A Conversation, An Idea, and An Experiment

By Benjamin Wittes
Saturday, February 2, 2013, 7:29 AM

For the past few months, I have been thinking about how Lawfare might do more to bring readers information from non-lawyers with expertise critical to national security law and lawyering the modern age. To be a good national security lawyer these days, you don't just need to know about the law. You have to know about Pakistan, about Yemen, and about Mali. You have to know about software engineering and robotics. You really should know something about biotechnology. We talk to people with expertise in these areas, and we link to their work, and Ritika did a series of interviews predicated on bringing foreign policy voices to bear on Lawfare questions. But I've been thinking about ways of doing this more systematically---of creating some kind of feed of the sort of non-legal writing every national security lawyers needs to be reading.

Yesterday, Wells, Ritika and I had coffee with one Aaron Zelin. Zelin is a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and runs the Jihadology blog, which rightly describes itself as a "clearinghouse for jihadi primary source material" and which Lawfare readers may know from the Lawfare News Feed. Zelin also tweets actively, and he thinks very hard about the structure of and interrelationships among the major---and not so major---jihadist groups. So we thought he would be a good person to talk to about how to integrate analytical voices into the legal discussion.

Zelin pointed out that while the analytical community of which he is a part often has a lot of information to bring to bear on questions of legal significance, its members often have no idea that the questions they are thinking about are significant to lawyers. He then put forward what I think is a tantalizing possibility. What if Lawfare were to play the public role of connecting analysts with legal puzzles on which their expertise might be useful? The government, of course, has its own analysts who do their own assessments. But I like this idea---rather a lot. So with Zelin's permission, I'm going to try an experiment with it.

If anyone, in or out of government, is thinking about a legal question whose answer may hinge on a better factual understanding of matters within Zelin's expertise, shoot me a note. I'll refer the question to Zelin, whose bio notes that "his research focuses on how jihadist groups are adjusting to the new political environment in the era of Arab uprisings and Salafi politics in countries transitioning to democracy." If he feels he can usefully address it, we'll publish the question and he'll guest post about it. If he knows someone better positioned than he to take the question on, he may pass the question on. Those who, for whatever reason, wish to send questions anonymously, should feel free.

Philip Bobbitt always reminds people that we need to integrate law and strategy. Here's an experiment in doing just that.