National Security

The Bowe Bergdahl Situation Is Complicated. Let's Not Pretend Otherwise.

AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
AP Photo/Jae C. Hong A "Bring Bowe Back" sign honoring captive U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is seen through a POW-MIA flag in Hailey, Idaho, Saturday, June 22, 2013. B efore long, we'll surely be hearing that Barack Obama arranged for the release of Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl to distract the country from Benghazi. Or maybe the theory is already making the rounds on talk radio; I'm not sure. But this messy episode reminds us of how little the people who fetishize "toughness" and want desperately for the War on Terrorism to extend into eternity actually grasp about where we find ourselves in 2014. But before we get to that, if you go to any conservative site today, you'll see one piece after another attacking Bergdahl, with the implied or stated conclusion that we should have just left him there. Some of the people with whom Bergdahl served say he was a deserter. And they may turn out to be right. But there was enough uncertainty about what he did, and why, to make the idea of just...

Facial Recognition and the Loss of Anonymity

You're not fooling anyone, kid. We know who you are. (Flickr/Glen)
With all the attention given to the Obama administration's new regulations on carbon emissions, you may have missed the latest revelation from the documents obtained by Edward Snowden, which came out over the weekend. The latest news is that the NSA is now increasingly relying on facial recognition in its surveillance, and gathers millions of images a day from emails, social media, and other sources, and it isn't alone. Here's an excerpt from a report that appeared in the New York Times on Sunday : State and local law enforcement agencies are relying on a wide range of databases of facial imagery, including driver’s licenses and Facebook, to identify suspects. The F.B.I. is developing what it calls its "next generation identification" project to combine its automated fingerprint identification system with facial imagery and other biometric data. The State Department has what several outside experts say could be the largest facial imagery database in the federal government, storing...

Does Obama Have a Foreign Policy Doctrine? (Let's Hope Not)

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza President Barack Obama delivers a major foreign policy address at the United States Military Academy at West Point commencement ceremony at Michie Stadium in West Point, N.Y., May 28, 2014. O n Wednesday, President Barack Obama outlined his foreign policy principles in a speech at West Point, giving rise to a round of commentary on the "Obama Doctrine." Opinions fell into three camps: those who thought the Obama Doctrine sounded quite sensible (for example, Fareed Zakaria ), those who were underwhelmed by its lack of clarity and vision (for example, the New York Times ), and those who were horrified by its insufficient testosterone (pretty much any conservative you could name). But the truth is that foreign policy doctrines are overrated. It's no coincidence that the only presidents in the last half-century who had clear doctrines, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, were the most simplistic of thinkers (there have been doctrines attributed to...

Who's Hacking Your Phone?

They can definitely hear you now. (Flickr/Esther Vargas)
NBC aired its interview with Edward Snowden on Wednesday night, and there were lots of interesting things about it, particularly how confident and articulate Snowden was. One of the details that stood out for people was when Brian Williams asked Snowden about the NSA's ability to infiltrate your phone. I think the real lesson here isn't the one most people are taking, but to start, here's an excerpt from NBC's write-up : "The NSA, the Russian Intelligence Service, the Chinese Intelligence Service, any intelligence service in the world that has significant funding and a real technological research team, can own that phone the minute it connects to their network. As soon as you turn it on, it can be theirs. They can turn it into a microphone, they can take pictures from it, they can take the data off of it." Snowden described how the simple pattern of his phone calls—not the content of the calls but the time and location of those calls—could be invaluable to a security service. And how...

Where Terrorists and Assassins Don't Hide

Flickr/Wyn Van Devanter
At the end of last week, I wrote about a report showing how law enforcement authorities reacted to Occupy protests as if they were the advance guard for an al Qaeda invasion of America, on the apparent assumption that unlike non-violent right-wing dissent, non-violent left-wing dissent is likely a prelude to violence and thus must be met with surveillance, infiltration, and ultimately force. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court issued a decision on a case involving the Secret Service that seems to grow from a similar assumption about the connection between dissent and violence. The case was about an incident in 2004 when President George W. Bush stopped at an outdoor restaurant in Oregon. A crowd quickly formed, with some people cheering Bush and some jeering him. The Secret Service forced both groups away from the location, but let the pro-Bush citizens stay closer than the anti-Bush citizens; the plaintiffs charged that this was impermissible viewpoint discrimination. The Court ruled 9-0...

