Military & Security

U.S. Military Has Special Forces in 81 Countries

Wall Street Journal: “These days, the sun never sets on America’s special-operations forces. Over the past year, they have landed in 81 countries, most of them training local commandos to fight so American troops don’t have to. From Honduras to Mongolia, Estonia to Djibouti, U.S. special operators teach local soldiers diplomatic skills to shield their countries against extremist ideologies, as well as combat skills to fight militants who break through.”

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“President Barack Obama, as part of his plan to shrink U.S. reliance on traditional warfare, has promised to piece together a web of such alliances from South Asia to the Sahel. Faced with mobile enemies working independently of foreign governments, the U.S. military has scattered small, nimble teams in many places, rather than just maintaining large forces in a few.”

Declassified Report Questions Value of Warrantless Wiretaps

The New York Times has a newly declassified report from the inspectors general of the CIA, NSA, Justice Department, Defense Department, and Director of National Intelligence finding that the “secrecy surrounding the National Security Agency’s post-9/11 warrantless surveillance and bulk data collection program hampered its effectiveness, and many members of the intelligence community later struggled to identify any specific terrorist attacks it thwarted.

“The document is a lengthy report on a once secret N.S.A. program code-named Stellarwind… The report amounts to a detailed history of the program. While significant parts remain classified, it includes some new information. For example, it explains how the Bush administration came to tell the chief judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court at the time of the Sept. 11 attacks, Royce C. Lamberth, about the program’s existence in early 2002.”

“The report said that the secrecy surrounding the program made it less useful. Very few working-level C.I.A. analysts were told about it. After the warrantless wiretapping part became public, Congress legalized it in 2007; the report said this should have happened earlier to remove ‘the substantial restrictions placed on F.B.I. agents’ and analysts’ access to and use of program-derived information due to the highly classified status’ of Stellarwind.”

NSA Struggles to Retain Top Cyber Talent

“The National Security Agency is probably among the best-equipped parts of the federal government at recruiting, training and staffing an elite team of cybersecurity professionals… But even that’s not enough to stop some top-level technical talent from jumping ship,” according to Defense One.

“It stings all the more as most depart after they’ve undergone extensive, specialized NSA training… According to the report, 2014 marked the second year in a row in which the number of civilian federal cyber employees streaming for the exits outpaced the number of new hires.”

“Government’s ability to shell out the big bucks is no doubt part of the reason for the attrition, at least at NSA.”

Which States Have the Least Stringent Gun Laws?

Vox: “Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback last week approved a law that will eliminate license and training requirements for carrying a concealed firearm starting on July 1, the Associated Press reported.”

“The law makes Kansas the fifth state — along with Alaska, Arizona, Vermont, and Wyoming — to fully allow residents to carry a concealed gun without a license within its borders, according to the National Rifle Association. Montana and Arkansas allow concealed carry without a license, although not everywhere, the NRA told the AP.”

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Study Finds No Link Between Deployment and Suicide

“The largest study to date of a rising suicide rate among military personnel…found no connection between suicide and deployment overseas in support of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” the New York Times reports.

“The prevalence of suicide was not even across branches. The Army and Marine Corps, which bore the brunt of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, had rates about 25 percent higher than those of the Air Force and Navy. But within those branches, rates between those who deployed and those who did not were nearly the same.”

“The study found that the suicide rate for troops who left the military before completing a four-year enlistment was nearly twice that of troops who stayed. The rate for troops who were involuntarily discharged under less-than-honorable conditions for disciplinary infractions was nearly three times higher. Troops given these so-called bad paper discharges are often not eligible for Department of Veterans Affairs medical care and other benefits.”

Should We Keep Spending on Nuclear Weapons?

Tom Collina and Will Saetren: “Rather than play the partisan game of ‘who is tougher on defense,’ Congress needs to help Pentagon leaders do what they seem incapable of doing for themselves: setting realistic priorities and reducing unnecessary spending, such as rebuilding an oversized nuclear arsenal.Given that nuclear weapons play essentially no role in responding to the primary threats to the United States — such as terrorism and proliferation — we can safely reduce investments in this area.”

“As the GOP fights an internal political battle with budget gimmicks, the Pentagon is building real hardware it does not need, choking off needed investments in conventional weapons that we might actually use. There is no justification for increased spending on nuclear weapons, which do not address the highest priority threats we face. By allowing scarce resources to flow where they are needed most, the SANE Act will enhance US national security.”

Do Liberal Cities Have the Most Racially Diverse Police Forces?

Washington Post: As shown below, “racial diversity is not found exclusively in the police forces of America’s most liberal cities.  The graph plots the unrepresentativeness of each city’s police force against the political views of city residents. The smoothed green line traces the relationship between these two variables. (Only cities for which data on both measures were available are included in the figure.) While very liberal cities such as San Francisco, Seattle and Washington have police forces that look like their populations, the same is true for conservative cities like Colorado Springs, Jacksonville and Virginia Beach. If anything, it is cities in the middle of the political spectrum that are most likely to have a police diversity problem: those with the most unrepresentative police forces have relatively moderate residents. ”

“In sum, among America’s big urban areas, liberal cities are no more likely to have diverse police forces than conservative cities. Why might this be the case? One possibility may be the varying degree across cities to which police unions are powerful … The most likely explanation, however, is that until recently police diversity was not high on the agenda in many cities.”

Top Global Hot Spots to Watch

The Atlantic: “Foreign policy often involves making difficult and debatable choices about which parts of the world matter more to a given country—and which, by extension, matter less. It’s about defining national interests and determining where those interests are most evident and endangered. This is why the United States has done far more to stop ISIS in Syria and Iraq than, say, sectarian war in the Central African Republic.”

“In short, it’s about priorities. And according to a new survey of U.S. foreign-policy experts and practitioners, those priorities could look a lot like the map above in 2015, at least from America’s point of view. The map sorts potential conflicts around the world into three tiers of risk: red for high-priority threats, orange for moderate-priority threats, and yellow for low-priority threats. According to Paul Stares, the report’s lead author, it’s a color-coded snapshot of “where the balance of U.S. attention and resources should be devoted” in the coming year. As such, it’s also a guide to the places and conflicts that are likely to receive relatively little attention from America’s national-security apparatus in the months ahead.”

Nearly $3 Trillion Spent on Two Wars

“The Afghanistan war, the longest overseas conflict in American history, has cost the US taxpayer nearly $1tn and will require spending several hundred billion dollars more after it officially ends this month,” according to Financial Times calculations and independent researchers.

“Around 80 per cent of that spending on the Afghanistan conflict has taken place during the presidency of Barack Obama, who sharply increased the US military presence in the country after taking office in 2009. The enormous bill for the 13-year conflict, which has never been detailed by the government, will add to the pervasive scepticism about the war in the US, where opinion polls show a majority of Americans believe it was a bad idea.”

“With the Iraq war having already cost the US $1.7tn, according to one study, the bill from the Afghanistan conflict is an important factor in the broader reluctance among the American public and the Obama administration to intervene militarily in other parts of the world — including sending troops back to Iraq.”