With intelligence leaks, the contractors are the culprits

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My latest, from the Washington Post:

When WikiLeaks released more than 8,000 files about the CIA’s global hacking programs this month, it dropped a tantalizing clue: The leak came from private contractors. Federal investigators quickly confirmed this, calling contractors the likeliest sources. As a result of the breach, WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange said, the CIA had “lost control of its entire cyberweapons arsenal.”

Intelligence insiders were dismayed. Agencies “take a chance with contractors” because “they may not have the same loyalty” as officers employed by the government, former CIA director Leon Panetta lamented to NBC.

But this is a liability built into our system that intelligence officials have long known about and done nothing to correct. As I first reported in 2007, some 70 cents of every intelligence dollar is allocated to the private sector. And the relentless pace of mergers and acquisitions in the spies-for-hire business has left five corporations in control of about 80 percent of the 45,000 contractors employed in U.S. intelligence. The threat from unreliable employees in this multibillion-dollar industry is only getting worse.

To read on, click here.


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America is not an innocent bystander in Korea

My first published article of the year, filed as Trump’s Secretary of Defense James Mattis is visiting South Korea and Japan talking about preparing for war of one kind or another with North Korea. This story explains the view from Congress, where regime change in Pyongyang is the name of the game. Sadly, the hearing – and US policy itself – reflects the absurd view that the US is an innocent bystander in Korea despite its 71-year military domination of the peninsula. When history is erased by our leaders, the place they always start is Korea. Click here to read on. 

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The Washington Post didn’t like this piece on the US role in Korea…

…So I published it myself, in Medium.


People power, not the U.S. military, created South Korea’s vibrant democracy

As millions of South Koreans filled their streets in the weeks leading up to last week’s impeachment of their beleagured president, Park Guen-hye, I was reminded of a political refrain we often hear from U.S. political leaders about Korea.

It goes like this: by intervening in 1950 to prevent a communist takeover and then stationing thousand of U.S. soldiers at the border with North Korea, the United States provided the security that allowed South Korea to become the vibrant democracy it is today. The pride was typified by George W. Bush in a 2005 visit to U.S. troops.

“Five decades of sacrifice by the men and women of our Armed Forces secured peace and democracy on this peninsula,” Bush declared. Hillary Clinton echoed that sentiment in a 2013 speech to bankers later obtained by Wikileaks. South Korea, she said, became a “functional democracy” because “we had troops there, we had aid there, we had a presence of American business there. We were there for the long run.”

There’s a bit of hubris in these sentiments. While there is no doubt that American policy has had a positive influence on South Korea, it was the Koreans themselves who created their own democracy. Moreover, at several critical junctures in South Korea’s turbulent history, U.S. actions and miscalculations led to serious setbacks to their progress. Sometimes America was on their side; other times, not.

To read on, click here.


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American Military Power in Asia and the Trump Factor

The Pentagon is trying to push through a trilateral alliance with Japan and South Korea before anyone noticed. But I did.


My latest, from TomDispatch

Despite the attention being given to America’s roiling wars and conflicts in the Greater Middle East, crucial decisions about the global role of U.S. military power may be made in a region where, as yet, there are no hot wars: Asia.  Donald Trump will arrive in the Oval Office in January at a moment when Pentagon preparations for a future U.S.-Japan-South Korean triangular military alliance, long in the planning stages, may have reached a crucial make-or-break moment. Whether those plans go forward and how the president-elect responds to them could help shape our world in crucial ways into the distant future.

On November 18th, Shinzo Abe, Japan’s most conservative prime minister since the Cold War, became the first foreign head of state to meet with Donald Trump after his surprise election victory. The stakes for Abe were high. His rightist Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which has run Japan for much of the last 70 years, has been one of America’s most reliable, consistent, and subservient allies. Yet during the campaign, Trump humiliated him, as well as the leaders of nearby South Korea, with bombastic threats to withdraw U.S. forces from both countries if they didn’t take further steps to defend themselves.

Even more shocking was Trump’s proposal that Japan and South Korea develop their own atomic weapons to counter North Korea’s rising power as a nuclear state. That left the governments of both countries bewildered — particularly Japan, which lost tens of thousands of lives when the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were incinerated by American atomic bombs in World War II. (Hundreds of Koreans in Japan died in those attacks as well.) Trump made these statements despite the LDP’s ardent support over the decades for American wars in Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq, and the Japanese government’s payment of around $2 billion annually to maintain a string of U.S. bases, primarily on the island of Okinawa, which host over 48,000 American soldiers.

Abe apparently got what he wanted. During an hour-long meeting at Trump Tower on New York’s Fifth Avenue, he and the president-elect agreed that their military alliance was stable and capped their discussions with a friendly exchange of golf equipment. “I am convinced Mr. Trump is a leader in whom I can have great confidence,” Abe declared to a gaggle of mostly Japanese reporters. The president-elect, he said, had established the trust “essential for the U.S.-Japanese relationship.”

That same day, a high-level delegation representing Park Guen-Hye, South Korea’s scandal-ridden president (who, three weeks later, would be impeached by the Korean parliament), was also in New York. She and her right-wing Saenuri Party had been no less disturbed than Abe by the tenor of Trump’s campaign. According to a recent analysis by the Wall Street Journal, South Korea already pays about $900 million a year, or about 40% of the costs of the network of U.S. bases it hosts.  It also has had a special relationship with the U.S. military that has no parallel elsewhere. Under the U.S.-Korean Combined Forces Command, established in 1978, should war ever break out on the peninsula, an American general will be in charge not just of the 28,000 U.S. personnel permanently stationed there, but of more than half a million South Korean troops as well.

Unlike Abe, however, Park’s delegation was shunted off to discuss its concerns with Michael Flynn, the retired general who will soon be Trump’s national security adviser. A few days earlier, Park had spoken to Trump for 10 minutes by phone. In that conversation, the president-elect reportedly stressed his admiration for Korea’s economic prowess. “I’ve bought a lot of Korean products; they’re great,” he told Park, according to a Reuters correspondent in Seoul. Flynn would also reassure the Koreans that their alliance with Washington was “vital.” So, on the surface at least, with less than six weeks to go until the Trump era officially begins, all is well and seemingly normal when it comes to U.S. relations with its allies in East Asia.

To read on, click here.


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20 years ago, my reporting caused a furor in South Korea

This was the best response I ever got to a story, as chronicled in 1996 by the Washington Post.



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