Commentary Magazine


Posts For: October 30, 2007

Destroying Missiles

On Sunday, Russia and the United States jointly urged all countries to destroy medium-range nuclear-capable missiles. The call came in a joint declaration published by Moscow’s foreign ministry.

At present, Russia and the United States are parties to the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which was signed by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in December 1987. In February of this year, the Kremlin called for the termination of the INF agreement, as the pact is called. Sergei Ivanov, then defense minister, said: “Today, North Korea, China, India, Pakistan, Iran and Israel all have short-range or intermediate-range missiles.” Ivanov continued, “Only two countries do not have the right to have them, the United States and Russia. This cannot go on forever.”

Ivanov was right, but that was not the Kremlin’s reason for threatening to pull out. A few days after Ivanov spoke in February, General Yuri Baluyevsky, chief of the Russian general staff, made the point that Russia’s decision whether to terminate the INF pact would depend on Washington’s missile defense plans. Sunday’s joint declaration indicates that the Bush administration was able to get Moscow to step back from maintaining its extreme position.

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On Sunday, Russia and the United States jointly urged all countries to destroy medium-range nuclear-capable missiles. The call came in a joint declaration published by Moscow’s foreign ministry.

At present, Russia and the United States are parties to the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which was signed by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in December 1987. In February of this year, the Kremlin called for the termination of the INF agreement, as the pact is called. Sergei Ivanov, then defense minister, said: “Today, North Korea, China, India, Pakistan, Iran and Israel all have short-range or intermediate-range missiles.” Ivanov continued, “Only two countries do not have the right to have them, the United States and Russia. This cannot go on forever.”

Ivanov was right, but that was not the Kremlin’s reason for threatening to pull out. A few days after Ivanov spoke in February, General Yuri Baluyevsky, chief of the Russian general staff, made the point that Russia’s decision whether to terminate the INF pact would depend on Washington’s missile defense plans. Sunday’s joint declaration indicates that the Bush administration was able to get Moscow to step back from maintaining its extreme position.

It’s one thing for Washington to influence the Kremlin to moderate its tone. It’s another to persuade a whole range of nations to give up the delivery systems for their most destructive weapons when some of them have little stake in the current international system—and when others even talk about upending it. Moreover, none of the new missile countries will give up intermediate range missiles while both Russia and the United States maintain arsenals of longer-range ones. A missile-destruction agreement will, as a practical matter, have to include all missile nations and virtually all ground- and sea-based missiles.

Should the United States and Russia even try to abolish missiles? We thought the stakes were high during the cold war, but at least the Soviets were deterrable. They did not use their thousands of warheads against America because, in addition to other reasons, they knew America could make good on Barry Goldwater’s threat to lob a nuke into the men’s room in the Kremlin—and a big one into just about every other lavatory and latrine in the USSR. Perhaps the new missile nations will be afraid of our weapons—but with rogue states added to the cast, perhaps not. So now is not a bad time to think anew about deterrence, missile defense, and even abolition.

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Can the Pentagon Cope With Malicious Software?

Now we are really in trouble. Here’s a report from a Defense Science Board Task Force on the dangers of foreign-produced software now being used by the Department of Defense. Its central conclusion is that

Each year the Department of Defense depends more on software for its administration and for the planning and execution of its missions. This growing dependency is a source of weakness exacerbated by the mounting size, complexity, and interconnectedness of its software programs. It is only a matter of time before an adversary exploits this weakness at a critical moment in history.

The software industry has become increasingly and irrevocably global. Much of the code is now written outside the United States, some in countries that many have interests inimical to those of the United States. The combination of DoD’s profound and growing dependence upon software and the expanding opportunity for adversaries to introduce malicious code into this software has led to a growing risk to the nation’s defense.

Is this a real danger?

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Now we are really in trouble. Here’s a report from a Defense Science Board Task Force on the dangers of foreign-produced software now being used by the Department of Defense. Its central conclusion is that

Each year the Department of Defense depends more on software for its administration and for the planning and execution of its missions. This growing dependency is a source of weakness exacerbated by the mounting size, complexity, and interconnectedness of its software programs. It is only a matter of time before an adversary exploits this weakness at a critical moment in history.

The software industry has become increasingly and irrevocably global. Much of the code is now written outside the United States, some in countries that many have interests inimical to those of the United States. The combination of DoD’s profound and growing dependence upon software and the expanding opportunity for adversaries to introduce malicious code into this software has led to a growing risk to the nation’s defense.

