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.

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Top Ten Findings of the CIA Inspector General’s Report on 9/11

by Micah Zenko
An aerial view of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) headquarters in Langley, Virginia. (Reed/Reuters) An aerial view of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) headquarters in Langley, Virginia. (Reed/Reuters)

Last week, in response to long-standing FOIA requests, the CIA declassified—with significant redactions—five documents related to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. The most notable was a June 2005 Office of the Inspector General (OIG) report into CIA accountability regarding the findings of the Report of the Joint Inquiry into the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001, which was produced by the House and Senate intelligence committees. That joint inquiry was published in December 2002—long before the 9/11 Commission report—and served as the most comprehensive public investigation into Intelligence Community (IC) shortcomings. The 2005 OIG report reviewed the joint inquiry’s central findings to determine if senior CIA officials should be reprimanded for their actions. Read more »

Deepening the U.S. Military Commitment in Iraq

by Micah Zenko
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest answers questions about an apparent bomb threat after evacuated journalists returned to the press briefing room at the White House in Washington on June 9, 2015 (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters). White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest answers questions about an apparent bomb threat after evacuated journalists returned to the press briefing room at the White House in Washington on June 9, 2015 (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters).

Yesterday, the White House announced the deployment of “450 additional U.S. military personnel to train, advise, and assist Iraqi Security Forces at Taqaddum military base in eastern Anbar province.” It is easy to conceive of this latest limited addition of U.S. troops to Iraq, and nearby countries, in isolation, and as the logical and necessary next-step in the expanding campaign against ISIL. However, the White House has been announcing troop deployments, with varying justifications and objectives, for over a year now. If you are one of the few people truly interested in how the United States has gradually slid into this open-ended conflict, with little public debate, and zero congressional input, it is worthwhile to review some of the notable milestones along the way. Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Airpower in Iraq, Sanctions Effectiveness, and Military Intervention

by Micah Zenko

Department of Defense, Lt. Gen. John W. Hesterman III, Combined Forces Air Component commander (CFACC) press briefing, June 5, 2015.

About the only thing airpower doesn’t do is take, hold, and govern territory. The Iraqis are going to have to do that. And this airpower campaign is going to give them the time and space to do that… Read more »

Does U.S. Foreign Policy Spur National Security Threats?

by Micah Zenko
CIA Director John Brennan listens to remarks by U.S. President Barack Obama at the Director of National Intelligence Office to mark its 10th anniversary on April 24, 2015. (Gripas/Reuters) CIA Director John Brennan listens to remarks by U.S. President Barack Obama at the Director of National Intelligence Office to mark its 10th anniversary on April 24, 2015. (Gripas/Reuters)

Yesterday on “Face the Nation,” CIA Director John Brennan made an unnoticed but significant acknowledgement about the conduct and consequences of U.S. foreign policy and the ongoing war on terrorism. Asked whether President Obama “seems to be just trying to buy time here, that he’s not ready to make a full commitment here in this war on terrorism and basically is just trying to keep things together well enough that he can leave it to the next president to resolve it. Do you see that?” Brennan responded: Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Assassination Plots, Drone Strikes, and Women Special Operators

by Micah Zenko
Second Lt. Johanna Shaffer shares a cookie with an Afghan child while under the security of Marines assigned to 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, during her all-female team's first mission in Farah Province in 2009. (Burton/Reuters) Second Lt. Johanna Shaffer shares a cookie with an Afghan child while under the security of Marines assigned to 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, during her all-female team's first mission in Farah Province in 2009. (Burton/Reuters)

Memorandum From the President’s Counselor (Marsh) to President Ford, Foreign Relations of the United States 1917-1972, Volume XXXVIII, Part 2, Document 55, U.S. Department of State Office of the Historian, October 29, 1975. Read more »

Preventing Conflict in Cyberspace Triggered by Miscalculation

by Micah Zenko
A technician monitors power output in the control room at the operating nuclear power plant in France. (Tessier/Courtesy Reuters) A technician monitors power output in the control room at the operating nuclear power plant in France. (Tessier/Courtesy Reuters)

What constitutes an act of war in cyberspace? What should be U.S. response options to a consequential cyberattack? These questions are repeatedly asked at Congressional hearings with U.S. officials struggling to provide satisfactory answers.

