Now, be thankful I work for a company that embodies the value of a spirit of generosity, because when I read that, I wasn't thinking very generous things. In fact, it is precisely the mission of the NCTC to connect dots. Right? I mean, who DIDN'T know that? Really? Who didn't know that?
Let's assume, for the moment, that the law does not give the director of NCTC, Michael Leiter, the "primary responsibility within the United States Government for conducting net assessments of terrorist threats," which it does.
The NCTC was set up precisely to solve the dot-connecting problem that the 9/11 Commission identified. The intelligence committee knows this. Congress knows this. The American public knows this. And the NCTC ... well, the NCTC is parsing language.
An intelligence official said that the 14 missed clues could easily be read as the 14 chances the intelligence community had to connect the dots and prevent the bombing attempt -- and failed. Fourteen chances!
It is infuriating to hear such a thing. It seems so obvious to those outside the circle that practicing responsibility and accountability would go along way toward solving the communications issues that prevent a piece of data from getting from point A to point C, which might be the terrorist watch list. There will always be human judgments intervening, and the SSCI report points out how plenty were well-intentioned but ultimately mistaken.
But what the report really revealed, without making the conclusion explicit, is that every entity in the IC seemed to be going out of its way to avoid responsibility for making the call. For picking up the phone, stepping on someone's toes, and saying, "You know what ... something doesn't feel right about this guy." For sending e-mail after e-mail to people in other agencies urging them to check and recheck databases. For making TACTICAL decisions about immediate intelligence priorities.
(Within the past few months, DNI Dennis Blair has set up an analytical cell within the NCTC to evaluate tactical intelligence. Finally!)
The lack of a sense of urgency -- or what John Brennan, the president's chief counter-terrorism adviser calls "pulse" -- is astonishing and disheartening.
Not long ago, I asked a senior intelligence official to estimate the number of separate databases regularly used by entities that conduct counterterrorism missions. He thought for a moment, and said, "About 50." Do these databases talk to one another? Most of them don't. They don't interface. They don't update in real time. Many of them are sealed off from most analysts because of security classifications and turf wars. Yes, there are meetings and task forces designed to facilitate "interoperability."
But to those of us watching someone nearly bring down a plane, no one takes responsibility for making sure, even at the risk to his or her own career, that the damn bits in one server talk to the damn bits in another. Michael Leiter himself is well regarded by the intelligence community. He is trying. But the SSCI report finds explicitly that the NCTC "Failed to Fulfill Its Mission."
That is a damning indictment of a lot of people. It's an indictment of the entire structure of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the NCTC. It's an indictment of the CIA, which apparently still refuses to share key counterterrorism information with the NCTC. It's an indictment of Congress, which has never properly empowered the Director of National Intelligence. It's an indictment of Barack Obama's national security staff, which did not appreciate the magnitude of the problem until this incident. It's an indictment of a culture that still exists among the senior executives at many agencies. These seniors are intelligence professionals, so they are able to mouth phrases like "need to share" and "work together" but when they get back to their desks, they're back into their silos.
It should worry Congress and those concerned about intelligence that the IC culture is broken.
The SSCI gave its report to the White House and the intelligence agencies two months ago, and an official told me last night that the the IC had made progress implementing many of its regulations. The new budget contains more authority for the DNI to make technical decisions more quickly, which should help with the database issues. A DNI official said that Blair "accepted" blame and is making necessary changes.
The report doesn't provide too much detail on intelligence collection, which is par for the course. That stuff is sensitive. But reading through the lines, it appears as if the SSCI wanted to send another message about overreyling on electronic intelligence (ELINT) and signals intelligence (SIGINT) ... and not so much on finding, verifying, vetting and running down nuggets of information from human sources. Human sources are very sensitive and it is very hard to share information from them without disclosing their identities. And many younger IC analysts are trained to read through data, rather than to evaluate HUMINT, much less evaluate it in the context of everything else.
A few days after the Christmas Day incident, President Obama brought his intelligence cabinet together in the Situation Room and said, "I could fire each and every one of you." He did not do that. Instead he said that he would assess each agency's performance over the next several months. Everyone, essentially, was put on notice. Obama's reluctance to fire someone, particularly his director of national intelligence, grated on some in Congress, but they understood the difficulty: firing Adm. Blair would be a gesture, would make a dedicated patriot a scapegoat, and would compound the problem, not help solve it.
