from the world's big
Steve Coll is President & CEO of New America Foundation, and a staff writer at The New Yorker magazine. Previously he spent 20 years as a foreign correspondent and senior editor at The Washington Post, serving as the paper's managing editor from 1998 to 2004. He is the author of six books, including The Deal of the Century: The Break Up of AT&T (1986); The Taking of Getty Oil (1987); Eagle on the Street, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning account of the SEC's battle with Wall Street (with David A. Vise, 1991); On the Grand Trunk Road: A Journey into South Asia (1994), Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 (2004); and The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century (2008).
Question: Has American intelligence improved since 9/11?
Steve Coll: Some of the changes since 9/11 have been positive. An enormous amount of money has been thrown at the intelligence community so you went from a period in the ‘90s where the peace dividend after the Cold War was in many cases taken at the expense of the intelligence community and there wasn’t much hiring going on and a lot of early retirements were being forced and there weren’t very many investments and the place had really kind of hollowed out. After 9/11, massive amounts of money were thrown in. Everybody went on huge hiring sprees and what you-- I don’t live inside the community but touring it and bumping up against it what I- my impression is that immediately after 9/11 you had an extraordinarily talented group of young people volunteer to go in to the intelligence community, probably the best generation of public servants who went in to the government since the ‘60s. People were motivated, they were smart, they were well educated and they were committed after 9/11, and then they- but they went in to the system-- The system really didn’t know how to absorb them and a lot of them bounced out. A lot of people became disillusioned. There weren’t good senior programs or officers available to mentor them. And so I think that sort of wave of young people has been atrophied and maybe not sort of brought up to the way you would win. In the meanwhile, one of their experiences when all these really great people went in was that the whole system kept being reorganized and then reorganized again and the agencies were all moving around. And so I think the sense you have from inside is that there’s still a lot of confusion about what is a career in intelligence. How do you actually have a useful and successful and interesting career as an operative? Analysts-- There’s millions of analysts running around but as to the actual collection of intelligence, which was what the problem seemed to be running up to 9/11, I don’t think the system is fixed at all. I think it’s still a mess.
Question: Has privatization of security practices gone too far?
Steve Coll: Yes, I do think too much is coming from private firms. I think that’s plain. I think it’s-- I don’t think that private contractors ought to be acting on the battlefield as sort of proxies for or allies of the U.S. military. I think private contracting for logistics and for support and for technology and maybe for some analysis can be part of a governmental system, but to have private contractors in the field carrying out the sort of state craft of war or shadowy intelligence, warlike activity, paramilitary or collection activity, I think is a mistake.
Question: How do you rate Michael Hayden’s tenure at the CIA?
Steve Coll: Hard to tell. He’s a professional who I think was welcomed there when he was appointed because the turmoil of the previous regime had been pretty considerable. He was a known quantity. He was known to be sort of a friend of the CIA. He wasn’t there to tear it down or kind of reinvent it the way some other directors had come in wanting to do, but the basic problem that he faces and that the agency faces is that they’ve basically been reorganized out of their prestige and to some extent reorganized out of their- parts of their mission and they’ve lost their place at the table. Their place at the table with the White House is now taken by the director of national intelligence, the new sort of czar of all of the intelligence agencies, and that means the CIA is adjusting to a completely different world in which it does no- it no longer has direct contact with the President of the United States every morning. That’s what made the CIA the source of all this mystique in our political culture was that every morning first thing, 6:30 or 7 a.m., the President of the United States sits down with the director of the CIA or his designated briefer and they talk about the world. And when the President wants something done off the books he turns to the CIA and he says directly, “I want to raid Cuba or I want to foment dissent in this country or that,” and that relationship of the President and the CIA is broken. It just doesn’t exist anymore. The CIA is now more like the FBI. It works at one step removed. It has a mission to go out in to the world and steal secrets and occasionally go out in the world and blow up bridges, but it’s doing that almost as a kind of separate- like a federal reserve that does monetary policy that they’re divorced from policy and decision making where there’s an intermediary in the DA and DNI. And I think Hayden has not been able to quite resolve how this reorganization will play out in the life of the institution.
