The long, strange history of spy balloons, CNN.com

Opinion by Peter Bergen, CNN
Published 7:57 PM EST, Tue February 7, 2023

Editor’s Note: Peter Bergen is CNN’s national security analyst, a vice president at New America and a professor of practice at Arizona State University. Bergen is the author of “The Cost of Chaos: The Trump Administration and the World.” The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.

Shooting down China’s balloon was akin to my 11-year-old son finally popping the toy balloon he had been batting around the house all week.

And it reminded me that when my father, Tom Bergen, was a lieutenant in the US Air Force in the mid-1950s, he worked on a program to help send balloons into Soviet airspace.

In 1954 he was assigned to Headquarters Air Material Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio. There he worked on the “Grand Union” project, which deployed balloons that carried cameras over the then-Soviet Union. Those spy balloons were launched from Turkey.

Spy balloons are some really old technology, folks. Using them is like bringing a well-sharpened ax to the Afghan War; maybe it could have done something, but a 2,000-pound bomb would likely have a larger effect on the enemy. (China has denied the balloon was used for spying.)

Indeed, balloons have been used as spying devices since the late 18th century. Some of Napoleon’s soldiers used them for reconnaissance in 1794. In the US Civil War, Union forces used balloons to track Confederate armies; there was even a Union Balloon Corps.

Now the United States and its rivals have these new-fangled gizmos called “spy satellites,” which can take photos! They can do full-motion video! They can take thermal imagery that detects individuals moving around at night! When the skies are clear, they can spy on pretty much anything, with a resolution of centimeters.

Indeed, commercial satellite imagery is now getting so inexpensive that you can go out and buy your own close-up images of, say, a Russian battle group in Ukraine. Just ask Maxar Technologies; they have built up a rather profitable business on this model, which was just acquired two months ago for $6 billion by a private equity firm.

In other words, the overflight of US territory by China’s balloon is not a national security catastrophe as a bunch of hyperventilating Republican politicians from former President Donald Trump on downward have implied.

But it may help explain, at least in part, an element of a little-noticed report published by the US Office of Director of National Intelligence last month.

The report examined more than 500 reports of unidentified objects in the sky over the past two decades, many of them reported by US Navy and US Air Force personnel and pilots. These reports were assessed by the Pentagon’s All-Domain Anomaly Resolution Office, a fancy name for the office that tries to examine UFO sightings.

The report noted that many of those sightings, 163, were balloons or “balloon-like entities.”

Now comes the news that three other balloons from China were in American air space during the Trump administration but did not become widely known then.

This raises some interesting questions about the work of the Pentagon’s All-Domain Anomaly Resolution Office: Could some of the balloons they identified be from China? And could some of the 171 “unexplained sightings” of UFOs that they also assessed be Chinese balloons?

Republicans have called for congressional hearings into the balloon affair, and surely these questions will get a good airing.

Spy balloons do offer some advantages over satellites; they are relatively inexpensive and can be more maneuverable. So it’s obviously worthwhile for the US military to continue to scan the skies looking for strange objects that might be Chinese balloons or spy drones.

But China has arguably done much worse. US officials have accused it of benefiting from the work of hackers who stole design data about the F-35 fighter aircraft as China builds its own new generation of fighters – and of sucking up much of the personal information of more than 20 million Americans who were current or former members of the US government when they reportedly got inside the computers of the US Office of Personnel Management (OPM) in 2015. China called the F-35 theft report “baseless” and denied responsibility for the OPM hacking.

Pumping up the balloon story may make for good politics, but it doesn’t make for a great assessment of the actual threats posed by China.

How to Rebuild Ukraine, New America ONLINE

Mike Pompeo takes a blowtorch to ‘the establishment’, CNN.com

Opinion: Mike Pompeo takes a blowtorch to ‘the establishment’
Peter Bergen
Opinion by Peter Bergen, CNN
Published 1:15 PM EST, Wed February 1, 2023

Editor’s Note: Peter Bergen is CNN’s national security analyst, a vice president at New America and a professor of practice at Arizona State University. Bergen is the author of “The Cost of Chaos: The Trump Administration and the World.” The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.

