The U.S. armed forces dominates the land, air, and sea. But it also must dominate the electromagnetic spectrum by jamming and counterjamming communications to remain effective on the battlefield:
It is well known that America’s military dominates both the air and the sea. What’s less celebrated is that the US has also dominated the spectrum, a feat that is just as critical to the success of operations. Communications, navigation, battlefield logistics, precision munitions—all of these depend on complete and unfettered access to the spectrum, territory that must be vigilantly defended from enemy combatants. Having command of electromagnetic waves allows US forces to operate drones from a hemisphere away, guide cruise missiles inland from the sea, and alert patrols to danger on the road ahead. Just as important, blocking enemies from using the spectrum is critical to hindering their ability to cause mayhem, from detonating roadside bombs to organizing ambushes. As tablet computers and semiautonomous robots proliferate on battlefields in the years to come, spectrum dominance will only become more critical. Without clear and reliable access to the electromagnetic realm, many of America’s most effective weapons simply won’t work.
PUBLISHED: Feb. 18, 2014
LENGTH: 19 minutes (4955 words)
Historians are uncovering gaps in the National Archives and analyzing data to find scores of classified documents that should have already been declassified and released to the public:
Krasner, who earned a PhD in mathematics at Columbia, is among a half dozen computer scientists, mathematicians, and statisticians now working with Connelly on a multimedia research project they call the Declassification Engine. For the past year, this team has been gathering up large numbers of federal documents and creating analytic tools to detect anomalies in the collections. Several of the tools are on the project’s website and available for anyone to use. The one Krasner is developing is intended to find evidentiary traces of important historical episodes — a diplomatic crisis, say, or preparations for a military strike — that scholars until now have failed to notice. The Columbia researchers suspect that by spotting something as subtle as an uptick in a diplomat’s telephone activity they may be able to reveal the existence of historical episodes that the US government has largely suppressed from the public record.
“If you can make out something happening in the shadows, then we can ask: does it seem curious that little information about this event is available in the public record?” says David Allen, a PhD candidate in history at Columbia who is working on the project.
PUBLISHED: Feb. 1, 2014
LENGTH: 21 minutes (5319 words)
Written in the frenzied, emotional days after 9/11, the Authorization for the Use of Military Force was intended to give President Bush the ability to retaliate against whoever orchestrated the attacks. But more than 12 years later, this sentence remains the primary legal justification for nearly every covert operation around the world.
Unbound by time and unlimited by geography, the sentence has been stretched and expanded over the past decade, sprouting new meanings and interpretations as two successive administrations have each attempted to keep pace with an evolving threat while simultaneously maintaining the security of the homeland. In the process, what was initially thought to authorize force against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan has now been used to justify operations in several countries across multiple continents and, at least theoretically, could allow the president — any president — to strike anywhere at anytime. What was written in a few days of fear has now come to govern years of action.
PUBLISHED: Jan. 17, 2014
LENGTH: 43 minutes (10806 words)
Joe Hagan stumbles onto old fan mail sent to 1970s country-R&B star Charlie Rich. The fans share their most intimate secrets with a musician who had his own troubled life:
I felt drawn to Charlie Rich. For me, he was part of the landscape of family road trips in the late 1970s, lonely days driving with my parents in a VW van through the muggy Southeast in summer, across Louisiana and Alabama, up to the Carolinas and Virginia, as my father, a Coast Guard officer, moved me and my sisters from one military station to another. In memory, the sun sets in a Polaroid-orange glow over an Interstate horizon as the opening piano rolls of “Behind Closed Doors” come through the radio. Years later, Charlie Rich’s voice seemed to plumb some blue depth in me, a subterranean loneliness. But he was long dead by then and, unlike Tara, I was in thrall to a forgotten singer, left to chase a ghost: Charlie Rich, the tragic soul man whose legacy was largely forgotten after his brief period of fame. He was a major American artist whose life had traced the history of rock & roll, r&b, and soul; the definitive missing link between Elvis Presley and Ray Charles.
PUBLISHED: Jan. 8, 2014
LENGTH: 32 minutes (8114 words)
In the fall of 2011, Army Captain Stephen Hill was booed by audience members at a Republican presidential debate for coming forward as a gay soldier and asking the candidates if they would reinstate "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." The story of what led Hill to that moment:
He learns that Google and YouTube are hosting a nationally televised debate in Orlando, Fla., for the nine Republican presidential candidates. They are accepting questions.
He closes his door. He strips his name and rank from his uniform. He hides his face. He would like to disguise his voice, but he doesn't have the technology.
I am a gay soldier, and I am currently serving in Iraq, he says to the camera. The repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' is going to be taking place in six days. Then it will be legal to say, 'I'm gay, and I'm here.' I wanted to know what the rights of gay people will be under a presidency of one of you, and if you'll try to repeal any progress that's been made for gay people in the military.
