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.
The MIT economist Peter Temin argues that economic inequality results in two distinct classes. And only one of them has any power.
A lot of factors have contributed to American inequality: slavery, economic policy, technological change, the power of lobbying, globalization, and so on. In their wake, what’s left?
That’s the question at the heart of a new book, The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy, by Peter Temin, an economist from MIT. Temin argues that, following decades of growing inequality, America is now left with what is more or less a two-class system: One small, predominantly white upper class that wields a disproportionate share of money, power, and political influence and a much larger, minority-heavy (but still mostly white) lower class that is all too frequently subject to the first group’s whims.
There’s a common perception that women siphon off the wealth of their exes and go on to live in comfort. It’s wrong.
A 38-year-old woman living in Everett, Washington recently told me that nine years ago, she had a well-paying job, immaculate credit, substantial savings, and a happy marriage. When her first daughter was born, she and her husband decided that she would quit her job in publishing to stay home with the baby. She loved being a mother and homemaker, and when another daughter came, she gave up the idea of going back to work.
Seven years later, her husband told her to leave their house, and filed for a divorce she couldn’t afford. “He said he was tired of my medical issues, and unwilling to work on things,” she said, citing her severe rheumatoid arthritis and OCD, both of which she manages with medication. “He kicked me out of my own house, with no job and no home, and then my only recourse was to lawyer up. I’m paying them on credit.” (Some of the men and women quoted in this article have been kept anonymous because they were discussing sensitive financial matters, some of them involving ongoing legal disputes.)
A CFPB investigation concluded that Transunion and Equifax deceived Americans about the reports they provided and the fees they charged.
In personal finance, practically everything can turn on one’s credit score. It’s both an indicator of one’s financial past, and the key to accessing necessities—without insane costs—in the future. But on Tuesday, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced that two of the three major credit-reporting agencies responsible for doling out those scores—Equifax and Transunion—have been deceiving and taking advantage of Americans. The Bureau ordered the agencies to pay more than $23 million in fines and restitution.
In their investigation, the Bureau found that the two agencies had been misrepresenting the scores provided to consumers, telling them that the score reports they received were the same reports that lenders and businesses received, when, in fact, they were not. The investigation also found problems with the way the agencies advertised their products, using promotions that suggested that their credit reports were either free or cost only $1. According to the CFPB the agencies did not properly disclose that after a trial of seven to 30 days, individuals would be enrolled in a full-price subscription, which could total $16 or more per month. The Bureau also found Equifax to be in violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which states that the agencies must provide one free report every 12 months made available at a central site. Before viewing their free report, consumers were forced to view advertisements for Equifax, which is prohibited by law.
In 1985, Neil Postman observed an America imprisoned by its own need for amusement. He was, it turns out, extremely prescient.
Earlier this month, thousands of protesters gathered at Washington’s National Mall to advocate for an assortment of causes: action against global climate change, federal funding for scientific research, a generally empirical approach to the world and its mysteries. The protesters at the March for Science, as scientists are wont to do, followed what has become one of the established formulas for such an event, holding clever signs, wearing cheeky outfits, and attempting, overall, to carnivalize their anger. “Make the Barrier Reef Great Again,” read one sign at the March. “This is my sine,” read another. “I KNEW TO WEAR THIS,” one woman had written on the poncho she wore that soggy Saturday, “BECAUSE SCIENCE PREDICTED THE RAIN.” Three protesters, sporting sensible footwear and matching Tyrannosaurus rex costumes, waved poster boards bearing messages like “Jurassick of this shit.”
“Somewhere at Google there is a database containing 25 million books and nobody is allowed to read them.”
You were going to get one-click access to the full text of nearly every book that’s ever been published. Books still in print you’d have to pay for, but everything else—a collection slated to grow larger than the holdings at the Library of Congress, Harvard, the University of Michigan, at any of the great national libraries of Europe—would have been available for free at terminals that were going to be placed in every local library that wanted one.
At the terminal you were going to be able to search tens of millions of books and read every page of any book you found. You’d be able to highlight passages and make annotations and share them; for the first time, you’d be able to pinpoint an idea somewhere inside the vastness of the printed record, and send somebody straight to it with a link. Books would become as instantly available, searchable, copy-pasteable—as alive in the digital world—as web pages.
