One more comment on the election

For Republicans seeking a upside to Tuesday’s bad news, there’s the positive development that Karl Rove, at long last, may be laughed out of public life for his bizarre FoxNews meltdown. He ought to be expunged anyway, for giving the country Dubya, and for his absurd declarations over the years about the GOP’s emerging Hispanic majority and related magical thinking. Don’t worry about Karl, he’s made millions off this, and he’s all good. His party, not so much.

We are now being treated to gallons of facile commentary about how the GOP needs to do better with Hispanic voters. Which is true and also a truism. Expect to hear a lot about how the Republicans need more brown faces, mariachi bands and fiesta-themed GOP outings. Under this lies a deeply patronizing belief that Hispanics are suffering from a sort of false consciousness as they are “natural conservatives” who will opt for the Republicans if only the GOP can find the right spokesmodel. I can only imagine how much time, treasure and effort the RNC is currently expending on finding a right-of-center J-Lo to pitch for the party.

The reality, however, is that Hispanics are not fools, and they vote heavily for Democrats because that party treats them better and gives them lots of stuff. Republican genuflecting to low taxes and less government has limited appeal to people who actually benefit from government largesse more, on average, than they pay for it. And that’s not likely to change anytime soon.

Moreover, despite much liberal crowing about how successful their electing a new people thing has worked out for Obama and the Democrats, the reality is a tad more complex. The always interesting Sean Trende has actually crunched the numbers, which show that what mattered in 2012 was not minority turnout, but white non-turnout. Obama did as well among non-whites as could have been easily guessed, but Romney simply did not get out the white vote as he needed to.

Trende’s one-liner that captures it all: “But most importantly, the 2012 elections actually weren’t about a demographic explosion with non-white voters. Instead, they were about a large group of white voters not showing up.”

Why those whites failed to show up on Tuesday is an interesting question which will, no doubt, be debated for some time. One interesting aspect is that Romney was unable to bring upscale whites – educated, affluent suburbanites who deserted the GOP due to George W. Bush – back into the fold. In places like Virginia’s DC suburbs, this really hurt. Much of this may not be Romney’s fault, since W’s damage to the GOP brand was serious, and having nominee who, no matter what faults, certainly did not fit the truck-drivin’, NASCAR-watchin’ stereotype which W cultivated, could not undo this negative image, which may take years.

But what’s really interesting, as Trende shows, is that Romney lost downmarket whites too. It’s clear, from his look at Ohio voting, that poorer whites, who dislike Obama and were surely open to a Republican alternative, nevertheless failed to show up for Romney in the numbers they needed to for the GOP to win in 2012.

Trende speculates that this probably has much to do with the barrage of anti-Romney ads during the summer which defined the GOP’s man negatively, early, setting a bad image from which the governor was never able to fully recover, despite impressive debate performance in October.

In other words, negative ads work. They especially work when they are based in truths. No matter how nasty some of those ads were, they were grounded in some essential realities about Romney; to make matters worse, Romney said some stupid things that played right into this, and he failed to release his tax returns. That, alone, may have doomed him; it certainly didn’t play well with poorer whites in places like Ohio, who are hurting badly in the current economy, and wanted Obama out, but not at the cost of putting a sneaky plutocrat like Romney in. So they stayed home. Americans don’t mind that you’ve made a lot of money. Many, however, do mind when you’re secretive about it all, with a whiff of condescension.

The GOP has a basic choice to make if it wants to survive as a national party: Get more Hispanics or get more whites. Doing the latter, especially reaching out to whites who are economically hurting, would require the party to conduct a painful self-examination as to why it favors the wealthy so consistently at the expense of average people. Doing the former will require glossy ads, more token brown faces at GOP events, and greater marketing en espanol yet no real introspection.

Of course, the latter course might actually save the Republicans nationally, while the former course is a flight of fancy. Nevertheless, expect bulk purchases of “Yo soy Republican!” t-shirts and bumper-stickers to rise.