CNN

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s new book, “Never Give an Inch: Fighting for the America I Love,” combines two well-known genres of the Washington memoir. The first is a gauzy recounting of how a gifted politician rose to power, a figure so heroic that he/she could perhaps be the next commander in chief by virtue of his/her brilliance, humility and a general willingness to serve.

The second is the bitter, score-settling accounts of Washington insiders who position themselves as much smarter than many of their peers.

The first category typically ends up in the bargain bin at bookstores. The second category can be considerably more revealing and interesting – for instance, “The Room Where It Happened,” John Bolton’s blistering takedown of former President Donald Trump based on his time serving as Trump’s third national security adviser.

“Never Give an Inch” combines Pompeo’s case that he would be a terrific US president with considerable elements of the score-settling memoir. It is already #5 on the Amazon chart this week, so it’s selling quite well.

If you have seen Pompeo on television of late, he is almost unrecognizable because he has lost so much weight. Pompeo told the New York Post he lost 90 pounds through a diet and exercise regimen, and laughed at the idea it was motivated by politics, saying, “I want to be there for my family and hopefully lots of grandchildren.”

But Pompeo also told CBS News last week that he would make up his mind about a 2024 presidential run in the “next handful of months.”

Based on a close reading of his book, I bet he will take the plunge. Pompeo could be looking to benefit as Trump loses altitude among some Republicans, and at 59, Pompeo is a spring chicken compared with President Joe Biden and Trump, so if it doesn’t work out well this time around, he sets himself up for other runs down the road.

Working for a mercurial boss

As head of the CIA and then Secretary of State, Pompeo had a difficult job working for such a mercurial boss. Consider that Trump went from tweeting that “my nuclear button” is “much bigger & more powerful” to Kim Jong Un to sending the North Korean leader self-described “love letters.” Trump also publicly fulminated that he could end the war in Afghanistan in a week, but he didn’t want to “kill 10 million people.” Then he ordered Pompeo to get a peace deal done with the Taliban.

As part of those negotiations, Pompeo’s chief negotiator, Zalmay Khalilzad, strongarmed the elected Afghan government to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners, many of whom promptly returned to the battlefield, according to Afghan officials.

This episode goes oddly unmentioned in Pompeo’s 438-page memoir, which rejoices in the splendidly tendentious title, “Never Give an Inch.”

“Let’s Just Give Away the Store” might have been a more apt title for how Pompeo’s team dealt with the Taliban. Even H.R. McMaster, Trump’s second national security adviser, publicly described the peace deal that Pompeo agreed to with the Taliban as a “surrender agreement.”

Another whiplash moment came as the fight against ISIS in Syria was winding down in December 2018, and Trump ordered all US troops out of Syria. Within two months, Trump reversed himself, and American troops remained in Syria to try to prevent ISIS from reforming.

More confusion resulted when Trump authorized an airstrike against the Iranians in June 2019 and then called it off just as the planes were in the air on the way to their targets.

Six months later, Trump authorized the assassination of Iranian military leader Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, an episode Pompeo covers in interesting detail in his memoir. (Pompeo reportedly has round-the-clock diplomatic security protection due to his role in planning Trump’s campaign against Iran.)

Team of vipers
In addition to Trump’s sudden reversals, Pompeo also had to navigate the Borgia-level backstabbing that characterized the administration. He loathed Bolton, who, according to Pompeo, was “constantly scheming to win for himself and no one else.”

Pompeo writes that Bolton should be criminally prosecuted for publishing his critical memoir that came out while Trump was still in office, accusing him of treason. Pompeo adds that he would happily be a witness for the prosecution. Ouch.

In Pompeo’s telling, Nikki Haley, Trump’s US ambassador to the United Nations, was allegedly plotting with Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner to oust then-Vice President Mike Pence and appoint herself in the role. However, he offers no substantiation for this claim, and Haley said it didn’t happen.

The fact that Haley is planning her own presidential 2024 campaign makes the inclusion of this alleged incident in Pompeo’s book…interesting.

Pompeo takes Trump’s first defense secretary, Jim Mattis, to task for his opposition to “America First” policies. For instance, he says Mattis didn’t want to take military action against Iranian targets that Pompeo thought was merited.

Pompeo acknowledges it was something of a miracle that he was the only member of Trump’s “core national security team” who didn’t resign or get fired during the four years he was in the administration.

