National Security Experts


Loren Thompson

Biography provided by participant

Loren B. Thompson is Chief Operating Officer of the non-profit Lexington Institute and Chief Executive Officer of Source Associates, a for-profit consultancy. Prior to holding his present positions, he was Deputy Director of the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University and taught graduate-level courses in strategy, technology and media affairs at Georgetown. He has also taught at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. Thompson holds doctoral and masters degrees in government from Georgetown University and a bachelor of science degree in political science from Northeastern University. He was born in 1951 and currently resides in McLean, Virginia and Plymouth, Massachusetts with his wife Carla and two children -- Matthew and Ariel, twins born in 1997.

Recent Responses

November 8, 2010 05:09 PM

Shortly after the 2008 presidential election, Senator Obama was given a briefing by the National Intelligence Council on global trends. The briefing warned that the on-going transfer of wealth from West to the East was "without precedent" in modern history. The implication was that if economic trends were not reversed, the United States would eventually be overtaken in global influence by China and other Asian nations.

Mr. Obama subsequently took office and proceeded to embrace all the the bad behaviors that have contributed to America's decline and China's rise. Massive deficits. New entitlements. Taxes on the productive and handouts to the unproductive. So the trends described by the intelligence council have continued. In just the present decade, foolish economic and regulatory policies have reduced America's share of global output from 32 percent to 24 percent. Where will we stand after another ten years of spending billions of dollars per day we do not have, while driving our industries offshore?

The point being that Asia's rise has as much to

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October 18, 2010 04:38 PM

I sometimes joke with my 13-year-old twins that when I was their age, there were no gay people. They understand what I mean -- back then everybody was in the closet, and with good reason. It wasn't until the year I graduated from high school, 1969, that patrons of the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich village launched the shotglass heard round the world and the gay rights movement was born. Four decades later gays still face widespread discrimination, but at least the rest of us know they exist. We also understand they're a pretty diverse lot, and generalizing about their behavior is about as valid as generalizing about Protestants.

Don't-ask-don't-tell has always been an uneasy compromise between our past prejudices and present realities. The most important present reality is that tens of thousands of gays serve in the U.S. military. How do I know this? Because anybody who's been around the military knows it. They're everywhere. It appears that having gays in the joint force has not materially impaired our military's ability to become the finest fighting force in the wo

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October 4, 2010 04:37 PM

The biggest defect of deterrence is that it is a psychological strategy, and we aren't mind-readers. Therefore, we must speculate about whether it is working or not based upon the visible behavior of those whom we are trying to to influence. By that measure, the threat of sanctions isn't having much of a deterrent effect on the current regime in Teheran. President Ahmadinejad seems to relish every opportunity he gets to provoke us.

Some experts try to rationalize away his belligerance by saying he is speaking mainly to domestic audiences rather than to the West. Or they say his comments are mere bluster, masking the care that Iranian leaders take in not being too provocative with their actions. And still other dismiss Ahmadinejad as a crazy yokel. Whatever interpretation you favor, he sure doesn't act like somebody who is cowed by our threats. Whether that reflects the limitations of of deterrence or just the ineptitude with which successive U.S. administrations have implemented the strategy is hard to say, but the bottom line is Ahmedinjad seems to say and do prett

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September 28, 2010 01:50 PM

The number Islamic radicals in the United States is so small that understanding their motivations requires a psychologist rather than a political scientist. It's not that 63 people -- the number charged with or convicted of terrorist conspiracy since 2009 -- can't potentially do a lot of damage, but there are millions of muslims in the United States and Islamic faith expresses itself in many forms of divergent content and intensity. It's true that the Fort Hood killer had ties to Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki (as did the Christmas Day bomber), but even a cursory examination of Army Major Nidal Hassan's behavior prior to his killing spree reveals idiosyncratic factors that may have led him to become a mass murderer. Drawing general conclusions from his eccentric excesses isn't likely to help much in developing better defenses.

It's very human to look for patterns in explaining social challenges, but I would argue the number of cases here is too small to derive meaningful conclusions. Some homegrown terrorists will be foreign-influenced. Some will be expressing the frus

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September 20, 2010 07:54 PM

Surveys of self-identified Tea Party members reveal that they are overwhelmingly conservative in their political leanings, but they are a particular type of conservative: people who believe in limited government and balanced budgets. Their views on foreign policy will be extensions of their convictions about domestic concerns, which means they will favor less spending, fewer commitments and a more practical pursuit of national interests. To the extent that Tea Party values drive Republican priorities after the midterm elections, it will probably be a good thing for both the party and the nation.

