National Security Experts


Paul R. Pillar

Biography provided by participant

Dr. Paul R. Pillar is Visiting Professor and Director of Studies of the Security Studies Program in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. He retired in 2005 from a 28-year career in the U.S. intelligence community, in which his last position was National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia. Earlier he served in a variety of analytical and managerial positions, including as chief of analytic units at the CIA covering portions of the Near East, the Persian Gulf, and South Asia. Dr. Pillar also served in the National Intelligence Council as one of the original members of its Analytic Group. He has been Executive Assistant to CIA's Deputy Director for Intelligence and Executive Assistant to Director of Central Intelligence William Webster. He has also headed the Assessments and Information Group of the DCI Counterterrorist Center, and from 1997 to 1999 was deputy chief of the center. He was a Federal Executive Fellow at the Brookings Institution in 1999-2000. Pillar received an A.B. summa cum laude from Dartmouth College, a B.Phil. from Oxford University, and an M.A. and Ph.D. from Princeton University. He is a retired officer in the U.S. Army Reserve and served on active duty in 1971-1973, including a tour of duty in Vietnam. He is the author of Negotiating Peace: War Termination as a Bargaining Process (1983) and Terrorism and U.S. Foreign Policy (2001).

Recent Responses

March 5, 2012 10:50 AM

The short answers to the questions of the week are: no, an attack on Iran would not serve either Israel's interests or those of the United States; and sanctions can help only if they are firmly wedded to the sort of patient and comprehensive diplomacy with Iran that has not yet been tried. I refer readers to this new article of mine in the Washington Monthly, which examines in particular the grossly underexamined question of just what difference an Iranian nuclear weapon would make:

as well as this shorter item with particular reference to this week's AIPAC meeting:

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October 3, 2011 05:43 PM

It is hazardous to reach conclusions on something as important as due process of law based on one or two specific cases. (Someone can always come up with counter-examples that would suggest a different direction.) And to say that it makes no difference whether or not armed hostilities with another state are involved is to ignore a huge distinction, one that is the basis for, among other things, a whole body of international law.

I have addressed the topic with regard to the killings in Yemen in my regular blog:

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June 20, 2011 11:43 AM

Two issues are involved here. One is the legal and constitutional one of the executive branch inserting the United States into a war without Congressional approval or involvement. Whatever may be the flaws and weaknesses of the War Powers Resolution, it is still on the books. (So, of course, is the constitutional bestowal on Congress of the power to declare war.) The administration's argument that U.S. involvement in the current Libyan civil war does not constitute hostilities under the terms of the law is so stretched as to be risible. See my further take on this issue at .

The other issue is the overall advisability of the western intervention into the Libyan war. This expedition has been plagued from the start by confusion over the very objective—how much is protection of a population, and how much is regime change? The intervention was rationalized by speculation about slaughter of civilians that was not based

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March 24, 2011 11:01 AM

Richard Sinnreich is right that in any list of things to worry about regarding the intervention in Libya, the command arrangements are secondary to fundamental uncertainties about what the mission is and how this will all end. As for precedents for allied military efforts in which the United States was not the top dog, World War I comes to mind. When the United States joined the effort in 1917 after France and Britain had already been slogging through three costly years of war, there was considerable disagreement over command relationships and how independently the American expeditionary force would operate. There never was a full meeting of the minds on this, but that did not prevent the allies from beating the Germans.

Both the United States and the Europeans need to avoid what has sometimes crept into discussions of Afghanistan, which is to think of the alliance as an end rather than a means. We have NATO to help accomplish certain security-related missions. We do not tackle security-related missions in order to have a strong NATO. Credibility of the Western allia

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September 27, 2010 10:14 AM

We should not be surprised by the extent to which, most conspicuously over the last year or two, American citizens and other U.S. persons have participated in international terrorism. This pattern is a reminder that terrorism—and even more specifically anti-U.S. Sunni Islamist terrorism—is not the preserve of a gang of conspirators hiding out in South Asia. It is not solely the product of any single group, or of any country or region with which terrorism has some to be associated. Anger and radicalism carried to the extreme of terrorism can, and does, arise anywhere.

We should take the American radicals at their word regarding their principal motivation in embarking on their violent course. Stated motivations are not everything, of course; the political and economic environment in which the radicals live, the ideological influences to which they are exposed, and other factors are also ingredients in understanding what turns these people or anyone else into terrorists. But the dominant thread in most of these cases is professed anger ov

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July 12, 2010 07:45 AM

Because so much about intelligence is necessarily secret and opaque, we tend to form our impressions about it based on whatever narratives come our way that have sufficient dramatic or literary quality to make an impression on us. It doesn’t seem to matter whether those narratives are ostensibly nonfiction or fiction, or whether those who purvey them are taking license with reality to achieve dramatic effect or to grind an axe. It thus should not be surprising that popular conceptions of intelligence are in large part misconception.