This may partly be because he was a “heat-seeking missile for Trump’s ass,” as a former US ambassador memorably described Pompeo to The New Yorker’s Susan Glasser. Pompeo also shared many of Trump’s same policy goals on issues such as Afghanistan, China and Iran. And he bonded with his boss on bucking “the establishment” and blasting the media.

Pompeo vs. ‘the establishment’

Pompeo says that during his time as both Trump’s CIA director and secretary of state, he was confounded at every turn by “the establishment.” It’s an odd claim for someone who was first in his class at the US Military Academy at West Point, then an editor of the Harvard Law Review and later a US congressman from Kansas. But it’s, of course, the same conceit that Trump often uses, claiming he isn’t part of the establishment when, in fact, Trump wasn’t just born with a silver spoon in his mouth but a silver dinnerware set.

For Pompeo, the establishment includes the Foreign Service Officer Corps that he oversaw as secretary of state. He improbably describes it as “overwhelmingly hard left,” as if members of Antifa populated the staid halls of the State Department.

Then there is the press corps.

Pompeo describes The New York Times and The Washington Post as “bed-wetters who didn’t have a grip on reality” because of their purportedly overwrought reactions to the 2018 murder of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi officials close to the inner circle of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, widely known as MBS. (MBS denied involvement in the murder.)

Khashoggi was dismembered with an electric saw inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. The fact that The Washington Post strenuously objected to his grisly murder hardly seems like bed-wetting.

Pompeo goes on to note that there is “nearly zero evidence that directly links MBS to ordering the murder.” The word “directly” does a lot of work in this sentence, considering that in 2021 the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence declassified its assessment that the Crown Prince “approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.”

Foreign policy failures

In Pompeo’s view, Trump’s long flirtations with North Korea’s Kim averted a nuclear crisis. Pompeo recounts how when he was CIA director, he secretly flew to North Korea to start laying the groundwork for Trump and Kim’s later summits.

Those summits produced well-publicized grip-and-grins between Kim and Trump, photo-ops that the media covered obsessively, but bupkis in the way of long-term gains.

While Trump was in office, the North Koreans continued producing fissile material and tested short-range ballistic missiles. In short, Trump achieved nothing to end the North Korean nuclear program.

Similarly, in Pompeo’s telling, the US-led campaign of sanctions and “maximum pressure” against Iran, combined with pulling the United States out of the Iranian nuclear deal in 2018, also made the world safer.

Yet, according to Trump’s own US intelligence agencies, the Iran nuclear deal was working to stop the Iranians from enriching uranium anywhere close to the levels needed for a weapon. And pulling out of the nuclear deal has now brought the Iranians much closer to having nuclear weapons. As of this month, the Iranians have enough fissile material for “several nuclear devices,” according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Foreign policy wins

To be fair, the Trump administration did score some real foreign policy wins. The Trump team destroyed much of the ISIS geographical “caliphate,” a campaign that had begun under then-President Barack Obama and that was largely completed during the time that Pompeo was CIA director.

The Trump team also brokered the Abraham Accords. While not of the same importance as the 1978 peace deal between Israel and Egypt which President Jimmy Carter negotiated – that was between two countries that had been at war for decades – the Abraham Accords did get Arab states such as Bahrain, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates to recognize Israel for the first time.

The big foreign policy issue that the Trump national security team got right was taking the real measure of China. There had long been a bipartisan American delusion that as China got richer, it would also liberalize. That delusion most definitely ended with the Trump administration.

Pompeo gives the usual laundry list of complaints against China: its theft of intellectual property and the uneven playing field American companies face when they work in China versus how Chinese companies can work in the United States. Pompeo describes the Chinese Communist Party as “our most dangerous adversary.”

Pompeo explains how the Trump administration sought to undercut the influence of Chinese telecom giant Huawei. The Trump team saw Huawei as a threat because by sitting on 5G networks around the world, it could gather massive amounts of personal, commercial and national security data.

Pompeo set up a State Department task force to counter Huawei, which he says resulted in 60 countries agreeing not to do business with it. As a result, the US government “crushed Huawei’s global telecom business,” according to Pompeo.