Under the leadership of people like Dick Cheney and Karl Rove, the Republican Party has drifted away from its historical roots and electoral base in recent years. A party that traditionally favored protectionism became enamored of unfettered free trade. It irresponsibly embraced "supply-side" tax cuts that drove up the national debt while creating the illusion that there really is a free lunch. It embraced big government as a way of rewarding the party faithful and

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September 13, 2010 10:24 AM

I used to teach nuclear strategy at Georgetown University, and before that I wrote my doctoral dissertation on the subject. After years of writing and teaching, I came to the conclusion that policymakers greatly over-estimate the durability of nuclear deterrence. I don't want to sound like a radical deconstructionist, but the evidence is pretty strong that our adversaries frequently misconstrue U.S. intentions and fail to notice cues that we send. In addition, accidents happen. With the number of nuclear actors gradually increasing, it is probably just a matter of time before nuclear weapons are used somewhere by somebody (Washington being the most likely target).

You'd think that the political system would exhibit some greater sense of urgency about reducing nuclear dangers, but instead -- as in the case on New START -- the treaty ratification process tends to be impeded by partisan posturing. I don't think that occurs because members of the two national parties have strong convictions about our nuclear posture. Just the opposite: most legislators give nuclear

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August 10, 2010 04:50 PM

I usually prefer reading old books. I mean, really old books. Mostly about American society and industry between the Civil War and the Great Depression. They given me insights into the American past that aren't filtered through the biases of modern historians. So I spent much of the Spring reading P.T. Barnum's lengthy memoirs, which were published in popular edition in 1872. P.T. was so absorbed in his career as a showman that he barely mentioned the Civil War was going on during the time he ran the American Museum in New York City, but he provides a wealth of details about coming of age in rural Connecticut, how business was conducted and what people did for entertainment before and after the war. He was just getting around to that idea about having a traveling circus when the memoirs concluded in the late 1860s.

I moved on to a modern history after that, Ingenious Pursuits: Building the Scientific Revolution by Lisa Jardine of the University of London (Anchor Books:1999). It's an intimate look at how the leading lights of the 17th Century awakening in E

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August 12, 2010 09:04 AM

I attended the defense secretary's Monday press conference and a subsequent private meeting in which he elaborated on his thinking about the need for greater efficiency in military spending. Secretary Gates correctly detects that bipartisan support is coalescing for defense cuts, and that political sentiment for military savings could grow into the kind of avalanche that buried the joint force after Vietnam and the Cold War. Gates believes his department can live within flat or slightly rising defense budgets in the years ahead if it can find $100 billion in savings during the 2012-2016 period to cover the rising costs of military modernization. Achieving such savings would also send a message to Congress that the Pentagon is capable of cutting waste without help from outsiders -- help that often has the perverse effect of making waste worse.

Secretary Gates is a sincere man, and his proposed savings are laudable. But like many people in the defense establishment, he does not appear to grasp how serious the gov

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August 3, 2010 08:31 PM

The model of a successful independent review process was the 1997 report of the National Defense Panel, which offered a very different take on future security needs from the one found in that year's Quadrennial Defense Review. Not only did the National Defense Panel provide prescient insights on global terrorism, nuclear proliferation, networked warfare and urban operations, but its recommendations were well-timed for the political moment in which they were released. They appeared in the midst of the boom, when the nation's power and prosperity were growing fast and the popular imagination was receptive to a different concept of future security needs.