Question: Is the American military strong enough for continued warfare?
Steve Coll: Well, there’s a very heated debate within the U.S. Army and the military continuing now and I’m still- I’m doing some work on this now, and the strain-- Everyone agrees there is an enormous strain. The question is- that are-- The questions that are debated are what are the strategic consequences of this strain? And on the one hand you have those like K.C. or certain colonels and others who would emphasize the loss of combat capability, the potential for a surprise elsewhere in the world that the United States can’t respond to, and the general sort of inability of the United States to say pivot from Iraq where things may be going better to Afghanistan where things are clearly going worse because there just is no- there’s no elasticity in the system anymore. The resources are all on the- in the field so that’s one side. The other side emphasizes, as Gates did in the speech a couple of weeks ago: Look. We have armies to win the wars that we’re in and I would rather break an army winning the war that we have to win than worry about some future scenario. Nobody-- Somebody was arguing with me the other day. He said, “Nobody worried during World War II that we were going to break the army and overemphasize figuring out how to beat Nazi Germany and then we were going to miss Viet Nam because we hadn’t prepared for counterinsurgency.” Well, you- that’s what you have armies for is to go all out to achieve the objectives you need to achieve. Now-- So then that depends on whether you believe finishing in Iraq with every brigade available is really in the national interest and so in the end these arguments about strain and breaking the army they’re a kind of coded argument about whether Iraq is still worthwhile.
Question: Should getting bin Laden be the military’s top priority?
Steve Coll: The hunt’s still important for a lot of reasons starting with justice, the fact that he is at large and has more or less accepted responsibility for the attacks and no one’s ever bothered to chase him down, but more sort of relevant to the current scene this-- We talked before about the 20 years of continuous leadership, the ability to deliver messages to followers, to define the narrative of the war that he believes he’s leading, to identify targets, to name countries. He still matters. He doesn’t matter the way he did in 1999 but taking him off the airwaves and forcing al-Qaeda to deal for the first time in 20 years with the succession crisis probably from the point of view of al-Qaeda’s adversaries would be a good objective. So I think there are lots of reasons why the hunt for him still matters. As to what al-Qaeda’s capability is, this year I think all you can really do is look at what the system is reporting by way of kind of threat reporting on the one hand and then what all of the open source evidence from the last three or four years tells you about their capability. And I think that in summary what it tells you is that they still have the intent to carry out what you might think of as sort of medium-sized attacks against airplanes, against subway systems, against embassies, military bases. They have the capability to plan sort of six-to-nine-month, fairly complicated, fairly ambitious plans like the one that’s on trial in London involving the attempt to blow up planes over the Atlantic in August of 2006, the one that led to us not being able to carry our toothpaste aboard airplanes. That was their most ambitious plot since 9/11. It was meant to be the fifth anniversary plot. It was meant to take down five to ten planes. If it had succeeded, you’d have- we’d be living in a different world. There’d be 600 or more dead Americans and Brits lying in the Atlantic Ocean and we’d probably be occupying the federally administered tribal areas and engaged in a very vicious counterinsurgency campaign, but that’s been their most ambitious plot since and it’s a couple of orders of magnitude short of 9/11. Al Qaeda keeps an eye on the calendar. They know this is an election season. I think he’ll probably want to do something. In 2004, what we can see in retrospect is that he didn’t have the capability to do anything other than a media event but he appeared like an apparition on the weekend before the election and delivered this
message to the American people. John Kerry still believes to this day it was a factor in his defeat in a close election so at a minimum I expect them to attempt media events but if they have capability they’ll probably use it during the fall season.
Recorded on: 07/10/2008
Steve Coll weighs in on the current state of American Intelligence.