Pompeo’s faith

A theme that Pompeo returns to often in his memoir is his religious faith. He recounts how a chance encounter with a Bible study group when he was at West Point turned him into a fervent Christian. As a result, Pompeo’s account of supporting religious freedom worldwide is credible.

He is rightly exercised about the treatment of the Muslim Uyghur minority in China. The US government and UN estimated that up to two million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities were detained in a giant network of internment camps despite Chinese denials of human rights violations. Pompeo is proud that the State Department officially pronounced what was happening to the Uyghurs a genocide, a measure he took on his penultimate day in office. The Biden administration has since formalized Pompeo’s genocide label on China’s treatment of the Uyghurs.

Biden has also kept in place Trump-era measures designed to penalize China, such as significant tariffs on Chinese goods, while continuing US Navy “freedom of navigation” operations in the South China Sea to prevent it from becoming a Chinese lake.

Biden and Ukraine

Speaking of Biden, Pompeo inhabits a parallel universe where the 46th President’s “weakness is the gift to (Vladimir) Putin that keeps on giving.” That’s a truly bonkers assertion given that the Biden administration has authorized $48 billion of humanitarian and military aid to Ukraine, including highly accurate HIMARS missiles and soon M1 Abrams tanks.

As a result, Russia is being pushed back on many fronts during the largest land war in Europe since World War II. The US-led NATO alliance may also expand to include formerly nonaligned Finland and Sweden. All this demonstrates real leadership coming from Biden and Pompeo’s successor as secretary of state, Antony Blinken.

Red meat for Republican voters

The January 6, 2021, assault on Congress is almost completely absent in Pompeo’s memoir. He mentions the insurrection briefly only in the context of denying reports that he ever had a discussion with a fellow Cabinet member to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office after the attack.

Pompeo’s tweet on the day of the insurrection goes unmentioned in his memoir. “The storming of the U.S. Capitol today is unacceptable. Lawlessness and rioting — here or around the world — is always unacceptable.”

Pompeo surely knows that if he is to do well in a Republican presidential primary, the base takes it as an article of faith that the election was “stolen,” and so dwelling on the insurrection doesn’t help his cause.

However, he has plenty to say about the “Russia hoax,” which he discusses on a dozen pages. It’s a way to throw red meat to the Republican base, which, after all, seems to be at least half the point of Pompeo’s new book.

Spy Museum, Washington DC with Chris Costa and Gina Bennet

Spy Museum Program

When Thu May 18, 2023 5pm – 8pm (EDT)
Where International Spy Museum (700 Lenfant Plz SW, Washington, DC 20024, United States)
Who Chris Costa, Gina Bennett, Spy Programs, Ursula Oaks, Amanda Ohlke*

Without Borders: The Haqqani Network and the Road to Kabul, New America ONLINE

[ONLINE] – Without Borders: The Haqqani Network and the Road to Kabul
EVENT

With the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and the collapse of the Afghan government, the Haqqani Network’s influence and importance have risen to new heights. However, the story of the network’s rise and development goes back decades. In his new book Without Borders: The Haqqani Network and the Road to Kabul, Jere Van Dyk tells the story of the origins, political awakening, and rise of what the United States and its allies call the Haqqani Network, and what the Haqqani family calls the Haqqani Mujahideen. Van Dyk lived with the Haqqanis as a young reporter for the New York Times in the 1980s, in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan, when they were America’s allies in the Afghan-Soviet war. After 9/11, the network became America’s enemy. Van Dyk traces that development and the global far-reaching aspects of the story of what came next.

Join New America’s International Security Program as it welcomes Jere Van Dyk to discuss his book Without Borders: The Haqqani Network and the Road to Kabul. Jere Van Dyk is a journalist and author who has focused much of his writing on far-away, mostly dangerous places, particularly Afghanistan and Pakistan. In the early 1980s, he lived as a correspondent for the New York Times in Afghanistan. After 9/11, he returned to Afghanistan for CBS News to report on the U.S.-led war. In late 2007, on a contract with Times Books, he hiked into the Tribal Areas of Pakistan, off-limits to foreigners. In 2008, he was captured by the Taliban, and taken up into the mountains and held for 45 days. He is also the author of Captive: My Time as a Prisoner of the Taliban, which details that experience and The Trade: My Journey into the Labyrinth of Political Kidnapping.

