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Posts by Benjamin Wittes

Benjamin Wittes is editor in chief of Lawfare and a Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution. He is the author of several books and a member of the Hoover Institution's Task Force on National Security and Law. For speaking information and for a larger collection of his work, see his Full bio »

The U.S. Intelligence Community and Non-Neutral Principles

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Thursday, February 26, 2015 at 3:30 PM

Last week, Ben’s NSA Constitution Day speech emerged after a long “declassification” process.  One puzzle Ben grapples with in this speech is why reasonable, educated Americans have–and will continue to have–such a high level of discomfort with what the NSA and other intelligence agencies do. The types of activities NSA is asked to do and the secrecy . . .
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HASC Testimony: An Alternative to the Administration’s AUMF Draft

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Thursday, February 26, 2015 at 10:00 AM

Prepared Statement of Benjamin Wittes Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution before the House Committee on Armed Services “Outside Perspectives on the President’s Proposed Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” February 26, 2015 Thank you Chairman Thornberry, Ranking Member Smith, and members of the committee . . .
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The Real Story Behind Citizenfour’s Oscar

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Monday, February 23, 2015 at 4:21 PM

Like a lot of Lawfare readers, we were pretty surprised by Citizenfour‘s triumph at the Oscars last night. It wasn’t just that there was Glenn Greenwald, foe of all things mainstream, holding—of all things—that picture of establishment respectability, the Oscar. It was, more importantly, the question of who the heck decided to honor this paranoid and self-congratulatory film? . . .
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The Lawfare Podcast: My Constitution Day Speech at NSA

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Saturday, February 21, 2015 at 1:55 PM

In mid-September, I delivered the annual Constitution Day address at the National Security Agency. I had meant to post the speech back then, except that it being NSA and all, I wasn’t allowed to bring my own recording equipment into the building and thus had to wait until the NSA folks released the audio of my own . . .
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Some Fun New Podcasts from Spaghetti on the Wall

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Friday, February 20, 2015 at 7:44 AM

I have this little experimental podcast company I started with two friends: Shane Harris and Jennifer Howell. Most of its work is not related to Lawfare, but sometimes we do shows of potential interest to the Lawfare readership, and I try to post those when we do. One of those is the weekly show, Rational Security, the latest episode . . .
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The New York Times Public Editor Backs James Risen’s “Truth-Telling”

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Thursday, February 19, 2015 at 5:09 PM

Soon after Jack posted this piece on James Risen’s attacks on Eric Holder, which Ben had criticized earlier, the New York Times’s Public Editor, Margaret Sullivan, wrote a post in support of Risen’s tweets. Reasonable people will differ over the right norms for journalists on Twitter—an issue Ben’s original post and Sullivan’s both engage. But there is one . . .
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James Risen’s Twitter Tirade Against Eric Holder

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Wednesday, February 18, 2015 at 10:19 PM

Yesterday, speaking at the National Press Club, Attorney General Eric Holder was asked a question about the Obama administration’s prosecution of leakers, and he offered the following thoughts: Question: The Obama administration has prosecuted eight alleged whistleblowers under the Espionage Act, more than all previous presidential administrations combined. What justifies this more aggressive posture towards leakers? . . .
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Reactions to the President’s AUMF Draft Don’t Augur Well

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Monday, February 16, 2015 at 9:23 AM

The New York Times thinks President Obama’s draft AUMF is dangerously broad: The parameters of a proposed war authorization the White House sent toCongress on Wednesday, however, are alarmingly broad. It does not limit the battlefield to Syria and Iraq, the strongholds of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, which is attempting to . . .
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Rational Security, Episode #6: The “Men Behaving Badly” Edition

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Friday, February 13, 2015 at 9:57 PM

The latest episode of Rational Security is now out. Enjoy!

