November 1, 2013, at 9:14 PM

Don't wait until November 15 to read all 473 pages of Double Down, the 2012 installment of Mark Halperin and John Heilemann's campaign biography. Copies of the book are popping up in bookstores, and there's been lot of TV coverage of the behind-the-scenes relationship between the Clintons and the Obamas. (Not really news, but plenty of color: They're not each other's best friends, but they've grown on each other.) Here are seven other points of color, each of which illustrates a deeper political dynamic.

1. Far from being annoyed with Vice President Joe Biden, Obama developed a deep affection for him, prizing his intelligence, his loyalty, and his truth-telling. When Biden returned to the White House after visiting his son Beau, who had been hospitalized for a neurological condition, Obama "came sprinting down the hall to the White House....  More»

November 5, 2013, at 10:12 PM

Chris Christie and Terry McAuliffe, Bill de Blasio and Marty Walsh, this is your election:

1. Ken Cuccinelli almost won. Maybe it's true that Ken Cuccinelli lost because he was associated with the Tea Party wing of the GOP, which was supposed to have been the story line. But the truth, as votes still trickle in, is that he was 10,000 votes away from winning. That means that had the government not shut down, had Terry McAuliffe made one more mistake, had the timing of the Tea Party revolution in the House come just a month earlier, Cuccinelli might have weathered his party's misdeeds and succeeded....  More»

November 7, 2013, at 2:35 PM

On November 7, 1983, the terminal phase of a NATO war game called Able Archer began, deep within a bunker somewhere in Europe. The U.S. and NATO conducted dozens of such exercises each year. But Able Archer was special. It marked the first time that NATO practiced brand new procedures for sharply changing the course of its fictitious war with the Russians from conventional — regular bombs — to nuclear. And the Russians noticed. Not only did they notice, but the available evidence suggests that they panicked and reacted, thinking the war game was a pretext for an actual war....  More»

November 7, 2013, at 4:09 PM

So now that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is well on his way to sainthood, at least among the Republican establishment in Washington, and since it's en vogue to speculate about his intentions two years hence, I thought I'd take a step back and list the potential landmines that Christie must dance around if he wants to be a successful presidential candidate. None of these disqualify him. Some are not exactly "fair." All of them he will have to deal with at some point.

1. The I/Me syndrome. Christie shares this in common with successful presidents — the last two Democratic presidents, in particular....  More»

November 8, 2013, at 10:40 AM

If demography is destiny, Republicans can't win the presidency by acting more like Democrats. The GOP's best shot in 2016 is not to nominate a moderate. They must nominate a conservative who can attract more conservative voters to the polls, just like President Obama built his own coalition and increased the relative electoral power of each constituent part. Not that it will be easy.

As long as the GOP nominates someone plausible, they start off with 46 percent of the vote and a large chunk of the electoral college. Getting to 270 + 1 electoral votes and then to 50 percent of the popular balloting requires trade-offs and choices....  More»


The National Security Agency has expedited a number of Freedom of Information Act requests in the wake of Edward Snowden's disclosures. For the book on secrecy I wrote with D.B. Grady, I sought from the agency the latest guidance on minimizing data collected on U.S. persons. It took about two years for the agency to process that request, and we published the book with only a very heavily redacted version to review.

Today, via email, an agency FOIA officer sent me a much cleaner copy of USSID 18 (USSID stands for United States Signals Intelligence Directive)....  More»

November 18, 2013, at 10:02 PM

The Director of National Intelligence released more than 2,000 pages of formerly top secret documents today, including a lengthy description of a major email metadata collection program that was discontinued in 2011 — a program that collected, in bulk, the email metadata associated with millions of Americans. The NSA, somewhat confusingly, refers to this program as the Pen Register/Trap and Trace, PR/TT program, even though it has nothing to do with traditional telephone calls, which is what those terms are generally associated with. (The collection of telephone records is referred to as the "BR FISA" collection)....  More»


Some events change the world overnight. Others take years to gestate, and even longer to show signs of influence. They often escape our notice entirely.

