Category Archives: Uncategorized

Wanted: Experts on War

From the Archives, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, January/February 2002

The head of studies at a prestigious Washington think tank quipped during a recent conversation that not one liberal foundation is interested in supporting non-governmental work on conventional war—“unless of course,” he said, “you mean gender studies [or] air power.”

The United States is fighting its third major conventional conflict in little more than a decade, but there are few independent civilian experts who can talk knowledgeably about this type of warfare. There are a handful of academics,most of whom are primarily concerned with theory; some defense industry and think tank experts beholden to corporate sponsors; and a division of retired military officers.

The public loses almost every time some bloviating retired general is interviewed on television. During a recent TV news program, one general was asked how long the anti-terrorism war might take. “As long as it takes to get the job done,” he replied. Viewers would have been better served if a military public affairs officer had been interviewed; at least then they would have known they were getting the official line, not something masquerading as analysis.

Policy-makers and military decision-makers would also benefit from outside expertise—from analysis based on public interest and an awareness of what is and isn’t politically possible. Instead of the interminable prattle from biased experts who support weapon system A over weapon system B, the military needs a citizenry that clearly understands the reality of the use of force in the twenty-first century.

The conduct of war is too important to be left only to the generals. What the public needs is a new cadre of experts who understand the causes and consequences of conventional warfare, who—despite being civilians—are able to approach the topic from a position of military expertise.

Are the foundation to blame for this lack of civilian expertise? As one foundation executive says: “There are conventional wars going on all over the place all the time and many of us can name at least some of them.”

Although foundations have minimally supported a number of campaigns related to conventional warfare—small arms, land mines, ethnic conflict, and the arms trade—they have not developed a coherent, overarching approach to the issue. As one non-governmental expert told me: “The 1990s were chaotic, and no single vision emerged as to how to deal with the post–Cold War era.” With no overarching security threat to focus on, he says, foundations began supporting work on “soft” topics, but never in a consistent or concerted way. He fears that in the wake of September 11, issues that the foundations “had the luxury to take on in the 1990s” may be abandoned in favor of international terrorism.

Part of the Reason September 11 happened was that U.S. policy-makers and think tank experts were too busy worrying about dubious threats of weapons of mass destruction to assess the obvious and more likely threat of unconventional terrorism.

The terrorist attacks were also the product of an unresolved war in Iraq, the growing U.S. military presence in the Gulf region, and the widespread perception of American impunity in an age of air power.

Don’t get me wrong—I am not arguing that the U.S. military should fight conflicts in the same way as its adversaries. But it might be wise to ask ourselves about the long-term implications of this new American style of war. Undertaking that appraisal, however, requires a savvy, thoughtful, educated, and knowledgeable group of independent experts.

“I suspect the issue isn’t so much that foundations don’t understand the devastation caused by conventional war,” the head of one large NGO told me, “as that they view it as inevitable or at least very difficult to avoid.” But this is no excuse,he says, for not paying more attention and devoting more resources to the issue.

A good start might be knowing what and where the wars are.

The Generals Have No Clothes


Publisher’s Weekly

In this impassioned takedown of the national security establishment, journalist and former U.S. Army intelligence analyst Arkin (Unmanned) excoriates military and civilian leaders for fostering a “perpetual-war machine” in the two decades since 9/11. He notes that the U.S. military has fought the “so-called war on terror” in 55 countries, at a cost of 11,000 American lives and more than $6.5 trillion, and claims that every country where fighting has occurred is worse off than it was 20 years ago. Laying the blame on a sprawling network of “establishment practitioners’’ in the military, intelligence, and law enforcement communities, Arkin delves into the network’s role in President Obama’s failure to wind down conflicts in the Middle East, the overhyping of North Korea’s military threat, and the development of massive intelligence-gathering operations that threaten the privacy of U.S. citizens. His solutions include more civilian control over the military and the creation of a “global security index” to measure whether the world is becoming more or less safe. Though lacking in narrative cohesion, Arkin’s compendium of national security dysfunctions builds a damning case against the status quo. Readers will be convinced that a sea change is necessary.

Kirkus Reviews

As former NBC News analyst Arkin demonstrates, America’s “endless” wars are perpetual by design and sustained by “a gigantic physical superstructure.” It’s gigantic enough, in fact, that the U.S. has an overbuilt military that, while capable of projecting martial power far from the nation’s shores, is not constructed to meet the demands of the wars that it will likely be fighting. “Our way of war,” writes the author, an Army veteran, “and our style of warfare has never been well suited for this counterterrorism fight.” For that reason, he adds, much of the brunt of the fighting is borne by proxy armies staffed by contractors, and those wars often multiply. At any given time, he writes, American forces are engaging enemies not just in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, but also in numerous nations in Africa. The power of enemies there, as well as in North Korea, is vastly overestimated, by Arkin’s account. Whereas the Pentagon reckons that North Korea is “the largest artillery force in the world,” the author estimates that its presumed “21,000 howitzers and artillery guns” really amount to about 600 “that both function and can reach Seoul in a surprise attack.” In addition to pointing out the problems, Arkin proposes reforms—e.g., stronger civilian oversight over the military in a time when the institution has become accustomed to operating without it. Oversight implies control, and that requires the training of arms-control and nuclear-weapons experts who are “knowledgeable enough to challenge the generals and the status quo.” Another intriguing idea is a “global security index.” In the manner of a stock ticker, it gives constant, publicly available updates on real threats to the U.S. to guide military deployment—a use of force made all the more problematic, notes Arkin, by the pandemic.

Skeptics and critics of military overreach will find Arkin’s argument invaluable.

Goodreads, David Wineberg

It is pretty clear to the whole world that the United States keeps starting wars and never finishes them. William Arkin and E.D. Cauchi call them perpetual wars in their book The Generals Have No Clothes. But that’s just one tiny aspect of a much larger disease. It is a truism that since Korea after World War II, the US only knows how to win the war, but not the peace. Now, it appears not to be able to even win the war any more.

The authors have spent decades in and around the national security structure, and what they see is a disappointing kludge of overlapping, ineffective and drifting services, directed by mediocre men who spend the bulk of their careers not strategizing but fighting Washington for expanded missions and more funding.

For all their vaunted data gathering abilities, various national security agencies have completely different estimates (for example) of how many terrorists there are in the world. They range from the low tens of thousands to the mid hundreds of thousands – an absurd range for intelligence agencies. The truth is they don’t know, but they make decisions based on that lack of information anyway. Like the War on Drugs, the War on Terror is neverending and the world is most certainly not safer or more secure because of them. Just poorer.

That same misinformation and competition is employed to influence presidents, preventing them from taking decisive action. No better example exists than that of Barack Obama, who was stymied at every turn in his futile efforts to rationalize American operations overseas. The authors beautifully capture it in an uncomfortable and frustrating chapter that describes why wars will now remain perpetual.

War has changed dramatically over the past 50 years. US soldiers don’t die nearly as often, because fewer and fewer of them are deployed on the ground. Instead, for every soldier on the ground (there is no more talk of fronts), there are hundreds or even thousands of support staff keeping them going. From satellite data to drone cover to private security services to good old logistics, the way the armed forces structures itself would be unrecognizable to a General Eisenhower (the last general to win a war for the USA).

But if US soldiers are no longer actually battling an armed enemy, the wars just drag on until there are so many special interests involved they are not even allowed to stop: “This is how war never ends. It is kept alive by a million little line items and indistinguishable ‘counter’ missions to new and constantly changing ‘threats.’ For the national security establishment, pursuit of national security solutions—‘competitive advantage’ as the military puts it—is the end in itself, as important as actually bringing any conflict to a decisive close.”

Of course, it’s not just the military that is changing. The world keeps changing to the point where the biggest fear is convergence – alliances, mergers, arms, common cause – a million ways and reasons for the bad guys to get together, in new ways, with wider reach, better stealth and above all, better communications.

The result is scope creep. The armed forces now consider it their solemn duty to monitor and control ships at sea, planes in the air, the use of drones, the level of arms, the rise of popular movements, offshore communications, social media posts – pretty much any and all activity on Earth. Bad actors are everywhere on Earth for the military. For them, it is far less secure and safe than mere civilians believe.

Accordingly, there seems to be an agency specifically targeting every conceivable aspect of life. There are agencies combatting IEDs and agencies combatting WMDs. They all receive funding, and their primary battle is with Washington for more of it. That battle too is perpetual. They’re all tracking movements of people all over the world. When feasible, they call on sister services to make stops, inspections and arrests, at least some of the time. For now, they cannot start a war.

With more than 840 overseas bases, the US military is everywhere, spread thin, but menacing. The competition among agencies and services means they’re always on the lookout for something to do, to justify all the investment in them. And the fact that major takeover invasions are off the table means they will never achieve their goals, no matter how small. Terrorists will fester, insurrections will pop up, petty tyrants will try to grow their empires. And wars will be perpetual.

This new world order means the need for infantry is near zero. The armed forces have become so technical, they have no use for a general draft any more. They would have to reject seven out ten young draftees, because Americans are so overweight, out of shape, and uneducated. Instead, the military spends $2 billion of its allocation recruiting talented specialists to play those support roles running drones, monitoring and manipulating social media and searching unimaginable amounts of raw data for patterns, conspiracies and hard evidence.

I like that the book makes insightful recommendations. For example, in the case of North Korea, instead of appeasing Kim Jong Un while embargoing the country from all interactions with anyone but China (over which the USA has no control): “There is a danger that the North might think its only option is to lash out—a ‘use-it-or-lose-it’ mentality. Perhaps if we looked at the North’s weaknesses more realistically, we would better position ourselves to avoid this eventuality.”

