What is NAL/Caliber?

January 23, 2015–For those of you looking for the latest commentary, sorry. I’ve been out of circulation on a deadline, and now I need to reorganize to take up the next project. In the meantime I noticed a reference on the web to a question someone had actually asked me just the other day. So I’m just putting up a quick note to answer that question.

“NAL/Caliber” is a publisher. It’s more complicated than that, of course, but that’s the gist of it. In the way of agglomeration in the publishing industry the back story is this: New American Library (NAL) is an old line publishing house. If I remember correctly they used to have two lines–or “imprints” as they are called in publishing. One published useful editions of classic books and was called the Modern Library. The other did popular paperbacks and was called Signet. NAL also did some books under their own imprint.

At some point before I worked with them, NAL was acquired by Penguin Books–my theory is it was for their classics line. Penguin continued to run NAL as an imprint. NAL/Caliber is a further subset–an imprint that specializes in popular military history. I’ve published two books with NAL/Caiber–Islands of Destiny  (2013 paperback, 2012 hardcover) and Normandy Crucible.  There is a sequel to Islands of Destiny in progress.

Naturally this may all change. Penguin has been acquired in its turn by the publisher Random House. What the final disposition may be I cannot say.


Gamer’s Corner: “John Hill” Game Designer Story Contest

January 14, 2015–John Hill’s sudden demise should give pause to all of us gamers. There is so much of the story of gaming that is out there but is just an oral tradition because no one’s written it down. Some of you will be aware–but many will not–that I’d already had the idea of starting to do something about this. I’m going to start putting a series of occasional profiles of favorite game designers in my column in the magazine Against the Odds– the first of these is in progress now and will be in their next issue to go to press, #44.

So that these columns wouldn’t just reflect my own memories of various gaming figures, before Christmas I hosted a contest whereby folks sent in their favorite memories of personal encounters with game designers. The winner received a copy of one of my ATO-published games of her/his choice (for the record, that person was Brian Train, who chose to receive a copy of Beyond Waterloo). The stories will go in future columns.

Now for Round 2: Though we gathered some good stories I know you all have lots more. In John Hill’s memory–and in his honor–I hereby open a second round of the “Game Designer Story Contest.” Here are the rules–

This time there will be three winners. Each winner will receive, as before, a copy of one of my ATO-published games of her/his choice, subject only to what I have available. If your choice is the forthcoming Victory of Arminius, that must wait on the actual publication of the game. But there are many other possible choices.

To enter the contest, go to the “Comments” section of this website and tell your story. Be sure to leave your name and email address, since otherwise there will be no way to inform you if you’re a winner or to get you your prize.

The Story must pertain to a published game designer (mention one or a few titles, along with the name of the publisher). Stories may relate a personal encounter, tell an inside story of a game, of playtesting, of casual gaming, a seminar, or the activities of the person.

Your “Favorite Game Designer” can be anyone–do not neglect John Hill. I promise that the second column in this series will profile John (it cannot be the first one since that is already being written).

Stories will be used in these ATO “Simulation Corner” columns and in other writings. Some will appear here, on my website, in features under the “Gaming” blog category, to give readers an idea of some of the great stuff that’s accumulating. We’ll all end up knowing more about our hobby.

Your entry of a story will constitute your permission to publish it (to meet copyright law requirements). You warrant the story is not proprietary information and that it is not libelous. You will be identified in telling your story of the game designer, so you’ll have bragging rights on that whether or not you end up as a contest winner.

Please, only one entry per message.

But there is no limit to the number of entries you may submit. All entries must be in by 11:59 PM of February 15, 2015.

I will be the sole judge of the contest. Winners will be determined and announced before the end of February 2015. I’ll inform the winners directly and they and I will determine what prize they carry away. The winners will also be announced in this space.

Enter early and often!

Gamer’s Corner: Goodbye to John Hill

January 13, 2015–During the late 1970s and early 80s, when we were all pushing the envelope for simulation authenticity, designer John Hill had a theory he called “design for effect.” That didn’t sit very well with me after I saw a Korean War game of his, with Chinese communist forces portrayed at the “army” and “group army” level, and then those armies being able to infiltrate across United Nations lines–because, after all, any Korea game had to have an infiltration capability on the communist side.

At one of the game shows I ran into John and we had it out. Amicably enough, John made it clear he was sticking to his guns. Then we went off to get a burger and a soda. Hill’s most famous game–justifiably so–Squad Leader had its “Berserk” units (because in “most” tactical situations somebody goes crazy). And so on.