Election 2012: A Wrap-Up

This blog is about issues of intelligence and security, broadly speaking, not politics per se, and certainly not domestic politics, which is a topic of marginal interest for me. That said, it’s hard to ignore yesterday’s verdict altogether, as its potential consequences, well beyond America, loom large. So, a few observations.

Since, unlike most journalists today, I believe in getting my biases out there, here they are. I’m not a particularly partisan person, in the literal sense: I have no great affection for either the Democrats or Republicans, which over their long duopoly have both shifted dramatically in ideological terms (just take a look at how different the electoral map was as recently as 1976). I mustered little enthusiasm for either Obama or Romney, finding serious flaws in both candidates, so I was not particularly moved in the election either way. As a historian by background, I take the long view and strive to see the Big Picture.

First off, the GOP is broken, probably irretrievably; the Republicans, if they don’t get their act together fast, may go the way of the Whigs. Rather soon. It is easy and just to place a lot of this as the feet of George W. Bush, whose two terms were a train-wreck almost across the board, at home and abroad. Yet “W” cannot be blamed altogether, since it’s not his fault that the GOP continues to live in a strange fantasy world where it’s 1980 forever, and all that’s required is sufficient incantation of tax cuts, less government, and a strong military. Republicans love to invoke the memory of Ronald Reagan, but I cannot believe that the Gipper would find his own party these days at all intellectually coherent; not to mention that Ronnie, a quite winning politico lest we forget, would be aghast at how Republicans have turned into a hyper-aggressive bunch of interventionists (one of the most misremembered aspects of the 1980s among right-wingers is how minimally interventionist Reagan actually was in practice).

It speaks volumes about the institutionalized escapism of the GOP in 2012, at a time of profound and enduring economic crisis for working people, that it felt that nominating someone whose real claim to fame is expertise as a top-level bankster, and then adding an Ayn Rand fantasist as the veep, would get the white working class out to vote Republican. We saw how that worked out in the upper Midwest yesterday.

Romney ran as good a campaign as could be expected, given his less than likable nature, his hard-to-sell record, and the fact that the mainstream media was as shockingly in the bag for Obama as it was. The conduct of the MSM was a disgrace, for anyone who cares a whit about having decent journalism in a free society, but that was only the culmination of a long-developing story. Moreover, the collapse of legacy media means this will matter less and less in coming years, as voters find their own sources of information, some decidedly not mainstream.

But the real bumper-sticker here is how much the country has changed, relatively quickly. In demographic terms the United States is simply not the country I was born in a little over forty years ago. Some liberals are heralding this New America in glowing terms:

President Barack Obama did not just win reelection tonight. His victory signaled the irreversible triumph of a new, 21st-century America: multiracial, multi-ethnic, global in outlook and moving beyond centuries of racial, sexual, marital and religious tradition.

Howard Fineman’s assessment is basically correct, but his near-gloating tone will be off-putting to those who are less enthused about it all. Voters – and I mean here especially white voters – were never asked if they wanted a new country, yet they have one, whether they like it or not. This is big, and will get bigger. It’s impossible to say what might have happened had Romney done anything to run against this New America, since in fact he did nothing of the sort, and seemed to go out of his way to alienate poorer whites on economic issues.

While many will focus on the ethno-racial aspect to this, not least because Obama does so frequently, the gender-social angle is just as significant. Chucking aside centuries of social and religious tradition is a fine progressive talking point, I understand this gets the MSNBC crowd fired up, but we easily ignore how big a change this is for mere human animals. Single white women – the fastest-growing part of the electorate – went for Obama at about the same percentage as Hispanics did, i.e. about two-thirds. We are engaged in a vast social experiment where marriage is receding and ever-larger groups of society are ever-more dependent on government-derived largesse. Here Romney had a valid point about the vaunted 47 percent, however ham-handedly he made it.

