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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 »

Cato Unbound Exchange on “The Snowden Files: One Year Later”

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Wednesday, June 11, 2014 at 10:24 AM

The Cato Institute is hosting an online exchange entitled “The Snowden Files: One Year Later.” The lead essay, by Cato’s Julian Sanchez, opens as follows: America’s first real debate about the 21st century surveillance state began one year ago. There had, of course, been no previous shortage of hearings, op-eds, and panels mulling the appropriate “balance . . .
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You Can Help Us Redesign Lawfare

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Monday, June 9, 2014 at 10:39 AM

We are thinking about a major redesign of the Lawfare web site, and we need reader help to get this going. As our content streams have increased and diversified, the blog form has become increasingly inapt and we have begun thinking about building a more flexible, magazine-like site. In pursuit of that, we are doing some . . .
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Why Does the Omniscient Panopticon Tolerate Glenn Greenwald?

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Monday, June 9, 2014 at 7:11 AM

If you believe Glenn Greenwald’s new book (which I reviewed here), the NSA’s appetite for gobbling up communications is unlimited. Legal controls on its behavior are trivial. Its much-repeated claim that it does not spy on American citizens is a lie. And its goal in its collection activities is political control over citizens, whom surveillance renders . . .
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The CIA Joins Twitter

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Friday, June 6, 2014 at 10:01 PM

And it’s first tweet is, well, pretty amusing: We can neither confirm nor deny that this is our first tweet. — CIA (@CIA) June 6, 2014

Video of Today’s SSCI Hearing

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Thursday, June 5, 2014 at 8:23 PM

I haven’t watched it yet, as I was doing a different event at the time of the hearing. But thanks to the magic of CSPAN and it’s belated, but very welcome propensity for embed codes . . .

Russell Wheeler: The Changing Composition of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and What If Anything To Do About It (Lawfare Research Paper Series)

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Wednesday, June 4, 2014 at 4:11 PM

The question of the composition of the FISA Court—politically, demographically, and in terms of professional background—has arisen periodically throughout the last year. It has given rise to news coverage, recommendations by the president’s review group, legislative proposals, and defensiveness on the part of the judiciary. I asked my longtime Brookings colleague Russell Wheeler, an expert . . .
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Interesting Poll Data on Attitudes Toward Snowden

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Tuesday, June 3, 2014 at 8:24 AM

From NBC News. It shows that Snowden has improved in the public’s eye–although less than I would have thought. How would you rate your feelings toward Edward Snowden very positive, somewhat positive, neutral, somewhat negative—or—very negative? If you don’t know the name, please just say so and we’ll move on. 7/13^     5/14 11%       13%      TOTAL POSITIVE 36%       27%      TOTAL NEGATIVE 4%        5%       Very positive 7%        8% . . .
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Two Great Essays on Glenn Greenwald’s New Book

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Tuesday, June 3, 2014 at 8:06 AM

The first is by George Packer, writing in Prospect: Some of the instances are more subtle than others, but spread over the several hundred pages of this book, they reveal a mind that has liberated itself from the basic claims of fairness. Once the norms of journalism are dismissed, a number of constraints and assumptions . . .
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Another PRB, Another Detainee Cleared for Transfer

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Tuesday, June 3, 2014 at 7:51 AM

This time it’s Ghaleb Nassar Al Bihani, about whom a Periodic Review Board found last week: The Periodic Review Board, by consensus, determined continued law of war detention of the detainee is no longer necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States. In making this determination, the Board considered . . .
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Thoughts on the Bergdahl-for-Taliban Trade

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Monday, June 2, 2014 at 4:30 PM

What do you give up to get back one of your own? Talk about a hard national security choice. The decision to trade five senior Taliban detainees at Guantanamo for Private First Class Bowe Bergdahl has it all. I don’t envy the people who had to make this decision. The United States is not Israel—a fierce . . .
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Who Was Bowe Bergdahl?