I loved Squad Leader. And therein lay the charm–John Hill was a firm believer in playability. Whether it was Johnny Reb Civil War miniatures (John’s Civil War rebel cap became a fixture for quite a while), October War games, or his first sally that I knew about, a Vietnam game called Battle for Hue, you got a John Hill game and you knew you’d have fun.

I think it was the initial Origins where I first met John. He was riding a wave from his Hue game and I also had a Vietnam design out there, my SPI wargame Year of the Rat. We joked about the two Johns at Johns Hopkins University. Quite a few other times we spent time over a table, broke bread, or walked together down the aisle at a game show, oohing and aah-ing the new titles and speculating why this or that feature had been done a certain way. Other times I’d be cruising the general gaming area–I love watching the miniatures players go at it–and John would be there wailing away.

Gaming has lost a good man, and I, a good friend.

More on Secrecy as a Disease

January 13, 2015–I’d wanted to post about the fantasy horrors being invoked around the “Charlie Hebdo” terrorist incident–the dangers foreseen here have indeed come to pass–but new developments on the secrecy front oblige me to turn that way first. We’ll get back to the “terrorist cell” in another post.

If you’ve spent much time reading this space you’ll know that I have frequently decried egregious government secrecy. You may be aware of some of the specific discussions that have appeared here. I have two of them in mind today. General James Clapper, our Director of National Intelligence (DNI) is on the hook for both of them.

The first is my posting just before last Christmas, presenting evidence showing that the CIA had deliberately used secrecy restrictions to influence a political debate, moving declassification requests from its people implicated in the torture report ahead of the line of supplicants while holding up the release of the actual Senate intelligence committee investigative report. That, of course, was so the agency officers in trouble could craft a defense with their own website containing formerly secret documents. I posted a selection from these documents (available as a product called “Bush Torture Documents”in the Downloadable section of this website) to illustrate how far the CIA declassifiers were ready to go for their own.

Now, it turns out that while all this was happening, the DNI’s Inspector General was assessing DNI and agency performance on excessive secrecy, as he is required to do under a 2010 law. The latest of these assessments was issued in December 2014, as the very events above were occurring. The Inspector General found “no instances” in which “classification was used to conceal violation of law, inefficiency, or administrative error; prevent embarrassment to a person, organization, or agency; restrain competition; or prevent or delay release of information not requiring protection in the interest of national security.” Really? So what was the torture report caper anyway?

What planet do these people live on? Do they seriously expect the public to believe what they say when they openly flout all regulatory mechanisms?

Next up is the disturbing–and seriously misguided, idea of making our own spy agency officials the enemy. This is the so-called “insider threat.” No doubt inspired by Edward Snowden’s revelations, the insider threat has been conjured up to make the whistleblower the enemy, rather than people like the CIA torturers, who actually engaged in illegal activities. Fearful Clapper and his minions, the other spy chieftains, used their appearance on Capitol Hill for the annual national security threat survey last year to decry this insider threat.

Back in May and June (“America’s Terrified Spooks,” May 9, 2014; “U.S. Intelligence Tied Up in Knots,” June 8, 2014) I wrote about these matters, and discussed how they sap morale at the agencies as well as criminalizing–if properly implemented–the activity agency officials themselves engage in when they leak information to reporters.

Over the weekend we had a delicious illustration of exactly how ridiculous all this is. It was revealed that the Department of Justice has, for several months, been sitting on recommendations from the FBI that it should seek a criminal indictment against former CIA director David Petraeus. As it turns out–and as rumored at the time of his resignation from the agency following revelation of his affair with Army officer and biographer Paula Broadwell–Petraeus had given her secret documents which ended up on her computer. Diane Feinstein, the outgoing chairwoman of the Senate intelligence committee promptly spoke up to say the offense should be ignored–Petraeus had suffered enough already. The message appears to have gotten through. Washington sources appear to be saying it is extremely unlikely Petraeus will be charged for leaking classified information.

(I happen to agree with the idea, in general, that regulations had gone too far in casting General Petraeus as a bad guy. I said so back in November 2012 in a piece in the “Outlook” section of the Washington Post.)

But what we have here is another specific demonstration of the double standard. Just as CIA declassifiers favored their friends with a shower of secret memos while throwing the regulation book at Senate investigators; here, Justice Department authorities want to excuse David Petraeus for letting out secret information while they seek maximum penalties for Edward Snowden.

You can’t have it both ways. Either jail Petraeus or forget about indicting Snowden. Otherwise the mishmash of regulations on secrecy, the lack of consistency in enforcement, and the haphazard application of the provisions that do exist make a mockery of the whole idea that there is a “system.”