Many things can only be guessed at about the trajectory before this Brave New America where marriage is allowed for gays but decreasingly found among straights. One thing that can be said for certain, however, is that it will produce fewer children – the USA is already at the lowest birth rates the country has ever recorded – and expectations that America (where birth rates among the native population are hardly better than in the decidedly non-fecund EU) can avoid a European-style birth dearth were unfounded. Another certainty is that the United States, with fewer births, will soon confront serious economic and fiscal problems based solely on a lack of future taxpayers, i.e. children (see: Japan).

I have said some harsh things about the GOP here, but it needs to be stated that both parties are fully complicit in the parlous finances we face. Obama’s worst sin in his first term was casting aside any efforts, even by his own specially-selected panel, to confront (or even really admit) the looming fiscal disaster. Saying the Republicans have been unhelpful is true but meaningless. Action must be taken, and soon. The essence of the problem is simple: the American people consume more federal largesse, far more, than they pay for in taxes. Most want the services but not the paying for them. This game has continued so long due to the dollar’s status as the global reserve currency, but it cannot go on much longer, given that by many standards the country is as deeply in the hole, relatively speaking, as much of Southern Europe. Unless the USA wants to become a bigger Argentina with nuclear weapons, Obama’s second term will need to see decisive actions to remedy this looming catastrophe not just talked about but taken. I am not, at this juncture, optimistic.

The election basically decided nothing. The American people are divided pretty much in half, Congress will remain where it was. One party is the home of the declining white majority (however much they decline to say so), the other is the home of a collection of minorities (ethno-racial, social, and sexual). We can expect gridlock to continue for years to come. And that is the problem.

As someone who has spent a lot of time studying multinational and multiethnic societies, I am skeptical that the New America built around “diversity” is going to have an easy time dealing with its huge fiscal problems. As social-civic cohesion frays – as even eminent liberal scholars admit is the outcome as a society becomes more diverse – to say nothing of subpar economic performance for years to come, I find it difficult to see how the country can overcome its rising challenges. When knotty issues of state finance representing truly hard choices are seen through a lens of ethno-racial identity and interest, they become even more difficult to address seriously in a democracy.

There will be much gnashing of teeth among Republicans, followed by the inevitable incantations that the GOP must appeal more to blacks and especially Hispanics. Which is true but assumes that there are lots of Hispanics who are just waiting to be seduced by the GOP’s free market fantasy ideology, if only the right salesman can be found. Juan Galt does not exist.

The upside to yesterday’s election for Republicans is that it offers the party a needed opportunity to divest itself of its more annoying and vote-losing tendencies (free-market fanatics and hucksters, evangelicals obsessed with rape and abortion, neocon warmongers), and in that we can expect to see fewer appeals to universal American empire masquerading as “defense.” Although Obama made a serious misstep in Libya back in early 2011 by listening to advisors who seem to think the entire world ought to be subjected to U.S. military intervention until the planet is made new, it’s clear that the president’s heart just isn’t in aggressive Wilsonianism for its own sake. It’s also clear that paeans to new wars of choice (AKA Operation PERSIAN FREEDOM) were not a vote-getter for Romney, which is probably why he sounded more realist towards the end of the campaign: too little, too late.

But we can at least comfort ourselves that America may soon conduct a long-overdue self-examination of its role in the world, and how much that role should be an overt military one. Going abroad in search of monsters to destroy has diminishing returns and gets damn expensive too. And no matter what, the drone war against Al-Qa’ida and Friends will continue.

[N.B. Per always, the opinions expressed here are mine alone and assuredly not those of the Naval War College or the Department of Defense.]

Friends from the Institute

Just in time for Mitt Romney’s trip to Israel – where he is reported to be focused mainly on not making a fool of himself before the media, London-style – the AP dropped a bombshell disguised as an article on the taboo subject of Israeli espionage against the United States. The detailed piece, which was sourced from several places in the Intelligence Community, has been met with shock and horror in the usual places; Prime Minister Netanyahu issued a denial as vociferous as it was quick. Aggressive Israeli spying on the U.S. is something polite people are never, ever supposed to discuss; mentioning it will not get you invited to the right Georgetown parties.