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Monday, June 2, 2014 at 7:13 AM

Fascinating article in the Daily Beast from Nathan Bradley Bethea, who served with him: It was June 30, 2009, and I was in the city of Sharana, the capitol of Paktika province in Afghanistan. As I stepped out of a decrepit office building into a perfect sunny day, a member of my team started talking . . .
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Lawfare Podcast, Episode #77: The Allure of Normalcy—Robert Kagan, Leon Wieseltier, and Fred Hiatt on America’s Leadership in the World

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Saturday, May 31, 2014 at 1:55 PM

Brookings held a great event this week, entitled: “The Allure of Normalcy: America’s Leadership in the World and President Obama’s Foreign Policy.” It featured Robert Kagan on his impressive new essay in the New Republic, “Superpowers Don’t Get to Retire: What Our Tired Country Still Owes the World.” Here’s how Brookings described the event: Many within . . .
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Thoughts on Edward Snowden’s Interview

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Thursday, May 29, 2014 at 9:00 PM

Let’s give Edward Snowden his due: He did himself a lot of good in his interview with NBC’s Brian Williams, which aired last night. He presents well, coming across as earnest, thoughtful and intelligent. There is no manic gleam in his eye, no evident hatred of his country. He is well-spoken and articulate. He presents . . .
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Relevant Excerpts from President Obama’s West Point Speech

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014 at 1:12 PM

Not a lot in President Obama’s West Point speech that is new on Lawfare-related matters. Here are key excerpts. On broad counterterrorism strategy: First, let me repeat a principle I put forward at the outset of my presidency: The United States will use military force, unilaterally if necessary, when our core interests demand it — when . . .
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Incredible Photographs of World War I Battlefields a Century Later

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Tuesday, May 27, 2014 at 10:09 PM

From Smithsonian magazine and Irish landscape photographer, Michael St. Maur Sheil—who has a new exhibition on World War I battlefields a century on. A taste of a truly astounding collection of photographs: I highly recommend the whole series.

John DeLong Interview on Fedscoop

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Thursday, May 22, 2014 at 4:22 PM

I’ve never heard of Fedscoop before, but it seems to have done a video interview with John DeLong, NSA’s compliance chief. Haven’t watched it yet.

So What’s in that FISA Reform Bill Anyway?

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Wednesday, May 21, 2014 at 3:03 PM

Over at the New York Times, Charlie Savage has a good story about civil libertarian irritation over the latest version of the “USA FREEDOM Act,” H.R. 3361—which he has also posted. As this seems likely to be the version on which the House of Representatives actually votes, and it reflects input from both the intelligence . . .
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CSIS Statement of Principles for Rebuilding Trust in Intelligence Activities

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Monday, May 19, 2014 at 5:55 PM

A group convened by the Center for Strategic and International Studies has issued a Statement of Principles for rebuilding trust in intelligence activities. It is signed by the following people: Charles Blanchard, Former General Counsel and Chief Ethics Officer, U.S. Air Force Steven Bucci, Professor of Terrorism and Cyber Policy Studies, Homeland Security Management Institute, Long . . .
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Rand Paul Announces Filibuster of David Barron

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Thursday, May 15, 2014 at 6:25 PM

How very unpleasant: Rand Paul announces, only semi-coherently, that he is filibustering David Barron’s First Circuit nomination. The statement reads: “I’ve read David Barron’s memos concerning the legal justification for killing an American citizen overseas without a trial or legal representation, and I am not satisfied. While the President forbids me from discussing what is in . . .
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The Intelligence Legitimacy Paradox

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Thursday, May 15, 2014 at 6:14 PM

I have spent the day, which is not over yet in Palo Alto, at a conference at the Hoover Institution on “Intelligence Challenges.” The rules of the workshop, unfortunately, prohibit me from disclosing who is saying what—or even naming the individuals who are present, though the participants include significant intelligence community figures, civil libertarians, legislative leaders, . . .
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