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“Juche” is one of the key philosophical pillars underlying the North Korean national ideology. It roughly translates to “self-reliance,” and it is invoked by the country’s leaders to justify its state-centered policies and to set the North Korean people culturally apart from the rest of the world. 

Juche Strong, a new documentary by DC-filmmaker Rob Montz, explores the origins of this idea and the broader North Korean propaganda apparatus. The film will premiere in DC tomorrow, and it will be screened at the Cato Institute on April 11. 

DC filmmaker Rob Montz in North Korea. 

Montz’s thesis is provocative and perhaps not one you’ve heard before to explain why North Korea behaves in ways that seem utterly counterproductive, and that have isolated it from much of the world. While Montz doesn’t paper over or disregard the extraordinary, organized tools of state oppression that North Korea’s ruling family deploys to keep its grip on power--cutting off its people from information, forcing its citizens into labor camps, and a cult-like demand for loyalty--he finds that there’s something deeper at work that keeps North Korea alive, and that keeps more North Koreans from fleeing their country. 

It is the juche idea, the self-reinforcing message that North Koreans are fundamentally superior, that has captured the imagination of its people for generations. “North Korea has in some way perfected the tools of ideological control,” Montz explained when we sat down recently to discuss the film. “Those tools can kind of look silly from the outside, but if you peer into them they have an internal logic if you’ve grown up in that environment.” 

Montz traveled to North Korea and interviewed a wide range of experts in order to understand how the people see themselves. He says despite the often comical depictions of the regime as detached from reality and on the brink of demise, it is “significantly more resilient than even the experts give it credit for.” Montz was by no means an expert when he started making the film a few years ago. Initially, he set out to tell a story about North Korea’s competition in the 2010 World Cup; it was the first time time the country had played in the tournament since 1966. But as Montz dug deeper into North Korean history and began to confront his own preconceptions about its society, the story changed. Here are some experts from our conversation. 

What was your perception of North Korea when you started making the film?

I suffered from a lot of the misconceptions that this film is now specifically designed to combat. The media portrays North Koreans as automatons. Mindless followers. I see them repeatedly being scrubbed of their humanity. And [the conclusion] is that either this regime is colossally silly--and I can assure you that was very prominently in place during this recent Dennis Rodman fiasco--or it’s this place continues to exist purely because of oppression. It’s a purely totalitarian state and the only way it maintains social order only is through the gun and the jack boot.

The more I dug into it, I found that their nuclear program does matter. Their relationship with China does matter. The labor camps do matter as the maintenance of control. But another equally important pillar is the national ideology. 

So this is juche. Where did it come from? 

When Kim Il-Sung takes over in the 50s, he’s staring at people who have just relieved themselves of 40 years of incredibly brutal Japanese control. Then they go through the Korean War. This is a people primed to the idea that foreigners are not to be trusted,and that we need to figure out a way to operate completely independent of foreign influence. 

Additionally, the Korean peninsula has centuries of acute xenophobia embedded in its culture. The idea is that you meld those two together and make it a founding philosophical principle of the regime. How much of it was a conscious crafting of a specific narrative or an organic expression of the culture, I don’t know. It’s got to be a little bit of both. But if you’re staring at a people that have just had a horrid experience with imperial control, it’s really smart to make a centerpiece of your propaganda that we are a self-reliant people that doesn’t depend on anyone else.

How do they view South Koreans?

I think they view them as brothers who are being misled or oppressed by a sort of idiot government. Coming down from the Juche Tower in Pyongyang, I asked a man in his 30s if he thought he’d see reunification in his lifetime. And he said yes. I think he’s indicative of most North Koreans; they think reunification is inevitable. Obviously that doesn't accord with the facts at all. It seems so silly to us. But that has always been an essential part of the sell to the North Korean people.

How much is communist ideology a part of the North Korean national ideology, of juche? 