There is a fine description of the North’s weaknesses, from its famous and gigantic (21,000) arsenal of guns which are so old and badly maintained they won’t work for more than about an hour, to its underfed and untrained soldiers who are in no position to defend the country, let alone invade another. They are not allowed to shoot more than five bullets year to keep trained on their weapons. On the other hand, the book makes no mention whatsoever of North Korea’s new nuclear weapons and the missiles it now has to deliver then, which makes their picture rather incomplete and possibly even useless.

Their most constructive recommendation is a GSX, a general security index the authors want to invent. It will assign values to everything everyone does, positive or negative. The index would fluctuate with every change, giving a far better indication of the safety and security of the planet at any given moment. It would be far more valuable than say the Doomsday Clock, which is forever drifting a few more seconds towards midnight, based on nothing more than anxiety.

Despite the authors’ intentions, the GSX is of course no mere index. It is not a simple algorithm, and no one has the smarts to write it. It would have to be a model at least as complex and difficult to run as modeling the weather for every point on Earth. It would require supercomputers, plural. The authors have not even attempted to go down that path or hazard how much computing power would be necessary to build it and keep it running, constantly updated with unanticipated moves by blocs, countries and even individuals. Plus the weather itself and climate change. GSX is the program to end all programs, not a mere index. It’s a nice idea only.

There is much more in the book, from civilian control of the military and how that plays, and the amazing fact that despite everything, no one in the massive national security apparatus was fired or even disciplined for the total intelligence failure around 9/11. Just like bankers after the financial crisis, the military and intelligence seem beyond reach. Too big to fail doesn’t begin to describe how out of control it is.

Where the book is best is in its evaluation of America’s stumbling military: “We deceive ourselves if we really think we are alleviating suffering today. We aren’t. And if ever there was a strategy behind perpetual war—to eliminate Al Qaeda or to bring governance and the rule of law to ungoverned places where terrorism gestated—today it is a distant and failed goal. Whatever happens in Syria, under Trump or his successor, ISIS isn’t being defeated worldwide. Whatever we do in Afghanistan, we are not eliminating Al Qaeda. Whatever we do against the Houthis in Yemen or Al Shabaab in Somalia or so many other extremist groups in other places in the world, the trends are that such groups are transforming into conventional armies and territorial dwellers. If we are to defeat them, we need a different approach.”

So The Generals Have No Clothes is powerfully written, by insiders, for the general public. It has its weaknesses, but it explains a lot of what ails the USA and needs to be addressed.

The Generals Have No Clothes: The Untold Story of Our Endless Wars

With E.D. Cauchi.

Announcing from Simon & Schuster, April 13, 2001

The definitive book about the perpetual wars America is involved in and how the American people can take back control of the military from bestselling author, military expert, and award-winning journalist William M. Arkin.

The first rule of perpetual war is to never stop, a fact which former NBC News analyst William M. Arkin knows better than anyone, having served in the Army and having covered all of America’s wars over the past three decades. He has spent his career investigating how the military throws around the word “war” to justify everything, from physical combat to today’s globe-straddling cyber and intelligence network.

In The Generals Have No Clothes, Arkin traces how we got where we are—bombing ten countries, killing terrorists in dozens more—all without Congressional approval or public knowledge. Starting after the 9/11 attacks, the government put forth a singular idea that perpetual war was the only way to keep the American people safe. Arkin explains why President Obama failed to achieve his national security goal of ending war in Iraq and reducing our military engagements, and shows how President Trump has been frustrated in his attempts to end conflict in Afghanistan and Syria. He also reveals how COVID-19 is a watershed moment for the military, where the country’s civilian and public health needs clash with the demands of future wars against China and Russia, North Korea and Iran.

Proposing bold solutions, Arkin calls for a new era of civilian control over the military. He also calls for a Global Security Index (GSX), the security equivalent to the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which would measure the national and international events in real time to determine whether perpetual war is actually making the nation safer. Arguing that the American people should be empowered by facts rather than spurred by fear, The Generals Have No Clothes outlines how we can take control of the military…before it’s too late.

Order from

The Military Hasn’t Saved Us From Pandemic—Nor Should It

William M. Arkin, Newsweek, 25 May 2020.

All across America on this national holiday, the shadow of coronavirus cannot help but darken the day. So many people have died without remembrance and without their loved ones at their sides.

The toll is indeed daunting. Early on, the number of Americans who died from COVID-19 exceeded the number killed on 9/11. Then the number surpassed all the American soldiers killed in all of the wars fought in the past two decades in Iraq and Afghanistan. Coronavirus then reached another grim milestone, taking more American lives than the 33,600 who died in the Korean War. And then it surpassed the 58,200 who died during the Vietnam era. In fact, the number of Americans who have died from COVID-19 so far exceeds the number of Americans killed in all of these wars combined.

And yet despite this national calamity, the American military response has been wholly routine. With a nationwide crisis of unprecedented proportions, the military activated no more people than it did on 9/11. And it eventually deployed fewer people than it did in response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. At no time did more than 10 percent of the National Guard deploy to America’s communities, and at no time did more than one percent of the 1.3 million men and women on active duty join in the external coronavirus response.

And yet as we honor those who have died in wartime, these numbers should be seen for what they are – clear demonstrations that the military is not the right institution for emergency domestic response. And coronavirus, despite hyperbole and despite the numbers, is also not war. If there is an added military tragedy on this Memorial Day it is that we confuse what is military with what is civilian, and we starve needed civilian organizations and capabilities in our military-first society.


From the very first days of the pandemic, when governors and politicians and both leading presidential candidates clamored for the military to be called out and the National Guard to be mobilized, men and women in uniform have played an outsize role. From New York to the smallest communities in the American hinterland, 45,000 members of the Guard selflessly left their own families to put themselves into harm’s way, moving materiel, performing testing, and delivering food. Over 5,000 military doctors and nurses fanned out across America to augment overwhelmed hospitals. The Navy’s two hospital ships moved to New York and Los Angeles. Military engineers and construction workers built makeshift facilities. At the peak of the military response, in the first week of May, just over 62,000 men and women in uniform were supporting civil authorities across the country.

But consider this: On September 11, 2001, by nightfall on the day of the attacks, over 8,000 members of the National Guard alone were deployed, either directly aiding recovery in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington DC, or moving to guard transportation hubs and America’s skies. By the first week of November, seven weeks after the initial attacks, the number of mobilized National Guard soldiers surpassed 47,000 – the same as the nationwide coronavirus peak. By the end of November – 11 weeks after the attacks – the absolute number of men and women mobilized topped 57,000, almost the same as the number mobilized this year.

Hurricane Katrina in 2005 pretty much followed the same pattern. Some 51,000 guardsmen and women were eventually mobilized by the end of October, almost all of them serving in the Gulf states of Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama. Overall, some 65,000 reservists and active duty personnel were engaged in the response, again almost exactly the coronavirus number.

If it weren’t for the fact that the military issued a constant flow of COVID-19 press releases and saturated social media with announcements that made it seem as if it had all hands on deck, if the military didn’t spend tens of millions of dollars on ridiculous flyovers, all these numbers might not be so remarkable. Nor is the military’s response to coronavirus necessarily scandalous. After all, it is not the military’s mission to be America’s public health force. Nor should it be.

What the almost identical responses to COVID-19, 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina explain is that 65,000 is about the total of all the people that our near two million strong military can contribute to a civil emergency, no matter how bad it is. The vast majority of people in the military are young men and women with guns, combat Marines, sailors aboard America’s warships, fighter and bomber crews and maintainers, nuclear warriors. None of them are useful in a pandemic. Yes we can borrow the medical, engineering and logistical skillsets of many in uniform, but the remainder – and for good reason – exist to fight the nation’s wars.

Could the military have deployed more people – and quicker – had warfare, and military readiness for war, not eclipsed everything else? Perhaps. But no matter how serious the needs of the civilian population, the friction with national defense will never go away. We make a mistake when we heap every task on the military’s shoulders, but the true cost for society is in doing so we starve civilian society and institutions, ultimately weakening the foundations of a nation that the military is supposed to externally defend.

That our national defense force is not well suited for domestic emergency response should be further demonstrated in the secrecy that is an endemic part of all things military. The Pentagon decided early on in coronavirus that because of the requirements of military readiness – because it had to keep fighting in the Middle East and had to keep the nuclear deterrent operating and had to signal to North Korea and Iran that it wasn’t taking it’s eye off of its defense mission – it would not divulge specific information about coronavirus in specific units or on specific bases.

This secrecy was one of the causes of the disaster aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, which eventually had more than 1,100 coronavirus cases amongst its 4,800 strong crew. Had there been greater transparency, had the Congressional delegation in its San Diego homeport had the facts, had the news media known what was developing in this hotspot, more radical measures would have been taken. But this hotspot was a military unit and consequently what was happening was secret. The tragedy aboard the USS Roosevelt was a product of the very friction that exists between military readiness and public health. Decision-makers far away in Washington insisted that the USS Roosevelt stay on mission while those who needed to know were kept in the dark.

Secrecy had another nationwide impact. As the National Guard deployed to the streets of America and as the military went through the motions of preparing continuity of government and other emergency measures meant for nuclear war, many Americans feared martial law and federal government overreach. Secrecy prevented a more transparent explanation of what the armed forces and the national security establishment was doing. And not only that, but the very civilian agency responsible for brokering federal assistance and resource to the states – FEMA – had the weird dual national security mission, leftover from the Cold War, of being responsible not just for disaster relief but also the lead agency in the above Top Secret continuity mission. The two missions are just not compatible.