A Possible Answer to Jack’s AUMF Question

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Thursday, February 12, 2015 at 7:53 AM

Jack ends his excellent and comprehensive post this morning, a post which I will not try to summarize, with the following statement: I just don’t get the calculation.  It seems that the President could have attracted much broader support in Congress, and avoided a lot of political and legacy headaches, while at the same time maintaining . . .
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Jack Goldsmith and Jane Harman on Closing Guantanamo

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Wednesday, February 11, 2015 at 2:00 PM

Jack Goldsmith and Jane Harman had a piece in the Washington Post a few days ago on the Guantanamo closure question: Guantanamo should be closed but not until the president presents a realistic plan and makes his case to Congress and the nation. Any blueprint must address very real issues related to the island facility’s 122 remaining . . .
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Notes on Reading the President’s AUMF Proposal

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Wednesday, February 11, 2015 at 10:36 AM

Here are the key policy judgments in the President’s AUMF proposal: “The President is authorized . . . to use the Armed Forces of the United States as the President determines to be necessary and appropriate against ISIL or associated persons or forces. . . .” This is a slightly odd formulation that differs from the . . .
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Will President Obama Go Where He Promised He Wouldn’t?

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Wednesday, February 11, 2015 at 8:16 AM

Over at Just Security, Steve Vladeck and a group of scholars have posted a letter to President Obama asking him to include in his AUMF proposal not merely a sunset for the new ISIS AUMF but one for the underlying 2001 AUMF too. “We think it is . . . vitally important that any statute . . .
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Pew Poll on Investigative Journalists and Digital Security

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Monday, February 9, 2015 at 7:51 AM

This is interesting. From the Pew Research Center: About two-thirds of investigative journalists surveyed (64%) believe that the U.S. government has probably collected data about their phone calls, emails or online communications, and eight-in-ten believe that being a journalist increases the likelihood that their data will be collected. Those who report on national security, foreign . . .
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The Administration’s Guantanamo Testimony Yesterday

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Friday, February 6, 2015 at 1:31 PM

Here it is, given by Brian McKeon, Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, before the Senate Armed Services Committee. And here’s the video of yesterday’s hearing:

Rational Security, Episode #5: “Until We Run Out of Fuel and Bullets”

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Friday, February 6, 2015 at 12:04 PM

Here’s the latest episode of Rational Security, hosted by Shane Harris of the Daily Beast. And yes, for those of you who are wondering, we did, as discussed at the end of this podcast, record the first episode of The Chess Clock Debates the other day—and it was pretty darn cool. You’ll have to listen to the . . .
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The Intercept, SecureDrop, and Foreign Intelligence Services: A Response

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Thursday, February 5, 2015 at 2:30 PM

Those readers who do not spend a lot of time on Twitter may have missed the beating Ben has been taking there for this post last week suggesting that the folks at The Intercept may be overestimating their security capabilities relative to the offensive capabilities of nation state intelligence services. The claim in the original article was . . .
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No, Twitterati, Gen. Alexander Didn’t Leave His Laptop Unattended on Amtrak

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Tuesday, February 3, 2015 at 10:22 AM

I’m going to let this exchange on Twitter this morning speak for itself. [View the story “Facts Too Good to Check on Keith Alexander’s Laptop” on Storify] And for the record, no, I don’t have General Alexander’s cell phone number, and I didn’t call him. I emailed him. But nobody checked that fact either.

What Would it Actually Take to Close Guantanamo?

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Monday, February 2, 2015 at 10:31 PM

Obama reiterated in his State of the Union address that he is committed to closing Guantanamo: “Since I’ve been President, we’ve worked responsibly to cut the population of Gitmo in half.  Now it is time to finish the job.  And I will not relent in my determination to shut it down.  It is not who . . .
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The Intercept’s Invitation to Criminality—and to Intelligence Agencies

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Thursday, January 29, 2015 at 4:50 PM

The Intercept posted an interesting document yesterday designed to help a certain class of would-be-criminals—leakers of classified information—but which will, I would imagine, interest a different group of people too. The document, entitled “How to Leak to the The Intercept” is just what it sounds like—a how-to guide, complete with steps to take and steps to avoid, . . .
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