It’s not about trying to find some sense of solidarity with the rest of the global working class. It’s about a clean break between the North Korean people and everyone else. They actually eliminated the word communism from their constitution. They used to have statues of Lenin and Marx on their main square. Those have been recently removed. It’s been a gradual, concerted effort to eliminate any notion that some other country had anything to do with the philosophical ideology of the country and its ability to be independent in the first place.

It doesn’t do it justice to just talk about it as a communist state. It’s a unique fusion, but not in a silly way. It has earned the right to be taken seriously, and I only see people think of it as a nuclear-touting, bipolar, wantonly self destructive rogue state. 

I’d like the regime to disappear. I want North Korea to have freedom. But you can’t have a hope of achieving true reform if you don’t have a basic understanding of how the country operates.

How did you manage to get into the country?

Getting into North Korea is incredibly simple. There are tour companies. Go on Drop $1,300 on a flight. The tour group meets up with you. I brought a laptop and a camera. You’re allowed to film there.They don’t want you filming civilians or army personnel, but it’s not difficult to take covert shots of people.  

But they restrict your movements. You have a minder. 

Absolutely. For instance, they took us through the subway. We briefly chatted with some North Korean kids on their way to school. They seemed obviously afraid of us. You’re not supposed to film them. But if you just turn on the camera and close the viewfinder, you can take pictures. That’s how I got some of the shots inside the subway system. 

How do North Korea’s current provocations fit within its ideological playbook?  

I think this is just a regime that has already demonstrated being astonishingly adept at self-preservation. For decades, they’ve done a very good job of playing the international community to continue to accrue power and to continue to exist as a country. I think it’s incredibly unlikely they’d do things that are suicidal. I have zero fear of a missile strike from North Korea [on the United States]. That is all done for internal PR purposes. None of it indicates a genuine military strategy. The nuclear tests, breaking agreements, I don’t think that will have any influence on their behavior, and I don’t think it represents a genuine threat to the Western world.

Why did you decide to make a film in the first place? 

I knew that I wanted to learn how to make films, but I hated the idea of going to school and accruing debt. And they don’t teach you all the business aspects of film. I’d rather take two years, make a film myself, make a lot of mistakes, but come out of it with $1,000 in credit card debt and also a first hand experience of every single aspect of the filmmaking process.  

I’m a fellow at a non-profit called the Moving Picture Institute. They gave me about $10,000 to make this film. They also were a fiscal crowd sponsors for a crowd sourcing campaign and put me in touch with a lot of DC filmmakers.  

Posted at 12:08 PM/ET, 03/27/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
The next director of the elite law enforcement agency has to overcome the legacy of a sex scandal and earn back the trust of her agents. By Shane Harris

Julia Pierson will be the first woman to head the Secret Service in its 148-year history. Photograph via Secret Service.

President Obama has tapped a new director of the Secret Service. And she will be the first woman director in the 148-year history of the elite law enforcement agency. 

Julia Pierson has been with the Secret Service more than 30 years. She was a police officer in Orlando before she joined the agency, in 1983. She ran the Miami field office, which is one of the most prestigious. And she was most recently the chief of staff at headquarters in Washington. 

Pierson’s name had come up in conversations I had recently with Secret Service agents about who might replace Sullivan, but she didn’t seem to be the odds-on favorite. 

The appointment of a woman is historic. But it is also politically significant, coming one year after a major sex scandal, which I write about in the current issue of the magazine, that battered the agency’s public image and exposed a culture of male agents behaving badly.  

Revelations that Secret Service agents had hired prostitutes during a presidential trip to Cartagena, Colombia, shook the agency in two fundamental ways, and Pierson is going to have to address both of them. 