As the military response demonstrates, the civilian need isn’t unlimited. Maybe 60,000 people in a national reserve is all we’re talking about – the actual military augmentation. Yes of course military transport and other capabilities should be borrowed when everyone is rolling up their sleeves in response. But the true lesson of coronavirus is not that the military needs more, it is that it is high time that we end our society’s guns versus ventilator mentality, that we fund and equip a robust civilian reserve. Wouldn’t our nation be stronger if we had a civilian response force? Wouldn’t it be stronger if we had a commissioned public health service with a strong reserve? Wouldn’t it be stronger if we had well-funded stockpiles of personal protection equipment and medicines? Wouldn’t it be stronger if we invested in an intelligence capacity that provided early warning of pandemics? Wouldn’t it be stronger if all of these needs didn’t have to compete with national security?

America should thank its warriors for mustering over the past three months – and it should honor those who have died fighting the nation’s wars. But the best way to pay homage to all of those who put on a military uniform and declare their willingness to sacrifice their lives on our behalf is to be crystal clear about what is war and what is not war, about what is the national defense and what are national needs, about what is essential and what is excess and discretionary.

In today’s polarized and angry world, there is much deterrent to criticizing the military institution, little incentive and even some danger involved, that in doing so, one will be accused of being unpatriotic or even disrespectful. So let me say, as an Army veteran and a scholar of the institution, that we have a magnificent military. It has a grave task, one that we should not take lightly.

But we dishonor those in uniform when we ask them to do everything. We dishonor them when we send them out to fight endless wars and pay so little attention to those wars. We dishonor them when we satisfy ourselves one or two days a year recognizing what they do. What is more, we weaken the fabric of our country when we confuse what is military and what is civilian, misallocating resources and starving civil society. Coronavirus should be a reckoning, not just in reorienting our focus. It should also be a wakeup call that maybe so much of what we think is essential for our national security isn’t, that the three month hiatus in military exercises and the worldwide stop movement was trivial in its impact on our national security, that it had no effect in our overall national need.

And so, even though Memorial Day exists as its own national holiday and shouldn’t be borrowed to mourn the civilians who have died from COVID-19, nor should the military be borrowed to make us feel better about our response. In fact, on this Memorial Day, when we think about the military and its role in American society, we should not only have a more realistic view, but we should ponder the implications of misreading the world situation at the cost of the very health and vitality of our society.

Military Exercises May-September 2019

Supplement to my Newsweek article

Exclusive: While The Press And Public Focus On Iran, US Military Prepares For War With Russia

William M. Arkin, 31 January 2020.

For five months, from May-September 2019, the United States and NATO, together with its European partners, conducted 93 separate named anti-Russian war games, some bilateral but most encompassing multiple countries and venues. Here they are by name:

·       Adriatic Strike
·       Agile Spirit
·       Ample Strike
·       Anatolian Eagle
·       Angel Guardian
·       Arctic Challenge
·       Argonaut
·       Arrow
·       Astral Knight
·       Aviation Rotation 19.2
·       Baltic Eye
·       Baltic Ghost
·       Baltic Protector
·       BALTOPS
·       Black Swan
·       Blazing Lance
·       Bold Quest
·       Breakthrough
·       Breeze
·       Carpathian Fall
·       Carpathian Summer
·       CELULEX
·       CMX
·       Coalition Warfare Interoperability Experiment (CWIX)
·       Cobra Warrior
·       Combined Resolve
·       Common Challenge
·       Dacian Arrow
·       Dacian Lancer
·       Decisive Strike
·       Detonator 19
·       Dragon 19
·       Dynamic Mercy
·       Dynamic Mongoose
·       Eager Leopard
·       Eagle Talon
·       Erciyes
·       ESP MINEX 19
·       Flaming Sword
·       Formidable Shield
·       Golden Wings
·       Green Griffin
·       Immediate Response
·       Iron Wolf
·       ISTRIA I 19
·       IT-MINEX
·       Joint Warrior
·       Judicious Response/Epic Guardian
·       Justice Sword
·       Lone Paratrooper
·       Mare Aperto
·       Noble Jump
·       Northern Coasts
·       Platinum Lion
·       Point Blank
·       Ramstein Alloy 19-2
·       Ramstein Ambition
·       Ramstein Dust
·       Ramstein Guard
·       Rapid Buzzard
·       Rapid Forge
·       Rapid Trident
·       Real Thaw
·       REP(MUS)
·       Resolute Castle
·       Saber Guardian
·       Saber Junction
·       Saber Knight
·       Sagitário 19
·       Sea Breeze
·       Shabla
·       Silver Arrow
·       Spartan Warrior
·       Spring Storm
·       Steadfast Cobalt
·       Steadfast Flow
·       Steadfast Fount
·       Steadfast Interest
·       Steadfast Pinnacle
·       Steadfast Pyramid
·       Stolen Cerberus VI
·       Strike Back
·       Summer Shield
·       Swift Response
·       Szentes Axe
·       Tactical Leadership Program 19-2
·       Thracian Fall
·       Thunder 2019
·       Thunder Reindeer
·       Tobruq Legacy
·       Toxic Valley 19
·       Trident Jackal
·       Trojan Footprint
·       Typhoon Warrior

How the News Media, and the Public, Contribute to Perpetual War

Distinguished Morton L. Margolin Lecture

University of Denver, May 1, 2019

There are basically three rules of speaking: Know your audience, entertain, and for me, don’t curse too much.

I once spoke at a Rotary Club luncheon in central Vermont, and while I observed the members conduct their business, they practiced a ritual of giving a dollar to the Sergeant at Arms every time that they either wanted to share something … or every time they said … well … some curse word like darn.

I knew I was in trouble. So after I was introduced and got ready to speak, I handed a $20 bill to my host. I figured that would just about cover it.

And then I cursed like a sailor. The farmers loved it.

There was another time I was speaking at one of the War Colleges … and I was dropping f-bombs like crazy. Some part of me thought that I was just fitting in, cursing away like any military officer would … But then afterwards the General in charge admonished me. He said perhaps I should clean up my language.

That incident stuck with me because I’ve had a few similar run-ins with military officers of this type.

Do I really just have a potty-mouth … Or does this … shall we say, stylistic control of speech …  have bigger meaning?  I’m all for respectful language, the kind that recognizes race and gender … but this is about something else …. Not just about how we speak, but also about what we have to say.

I have a long history with the military and this national security establishment … and I’m thinking that maybe this very small segment of our society … were signaling to me that I was somehow lacking in character … that maybe I was a little too vulgar and a little too disorderly of a citizen.

I know the counter argument: that my “message” – whatever it is – is more strongly received if I don’t curse and moderate my language.  I know the golden rule … that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. And yet I didn’t want to conform in speaking to that military audience, never have. And part of why I’m here in Denver is because I said get you know what to NBC News. Oh I did it nicely and I didn’t curse, but I spoke up. I didn’t seek the center. I didn’t keep my mouth shut.

That brings me back to the news media, and even to national security.  The message I took away then from that General … the one that I’ve heard many times … is that I was vulgar … and a little too loud … and a little too demanding … that somehow in speaking up, in speaking out, that I was jeopardizing my membership in some club.

And that got me thinking … that maybe not just political loudmouths like me are shut out … that others too would be shut out if the opportunity arose … that there are those who are subtlety shut out … Here I mean the Bernie Sanders of the world … and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez … that they were and would be shut out.  That they weren’t acceptable.

Weren’t acceptable … it means not mainstream enough … and maybe even not true blue American enough … that maybe we could all be marginalized by this self-appointed conduct police … that maybe being “socialist” or brown-skinned or being an activist or an advocate … that these were stamps of disapproval.

There are pledges of allegiance … not the pledge of allegiance … but ways we are expected to … forced to … behave. We can criticize the wars but we can’t criticize the troops. That’s a big one. We have to accept the proposition that we have to give up some liberties for security.  Or this one: That if we’re quote not guilty then we don’t have anything to worry about when it comes to government surveillance.  Wink wink. … That only they need to worry, the connotation of course being that we don’t want to be they … whoever they are … but also that they are lurking within our midst.

I’ve watched this national security clergy evolve … this conduct police … they are the custodians of an enduring country … that they are the referees of what is acceptable … that it is up to them to decide what is politically correct, not the politically correct of the campus of equal rights but more a definition that is stuck in the 1950’s, a white America definition, a Cold War definition, a post 9/11 definition that says that anyone who doesn’t behave in a certain way … that they are disrupting America … and thus are a threat.

And there’s one more thing: these guardians of the national security … they believe, with their oaths and their professional creeds and their ways of bland bureaucracy and centrism that they own the ideals … the values. … that polite society is supposed to follow their lead …

I know it might grate on some that I mention Donald Trump and AOC in the same breadth … but I believe that this national security establishment … see them in exactly the same way.

For the past two-plus years, I’ve been watching a weird dynamic emerge, not just in the news media, but also in society. Donald Trump is so scary that even some in Congress want to pass legislation that would prevent the president of the United States from pushing the nuclear button without their approval. It’s an insane and unworkable idea. But these are also insane times.

The search for constraints on Donald Trump’s power has also led many …. to look to the FBI or to the so-called “deep state” to save the country from this man. Liberals who otherwise hate and fear the CIA and FBI … they waited for Robert Mueller to save them.

And they hang on every word that a bunch of retired generals and CIA officials turned pundits have to say about Donald Trump.  On TV and in social media.

Who are these commentators that fill the airwaves?. … These are people who have brought us 18 years of war – perpetual war – these are failed practitioners. These are the same people who missed 9/11 before it happened, who concocted WMD falsehoods in Iraq, who missed the Arab Spring and ISIS … who condoned torture …. Or who carried out a drone campaign that was little more than aerial assassination.  They can’t say that the world is more secure today … and yet they have a virtual monopoly and are to be listened to? Because they don’t curse? Because they are judicious?  And centrist? Because they are the custodians of national security?  Of something bigger and more important than the people?