He sends it in and waits.
PUBLISHED: Dec. 29, 2013
LENGTH: 12 minutes (3195 words)
A political history of Donald Rumsfeld, from the Nixon years to a war in Iraq that he promised would be over in months:
Rumsfeld would offer the “creative” plan for the Iraq invasion that his president had requested that tearful evening in September 2001, one that envisioned a relative handful of troops—150,000, fewer than half the number the elder Bush had assembled a decade before for the much less ambitious Desert Storm—and foresaw an invasion that would begin in shock and awe and an overwhelming rush to Baghdad. As for the occupation—well, if democracy were to come to Iraq it would be the Iraqis themselves who must build it. There would be no occupation, and thus no planning for it. Rumsfeld’s troops would be in and out in four months. As he told a then adoring press corps, “I don’t do quagmires.”
It did not turn out that way. Having watched from the Oval Office in 1975 the last torturous hours of the United States extracting itself from Vietnam—the helicopters fleeing the roof of the US embassy in Saigon—Rumsfeld would be condemned to thrash about in his self-made quagmire for almost four years, sinking ever deeper in the muck as nearly five thousand Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis died. He was smart, brash, ambitious, experienced, skeptical of received wisdom, jealous of civilian control, self-searching, analytical, domineering, and he aimed at nothing less than to transform the American military. The parallels with McNamara are stunning.
PUBLISHED: Nov. 27, 2013
LENGTH: 20 minutes (5011 words)
The story of Charles Manson, from Jeff Guinn’s new book Manson:
Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson is a cradle-to-grave treatment, though the graves belong to other people. The subject remains in California, an inmate at Corcoran State Prison, where he issues statements his followers disseminate via the website of his Air Trees Water Animals organisation. A recent example: ‘We have two worlds that have been conquested by the military of the revolution. The revolution belongs to George Washington, the Russians, the Chinese. But before that, there is Manson. I have 17 years before China. I can’t explain that to where you can understand it.’ Neither can I. Guinn explains a lot in his usefully linear book. The standard Manson text, Helter Skelter, the 1974 bestseller by his prosecutor, Vincent Bugliosi, and true-crime writer Curt Gentry, is a police and courtroom procedural, with no shortage of first-person heroics (‘During my cross-examination of these witnesses, I scored a number of significant points’); the first corpse is discovered on page six. No one is murdered in Guinn’s book until page 232. He brings a logic of cause and effect to the madness.
PUBLISHED: Nov. 8, 2013
LENGTH: 18 minutes (4620 words)
"In reality, war isn’t much foggier than peace." Why "war reporting" often fails to shed proper light on what's really happening:
"It wasn’t that reporters were factually incorrect in their descriptions of what they had seen. But the very term ‘war reporter’, though not often used by journalists themselves, helps explain what went wrong. Leaving aside its macho overtones, it gives the misleading impression that war can be adequately described by focusing on military combat. But irregular or guerrilla wars are always intensely political, and none more so than the strange stop-go conflicts that followed from 9/11. This doesn’t mean that what happened on the battlefield was insignificant, but that it requires interpretation."
PUBLISHED: Oct. 2, 2013
LENGTH: 14 minutes (3658 words)
A visit to the Sierra Blanca checkpoint in Texas that has busted Willie Nelson, Snoop Lion, Fiona Apple, Nelly, Armie Hammer and many other travelers passing through with pot in their cars:
"Meanwhile, my fingerprints were recorded on an inkless electronic touch pad such as I’d never seen on a television cop show, and my picture was taken with one of those egg-shaped digital cameras that nobody would use but a government agency with no interest in flattering you. Then I sat there in handcuffs for hours while my prints and mug shot were circulated to cop databases around the nation. This is a worrisome process for anyone. Who among us can ever be sure we haven’t pissed off a government computer somewhere?
"The rationale for all this effort was later explained to me by Carry Huffman, the deputy chief patrol agent of the Big Bend sector. “Every pothead isn’t a bad guy,” he said. “But every bad guy is a pothead.” By detaining people for a couple of joints, the Border Patrol, which since 2003 has been part of the Department of Homeland Security, is able to investigate everything about them, and this can occasionally lead to catching some genuinely bad guys. Car thieves and fugitives and completely clueless big-time smugglers—not to mention terrorists—all can be snared in the follow-up to the canine alarm. Of course, that happens only rarely; nationally, the Border Patrol has caught just one so-called terrorist, a University of Houston student practicing paramilitary operations in the Big Bend. But it’s not backing off."
PUBLISHED: July 30, 2013
LENGTH: 13 minutes (3383 words)