The sock riddle returns

So DADT repeal won’t wreck the armed forces and leave us naked to our enemies.  The Marines’ honor has been a little besmirched by that noble service registering the highest fraction (40-60% compared to 30% average for the whole military)  expecting negative effects, but they will get over it and they will follow orders with good will as they always do.  In ten or even five years, we will be as puzzled that we tolerated institutionalized military anti-gay bigotry as we are now that we used to allow people to fill an airplane cabin with cigarette smoke.

At the press conference, someone asked about separate housing and bathrooms.  This one always gives me a laugh, because it depends on fundamentally misunderstanding what sexual preference means for social convention. Recall the riddle: If you have twelve black and twelve brown socks in a drawer in a dark room, how many do you have to take with you into the light to be sure you have a pair?

Bathrooms, locker rooms, and sleeping quarters separate by sex derives from some version of the old Spanish convention that if a man and a woman were alone together, it would be an unthinkable reflection on the man’s masculinity to imagine that they didn’t have sex, therefore architecture and behavioral rules are directed at preventing two people of whom one might be sexually attractive to the other to be alone together, or together undressed, or at least alone together undressed.  If we want to generalize this convention to homosexuals of both sexes, before we even ask about the cost of “separate quarters”,  we have to ask, “separate for whom?”  Generalizing the rule for straight people to gays would require two dormitory/barracks, one each for known-to-be-straight men and women, a double room for each available pair of  gay man/lesbian woman, and singles for every remaining gay person.  Don’t even think about all the “unisex” single bathrooms*.  A gay men’s barracks, for example, would be the chastity equivalent of a coed one for straights.

You need three socks, not thirteen, because a pair of socks is two of the same color, not one of each color.  A population with gay people in it means couples aren’t necessarily one of each sex, and if not having sex is what matters, doors and signs are not going to do the job.  It will have to happen the way most people in modern societies don’t have sex when they could but don’t, which is almost all the time (just look around you): by  not doing it with unwilling partners, or with subordinates, or when it’s otherwise ill-advised.  Big deal; next issue.

*I give up; why is a bathroom specifically available to two sexes, one person at a time, called unisex and not uniperson?

Remember that old joke about military intelligence?

The Pentagon’s excuse for opposing Al Franken’s anti-rape amendment doesn’t pass the laugh test.

The Department of Defense opposes Al Franken’s appropriations amendment that would forbid the Pentagon from contracting with firms that force their employees to arbitrate if they are sexual assault victims.  Not that DoD opposes the idea, you understand: it would just be too complicated because its subcontractors “may not be in a position to know about such things,” i.e., whether contractors employ the mandatory arbitration clauses.  In a letter to members of Congress, the Pentagon claimed that “enforcement would be problematic,” because contractors may not be privy to what’s in their subcontractors’ contracts.


Government contracting is one of the most heavily regulated businesses around.  Major Washington law firms have entire divisions devoted exclusively to understanding these rules — many of which change constantly based upon executive orders.  The bidding rules themselves take up pages in the CFR.  Meanwhile, these subcontractors are supposedly making some of the most complex technological systems around, with detailed specifications and plans.  And somehow we’re supposed to expect that the poor contractors and subs won’t understand this quite simple provision (or check that the businesses they contract with do)?

Try again, fellahs.

To be sure, as Steve Kelman has brilliantly demonstrated, many of the procurement rules are needlessly complex and inhibit performance.  But this isn’t one of them. 

To me, this sounds like some drone in DoD’s legislative affairs office, angling for the “not-the-sharpest-pencil-in-the-cup” award, wrote this thing after talking to a few people.  Generally, agencies don’t like these riders, and this is part of their boilerplate.  This seems like a screw-up, not a policy.  At least I certainly hope so.

Congress’s 9/11 Walk of Shame

Eight years after 9/11, the least reformed part of our intelligence establishment is not the CIA or the FBI. It’s Congress. In 2004, the 9/11 Commission called congressional oversight of intelligence “dysfunctional.” In 2007 former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Lee Hamilton pleaded with the Senate Intelligence Committee to do something. And last May, when Speaker Pelosi accused the CIA of misleading her, she also declared that oversight had become so feckless, the only way to change Bush Administration intelligence policies was to oust Republicans at the polls.

This is not good.

I’m writing a book on intelligence oversight. What I’ve found so far is that robust oversight requires two things: expertise (you have to know something to ask the right questions) and power over the purse (As Hamilton said, the golden rule of oversight is He Who Owns the Gold Makes the Rules). Congress has denied itself both in intelligence. For years.