Is this a real danger?

The study itself is filled with a wealth of fascinating details about the vulnerability of critical defense computer applications to nefarious software producers. And evidently there are no easy tools for detecting deliberately planted bugs.

We thus face the danger that when, say, an American President decides to launch a nuclear strike against, say, China in response to an attack, say, by China on Taiwan, he will press the button and, thanks to malicious software, not a rocket will go off, even if he presses the button again and again.

But before we hit the panic button, let’s ask some obvious questions. How come hackers and producers of malicious code have not yet enriched themselves by raiding the major investment houses of the West? If our adversaries are as good as we are saying they are at exploiting vulnerabilities in our technology, why are their brilliant programmers not going off on freelance missions to tap in, say, to the electronic systems of a Goldman Sachs and transferring its assets to themselves?

The major investment banks from Lehman Brothers to Deutsche Bank are all enterprises that span the globe. We never read headlines about billions disappearing from their coffers at the stroke of a hacker’s key. If the investment banks can protect themselves, and if the Federal Reserve Bank can also protect itself, why can’t the Defense Department follow suit?

I don’t have an answer to this question, but if you do, please help me connect the dots.

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Whose Art Is It, Anyway?

America’s cultural institutions have been quietly selling off their art collections, and bad publicity—however shrill or indignant—seems no deterrent. One year ago, Philadelphia’s Thomas Jefferson University sold off Thomas Eakins’s Gross Clinic—a masterpiece of American realism—to the acute distress of its alumni. Although the sale was criticized widely, the only element of the story that seems to have left a lasting impression is the sale price: $68 million. Two other colleges now seek to turn their own art collections into ready cash. Randolph College in Roanoke hopes to net over $30 million from its upcoming auction at Christie’s, while Fisk University in Nashville is expecting the same amount for a 50 percent share in its collection.

One can sympathize with Fisk, which is in dire financial straits. Ever since it was founded in 1866 as a school for freed slaves, it has teetered on the precipice of bankruptcy. Now, with all of its buildings mortgaged to the hilt, it has turned to this sale as a last resort. This is one case where a sale might do some good to gallery-goers: Fisk has never been able to exhibit its 101-piece collection, a gift from Georgia O’Keeffe, properly. The agreement to share its collection with the new Crystal Bridges Museum in Arkansas means that the public will at last be able to see such extraordinary works as O’Keeffe’s own Radiator Building, along with major works by Pablo Picasso, Marsden Hartley, and John Marin. Although the O’Keeffe estate is contesting the sale, claiming that it violates the terms of the gift, it cannot claim that the college has acted in bad faith.

Matters are less clear-cut at Randolph (which has just changed its name from Randolph-Macon and admitted its first male students). While the school pleads financial hardship, it is hardly at the point of shutting its doors. It is for this reason that a group of alumnae and donors have sought a court injunction to prevent the sale, which involves four paintings, including George Bellows’s Men of the Docks and one of Edward Hicks’s many versions of A Peaceable Kingdom. “Artwork should be used for the purpose for which it was given,” the group insists, “which is to educate women in the liberal arts, not to support Randolph College’s endowment.”

One should watch these sales closely: it’s not only colleges that own collections of this scale and value, but libraries and churches, historical societies and social clubs. Up until recently, these institutions have tended to view the stewardship of their art as a public trust, to be passed on to posterity. I think it’s safe to say that there’s now a growing tendency to view them less sentimentally. Depending on the outcome of these two proposed sales, one might expect other institutions to decide that it is time—as one trustee memorably (and somewhat frighteningly) put it—to “monetize their non-performing assets.”

America’s cultural institutions have been quietly selling off their art collections, and bad publicity—however shrill or indignant—seems no deterrent. One year ago, Philadelphia’s Thomas Jefferson University sold off Thomas Eakins’s Gross Clinic—a masterpiece of American realism—to the acute distress of its alumni. Although the sale was criticized widely, the only element of the story that seems to have left a lasting impression is the sale price: $68 million. Two other colleges now seek to turn their own art collections into ready cash. Randolph College in Roanoke hopes to net over $30 million from its upcoming auction at Christie’s, while Fisk University in Nashville is expecting the same amount for a 50 percent share in its collection.

