Micah Zenko

Politics, Power, and Preventive Action

Zenko covers the U.S. national security debate and offers insight on developments in international security and conflict prevention.

Guest Post: Fighting Maritime Piracy: Mission Accomplished?

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko Thursday, January 31, 2013
German forces patrol after destroying two boats off the coast of Somalia (Handout/Courtesy Reuters). German forces patrol after destroying two boats off the coast of Somalia (Handout/Courtesy Reuters).

Emma Welch is a research associate in the Center for Preventive Action and the International Institutions and Global Governance program at the Council on Foreign Relations.

In early January, Mohamed Abdi Hassan—dubbed a “pirate kingpin” by the United Nations—announced his retirement from piracy. In his farewell press conference, Hassan explained: “After being in piracy for eight years, I have decided to renounce and quit, and from today on I will not be involved in this gang activity.” He added, “I have also been encouraging many of my colleagues to renounce piracy too.” Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Drones, Cyber, and Mythologies of Intervention

by Micah Zenko Friday, January 25, 2013
A drone takes off from a U.S. base in Afghanistan (Handout/Courtesy Reuters). A drone takes off from a U.S. base in Afghanistan (Handout/Courtesy Reuters).

Jill Lepore, “How Much Military is Enough?” New Yorker, January 28, 2013.


Veit Medick, “Germany Plans to Deploy Armed Drones,” Spiegel Online International, January 25, 2013. Read more »

Ask the Experts: Social Media and Conflict Prevention

by Micah Zenko Wednesday, January 23, 2013
An opposition supporter lifts a placard at the front line near Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, in July 2011 (Yannis Behrakis/Courtesy Reuters). An opposition supporter lifts a placard at the front line near Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, in July 2011 (Yannis Behrakis/Courtesy Reuters).

An increasing number of policymakers and think-tank residents are championing the power of social media and big data to pressure governments, empower civil society, deter human rights abuses through the power of witness, and semi-accurately forecast political instability and conflict without the false positives. In a column today, Thomas Friedman endorsed utilizing existing social networks “to our advantage to gain leverage in diplomacy” by speaking directly to Iranians, Israelis, and Palestinians, who will then somehow force their governments to finally do what they have not (because, of course, ordinary citizens are aligned with U.S. interests once they are addressed in Persian, Hebrew, or Arabic). Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Mali, Cyberwar, and “Zero Option” in Afghanistan

by Micah Zenko Friday, January 18, 2013
A helicopter lands at Forward Operating Base Apache in the Zabul Province of Afghanistan (Tim Wimborne/Courtesy Reuters). A helicopter lands at Forward Operating Base Apache in the Zabul Province of Afghanistan (Tim Wimborne/Courtesy Reuters).

Tony Capaccio, “Iran’s Cyber Threat Potential Great, U.S. General Says,” Bloomberg News, January 17, 2013.

Iran’s developing ability to launch cyber attacks will make it “a force to be reckoned with,” the head of the U.S. Air Force Space Command said. Read more »

Preventing Electoral Violence in Kenya

by Micah Zenko Thursday, January 10, 2013
Kenyans walk past a destroyed house in the sprawling Kibera slums, which was one of the most affected areas during the post-election violence in 2007 (Antony Njuguna/Courtesy Reuters). Kenyans walk past a destroyed house in the sprawling Kibera slums, which was one of the most affected areas during the post-election violence in 2007 (Antony Njuguna/Courtesy Reuters).

Since 2007, after a widely contested presidential election precipitated a descent in violence that killed over one thousand people, Kenya has taken steps to rebuild its political system through a power-sharing agreement and a new constitution. However, as tensions among rival ethnic groups rise ahead of the next elections, to be held in March 2013, continued stability in Kenya—already threatened by sporadic outbreaks of violence—remains uncertain. In a new Contingency Planning Memorandum “Electoral Violence in Kenya,” Joel Barkan warns that the March elections (with a potential run-off in April) are “arguably the most important and complex since the country’s return to multiparty politics two decades ago.” Events on the ground are further complicated by ongoing proceedings of the International Criminal Court, which has indicted one of the leading presidential candidates, Uhuru Kenyatta, for his role in perpetuating ethnic conflict in the aftermath of the 2007 elections. Read more »

What to Expect from Brennan’s Confirmation Hearing

by Micah Zenko Tuesday, January 8, 2013
Then-U.S. Army general David Petraeus at an event in the East Room of the White House (Larry Downing/Courtesy Reuters). Then-U.S. Army general David Petraeus at an event in the East Room of the White House (Larry Downing/Courtesy Reuters).

Several pundits have called for the confirmation hearing on John Brennan’s nomination to become the director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to be used as the opportunity to debate the vast expansion of targeted killings under President Obama. From his position as the senior White House advisor to the president on all counterterrorism and intelligence issues, Brennan could clarify and answer many of the moral, legal, and operational questions regarding U.S. drone strikes. Read more »

John Brennan as CIA Director: What It Means

by Micah Zenko Monday, January 7, 2013
President Obama listens after his announcement of Brennan as his nominee to be the new director of the CIA (Jason Reed/Courtesy Reuters). President Obama listens after his announcement of Brennan as his nominee to be the new director of the CIA (Jason Reed/Courtesy Reuters).

Several news agencies are reporting that John Brennan, White House homeland security advisor and deputy national security advisor for counterterrorism, will be nominated to be the director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Since David Petraeus resigned from the position on November 9, it has been rumored that the position is Brennan’s for the taking. Several people in the administration believed he would defer the move to Langley, since it would effectively be a demotion from his current position, which allows him to meet with President Obama constantly as—according to Obama administration officials—”a priest whose blessing has become indispensable to Obama.” Moreover, Brennan would at times call CIA officers directly from the White House, without clearance from Petraeus; a practice one suspects he will not appreciate if he occupies the director’s seventh floor office. Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Targeted Killings, Renditions, and Hollywood Myths

by Micah Zenko Friday, January 4, 2013
Camp Justice at the U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay (Pool New/Courtesy Reuters). Camp Justice at the U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay (Pool New/Courtesy Reuters).

Iona Craig and Nico Hines, “Saudi Jets Join America’s Secret War in Yemen,” The Times, January 4, 2013.

The Times has learnt that up to 228 people were killed last year by covert attacks in Yemen, including Saudi airstrikes. “Some of the so-called drone missions are actually Saudi Air Force missions,” a U.S. intelligence official said. Read more »