Something very important just happened in Eurasia, and the U.S.-Russian relationship will be forever changed because of it.

Since 1991, when the Soviet Union formally dissolved, Ukraine, the giant squirrel-shaped country to the east of Russia, has been flirting with a turn to the West. And for two decades, the European Union has been quite welcoming. Ukraine hasn't had it easy. The transition to a market economy was hard....  More»


Confession: I am a JFK assassination buff. I never much liked the term, but it describes me well. I've read just about every book ever published on the assassination, watched every documentary, mock trial, and dramatization. And for a long time, until about 14 years ago, I was a conspiracy theory believer. Too many loose ends. Too many coincidences of propinquity. And since I had no understanding of physics, or ballistics, or medicine, or of the world, really, I was fascinated with Oliver Stone's enormously influential JFK. I remember writing somewhere, and bear in mind I was 14 at the time, that the third act scene with "Mr....  More»

November 23, 2013, at 7:23 AM

There must be two dozen new books about the Kennedy assassination alone, and since I'm obsessed with the subject, I suppose I will have to read all of them, if only to see if there's anything I missed. The assassination properly fascinates. But where do you begin? How do you separate the good books from the really bad ones? There are many really awful, stupid books that became bestsellers. Here are my five favorites. The authors of two of them believe that Lee Harvey Oswald did not kill Kennedy alone. Two others are trenchant critics of the conspiracy theorists. And the final author is the guy, still alive, who was closest to the kill shot. I'd recommend reading these in order.

1. Six Seconds In Dallas, by Josiah Thompson. Thompson was the first author to carefully and dispassionately consider the evidence collected by the Warren Commission, ...  More»

November 25, 2013, at 4:51 PM

In the latest set of NSA strategic planning documents leaked by Edward Swowden, some of the following sentences are classified as "TOP SECRET," meaning that their disclosure would reasonably be expected to cause grave harm to national security. Grave, as in almost irredeemable. Harm, as in actual damage. Reasonably, as in, an average person, being aware of all the pertinent facts, would be able to make that judgment in advance. The "SI" caveat further reduces the number of people who are to be trusted with this information....  More»


Even if you find people rankings tendentious, Time's Person of the Year provides a good opportunity to slow down and think. Since Time is an U.S.-centric publication with international editions, the criteria — the person who "for better or for worse...has done the most to influence the events of the year" — should be read to mean, I think, the person who has had the most impact on America, construed broadly.

This year, there is only one logical choice: Edward Snowden.

A 29-year-old managed to kneecap the most powerful institution on the face of the planet....  More»

November 27, 2013, at 5:13 PM

Here is the latest version of the National Security Agency's unofficial org chart, a mind map I have been updating ever since Edward Snowden made it cool to obsess about the NSA. My goal is to turn the map into a functional description of how NSA works, not just what NSA is. It's a work in progress.

It's difficult enough to keep track of all the cover terms the NSA uses for databases, systems, and intercept points, but it's almost impossible, even given a wealth of classified documents, to figure out how these discrete entities relate to each other. The NSA's FISA collection adds a another dimension of complexity.

In general, the chain of signals intelligence, excluding FISA, operates this way:

Analyst figures out whom to target, or gets an order to target someone....  More»

December 11, 2013, at 12:14 AM

Who judges the judges, watches the watchers, curates the curators? This is not just a question for today's content entrepreneurs and their publishers, who are always looking for the cheapest way to aggregate and profit off of usable content. There are so many different sources that sort the stuff we read now that you can't really participate in your community unless you use an app or website that functions as a streamliners of streamliners. Since we as internet users don't trust people who don't sound like we do, with the decades-long collapse of faith in political and mediating cultural institutions, the ease with which we simply fall into our reading...  More»

December 11, 2013, at 1:53 AM

The most compelling image of Nelson Mandela's memorial was a still photograph of two young people, a young white woman and a young black man, holding each other, and using the South African flag to shield themselves from the rain.

And I had hope. And I thought about sex.