–The House STILL imposes term limits on the Intelligence Committee but almost nowhere else. The result: legislators get kicked off the committee just when they start to know what they’re doing. (The Senate had term limits for nearly 30 years, ending them only in 2005) The expertise gap between intelligence and other committees is striking.  Typically a third of Armed Services Committee members serve 10 years or more on the committee, and a third have prior military experience. In intelligence only 5% serve 10 years or more. And only 2 of today’s 535 legislators have ever worked in an intelligence agency.  These are the people we entrust to keep intelligence agencies working well and out of trouble.  Scared yet?

–Both the House and Senate have repeatedly rejected proposals before and after 9/11 to give the Intelligence Committees appropriations powers. Instead, the intelligence budgetary system is divided: Intelligence Committees can threaten to punish recalcitrant agencies with budget cuts, but Appropriations Committees must deliver. History has shown that they don’t, and that savvy intelligence agencies game the system — bypassing the Intelligence Committees and getting their pet projects funded by the appropriators instead. One congressional staffer recently told me that the Senate Intelligence Committee has tried to kill three expensive and ineffective satellite programs — on a bipartisan basis — for years. They’ve finally terminated 2 of them, but all were funded far longer than they should have. We’re talking billions of dollars.

The CIA and FBI have still have many weaknesses. But make no mistake: they are trying mightily.  Congress is not.

Spookism: A dissent.

Isn’t the fact that so many in the CIA are telling the media that only one of theirs counts as a legitimate boss the single best reason for appointing from outside? The same goes for the military, in fact.

Isn’t the fact that so many in the CIA are telling a receptive Washington press that only one of their own counts as a legitimate boss the single best reason for appointing a Director from outside? Last I checked, the metric for choosing the leaders of the State was supposed to be votes, not kills.

A skeptic might ask whether I’d also prefer that Secretaries of Defense lack military experience. Actually, yes. Such a norm should be seriously considered, now that Vietnam is long enough past that the norm would rule out few qualified candidates (almost no women and a shrinking proportion of men).

I have a dream that someday a Secretary of Defense who’s never worn a uniform will seem no more exceptional than a Secretary of State who’s never been in the Foreign Service. Why does the former seem odder? Only because of the unjustified moral and psychic status that soldiering–and in some quarters, it seems, spying–are able to command over all other forms of government service. This is nothing more than militarism, and its strange offshoot, spookism. Let’s start saying no to both.

Update: Oops. Reader “Alex R” diplomatically but devastatingly points out something about the SecDef:

I agree with your comments about the CIA director, but I’m a bit puzzled by the remarks about whether the Secretary of Defense should have military experience. In fact, it is not at all uncommon for the US Secretary of Defense not to have served in the military.

Starting somewhat arbitrarily with James Schlesinger under Nixon and Ford, the first Secretary of Defense too young to have served in World War II, there have been 10 different Defense secretaries, counting Rumsfeld only once even though he served twice. Of these, half — Schlesinger, Harold Brown, Dick Cheney (who somewhat famously had “other priorities” than military service as seen by his numerous draft deferments), William Perry, and William Cohen — had no military service, at least that I could see on their official DoD bios (see ). The others all served for less than 4 years.

Also, notably, even those with (commissioned) military service history are required by law to have been inactive for at least 10 years — so the presumption *against* direct military ties for the Defense secretary are actually somewhat strong. Of course, this all only supports your argument about the CIA director, with which, as I said, I agree.

I wasn’t surprised to hear that few Secretaries of Defense have served in the military for more than four years (that’s normal for draftees), but I was very surprised at the facts about how many never wore a uniform at all. Perhaps my memory had transformed ideological disputes (e.g. the Clinton-era military’s quasi-insubordination) into facts; after all, when Les Aspin was being ignored by the military he was still a civilian. And of course, many CIA directors have also been from outside the intelligence community; there seems little correlation between that and success.

Of course, the correction in the end only makes the original argument stronger. Secretaries of Defense aren’t expected to have served as soldiers. Why should CIA directors be expected to have served as analysts or spies?

And just to clarify; I’m not denying for a minute that lower-level CIA appointees should have detailed organizational and technical experience–just that this means that the person on top should share the experience and worldview of field agents. Only the latter is spookism and is an antonym of civilian control. And if this piece by Jeff Stein (h/t: I forgot, sorry) is right, there seems in the reaction to Panetta to be a clear distinction between spookism and concerns with management expertise: former civilian CIA managers favor Panetta.