No one in government wants to be the DNI because everyone believes that it lacks one of the two fundamental ingredients for power in D.C.: access. But the DNI has plenty of access; it's an open debate about his authority over budgets and programs. Some Blair agonists believe that he hasn't used the power he has and has focused on the wrong priorities. Instead of fighting with the CIA over covert ops, he should have fought with the CIOs of the community over information sharing. Instead of expanding the DNI's 4,000-person staff, he should have pared it down to its essentials, reducing the number of decision makers and streamlining the analytic process. Blair's staff would disagree; they say that budget authority is but one ingredient. The other is the full backing of the president. And there is a perception in Blair's inner circle that the White House hasn't always been there for Denny Blair.
When the National Security Agency began its "Stellar Wind" domestic eavesdropping programs, perhaps the most tragic legacy of that decision was the shame that many analysts at NSA felt upon the program's disclosure. These analysts had spent their entire lives working off the assumption that the NSA does not spy on Americans. That spying on Americans is wrong. When the NSA began to spy on Americans, however carefully they did it, it would not be irresponsible to say that a large number of the people who do their jobs at NSA very well began to question whether their job was worth doing. This is not to say that the policymakers who felt compelled to create the program were wrong. It is to say simply that policies have endogenous consequences as well.
A new book by the evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne tackles arguments that the two institutions are compatible.
In May 1988, a 13-year-old girl named Ashley King was admitted to Phoenix Children’s Hospital by court order. She had a tumor on her leg—an osteogenic sarcoma—that, writes Jerry Coyne in his book Faith Versus Fact, was “larger than a basketball,” and was causing her leg to decay while her body started to shut down. Ashley’s Christian Scientist parents, however, refused to allow doctors permission to amputate, and instead moved their daughter to a Christian Science sanatorium, where, in accordance with the tenets of their faith, “there was no medical care, not even pain medication.” Ashley’s mother and father arranged a collective pray-in to help her recover—to no avail. Three weeks later, she died.
Defining common cultural literacy for an increasingly diverse nation.
Is the culture war over?
That seems an absurd question. This is an age when Confederate monuments still stand; when white-privilege denialism is surging on social media; when legislators and educators in Arizona and Texas propose banning ethnic studies in public schools and assign textbooks euphemizing the slave trade; when fear of Hispanic and Asian immigrants remains strong enough to prevent immigration reform in Congress; when the simple assertion that #BlackLivesMatter cannot be accepted by all but is instead contested petulantly by many non-blacks as divisive, even discriminatory.
And that’s looking only at race. Add gender, guns, gays, and God to the mix and the culture war seems to be raging along quite nicely.
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
In 1992, the neuroscientist Richard Davidson got a challenge from the Dalai Lama. By that point, he’d spent his career asking why people respond to, in his words, “life’s slings and arrows” in different ways. Why are some people more resilient than others in the face of tragedy? And is resilience something you can gain through practice?
The Dalai Lama had a different question for Davidson when he visited the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader at his residence in Dharamsala, India. “He said: ‘You’ve been using the tools of modern neuroscience to study depression, and anxiety, and fear. Why can’t you use those same tools to study kindness and compassion?’ … I did not have a very good answer. I said it was hard.”
The Fourth of July—a time we Americans set aside to celebrate our independence and mark the war we waged to achieve it, along with the battles that followed. There was the War of 1812, the War of 1833, the First Ohio-Virginia War, the Three States' War, the First Black Insurrection, the Great War, the Second Black Insurrection, the Atlantic War, the Florida Intervention.
Confused? These are actually conflicts invented for the novel The Disunited States of Americaby Harry Turtledove, a prolific (and sometimes-pseudonymous) author of alternate histories with a Ph.D. in Byzantine history. The book is set in the 2090s in an alternate United States that is far from united. In fact, the states, having failed to ratify a constitution following the American Revolution, are separate countries that oscillate between cooperating and warring with one another, as in Europe.
The executive producer of Masterpiece says Jane Austen works a lot better on screen than Hemingway does.
