Magazine | June 25, 2012, Issue

Agent Obama

Every so often you find yourself reading a gripping account of a super-secret government program designed to foil the plots of our foes, and you think: Why am I reading a gripping account of a super-secret government program designed to foil the plots of our foes? During the Bush years you could count on the New York Times to reveal any stealthy scheme, just to embarrass the cowboy-in-chief; now, during the tenure of Professor Wonderful, we get secret details to remind us what an awesome war he’s running. That Yemeni bomb-plot we foiled? Oh, we totally had a secret double agent in there, working with Saudi and Israeli intelligence! His name was Bob, and he lives with his family in Silver Spring now. Here’s his address, if you want to see the house on Google Street View.

Shut up! Shut up already! Stop telling me secret things!

Now we have details about Stuxnet, the worm that wreaked havoc on the Iranian nuclear program. The New York Times ran an excerpt of a tell-all book that says Obama approved the Stuxnet program, inasmuch as Bush started it and Obama didn’t stop it. At one point, the worm spilled into the wild and the project threatened to unravel. The story’s first quote is telling: The president frowned, looked around the room, told everyone they had 48 hours to engineer a kill switch, and said, “Gentlemen, failure is not an option.”

Just kidding! “‘Should we shut this thing down?’ Mr. Obama asked, according to members of the president’s national security team who were in the room.”

It could be worse. Given the hagiography that infuses the Left’s view of President Obama, nowadays you expect to read something like this:

The president, who has frequently cited his high-school habit of getting baked on reefer and watching Star Trek as instrumental in his intuitive understanding of computers and the complex codes that make them run, strode into the room with an unmistakable air of purpose and concern. He had found an error in line 27,394 of the code.

“There are those who say the value of this container should be two or four,” he said, “but I reject these false choices. I say it is time we try three.” The change was made, the program was recompiled, and it ran perfectly. Within a week, it had not only found Osama bin Laden by analyzing Pakistani credit-card transactions for purchases of moisturizer (bin Laden was rumored to suffer from chapped hands), it had also identified millions in savings to be had in the drone-manufacturing process, mostly by expanding the “kill list” to include workers taking a smoke break outside.

Behind the scenes, aides are often frustrated by the public’s inability to understand the president’s technical mastery. “You got Fox News out there 24/7 telling people he’s a Muslim, and people understand that Islamic mathematicians invented algebra, and they hated algebra.”

#page#You would not be surprised to learn that the president met with Bill Gates and said he probably knew more about computers than any other president in history and his experience in Chicago gave him a keen appreciation of their strategic applications. (He played a lot of Space Invaders.) Nor would you be surprised if he told aides to let it be known he personally approved the nose-cone art for the drones, to make sure it was inclusive of all genders and body types. There might be some Pakistani villager with binoculars who suffered from poor self-image if she saw some classic cheesecake on a drone in the sky right before it blew her legs off.

You would, however, be surprised if they kept their mouths shut about these things. Key terms in the quote from the Times: “According to members of the president’s national security team who were in the room . . .” Unless a clown car pulled up and 15 guys in makeup got out, it should have been a fairly small team. So someone should be quaking about his job, right? You assume they cover this on your first day at work:

“Okay, this is a covert op. We’re in a race against time to stop Iran from getting the bomb, and in this shadow war we must never let the other side grasp the extent of our capabilities. Uh — question? There, in the back?”

“So if things go wrong and the program is discovered, can I tell a reporter about it a few years later, with gripping details about meetings with the president? I promise not to use my full name.”

“You can, but you will be stuck with a poison dart in your shin on a trip to Disney World, and we’ll make sure the death report blames ‘tertiary syphilis.’ Anyone else? Okay then.”