Charlie Hebdo– Sad

January 7, 2015–Breaking news this morning that several gunmen attacked the offices of the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo colors the day. At last report eleven had been killed and others wounded. Reportedly the attackers were three men, disguised in ski masks, seeking to avenge what they regard as cartoons lampooning Muslim apostle Mohammed. President Francois Hollande rushes to the scene. President Barack Obama promises any American help that seems desirable.

The stories that will be written about this incident have yet to be inked but already you can see the hacks aligning themselves to play the buttons of the American people. Another push on the hysteria button is just around the corner. South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsay Graham successively tweets that U.S. intelligence capabilities to detect something like this have atrophied, and  the security forces to stop it don’t exist. No doubt Fearful Clapper and others will be stepping up right behind Graham.

Don’t believe it, either claim. U.S. intelligence capabilities have atrophied because we can’t torture? That’s silly. As CIA never tires of telling us, with only a few exceptions all their torture was done by 2003 and, anyway, their later attempts to preserve a standby capability and legal authorization were over with by 2007-2008. Since that time the CIA and/or FBI have busted up an alleged Times Square plot, a Subway plot, the underwear bomber plot, the copy machine bomb plot, a Portland plot, and others.

Equally to the point, American leaders and CIA torturers may or may not get a pass on the outrages they have already inflicted, but, if today the Charlie Hebdo or any other incident leads the Americans to re-institute CIA torture, at that point you can be certain that Americans–past offenders probably included–will face future war crimes charges.

As for security capabilities taken separately, by some measures the United States is the most over-policed nation on the globe. Indeed the story of recent months here is one of minorities and other populations rejecting overbearing police intimidation and violence. American police need more training, more stringent regulation, less incentive to violate civil rights, and certainly less military equipment and armament.

Again and again–in the Fort Hood massacre, in the Navy Yard shootings, in other incidents here and abroad–the attackers’ delicate psychological mechanisms break down, converting long alleged grievances into immediate perceived causes for action. My bet is the Charlie Hebdo murders will end up in this category too. “Detecting” longstanding personal grievances is not a legitimate intelligence function. Where detection occurs it is by coincidence. No amount of apparatus will establish a reliable standing capability to detect personal grievances. Nor do police need more SWAT teams. Far more security would be gained by making it impossible to obtain assault rifles and other automatic weapons.

Torture and Eavesdropping–Do the Spooks Get a Pass?

January 5, 2015–There are smiling faces today among our intrepid spies, their acolytes, and the political figures who stand behind them. The CIA looks to have dodged a bullet on the torture investigation accomplished by the Senate intelligence committee, and the NSA dragnet eavesdropping is safe pending the legislation authorizing it coming up for renewal. Meanwhile, because the Republican Party won control of the Senate in November’s election, the intelligence oversight committee leadership will switch parties. Saxby Chambliss, the Georgia Republican likely to take over from Diane Feinstein, is even more a pushover than she has been.

Game over? The smiling spooks would like to think so. They have fed friendly reporters–like Walter Pincus of the Washington Post–a diet of cherry-picked evidence designed to substantiate their claims. Pincus, with his increasing tendency to cull details from a document and recite them without pondering the deeper meanings of evidence, is making their case. A big conquest was Mark Mazzetti of the New York Times, who ten days ago (December 27) published the spooks’ dream article, “After Scrutiny, CIA Mandate Is Untouched,” which sought to explain why the agency this year, unlike the cauldron of 1975, has succeeded in scooting by its overseers.

Don’t believe it! Not for a minute. What we are witnessing is the end of a cycle of oversight of the intelligence community. As I discussed at some length in Safe for Democracy, since its creation the current system has featured a flux in which key overseers of the spy system compete for primacy, which shifts between the White House and Congress. That cycle went out of kilter after 9/11, with the White House leading CIA and NSA into a prohibited zone of illegal activities, and ordering them to bamboozle Congress. The intelligence committees–at that time under Republican control–were happy to go along. The cycle would have stayed in balance had President Obama enforced accountability. Over the past six years, while Democrats led the intelligence committee, the torture investigation essentially represented an effort to override Obama’s veto. That has failed, but the real meaning here is that the system of congressional oversight of intelligence has shown itself to be bankrupt– and moribund. More than that, suppression of a wave of legitimate criticism affects the harmonics of the dispute: next time around the metastable energy will make a new wave of criticism even more powerful. The pieces are already in play to make that happen. Consider:

Item: Relying upon Republican-controlled intelligence committees to get the CIA and NSA off the hook merely increases the damage that partisanship has already done in this vital field of national security. When leadership in the Senate changes again, the controversies left hanging right now will simply roar back to the front. Once the grip of partisanship is complete, the old management techniques become useless. The spooks enjoyed marked advantages under the old system. The next oversight mechanism, not yet conceived, cannot be predicted. The spooks are exchanging known quantities on a platter for the contents of a paper bag.

