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In 2010, I wrote about a presidential leadership typology created by political scientist George C. Edwards. He proposed that presidents always intended to think strategically but the successful ones wound up being good at improvising, handling swerves, and being opportunistic. He calls these presidents "facilitators." Now, no one is going to run for president promising to facilitate this or that, or to make things up as she goes along, or to exploit moments of crises (political, domestic, international, economic.) And Edwards is concerned largely with the legislative arena. But his way of thinking makes a certain degree of sense. It is very difficult to change public opinion. And presidents who try to do so, or who spend time trying to change public opinion, are very rarely able to claim credit for whatever end goal they've aimed towards....  More»

 

I consider myself a connoisseur of the covert. Figuring out how the Deep State's pipes all fit together has become sort of a life's work. The government doesn't make it easy, but like in art and literature, a presence is often implied by absence. And LinkedIn. You can find an enormous amount of interesting information on LinkedIn and on government jobs sites. An example: Out at the NSA's Ft. Gordon, Ga., center, there's a big new project codenamed VALDOSTA.  

VALDOSTA is a classified national-level geo-location/targeting endeavor designed to help find, track, tag, and locate targets of interests using advanced signals intelligence platforms. It's a 24/7 operation and designed to support warfighters and commanders reaching all the way back to the Pentagon....  More»

 
May 2, 2013, at 3:40 PM

The proliferation paradox bothers me. It always has. I am supposed to know that security assistance and diplomacy are too complex to reduce to a simple BuzzFeed-like listicle, and yet, my brain keeps coming back to this sequence of events:

1. The U.S. helps a country by covertly sending arms, or by covertly coordinating arms shipments from others.

2. Those arms are either used for the purposes intended and then are discarded, stolen, or recovered by people who use them for different purposes. Whatever tracking, tagging and location mechanisms (tiny IED chips?) the U.S. uses to keep track on the arms don't work. 

3. If those arms are kept, the vagaries of U.S. foreign policy inevitably creates friction with these once-useful allies, turning them into enemies....  More»

 

In 1973, when Egypt and Syria invaded Israel by surprise, did Israel respond in part by artificially heightening its level of nuclear alert in order to force the U.S. to help it end the conflict more quickly?

In other words, did Israel use nuclear blackmail against the U.S.?  That's long been the claim by some historians and investigative reporters like Sy Hersh. 

The question has relevance for our conflicts with North Korea and Iran today. How will both countries use the perception of their nuclear forces to correct or instigate policy responses by the United States? Could Israel prompt American action in Iran, by, say, fitting its bombers with nuclear warheads and leaving them on alert status on runways? How should countries respond to threats of nuclear escalation?...  More»

 
May 5, 2013, at 1:55 AM

Israel was twice able to attack targets inside Syria in the middle of an incredibly dangerous civil war where chemical weapons have been used, and no one seeks to blame them for the conflict. I find that remarkable. Nothing would unite Syria like a common enemy, and yet even when the common enemy invades their country, it makes more international headlines than in Syria itself.  

As a geopolitical affair, the Syrian civil war has almost nothing to do with Israel. It's a conflagration whose embers seem to blow by the neighboring country. Depending on the level of abstraction you'd like, it's a conflict between the Sunni majority and the Alawite family...  More»

 
May 6, 2013, at 10:30 PM

President Obama has single-handedly kept thousands of American workers in their jobs by spawning dozens of best-selling books about how awful he is. He can ignore almost all of them, and so can you, if your goal is to learn something new about the Obama presidency. But every once in a while, a book comes along that it would be foolish for Obama, or anyone else, to disregard. Vali Nasr's The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat, is the most trenchant criticism of the Obama administration I've yet read. Nasr was an adviser to diplomat Richard Holbooke before the latter died of a heart attack, and he writes from a perspective sympathetic ...  More»

 

Fighting fires is simple but not easy. Yes, you put the wet stuff on the red stuff, and then the rest will take care of itself. The fires that matter out here in Los Angeles aren't confined to houses or empty lots. They're sparked, seemingly at random, grow almost exponentially, and are fiendishly hot little devils to contain and extinguish. In some ways, given the availability of oxygen and brush, it's almost miraculous that urban wildfires don't do nearly the amount of damage that they could. 

Here are some things I didn't know about how complex the fires out here are....  More»

 
May 7, 2013, at 2:31 AM

Marc Maron's comedy career flamed out, and he revived it by being himself: Doing what he knew how to do, which was to record himself talking with his friends, many of whom happened to be much more successful comedians, and then posting it to the web. For about 385 episodes, he's held forth on neuroses and resentments — his, that of his guests (often fellow comics), and on feuds, and feelings, and therapy. It's now one of the most listened-to podcasts in existence, and Maron has a new book and a TV show to show for his hard work.

