How the CIA Forgot the Art of Spying

Alex Finley: “Over the past 15 years, this ‘global war on terror’ mindset has become the default at the CIA. After accusations that it was stuck in the Cold War, the agency began to trade concealment devices and human sources for military hardware. Under a directive from President George W. Bush, it expanded its ranks to fight terror. It bulked up its abilities to track and target a dispersed enemy fighting an asymmetrical war. Gone were the days, it seemed, of risky brush passes in a heart-pounding, adrenaline-filled four-second period when an officer was “black”—meaning free, just for a moment, from hostile surveillance and able to pass a message to an asset. The Cold War was over; we had a new enemy to defeat.”

“The CIA finds itself in a tough spot. Having remade itself for the 21st century, it still has the 20th century tugging at its sleeve. Will the agency be able to keep tabs on Russia’s plans? Will it be able to persuade people to provide information that would put their lives at risk? Will it be able to entice those sources without anyone—particularly Russia—knowing? Although the agency has been slow to adjust to new realities in the past, its officers certainly recognize how high the stakes are now. The pivot back toward traditional espionage will be a shock to the system, but a necessary one if the United States wants to gauge Russia’s true intentions. Putin brought his empire roaring back. I hope the CIA will prove it can do even better.”

Why American Universities Need Immigrants

Jonathan R. Cole: “…the willingness to assimilate foreigners into American society has been part of the nation’s strength—a productive force that has added vitality to a maturing culture. The same has been true of U.S. universities’ attitudes toward foreign faculty and students with talent. Now, with President Trump’s actions that stigmatize those who are foreign-born and limit immigration, in addition to his promise to deport millions of undocumented immigrants, universities and the nation are under threat. The history of the past 75 years suggests how important the contributions of immigrant scholars and students have been to the vitality of America’s universities.”

“…recent statistics on America’s success at conducting Nobel-quality research suggest that the contribution of immigrants to domestic universities is still very much alive. In 2016, six Americans won prizes in physics, chemistry, and economics. Each of these winners was an immigrant.”

Environmental Hazards Kill 1.7 Million Kids Under Age 5 Each Year

“According to two new World Health Organization reports, about 1.7 million children under the age of 5 die each year because of environmental hazards. It’s the first such estimate of the child death toll from environmental causes,” Angus Chen reports for NPR.

“‘That terrible figure’ makes up about a quarter of child deaths under 5, says Dr. Maria Neira, WHO’s public health and environment department director and lead author on the reports. In addition, children can experience mental and physical developmental disorders and an increased lifelong risk for certain diseases because of exposure to pollutants.”

“These deaths are also preventable, Neira says. Policies and regulations that improve housing, sanitation, clean water and emissions often result in large benefits to children’s health, she says.”

The Largest Association of US Doctors Says Trump’s Health Care Plan Will Weaken Our Defense Against Disease Outbreak

Quartz: “The American Medical Association, the largest group of physicians in the US, sent a letter to Republicans in the House of Representatives, warning them against eliminating a key fund that’s used to prevent outbreaks in America.”

“The Republican bill to repeal and replace Obamacare will not only make health insurance more expensive for millions of Americans, it will also cut the Public Health and Prevention Fund. That means taking a 12% bite out of the US Centers for Disease Control’s budget—the part dedicated to preventing disease outbreaks and a host of other health calamities, like childhood lead poisoning.”

The Massive Tax Cuts for the Rich Inside the GOP Health-Care Plan

Washington Post: “Just two provisions in the Republican plan would allow the richest households to pay an average of nearly $200,000 less under the GOP plan, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.”

“One is 0.9 percent on taxpayers earning more than $200,000 in wages and salaries a year, or $250,000 for married couples. Those households must also pay a surcharge of 3.8 percent on income from several kinds of investments. Together, these taxes are projected to raise $346 billion over the next decade, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.”

“At the same time, working- and middle-class households would no longer receive the same financial assistance that Democrats established to help them buy health insurance.”