These former Obama, Bush and Clinton officials are practically all we hear from in the mainstream.  And that’s a huge and growing problem. Not just because there isn’t another voice … particularly when it comes to national security there is no other voice. And I know that a lot of this is just auto-pilot and these people are just supposed to fill the airwaves and entertain. But they are also arbiters of proper behavior, guarding against a Sanders or an AOC, excluding anyone who doesn’t comport with the mainstream and their ways of Washington.

I don’t think that there is a conspiracy afoot. Trump sells. He’s the story. He’s cracked the social media code and he’s the story. And it’s inexpensive to put on the Trump story, night after night, in the same way, with the same people. And that means … no real long-term investigations, hardly the expense of any travel … they can just sit in a studio and yell all day and all night … there’s no incentive to get off the Trump story … no incentive to hear any fresh voices … to do other stories.

I’m being unfair here to television … but I’m intentionally making a point. The mainstream is shrinking. The debate is limited.  The state of perpetual was not even a subject of basic coverage in the news.

It’s so hard to generalize about what America thinks … But most think that he needs to be stopped … and a part of that is that some center … some moderate middle ground … some vanilla … needs to be restored … the reasonable center, the conventional wisdom center, the non-confrontational center … the non-cursing center … and I hesitate even to say … the white center. But still center is the key word.

That gets me back to those military officers … to the national security establishment … and how they treat the elected president … Let me get back to them and the national security establishment because I’m asserting that’s how they would treat a socialist … a leftist … or a peacenik … if anyone of that type could even be elected to national public office.

The good news is that Donald Trump as president is not really in charge of anything. At the most extreme end, even if he wanted to push the nuclear button, he’d not only have to find it and figure out how it works, but I’m absolutely sure – absolutely sure – that he is also surrounded by those very military officers and others in the bureaucracy who possess this morally superior view of both decorum and  procedure. In other words, the powers that be have their own survival plan, and it is to protect the country as much from Donald Trump as it would be and from an AOC.

I’m absolutely sure that most in government … in Washington … disdain what Donald Trump is, how he has behaved. And though they work every day to thwart him … to passive aggressively slow roll him … to even ignore him until he forgets or moves on … we shouldn’t be happy or complacent that these guardians exist.

They don’t decide how we vote, though by setting the parameters of the debate they do limit the choices. And now that there’s been a black man as President and then this off-center buffoon, the powers that be … maybe they can’t see it themselves … deeply want to return. I’ll get back to that.

The core idea of liberty is the precept that a free society is one of laws and not of men … that the rule of law stands above the whim or beliefs of some empowered group. In our society, this precept is undermined by this governance by the national security nannies … whether they be permanent Washington or the so-called deep state …

To them, it doesn’t really matter if Donald Trump is president or Barack Obama is president.

They can be outwardly cordial to both, but these special emergency managers still control because they are empowered to control … Obama wasn’t able to make progress in actually ending perpetual war … in actually advancing nuclear disarmament … or transparency … because he either brought into the center for acceptance … because it was too hard to take on the national security establishment and get what else he wanted to get done … or because they had by 2009 acquired so much power that they were invulnerable to change…

I wrote about the actual rule of special emergency managers in a book … American Coup … about how the national-security apparatus, empowered by what I called “the XYZs of the extraordinary” had grown out of 9/11 and the state of perpetual war.

What I mean by “XYZs” is the framework that stands in opposition to the “ABCs”, the government of laws … the one that we too often take for granted.

The national security establishment … this bureaucracy and class of special emergency managers … are able to control policy on a national scale because they perpetrate and then benefit from a continuing state of emergencies. Their power is contingent on extraordinary security circumstances, and those circumstances never end … They have become self-sustaining, a shadow legal system, one that I wrote was commensurate to a bloodless coup.

A perpetual state of emergency, of threat, and of panic is the necessary precondition for this American coup to persist. We have that in perpetual war and in the constant specter that we are fed … that some thin line of their security efforts barely separates us from another 9/11. But we also have it now … in addition … in the threat of cyber everything … from election hacking to our own personal identity theft … Or substitute climate change … Any ubiquitous threat with no actual solution, one that effects everyone’s life, but one that also has an apocalyptic element to it … it is how we describe a world that is so terrifying and out of our control that we ultimately need to turn it over to technocrats.

This is not one political party. These are apparent experts … technocrats who populate federal bureaucracies … they supposedly know better than the rest of us. Resident within this knowing better … and protecting the country … is … I believe … a basic contempt for the citizens. This elite sees ordinary Americans as an “other” … to be watched and suppressed.

Donald Trump is also part of this other … he’s an awful president and awful human being as well.

But.  I’m most interested in ultimately how he is employed to disempower the public … not just how the elite dismisses and vilifies his supporters … but how his coarseness is broadcast into our society, conferring more power on this center … and ultimately necessitating a return to some golden era of civility and bipartisanship and centrism. The national security establishment is there … even on TV … whether you realize it or not. And when there’s a Charlottesville or another attack on a church, temple or mosque … these events become law enforcement and then homeland security and then national security problems … We want them to do something about the hate … about the violence.

Today it’s doing something about white nationalism … right wing violence … We want them to do something and that becomes the license for the federal government to snoop and interfere.

But tomorrow? The flip side of this same behavior is Black Lives Matter being under the federal microscope, or, as I said earlier, for Bernie Sanders and the AOC’s of the world to be suspected, marginalized, to be labeled off-center and thus dismissed. They will say … and dinosaur television watchers will say … that we need to return to some simpler time … to a time when three television networks and a handful of newspapers didn’t just report and control the news but they filtered the news … they filtered what the public needed to know, what we needed to buy, what we are allowed to see …

In journalism, that even includes a systematic effort on the part of the national security establishment to turn Julian Assange into a common criminal … to deny him the protections of freedom of speech.

This effort began before Wikileaks became a witting or unwitting agent in the Russian efforts to interfere in American politics. And it will have lasting effect beyond Assange – whatever you think about him.

They want to decide what the public can know … but they also want to have control over who talks.

Again there is so much more to say about Assange but I want to focus on what ties Bernie Sanders, AOC, Donald Trump and Julian Assange together.

In January, I left NBC News saying that the planet and the state of journalism were in a tandem crisis. For more than a year I’d declined to report on the Trump circus, trying to do news stories that I thought were more consequential … about the day-to-day war making of the United States … about the secrets and the powers of our government.

I took a potshot at the national security establishment and our military leaders when I left because I thought it was high time that we held them accountable … accountable for the fact that there was not one country in the Middle East that could say it was safer in 2019 than it was 18 years ago. In fact, I said, the world overall becomes ever more polarized and dangerous. And no one seems responsible, particularly not those responsible for the world. I said and believe that there is not a soul in Washington who can say that they have won or stopped any conflict since 9/11. And I asked, why, if they’ve done so little of consequence, that we so embrace them, even look up to them and lionize them?

I said I was especially disheartened to watch the news media somehow become a defender of this Washington establishment … and of this fraudulent system of insecurity. To me, the mainstream new media has become the proxy of boring moderation and conventional wisdom … agent if you will of that national security order … It has become the defender of our poor little government against Donald Trump. It has become cheerleader for every threat imaginable. It seems more in love with procedure and protocol than it is with accountability and results.

My view is that the news media has gotten sucked into the tweeting vortex, increasingly lost in an adrenaline rush of Trumpism … in love with the political horserace … reporting on every shift and change … no matter how consequential … in Trump’s behavior and the Mueller investigation and now report .. I the 2020 campaign. It’s become the latest car crash … the latest snow storm … a never-ending loop.

In many ways NBC and others in the mainstream media are just emulating the national security state. They are busy … and profitable. There are no wars won but the ball is kept in play.

Even without Trump, our biggest challenge as we move forward is that we have become exhausted by endless media and social media. And because of the news “cycle,” all of journalism suffers from a really bad case of not being able to ever take a breath.

I realized how out of step I was when I looked at Trump’s various bumbling intuitions and half-baked policy ideas: his desire to improve relations with Russia, to denuclearize North Korea, to get American military forces out of the Middle East, to question why we are fighting in Africa, even in his attacks on the intelligence community and the FBI.

Of course Donald Trump is an ignorant and incompetent impostor. And yet I’m alarmed at how quickly the powers that be mechanically argue the contrary of whatever he offers. We shouldn’t get out Syria? We shouldn’t go for the bold move of denuclearizing the Korean peninsula?  Even on Russia, though we should be concerned about the brittleness of our democracy that it is so vulnerable to manipulation, do we really earn for another Cold War?

Let me speak to the students in the audience, because whatever your political affiliations, and even whether you want to be journalists or not, I want you to know that I also think you can make a difference. I don’t mean the blah, blah, blah or you are the future and all hold hands. You can make a difference because we are stuck right now.

And things do change.  That’s seen in the work of Morton Margolin. When I looked him up, I saw that he also wrote about the military in Colorado. And in 1958 – sixty years ago – he wrote about the move of the Air Force Academy from Denver to Colorado Springs.

Margolin wrote an article in the Rocky Mountain News in April 1958. The headline “Love-Struck Cadets Don’t Relish Move.”

It seemed that, in the words of Margolin: “Many of the cadets are engaged to Denver girls, and both the boys and their fiancées would much rather stay in Denver.”

Apparently this was a matter serious enough that the local Congressman, saying that, and again I quote, “that the super-highway between Denver and the Academy should see considerably more traffic after the move is made.”

The Congressman in Colorado Springs said not to worry, again quote: “that the feminine enrollment at Colorado College … was sharply up for next fall.”

Then, an Air Force general is quoted as saying not to worry because: ‘All the eligible Denver girls will be married as soon as the first class graduates.”

