy ads against televised baseball games;

(c) contracts can be negotiated that allow players earning tens of millions of dollars to be penalized only marginally if they're caught doping;

(d) the redemption story is financially valuable, too;

and it stands to reason that players like Ryan Braun, a.k.a. the Hebrew Hammer, would so casually lie about their doping, even when Major League Baseball almost certainly had more than enough evidence to throw him out of the game for good....  More»

July 25, 2013, at 10:17 PM

There's something a little, ah, weird in the way that serial public wang-dangler Anthony Weiner is addressing his scandalabra. I noticed it yesterday in the press conference, and I heard it today on the radio.

It's a certain, shall we say, exhibitionism. An eagerness to talk about what he professes he doesn't want to talk about.

Notice how light and buoyant his tone is. It's completely discordant with his words, which convey, partially, regret and shame.

Notice where he held his press conference yesterday: in his campaign office, with campaign workers scurrying around behind him. His staging forced other people to share in his embarrassment.

Notice the way he quickly plunged back into public events, making himself available to the media he knows will ask him about NOTHING but his penis until the last one of his six to ten online paramours steps forward....  More»

July 31, 2013, at 3:18 PM

The Guardian has splashed a new story about XKEYSCORE, which is the NSA's global internet data-mining system. Meanwhile, the Director of National Intelligence has partially declassified talking points that were provided to all members of Congress about the bulk collection programs confirmed by Edward Snowden's leaks, as well as two court orders authorizing the collection. There's a lot to digest here, so I suggest taking it in bits and pieces.

What's new? New is news, so:

As we've suspected, the business records provision of the Patriot Act is used to collect a whole lot of different types of stuff, and NOT just telephone and email data. Be clear about this: The court order leaked by Edward Snowden and the one declassified by the DNI today relate to TWO sources of information used for what the NSA describes as TWO different programs....  More»

July 31, 2013, at 3:58 PM

If you regularly search LinkedIn profiles for national security information, you'll find hundreds of highly compensated individuals who worked for NSA and who list, as one of their skills, the fluency in XKEYSCORE. Glenn Greenwald's publication today of one of the training presentation PowerPoints is sufficient to give us all that skill. (Marc Ambinder: now proficient in advanced web and document production, French, and XKEYSCORE.)

I quibble with the Guardian's description of the program as "TOP SECRET." The word is not secret; its association with the NSA is not secret; that the NSA collects bulk data on foreign targets is, well, probably classified,...  More»

August 1, 2013, at 1:41 PM

A corollary to the principle of "security through obscurity" is that acronyms and special languages add to the mystique of a privileged class with access to secret information. Since the documents given to the Guardian by Edward Snowden are replete with what people at the NSA call "Mothership speak," (see below), it's difficult for even informed observers who don't have the proper security clearance to understand what everything means. Here's a cheeky, if accurate, guide to NSA bureaucratese that the ACLU and Slate put together.

What follows is a brief guide to the four most important words and acronyms you need to know as you wade through the NSA files, past, present, and future.

F6 — Technically, it refers to the headquarters of the Special Collection Service, which is a joint field activity run by NSA and CIA that operates collection sites...  More»


For a moment, let's put aside the law. No FISA, no court, no inspector general, no nothing. If the law did not exist, what constraints, if any, would exist on the NSA leviathan?

I was thinking about this while I listened to Gen. Keith Alexander's presentation to Black Hatters. Because the debate has become so polarized, it seems as if you must choose to believe that laws provided either sufficient protection or none at all. I take a middle view, which doesn't make me very bookable on cable news. But as an exercise in thought, I wondered what it would mean if the U....  More»

August 3, 2013, at 10:57 PM

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....  More»


The Guardian's NSA files have awakened many a curiosity about the actual technological capacity of the government. What it does do is a most important question; what it can do is only slightly less germane.

Still, there's a lot we don't know about some basic questions. For example, is it true, as Edward Snowden boasted, that an analyst can "wiretap" anyone simply because he or she chooses to do so?

Here's the basic gist of an answer:

The NSA has the capability to wiretap anyone it targets. It does not have the immediate capability to target Americans at will, but it does have the capability to change capabilities — to a point — to allow it...  More»

August 5, 2013, at 8:03 PM

For a story Reuters wrote about the Drug Enforcement Administration's large-scale sharing of NSA-originated phone intercepts and tips with other law enforcement agencies, the news agency accepted the DEA's request not to reveal the location of the organization within the DEA responsible for the wiretapping. Reuters also several times referenced the group's secrecy. Most of the agency's activities are "classified," it said.

Well. The cases are, yes.

But the Special Operations Division itself is a well-known entity that holds press conferences.

The DEA SOD focuses on bringing down large transnational narcotics rings, some of whom may have a connection to terrorist groups. And, apparently, SOD wiretaps many a phone line to bring them down. These taps aren't warrantless, but they can be broader in scope than you might expect; a judge can order that any...  More»

August 6, 2013, at 10:31 PM

How close, really, was a state of actual war between the Soviet Union and NATO forces in 1983? The best documentary evidence sets the doomsday clock close to midnight. Viewed one way, 1983 saw a series of major escalations and provocations by both sides, each meant to respond to the other, all leading up to a genuine misapprehension about the goal of NATO's early November war games exercise, Able Archer. Or perhaps it was all bluster, a convenient fiction that both sides bought in to because neither had the imagination to see beyond it?

