Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Two and two together

Marc Ambinder, who seems to have gotten some kind of fire lit under him in the past month or so--all of a sudden his stories are about forty times more interesting--has a brilliant piece about some of the interagency jockeying going on around the war in Afghanistan. It's a lesson in how to read for subtext and hidden information, and how much you need to know to be able to do so at all:

Greg Miller, the Washington Post's ace intelligence and national security reporter, poured a bucket of ice down the backs of American officials with his publication last night of a story about how U.S. special operations forces are hamstrung from pursuing high value targets in Afghanistan, even as they're quietly drawing up plans for direct military retaliation against entities who plan terrorist attacks in the United States. The Post chose to headline the story with what I thought to be of secondary importance -- the drawing of contingency plans for retaliatory attacks: "Options studied for a possible Pakistan strike." [...]

But the real interesting part of this story is subtextual. Miller is a fantastic journalist, and he has sources almost no one else has. But even the most voluble of sources chose to speak at moments when disclosing information would best advance their equities in a particular debate. So why are Miller's sources talking right now, and what message are they trying to communicate?

He proceeds to tell you his thoughts--which seem pretty plausible, but I'm hardly in a position to evaluate when it comes to the subtle discontents of CENTCOM vs. SOCOM in targeting procedures--and then wallops you at the end with a protip that, if you're me, leaves you gaping at the obvious genius of it while he vanishes cackling into the interweb.

By the way, note how two of the quotations in the piece use the word "punitive." If you've got some time today, run the word "punitive" and the names of the senior officers associated with the special operations command and see if you can figure out who likes to use that phrase a lot. (Do the same thing, incidentally, for the words "pulse" and "kinetic" and "senior administration official." That has nothing to do with this article, but it's going to be revealing, nonetheless.)

Trust, if I had any idea what the relevant names were, I would be happily digging around LexisNexis and not sitting here typing this.

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