The podcast may be archaic, but the format is producing some of the most innovative, most entertaining, most provocative content out there. 

Here are four other personality podcasts you ought to be listening to....  More»

 

Before he became a screenwriter, Mark Boal was a journalist. When journalists work on a a complicated story involving national security, it is not uncommon for them to give the CIA or another agency a full briefing about the story beforehand, both to ensure the accuracy of certain assertions, or to test them, giving the subject of the piece a chance to push back against interpretations that are incorrect, to, of course, provide last-minute spin to make themselves look favorable, but often, to clarify complicated issues and add nuance. 

As a writer, I've done this with several stories. When I write long-form pieces about the Secret Service, I voluntarily provide them in advance with the passages that involve descriptions of protective methodology....  More»

 
May 7, 2013, at 4:59 PM

In an ideal world, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie would have had to address publicly his body size in one context and one context only: Does it present or complicate any health issues that would reduce his ability to handle the stresses of the presidency? Though obesity's medical characteristics can be treated, the cluster of symptoms put him at a much higher risk for a cardiac event or a stroke; it also doesn't help the body process extraordinary stresses well. He's acknowledged that he was living on borrowed time. His weight was an issue, and he owned it.

Unfortunately, aside from his personal life,  the real other reason why Christie had to address his weight problem is because Americans would undoubtedly have seen it as a "weight problem," a marker of something else, in much broader terms....  More»

 

Consider me as confused as Terrence Jeffries. The voluble conservative gadfly let it slip on Sean Hannity's radio program today that he really doesn't know what possible motivation the Obama administration would have for altering talking points about the Benghazi terrorist attack, or in forcing Hillary Clinton to go along with a conspiracy to somehow cover up something having to do with the death of four American diplomats and intelligence officers.

A few seconds earlier, Jeffries had described a statement that went out from the U.S. embassy in Egypt attempting to calm passions amid the firefight. (He directly attributed the statement to Hillary Clinton, but hey, why let facts get in the way?)  Said Jeffries: "They need to explain that Sean....  More»

 
May 9, 2013, at 11:30 PM

Republicans want to know where the outrage is hiding.

Why aren't Americans angrier about the (a) cover-up (b) conspiracy (c) lunacy (d) evil-ness of how the Obama administration responded to the events in Libya?

Aside from blaming the media for a failure to cover the loose ends, which is a charge that belies any actual analysis of news coverage, many partisan conservatives have settled on the explanation that there is no outrage anymore. This argument's intellectual pedigree is an extension of William Bennett's book-length essay, The Death of Outrage, which was published after Bill Clinton's impeachment. He argues that Democrats and liberals have so conditioned Americans to be non-judgmental and to inure themselves to moral absolutes that people are incapable of arguing for the good and electing the better....  More»

 
May 13, 2013, at 12:56 PM

President Obama's forceful response to the Benghazi hearings in Congress this morning is accurate. There is no there there. The hearings are a "sideshow." A circus. 

And it is. It is also, at its core, a debate about diction. And debates about diction by definition can never be won. Nothing Obama says, short of: "I am an evil person who deserves to be impeached" is going to placate those who use language games to exploit the partisan kulturkampf. 

The irony: Obama is not blameless. He just deserves blame for stuff the Republicans are ignoring, like: What was the administration's long-term plan for Libya? What dynamic between the CIA and the State Department was festering, and why didn't his National Security staff tend to it? What was the CIA really doing in Benghazi?...  More»

 
May 14, 2013, at 8:10 PM

Consider the mighty Repubs 

beating Obama with clubs.

but talk of "impeachment"

a grand over-reach-ment

will keep them the party of scrubs. 

A rule of media thermodynamics: For every conservative over-action, there is an equally breathless and ideologically opposite counter-action. If conservatives have become geese that continually lay malformed eggs, progressives are the type to continually sample it and then critique the recipe, even if the point is simply for them to eat something disgusting. 

That means that the idea of impeachment has to be actually entertained, which then means that it becomes a legitimate debate topic on cable news, which will create enough chum in the water for the gaggle to feast on. 

1. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, whose Benghazi hearings have proven only that Benghazi can be covered by the mainstream media,...  More»

 

My first reaction to the AP's disclosure that the Justice Department had subpoenaed two months worth of telephone call records (that is, for a certain number, the identity of the person called, and the duration of the call, as recorded by the telephone company) for 20 personal and professional phone lines leased by both reporters and editors, was one of sympathy for my journalistic kin.

Since May 2012, the Justice Department has been investigating the unauthorized disclosure of classified information that led to an Associated Press article about a failed bomb plot that ended with the U.S. taking custody of an IED bound for America.