So you’d like to think. But the long twilight struggle has turned into standing in front of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with a megaphone, apparently. CNN recently reported: “The president himself became the first administration official to acknowledge U.S. drones were conducting attacks in Pakistan when he made a comment to a supporter in an online chat, even though officials through all the years of the program had never said publicly they were being conducted.” A comment. To a supporter. In a chat room. It’s not quite like FDR having lunch at Rudy’s Haus of Schnitzels and talking about D-day planning in a loud, confident voice, but it’s not exactly discreet.

Perhaps aides will make it easier in the future; when the president gets an online message about national security, there will be a little blue button at the bottom of the screen that says “share this on Twitter.”

– Mr. Lileks blogs at www.lileks.com.

In This Issue

Articles

Politics & Policy

A Real Race

We’ve gotta wake up,” James Carville wrote in a May 31 fundraising e-mail. “Everywhere I go, people are telling me that ‘Obama has it in the bag.’ Newsflash: nothing is ...
Politics & Policy

Conventional Unwisdom

Raleigh, N.C. – ‘Well you crazy people, is this the Democratic party or what?” That was David Parker, the embattled chairman of the North Carolina Democratic party, announcing on May ...
Politics & Policy

The Sticky Slope

The best way to give somebody bad news is, first, give him a doughnut. This is basically the idea behind what we in Hollywood call “craft services.” Craft services — also ...

Features

Politics & Policy

Falling Bricks

Madrid — Just off the Plaza Mayor in the Spanish capital, there stands an abandoned Santander bank branch, shuttered, vandalized, and covered in graffiti. “Murderers!” is spray-painted on the edifice ...

Books, Arts & Manners

Sections

Politics & Policy

Letters

Don’t Forget Payroll Taxes I was happily reading Arthur C. Brooks’s article in the May 28 edition, agreeing all the way, until I hit the point at which he picks up ...
Politics & Policy

The Week

‐ Why is Wisconsin like Eric Holder testifying before Congress? They both said, “I don’t recall.” ‐ The May job numbers were even worse than April’s, and came with a downward ...
Athwart

Agent Obama

Every so often you find yourself reading a gripping account of a super-secret government program designed to foil the plots of our foes, and you think: Why am I reading ...
The Long View

Wilson & Sterling

  Wilson & Sterling A professional corporation IN RE: CLINTON/CLINTON CONTINUATION OF MARRIAGE AGREEMENT 2000, AND ADDENDA, UPDATED JUNE 2012 Dear Steve: Many thanks for the phone call yesterday. I have received your e-mail and ...
Politics & Policy

Poetry

CONVERSATION You are a lovely sky of autumn, clear and rose! But inside me, grief is rising, like the sea, Leaving as it ebbs upon my lip morose, Bitter culinary silts of memory. – Vainly ...
Happy Warrior

Gradus ad Narcissum

‘How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” “Practice.” It’s an old line, and perhaps an obsolescent one. I can’t recall the last time I heard anyone use it. Americans don’t ...

Most Popular

Elections

How States Like Virginia Go Blue

So this is what it feels like to live in a lab experiment. As a native Virginian, I’ve watched my state come full circle. The last time Democrats enjoyed the amount of power in the Old Dominion that they won on Tuesday, I was entering middle school in Fairfax County. In 1993 the governor was a Democrat, one ... Read More
Books, Arts & Manners

Why Study Latin?

Oxford professor Nicola Gardini urges people to read and study Latin. He believes that Latin is the antidote for the modern age, which seems transfixed by the spontaneous, the easy, and the ephemeral. His new book, Long Live Latin: The Pleasures of a Useless Language, argues that Latin combines truth and ... Read More
Elections

Religious-Freedom Voters Will Vote Trump

The late Supreme Court Justice Frank Murphy wrote, "Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion all have a double aspect — freedom of thought and freedom of action.” To which one should be able to add, freedom of inaction -- meaning that absent a compelling state interest, people should ... Read More
Elections

Democratic Denial

One point I'd draw out from David Harsanyi's post below: It has been more than thirty years since a Democratic presidential nominee failed to make it to the White House and thought the loss was legitimate. Read More