Those words.  Feminine. Girls. Eligible.

Those words grate. Things have really changed.

And yet in that article is the same subtle offering that whatever was the definition of eligible in those days … that military officers were a prize. No gay here. No race. No inequality or matters of class. This was cute, centered, white wonderful America.

Well. No one wants to return to that golden age.  When they … the old farts … talk about the greatest generation … or even the great TV anchormen of that era … they are saying that your generation isn’t good enough, that you can’t compare, that you should strive to be like that. They don’t actively intend to constrain you but they find it inconceivable that anyone would want anything other than some concocted American ideal.

What the national security establishment fears most … what all of those who wear a uniform fear, from university police through generals and admirals … is disturbance, variability, even difference. These things are the enemies of those who want to stay at the center. And yet they are also the things that are the primary drivers of creativity … and of change. In my youth, I used to quip that if the Pentagon was for it, I was against it. It wasn’t a factual statement. It was a position, one that said I didn’t want to agree, I didn’t want to go along, I didn’t want to be like everyone else.

So … We are a long way away from resolving the rules of the road in this age of instant everything.

We’re not even able to resolve information overload in our own personal lives.

We aren’t on some straight line towards digital nirvana, where the Internet and all of this information democratizes or even improves our society.

There is smartphone and social media fatigue creeping across the land.

What the news will look like tomorrow is wide open.

I get a sense, largely because of Donald Trump and all of the extremism that he has encouraged and unearthed, that a giant hangover will come when he is gone. My guess is that nothing we currently see – nothing that is snappy or chatty – is going to solve the challenges we currently face. Oh the national security nannies will furiously try to reverse the flow back to good ole Main Street USA.

But you? Your role? You have wide open opportunity to design media that matters and to make real change.

Behind the Assange Saga: Radicalized by Frustration

Yesterday morning, with news of Julian Assange’s arrest, I wrote the below piece for The Guardian (US), trying to explain that the real reason that the U.S. government was moving on Assange NOW had nothing to do with the 10-year old case of Chelsea Manning nor WikiLeaks’ role in the 2016 election. The news people at The Guardian passed on the article, as did the Daily Beast. I didn’t really get a reason from The Guardian, but the editor at the Daily Beast wrote: “We don’t have the bandwidth tonight to sort through your sourcing, or to separate out the parts of this that immediately make sense from the ones that seem, at least here, offputting.” Some others offered to publish, and no disrespect to them, but I decided to just publish the piece here because I wanted to add a little explanation and analysis.

The core of my reporting – and my argument – is that WikiLeaks’ publishing of the so-called “Vault 7” trove of the CIA is what propelled the United States government to feel like it needed to take action against the organization. If you are not familiar with Vault 7, don’t feel bad. Most in the national security field aren’t either.

Up until the Vault 7 leaks, which were published by WikiLeaks in March 2017, the national security lawyers within the U.S. government had been hesitant to take on a journalistic entity, even one like WikiLeaks that looked so very different than The New York Times or NBC News. But then with WikiLeaks seeming cooperation (or at least servitude) to the Russian government in 2016, that very American mainstream media became more hostile to its now separated brethren, and the general view shifted within the intelligence community and the Justice Department that the organization was more vulnerable.

With Vault 7, WikiLeaks published almost 10,000 classified documents from the Center for Cyber Intelligence of the CIA, the covert hacking organization of the U.S. government. For a number of reasons – a new president in office, WikiLeaks’ prominence in the ongoing Trump collusion circus, and the obscureness of the very material WikiLeaks was publishing, Vault 7 received scant attention. But coming on the heels of massive leaks by Edward Snowden and a group called the Shadow Brokers just months earlier, and given the notoriety WikiLeaks had earned, Vault 7 was the straw that broke the governmental back. Not only was it an unprecedented penetration of the CIA, an organization that had evaded any breach of this type since the 1970’s, but it showed that all of the efforts of the U.S. government after Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden had failed to either deter or catch “millennial leakers.”

The thinking of government officials – current and former – that I’ve talked to is that shutting down WikiLeaks once and for all – or at least separating it from the mainstream media to make it less attractive as a recipient of U.S. government secrets, will at least be one step towards greater internal security. Sure there is the bigger question of Russia weaponizing its intercepts and hacking material to do damage to the United States and the West, but in terms of what the U.S. government can do to clean up its own house, or at least to bolt the doors better, was to shut up Assange and fracture WikiLeaks.  Whatever WikiLeaks has done to itself, and whatever the United States (and its allies) have done covertly, that seems to be progressing apace.

Maybe the rejected article below isn’t worthy of publication, but my experience in closely watching the WikiLeaks story – in both its vilification and in its lionization – has made me think about this current era of homogenized news reporting. “Don’t have the bandwidth”, what the Daily Beast said, is code for both don’t have the editorial people and don’t have the headspace to entertain a contrarian thought, particularly in a big news day. By last night, both The Washington Post and The New York Times were both mentioning Vault 7 but no one has yet tied together all of these pieces of why the United States, the U.K., Ecuador, and even Sweden might have common cause in exerting more control, not just against WikiLeaks but also against those who would independently assault their systems.

The thread that ties everyone from Manning to the Vault 7 leaker to Julian Assange together is that they have all in some ways been radicalized by their frustration. Frustration with this very system, with its exclusiveness, with its lies, with its immunity to any accountability. For Manning, radicalization started as the WMD debacle in Iraq became clear and as the war dragged on, the young twenty-something (with a Top Secret clearance conferred by the system) alarmed by the carnage and the seeming inhumanity. Snowden equally conferred as one of them with an even higher “clearance” was similarly driven to take matters into his own hands, radicalized by his perception of post 9/11 abuses that he felt the NSA had taken, and hadn’t been held accountable for.

Put aside WikiLeaks and the Russians. The unsealed indictment yesterday is just the tip of a giant iceberg on the part of the U.S. government (and its allies) to fight back against these (and future) non-conforming crusaders. After Snowden they mounted a multi-pronged (and multi-billion dollar) effort – including more internal surveillance and many administrative and systemic changes to information systems – to thwart “insider threats” from again extracting secrets. But the number of secrets had grown so big, and the number of insiders needed to churn through them equally had become so massive that they were not even able to police themselves. Even here, the government failed to control its own secrets, but is anyone saying (ironically other than Assange and Snowden themselves) that the secret keepers aren’t to be trusted to do their jobs?

Assange is not a scapegoat, not only, but an activated and in some ways very frightened national security establishment, is mounting its first overt salvo against the world of anti-secrecy activists.  Even while Donald Trump lauds WikiLeaks – if he actually does anymore or even understands what is happening – the professionals need to take matters into their own hands. And Assange, so intent on self-aggrandizement and driven crazy in his incarceration, is certainly the perfect villain for the system to rally round.

Is he guilty?  I’ve been asked many times in the last 24 hours. My answer is yes, on these narrow charges, just like any protestor resorting to civil disobedience is guilty. But I say, more important than whether he is guilty and odious as an individual, he is also symbol of a bigger sickness, where we all consume today’s episodes and avoid the deeper issues of secrecy and perpetual warfare. In my mind, the mainstream news media, in not doing its job better, especially on national security, contributes to a lack of basic government accountability. That increases the power of the national security establishment – the bringers of this expulsion, arrest and indictment – a now so powerful and faceless officialdom that they have a greater vote in how, where and when we fight than does the chief executive or the Congress. Or the people.

There will be more Assange’s, more Snowden’s, more Manning’s, more assaults on the system by those radicalized by their frustrations with this state of affairs.  The very people who serve as sources for my article are no different, and I applaud them. So I can’t also at the same time blithely condemn anti-secrecy activists and facilitators, not per se.

Is it possible that the news media itself is thus the key to greater security, not just in better reporting on national security but also in embracing these voices? I don’t think Julian Assange’s arrest is a direct assault on the First Amendment or the freedom of the press. But like the official system that has too many secrets and too much to do, so the news media has become overwhelmed and normalized, and neutered.

Untitled, on Julian Assange’s Arrest, written April 11, 2019

Julian Assange’s expulsion and arrest in London will set off a new set of dramas regarding the WikiLeaks’ founder, one that could eventually land him in an Alexandria, Virginia courthouse and a trial that could surprise even close observers of his now seven year drama.

This comes after the United States unsealed an indictment against Julian Assange on Thursday, alleging Assange conspired with Chelsea Manning, the U.S. Army intelligence analyst then known as Bradley Manning.

In the new indictment, the U.S. alleges that in 2010 Assange assisted Manning in cracking a password to gain administrative access to secret networks and thus more documents, assistance that occurred after the Army Private stationed in Iraq had already supplied WikiLeaks with classified material relating to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

“It was part of the conspiracy that Assange encouraged Manning to provide information and records from departments and agencies of the United States,” the indictment says.

According to legal and intelligence documents reviewed by the author and over a dozen interviews, including with three U.S. intelligence officials directly involved in WikiLeaks investigations and damage assessments, conspiracy is at the center of what the U.S. Justice Department is trying to prove. The official American government legal argument is that Assange and his colleagues are really running an intelligence operation, one that conspired with U.S. government employees by “suborning” them to break the law, and also clandestinely conspires with foreign governments – including Russia and China – in obtaining and trading classified government materials. This argument, officials say, skirts the difficult question of whether WikiLeaks is a journalistic organization, and is thereby entitled to the protection of press freedoms.

Though Assange is wanted in a British court for jumping bail in 2012, and has become infamous for his role in publishing stolen Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton-related emails in the run-up to the last presidential election, the almost ten-year old Manning case is also not at the center of the American legal effort.