Item: The spooks and their acolytes have been relying upon invidious comparisons between the Senate intelligence committee’s torture report and the study that committee did of the Iraq prewar intelligence, contrasting the claim that many interviews were done for the Iraq reports with this round, where Senate investigators avoided such interviews. That was because the same CIA officers were under simultaneous criminal investigation and evidence could be tainted by its appearance under congressional questioning, as had previously occurred in the Iran-Contra Affair.

The Iraq WMD versus torture report comparisons are a loaded hand grenade waiting to go off. If I were one of the officers implicated in this affair I would avoid comparisons like this at all cost. The Iraq WMD report was the product of the Republican-led committee, so on one level this argument is like saying Republican reports are good but Democratic ones bad. That will be firewater when Democrats return to the helm at the intelligence committee.

Equally to the point, the Senate committee’s Iraq WMD report was itself gravely flawed. For one thing, the volumes had to be virtually dragged out of the committee over a period of several years. The Republican leadership of the committee also deliberately left out important subjects of inquiry to shield the Bush White House, and they rejected including questions to which the Democratic members sought answers. The Republicans at the Senate committee bent over backwards in the WMD reports to avoid any conclusion that the CIA had been ordered to find Iraq to be possessing WMDs and colluding with Al Qaeda.They further resisted making any conclusion that the White House had then used these flawed CIA reports to justify invading Iraq.

The Iraqi “cakewalk” is soon to enter its twelfth year. The Senate committee’s WMD report is a very deep black mark, not an exemplar of sound investigative practice. –And while we are on the subject of interviews (evidence) it is worth making several points. First, the Bush administration denied numerous documents to the congressional committees performing these inquiries, so the “evidence” objection in its case simply applies to a different form of material. Indeed, the intelligence committee’s investigators did a number of their interviews to compensate for missing documents. In the torture report the investigators were denied documents too, enough so that the White House had to intervene to adjudicate the dispute.

In other words, in both cases there is evidence of CIA and White House cover up, not of responsiveness to Congress. If the reports are to be denied because of limitations of evidence, that really says Congress is not capable of comprehensive reporting on U.S. spies because it can never get the full story. Conclusion? The oversight system has broken down. (We’re back where we started up above.)

Arguments over the interview evidence also fail to take the nature of interviews into account. The Senate investigators did have access to the Department of Justice and FBI records of interviews with the CIA principals in this story. It is therefore disingenuous to say the investigators never “talked” to anybody. The Justice/FBI people were asking the same questions that concerned the Senate investigators, and the CIA officers were giving answers that we can assume are at least related, if not identical to, what they would have said to a Senate investigator asking the same question.

If, on the other hand, the spooks’ line is that they would have said something different to the Senate committee, that raises questions of veracity in interviews (not to say perjury in their original comments to the FBI) which calls into question the value of the interview evidence as a resource for the Senate investigators.

This is a very slippery slope. Were I among the CIA officers threatened by this controversy, I would be asking whether the basis for their complaints regarding the Senate report has really been considered thoroughly.

Item: While complaints about the Senate report sort of evaporate when they are examined, those about the CIA’s own actions do not. The torture was real. In the law it does not matter–except to make the crime more grave– how many times, when it started or stopped, how many were the victims. Who authorized the torture–whether it was the White House or some rogue CIA element–only matters for how wide is the circle of guilt. This is why Walter Pincus’s defense of the CIA is so weak. That the CIA sought to preserve a standby capability for torture even after it had stopped only increases its culpability. (That last point directly implicates Michael Hayden on his watch.)

The CIA officers have put up documents that reveal where, when, and how the Bush White House gave the agency assurances it was committed to the torture and fully backed the CIA. Here is an issue that directly threatens presidents. Here, in effect, the CIA is saying to their top boss, “Mr. President, we’re going to save our asses, and if that means blowing your cover, so be it.” It was a threat Richard Helms had made to President Gerald Ford. Now John Brennan’s CIA has actually done this. Were I Barack Obama–or his successor–I’d be plenty worried about this. Here is another reason why failure to exact accountability right now is such a grave error.