But there was nothing in the piece which was exactly news to anyone who knows how the global intelligence game is actually played. That CIA considers Israel to be the number-one spy threat in the Middle East is a revelation only to neophytes. Counterintelligence officers for decades have been aware of the extent of Israeli espionage against the U.S., at home and abroad, though politicos are customarily wise enough to never mention it. Indeed, CI experts for years have spoken of the Big Four threats to the USG: Russia, China, Cuba, and Israel.  

I prefer my spies to look like this …

Russia remains as big a spy threat to the West and the U.S. as it was at the height of the Cold War. Their operations are as aggressive as ever, and their playbook is the same. Although the round-up of a big Russian illegal network in the U.S. two years ago was treated as a comic-opera affair in the media, with emphasis on hot redheads (and, let me say, who doesn’t like hot redheaded spy-vixens?), that story justifiably caused deep concern in CI circles and indicated big problems, including possible penetrations of U.S. intelligence.

The Chinese spy threat is less popularly understood, and there is a lot less written about it, with some happy exceptions, but Beijing’s espionage against the USG has risen in recent years and shows no signs of abating, rather the contrary. That said, Chinese HUMINT operations are seldom successful outside their ethnic millieu – though that may be cold comfort given the size of the overseas Chinese community in the West today.

The inclusion of Cuba on the Big Four list may surprise, given the comically pathetic condition of that country, but Havana’s intelligence agencies have long punched above their weight in the global spy game. Cuban operations against the USG are widespread and pernicious, including long-term penetrations of our intelligence agencies. Castro’s case officers for decades have had no trouble recruiting spies among Cuban exiles – usually they have more volunteers than they can handle – and Cuban-American groups are deeply penetrated (usually the crazier and more right-wing an exile pontificates, the more likely s/he is a mole for Havana). Not surprisingly, Florida is a hotspot for Cuban espionage. Neverthless, like the Chinese, the Cubans operate best among ethnic kin, save the occasional oddball lefty Anglos who actually lose money spying for Cuba.

The Israeli espionage threat to the United States, however, is different, because DC and Tel Aviv are such close partners, and Israel is the world’s biggest recipient of American aid dollars.  In the real world, allies do spy on each other. Per the counterspy’s mantra: There are no friendly intelligence agencies. Yet America’s closest intelligence partners, the Five Eyes of the Anglosphere (U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, and usually New Zealand), have preserved a remarkable amount of the sincere spy-friendship borne of shared hardship in World War II, and come pretty close to being friends who don’t spy on each other.

Not like this.

Israel emphatically is not that sort of spy-buddy. The AP article included glimpses of just how aggressive and duplicitous Israeli HUMINT operations against American interests actually are, and have been for decades. Anyone who has looked closely at the infamous Pollard case, including Israel’s continuing lobbying to get their boy out of his jail cell, gets some sense of how the Israelis play the game.

It’s no secret inside the Beltway that Israel spies on everybody, America included, and uses its close partnership with the USG to further its espionage against it. None of this is new, and as far back as 1954 Israeli dirty tricks targeted the U.S., including the false-flag bombing of the U.S. Information Agency office in Egypt, the so-called Lavon affair. Espionage is a messy business, to be sure, but what sets the Israelis apart is that they act so aggressively even towards their closest friends.

Israel’s intelligence agencies are small – certainly compared to America’s multi-headed espionage leviathan – and professional. Foreign HUMINT and dirty tricks are handled by the Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations (the legendary MOSSAD), while domestic intelligence is conducted by the impressive Security Agency (SHABAK), yet the biggest piece of the puzzle is Military Intelligence (AMAN), which includes Israel’s substantial and effective SIGINT effort.