Chronic irregular sleep in children was associated with psychotic experiences in adolescence, according to a recent study out of the University of Birmingham's School of Psychology.
A time for sleep<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="Mt29uUqI" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="931343dee3c02121445e51e94ba22446"> <div id="botr_Mt29uUqI_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/Mt29uUqI-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/Mt29uUqI-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/Mt29uUqI-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>Previous studies had already suggested a link between persistent nightmares in childhood and psychosis and borderline personality disorder (BPD) by adolescence, but researchers at the University of Birmingham's School of Psychology wanted to see if a similar connection existed between these mental disorders and other childhood behavioral sleep problems.</p><p>To do this, they scoured data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, a longitudinal cohort study that followed approximately 14,000 children born in Avon, England, in the early 1990s. The study followed the children for more than 13 years. During that time, mothers filled out questionnaires asking about the children's lives. Factors looked at included housing, parenting, nutrition, physical health, mental wellbeing, environmental exposures, and so on. </p><p>The cohort study inquired about sleep routines, sleep duration, and awakening frequency when the children were 6, 18, and 30 months old, and then again at 3.5, 4.8, and 5.8 years. It also assessed mental health in adolescence using semi-structured interviews, such as the Psychosis-Like Symptom Interview.</p><p>"We know that adolescence is a key developmental period to study the onset of many mental disorders, including psychosis or BPD. This is because of particular brain and hormonal changes which occur at this stage," <a href="https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/staff/profiles/psychology/marwaha-steven.aspx" target="_blank">Steven Marwaha</a>, professor of psychiatry at Birmingham and senior author on the study, <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/07/200701125431.htm" target="_blank">said in a release</a>. "Sleep may be one of the most important underlying factors—and it's one that we can influence with effective, early interventions, so it's important that we understand these links."</p><p>After compiling the data, the researchers discovered an association between children with irregular sleeping patterns and teenagers with <a href="https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/psychosis/about-psychosis/" target="_blank">psychotic experiences</a>—that is, episodes when the person perceives reality differently than those around them. Even when depression at 10 years old was considered as a mediating factor, their findings still suggested "a specific pathway between these childhood sleep problems and adolescent psychotic experiences." </p><p>Toddlers with shorter nighttime sleep duration and late bedtimes were likewise associated with a <a href="https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/borderline-personality-disorder/index.shtml" target="_blank">borderline personality disorder</a>—a disorder marked by a pattern of varying moods, self-images, and behaviors—in their teenage years. Depression at age 10 did not mediate this particular association, suggesting a separate and more specific pathway. </p>
A more restful tomorrow<p>While the sample size was large and mental health was assessed with a validated interview, there nevertheless remain limitations to this data. For starters, sleep habits were based on mothers' reports. Because they came from memory, versus a more direct observation method such as actigraphy, these data may be prone to imperfect recollection and reporting error. There are also many confounders that could be secretly nudging the results, such as family conditions, prenatal medicines, and a host of environmental factors. Finally, <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6024884/#:~:text=Sleep%20difficulties%20in%20youth%20with,fear%20of%20dark%20%5B13%5D." target="_blank">the relationship between sleep problems and mental disorders</a> is both complex and two-way.</p><p>As such, the study shows an association between poor childhood sleep later mental disorders but does not prove a causal link. Parents need not worry that a string of nightmares or the eternal struggle settle into bed will be the first ingredients in a witches' brew of debilitating mental disorders. The goal of the study, the researchers point out, is not to create undue worry but improve our ability to recognize the signs of at-risk children and deliver necessary interventions earlier.</p><p>"The results of this study could have important implications for helping practitioners identify children who might be at higher risk for psychotic experiences or BPD symptoms in adolescence, and potentially lead to the design of more effectively targeted sleep or psychological interventions to prevent the onset or attenuate these mental disorders," Isabel Morales-Muñoz, the study's lead researcher, <a href="https://www.healio.com/news/psychiatry/20200702/childhood-sleep-problems-linked-to-adolescent-psychosis-borderline-personality-disorder#:~:text=Sleep%20problems%20during%20early%20childhood,study%20published%20in%20JAMA%20Psychiatry." target="_blank">told Healio Psychiatry</a><u>.</u></p><p>If a parent reading this is worried that their child's sleep patterns are deleterious, the take away should not be despair over an unyielding fate. It should be to seek professional help as soon as possible to begin improving sleep duration and quality. Even if you aren't worried, it's worth remembering that childhood experiences lay the foundation for a lifetime of salubrious sleeping habits. It's so much more than beauty rest.</p>
Are we genetically inclined for superstition or just fearful of the truth?
