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The "active shooter" situation that wasn't paralyzed downtown Washington today, and as of this writing, there are still heightened security measures in place. The panicked reaction to reports of what happened began after the incident itself was resolved; the suspect apparently had been killed, and a police officer was being tended to, and those on the scene did not find any reason to believe that more people were involved.

On CNN, anchors raised questions about security measures, and whether they were up to the task of protecting the U.S. government....  More»

 

Special agents of the U.S. Secret Service protect the president and his family. But responsibility for securing the White House itself falls to a branch of the service known as the Uniformed Division, consisting of 1,300-plus sworn police officers and technicians. While agents and their exploits are glamorized and the subject of fictional thrillers and films, the U.D. officers often have a more dangerous job.

They're the ones who establish and control the outer perimeters around the White House. They're in direct contact with the public; they're responsible for screening White House visitors and preventing harmful people from even getting close to...  More»

 
October 7, 2013, at 9:03 PM

I have few qualms with Ezra Klein's 13 reasons why government is failing piece, but I think his main point needs to be modified. Government is failing, he writes. I would add that it is purposely failing. It is operating precisely as a plurality of political conservatives want it to. The government is executing policies designed to reduce confidence in itself. The shutdown is not a consequence of a broken system. It is a consequence of a system that incentivizes particular outcomes over majority ones, rules that empower political minorities, and of the political and social needs of the humans who inhabit it....  More»

 
October 9, 2013, at 9:11 PM

The Street still thinks this will end peacefully. The Street — you know, Wall Street, where money flows, where collective wisdom incorporates all there is to know every nanosecond, where expectations are often more important than reality.

This is, of course, the great hostage taking of 2013, where the full faith and credit of the United States is being held ransom by people who got elected as Republicans, but see themselves more as conservatives.

"How is this going end?"

The easiest scenario is still the one where Boehner folds and goes home. This suggests an end time of around 11:59 p....  More»

 
October 9, 2013, at 9:40 PM

With some exceptions, the media has decided that it is well and good to frame the government shutdown as a hostage situation perpetuated by a small band of Republicans led by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

But is that what's really going on here?

There are surface similarities. In a hostage scenario, a small band of thugs threaten to harm people unless they get their way. Yes, that is the negotiating tactic Republicans are using. Give us what we want, and then we will release the government back to you.

But what's happening in Washington is not a hostage situation....  More»

 
October 13, 2013, at 7:00 PM

The 50th anniversary of President Kennedy's assassination has occasioned a glut of new non-fiction. At the bookstore yesterday, I counted a dozen new titles, and we're still a month out. JFK books sell, so much so that respectable publishing houses are quite content to market ludicrous conspiracy theories. The lingering specter of a grand plot to kill the president is one reason why the assassination continues to haunt the public memory. The enigmatic nature of JFK was another.

How can a man who produced so much primary source material for historians, including private diary recordings, hundreds of interviews, and several of his own works of literature still be so unknown as an embodied political figure that serious historians continue to debate whether he was, fundamentally, a liberal or a conservative for his age?...  More»

 

If Your American Government were directed by Alfonso Cuaron, the opening image would be of an empty road, full of cans, with shoe-dents in them.

Until the next crisis, if there is a next crisis, the Republican Party will attempt to regroup, ObamaCare will live (hopefully as something other than a software glitch), and we can all get pack to pondering the computer collapse that led to the first-ever blown deadline for South Park.

Here are five things you might want to remember, five things that were not necessarily evident even if this ending — a last-minute compromise — was:

1. The Democrats didn't buckle. This is a party so fond of conceding that it went into the negotiations assuming that it would not hold together. And yet, the party stuck together, even though many Democrats live in districts where "ObamaCare" is unpopular (although...  More»

 

The Guardian has been silent for a while, but into the breach stepped the Washington Post with two new stories based on items selected from the Edward Snowden collection, which, I understand, still does not feature ties or outerware.

Headlines: Documents Reveal NSA's Extensive Involvement in Targeted Killing Program and NSA Collects Millions of E-mail Address Books Globebally

Significance: Hard to say. The "targeted killing program" referred to in the headline is a policy that the entire intelligence community collaborates on. It would be quite unusual if the CIA used another agency to gather signals intelligence on its targets. From previous reporting, we know how closely the NSA and the CIA collaborate on just about everything else. Of interest, though, is the way the NSA helped: targeted cyber penetrations are a very rich source of counter-terrorism...  More»

 

It started with an article on TIME.com by Jay Newton Small, "In Shutdown, Women are the Only Adults Left." There are 20 women in the Senate, the most ever, and during the government shutdown, their floor speeches were somewhat less partisan and more "Can't-We-Just." Several women rights' groups, like EMILY's List, picked up the story for use in fundraising.