The “MOSSAD myth” is a real force-multiplier, even though it’s only partly true. Israeli spies are far from super-human, as a long string of missteps and own-goals will attest, yet they are undeniably super-aggressive, including against America. Their small numbers are boosted abroad by sayanim (“helpers”), mainly diaspora Jews who provide material support to Israeli intelligence. From a CI perspective this makes Israeli operations a tough nut to crack, not to mention that MOSSAD relies on an array of fronts and cut-outs in many countries to assist its espionage. It was no surprise to CI hands that DoD’s Larry Franklin was convicted in 2006 of passing classified information to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, since although AIPAC is widely known to be one of the most powerful lobbying groups on Capitol Hill, the counterspies understand that it has an, ahem, exceptionally close relationship with Israeli intelligence. CI professionals were likewise less than shocked when it turned out that Jane Harman, the ranking Democrat on the House’s intelligence committee, was reported to be having spooky conversations with AIPAC too.

There is a long history of Israeli espionage against America and its interests, and an equally long history of the American MSM showing little interest in delving deeply into some of the more intriguing Israeli ops in the United States (see: Israeli art students). In this sense, the weekend’s AP story was a surprise, and a welcome one. As a former CI officer I have nothing but professional admiration for what Israeli spooks manage to pull off, and in their shoes I’d do exactly the same stuff. Yet as an American I have questions about what our ally is doing, and why we tolerate the worst of it.

For a long time, American journalists and politicians have denied there is an issue here. The AP has blown the lid on that one, and good on them. Henceforth, those who deny that Israel spies mightily on the USA are either playing politics or they don’t know what they are talking about.


When I was an NSA officer my co-workers and I always found it amusing to laugh at the high-silliness Hollywood portrayals of No Such Agency (as we used to call it), monitoring average Americans in the minutiae of their daily lives. Enemy of the State may have been a serviceable action flick but it was a deeply misleading portrayal of what NSA actually does.

After 9/11 NSA got mired in the so-called wiretapping scandal, something which the left got quite hot and bothered about during George W. Bush’s second term; yet as with drones, we’ve heard minimal civil liberties yelping from the MSNBC crowd now that their guy is in charge.

I have to confess the post-9/11 kerfuffle never moved me much, since I knew what was actually going on, and that it bore scant resemblance to what the media portrayed as gross civil liberties violations. Moreover, it all looks different when you’re on active service, charged with protecting the nation and its citizens from terrorists bent on mayhem and murder. You don’t have the luxury of pontificating quite the same way you do as when you’re blogging with bunny slippers on.

That said, huge changes in telecommunications in the last decade-plus have thrown up a very different intelligence playing field. Simply put, everything is out there in the online world, in the ‘trons somewhere, just waiting to be picked up and exploited. And you don’t have to be a hardcore civil libertarian, as I am not, to be a tad concerned about the implications of all this. In the borderless online world, what exactly are the boundaries? It was all a lot clearer back in 1993 when U.S. Signals Intelligence Directive 18, USSID 18 to the cognoscenti, was promulgated. But that was a long, long time ago in telecom. Now it’s … murky.

In recent years several NSA whistlebowers have come forward to explain how Big Brother really is listening in on you, reading your emails, snooping on your chats, et al. Most of those speaking out are individuals with agendas and sometimes failed careers behind them.

But Bill Binney was different. One of the finest Agency crypto-mathematicians of his generation – these being the scarily brilliant geeks who develop the code-cracking algorithims that allow NSA to protect you, dear citizen, while you sleep – Bill resigned in 2001 in disgust over what he believed to be the Agency’s misuse of his pet project, THINTHREAD, to spy domestically.

Bill has kept chugging along, explaining repeatedly that domestic espionage is out of control, and now he’s stated that NSA is collecting information on practically every American. Mincing words, not so much:

 “They’re pulling together all the data about virtually every U.S. citizen in the country … and assembling that information,” Binney explained. “So government is accumulating that kind of information about every individual person and it’s a very dangerous process.” He estimated that something like 1.6 billion logs have been processed since 2001.