Solar Power Growth Leaps by 50% Worldwide Thanks to US and China

The Guardian: “The amount of solar power added worldwide soared by some 50% last year because of a sun rush in the US and China, new figures show.”

“New solar photovoltaic capacity installed in 2016 reached more than 76 gigawatts, a dramatic increase on the 50GW installed the year before. China and the US led the surge, with both countries almost doubling the amount of solar they added in 2015, according to data compiled by Europe’s solar power trade body.”

“Solar is still a relative minnow in the electricity mix of most countries, the figures show. Even where the technology has been embraced most enthusiastically, such as in Europe, solar on average provides 4% of electricity demand.”

Newsrooms Are Making Leaking Easier–and More Secure–Than Ever

Charles Berret: “A growing number of disaffected government insiders have been approaching journalists to share information anonymously since the election in November and the inauguration just over a month ago. In response, news organizations have made it safer and easier for potential whistleblowers by actively encouraging them to use a variety of secure communication channels.”

“But even as more news outlets promote secure channels for outreach from potential sources, it is still incredibly rare for these tools to be mentioned in published stories… The demand for secure communication tools has only risen since Trump’s election. The Times launched SecureDrop just a week after the election, while downloads of the Signal app rose 400 percent during the month of November. There are currently 22 active SecureDrop installations in newsrooms—nearly twice as many as there were just a year ago. A handful of freelance journalists and about a dozen non-profit groups also use SecureDrop.”

“If Trump does plan to wage an information war against the swelling ranks of motivated whistleblowers, he should know that he would also be waging war against modern cryptography—and the odds are never good when you bet against mathematics itself. Secure whistleblowing tools have come of age.”

Here’s How the Travel Ban Could Affect Your Health

“Here is an interesting detail about Trump’s new executive order on immigration: Thousands of America’s doctors hail from the six affected countries,” AJ Willingham writes for CNN.

“According to the Immigrant Doctors Project, headed by researchers from Harvard and MIT, more than 7,000 physicians in the US were trained in a country blacklisted under the new immigration order.”

“Cities and states in the Midwest have a high concentration of doctors whose backgrounds mean they would be affected by the new travel ban. Again, it’s not just about the doctors themselves — it’s also about the patients they treat. Other than California and New York, which top the list by population density and diversity alone, the states that rely most on physicians trained in travel ban countries are Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Florida.”

The Astounding Political Divide Over What It Means to Be ‘American’

Chris Cillizza: “What the numbers suggest is that not only are Democrats and Republicans living in two different countries — socially, culturally and politically — but they also don’t even agree on what the country should, at its center, be. Partisanship now extends not just to whom you vote for and why but also what you think the United States is and should be.”

“What’s both fascinating and deeply problematic — from a political perspective — is that neither side has enough people to declare victory over the other.”

Why Are So Many American Men Not Working?

Brookings Institution: “Despite recent gains in employment rates across the country, one in seven, (or 15 percent) of American men between the ages of 25 and 54 currently aren’t working—and this number has been on the rise for decades. This troubling trend has led to wasted human potential, more people collecting government benefits, and fewer people paying taxes, all of which are harmful to the economy as a whole.”

“But why is this happening? In a new video, David Wessel, Director of the Hutchins Center on Fiscal and Monetary Policy at Brookings, provides a few possible explanations:”

Fearing U.S. Withdrawal, Europe Considers Its Own Nuclear Deterrent

Max Fisher: “An idea, once unthinkable, is gaining attention in European policy circles: a European Union nuclear weapons program.”

“Under such a plan, France’s arsenal would be repurposed to protect the rest of Europe and would be put under a common European command, funding plan, defense doctrine, or some combination of the three. It would be enacted only if the Continent could no longer count on American protection.”

“In practical terms, the plan would change the flag on Europe’s nuclear deterrent from that of the United States to that of France. But this would risk making an American exit from Europe more permanent.”