The Can't We Just speech is very easy to give. First, note how Americans mistrust their government. Then, assert that Americans dislike partisanship. Then, give an example of how you've worked with someone from across the aisle before. Finally, ask why "can't we just" set aside partisan differences and work towards a common goal and agree to disagree and be civil, among other content-free formulations....  More»

 
October 20, 2013, at 8:35 PM

Do leaks of classified information damage national security in tangible, meaningful ways? Probably, yes. Even the leakers must admit that they cannot entirely foresee the consequences of making public the methods and technology marshaled to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution. Edward Snowden may be a genius, but one practical reason why leaking classified information is illegal is because the judgment of one person cannot possibly be submitted for the judgment of others, particularly those who have access to more of the big picture in a highly compartmentalized system....  More»

 

The Affordable Care Act, or ObamaCare, has three central functional goals: Allow tens of millions more Americans to purchase private health insurance; expand Medicaid's coverage of the poor; and slow or temper the growth of health care costs over the long term by more equitably distributing the financial burden and by tinkering with the incentives that have evolved along with the current system.

The glitchy website places none of these three goals in jeopardy. If you don't now have health insurance, then you still don't have health insurance. Your life is pretty much status quo ante....  More»

 

For the GOP, Chris Christie is on the leading edge of politics, the most broadly acceptable captain of a change movement that the Republican Party can embrace. That makes him the de facto leader of red state America, even if it's not willing to accept him just yet.

One of my favorite axioms of presidential politics is that the times choose the (wo)man; the (wo)man does not choose the times. In change elections, a solid mass of voters tend to side with history, and they often choose the candidate whose personal qualities least remind them of what they're voting against....  More»

 

The author of the @natsecwonk Twitter account, a gossipy, often invective-laced anonymous Washington beat sheet, could have been a thousand people. The bio line: "A keen observer of of the foreign policy and national security scene. I'm abrasive and bring the snark. Unapologetically says what everyone else only thinks."

Maybe it was a journalist who covered the State Department, or a low-level contractor, or a disgruntled junior researcher at a think tank. It could even have been me (and one of its targets thought it was, for awhile).

Turns out it was someone who really was in a position to dish....  More»

 
October 23, 2013, at 6:46 PM

"Ever since the Church Committee hearings, we have been at bat with a one-ball, two-strike count on us, you know. We aren't taking close pitches."

So said National Security Agency Director Michael Hayden in 2001, when Vice President Cheney's staff asked the NSA to significantly expand the ambit of the agency's domestic collection using the president's inherent authorities, or duties, to protect the nation, which are spelled out in Article II of the Constitution.

David Addington, Cheney's chief of staff, thought that the NSA should use its technology to intercept emails and telephone calls sent from one domestic terminal to another, and was upset to learn...  More»

 

By law, the president and heads of intelligence agencies must keep the congressional intelligence committees informed of any "significant intelligence activity."

When is bugging the cellphones of significant allies not considered a "significant intelligence activity"? When it's part of an ongoing program, one that started at a time when Congress was rolling over for the executive branch, when war was afoot, when even senators and representatives briefed on the NSA's domestic surveillance program wanted plausible deniability?

There is no statutory requirement to brief the committees every time the NSA exercises its authorities....  More»

 

Right now, there is no credible, empowered, knowledgeable, and forceful defender of the National Security Agency inside the executive branch.

That's not to say that the vast majority of the nation's intelligence collection programs aren't worth fighting for. They are. Someone like Bill Clinton, a guy who understands stuff and knows how to explain it to folks, might want to stand up for them before it's too late.

Here's why:

The White House feels hemmed in by decisions President Obama did not make. The president is angry at the intelligence community for messing up....  More»

 
October 29, 2013, at 6:42 PM

It’s a snowy day in January 2009. Four men and one woman gather in a small basement-level conference room near the National Security Operations Center of the National Security Agency. Its door, about two inches' worth of expanded steel, is normally protected by an electronic security system. But this day, an armed guard, a member of the NSA’s police force, stands an additional watch. Inside the room, the discussants have been reviewing the holiest of holies — the biggest and best secrets the agency has, its aces, and they’re about to make a very important decision. Joining the conference, via a DRSN line from a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility in Chicago, is the NSA’s director, Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander....  More»

 
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»

 
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