I simply don’t know if this is true. And if I did, I wouldn’t be stating it openly on a blog anyway. But I will say is that this statement, if accurate, runs deeply contrary to the training about privacy protection which I had rammed into me received as a larval intelligence analyst some years ago. Moreover, Bill Binney is not a crank, a weirdo, or a charlatan. He is a very gifted man and a patriot who believes NSA, presumably on orders from “the top,” is misusing its enormous technological prowess. Certainly some public debate about espionage and privacy in the digital age – something which of course NSA and the Intelligence Community but also very much the Bush and Obama administrations have avoided at every turn – seems overdue.

NSA’s historical record in this arena can be considered less than stellar. During World War Two the U.S. signals intelligence service, NSA’s forerunner, began collecting drop-copies of every telex – you can explain to the kids and grandkids what those were – going in and out of the United States. This huge undertaking, which sucked up on average 150,000 messages per month, continued for 30 years as Operation SHAMROCK until it was shut down by the NSA director just before Congress got overly interested. Worse, beginning in 1967 – yes, under LBJ, not Tricky Dick – NSA started Operation MINARET, the listening in on several thousand domestic individuals and groups considered hostile or subversive.

This Congress did get pretty worked up about during the Church Committee hearings in the mid-1970s, which led to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978, as well as the construction of “the wall” between law enforcement and intelligence which worked quite well at protecting civil liberties but was rather less effective at thwarting terrorists bent on their “big wedding” …. as we found out on 9/11.

More than a few NSAers were unhappy with the misuse of their Agency during the Johnson and especially Nixon years. One of them was my father, a career NSA officer (full disclosure: both my parents were career NSAers – it was an interesting childhood; I was “born with clearances” in insider jargon) who felt that his Agency had exceeded its mandate and was acting unconstitutionally. He voiced his concerns “up the chain” as they say. Back in the early 1970s the Agency still lived by the mantra of Never Say Anything so going to the media was unthinkable. Even limiting one’s protest to internal channels was not, shall we say, a career-enhancing move for a few years, until Congress changed everything, but it was a principled stand. A few years later, NSA would get very concerned about protecting the country from foreign threats in a manner consistent with the Constitution and our values: a balance which can be difficult to achieve consistently in the real world.

That terrible day in late summer 2001 rightly changed a lot about how U.S. intelligence fights terrorism. The infamous “wall” got lowered and even moved around a bit. If what Bill Binney says is true it has been lowered considerably more and may have been chopped down altogether, and that is something we should all be discussing.

Droning on …

Being older than my mid-20s I can remember when drones – the popular term for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) – were considered somewhat controversial. Since, let’s face it, using little planes without pilots to watch the world and kill people is a bit edgy.

However, since Barack Obama became president US use of killer drones has expanded enormously in prosecution of what used to be called the Global War on Terror (GWOT: which is now very Old Think and perhaps needs to be replaced by a nifty symbol – where’s Prince when you need him?). I won’t delve into partisan politics here except to note that

Meet “The Hand of Allah” … because “Death from Above” sounds so 1967.

the left would be beside itself if any GOP president, especially George W. Bush, had standing Tuesday “kill” meetings where the West Wing Kool Kids congregate to decide who’s getting vaporized this week. I’m never gonna join the ACLU and I customarily err on the side of killing terrorists, and the whole thing creeps me out.

None can deny that UAVs are a valuable weapon in the GWOT/whatever, and in places like Waziristan and the back-of-beyond of Yemen they are probably the only real option we have. And – let me say it – blowing away enemies of mankind like Al-Qa’ida fighters is a good and necessary thing.

Certainly the bad guys get the message. They are terrified of drones – so much so that the meme has reached comedy films about the mujahidin (yes, there are such things) – which they call the “Hand of Allah.” Because, let’s face it, it’s way creepy and upsetting when, all of a sudden, for no reason – because you can’t see or hear that Raptor way up there – the fifty-foot radius around you explodes in a wall of flame interspersed with metal shards. That kind of thing can ruin your whole day.

