May 18, 2011

Midweek Reading

1. Jane Mayer's lengthy article in the New Yorker on the National Security Agency should be required reading within defense policy circles because it raises so many good questions about domestic spying, classification, and how we prosecute leakers. I like Mayer's reporting a lot, as I've made clear in the past, so I'll only pause to take issue with one thing in her article: I have a tough time having any degree of sympathy for those who leak classified information -- even when that information exposes a problem in or abuses of the system. And I think Mayer intends for us to pity her protagonist, who is being prosecuted for feeding information to a reporter for the Baltimore Sun. (The protagonist claims none of the information he leaked was classified, though it was cut-and-pasted from SECRET documents.) I found myself nodding along with the guy who told Mayer, "To his credit, he tried to raise these issues, and, to an extent, they were dealt with. But who died and left him in charge?" Exactly right: the system breaks down when every Tom, Dick, Harry and Jane gets to decide what gets released to the media and what does not. Unsurprisingly, journalists have a more sympathetic view toward those people who feed them scoops than do those whose jobs and lives are made harder by their colleagues leaking information.

2. Egypt: Why Are the Churches Burning? by Yasmine El-Rashidi in the New York Review of Books.

3. Kim Dozier on the Osama bin Laden raid. Kim is much admired within the special operations community, and her excellent sources and contacts inform this great article, which incorporates inside information (and leaks) without compromising OPSEC ...

4. ... but John Kenney gets the real scoop on the raid, interviewing several SEALs and printing their testimonies.

5. Confessions of a Vulcan: Dov Zakheim explains how the Bush Administration screwed up Afghanistan.

6. Finally, the Modern Library has re-issued Shelby Foote's Civil War Trilogy
with a series of introductory essays. The first essay, by Jon Meacham, correctly places Foote within a very specific social and literary context in central Mississippi in the early 20th Century and notes the influence of the salon of William Alexander Percy. My scarily erudite paternal grandfather, actually, grew up in the exact same time and place, and it was a crazy one: on the one hand, it was in some ways a Third World country, yet on the other hand, it managed to produce a ridiculously disproportionate number of the Twentieth Century's men of letters. (And women, of course, because you can't forget Eudora!) Having only read the section on the Gettysburg Campaign previously, I started the first volume of the series last night and had trouble putting it down.