For 44 years, PBS’s Masterpiece franchise has brought high-end Britain TV programs to American audiences. While the ultra-successful Downton Abbey comes from an original screenplay, many of Masterpiece’s shows over the years have been adapted from great works of literature. And the vast majority of those great works of literature, unsurprisingly, have been British.
But every so often, an American novel—like James Agee’s A Death in the Family or Willa Cather’s The Song of the Lark—has been turned into a Masterpiece. On Friday at the Aspen Ideas Festival, Rebecca Eaton, the longtime executive producer of Masterpiece, said she wished that the program had tackled more U.S. authors over the years. “The reasons that we haven't are twofold,” she said. “One is money, the second is money. And the third is money. Also, the dark nature of American literature, which is something to think about for a moment."
How a re-creation of its most famous battle helped erase the meaning of the Civil War.
"No person should die without seeing this cyclorama," declared a Boston man in 1885. "It's a duty they owe to their country." Paul Philippoteaux's lifelike depiction of the Battle of Gettysburg was much more than a painting. It re-created the battlefield with such painstaking fidelity, and created an illusion so enveloping, that many visitors felt as if they were actually there.
For all its verisimilitude, though, the painting failed to capture the deeper truths of the Civil War. It showed the two armies in lavish detail, but not the clash of ideals that impelled them onto the battlefield. Its stunning rendition of a battle utterly divorced from context appealed to a nation as eager to remember the valor of those who fought as it was to forget the purpose of their fight. Its version of the conflict proved so alluring, in fact, that it changed the way America remembered the Civil War.
Former Senator Jim Webb is the fifth Democrat to enter the race—and by far the most conservative one.
In a different era’s Democratic Party, Jim Webb might be a serious contender for the presidential nomination. He’s a war hero and former Navy secretary, but he has been an outspoken opponent of recent military interventions. He’s a former senator from Virginia, a purple state. He has a strong populist streak, could appeal to working-class white voters, and might even have crossover appeal from his days as a member of the Reagan administration.
In today’s leftward drifting Democratic Party, however, it’s hard to see Webb—who declared his candidacy Thursday—getting very far. As surprising as Bernie Sanders’s rise in the polls has been, he looks more like the Democratic base than Webb does. The Virginian is progressive on a few major issues, including the military and campaign spending, but he’s far to the center or even right on others: He's against affirmative action, supports gun rights, and is a defender of coal. During the George W. Bush administration, Democrats loved to have him as a foil to the White House. It’s hard to imagine the national electorate will cotton to him in the same way. Webb’s statement essentially saying he had no problem with the Confederate battle flag flying in places like the grounds of the South Carolina capitol may have been the final straw. (At 69, he’s also older than Hillary Clinton, whose age has been a topic of debate, though still younger than Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden.)
Brian Grazer has some rules for success. He hasn’t always followed them.
There’s no secret formula to making a hit, according to Brian Grazer, the producer of film and TV successes like 24, Splash, Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind, Empire, and Friday Night Lights. But there are some guidelines. “In television I don't ever want to try and reinvent the wheel,” he said on stage at the Aspen Ideas Festival on Friday. “But changing the spokes within the wheel is a good thing.”
Take Jack Bauer, the terrorist-fighting hero of 24. “He does thing that are very wish-fulfillment oriented,” Grazer said. “That makes people very excited, because wish fulfillment almost always works. You have to root for the character, and rooting for the character is rooting for what they want. It's easier to root for what somebody wants if what they want is noble.”
For centuries, experts have predicted that machines would make workers obsolete. That moment may finally be arriving. Could that be a good thing?
1. Youngstown, U.S.A.
The end of work is still just a futuristic concept for most of the United States, but it is something like a moment in history for Youngstown, Ohio, one its residents can cite with precision: September 19, 1977.
For much of the 20th century, Youngstown’s steel mills delivered such great prosperity that the city was a model of the American dream, boasting a median income and a homeownership rate that were among the nation’s highest. But as manufacturing shifted abroad after World War II, Youngstown steel suffered, and on that gray September afternoon in 1977, Youngstown Sheet and Tube announced the shuttering of its Campbell Works mill. Within five years, the city lost 50,000 jobs and $1.3 billion in manufacturing wages. The effect was so severe that a term was coined to describe the fallout: regional depression.