The bad news is that UAVs kill civilians. No matter how hard we try – and we surely do – to avoid what we nicely term “collateral damage” it cannot be avoided. Our intelligence, impressive as it is, will never be good enough to rule out the deaths of people, kids even, who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. And locals understandably feel differently about their own dead kin than we do. Debating whether this is worth the political cost is something America has largely punted on over the past decade, as drone kills have become an utterly routine thing. Certainly the current administration has accepted the costs of the drone campaign without real reservation and without any public debate.

But is it, well, moral? The New York Times in a new piece says it is, so I suppose that is the current bien-pensant position. The article is actually worth a read and points out, in an important-if-true moment, that even drone skeptics concede:

 a notable drop in the civilian proportion of drone casualties, to 16 percent of those killed in 2011 from 28 percent in 2008. This year, by the bureau’s count, just three of the 152 people killed in drone strikes through July 7 .

NYT goes further down the road of drones-are-now-officially-cool by citing Bradley Jay Strawser, a junior professor at the Naval Postgraduate School, a sister institution to my own, who asserts that using UAVs to blow people up is a-ok with the statement, “using them to go after terrorists not only was ethically permissible but also might be ethically obligatory, because of their advantages in identifying targets and striking with precision.”

Really, Brad? This seems to me the sort of thing you need to have a Ph.D. to believe. I don’t doubt for a second that using Predators and Raptors against mujahidin is ethically ok, generally speaking. I’m questioning whether, strategically speaking, it’s worth the political cost. In real-people speak: Is it smart?

Analysts of our drone war in Pakistan say that the “collateral damage” (AKA “we killed the wrong people” ) rate ranges between four and 20 percent. Which seems low, especially when compared to the recent Israeli operations against HAMAS, using more traditional methods of delivering high explosives, which 41 percent of the time killed innocents. Furthermore, the Pakistani military took out non-combatants a whopping 46 percent of the time in its operations against domestic terrorists.

So drones are totally awesome and even nice by comparison, right?

In a very bean-counting way, they are. But the cool, numbers-based analytic approach beloved by many academics and defense wonks leaves out two critical facts which are well understood by people on the receiving end of the “Hand of Allah.”

First, our enemies view drones as sneaky, nasty, and deeply unmanly. We may laugh at this, but it is true. Blowing up people from 10,000 feet, remotely (in every sense) is viewed by Pashtuns and many others as simply creepy and girly. Especially when they blow up kids – your kids. Drones inspire a special kind of rage in much of the world.

Second, when the Pakistanis kill their own people it inspires a lot less Pashtun rage than when we – yes, we interlopers, foreigners, and infidels – do it. Outsiders doing the killing always goes down worse, even when we’re frankly soft-touch compared to the bumbling and sometimes brutal local government. This is universal.

The drone campaign is clearly going to continue as long as Obama is president, and perhaps well beyond. We’re going to keep using them to kill bad guys. But it’s time to have a public debate about using UAVs as the default weapon of choice in counterterrorism. Particularly before other countries, including some we don’t like and they don’t like us either, have their own impressive UAV capabilities.

Algeria – The Ugly Truth

What if everything you know is wrong? What if what you’ve been told is international terrorism, Al-Qa’ida even, really …. isn’t?

The world is a complex place. More complex than the media usually allows. Seldom does the MSM deal with the unpleasantness of the real world of terrorism and, especially, counterterrorism: the operations, the penetrations, the provocations. Not something the Big Terror industry talks about much.

I’ve got an op-ed in today’s National Interest Online which pulls back the curtain a bit on the Algerian unpleasantness of the last twenty years – one of the world’s nastiest wars in recent memory, and one of the least understood.

If you like this kind of thing, you like this kind of thing.