On the question of how much work there is to do to eradicate racism, I tend to slag a bit more optimistically than Ta-Nehisi Coates, but not too much more. As a white guy, I sense some institutional racism. I know there is more because I know I am not capable of sensing it all. I tend not to ruminate on it, and so it surprises me how frequently I do come across it....  More»


Here's what the U.S. Secret Service doesn't do: the U.S. Secret Service does not drop the President off at events and say, "Hey, we'll see you later!"

If security plans were perfect, and none are, then the most iconic images associated with presidential protection -- agents surrounding the protectee as he shakes hands or gives a speech -- would not be so deeply ingrained in our consciousness.

It is precisely because there are always unknowns and unknowables that agents stay in very close proximity to the president at all times. The head of Obama's detail was steps away from the President as the sign language faker pantomimed his way to infamy.

Now, South Africa was primarily responsible for the event security plan. It was a loose plan; most of the crowd, apparently, did not go through magnetometers; exit and entry routes for VIPs seemed crowded and...  More»


2016 will be a weird election for the Democratic candidate, be the nominee Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, or a dude.

In 2000, Vice President Al Gore faced a dilemma. How could he claim credit for contributing to the successes of the Clinton administration without embracing the scandal-tarnished president himself? He was too close to the center of the presidential drama of 1998, too personally offended by Clinton's personal mistakes, that it's easy to forgive him, in retrospect, for not finding it easy to compartmentalize. (He still, you know, won the most votes, so this needle was threaded....  More»


The defense budget seems so bloated; the defense bureaucracy seems so overburdened. How can these two conditions exist simultaneously?

One reason is the way Congress oversees defense programs.

Because Congress cannot (practically) use its "power of the purse" to exercise programmatic scrutiny on a day to day basis, committees with jurisdiction must find a way to obtain information about programs, plans, policies, requirements, and developments. That way, they know what questions to ask, and they know whom to ask.

How? They ask the Secretary of Defense and other officials to provide reports to relevant committees. Sorry. Not asks. Requires. As in, program "A" will be funded at 70 percent of its authorized level unless the Secretary of Defense provides a report within 90 days of the enactment of this bill on subject "X....  More»


Judge Richard J. Leon has ruled that the NSA's bulk telephone records surveillance program is probably unconstitutional. Though the judge will allow the government to appeal before he shuts down the program, his ruling is a stinging and often caustic reproach to the government's claims about the nature of its surveillance and the legal basis on which it is conducted.

Leon has several arguments.

He notes that the government insists that only "identifiers" that meet the "Reasonable Articulable Suspicion" standards — specific telephone numbers that have been pre-cleared and pre-approved by NSA supervisors — can be checked against the database....  More»

December 18, 2013, at 6:42 AM

Ron Fournier is on fire. Liberated (my word) from the responsibilities of editing National Journal, the 20-year-veteran writer has become Washington's most trenchant, most compulsively readable political critic. Liberal or conservative, libertarian or other, you'd be wise to start reading him.

(To dispense with the compulsory narcissism: I used to work for Fournier at National Journal, and I consider him a mentor, so, yeah, I've got skin in the game. On the other hand, we've had, and still have, many arguments about politics.)

What distinguishes Fournier's work from most other practicing columnists' is his voice....  More»

December 18, 2013, at 4:17 PM

The presidentially appointed panel to assess the scope of intelligence and communications technologies wants to change the way the government stores and collects intelligence. Will they fly with the president? Between now and January, when Obama is expected to announce the reforms he endorses, he'll face plenty of pressure to dull the edges of the recommendations, particularly those that implicate the way the National Security Agency gathers foreign intelligence information. Based on a close reading, here's what's likely to draw the president's eye....  More»

December 19, 2013, at 5:37 PM

I don't think Hillary Clinton ever intended to be Barbara Walters' Most Fascinating Person of 2013. Indeed, this year was supposed to be slow and quiet. Clinton stepped down as secretary of state early in the year, took some time off, hit the lucrative lecture circuit, worked with the Clinton Foundation, and has generally kept her head down. Right about now, if the political calendar had any influence, Clinton would be deciding whether to run for president in 2016. Her friends, allies, and bundlers are organized and waiting. To build solid campaigns in Democratic primary states, Clinton needs as little lead time as any potential candidate in recent ...  More»

January 4, 2014, at 6:40 PM

Journalist Itay Hod has taken an ax to a politician's glass closet, and I think he misses the mark. Widely....  More»


Add this to the list of our country's technological backwardness:

The rest of the western world has figured out how to dramatically reduce identity theft and credit card fraud.