The American case, which shifted completely in March 2017, is based up WikiLeaks’ publications of the so-called “Vault 7” documents, an extensive set of cyber espionage secrets of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Vault 7 was little noticed in the emerging Russian collusion scandal of the new Trump administration, but the nearly 10,000 CIA documents that WikiLeaks started publishing that March constituted an unprecedented breach, far more potentially damaging than anything the anti-secrecy website had ever done, according to numerous U.S. officials.

“There have been serious compromises – Manning and Snowden included – but until 2017, no one had laid a glove on the Agency in decades,” says a senior intelligence official who has been directly involved in the damage assessments.

“Then came Vault 7, almost the entire archive of the CIA’s own hacking group,” the official says. “The CIA went ballistic at the breach.” The official is referring to a little known CIA organization called the Center for Cyber Intelligence, a then unknown counterpart to the National Security Agency, and one that conducts and oversees the covert hacking efforts of the U.S. government.

A month after WikiLeaks released the Vault 7 documents, then CIA director Mike Pompeo blasted WikiLeaks in his first public speech.

“It is time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is… a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia” Pompeo said.

Pompeo’s reference to Russia led everyone to assume that the CIA director was referring to claims of collusion between Russian intelligence and WikiLeaks in publishing the Clinton-related material. But the fine print of his speech should have signaled that Pompeo’s ire had nothing to do with election meddling. That is, none of the Clinton materials were classified government secrets.

Pompeo also did not mention the obscure Vault 7 documents directly, nor any new grievance against WikiLeaks.

But he did indirectly refer to the March 2017 documents and the CIA breach.

“As a policy, we at CIA do not comment on the accuracy of purported intelligence documents posted online. In keeping with that policy, I will not specifically comment on the authenticity or provenance of recent disclosures,” he said.

Pompeo then went on to stress that the Agency did not break any American laws in its intelligence collection. According to the senior official, the Agency was still waiting for WikiLeaks to drop the other shoe, the actual “source code” behind hundreds of CIA cyber “exploits,” capabilities and actual penetrations of computer systems and the internet of things that allowed it to carry out its extensive covert spying on foreign governments but could also be used in domestic spying.

“Julian Assange and his kind are not the slightest bit interested in improving civil liberties or enhancing personal freedom,” Pompeo went on to say. “They have pretended that America’s First Amendment freedoms shield them from justice. They may have believed that, but they are wrong.”

Pompeo was alluding to the new criminal case and theory that the U.S. government wants to prove that WikiLeaks isn’t a journalistic entity. And, according to the senior official and numerous Justice Department documents reviewed by the author, the U.S. government has been aggressively building this specific case by trying to establish that WikiLeaks solicited classified information from numerous government employees, which prosecutors believe should disqualify the organization from being afforded any journalistic privileges and immunities.

“WikiLeaks walks like a hostile intelligence service and talks like a hostile intelligence service,” former director Pompeo said. “It has encouraged its followers to find jobs at CIA in order to obtain intelligence. It directed Chelsea Manning in her theft of specific secret information.”

Alexa O’Brien, the leading expert on the case, says that during Chelsea Manning’s Court Martial in 2013, prosecutors suggested indeed that Julian Assange had instructed the Army Private on how to crack the administrator password on her computer that connected to the SIPRNet, the secret-level internet protocol network of the U.S. government.

Manning was ultimately acquitted of espionage in the release of the Garani airstrike video, a May 4, 2009 airstrike in a village in Afghanistan that may have killed as many as 147 civilians. According to O’Brien’s meticulous reporting on the trial, that espionage charge was directly tied to U.S. Army prosecutors’ theory at trial that Manning was involved in a criminal conspiracy with WikiLeaks.

“Prosecutors in the Manning Court Martial made it clear that they were not prosecuting WikiLeaks,” O’Brien says. “But they also had chat logs between Manning and an anonymous WikiLeaks interlocutor that they said was Assange. In other words, they knew in 2010 all of what Assange was indicted for Thursday.”

According to a second senior official, now retired, but one who was also directly involved in damage assessments of Edward Snowden’s 2013 leaks of highly classified material from the National Security Agency, U.S. intelligence and law enforcement have also been looking into whether the Hawaii-based contractor received coaching or assistance from a WikiLeaks employee in downloading his documents and in spiriting him to Hong Kong. WikiLeaks subsequently assisted Snowden in leaving China and flying to Moscow, dispatching one of its officers to accompany him. WikiLeaks, U.S. intelligence believes, negotiated with both the Chinese and Russian governments in moving Snowden, and some analysts believe that there was an exchange of information.

The senior intelligence official who was involved in the Vault 7 case says that prosecutors are also trying to establish whether Joshua Adam Schulte, a former CIA employee who has been indicted for transmitting the Vault 7 documents to WikiLeaks, negotiated or coordinated with the organization or received coaching on how to obtain and move the materials he purportedly stole.  Schulte was arrested in August 2017 and is awaiting trial.

Writing in The Washington Post in response to the Pompeo speech, Assange characterized the Vault 7 disclosures as “evidence of remarkable CIA incompetence and other shortcomings,” focusing on the CIA’s loss of control of the documents.  WikiLeaks had previously taken the CIA to task for losing control of its secrets, which it said “circulated among former U.S. government hackers and contractors in an unauthorized manner.” Assange’s argument was that the documents could result in infection of “the public’s ubiquitous consumer products and automobiles with computer viruses.” Ignored was how WikiLeaks itself had obtained the material.

One aspect of the Vault 7 documents further obscured the scandal and muddied the waters in explaining the U.S. government’s accelerating case against WikiLeaks. After announcing “the largest ever publication of confidential documents on the agency” and referring to “several hundred million lines of [computer] code”, WikiLeaks never posted the full documents or the damaging codes. According to two U.S. intelligence officials, that certainly lessened the damage that might have been caused, even if U.S. intelligence at the same time sees some evidence that the source code leaked out in other ways, causing some U.S. adversaries to change their practices.

According to two government officials who have been involved in the now almost decade-old WikiLeaks case, a multinational investigation into potential illegality on the part of the organization goes back to early 2010. A Grand Jury began its work and the FBI, supported by the intelligence community and the governments of Australia and the UK (and then by Sweden, Germany, and the Netherlands) began intensive collection of evidence. In 2015, the investigation took a turn towards Conspiracy and WikiLeaks as a potential intelligence agency when U.S. intelligence obtained information that WikiLeaks had obtained a collection of documents on Saudi Arabia from Russian intelligence. That was a year before WikiLeaks published any Clinton-related emails.

On Thursday, the UK Home Office said in a statement that Assange “was arrested in relation to a provisional extradition request from the United States.”

The ultimate fate of Julian Assange depends upon London’s agreement to extradite the Australian on Conspiracy charges. But looming behind the 2010 case is a far broader case, one that will ultimately touch upon the fate not just of Assange, but also that of Edward Snowden and the WikiLeaks organization itself.

What to Do When You Disagree and Yet Want to Be Polite

Maybe it’s because I’ve never been comfortable being labeled, and maybe it is that I had a chance early in my career to portray myself as whistleblower and declined, but as long as I can remember, I’ve had an aversion to being a member of a certain club.

Now that club has come knocking at my door for me to join, formally and through the Twittersphere, I’ve been asking myself how to respond in a thoughtful way.

Here are excerpts from the email I received from Ray McGovern of “Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)”:

Bill —

Thanks for your parting-NBC email.

We highly regard your work.  On behalf of VIPS, we cordially invite you to become a member… you are aware that we have done some good work.

When we in VIPS see a need to speak out corporately, we do so — usually by preparing a “MEMORANDUM FOR: The President ……” just as some of us used to do when we were on “active duty,” so to speak.  We prepare, on the average, 4 memos a year, most of them addressed to the President on key — often very current — policy issues.  We have some evidence that a couple of our memos, or excerpts from them, have been seen by Trump.

Our memos are normally published first on Consortium News, which also keeps our Archive …  Like you, we reported no-holds-barred on the fraudulent “intelligence” served up by many of our former colleagues to “justify” the attack on Iraq before it took place.  In fact, after watching Colin Powell disgrace himself on Feb 5, 2003 at the UN, a drafting group of two (out of our first five founding members) cobbled together a memo which we got out on the AFP wire at a little after 5 PM that same day. … as you will know all too well — virtually no one was interested.  (We did get a whole bunch of FOREIGN inquiries/interviews, etc.)

… You would be loosely affiliated with the likes of Larry Wilkerson, Greg Thielmann, Bill Binney, Scott Ritter, Coleen Rowley, Matthew Hoh, Larry Johnson, Ed Loomis, John Kiriakou, and myself — some combination of whom wind up as signatories, with normally just one doing the initial draft.…

Congratulations for what you just did, and the way you did it.  Let’s hope for hundreds of principled “copy-cats,” so to speak….

This is a serious invitation. We would love to have you on our (non-existent) VIPS roster.

I won’t be joining VIPS precisely because their sanity is as insane as that of the accepted mainstream narrative — fraudulent intelligence and lying – and even some set of truth-tellers who need to and are needed, to set the public (and even President Trump straight).  Central to the argument of most whistleblowers – no matter how much they do know – is not only that what they know is vitally important for all to know. And not only is it important, but that whatever it is that they do know the unmitigated truth. It is a stance that is accentuated by deep frustration and some kind of psychological makeup, and it is one that generally solidifies in the “system” reacting with indictments and banishment, a rejection often so complete and categorical that it might appear that they have nothing to say, these possessors of sanity, when in fact in many cases (in most) what they have to say is a piece of the puzzle, even if there are many others.