One can sympathize with Fisk, which is in dire financial straits. Ever since it was founded in 1866 as a school for freed slaves, it has teetered on the precipice of bankruptcy. Now, with all of its buildings mortgaged to the hilt, it has turned to this sale as a last resort. This is one case where a sale might do some good to gallery-goers: Fisk has never been able to exhibit its 101-piece collection, a gift from Georgia O’Keeffe, properly. The agreement to share its collection with the new Crystal Bridges Museum in Arkansas means that the public will at last be able to see such extraordinary works as O’Keeffe’s own Radiator Building, along with major works by Pablo Picasso, Marsden Hartley, and John Marin. Although the O’Keeffe estate is contesting the sale, claiming that it violates the terms of the gift, it cannot claim that the college has acted in bad faith.

Matters are less clear-cut at Randolph (which has just changed its name from Randolph-Macon and admitted its first male students). While the school pleads financial hardship, it is hardly at the point of shutting its doors. It is for this reason that a group of alumnae and donors have sought a court injunction to prevent the sale, which involves four paintings, including George Bellows’s Men of the Docks and one of Edward Hicks’s many versions of A Peaceable Kingdom. “Artwork should be used for the purpose for which it was given,” the group insists, “which is to educate women in the liberal arts, not to support Randolph College’s endowment.”

One should watch these sales closely: it’s not only colleges that own collections of this scale and value, but libraries and churches, historical societies and social clubs. Up until recently, these institutions have tended to view the stewardship of their art as a public trust, to be passed on to posterity. I think it’s safe to say that there’s now a growing tendency to view them less sentimentally. Depending on the outcome of these two proposed sales, one might expect other institutions to decide that it is time—as one trustee memorably (and somewhat frighteningly) put it—to “monetize their non-performing assets.”

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The Yom Kippur War—for Kids!

Video games loosely based on historic wars are nothing new. But the recently released “October War,” which invites children to “fight the Israeli Air Force starting from Swais [sic] til Barliv [sic] Line,” offers a new twist to the genre: it is available exclusively on the Anwar Sadat website’s “Kids Corner,” thus making it the first war-themed video game to be released on the official website of a former head-of-state. Indeed, dedicated gamers will be disappointed to find that the Harry S. Truman Library’s kids page lacks similarly inappropriate atomic bomb video games, while other typically dry former head-of-state websites won’t even arouse their curiosity.

Compared to far bloodier video games, “October War” might seem harmless. In the two-dimensional game, players command a tank across various swaths of the Sinai Desert, shooting at an assortment of Israeli bombers, helicopters, trucks, and warships. The game seems deliberately unrealistic: the Egyptian tank is able to arm itself with nuclear weapons and laser beams, while a Star-of-David-clad, King Kong-like gorilla confronts players at the end of the fifth level. (On the other hand, just like in 1973, the Egyptian tank is severely overpowered and destined to lose.) Were it not for the Israeli insignias prominently displayed on every enemy vehicle, “October War” would seem like a more colorful version of Space Invaders.

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Video games loosely based on historic wars are nothing new. But the recently released “October War,” which invites children to “fight the Israeli Air Force starting from Swais [sic] til Barliv [sic] Line,” offers a new twist to the genre: it is available exclusively on the Anwar Sadat website’s “Kids Corner,” thus making it the first war-themed video game to be released on the official website of a former head-of-state. Indeed, dedicated gamers will be disappointed to find that the Harry S. Truman Library’s kids page lacks similarly inappropriate atomic bomb video games, while other typically dry former head-of-state websites won’t even arouse their curiosity.

Compared to far bloodier video games, “October War” might seem harmless. In the two-dimensional game, players command a tank across various swaths of the Sinai Desert, shooting at an assortment of Israeli bombers, helicopters, trucks, and warships. The game seems deliberately unrealistic: the Egyptian tank is able to arm itself with nuclear weapons and laser beams, while a Star-of-David-clad, King Kong-like gorilla confronts players at the end of the fifth level. (On the other hand, just like in 1973, the Egyptian tank is severely overpowered and destined to lose.) Were it not for the Israeli insignias prominently displayed on every enemy vehicle, “October War” would seem like a more colorful version of Space Invaders.