Homosexuality might be partly driven by a mother’s immune response to her male fetus—which increases with each son she has.
Here’s what we know: Homosexuality is normal. Between 2 and 11 percent of human adults report experiencing some homosexual feelings, though the figure varies widely depending on the survey.
Homosexuality exists across cultures and even throughout the animal kingdom, as the authors of a mammoth new review paper on homosexuality write. Between 6 and 10 percent of rams prefer to mount other rams, not ewes. Certain groups of female Japanese monkeys prefer the company of other females:
In certain populations, female Japanese macaques will sometimes choose other females as sexual partners despite the presence of sexually motivated male mates. Female Japanese macaques will even compete intersexually with males for exclusive access to female sexual partners.
It would have been a breakthrough for Macedonia—a government finally in place after two years of political crisis—if it hadn’t turned bloody.
On Thursday, Zoran Zaev’s Social Democrats (SDSM)announced that Talat Xhaferi had been elected speaker of parliament, paving the way for a coalition between his party and parties representing ethnic Albanians, who comprise between one-quarter and one-third of Macedonia’s population, to form a government. (No one knows the exact proportion because there has been no census since 2002, as the parties cannot agree to hold one.) Even though the constitution mandates that ethnic Albanian parties must be represented in every government, the conservative-nationalist Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE) has tried to portray Zaev’s coalition as a vehicle for a coup and eventual takeover of Macedonia by ethnic Albanians, who have higher birth rates than ethnic Macedonians.
Will you pay more for those shoes before 7 p.m.? Would the price tag be different if you lived in the suburbs? Standard prices and simple discounts are giving way to far more exotic strategies, designed to extract every last dollar from the consumer.
As Christmas approached in 2015, the price of pumpkin-pie spice went wild. It didn’t soar, as an economics textbook might suggest. Nor did it crash. It just started vibrating between two quantum states. Amazon’s price for a one-ounce jar was either $4.49 or $8.99, depending on when you looked. Nearly a year later, as Thanksgiving 2016 approached, the price again began whipsawing between two different points, this time $3.36 and $4.69.
We live in the age of the variable airfare, the surge-priced ride, the pay-what-you-want Radiohead album, and other novel price developments. But what was this? Some weird computer glitch? More like a deliberate glitch, it seems. “It’s most likely a strategy to get more data and test the right price,” Guru Hariharan explained, after I had sketched the pattern on a whiteboard.
Silicon Valley’s new member of Congress has some big ideas for combatting wage stagnation.
Ro Khanna has a $1 trillion plan to fatten Americans’ wallets.
The newly elected member of Congress, who represents Silicon Valley, has become a loud progressive voice on the Hill during his brief tenure there. The way he sees it, Democrats have failed by not offering families a radical plan to end wage stagnation and bring prosperity to the middle class once again. He is working on a bill he believes will do just that, by boosting the Earned Income Tax Credit to provide as much as $6,000 a year for individuals and $12,000 for families. (That would roughly double the maximum payout for families, and increase it tenfold for childless workers.) The plan is being heralded as a move towards a universal basic income in the United States, and Khanna hopes to pair it with efforts to move federal jobs out of Washington, expand universities and colleges, and encourage investment in depressed communities. Such a moonshot effort is not going anywhere soon, he concedes. But it would at the very least demonstrate to voters that Democrats had something new and bold to offer them.
The most comprehensive review of evidence on health consequences of caffeine use has just been published.
That’s what a Los Angeles news anchor said earlier this month, in response to the announcement that “the world’s strongest coffee” is now available in the United States. The product is called Black Insomnia, a playful nod to apotentially debilitating medical condition that can be caused by the product.
The anchor’s tone took a dramatic decrescendo as she read from the teleprompter: “The site Caffeine Informer says Black Insomnia is one of the ‘most dangerous caffeinated products.’” Her smile faded. “Oh. I’ll have to have this one sparingly.”
Black Insomnia is actually in competition for the title of “world’s strongest coffee.” Another, similar purveyor sells coffee grounds called Death Wish. They come in a black sack with a skull and cross bones. On its Amazon page, Death Wish claims to be “the world’s strongest coffee” and promises its “perfect dark roast will make you the hero of the house or office.”