First, and most obviously, it was a political and public relations disaster. In an instant, the image of the stoic, suit-clad, shades-wearing agent—the vast majority of whom are men—was replaced with a carousing, drunken, unhinged party animal. We learned that the unofficial motto among married agents on foreign trips was “wheels up, rings off.” We heard about self-styled “rock stars without guitars” who were not above using their elite status to pick up women in bars. The 13 men implicated in Cartagena humiliated the agency and their ultimate boss, President Obama. Nine of them lost their jobs. 

But there was a second, harder-to-discern set of consequences to the Cartagena affair. For many agents, the bigger disgrace lay in how the Secret Service's leaders handled the misbehavior and the intense media and congressional scrutiny that followed. The agents in question were subjected to intense, some of them say improper, interrogations, which included polygraph exams, threats of losing their security clearances, and instructions not to cooperate with an independent investigation by the Homeland Security Department. When the agents' misdeeds became public, as the result of a press leak, senior officials insisted that the bad behavior was aberrant, and not part of a pattern of sexual indiscretion on trips. 

Mark Sullivan, then the agency’s director, did his best Capt. Renault; he was “shocked, shocked!” to find that his agents were hiring hookers when they should have been protecting the President. In testimony before Congress, Sullivan said, “I never one time had any supervisor or any other agent tell me that this type of behavior is condoned.” But that statement, and others from Sullivan’s lieutenants in the press, strained credulity. To believe that the Cartagena affair was unique, you’d also have to believe that this group of men—not all of whom knew one another—broke into separate groups and independently got the idea, for the first time ever, to go out looking for prostitutes in a foreign city. 

The fact is, such late-night outings aren’t all that unusual. Some of the men in Cartagena had hired hookers on the road before. At least one had had long-distance affairs with women he’d met in bars while traveling with two Presidents. And all of them could believe, based on prior experience, that while the Secret Service didn’t expressly condone womanizing and solicitation, it didn’t go out of its way to stamp out such behavior, either.

The agency’s leadership has  fallen in the eyes of many agents. They feel betrayed by the brass, whom they see as tossing lower-level employees under the bus in order to deflect attention from problems at the top. Sullivan was already on thin ice after the notorious Gate Crashers incident during a White House dinner. And some of his inner circle had had their own tawdry affairs. 

The last straw, for some I talked to, came when the Secret Service required all its employees to go through mandatory “ethics” training. These were courses held in the Washington area, at which attendees were lectured on the right and wrong way to behave on a trip. And it was made clear that one-night stands, as as well as longer-term extramarital affairs, were off limits. 

That message was especially tough to swallow coming from A.T. Smith, the deputy director of the Secret Service, who spoke at some of these training sessions. It is widely known among the agency’s ranks, and it was publicly reported more than a decade ago, that when Smith was in charge of First Lady Hillary Clinton’s security detail, he was having an affair with President Clinton’s cousin, who worked in the White House scheduling office, and whom he took to numerous White House social events. The Secret Service’s own training manuals specifically warned against adultery because it was a compromising relationship, one that put an agent at risk of extortion. For some agents, to hear Smith give a lecture on the danger’s of sexual indiscretion epitomized how out-of-touch, and arrogant, the Secret Service leadership had become. 

Any new director—regardless of gender—would have to address this residual animosity and attempt to heal the rift that was exposed, and aggravated, by the Cartagena scandal. It remains to be seen what kind of leader Pierson will be and how she’ll be received; she is, after all, part of senior management. And by no means should we assume that Pierson’s gender alone will give her any more credibility with agents. 

But putting a woman in charge sends an immediate signal that the Secret Service wants to change the image of a globe-trotting gaggle of man-boys. The White House surely wants this, too. And it would have been harder to pull it off had the President tapped a man to succeed Sullivan. Not impossible, but harder.

Stepping back from scandal, let’s also put this appointment in its historic perspective. The Secret Service is one of the country’s most powerful law enforcement agencies. Now that a woman is in charge, can we really expect to wait that long before a woman becomes director of the FBI? A woman is already in charge of another elite organization, the US Marshals Service

The tide is turning in the intelligence community and the military, as well. Two of the nation’s biggest intelligence agencies are now run by women, as is the Defense Department’s R&D organization. And with the integration of women into military combat positions, the day will come when we see a female chair of the joint chiefs of staff.   