But as “October War” represents an attempt to introduce children to the legacy of Anwar Sadat, it is a deeply pernicious game. By using the video game to emphasize Sadat’s surprise attack on Israel over his subsequent Nobel Prize-winning peace overture, the site’s webmasters are imbuing Egyptian children with disturbing nostalgia for Arab-Israeli war. Of course, “October War” merely reinforces the sentimentality for wars with Israel that Egyptian children would have been taught long before they got hooked on “October War.” Such sentiment can be found in textbooks and commemorative war murals plastered along Egyptian highways. Egyptian students enjoy October 6 holiday weekends and participate in school trips to the North Korean-funded October War Panorama (where visitors are told that Egypt defeated Israel).

This vitriol for Israel—even in a country enjoying nearly thirty years of peace with the Jewish State—is, pathetically, par for the course in the Arab world. One hopes, however, that young “October War” players will see the game—and persistent hatred for Israel more generally—for what it is: a distraction from their homework and, ultimately, a gross waste of time.

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The Closest of Strangers

Over at Tapped, the blog of the American Prospect, Kate Sheppard links to a story in the Washington Monthly about the political cult leader and conspiracy theorist Lyndon LaRouche. The anti-Semite who calls for the head of Dick Cheney spent five years in prison for tax evasion, and has been a Democratic candidate for president seven times. But don’t be fooled by LaRouche’s political affiliation or his enemies: Political Research Associates, a non-profit organization that monitors the extremist, right-wing fringe, considers him to be a “fascist demagogue.”

Sheppard expresses widely-held sentiments about this “crazed weirdo,” fascinated at his ability to attract twenty-something “followers” to his various campaigns. She writes of his movement’s “prodigious amounts of crazy” and recommends a recent Washington Monthly story about the suicide of the man who printed LaRouche’s propaganda materials.

Expressing fascination and bewilderment at the enigma that is Lyndon LaRouche, Sheppard ought to have just called up her colleague Robert Dreyfuss, a “Senior Correspondent” of the American Prospect on foreign affairs and national security (he’s also a Contributing Editor to the Nation). Dreyfuss was previously the “Middle East Intelligence Director” for the Executive Intelligence Review, LaRouche’s newspaper. Dreyfuss’s very first book, Hostage to Khomeini (which you can download here, on the website of the Worldwide LaRouche Youth Movement, along with other classic works like LaRouche’s autobiography and Dope, Inc., which posits that the Queen of England is an international drug runner), was published by New Benjamin Franklin House (a LaRouche outfit). The book was co-authored with EIR’s “European Bureau Middle East chief” and dedicated to Dreyfuss’s colleagues at LaRouche’s newspaper.

That conspiratorial tract, by the way, is one that the Prospect’s editors “like.” To learn more about this “fascinating,” fascist cult, Sheppard need look no further than her interoffice phone directory.

Over at Tapped, the blog of the American Prospect, Kate Sheppard links to a story in the Washington Monthly about the political cult leader and conspiracy theorist Lyndon LaRouche. The anti-Semite who calls for the head of Dick Cheney spent five years in prison for tax evasion, and has been a Democratic candidate for president seven times. But don’t be fooled by LaRouche’s political affiliation or his enemies: Political Research Associates, a non-profit organization that monitors the extremist, right-wing fringe, considers him to be a “fascist demagogue.”

Sheppard expresses widely-held sentiments about this “crazed weirdo,” fascinated at his ability to attract twenty-something “followers” to his various campaigns. She writes of his movement’s “prodigious amounts of crazy” and recommends a recent Washington Monthly story about the suicide of the man who printed LaRouche’s propaganda materials.

Expressing fascination and bewilderment at the enigma that is Lyndon LaRouche, Sheppard ought to have just called up her colleague Robert Dreyfuss, a “Senior Correspondent” of the American Prospect on foreign affairs and national security (he’s also a Contributing Editor to the Nation). Dreyfuss was previously the “Middle East Intelligence Director” for the Executive Intelligence Review, LaRouche’s newspaper. Dreyfuss’s very first book, Hostage to Khomeini (which you can download here, on the website of the Worldwide LaRouche Youth Movement, along with other classic works like LaRouche’s autobiography and Dope, Inc., which posits that the Queen of England is an international drug runner), was published by New Benjamin Franklin House (a LaRouche outfit). The book was co-authored with EIR’s “European Bureau Middle East chief” and dedicated to Dreyfuss’s colleagues at LaRouche’s newspaper.

That conspiratorial tract, by the way, is one that the Prospect’s editors “like.” To learn more about this “fascinating,” fascist cult, Sheppard need look no further than her interoffice phone directory.