Today, the Center for Preventive Action released a Contingency Planning Memorandum, “Strategic Risks of Ambiguity in Cyberspace,” which I am tremendously proud to say directly addresses these issues and much more. Read more »

Is U.S. Foreign Policy Making Americans Less Safe?

by Micah Zenko
FBI Director James Comey, CIA Director John Brennan, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson listen during President Barack Obama's speech about the National Security Agency (NSA) at the Justice Department in Washington on January 17, 2014. (Lamarque/Reuters) FBI Director James Comey, CIA Director John Brennan, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson listen during President Barack Obama's speech about the National Security Agency (NSA) at the Justice Department in Washington on January 17, 2014. (Lamarque/Reuters)

Senior U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism officials increasingly warn of the threat of “lone wolf” individuals attempting terror attacks within the United States. These potential perpetrators are characterized as externally motivated, but predominantly self-directed in plotting and attempting acts of politically and/or ideologically motivated violence. They need not travel to purported foreign “safe havens” to receive training or guidance, nor be in direct contact with terrorist organizations based abroad. Rather, their inspiration, in large part, appears to stem from the principles and narratives promoted by Islamist jihadist groups. Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Islamic Violence, the Bush Legacy, and Rubio on Libya

by Micah Zenko
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush takes questions at a town hall meeting in Reno, Nevada on May 13, 2015. (Glover/Reuters) Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush takes questions at a town hall meeting in Reno, Nevada on May 13, 2015. (Glover/Reuters)

Michael Morell, with Bill Harlow, The Great War of Our Time: The CIA’s Fight Against Terrorism from Al Qa’ida to ISIS (New York, NY: Twelve, 2015), p. 63.

[On September 15, 2001], a senior State Department official walked over and expressed the opinion to the president that it was critical that America’s first response to the [September 11] attack be diplomatic—that we should reason with the Taliban and ask them to turn over Bin Laden and his senior al Qa’ida leadership. Read more »

Nine Months of Coalition Air Strikes Against the Islamic State

by Micah Zenko
A Royal Jordanian Air Force plane takes off from an air base to strike the self-declared Islamic State in the Syrian city of Raqqa on February 5, 2015. (Petra News Agency/Reuters) A Royal Jordanian Air Force plane takes off from an air base to strike the self-declared Islamic State in the Syrian city of Raqqa on February 5, 2015. (Petra News Agency/Reuters)

Today marks the nine month anniversary since the start of the U.S.-led air campaign, later named Operation Inherent Resolve, against the self-declared Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria. The air war, which Secretary of State John Kerry then described as definitively not a war, but rather “a heightened level of counterterrorism operation,” shows no sign of ending. U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) Commander Gen. Lloyd Austin told the House Armed Services Committee in March, “The enemy is now in a ‘defensive crouch,’ and is unable to conduct major operations.” The Pentagon has released a series of maps that purportedly detail the loss of territory under control by IS. However, the number and competence of Iraqi and Kurdish ground forces required to ultimately defeat IS militants on the ground, and then control, secure, and administer newly freed territory, are lacking. In an unnoticed indicator found in the prepared testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, two U.S. Air Force lieutenant generals acknowledged: “These combat operations are expected to continue long-term (3+ years).”   Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Drone Strikes, Nation-building, and the U.S. Aviation Inventory

by Micah Zenko

Elisabeth Bumiller, “Soldier, Thinker, Hunter, Spy: Drawing a Bead on Al Qaeda,” New York Times, September 3, 2011.

In Mr. [Michael] Vickers’s [top adviser to then-secretary of defense Leon E. Panetta] assessment, there are perhaps four important Qaeda leaders left in Pakistan, and 10 to 20 leaders over all in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Even if the United States kills them all in drone strikes, Mr. Vickers said, “You still have Al Qaeda, the idea.” Read more »