Join the conversation online using #WithoutBorders and following @NewAmericaISP.

PARTICIPANTS

Jere Van Dyk
Author, Without Borders: The Haqqani Network and the Road to Kabul

MODERATOR

Peter Bergen, @peterbergencnn
Vice President, New America

Leadership and Succession in Terrorist Organizations, New America ONLINE

[ONLINE] – Terror in Transition
Leadership and Succession in Terrorist Organizations
EVENT

What is the role of founding leaders in shaping terrorist organizations? What follows the loss of a formative leader? Following the killing of al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in Afghanistan, who himself took over after the killing of al Qaeda’s founding leader, Osama Bin Laden, these questions are taking on renewed importance. In their book Terror in Transition: Leadership and Succession in Terrorist Organizations, Tricia L. Bacon and Elizabeth Grimm examine how religious terrorist groups manage and adapt to major shifts in leadership. Bacon and Grimm highlight similarities between Islamic terrorist groups abroad and Christian white nationalist groups such as the 1920s Ku Klux Klan.

Join New America’s International Security Program as it welcomes the co-authors of Terror in Transition for a discussion of the issues surrounding transitions in terrorist group leadership. Tricia L. Bacon is associate professor in the School of Public Affairs at American University and director of the Policy Anti-Terrorism Hub. In addition to Terror in Transition, she is the author of Why Terrorist Groups Form International Alliances (2018) and previously spent ten years working on counterterrorism at the U.S. Department of State. Elizabeth Grimm is an associate professor of teaching in the Security Studies Program at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. She is also the author of How the Gloves Came Off: Lawyers, Policy Makers, and Norms in the Debate on Torture (2017).

Join the conversation online using #TerrorinTransition and following @NewAmericaISP.

PARTICIPANTS

Tricia L. Bacon, @tricbacon
Co-Author, Terror in Transition
Associate Professor, American University

Elizabeth Grimm, @ProfLizGrimm
Co-Author, Terror in Transition
Associate Professor, Security Studies Program, Georgetown University

MODERATOR

Peter Bergen, @peterbergencnn
Vice President, New America
Co-Director, Center on the Future of War, ASU

The Pentagon’s long hunt for UFOs, CNN.com

Opinion:
Peter Bergen
Opinion by Erik German and Peter Bergen
Updated 8:08 AM EST, Wed January 18, 2023

Editor’s Note: Erik German is a producer and writer whose work has been published by The New York Times, Time, Frontline, and other publications. Peter Bergen is CNN’s national security analyst, a vice president at New America and a professor of practice at Arizona State University. The views expressed in this commentary are their own. View more opinion on CNN.

CNN

On Thursday, the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a congressionally mandated report about “Unidentified Aerial Phenomena,” the preferred Pentagon nomenclature for what most folks call “UFOs.”

This report is part of a relatively new push by the US intelligence community and the Pentagon to try and make sense of more than 500 UFO sightings over the past couple of decades that have mostly been made by US service personnel.

As part of that push, in July the Pentagon established a new office with the wonderfully opaque name of the All-Domain Anomaly Resolution Office.

In plain English, this office attempts to figure out what’s behind UFO sightings made by Department of Defense personnel or members of the US intelligence community.

There is a sound national security reason for this office that has nothing to do with aliens or little green men. If there are unidentified objects flying around in US airspace, could these be evidence of American adversaries like Russia or China deploying new kinds of exotic weapons? And whatever these UFOs might be, they could represent a risk to US Air Force planes and commercial aircraft.

The creation of this office is also part of a pattern since the late 1940s when the US Department of Defense has bolstered the case for UFOs – in some cases to disguise top secret new aircraft that the Air Force was developing –while at the same assuring the general public that what some might believe are alien aircraft are explained by more prosaic phenomena such as weather events, or balloons, or airborne debris or good old human error.

Thursday’s new UFO report had some striking findings: The number of UFO sightings dramatically increased between March 2021 and August 2022, during which 247 new sightings were reported. Most of those reports came from pilots or others working for the US Navy and US Air Force.

The report suggests that these increased sightings may be the result of less stigma associated in reporting such sightings and also more guidance from the Pentagon to report “anomalies” in the sky. In other words, if you are instructed to look for something odd, you likely will find it.