We, however, still use magnetic stripes. Stripes that can be so easily cloned and copied.

And even though the credit card industry is rigorous about prosecuting fraud, they haven't taken the single, fairly simple, if admittedly not cheap, step to solving the problem.

It's cheap enough, however, for 80 other countries to have upgraded. Instead of magnetic stripes, which contain a single code for all time, smart cards are like one-time only pads that spies used to use....  More»


“And I must tell you...when it comes to predicting the nature and location of our next military engagements, since Vietnam, our record has been perfect. We have never once gotten it right, from the Mayaguez to Grenada, Panama, Somalia, the Balkans, Haiti, Kuwait, Iraq, and more — we had no idea a year before any of these missions that we would be so engaged."

Prescient remarks from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, whose soon-to-be published memoir has landed with a predictable bang. There are two strings I want to pull. One: Why did Gates write the book for release during the administration?...  More»


In Double Down, the best-selling behind-the-scenes tome of the 2012 campaign, the authors delve into New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's interaction with the top of the Republican ticket. The portrait wasn't very flattering. Double Down's Christie was megalomaniacal, self-possessed, and obsessed with reciprocity: You do well by him, and he'll do well by you. You fundraise without his permission in New Jersey, and he'll cut the donors off. Loyalty trumped all. If Christie perceived you as disloyal, you were out of his inner circle. That's in passive voice because Christie would leave it to his lieutenants to enforce this code of honor....  More»

January 11, 2014, at 6:06 PM

Ariel Sharon, the former Israeli prime minister who died last night after an eight-year coma, is an historical enigma.

The most controversial figure in modern Zionism, the admired and brutal military commander, the uncompromising opponent of reconciliation with the Palestinians, he proved upon becoming the prime minister to be the one Israeli politician willing to make the type of concession that could have propelled the peace process forward after years of stagnation.

Sharon came to favor a unilateral withdrawal of all Israeli troops and settlers from the Gaza strip....  More»


Miley did it. Pistachio nuts are doing it. Lady Gaga does it every year.

Maybe it's time the National Security Agency thought about rebranding.

Blessed with the best scientists and technologists in the world, campuses in dozens of countries, data repositories that most companies couldn't dream of, and a reputation for cutting-edge innovation, the NSA's next director might want to do more with his organization's assets than mere intelligence gathering and Big Brothering.

If the NSA rebranded itself as a consumer products company, its customer solutions center might finally deserve its name. Since the NSA no longer has to keep its methods secret, why not put them to good use?

The idea came to me this weekend, when I relinquished my wallet and cell phone to thieves....  More»


Late last year, Apple hired Angela Ahrendts, the CEO of Burberry — that Burberry — to be its senior vice president of online and retail stores. The proximate reason: Apple's public facing displays had grown tired, perhaps easily emulated by Sony, Microsoft and, soon, Samsung. Tech writers who covered the announcement correctly focused on what Ahrendts did for the sturdy British fashion house's sales.

Less noticed, or observed, was the context of the Burberry turnaround itself. I think Ahrendts's hiring tells us something else about Apple's goals for the near future....  More»

January 14, 2014, at 8:11 PM

Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates does not, in turns out, question President Obama's competence as president of the United States, even as he expressed doubts whether Obama fully believed, or ever believed in, the military's ability to do the jobs Obama assigned to it. That's the key takeaway from my own speed read of his large memoir, which was formally released today. Gates has softened his criticism of Obama in interviews after excepts leaked last week.

Gates has plenty to say about President Obama's foreign policy. Based on a speed read of Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary Of War, here are the highlights you might not have heard about if you've...  More»

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