American War Dead, By the Numbers

Photo: Melissa Bohan/Arlington National Cemetery
Photo: Melissa Bohan/Arlington National Cemetery Army Staff Sgt. Juan Esparzapalomino, a supply sergeant with the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, "The Old Guard", inspect the rows of newly-placed flags in Section 27, ensuring the flags are aligned as perfect as possible for the 2013 annual National Memorial Day Observance. T oday is Memorial Day, when we honor those who died in America's wars. It's often said that Americans are increasingly disconnected from the military, since the all-volunteer force, not to mention the limited nature of the wars we've waged since Vietnam, means that most Americans don't serve or even have family members who serve. I thought it might be worthwhile to look at some figures on the number who served and the number who died, to place that change in context. The number of Americans who were in uniform peaked during the national mobilizations of World War I and World War II, particularly the latter, when more than 16 million Americans were in the armed forces:...

Ehud Olmert Exits Stage Right, But His Very Bad Idea Remains

Prominent politicians are proposing that Israel redraw its border, keeping some or all settlements and imposing a new map by fiat—an old Olmert idea. Call it hubris.

AP Photo/Dan Balilty
AP Photo/Dan Balilty Former Israel Prime Minister Ehud Olmert speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Tel Aviv, Israel, Thursday, April 18, 2013. E hud Olmert is over. The judge who sentenced Israel's former prime minister to six years in prison has struck the final sledgehammer blow to Olmert's reputation and his comeback chances. Ironically, at the same political moment, what may have been the most irresponsible policy proposal of Olmert's career is enjoying a renaissance: the idea that Israel should unilaterally draw a new border in the West Bank, ignoring the Palestinians. Olmert was convicted of accepting bribes as Jerusalem mayor to help win approval for a monstrous set of apartment towers known (even in Hebrew) as the Holyland. Last week, handing down an unusually stiff sentence by Israeli standards, Judge David Rozen described a bribe-taking official as "a traitor." Even were Olmert to win an appeal and survive new witness-tampering allegations, the daydream of...

UPDATED: Dangerous Amendment Amounting to Declaration of War Put Forward

Fox News furnished the pictures, and it looks like Representative Duncan Hunter wants to furnish the war.

© Holly Kuchera/iStock
Duncan Hunter/Facebook A photo from Rep. Duncan D. Hunter's Facebook page shows him during a tour of duty with the U.S. Marines. UPDATE (May 21,2014): Rep. Hunter revised his amendment in the Rules Committee, removing the Authorization for the Use of Military Force and replacing it with language demanding two reports from the president. The first, due 30 days after passage, would be required to contain "the identity and location of those persons and organizations that planned, authorized, or committed the attacks against the United States facilities in Benghazi, Libya that occurred on September 11 and 12, 2012; and a detailed and specific description of all actions that have been taken to kill or capture any of the persons described in clause." Additionally, the report would clarify whether the president would be required to go to Congress for an AUMF if he wanted to launch a military strike to capture or kill those terrorists. A second report due 90 days after the laws enactment...

'Benghazi! The Musical': Dancing, Shouting, Not Much Plot

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. I f Republicans in Congress really want to get Americans to pay attention to the Benghazi scandalette, they're going to have to do some creative thinking. Since hearings and periodic expressions of outrage haven't worked so far, maybe a musical would do the trick. A soaring ballad or two, some hopping dance numbers, maybe a pair of star-crossed lovers. Naturally, it would be called Benghazi! , kind of like Oklahoma! , only rather more grim. But in the meantime, they're going to go with a select committee to investigate the matter, as House Speaker John Boehner announced on Friday . One does wonder whether they think that if they just do some more investigating, they'll uncover the real crime. No one knows what it is yet, but just you wait. Or, as is far more likely, they're just hoping to create a lot of bad news days for the administration, where the whiff of "...

The Best Way to Deal With Putin? Take It Slow

AP Photo/RIA Novosti, Alexei Nikolsky, Presidential Press Service
(AP Photo/RIA Novosti, Alexei Nikolsky, Presidential Press Service) Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a nationally televised question-and-answer session in Moscow on Thursday, April 17, 2014. “A nd then, in an instant, everything changed forever.” It’s one of the great clichés of literature and public policy. Not only overused, it’s often deployed in an overly-deterministic way: “9/11 changed everything.” Well, no it didn’t, at least not until officials acted as if it did, and then decided to change everything: torturing innocent people, building black site prisons, starting (and failing to win) two wars, collecting information on everyone’s phone calls. Sometimes, though, U.S. foreign policy discourse has the opposite problem: Failing to absorb change, it continues to move its legs in mid-air, like Wile E. Coyote, without never looking down to notice that it’s already gone over the cliff. That’s where we are right now with Russia. Putin-huggers and old Cold Warriors...