Pierson has her work cut out for her. But her achievement must also be viewed through the lens of momentous change in the leadership and the culture of some of the country’s most important institutions.  

Posted at 05:00 PM/ET, 03/26/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()

Remember how cybersecurity legislation died in the last Congress in large part because businesses said new regulations would be too onerous and costly? We're about to have that debate again, but this time with a twist. 

As explained in this Bloomberg article, telecommunications companies, such as Verizon and AT&T--the companies that run the networks--are concerned that President Obama's new executive order on cybersecurity exempts commercial technology companies like Google, Microsoft, and Facebook--companies whose products exist on the network. 

The EO directs the Homeland Security Secretary to make a list of critical infrastructures, by sector, for which a "cybersecurity incident" could threaten public safety or national security. We're talking about cyber attackers taking down a power grid, or manipulating financial information in a major bank's databases. The kinds of attacks that would result in mass panic and potentially loss of life. 

But the order would appear not to include any software that controls those infrastructures, or technologies that are exploited by hackers to facilitate said attacks, as being critical infrastructures themselves, at least for the purposes of preventing a national-level cyber incident. The Secretary is instructed to "not identify any commercial information technology products or consumer information technology services" in drawing up the list. 

Securing an electrical grid from hackers would presumably mean defending all the vulnerabilities an intruder might exploit, whether at the network level or in an application. E-mail and social networking sites are well-known conduits for spear phishing and the implanting of malware inside corporate networks. And some would argue, as Verizon does, that e-mail itself is a requisite feature of modern life, the loss of which would impair the smooth functioning of society. (My friend Bill Powers might take issue with that.) 

So, why are these technologies preemptively "off the list" as the Secretary begins her review? The White House told Bloomberg that the goal of the order is to protect "systems and assets whose incapacitation from a cyber incident would have catastrophic national security and economic consequences. It is not about Netflix, Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat.” 

There we have a frame for the debate. Should cyber security be about protecting facilities, or regulating products and services? Can you do one without the other? 

It's no surprise that the likes of Verizon and AT&T, which have long, deep ties in the national security space, would make an early move on this. They've been down this road before and learned from history. Every time government officials talk about the need for new laws and rules to protect national security, the companies go into battle mode, and they fight hard. But usually their adversary is the government itself. This time, it might be Facebook and Microsoft. 

Posted at 04:14 PM/ET, 03/06/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
Does an agreement about targeted killing memos signal a new era in checks and balances? By Shane Harris

The Senate Intelligence Committee and the White House have reached an agreement that will give committee members access to all Justice Department legal memorandums on targeted killings of US citizens. One staff member for each senator will also, for the first time, get to see those memos. Until now, only the senators had access, and only to two memos. With the deal in place, the committee will move forward today, in closed session, with a vote on the nomination of John Brennan to be the next director of the CIA.  (Update: The panel moments ago approved Brennan by a 12-3 vote.) 

The senators have won the latest battle in the fight for transparency of intelligence operations, and the outcome was predictable. Brennan is the maestro of the administration's targeted killing regime, and he faced an easy path to confirmation if not for the the vociferous objections of some members, who demanded to know why the President thinks he can order the death of an American citizen. Now, the White House will tell them. 

The intelligence committee’s victory was partial; the White House still won’t release other memos about the targeted killings of terrorists who aren’t Americans. (Presumably that suits some members just fine.) But does this significant turn of events herald a more aggressive embrace of oversight by the members of the committee, which was established in the mid-1970s to investigate covert and illegal operations by the CIA? 

As of the moment, we might hazard a cautionary “yes.” 