For UFO believers, new report may provide some solace

According to a Gallup poll from 2021, around 40% of Americans believe that unidentified flying objects that are sometimes seen in the sky are, in fact, alien spacecraft.

For UFO true believers, the new report doesn’t provide information that would buttress their beliefs, but it leaves open a number of unexplained sightings that UFO believers will surely seize upon.

In some of the cases that the Pentagon investigated, an unspecified number of UFO sightings were “attributable to sensor irregularities or variances, such as operator or equipment error.”

The Pentagon also found that a very large number of the sightings, 163, were actually balloons or “balloon-like entities,” while 26 were unmanned aircraft systems, otherwise known as drones, and six were attributable to airborne “clutter,” such as plastic bags or birds.

Still, there are 171 unidentified object sightings that the Pentagon hasn’t attributed to anything yet, and some of those objects “demonstrated unusual flight characteristics.”

The Pentagon’s long, complex history with UFOs
This is not the first time the Pentagon has investigated UFOs and provided information that, in some cases, has helped to fuel the UFO believer movement.

In July 1952, following months of sightings across the US, pilots and ground personnel at Andrews Air Force Base said they spotted unaccountably fast, maneuverable objects flying over Washington, DC. Multiple military witnesses said they’d caught the objects on radar and at least one pilot reported seeing them with the naked eye.

As a result, the officer in charge of US Air Force intelligence, Major General John Samford, held a televised press conference. One US Air Force captain investigating the incident called Samford’s press conference “the largest and longest the Air Force had held since World War II.”

Seated soberly behind several microphones, Samford told reporters “the great bulk” of UFO sightings could be dismissed as hoaxes, friendly aircraft or aberrations of weather and light. Nevertheless, he said, there remained a certain percentage of reports that have been made by “credible observers of relatively incredible things.”

These relatively incredible possibilities of course inflamed UFO enthusiasts.

Newspapers across the country carried headlines like “Saucers Swarm Over Capitol,” and “Jets Chase DC Sky Ghosts.” One Air Force investigator in 1952 counted more than 16,000 newspaper stories on UFOs that year.

But less than a year after Samford’s press conference, a government panel of scientists, military and intelligence officials convened to study evidence and testimony from more than 20 purported UFO sightings. It concluded that UFOs did indeed pose a strategic threat to the US – but not because of aliens, but rather because America’s civil air defense could be overwhelmed by reports of UFOs.

This worry, writes aerospace historian Curtis Peebles, “was not really about flying saucers, it was about Pearl Harbor.” At the height of the Cold War, “the US was haunted by the specter of a surprise Soviet nuclear attack.”

The panel suggested a policy of “debunking” reports and recommended officials take “immediate steps to strip the Unidentified Flying Objects of the special status they have been given and the aura of mystery they have unfortunately acquired.”

The US Air Force tasked a small office called Project Blue Book with doing just that. Until the 1970s, Blue Book officers followed up on UFO reports, interviewed witnesses, collected evidence and consistently put a narrative into the press stressing that most sightings could be attributable to normal aircraft, hoaxers or weather phenomena.

Then, as now, the vast majority of UFO reports easily submitted to conventional explanation.

But there remained a small group of American UFO-watchers who could not be talked down. And they kept watching the skies, reporting on craft that seemed able to fly higher and faster than any known planes.

In some cases, they were spotting real and very secret US assets. CIA historian Gerald Haines estimated that as many as half of the reports investigated by Project Blue Book were actually sightings of the CIA’s U-2 and the Air Force’s SR-71 Blackbird spy planes.

The need to protect these and later stealth projects spawned a new approach from some corners of the US counterintelligence community.

“The US Air Force and the CIA had their own working UFO to hide,” writes Mark Pilkington in his book “Mirage Men,” an extensive history of purported UFO sightings. “The finer, fleshier details had been filled in by the imaginations of the people on the ground, encouraged and embellished by…the CIA and others in the alphabet soup of intelligence organizations.”

Pilkington documented cases in the early 1980s of Air Force counterintelligence agents making contact with UFO investigators and egging them on – even leaking faked evidence of secret contact between the US government and alien visitors. Stories like these inevitably spread. And any useful intelligence about top secret, real life aircraft became lost in increasingly outlandish noise about UFOs.