Today, we live in a very different time. Eight years of incompetent leadership have left the nation in a poorer and more pessimistic state. We have squandered literally trillions of dollars, directly and indirectly, on combating modest threats exaggerated by our fears. Meanwhile, our economy has declined steadily to a point where it may not longer be able to support our previous superpower status. Against th

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July 26, 2010 10:02 AM

The Korean Peninsula is the nexus of more security challenges than anywhere else that American forces operate. In one relatively small place, U.S. leaders must respond to the dangers posed by (1) nuclear proliferation, (2) China's rising economic power, (3) a failed state, and (4) conventional warfare. South Korea's rapid economic rise -- it now has a GDP roughly as big as America's $1.4 trillion projected deficit for fiscal 2011 -- has made it one of the 20 biggest economies in the world, but much of its productive capacity in microchips, cell phones, steel and consumer electronics could be quickly wrecked by an onslaught from the volatile North Korean regime. The repercussions of any such conflict would be felt around the world, especially in nearby Japan, which remains America's most important ally in the Western Pacific.

Our greatest challenge in dealing with the North Korean regime is its impenetrable secrecy, which makes every new move by Pyongyang a surprise. Because our intelligence community has no reliable way of determining the meaning or motivation of North

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July 21, 2010 05:12 PM

I probably shouldn't presume to comment on Afghan society, but ts seems that the areas of Afghanistan where the Taliban is most active have some similarities with Iraq's Anbar Province. The Taliban threatens a traditional power structure rooted in local kinship and tribal ties, in much the same way that Al Qaeda in Iraq threatened the traditional power structure of Anbar. It therefore may be possible to make common cause with interests tied to the status quo in resisting the radicalizing influence of the Taliban.

However, the tactical situation in Anbar Province on the eve of the "miracle" was that there were two different groups of insurgents at work -- indigenous Sunnis dissatisfied with the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime, and Al Qaeda elements from outside Iraq intent on expanding a global jihad against American occuppiers. The Al Qaeda elements were a persistent irritant to the local Sunni power structure, and thus it became possible to quell both insurgencies by in effect hiring the local Sunnis to oppose the foreign Sunnis (Al Qaeda).

The ta

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July 12, 2010 01:36 PM

Having been a talking head for some time, I usually relish the opportunity to attack the intelligence community because I know our spies can't defend themselves without blowing their covers (or violating their oaths). They're totally defenseless -- unless, of course, they totally fail in their mission, democracy collapses, and I lose the latitude to abuse my First Amendment rights. So over the years I have delighted in pointing out how every big security development (the Tet Offensive, collapse of communism, 9-11, etc.) seems to come as a collossal surprise to the intelligence community, or how the CIA can't seem to find the tallest guy in Afghanistan.

At some point, though, people like me have to acknowldge that our spy agencies have managed to track down and kill just about everybody who matters in Al Qaeda except Osama, and that a fair amount of that success is traceable to human intelligence rather the listening in on cell phone conversations from remote sensor platforms. The recent spy exchange is an amusing summer diversion from the Gulf oil spill, but it probably

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June 28, 2010 10:21 AM

I used to teach media-military relations at Georgetown University, and published a well-received book on the subject in 1991 (Defense Beat, Macmillan:1991). You would be hard-pressed to find two professions that are more different than journalism and warfighting. Warfighers value regimentation and secrecy, whereas reporters favor freedom and full disclosure. The divergence of values mirrors their different roles, but what it means in practice is that there is huge potential for trouble in the relationship even when both sides are exhibiting high professional standards.

In the case of the Rolling Stone piece, we have good reason to suspect that neither side was operating at the top of their game. The comments of General McChrystal and his staff were disrespectful and childish. And the reporter must have known he was disclosing comments that the soldiers did not expect to see in print. The fact that the reporter had some up-front agreement on what could and couldn't be included in the story that was observed in subsequent interactions doesn't change t

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June 21, 2010 03:17 PM

I'm tempted to say that Afghanistan's strategic value isn't the key issue, because you can't win a hearts-and-minds campaign when your local partner is a corrupt government that stole the election. But I won't press that argument because the logic would be flawed: the defects of the Karzai government don't negate our need to be there, they simply raise the threshhold on how much must be at stake if we are to justify continuing the commitment.

It seems the standard practice in making such calculations is to look at a regional map and exclaim, "Jeepers, Somalia lies athwart the southern approaches to the Suez Canal!" or "Holy Cow, Vietnam is right on the main oil route between Japan and the Persian Gulf!" Well, I have a different way of looking at the map, because being superfial I prefer to look at the whole globe rather than some detailed regional map.

What I see is that Afghanistan is precisely on the opposite side of the world from the American heartland, which means it is about as far as you can get from the U.S. "sphere of inter

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