- From secret societies to faked moon landings, one thing that humanity seems to have an endless supply of is conspiracy theories. In this compilation, physicist Michio Kaku, science communicator Bill Nye, psychologist Sarah Rose Cavanagh, skeptic Michael Shermer, and actor and playwright John Cameron Mitchell consider the nature of truth and why some groups believe the things they do.
- "I think there's a gene for superstition, a gene for hearsay, a gene for magic, a gene for magical thinking," argues Kaku. The theoretical physicist says that science goes against "natural thinking," and that the superstition gene persists because, one out of ten times, it actually worked and saved us.
- Other theories shared include the idea of cognitive dissonance, the dangerous power of fear to inhibit critical thinking, and Hollywood's romanticization of conspiracies. Because conspiracy theories are so diverse and multifaceted, combating them has not been an easy task for science.
Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.
- The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
- The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
- It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
The Red Sea area where Neom will be built:
Saudi Arabia Plans Futuristic City, "Neom" (Full Promotional Video)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c646d528d230c1bf66c75422bc4ccf6f"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/N53DzL3_BHA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
A growing body of research suggests COVID-19 can cause serious neurological problems.
- The new study seeks to track the health of 50,000 people who have tested positive for COVID-19.
- The study aims to explore whether the disease causes cognitive impairment and other conditions.
- Recent research suggests that COVID-19 can, directly or indirectly, cause brain dysfunction, strokes, nerve damage and other neurological problems.
Brain images of a patient with acute demyelinating encephalomyelitis.
COVID-19 and the brain<p>A growing body of research reveals alarming neurological complications among COVID-19 patients. On Wednesday, for example, researchers from University College London published a <a href="https://academic.oup.com/brain/article/doi/10.1093/brain/awaa240/5868408" target="_blank">study</a> in the journal Brain that describes how some patients have suffered temporary brain dysfunction, strokes, nerve damage, and other neurological problems concurrent with COVID-19.</p><p>Some patients suffered brain inflammation as a result of a rare disease called acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, which can cause numbness, seizures, and confusion. One patient in the study even hallucinated monkeys and lions in her home.</p>
Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images<p>A separate study published in the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7198407/" target="_blank">Journal of Clinical Neuroscience</a> notes that some COVID-19 patients have also suffered neurological complications like impaired consciousness and acute cerebrovascular disease. The study notes that past viruses like MERS and SARS also seemed to cause neurological problems.</p><p>A troubling finding among this growing body of research is that some patients seem to suffer neurological damage even when respiratory symptoms aren't obvious. Additionally, scientists aren't sure whether damage from the disease will be permanent.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Given that the disease has only been around for a matter of months, we might not yet know what long-term damage COVID-19 can cause," Dr. Ross Paterson, joint first author of the University College London study, said in a <a href="https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-07/ucl-iid070620.php" target="_blank">press release</a>. "Doctors needs to be aware of possible neurological effects, as early diagnosis can improve patient outcomes."</p><p>If you've been diagnosed with COVID-19 and want to enroll in the study, visit <a href="https://www.cambridgebrainsciences.com/studies/covid-brain-study" target="_blank">cambridgebrainsciences.com/studies/covid-brain-study</a>.</p>