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Humanitarian Kidnappers

On the eve of the deployment of a joint European-African force on the Chad-Sudanese border in a modest attempt to protect long-suffering Darfur refugees, a slapdash French NGO has created a diplomatic incident. L’Arche de Zoé (a play on l’Arche de Noé, French for Noah’s ark) was caught trying to spirit 103 children out of Chad for delivery to French do-gooders. Six French humanitarians, three journalists, seven members of a Spanish cabin crew, and a Belgian pilot detained in an Abéché lockup since October 25 will be arraigned today and then hastily transferred to N’djamena because of credible threats of lynching by local Islamists.

The story has been covered with unusual diligence by French media. A crisis room was set up at the Foreign Affairs Ministry under the direction of Rama Yade, Under Secretary for Human Rights. President Sarkozy apologized to Idriss Déby, the President of Chad, and French ambassador Bruno Foucher abandoned the distraught humanitarians to the local jurisdiction.

Video footage of an informal interrogation of the suspects by the Chadian President resembled a soft version of a jihadi hostage show, except for the kidnapped children howling in the background, complete with snotty noses, tears welling up in big black eyes, and little hands hugging mugs. The plane crew in uniform and the kidnappers in humanitarian garb are seated on mats on the floor. Zoé’s Ark director Eric Breteau, looking like a naughty boy, stands face to face with the President and his scowling aides. The prisoners are led out in handcuffs. President Déby faces the camera and accuses the humanitarians of stealing African children to sell to pedophiles or, worse, to kill them and sell their organs. (He also accused them of tearing Muslim children away from their faith, but the media brushed over that one.)

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On the eve of the deployment of a joint European-African force on the Chad-Sudanese border in a modest attempt to protect long-suffering Darfur refugees, a slapdash French NGO has created a diplomatic incident. L’Arche de Zoé (a play on l’Arche de Noé, French for Noah’s ark) was caught trying to spirit 103 children out of Chad for delivery to French do-gooders. Six French humanitarians, three journalists, seven members of a Spanish cabin crew, and a Belgian pilot detained in an Abéché lockup since October 25 will be arraigned today and then hastily transferred to N’djamena because of credible threats of lynching by local Islamists.

The story has been covered with unusual diligence by French media. A crisis room was set up at the Foreign Affairs Ministry under the direction of Rama Yade, Under Secretary for Human Rights. President Sarkozy apologized to Idriss Déby, the President of Chad, and French ambassador Bruno Foucher abandoned the distraught humanitarians to the local jurisdiction.

Video footage of an informal interrogation of the suspects by the Chadian President resembled a soft version of a jihadi hostage show, except for the kidnapped children howling in the background, complete with snotty noses, tears welling up in big black eyes, and little hands hugging mugs. The plane crew in uniform and the kidnappers in humanitarian garb are seated on mats on the floor. Zoé’s Ark director Eric Breteau, looking like a naughty boy, stands face to face with the President and his scowling aides. The prisoners are led out in handcuffs. President Déby faces the camera and accuses the humanitarians of stealing African children to sell to pedophiles or, worse, to kill them and sell their organs. (He also accused them of tearing Muslim children away from their faith, but the media brushed over that one.)

Families that had contributed thousands of euros waited in vain at a provincial French airport for the precious cargo of Darfur refugees they were hoping to rescue and eventually adopt. In an initial reaction to the arrests, Zoé’s Ark spokespersons claimed they had acted in full legality, with the cooperation of French and Chadian authorities who suddenly reneged on prior agreements. Members of the association had hopped rides on French military aircraft; isn’t that proof that everyone knew and no one disapproved? French Foreign Ministry officials declare, on the contrary, that they had firmly advised the association to abandon its ill-conceived evacuation plan, which was presented openly as an end run around Chadian regulations against adoption. Other NGO’s operating in the region had filed complaints to remove their logos illegally posted on the Zoé’s Ark website.

But Breteau forged ahead under cover of a straw association—Children Rescue—through which he obtained authorizations to provide humanitarian relief to Darfur refugees in Chad. Apparently untroubled by the grammatical irregularity of “children rescue” and never doubting the connection with Zoe’s Ark, French military pilots unwittingly ferried them; local authorities allowed them to pursue their activities. No one in France has a good word to say about the grounded humanitarians…except for the Human Rights League and the Ark’s high profile lawyer, maître Gilbert Collard. Sordid revelations tumble out hourly. The kids were covered with bandages to corroborate the pretext of a “humanitarian evacuation.” The children are from Chad, not Darfur, and they are not orphans. Two of the older evacuees say their parents let them go with “some whites” who promised to send them to school and give them money, cookies, and a car when they grow up.