My problem here, besides not being a joiner, is that I don’t agree with their central proposition on the 2003 Iraq war. Even if it could have been avoided, the reason it wasn’t some evil conspiracy of a few at the top. Said another way, there was no conspiracy. Arrogance.  Group think. Ignorance. Mistakes galore. That’s my opinion. If you agree with me, you shouldn’t just rush off to try to appropriate my opinion (and expertise) to fit some pro- or anti-whistleblower narrative. The official, the conventional and the “sanity” narratives all leave much room for improvement.

First some important biographical context: I’ve never met or corresponded with Mister McGovern. He doesn’t know me and though I’ve met a couple of people on his list, I don’t know any of them nor have I sought out their help to explain anything to me. There is no “like you” in what I’ve written that corresponds to their “good work.” In fact, I’m mostly unfamiliar with their work, though I know individually what many of them argue.

So with regard to the 2003 Iraq war or probably any other subject, it is important to establish that I’ve never reported on what I believe to be “fraudulent intelligence”.  What I’ve written, and what I believe, is that the intelligence community failed to do their jobs – that is, to accurately portray the status of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction program – and they probably also failed in many other tasks over many years in conveying accurately (or with any depth) the nature of either Saddam Hussein or the country of Iraq. But the WMD failure wasn’t about anyone lying to “justify” an attack. Don’t get me wrong, some agencies (such as DIA in the Curveball episode) demonstrated spectacular ignorance and myopia, but “fraudulent intelligence” creates the wrong impression as to both the problem and thus the solution.

None of that is to say that I excuse the bumbling of the Bush administration. Colin Powell was snookered and acted as the good soldier conveying bad intelligence and false certainty at the United Nations and in other public venues. But the path towards war with Iraq was actually the Clinton administration policy of “no normalization of relations without regime change”. Maybe to the White House before 9/11 it seemed humanitarian and even a rhetorical flourish with little globe-changing consequence. Thus even though the Powell theatrics at the U.N. will go down in infamy, it was a theatrical performance to justify something that the Bush inner circle had already decided they wanted to do. And in that decision, the inner circle monumentally failed in thinking how easy an easy military victory over Iraq would equally blossom into a transformation of the country.

But on the question of lying and covering up – seemingly the favorite of VIPS and its roster of truth-tellers, their truth is wrong and the history is more complicated.

Complicated here doesn’t mean accepting the vacuous pabulum of conventional wisdom, nor on Iraq, does complicated comport with the self-justification and retelling of Powell, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Tenet or others who were the key decision-makers and have never admitted their mistakes nor the mess they created. But if the narrative is left to officialdom on one side and the “truth tellers” on the other side, we may never get to the truth. And here I don’t define truth in any other way that an accurate representation of the historical record and facts.

We need to first dispense with the intelligence community (IC). These professionals at VIPS want us to accept their characterization of the CIA and other institutions associated with U.S. intelligence. And they assert that on Iraq and WMD, that the IC is guilty of “lying” to justify the Iraq war. Now let me just say that in my long writing and reporting career I’ve been lied to many times by government officials, but I’ve never had the experience of a working analyst lying or producing fraudulent intelligence (that is, not since the Vietnam era).  There are systemic reasons why “intelligence” fails to convey the big picture beyond a narrow question.  And in many cases I’ve found analysts terrifically uninformed or myopic, surprised by their lack of curiosity or indeed openness as to other explanation.

But having said that, let me be clear: It’s been the rare CIA director or other high official in the intelligence world who hasn’t blatantly lied to sell their organization or policy preferences. But even here lying is mostly the white lying of government, a sort of game of ‘I know more’ and ‘if only you know’ that more often than not results in bad policies and actions.

I anticipate that some will still defend the characterization of “fraudulent intelligence” and “lying” on the part of the IC in the run up to the Iraq war, pointing to their own personal experiences and to contradictory conclusions reached by the CIA or other intelligence components regarding both WMD and the Iraq war.  “Proof” that the CIA lied here morphs into an argument that they weren’t listened to, and truthy types like VIPS often point to some analysts predicting that indeed the aftermath of the military battle would descend into a complicated and anarchic mess. On this, these analysts were right, and their conclusion got little traction, but as I said above, policy-makers had already made up their minds.

Policy-makers had already made up their minds. But they also knew that on some things (the war’s aftermath) that the intelligence might be right and on others (WMD) the intelligence might be wrong. They might have chosen to ignore counter evidence but they also operated from this fundamental truth: they might be right and they might not be.  So it is precisely up to the policy-makers to take the intelligence and “use it” if you will to make bigger decisions because there are too many cases on both ends of the spectrum.  So it isn’t intelligence that determines things (it rarely does).

I also know that many of those named above think they had the truth and that their truth was the smoking gun that might have saved the country from an Iraq war, avoided 9/11 or stopped NSA’s mass surveillance. But in my experience and opinion, they are mistaken. Just as a cocksure Rumsfeld or Wolfowitz are mistaken in thinking that they know it all and know better. Intelligence is not perfect and policy decisions travel in the same boat. But having said that, that doesn’t mean that I think there shouldn’t be accountability for errors. I just don’t think it is ever going to happen until we accurately convey actual malfeasance or the supposed crimes committed on the part of the powerful.

I suppose that Mister McGovern highlights VIPS’ work on the 2003 Iraq war because that’s generally pointed to as the greatest intelligence failure since 9/11.  And though I’m mildly curious about what they are working on today, what sanity they are purveying from their experienced perches, “fraudulent intelligence” conveys a message that in many ways allows the policy-makers then and now to get off the hook for the decisions they made that had nothing to do with the VIPS narrative.

Though I’m virtually declaring war on this group in either not answering or contradicting their narrative, the truth of the matter too is that my experience is also that it is the rare bird indeed that sees a big enough picture to adjudicate complex intelligence and then fit it into the larger question of American interest or war policy. I point this out because I also firmly believe that there is unquestionably American interest that might diverge from the rest of the world, even our friends. And yet the assertion of this point – by Donald Trump for instance – has been met with almost universal derision, an overall narrative that wants everyone to believe that the only policies that are sound are the ones that are the most uncontroversial, or garner the largest support group.

The narrative of the ignoramus president not listening to the experts and the intelligence community didn’t start with Trump (it goes back at least as far as Reagan), the overall message being that the experts or the system knows more and should be listened to, which is the origins of all the deep state angst we face today. Therein is the genesis of the argument I’ve made for our current love affair with the CIA and the intelligence community and the experts – as well as with procedure and protocol – above all else, something that seems to unite conventional wisdom with the war mongers and VIPS types, I imagine an unlikely and uncomfortable club.

Washington is an ugly place, and the secret recesses of Washington have gotten too used to operating in a certain way, serving the president no doubt but also manipulating and undermining public debate when they do emerge from the shadows. Rarely does a president individually cut through this permanent system. Iraq from Clinton to Bush was the same, and I wonder even if Al Gore had been elected in 2000 whether an Iraq war would have been avoided.  Obama, with all of his promises and hope and smarts, similarly found himself hostage to continuity. Trump the same; even when he trips into good ideas, the system ultimately decides.

Is the maintenance of this unchanging system nourished by lying and fraudulence? I don’t think so. And in that is a better insight into the excessive power that has accreted to the national security custodians. They do not have the answers and they are operating from a giant bubble of their own hyper-regarded information. But to call them liars and conspirators is to also to rob us – the people – from any possibility to see the truth for what it is, that they are just wrong-minded and even just wrong much of the time, a truth that might start us along the path of taking their power away.

My Departure Letter from NBC

Note to readers:  I circulated this letter to NBC colleagues on January 2 and since it quickly leaked and got recirculated all over, I’d thought I’d post it here, on my own laconic blog:

January 4 is my last day at NBC News and I’d like to say goodbye to my friends, hopefully not for good. This isn’t the first time I’ve left NBC, but this time the parting is more bittersweet, the world and the state of journalism in tandem crisis. My expertise, though seeming to be all the more central to the challenges and dangers we face, also seems to be less in value at the moment. And I find myself completely out of sync with the network, being neither a day-to-day reporter nor interested in the Trump circus.

I first started my association with NBC 30 years ago, feeding Cold War stories to Bob Windrem and Fred Francis at the Pentagon. I became an on-air analyst during the 1999 Kosovo War, continuing to work thereafter with Nightly News, delighting and oftentimes annoying in my peculiar position of being a mere civilian amongst THE GENERALS and former government officials. A scholar at heart, I also found myself an often lone voice that was anti-nuclear and even anti-military, anti-military for me meaning opinionated but also highly knowledgeable, somewhat akin to a movie critic, loving my subject but also not shy about making judgements regarding the flops and the losers.

When the attacks of 9/11 came, I was called back to NBC. I spent weeks on and off the air talking about al Qaeda and the various wars we were rushing into, arguing that airpower and drones would be the centerpiece not troops. In the new martial environment where only one war cry was sanctioned I was out of sync then as well. I retreated somewhat to writing a column for the Los Angeles Times, but even there I had to fight editors who couldn’t believe that there would be a war in Iraq.  And I spoke up about the absence of any sort of strategy for actually defeating terrorism, annoying the increasing gaggles of those who seemed to accept that a state of perpetual war was a necessity.

I thought then that there was great danger in the embrace of process and officialdom over values and public longing, and I wrote about the increasing power of the national security community. Long before Trump and “deep state” became an expression, I produced one ginormous investigation – Top Secret America – for the Washington Post and I wrote a nasty book – American Coup – about the creeping fascism of homeland security. Looking back now they were both harbingers for what President Obama (and then Trump) faced in terms of largely failing to make enduring change.