On May 7, 2012, the AP ran its story; the perpetrator was in custody over the objections of the White House. Other parts of the national security machine were attempting to pursue the loose ends of the plot to...  More»

 
May 15, 2013, at 12:04 PM

As a journalist, I don't think, a priori, that criminal leak investigations are bad for democracy. I recognize that the government has an obligation to pursue and prosecute employees who illegally disclose classified information. I have an obligation to protect my sources. To be sure, seeking reporters' phone logs is a significant use of executive power. It ought only be used when, as the Justice Department's own guidelines suggest, all other mechanisms to discover the source of a leak have been exhausted. 

But what bothers me about the recent spate of leak investigations initiated by the Justice Department, and about the one that led...  More»

 
May 15, 2013, at 9:53 PM

I've given this little puzzle to a bunch of people, and I've gotten all types of responses. 

So:

You wake up one morning, roll over, and slide the snooze lever on your phone. You take a glance, you see the numbers "2721" in the tail end of a text alert from your credit card company.

You'll check it later.

Listening to NPR, or Howard Stern, or a local am radio show, you hear one of the jocks or hosts mention a "27 to 1" scoring spree by the San Antonio Spurs during last night's play-off game.

When you sit down to pour your cereal, your eyes hover over the nutrition label. The cereal has 27 grams of carbs, of which 21 are sugar.

In the car on the way to work, you notice that your odometer reads "2721."

A receipt you crumpled up and left on the driver's seat totals $27....  More»

 

By ABC's definition a scandal is a television show that outdoes itself from week-to-week, and must involve at least one duplicitous betrayal and monumental, earth-shattering cover-up per week, if not per act. 

I think actual Washington suffers from Scandal envy.

On television, Fitz has an affair with his long-time image-maker, the White House chief of staff murders someone, and the mole is... well, I won't spoil it. (Actually, the real scandal in the show is how the chief of staff's boyfriend got his White House correspondent's job in the first place, but I'm just vamping).

In reality, we have Benghazi, the IRS targeting of conservative groups, and the Justice Department's aggressive investigation into a national security leak.

One of those comports roughly with the dictionary definition of a small-s-scandal....  More»

 

Able Archer 83 was a NATO nuclear command post exercise that the Russians almost mistook for the real thing — a U.S. first strike. And when President Reagan learned about this, it stuck on his conscience. It may have been a turning point in the Cold War. About the same time as Able Archer, Reagan received his first briefing of the nuclear war plans, and was told that a winnable nuclear war would cost at least 60 million lives. And he watched, along with millions of Americans, a made-for-TV movie about the horrific aftermath of a nuclear apocalypse.

Today, Nate Jones at the National Security Archive at George Washington University has published a treasure trove of previously classified documents about the frenetic months leading up to Able Archer, including the handwritten notes of a conversation that former U....  More»

 
May 20, 2013, at 7:58 AM

I hadn't seen a Tesla Model S electric car up close until this weekend, and when I did, we fell in love. Alas, even if i could afford the sticker price, a hefty $62,400 or so for a base model, I wouldn't be able to leave the lot smugly satisfied that I was doing my part as a good liberal to combat global climate change.

There really isn't anything wrong with the car itself. In some ways, it's perfect. Incredibly roomy. Styled but not styleized. Powerful. Quiet. Hugs the road. Very safe. The dashboard is like a modern glass airline cockpit. The interior is....  More»

 
May 20, 2013, at 4:30 PM

Leak investigations bring to the foreground two incommensurate values. The government wants to protect national security information and enforce the law preventing its disclosure. Journalists have a right and a duty to publish information that serves as a check on government power, to hold government accountable, to make government and other powerful actors uncomfortable, and to expose secrets that reveal compromised principles. I believe in a strong reading of the First Amendment. And generally, so does the legal system.

It is not legal to knowingly disclose protected "national security" information....  More»

 

The might and reach of the federal government can be hard to fathom at times, and often individual citizens find themselves overwhelmed by the threat of coercive power and bureaucratic excessiveness.

I mean, how can one person confront the IRS? The National Security Agency? The White House? Instead of acting, or taking responsibility for self-governing, it's much easier to simply go passive and listen, isn't it? We'll go on a website that drives traffic to itself, or listen to a radio talk show host spin up elaborate conspiracy theories. We take satisfaction knowing that someone with a voice is also outraged at whatever we are outraged about.

Actually, there are a number of things you can do. You don't have to be a techno-utopian to see how two facets of the information age, access to a lot of information and access to a lot of people, can serve...  More»

 

Howard Stern has hosted a TV show or two, and I'm sure that several major networks have pitched him other ideas. Here's a pitch that won't require much money to execute and would produce incredibly compelling television. Acquire the rights to the interviews that Stern conducts on his SiriusXM radio show, find a cable network, and re-run them. No sketches, bits, or anything silly. Just the interviews. Whatever else Howard Stern is good at, and as a long-time fan, I think he's a maestro of many things, he is sublime as an interviewer of celebrities.