Other real things in this sordid story include the CIA misinforming its overseers while these events were taking place, limiting information to the Senate intelligence committee, trying to get inside the Senate committee’s decision cycle (that was the real meaning of the “Panetta Report,” a survey of what the documents could be expected to tell the investigators); its countersurveillance of the Senate investigators by hacking their computer network; its filing a false criminal complaint against the Senate inquisitors; its dragging its feet in making documents available; its effort to force changes to the Senate report in the interest of “historical accuracy;” and more.

Item: In contrast to a two-year delay in actually declassifying the Senate investigative report, the CIA moved extremely rapidly on releasing the documents its former officers used to defend themselves from the torture charges. (These are the papers referred to above.) The declassification markings on these documents suggest that agency officials moved to release them even while they continued to hold up on opening the Senate report itself. Unlike the senators, who had to wait two years, or many among the public, whose CIA declassification (FOIA) requests languish–and are still languishing–five, eight, fifteen years or more, CIA officers can obtain the immediate declassification of top secret information to be used for political purposes. The move to declassify this information took precedence over a pre-existing caseload of FOIA requests, gave unauthorized special status to former CIA employees, and privileged them even over their congressional overseers. This is a clear breach of the CIA’s own regulations and a presumptive violation of law (5 U.S.C. 552 et. seq.). We can debate whether it is also a criminal offense (a violation of the Espionage Act in precisely the same way as the revelations of Edward Snowden, for example, someone that Fearful Leader Clapper has been ranting about).

Bottom Line. In a desperate drive to avoid accountability and criminal liability, the intelligence agencies–and so far only the actions of the CIA are hinted at–have engaged in a pattern of deception and threat. A threat to Senate overseers was made explicit with referral to the Justice Department, one to the president is implied in the latest batch of document releases. The outstanding issues will only be cloaked by the new Senate intelligence committee. These issues will return when committee leadership changes–and the whole complex shows that the existing system of intelligence oversight in the United States no longer functions properly.

The sentiment expressed in the Times–that the CIA has gotten a pass because the report is out but no changes have yet occurred in terms of public management of and accountability for intelligence activities–is simply a whistle in the wind. In the first place the machinery of government grinds slowly. In the much heralded “Year of Intelligence” of 1975, which Mark Mazzetti spends a good deal of ink on in his article, one of the recommendations of the Church Committee was that there be a written charter for the spy agencies voted into law. It was actually 1977 before serious discussions of a “CIA charter” took place on Capitol Hill, and 1980 until Congress considered the most serious charter proposal. The Reagan executive order No. 12333, often cited as the spies’ charter, was a project undertaken specifically to head off  congressionally-enacted restrictions. It did not emerge until 1983. You’d be foolish to think that the absence of action three weeks after appearance of the Senate torture report meant anything, much less that the culprits had escaped.

More than that, there is no statute of limitations on torture. That is the meaning of the French-Algerian, Chilean, Peruvian, Salvadoran, Guatemalan, and, lately, the Brazilian cases, some of which have been mentioned in this space. The torture will follow the CIA through time, coloring people’s view of it. There can also be no confidence that international or other national courts won’t take up the task from which U.S. authorities recoil. A process conducted within the United States would at least be under the control of American authorities. You can see how misguided has been President Obama’s effort to avoid accountability in the CIA torture and obstruction of evidence.




The NSA Watch

January 3, 2015–In the first of a series of long-form collections, Prados here reprises his commentaries on the National Security Agency domestic spying and eavesdropping scandal. This selection includes commentaries posted from the end of 2013 through the winter of 2014, a period of time during which the NSA spying was found wanting by courts, presidential reviews, and a public privacy board. President Barack Obama promised reforms. These essays analyze the evolving scandal, providing background on individuals and issues involved in the controversy.

The collection is available as a product for a nominal fee from the “Downloadable” section of this website. It appears under several national security and intelligence categories.

Happy New Year!

January 1, 2015–Welcome to the New Year everyone. The one just past has been tough all around, not least for the constitutional values espoused by my country. The sagas of the NSA dragnet eavesdropping and the CIA’s torture program, the investigation of them, and the CIA’s efforts to game the system are quite disturbing. 2014 has been a bad year for American democracy, though a good one for the scaremongers. You can read a lot more about them on this website. Over the next weeks and months I shall be gathering old postings together, assembling packages of them, and presenting them en bloc as products on the downloadable section of the website. You’ll be able to see “The CIA Watch” and “The NSA Watch” as an evolving narrative.