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This Gulf War-Era ‘SNL’ Sketch Perfectly Captures The Media Frenzy Of The Syria Strikes
As President Donald Trump and Secretary of Defense James Mattis remained deliberately vague about the U.S. response to the Syrian government’s alleged use of chemical weapons, Pentagon officials had a clear message for the media: Keep calm and stop screwing with OPSEC.
In the run-up to the April 13 missile strikes on three Syrian government facilities, DoD officials devoted time to swatting down rampant speculation about — among other things — the position of Russian warships in the region, the alleged buzzing of the USS Donald Cook by Russian aircraft, and an “armada” of 12 U.S. Navy vessels steaming toward the Middle East.
These stories would have all constituted grievous OPSEC violations — had they been true. Instead, the Tomahawk cruise missiles that pounded Syrian facilities on Friday originated from the guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey and the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Laboon near Egypt, as Business Insider notes; in the eastern Mediterranean, the submarine USS John Warner fired off some missiles while submerged. According to DoD officials, the Syrian interceptors failed miserably.
If all of this is eerily familiar — well, it should be. Please enjoy this vintage 1991 “Saturday Night Live” sketch on the inanity of Pentagon press briefings during Operation Desert Storm, featuring Kevin Nealon as beleaguered DoD PAO Lt. Col. William Pierson (not that one) and the late, great Phil Hartman as then-SecDef Dick Cheney (with some creepily familiar dialogue):
Obviously, not every Pentagon reporter is like this (see: our own Jeff Schogol, or Military Times’ Tara Copp), but the message is clear: Journalists who are 1) unfamiliar with the goings-on of the U.S. military establishment and 2) totally wired by the prospect of chronicling A War are an OPSEC trainwreck.
The practice of asking stupid questions with self-serious intonation is an art form that CNN pioneered, thanks to the Gulf War; in the SNL sketch, Dana Carvey best captures the inanity of trying to squeeze newsy blood from a stone: “Colonel, knowing what you know, where would you say our forces are most vulnerable to attacks and where would you say the Iraqis could best exploit those weaknesses?”
It’s worth noting that this isn’t about making fun of journalists (although it’s easy!), but the whole circus act that is the highly public Pentagon briefing in the first place. After all, the DoD has gradually closed ranks in recent years: In October 2017, Mattis sent a strong warning to DoD personnel warning against leaks and urging efforts “to prevent unauthorized disclosure of non-public information,” followed by a massive push by the Air Force to retool its public affairs posture months later. The OPSEC claim has become, as retired Army Col. Steve Boylan recently wrote at Task & Purpose, “the blanket to avoid answering what you can and should.”
And this is the real message that makes this vintage bit of prime SNL relevant to the whole media frenzy around the recent U.S. strikes in Syria: everything is a damn sideshow, and we absolutely *love* it. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Lt. Col. Pierson wouldn’t be Nealon’s only appearance at a Pentagon podium: In the same season, he also appeared as Gen. Subliminal, a U.S. Central Command spokesman who follows every piece of crafted Pentagon bullshit with the truth behind what he’s saying.
“Before any bombings, all Iraqi targets are positively identified by U.S. intelligence (CNN),” Nealon jokes. Boy, you don’t know the half of it.
NASA is reportedly investigating one of its astronauts in a case that appears to involve the first allegations of criminal activity from space.
Hackers could have breached US bioterrorism defenses for years, records show. We'll never know if they did
The Department of Homeland Security stored sensitive data from the nation's bioterrorism defense program on an insecure website where it was vulnerable to attacks by hackers for over a decade, according to government documents reviewed by The Los Angeles Times.
The data included the locations of at least some BioWatch air samplers, which are installed at subway stations and other public locations in more than 30 U.S. cities and are designed to detect anthrax or other airborne biological weapons, Homeland Security officials confirmed. It also included the results of tests for possible pathogens, a list of biological agents that could be detected and response plans that would be put in place in the event of an attack.
The information — housed on a dot-org website run by a private contractor — has been moved behind a secure federal government firewall, and the website was shut down in May. But Homeland Security officials acknowledge they do not know whether hackers ever gained access to the data.
The State Department doesn't really care if its human rights training for partner security forces is working or not
By law, the United States is required to promote "human rights and fundamental freedoms" when it trains foreign militaries. So it makes sense that if the U.S. government is going to spend billions on foreign security assistance every year, it should probably systematically track whether that human rights training is actually having an impact or not, right?
Apparently not. According to a new audit from the Government Accountability Office, both the Departments of Defense and State "have not assessed the effectiveness of human rights training for foreign security forces" — and while the Pentagon agreed to establish a process to do so, State simply can't be bothered.
A Kansas VA hospital police supervisor reported 'dangerous' deficiencies among his officers. Now he says he faced retaliation
The Kansas City VA Medical Center is still dealing with the fallout of a violent confrontation last year between one of its police officers and a patient, with the Kansas City Police Department launching a homicide investigation.
And now Topeka's VA hospital is dealing with an internal dispute between leaders of its Veterans Affairs police force that raises new questions about how the agency nationwide treats patients — and the officers who report misconduct by colleagues.
A New Mexico woman was charged Friday in the robbery and homicide of a Marine Corps veteran from Belen late last month after allegedly watching her boyfriend kill the man and torch his car to hide evidence.