Many intelligence authorities and historians agree that for the past two decades, the level of oversight and watchdogging by the Senate and its House counterpart has vacillated between anemic and non-existent. "The Senate of the United States and the House of the United States is not doing its job. And because you're not doing the job, the country is not as safe as it ought to be," former Rep. Lee Hamilton, a co-chair of the 9/11 Commission, scolded lawmakers in 2007. 

Between 1991 and 2001, the year of the 9/11 attacks, a dozen different bipartisan reports about reforming the intelligence community all proposed starting in the same place: Congress. Since their heyday, the intelligence committees have conducted fewer meaningful investigations of major intelligence programs and controversies, and they have often been distracted by partisan bickering and political sideshows. That made it easier for the CIA to get away with doing more outside the committees’ preview, and with telling members less about it. 

Was there ever a halcyon period of bipartisanship and transparency on the oversight committees? Yes, say intelligence historians, in the first few years after the committees were established. Emboldened by outrageous scandals, members embraced their role as watchdogs, and they believed the CIA should be held accountable, through them, to the American public. 

"The original focus was really on protecting the rights of Americans. It was on ensuring that intelligence activities were carried out in accordance with laws, regulations, and treaty obligations," Britt Snider, who served as counsel for the Church Committee in 1975 and 1976 and helped draft the Senate resolution that created that chamber's oversight panel, told me in an interview in 2009, when the committees were feuding with the CIA over its interrogation regime. 

The post-Church period saw a far more engaged oversight by members han the one described in an exchange between Sen. John Stennis, who in 1973 chaired the Armed Services Committee, and James Sclesinger, then the CIA Director. Scheslinger wanted to brief the chairman on an upcoming operation. Stennis replied, “Just go ahead and do it, but I don’t want to know!” 

The CIA was not consistently forthcoming about its work in the shadows--Director Bill Casey and Reagan White House officials deliberately hid details of the Iran-Contra affair from lawmakers. But lawmakers were brought in on some of the agency’s most sensitive and politically risky missions. And the overseers blessed them, if only with their silence. 

On March 8, 1984, Casey testified before the Senate committee that the CIA had put mines in Nicaraguan harbors. He told the House committee the same thing five days later. At the time, no one objected, verbally or otherwise. Indeed, for years the committees had been holding closed-door meetings on the CIA’s campaign to undermine Nicaragua’s leftist Sandinista government.    

But the lawmakers weren't always paying attention. About six weeks after Casey testified about mining operations in Nicaragua, the details showed up in the press. Angry Senators hauled Casey back before their committee and interrogated him over what the CIA was up to in Latin America. They questioned whether the CIA’s mining constituted an act of war under international law. 

Jake Garn, a Republican from Utah and a staunch defender of the agency, was incensed that his colleagues would wash their hands of a mission they had implicitly condoned, now that it had become public  He lept to Casey’s defense and declared, “"You're all assholes! The whole Congress is full of assholes! All 535 members are assholes!"

Today, intelligence overseers find themselves back on this tricky ground. The more they learn about the legal rationale for targeted killings, the greater the pressure on the them either to try to stop it it or to go along. No doubt the administration will exert strict controls over what lawmakers can say publicly about what they read. 

The deal over targeted killing won’t completely satisfy members who would like to turn the committee back into a stronger check on executive authority. Nor is it a guarantee of public transparency; this is the same body, after all, that refuses to declassify a 6,000-page report about the CIA’s use of brutal interrogations and is investigating filmmakers about how much access they were given to classified information. But the Senate committee is flexing its muscle, more strongly than in recent years and with a clearer purpose.  

Posted at 02:40 PM/ET, 03/05/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()

John Brennan's confirmation hearing for CIA Director has suddenly become a lot more consequential. 

In the past few days, we've gotten a window into Brennan's role in the Bush-era terrorist interrogation program--it looks more significant than previously reported--and now comes a leaked Justice Department "white paper" that describes the administration's rationale for why targeted killings of U.S. citizens, a program that Brennan has overseen, are legal.