Pilkington described the Pentagon’s communication strategy as “a two-channel system” – one for debunking and calming down the general public when it came to reports of UFOs, the other for hiding potential leaks about top secret US technology.

So where does that leave us today? Perhaps, with the Cold War behind us, the Pentagon’s new UFO office signals a new chapter of sensible transparency surrounding aerial unknowns that could pose a threat to our security. But with the Pentagon’s long history of whipsawing between stoking and stifling public fascination, it doesn’t seem likely that UFO true believers will give up on the mystery any time soon.

An Assessment of National Processes of Designating Terrorist Groups

https://www.newamerica.org/international-security/reports/an-assessment-of-variation-in-national-processes-of-defining-and-designating-terrorist-groups/

2023 SOF Imperatives Forum, The U.S. Capitol Visitor Center, Washington DC

Tuesday, 31 JAN 2023

Location:
The U.S. Capitol Visitor Center
First St NE, Washington, DC 20515

Attendee Eligibility:
All individuals who register for the Forum will be invited to attend the event sessions, meals, and evening reception.
FORUM AGENDA

All times listed below are in ET and subject to change:

Tuesday, 31 JAN 2023:

1300 – 1305 Opening Remarks
Master of Ceremonies: Mr. Christian Sessoms, VP Government Solutions, Conceal
1305 – 1315 Welcome Remarks
Mr. Peter Bergen, Chairperson of the Board, Global SOF Foundation
1315 – 1345 Senior Leader Presentation
Lieutenant General Francis L. Donovan, Vice Commander, U.S. Special Operations Command
1345 – 1430 Panel Discussion: Role of SOF in Indo-Pacom
Moderator: Mr. Michael Mackay (Norwich SSDA ‘15), National Security Advisor, U.S. House of Representatives
Rear Adm. Vic Mercado, USN (Ret), Former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy, Plans, and Capabilities
COL Sean Berg, Deputy Commander, U.S. Special Operations Command Pacific
Dr. Michael G. Vickers, Former Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence
Ms. Emily Harding, Deputy Director and Senior Fellow, International Security Program, Center for Strategic & International Studies
1430 – 1500 Networking Break
1500 – 1545 Panel Discussion: Eastern European Threats
Moderator: Mr. Tony Frazier, Maxar Technologies
Lieutenant General Dr. Romulus Ruszin-Szendi, Commander, Hungarian Defense Forces
General Daniel Petrescu, Chief of Defence, Romania
1545 – 1630 Senior Leader Conversation: Irregular Warfare and the Role of SOF
Moderator: Ms. Catherine Herridge, CBS
Rep Scott Peters, Co-Chair House SOF Caucus (Invited)
Rep Kathy Castor, Co-Chair House SOF Caucus
Rep Mike Waltz, Co-Chair House SOF Caucus (Invited)
Re Richard Hudson, Co-Chair House SOF Caucus (Invited)
1630 – 1700 Keynote Presentation
The Honorable Mike Rogers, HASC Ranking Member (Invited)
1700 – 1715 Keynote Presentation
Ms. Elizabeth Phu, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict
1715 – 1730 Keynote Presentation
TBD
1730 Closing Remarks
Mr. Stu Bradin, President and CEO, Global SOF Foundation
1730 – 1900 Networking Reception

Is no career safe from AI anymore? CNN.com

Opinion by Peter Bergen, CNN
Updated 5:37 PM EST, Mon December 26, 2022

Editor’s Note: Peter Bergen is CNN’s national security analyst, a vice president at New America and a professor of practice at Arizona State University. Bergen is the author of “The Cost of Chaos: The Trump Administration and the World.” The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.

It’s long been clear that artificial intelligence (AI) can one day replace many humans working in fields such as customer service, insurance underwriting and manufacturing. Yet, I have long been complacent about my career as a writer. After all, what AI tool could replace the workings of the human brain?

For the past several days, I have been hearing about the AI chatbot ChatGPT. Users of the tool claim to be able to write coherent essays and op-eds in seconds. So, I signed up to give it a try and asked it to perform a task that I had hitherto believed required at least some level of skill. I asked ChatGPT to “Write an op-ed in the style of Peter Bergen.”