Since we're all still here, we can't say for sure. But we can, among other techniques, prioritize the actions and words of senior political leaders said in private. As seriously as Ronald Reagan's "Evil Empire" speech was taken by the Soviet Union, more telling was the then-secret decision by Reagan aides to rewrite...  More»


John F. Kennedy's last year in office was arguably his most personally tragic — his infant son Patrick died — but by November of 1963, his policy agenda was driving forward with force. A wonderful new book, Thurston Clarke's JFK's Last Hundred Days: The Transformation of a Man and his Presidency, reminds us of how unusual the usual was. Here are 10 strange facts about his last year in office.

1. He fretted openly about a military coup, and was so enchanted by, and scared by, the novel Seven Days In May that he left the White House for a weekend so filmmakers could shoot exteriors. JFK wanted that film made.

2. A month before his death, he created a fake James Bond movie, one depicting his assassination, complete with grieving widow (played by Jackie) and frazzled Secret Service agents, played by reluctant Secret Service agents....  More»


Even If Edward Snowden's leaks have caused irreparable harm to national security, those of us without security clearances only have the government's word to take for it. But this week's disclosure that a specific conference call between al Qaeda leaders was detected and recorded by the National Security Agency is precisely the sort of information that should not be in the public domain until the threat has passed, precisely the sort of secret that almost no one has a problem with the government keeping.

If it's true that al Qaeda leaders change their communication tactics to find a way around the NSA dragnet, they sure as hell are going to avoid the...  More»

August 12, 2013, at 12:55 AM

Of a million things President Obama could use his second term in office to fix, he has maybe 10 slots — 10 real chances to advance the debate about a topic, even to advance policy, even while Washington is at its sclerotic worst. Drug law reform has always been on the president's to-do list. This I know from a series of conversations with some of his senior policy advisers during the first term. Because Obama's Justice Department has not stopped enforcing federal drug laws even as Americans are evolving quickly on the issue, and because Obama himself has not yet used one of those presidential attention-getting arrows he has, my prediction that he would move in his second term to attack the prison-drug-race nexus has been dismissed as wishful thinking, or, worse, something I just made up....  More»


My black friends in New York, particularly those who don't live in the fancier precincts of Manhattan, have been harassed by the NYPD in a way that I, as a white guy, will never experience.

They've been stopped and frisked, for reasons known only to the officers. Almost every young black male I know has a story to tell.

The news today that a federal judge found this deliberate policing policy to be unconstitutional is a welcome one.

If you have never been stopped and frisked by a cop, it might not seem like a big deal.

So you lose, what, a few minutes of your time.

![endif]-->...  More»
August 12, 2013, at 9:29 PM

If capital-C Change comes to the NSA, it will take two forms.

The first is this: What it does will be more transparent to the courts and to Congress, as well as to interested Americans. The second is that the agency's definition of accountability will be gutted, replaced by one that more closely approximates a legitimate accounting and reckoning of mistakes, both deliberate and unavoidable. What won't change: what the NSA actually does.

That's why, as Shane Harris, one of the best reporters on the NSA beat observed Friday, President Obama wants Americans to be "comfortable" with the NSA at it is.

As much as the intelligence community complains about the quality of the public debate about the NSA revelations, victory will be theirs, in the end. The reformers, like the ACLU and the Electronic Freedom Foundation, have one significant power....  More»


With scores murdered and thousands injured, it is hard to square the United States's deciding to cancel a military exercise along with lukewarm language condemning violence with anything resembling a noble and liberal strategy for Egypt. One reason for this is that whatever the U.S. strategy may be, our hard and soft power spheres don't correspond with the fundamental disputes that drove the military coup and the earlier ouster of Hosni Mubarak. On a deeper level, President Obama believes that secular Arab nationalism ought to take root without the hidden hand of a Western power....  More»

August 15, 2013, at 6:20 PM

If you're an instructor in cover — how to pass as someone you aren't — at the CIA training facility near Williamsburg, Va., what the hell do you tell your students about life in the field?

Edward Snowden's exploitation of the NSA's surprisingly penetrable firewalls, Bradley Manning's large-scale collection of State Department cables, and the inability of the U.S. government to contain secrets are of course features of the open-source revolution that is changing how citizens interact with their government. We can hold our government more accountable. And that's good.

A caveat in honor of Evgeny Morozov goes here: That interaction may not be for the better, of course; the flip side is the ease with which political dissidents can be tracked, imprisoned, and killed....  More»

August 16, 2013, at 1:20 PM

If the leak of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court order requiring Verizon to provide the FBI and NSA with millions of call records was the most important in advancing the debate about privacy and surveillance, Barton Gellman's report in the Washington Post about NSA's internal compliance audits should count as a close second.

For the first time, albeit inadvertently, the NSA has acknowledged the scope and depth of the agency's privacy violations and explains, in some detail, why these errors happened, how they were caught, and what might be done to correct them....  More»

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