The revelations in both documents seem obviously engineered to put Brennan in the hot seat about two controversial programs, one of which, targeted killings, some members of the Senate Intelligence Committee still believe they have insufficient information. So, now we know the likely frame for Thursday's confirmation hearing, and I presume that some significant debate will turn on the question of what constitutes an "imminent threat." 

The leaked Justice Department white paper arguably attempts to redefine what most people would consider the common sense definition of imminent threat--that is, an enemy is about to take up arms against you, or is preparing to attack you. Think bombers readying for takeoff, or a foreign nation basing missiles within range of the United States or its allies. 

But that's not the kind of imminence the administration is looking for when deciding whether to kill a U.S. citizen. Indeed, the white paper argues that it would have made no sense to wait for the 9/11 hijackers to board airplanes before moving with lethal, preemptive force against them, had that been an option. 

The paper argues that terrorist groups are always plotting, and that they would presumably strike if they had the opportunity. So if someone is a member of Al Qaeda, or an affiliate, he by definition poses a threat to America. But that doesn't mean said terrorist is poised to strike, and therefore, in a given moment, constitutes an imminent threat. Does it? 

Now we enter a gray area that this white paper is unable to clear up. 

"Imminence must incorporate considerations of the relevant window of opportunity, the possibility of reducing collateral damage to civilians, and the likelihood of heading off future disastrous attacks on Americans," the white paper states in a section that addresses the central issues. (The question of imminence comprises much of the 16-page document.) Nothing in that sentence tells you when a terrorist is judged to be an imminent threat. Rather, it describes the considerations government officials must make when determining whether to kill him now. Or, imminently. 

"Thus, a decision maker determining whether an al-Qa'ida operational leader presents an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States must take into account that certain members of [AQ] (including any potential target of lethal force) are continually plotting attacks against the United States; that [AQ] would engage in such attacks regularly  to the extent it were able to do so; that the U.S. government may not be aware of all [AQ] plots as they are developing and thus cannot be confident that none is about to occur; and that, in light of these predicates, the nation may have a limited window of opportunity within which to strike in a manner that both has a high likelihood of success and reduces the probability of American casualties." 

This paragraph could be summed up as "a list of reasons not to not kill a terrorist."  

The white paper attempts to give some more detail on the decision-making process for concluding that someone is, in fact, imminently threatening the United States. But it's thin.  

"A high-level official [the white paper never specifies that this must be the President] could conclude, for example, that an individual posts an 'imminent threat' of violent attack against the United States where he is an operational leader of [AQ] or an associated force and is personally and continually involved in planing terrorist attacks against the United States." 

Ok, we're getting somewhere. You're an operational leader of a terrorist cell, you're a very dangerous guy. 

"Moreover, where the [AQ] member in question has recently been involved in activities posing an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States, and there is no evidence suggesting that he has renounced or abandoned such activities, that member's involvement in [AQ's] continuing terrorist campaign against the United States would support the conclusion that the member poses an imminent threat." 

That seems a reasonable conclusion to draw, presuming that the evidence of previous activities is sound. I doubt anyone would argue that a terrorist who has attempted to kill Americans, but who has failed, won't try to do so again. 

But nothing in the white paper constitutes a check list of all the requirements or characteristics for becoming an imminent threat in the government's eyes. Does the high-level official rely on visual identification of a target from drone footage? Intercepted communications showing X degrees of separation to a known terrorist group? Human tips? Some combination of the above? Is two out of three enough?  

We're not likely to hear anything about these specifics, not in an open, unclassified hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee. And the white paper doesn't go there. 

"This paper does not attempt to determine the minimum requirements necessary to render" a lawful targeted killing, it states. So, this paper can be described as the legal rationale for targeted killing in theory, if not as practiced by the Obama administration today. This is not a new revelation. (Indeed, the white paper references some speeches on this subject by senior administration officials.) But the introduction of the white paper into the public domain creates many new dynamics, and not just for Brennan's upcoming confirmation hearing. 