Somewhere in all of that, and particularly as the social media wave began, it was clear that NBC (like the rest of the news media) could no longer keep up with the world. Added to that was the intellectual challenge of how to report our new kind of wars when there were no real fronts and no actual measures of success. To me there is also a larger problem: though they produce nothing that resembles actual safety and security, the national security leaders and generals we have are allowed to do their thing unmolested. Despite being at “war,” no great wartime leaders or visionaries are emerging. There is not a soul in Washington who can say that they have won or stopped any conflict. And though there might be the beloved perfumed princes in the form of the Petraeus’ and Wes Clarks’, or the so-called warrior monks like Mattis and McMaster, we’ve had more than a generation of national security leaders who sadly and fraudulently done little of consequence. And yet we (and others) embrace them, even the highly partisan formers who masquerade as “analysts”. We do so ignoring the empirical truth of what they have wrought: There is not one country in the Middle East that is safer today than it was 18 years ago. Indeed the world becomes ever more polarized and dangerous.

As perpetual war has become accepted as a given in our lives, I’m proud to say that I’ve never deviated in my argument at NBC (or at my newspaper gigs) that terrorists will never be defeated until we better understand why they are driven to fighting. And I have maintained my central view that airpower (in its broadest sense including space and cyber) is not just the future but the enabler and the tool of war today.

Seeking refuge in its political horse race roots, NBC (and others) meanwhile report the story of war as one of Rumsfeld vs. the Generals, as Wolfowitz vs. Shinseki, as the CIA vs. Cheney, as the bad torturers vs. the more refined, about numbers of troops and number of deaths, and even then Obama vs. the Congress, poor Obama who couldn’t close Guantanamo or reduce nuclear weapons or stand up to Putin because it was just so difficult. We have contributed to turning the world national security into this sort of political story.  I find it disheartening that we do not report the failures of the generals and national security leaders. I find it shocking that we essentially condone continued American bumbling in the Middle East and now Africa through our ho-hum reporting.

I’m a difficult guy, not prone to either protocol or procedure and I give NBC credit that it tolerated me through my various incarnations. I hope people will say in the early days that I made Brokaw and company smarter about nuclear weapons, about airpower, and even about al Qaeda. And I’m proud to say that I also was one of the few to report that there weren’t any WMD in Iraq and remember fondly presenting that conclusion to an incredulous NBC editorial board. I argued endlessly with MSNBC about all things national security for years, doing the daily blah, blah, blah in Secaucus, but also poking at the conventional wisdom of everyone from Matthews to Hockenberry. And yet I feel like I’ve failed to convey this larger truth about the hopelessness of our way of doing things, especially disheartened to watch NBC and much of the rest of the news media somehow become a defender of Washington and the system.

Windrem again convinced me to return to NBC to join the new investigative unit in the early days of the 2016 presidential campaign. I thought that the mission was to break through the machine of perpetual war acceptance and conventional wisdom to challenge Hillary Clinton’s hawkishness. It was also an interesting moment at NBC because everyone was looking over their shoulder at Vice and other upstarts creeping up on the mainstream. But then Trump got elected and Investigations got sucked into the tweeting vortex, increasingly lost in a directionless adrenaline rush, the national security and political version of leading the broadcast with every snow storm. And I would assert that in many ways NBC just began emulating the national security state itself – busy and profitable. No wars won but the ball is kept in play.

I’d argue that under Trump, the national security establishment not only hasn’t missed a beat but indeed has gained dangerous strength. Now it is ever more autonomous and practically impervious to criticism. I’d also argue, ever so gingerly, that NBC has become somewhat lost in its own verve, proxies of boring moderation and conventional wisdom, defender of the government against Trump, cheerleader for open and subtle threat mongering, in love with procedure and protocol over all else (including results). I accept that there’s a lot to report here, but I’m more worried about how much we are missing. Hence my desire to take a step back and think why so little changes with regard to America’s wars.

I know it is characteristic of our overexcited moment to blast away at former employers and mainstream institutions, but all I can say is that despite many frustrations, my time at NBC has been gratifying. Working with Cynthia McFadden has been the experience of a lifetime. I’ve learned a ton about television from her and Kevin Monahan, the secret insider tricks of the trade and the very big picture of what makes for original stories (and how powerful they can be). The young reporters at NBC are also universally excellent. Thanks to Noah Oppenheim for his support of my contrarian and disruptive presence. And to Janelle Rodriguez, who eventually came around to understanding deep expertise. The Nightly crew has also been a constant fan of my too long stories and a great team. I continue to marvel as Phil Griffin carries out his diabolical plan for the cable network to take over the world.

I’m proud of the work I’ve done with my team and know that there’s more to do. But for now it’s time to take a break. I’m ever so happy to return to writing and thinking without the officiousness of editorial tyrants or corporate standards.  And of course I yearn to go back to my first love, which is writing boring reports about secret programs, grateful that the American government so graciously obliges in its constant supply. And I particularly feel like the world is moving so quickly that even in just the little national security world I inhabit, I need more time to sit back and think. And to replenish.

In our day-to-day whirlwind and hostage status as prisoners of Donald Trump, I think – like everyone else does – that we miss so much. People who don’t understand the medium, or the pressures, loudly opine that it’s corporate control or even worse, that it’s partisan.  Sometimes I quip in response to friends on the outside (and to government sources) that if they mean by the word partisan that it is New Yorkers and Washingtonians against the rest of the country then they are right.

For me I realized how out of step I was when I looked at Trump’s various bumbling intuitions: his desire to improve relations with Russia, to denuclearize North Korea, to get out of the Middle East, to question why we are fighting in Africa, even in his attacks on the intelligence community and the FBI.  Of course he is an ignorant and incompetent impostor. And yet I’m alarmed at how quick NBC is to mechanically argue the contrary, to be in favor of policies that just spell more conflict and more war. Really? We shouldn’t get out Syria? We shouldn’t go for the bold move of denuclearizing the Korean peninsula?  Even on Russia, though we should be concerned about the brittleness of our democracy that it is so vulnerable to manipulation, do we really earn for the Cold War?  And don’t even get me started with the FBI: What? We now lionize this historically destructive institution?

Even without Trump, our biggest challenge as we move forward is that we have become exhausted parents of our infant (and infantile) social media children. And because of the “cycle,” we at NBC (and all others in the field of journalism) suffer from a really bad case of not being able to ever take a breath. We are a long way from resolving the rules of the road in this age, whether it be with regard to our personal conduct or anything related to hard news.  I also don’t think that we are on a straight line towards digital nirvana, that is, that all of this information will democratize and improve society. I sense that there is already smartphone and social media fatigue creeping across the land, and my guess is that nothing we currently see – nothing that is snappy or chatty – will solve our horrific challenges of information overload or the role (and nature) of journalism. And I am sure that once Trump leaves center stage, society will have a gigantic media hangover. Thus for NBC – and for everyone else – there is challenge and opportunity ahead. I’d particularly like to think and write more about that.

There’s a saying about consultants, that organizations hire them to hear exactly what they want to hear.  I’m proud to say that NBC didn’t do that when it came to me.  Similarly I can say that I’m proud that I’m not guilty of giving my employers what they wanted. Still, the things this and most organizations fear most – variability, disturbance, difference – those things that are also the primary drivers of creativity – are not really the things that I see valued in the reporting ranks.

I’m happy to go back to writing and commentary. This winter, I’m proud to say that I’ve put the finishing touches on a 9/11 conspiracy novel that I’ve been toiling on for over a decade. It’s a novel, but it meditates on the question of how to understand terrorists in a different way.  And I’m undertaking two new book-writing projects, one fiction about a lone reporter and his magical source that hopes to delve into secrecy and the nature of television. And, If you read this far, I am writing a non-fiction book, an extended essay about national security and why we never seem to end our now perpetual state of war. There is lots of media critique out there, tons of analysis of leadership and the Presidency. But on the state of our national security?  Not so much. Hopefully I will find myself thinking beyond the current fire and fury and actually suggest a viable alternative. Wish me luck.

Rodney King and War, 25 Year On

Thinking About Technology

William M. Arkin
Presentation at the DOD National Security Management Course, 10 April 2001

“In the aftermath of Desert Storm, no image of violence was as stark as that of the beating of Los Angeles motorist Rodney King.  The videotape was plastered all over television, a kind of visual catharsis to censorship and virtual, seemingly inhuman firepower.  The black and white video, shaky, and grainy, surreptitious, had instant credibility.  It was amazingly similar to gun camera video clips that had become commonplace in the Pentagon’s telling of the very unanimated story of their air war.

Gun camera video tapes, of course, are carefully chosen for the audience’s entertainment during an otherwise difficult to imagine technological enterprise.  Press briefings and video selections emphasize airpower’s perfection and downplays its destructiveness.

Is it the case that the very nature of airpower, and of emerging cyberwarfare, defies heroic description?  There is, of course, real danger for the pilots.  But bombing soon enough becomes a production process, in which the occasional pilot death is more akin to an industrial accident than the result of what we think of as military combat.

We found ourselves at the end of the Gulf War, in the midst of old-fashioned massacre called the Highway of Death.   General Schwarzkopf, adamant that he would not be another commander disgraced for letting a beaten enemy get away, let fighter-bombers be his cavalry.  Almost immediately, a panic set in amongst military and political leaders in Washington and London at the scale of killing on the ground.  They had caused it, even willed it.  But they had not imagined what it would be like.  Somehow when the video screen turned buildings and bridges in the cross hairs to human beings, a tide shifted.  Despite all that Iraq had done, death became awfully hard for the American government and military leaders to justify.

It is such an uplifting anti-heroic approach to death, one that goes back to ancient times, one that is the very basis for what we call the laws of war.  For a soldier it means that any death on the battlefield means potentially ones own death.  The more anti-heroic we are, the more we come to grips with the limitations of the use of force and our own ambivalence about casualties, the more we see this issue as not about the deficiencies of this or that administration or policy-maker, the more we recognize our developing aesthetic about war, the better we will protect human life and the environment.”