For the U.S., Israel and Palestine: What's Plan B?

AP Photo/Brendan Smialowski, Pool
I f the Obama administration’s view of the Israeli--Palestinian conflict could be summed up in a sentence, it is this: The status quo is unsustainable. “The status quo is unsustainable for all sides. It promises only more violence and unrealized aspirations,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual Washington policy conference in March 2010. “The status quo is unsustainable, and Israel must too act boldly to advance a lasting peace,” President Barack Obama said in his May 2011 speech at the State Department, laying out his vision of the U.S. role in the Middle East after the Arab Awakening. “Today’s status quo absolutely, to a certainty, I promise you 100 percent, cannot be maintained. It’s not sustainable,” Secretary of State John Kerry told the Munich Security Conference in February. “It’s illusionary. There’s a momentary prosperity, there’s a momentary peace.” Although the Obama administration may have coined the phrase, the...

Don't Let the Bush Administration Off the Hook For Torture

There's a new report out today from McClatchey on the CIA's torture program based on that Intelligence Committee report. They got a closer look at it than journalists have before, so there are some more details. But there's a danger in how this could be interpreted that will serve to let people who were complicit in the torture program off the hook, so we need to be careful about how we deal with this information. But first, here are their bullets: The CIA used interrogation methods that weren’t approved by the Justice Department or CIA headquarters. The agency impeded effective White House oversight and decision-making regarding the program. The CIA actively evaded or impeded congressional oversight of the program. The agency hindered oversight of the program by its own Inspector General's Office. And now to put this in context: The Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel found that the methods wouldn't breach the law because those applying them didn't have the specific intent...

The CIA and the Moral Sunk Costs of the Torture Program

This morning, The Washington Post has a blockbuster story about that 6,300-page Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA's torture program. The part that will likely get the most attention is the conclusion that torture produced little if any useful intelligence, which is extremely important. But even more damning is the picture the committee paints of a CIA that all along was trying to convince everyone that what they were doing was effective, even as it failed to produce results. I have a post on this over at the Post this morning, but I want to elaborate on this aspect of the story. This is a tale of moral sunk costs, and how people react when they've sold their souls and realize that they won't even get paid what they bargained for. In case you're unfamiliar with the economic idea of sunk costs ( here's a nice summary ), it's basically the idea of throwing good money after bad: once you've gone down a particular path, what you've already invested (money, time, effort) acts...

Soldiering on an Empty Stomach

AP Images/Keith Srakocic
S ince the start of the Recession, the dollar amount of food stamps used at military commissaries, special stores that can be used by active-duty, retired, and some veterans of the armed forces has quadrupled, hitting $103 million last year. Food banks around the country have also reported a rise in the number of military families they serve, numbers that swelled during the Recession and haven’t, or have barely, abated. About 2,000 food-stamp recipients listed their occupations as active-duty military in 2012, according to the most recent data from the United States Department of Agriculture, which oversees the food-stamp program. It’s a tiny fraction of the 47 million Americans who receive food stamps on an average month. The military also has its own program designed to provide families with additional money for food so that they don’t qualify for food stamps. Uptake is low—only 427 families used it. Those who work on anti-hunger issues worry that there are more complicated reasons...

No, Fracking Is Not Making the U.S. More Secure

AP Images/Brennan Linsley
AP Images/Brennan Linsley W hen it rains, it pours, so they say, but pouring rain is not exactly what you want in a drought. The big storm that hit the parched American Southwest at the end of February only scratched the surface of the problem. The land is far too dry and hard-packed to absorb the deluge; instead of recharging the earth, much of the water bounced off the dirt, turning into wasted runoff and even flash floods. These dry lands are dryer than they would otherwise be because of global warming-driven climate change . As it turns out, its not just the burning of oil, gas, and coal that's accelerating the loss of available freshwater, but also the drilling for two of the fuels themselves. A report by Ceres, a non-profit organization that promotes sustainability, found that almost half of the wells that were dug between January 2011 and May 2013 to hydraulically fracture (or "frack") shale rock to extract natural gas and "tight" oil were located in regions with "high or...

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