One last point that may have implications beyond the realm of counterterrorism. Does the administration think its legal rationale for targeted killings is flexible enough to be applied to non-terrorist threats to national security? Could it justify, say, killing a member of a hacker collective whom the government believes is trying to take down a power grid with a cyber attack?  

The white paper "does not assess what might be required to render a lethal operation against a U.S. citizen lawful in other circumstances," it states. So, the paper doesn't say the rationale could not be used against hackers. It just doesn't assess the question at all. If the potential breadth of the rationale does come up at Brennan's hearing, we'll be in the land of "hypotheticals," and in Washington, those are always easy to dodge. 

Posted at 11:21 AM/ET, 02/05/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()

Book reviews, roundups of current titles, and interviews with authors are going to be a regular fixture on Dead Drop. But I also want to alert readers to books you are going to be seeing on shelves in the future, maybe in a few months, or even a few years. 

Today I'm launching a regular feature, spotlighting interesting national security-themed titles on the horizon. There's some reader service here, in that I hope this helps you better curate your probably long reading list. But there's also a bit of intelligence gathering. Publishers routinely announce deals they have just signed with authors, and those deals give you a ground-level insight into what ideas are selling in the book business, what stories are hot, and what topics publishers are betting are so salient that you'll want to read about them a few years from now, which is about how long it will take books that are now being written to get to market. 

So, here are some upcoming reads that might interest Dead Drop readers. Keep in mind that book titles and publishing dates are often tentative. 

The Man Who Was George Smiley, by Michael Jango (Biteback Publishing) 

A biography of the author and MI5 officer John Bingham, the 7th Baron Clanmorris, who was the real-life inspiration for John Le Carre's fictional spymaster. 

Pub date: February 2013 

Lone Wolf Terrorism: Understanding the Growing Threat, by Jeffrey D. Simon (Prometheus Books) 

Simon, who has more than a quarter century of experience studying terrorism, examines the motivations and backgrounds of those who strike terror on their own, independent of an organized group. 

Pub date: February 2013

The Deep State: Inside the Government Secrecy Industry, by Marc Ambinder and D.B. Grady (Wiley) 

Two close observers of the national security apparatus investigate how the government keeps secrets, and why "real secrets can't be kept, trivial ones are held forever, and sensitive ones are far too susceptible to political manipulation." 

Pub date: April 2013

The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth, by Mark Mazzetti (The Penguin Press) 

The New York Times reporter draws from his beat to write about the evolution of the CIA and U.S. special forces into "competing covert manhunting and killing operations." 

Pub date: April 2013

Wilson, by A. Scott Berg (Putnam) 

The long-awaited biography of Woodrow Wilson from the author of many books on larger-than-life Americans, including Katharine Hepburn and Charles Lindbergh. Berg also wrote a definitive biography of Maxwell Perkins, the legendary editor of Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. 

Pub date: September 2013 

Brothers Forever, by Tom Sileo and Col. Thomas Manion (Da Capo Press) 

Sileo, a military writer, and Manion, a retired Marine colonel, tell the story of his Marine son, Travis Manion, and his Naval Academy roommate, Navy SEAL Brendan Looney. The two men are now* buried next to each other in Arlington National Cemetery. President Obama spoke about them during Memorial Day remarks in 2011. 

Pub date: Spring 2014 

*This post has been updated from a previous version. 

Posted at 09:40 AM/ET, 01/29/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
Primary schedule and campaigning on social issues will doom party to failure, says former Navy secretary. By Shane Harris

Mitt Romney's ex-foreign policy and defense adviser has some sober reflections on the Republican presidential candidate's failed campaign. 