Within two seconds, the tool spat out this op-ed:

The country is more secure, but the war on terror is far from over.

As President Joe Biden marks 100 days in office, he can point to some consequential achievements in national security. The United States has made dramatic progress in winding down its two longest wars, in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the U.S. is more secure than it was four years ago, when Donald Trump took office.

But the war on terror is far from over. Al-Qaeda remains a threat to the United States and its allies, while the Islamic State continues to be a menace in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia.

The Biden Administration has taken some steps to address these threats, including authorizing the first military strikes against al-Qaeda and Islamic State targets in Syria and Yemen, and deploying special operations forces to Syria to help combat the Islamic State.

But much more needs to be done to protect the U.S. and its allies from terrorist threats. The Biden Administration should expand its efforts to counter violent extremism, not just in the Middle East, but in the United States as well.

The U.S. should also strengthen its partnerships with countries in the region, such as Jordan and Egypt, that are key to regional stability and counterterrorism efforts. Working with these countries to build up their capacity to counter terrorist threats will pay dividends in the long run.

Finally, the Biden Administration should make a concerted effort to re-engage with Iran, the region’s most powerful state. This could help to reduce the risk of future conflicts, while also opening the door to greater cooperation in the fight against terrorism and other transnational threats.

The war on terror is far from over, but the Biden Administration is taking the right steps to protect the United States and its allies from terrorist threats. With the right strategy and the right partners, the U.S. can continue to make progress in combating this global scourge.

The op-ed made a clear overall argument that the “war on terror” wasn’t over, buttressing that argument with multiple sub-arguments with concrete policy proposals for the Biden administration to act on, such as reengaging with Iran.

But the op-ed made some factual errors, including a dated reference about when the Biden administration had assumed office, which I attributed to the fact that, according to OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT, its “default models’ training data cuts off in 2021, so they may not have knowledge of current events.”

The ChatGPT-generated op-ed also suggested that the Biden administration was the first to authorize US strikes against al-Qaeda in Yemen and ISIS in Syria, policies that had in fact started in previous administrations, and the single strike against al-Qaeda in Yemen during the Biden administration was reported to have been a “suspected” US strike, not a confirmed strike.

The op-ed also asserted that the Iraq War was one of the two longest American wars which is debatable since the Vietnam War lasted more than 10 years, while the Iraq War lasted from 2003 to the withdrawal of all US troops in 2012. (American troops did go back into Iraq in 2014 to fight ISIS and thousands remain there.)

I also work as a college professor at Arizona State University and AI tools like ChatGPT also raise some interesting questions about the role of student papers that make up such a core part of American college educations.

I asked the tool a simple historical question: “What was the role of women in the French Revolution?” And in a second it replied:

Women played a crucial role in the French Revolution, both in the context of the political upheaval and the social transformation that it brought about.

Women were active participants in the storming of the Bastille and the overthrow of the monarchy. Women also took part in the political debates of the time, forming political clubs and writing pamphlets to advocate for their rights. They also participated in the revolutionary festivals and marches, as well as the violence of the Reign of Terror.

The Revolution also saw the emergence of a new type of woman, the ‘citizeness’, who was educated and politically active. Ultimately, the Revolution brought about some changes in the status of women, such as the right to divorce and the right to own property, but these gains were short-lived.

While this short essay wasn’t exactly like the work of leading historians of the French Revolution, such as Richard Cobb or Simon Schama, and it overplayed the role of women in the violence of the “Reign of Terror,” it does suggest a future in which college students will likely be able to submit long and complicated papers that are entirely generated by AI. And then what does it mean to be educated at a liberal arts college? And why go to all the bother and expense?

So, I head into 2023 with a sobering realization. My career as a CNN op-ed writer, which began in earnest over a decade ago, may not exactly be over yet since AI generated op-eds make factual errors – just as humans do, though those are typically caught during the fact checking process.

Yet my writing career could still go the way of the grocery checkout jobs eliminated by automation. Al tools will keep getting smarter, and distinguishing an AI-written op-ed from a “real” human op-ed will get harder over time, just as AI-generated college papers will become harder to distinguish from those written by actual students.

As a writer and professor, that makes for a dystopian future. (I promise this sentiment was not generated by AI.)