The reason why he's so good is because he is insanely curious. I'm sure he can find a psychoanalytic root for his intense desire to know things, but his audience is all the better for it. Not only is he curious: he is curious in the right way....  More»

 
May 21, 2013, at 8:00 PM

Here's another extraordinary document release from Nate Jones of the National Security Archive at George Washington University. His research details, for the first time publicly, the NATO nuclear command post exercise called Able Archer, which was the culmination of a months-long effort to test NATO ground and air warfighting capabilities in Europe. Jones' work makes it clear that the Soviets were alarmed when the U.S. physically transferred more than 10,000 troops to Europe as part of the exercise. From a military standpoint, practicing rapid pre-deployment makes sense. But if your enemy is already interpreting your moves as the precursor to a first strike, it can be quite dangerous. Add to that the nuclear component, which involved actual nuclear aircraft, practice alerts, practice code validations and more....  More»

 

President Obama's speech on his counterterrorism policies may be his last, best chance to establish a solid foundation for the extraordinary actions he's ordered as the commander-in-chief. Legitimacy and sustainability are his watchwords. But those who follow this subject closely will be watching to see how he addresses several difficult questions, including how the executive branch can possibly hold itself accountable when secret military operations go devastatingly wrong. Repeating his mantras from past speeches won't speak to the rising concerns among lawmakers and American citizens about his policies. Promising transparency without sacrificing any power or claim to power will be too easy. (The disclosure today that four Americans have been killed is a good first step, as is the Attorney General's acknowledgement that three of them were ...  More»

 
May 29, 2013, at 6:15 PM

Psychiatry is either in a state of complete disarray, or it's on the verge of triumph over mental illness.

The science behind the discipline is either rigorous or completely fallacious.

Compared to other medical disciplines, psychiatry faces the daunting burden of having to regularly prove to the universe that it exists, that there is something besides air in the open boat, that its practice can be useful, and that the significant lack of known knowns about mental illness do not correlate to a reality where there never will be knowns that will be known better.

What psychiatry is is a serious question, and one worth grappling with. The controversy over the profession's diagnostic standards manual is illuminating and well worth the thought that thinkers give to it....  More»

 
May 29, 2013, at 6:54 PM

Jim Comey, who President Obama will reportedly nominate to run the Federal Bureau of Investigation, is best known for a singular act of courage: When the Bush administration wanted to act like the rule of law was inconvenient, he said no. In doing so, he pissed off the White House, many of his own colleagues, made an enemy of Dick Cheney for life, and earned plaudits from civil libertarians as a liberal-minded man of the people.

All true. But Comey also helped to institutionalize the very program — the National Security Agency's orderless domestic collection — that his refusal to sanction had put the breaks on. He did not object to the part of the program declassified by the Bush administration. He believed that the president's Article II power did in fact provide enough cover for the NSA to collect call records from subscribers who...  More»

 
May 30, 2013, at 8:18 PM

Michele Bachmann, the retiring five-term member of Congress from Minnesota, was a rather shameless self-promoter at best and a demagogue at worst. But she was very, very good at one thing: She knew how to stick it to Obama. She understood better than most of her conference that her voting base would reward her for saying "no" at every opportunity, for following Calvin Coolidge's dictum that the first job of a legislator is not to pass good legislation, it's to stop bad legislation.

I don't know why she's leaving, but it ain't because she couldn't raise the money: She'd already taken in $10 million, much of it in small donations. She did not need help from leadership PACs, and she did not require pork from her colleagues on other committees, because pork, as we once knew it, is not really distributed the way it used to be....  More»

 

It's hard not to sympathize with the FBI. It's impossible to go after purveyors of child pornography one by one, and the bureau doesn't have the time or resources to full enforce the law. Where it can, it focuses on big traffickers — the owners and operators of private websites who cater to the (mostly) men who view the images and videos for sexual gratification. From there, it uses service records, including credit cards, IP addresses, and other content obtained from its seizure of a site's hard drives to identify the people who trade the porn.

Recently, some enterprising FBI agents took the next logical step. It did what the CIA regularly does with websites catering to jihadists: It secretly took it over, ran it as if nothing were amiss, and quietly collected information about its users and the way they used it....  More»

 

An draft internal Pentagon report suggests that Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers revealed to filmmakers the name of a special operations planner who participated in the raid that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden even though the head of the Special Operations Command, Adm. Eric Olson, had specifically asked that the man's name and the fact of his participation in the raid not be revealed.

The report, about information provided by the government to Zero Dark Thirty's writer and director, concludes that no "classified" or sensitive special operations tactics, techniques and procedures were given to the "Hollywood executives" by Vickers or by anyone else. Still, at several points, senior Special Operations Command flag officers expressed concern about the filmmakers' access....  More»

 
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