"We were beaten soundly," former Navy Secretary John Lehman says in a recent letter to campaign supporters (see below), obtained by Dead Drop. "They had a far better ground game, much more effective technology, data-mining, registration and volunteer organization," Lehman writes. "The young brightest geeks from Silicon Valley were helping the Democrats effort, and it showed." 

Lehman, who served as Navy Secretary under President Reagan and was a member of the 9/11 Commission, also argued that the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC "helped the Democrats far more than the Republicans." It allowed the Democrats to "mask how much money they were really taking in" and make the argument that wealthy Republicans were outspending their political rivals. "It seems that in fact there are really more very rich Democrats than Republicans," says Lehman, an investment banker and founder of a private equity firm. 

Lehman also says that despite the GOP's "large field of very attractive candidates" for the 2016 election, they have no chance of winning "if they are forced to run on a platform built on social issues like abortion, gay marriage and closing the borders. The Republican Party could go the way of the Whigs." 

Lehman's comments, while focused mostly on domestic matters, echo the sentiments of another GOP foreign policy luminary. In an interview with The Cable, former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft said the GOP establishment had moved away from foreign policy realists, such as Scowcroft and former Sen. Chuck Hagel, President Obama's nominee for Defense Secretary. 

Lehman's apparently hand-signed letter was written on January 9, two days after Obama nominated Hagel. 

I wrote to Lehman this evening asking for further comment. If I hear from him, I'll post an update. 

Posted at 10:37 PM/ET, 01/18/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
Is Obama's nominee for Defense Secretary an imperious boss and abuser of his staff? Or does he just run a tight ship? By Shane Harris

Republican Sen. Bob Corker (TN) questions whether his former colleague Chuck Hagel has right stuff to run the Defense Department. Speaking on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday, Corker raised concerns about Hagel's "overall temperament " and asked whether "he is suited to run a department or a big agency or a big entity like the Pentagon." Then Corker implied he wasn't the only one with such concerns. 

"I think there are numbers of staffers who are coming forth now just asking about the way he has dealt with them," Corker said, without elaborating on who said staffers might be. 

These complaints are nothing new. 

Back in August 2003, when Hagel was eyeing a 2008 presidential run, The Washingtonian reported that the senator was "getting subordinates to address him as if he's already the commander-in-chief." 

"Insiders say that the ambitious Nebraska Republican wants interns and staffers to stand when he enters the room. And when they engage him in conversation, they are to end sentences with 'sir' or 'Senator' just to make sure everyone knows who's in charge." 

But one staffer refuted this assertion. "I was never told to 'stand when he enters a room' or 'end sentences with "Sir"or "Senator"'--which you claim are office policy," Megan Blackburn wrote in a letter to the editor. At the time, Blackburn said, she'd been a personal assistant to Hagel for two years, after working as an intern in his office. "I was given instructions never to lie and always to remember that we work for the citizens and taxpayers of Nebraska," she said. 

But in 2008, another former Senate staffer wrote in to say we should have added Hagel to our "Best & Worst of Congress" poll under "meanest." 

"His staff lives in fear of him," the staffer claimed. (Barbara Mikulski nabbed that ignominious distinction that year.) 

Ok, maybe Hagel runs a formal office, insisting that staff not address him by his first name. But the reports of his imperiousness and staff abuse are "baloney," says Steve Clemons of The Atlantic and the New America Foundation, who has been an outspoken supporter of Hagel. "I was in and out of his office for years. It ran, as many offices do, with a sense of formality," Clemons tells me. "But I never heard of abuse or anything other than the fact that he demanded excellent performance because he viewed that office as consequential to the policy life of the country." 

These are some diametric views of the former senator. Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in the middle. No one's ever accused Hagel of being the warm and fuzzy type. But until people come forward with more specific allegations than "he's a meany sometimes," or can point out how Hagel's demeanor affected his decision-making, these broad complaints aren't likely to impede Hagel's confirmation. 

Not that he doesn't have other problems

Posted at 11:25 AM/ET, 01/14/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()