Author Archives: Scott

The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-Qaeda

[Book Review] Leaves the reader angry, frustrated, and fed up. Not however, because the book is bad, precisely because it is so clear, detailed, and powerful, making the best case I’ve seen yet for why torture doesn’t work and the U.S. shouldn’t be doing it.

The book was written by Ali Soufan, one of the FBI’s former top Arabic interrogators, one seemingly involved in every investigation from the East African embassy bombings and the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen, to 9/11, Gitmo, and beyond. As the book progresses, you can feel the steady increase in the author’s frustration and tension with the bureaucratic, DC way of doing things, including torture, versus being allowed to use his experience, training, linguistic, and cultural knowledge. In the end, completely frustrated and only days after being referred to as, “the future of the FBI,” by the FBI director, the author resigned and left the government.



While the DC bureaucracy in general comes out looking pretty bad, between the author’s reporting and the CIA-mandated redactions (left in the book as black lines through sentence after sentence, page after page of text, including through publicly available Congressional testimony), the CIA comes out looking like bumbling, arrogant, bureaucratic assholes (admittedly, not that hard, but still). State, at least in Yemen, doesn’t come out looking too good either, but the main beating is laid on Langley.

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FP Magazine: The Black Hole of North Korea

Great article (subtitled: What economists can’t tell you about the most isolated country on Earth) on the North Korean economy by Marcus Noland.

Restaurant in North Korea

While the best quote comes at the end of the article (“Former U.S. Vice President Walter Mondale once counseled me that anyone who claims to be an expert on the North is a liar or a fool.”), the piece is an excellent reminder on the scarcity of accurate data coming out of the North. Take a look if you have time – a 10-minute read.

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Riding Amtrak Cross-country

[hang2column element=”div” width=”435″][/hang2column] Great story in last Saturday’s Washington Post on riding Amtrak from DC to San Francisco, via Chicago. With comments like, “Sleep came easily — the train is surprisingly smooth and quiet,” “Train etiquette seemed to involve asking strangers where they were headed and why they’d chosen the train,” or “The amount of space between rows on these trains makes a joke of airplane legroom,” it’s obvious the author is somewhat new to long-distance train travel, but appears smitten with the new/old option. Welcome. As someone who was long ago taken with train travel, having ridden lines from Saigon-Hanoi to the Trans-Siberian, and written about trains from Chicago to New Orleans and Tehran to Istanbul (excerpt), I heartily recommend stepping away from the plane, hitting the pause button on your rush (unless you’re taking an actual bullet train, then by all means, enjoy the rush), and trying a little travel. You may be disappointed, you might overpay, it may be unpleasant (i.e. Tehran to Turkey), but it just might be worth it.
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New AP Bureau in Pyongyang Provides Photos, Video of NK Live Fire Exercises

The new Associated Press bureau in Pyongyang (which opened in January 2012) has brought some more unique coverage out of the North, this time on North Korean live fire exercises near the DMZ. The North’s drills reportedly come in response to joint U.S. – South Korean exercises, no surprise there. What is a surprise are photos, as shown here (apparently soldiers in every army around the world wedge blocks under vehicle wheels), and video from the exercise, both courtesy the new AP bureau. I don’t see the bureau providing much hard news, but it is good to see some new reporting coming out of the North.

North Korean Live Fire Drills

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Latest U.S. Deal with Pyongyang: good for hungry North Koreans … barren cupboard for U.S., SK

UPDATE (13 March): Right down to the word “tribute.” Compare the post on the recent U.S. deal with North Korea, below, with yesterday’s editorial from the Washington Post on the same subject. Thanks for coming out guys, way to be the ball, way to lead.

UPDATE (2 March): The AP’s new Pyongyang bureau weighs in on the new agreement in this article from the Washington Post. Not surprisingly, the citizens of Pyongyang allowed to speak to the AP are mistrustful of the U.S. and not very hopeful of any reduction in tensions. Going forward, it will be interesting to see what kind of reports this new bureau will be able to dispatch from the North.

Not to be overly pessimistic, but unless you are a starving North Korean, the recent headlines (JoongAng Daily, Washington Post) about North Korea agreeing to suspend nuclear weapons testing, long-range missile launches, and uranium enrichment activities for U.S. food aid really don’t mean much.

As South Korea trades in electronics, cars, and the rest, North Korea trades in international tension. The recent deal allows the North to acquire 240-300,000 tons (accounts vary) of badly needed food aid from the U.S. in return for hitting pause, not stop, on its nuclear and long-range missile development programs. Once the food arrives, there is little to prevent Pyongyang from resuming either of these activities.

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  • California governor wants users to profit from online data https://t.co/VxbuU6k0AX - posted on 14/02/2019

  • What would happen if Facebook was turned off? Apparently, more free time, less polarization. https://t.co/q2vpyxsVyV - posted on 12/02/2019

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  • New meaning of legal warfare - "A new filing by Special Counsel Robert Mueller shows how Russia uses the U.S. feder… https://t.co/OK2UO1jVTq - posted on 03/02/2019

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