There is some NGO folly to the madness of this botched evacuation. Breteau, a former sales rep and volunteer fireman, branched out on his own after doing tsunami rescue work with the Red Cross. The tragic situation in Darfur fueled his megalomaniacal delusions. The extravagant ambitions announced on the Zoe’s Ark website came down to the pitiful transfer of a hundred pseudo-refugees. Now he and his accomplices are up against the harsh realities of a merciless African government and may soon be at the mercy of enraged Muslim fellow prisoners.

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Nazi Mitfords

On November 6, the New York Public Library’s “Conservators Evening” for annual contributors of $1,500 will honor Charlotte Mosley, editor of the new Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters from HarperCollins. By far the most gifted of these siblings was Nancy Mitford (1904-1973), who produced droll, perceptive histories of France like The Sun King, Madame de Pompadour, and Voltaire in Love, as well as translations of the 17th century French novel La Princesse de Clèves and the modern stage comedy by André Roussin, La Petite Hutte.

Ever gracious to literary colleagues, Nancy Mitford also contributed an affectionate preface to Lucy Norton’s worthy translation of excerpts from Saint-Simon. Nancy’s sister Jessica Mitford, (1917–1996), by contrast, produced a now-outdated critique of undertakers, The American Way of Death, (1963) as well as a vast amount of now-faded radical polemics. The rest of the Mitford sisters achieved even less. Two were rabid adorers of Hitler, Unity Mitford (1914-1948) and Diana Mitford (1910–2003), the latter of whom was the worshipful wife of Oswald Mosley (1896–1980), the rabidly anti-Semitic founder of the British Union of Fascists.

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On November 6, the New York Public Library’s “Conservators Evening” for annual contributors of $1,500 will honor Charlotte Mosley, editor of the new Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters from HarperCollins. By far the most gifted of these siblings was Nancy Mitford (1904-1973), who produced droll, perceptive histories of France like The Sun King, Madame de Pompadour, and Voltaire in Love, as well as translations of the 17th century French novel La Princesse de Clèves and the modern stage comedy by André Roussin, La Petite Hutte.

Ever gracious to literary colleagues, Nancy Mitford also contributed an affectionate preface to Lucy Norton’s worthy translation of excerpts from Saint-Simon. Nancy’s sister Jessica Mitford, (1917–1996), by contrast, produced a now-outdated critique of undertakers, The American Way of Death, (1963) as well as a vast amount of now-faded radical polemics. The rest of the Mitford sisters achieved even less. Two were rabid adorers of Hitler, Unity Mitford (1914-1948) and Diana Mitford (1910–2003), the latter of whom was the worshipful wife of Oswald Mosley (1896–1980), the rabidly anti-Semitic founder of the British Union of Fascists.

Although Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters is being marketed by its publisher as a glamorous item penned by the “great wits and beauties of their age,” there is nothing either witty or beautiful about Diana’s and Unity’s ardent crushes on Hitler, with whom they socialized regularly in the 1930’s. In 1937 Unity tells Diana, “Nazism is my life,” while Diana replies, “I thirst for only a glimpse of” Hitler, and in 1938 informs Unity: “The Fuehrer is the kindest man in the world, isn’t he?”

Readers who dissent from this view will find astonishingly adamant defenses here of Diana by the editor Charlotte Mosley, her daughter-in-law. Charlotte is the wife of Diana’s son Oswald Alexander Mosley (born 1938), and as editor of previous collections of Nancy’s letters, Ms. Mosley repeatedly defended her mother-in-law, despite Diana’s being an unrepentant Nazi to her dying day. Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters amps up this unapologetic stance, accusing Nancy of “disloyalty” and “betrayal” because during World War II, she sensibly told friends in the British government of her concern that Diana was an “extremely dangerous person.” Moreover, Nancy pointed out that another sister, Pamela, was “anti-Semitic, anti-democratic, and defeatist.” Rather than applauding Nancy’s good sense and courage, Ms. Mosley equates Nancy’s passion for a French Gaullist officer to Diana’s and Unity’s doting on Hitler, writing that Nancy “became as indiscriminately pro-French as Unity had been pro-German.”

Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters mashes the sisters into a conglomerate, describing them as knowing “Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, and Hitler; [they] were friends of Lytton Strachey, Evelyn Waugh, and Maya Angelou.” This conjures up confused images of Hitler socializing with Maya Angelou. Historical mish-mash is a bad approach for a book dealing with six sisters of whom only one, Nancy, produced work that is as fresh today as when she wrote it.

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Smarter Secrecy?

Chalk one up for my friend Steve Aftergood. Back in 2002, his organization, the Federation of American Scientists, sued the CIA in a fruitless effort to get it to declassify the sum total it was spending annually on intelligence. That number had long been classified. But the 9/11 Commission recommended that it be made public and Congress agreed. The WaPo reports that Adm. Mike McConnell, the Director of National Intelligence, will announce today that the fiscal 2007 intelligence budget is near $50 billion. Aftergood’s efforts have borne fruit after all.

But will this revelation damage national security?

Back in August, in a post entitled Secrecy for the Sake of Secrecy, I argued that declassification of the budget total was a bad idea, not because the information itself was sensitive but because it would send the wrong signal.

“Good and completely rational arguments exist for disclosing the intelligence budget,” I wrote. “But the larger fact is that an unfortunate and damaging climate of openness has come to surround things that should be wrapped in darkness. For that reason alone, if for no other, disclosing the total intelligence budget would be a step in the wrong direction.”

Aftergood commented sardonically on my post at the time, saying:   

Gabe, I find this argument hard to follow. Can it be that because “highly sensitive secrets . . . are leaked to the press with regularity” we should classify things that are not highly sensitive? Is this some kind of hair-of-the-dog-that-bit-you remedy? I think the new consensus in favor of budget disclosure makes much more sense: Smarter secrecy, not more secrecy.

Aftergood and I often sharply disagree about what constitutes “smarter secrecy.” But let’s give him one point in this round. My argument was somewhat perverse. I will take a zero.

Chalk one up for my friend Steve Aftergood. Back in 2002, his organization, the Federation of American Scientists, sued the CIA in a fruitless effort to get it to declassify the sum total it was spending annually on intelligence. That number had long been classified. But the 9/11 Commission recommended that it be made public and Congress agreed. The WaPo reports that Adm. Mike McConnell, the Director of National Intelligence, will announce today that the fiscal 2007 intelligence budget is near $50 billion. Aftergood’s efforts have borne fruit after all.

But will this revelation damage national security?

Back in August, in a post entitled Secrecy for the Sake of Secrecy, I argued that declassification of the budget total was a bad idea, not because the information itself was sensitive but because it would send the wrong signal.

“Good and completely rational arguments exist for disclosing the intelligence budget,” I wrote. “But the larger fact is that an unfortunate and damaging climate of openness has come to surround things that should be wrapped in darkness. For that reason alone, if for no other, disclosing the total intelligence budget would be a step in the wrong direction.”

Aftergood commented sardonically on my post at the time, saying:   

Gabe, I find this argument hard to follow. Can it be that because “highly sensitive secrets . . . are leaked to the press with regularity” we should classify things that are not highly sensitive? Is this some kind of hair-of-the-dog-that-bit-you remedy? I think the new consensus in favor of budget disclosure makes much more sense: Smarter secrecy, not more secrecy.

Aftergood and I often sharply disagree about what constitutes “smarter secrecy.” But let’s give him one point in this round. My argument was somewhat perverse. I will take a zero.

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Saddam, You Did a Heckuva Job

Don’t build a dam on a gypsum foundation. Gypsum dissolves when it comes into contact with water. Nonetheless, that’s exactly what the all-wise, all-powerful Saddam Hussein did in the early 1980’s. The WaPo reports that “the largest dam in Iraq is in serious danger of an imminent collapse that could unleash a trillion-gallon wave of water.” The lives of 500,000 people down-river in Mosul and parts of Baghdad are now at risk. The cost of repairs: between $1 billion and $10 billion.

Don’t build a dam on a gypsum foundation. Gypsum dissolves when it comes into contact with water. Nonetheless, that’s exactly what the all-wise, all-powerful Saddam Hussein did in the early 1980’s. The WaPo reports that “the largest dam in Iraq is in serious danger of an imminent collapse that could unleash a trillion-gallon wave of water.” The lives of 500,000 people down-river in Mosul and parts of Baghdad are now at risk. The cost of repairs: between $1 billion and $10 billion.

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