One of the most common misconceptions is to associate much of what intelligence involves—or of what we think we know intelligence services do—with the Cold War and U.S.-Soviet competition. We make that association partly because it was in a Cold War context that the narratives about intelligence that first struck our fancy were spun. An associated misconception is the commonly heard theme that the objectives and challenges of intelligence drastically changed once the Cold War ended. In fact, there is

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June 21, 2010 04:39 PM

The important question, of course, is not whether the past nine years of warfare in Afghanistan has been worthwhile (in this, as in other conflicts, we need to resist the natural tendency to treat sunk costs as some kind of investment) but rather whether still more years of warfare will be worthwhile. The fact, however, that we have accomplished so little in the past years—in stabilizing Afghanistan or improving its governance, in stabilizing Pakistan or making it more cooperative, in putting Iran in its place, or in getting closer to establishing a situation that would permit greater exploitation of those fabled natural resources—ought to be a major source of doubt about how much the next nine years (or however long one thinks it will be) will accomplish.

The one clear accomplishment came in the opening weeks of Operation Enduring Freedom: rousting the al-Qa’ida leadership from its home-away-from-home in Afghanistan, while ousting its Taliban hosts from power over most of Afghanistan. This accomplishment reflects the reason U.S. troops are in Afghani

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June 7, 2010 09:05 AM

The fatal interception of the Gaza-bound flotilla is only the latest incident in a self-damaging Israeli course that constitutes one large, continuing strategic blunder. That course involves taking the most narrow and rigid view of current perceived threats, thereby ensuring that they will never evolve into anything other than threats. It entails always relying on the most direct and forceful policy tools—mostly meaning military force—with an apparent blindness to other tools and tactics that would be more in Israel’s own long-term interests. It involves pursuing absolute security for Israelis even if that means absolute insecurity for others. It perpetuates a situation on the ground, amid conflicting claims of Israelis and Palestinians to some of the same land, that bears no resemblance to what would be an impartial way of managing such a conflict but instead simply reflects Israeli military superiority. It is virtually indistinguishable from a doctrine that might makes right.

The shortsightedness of this course is breathtaking. It is based on the mi

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May 10, 2010 10:54 AM

The Times Square incident underscores, among other things, these aspects of the contemporary terrorist threat to the United States:

First, our society—short of turning it into a rigidly controlled police state—is inherently, unavoidably vulnerable in countless ways to damage from anyone motivated to cause it damage. This particular car “bomb” was a comic concoction of firecrackers and some other flammable items. A real car bomb in that same location might have been the most lethal terrorist attack in the United States since 9/11. The inherent vulnerability of American cities and public places means that defensive security measures—although a useful and important portion of a comprehensive counterterrorist policy—have the major, inherent limitation that terrorists who face well-protected targets always have plenty of alternative targets to which to turn. Second, which terrorist plots succeed in causing damage, and which ones, successful or not, come to our attention, is in large part a matter of luck. The thin margins of time in the stor

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May 3, 2010 08:05 AM

The history of past wars in the Middle East underscores how hazardous it would be to try to predict the next one. Most of those previous rounds have not been clear-cut cases of one side going to war after it calculated the advantages of military aggression. Most have involved a dangerous dance of mutually reinforcing fears and miscalculations, and of missteps by one side providing a stimulus or pretext for the other side, already primed to resort to arms, to do so.

That said, the premise of the question is correct in that the current risk of another round of combat is significant. Once again, most of the possibilities would not be bolt-out-of-the-blue aggression but instead the spinning out of control of incidents and altercations short of war. The one exception—and it is a major one, having more than just a small chance of occurring—would be an Israeli air strike against Iran, conducted in the name of setting back the Iranian nuclear program. Like the other possibilities, and like so many of the previous rounds of combat in the region, that exception would

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April 26, 2010 10:35 AM

Colleagues, especially Messrs. Jenkins and White, have aptly summarized the current situation regarding al Qaeda and the extent of the threat from like-minded terrorist groups. I supplement their comments with several notes of caution about favorable concatenations of events such as those cited in the question.

First, don’t be too quick to describe a short-term increase in a particular type of data point as a meaningful pattern. The timing of the capture or killing of bad guys often is more a matter of happenstance and random operational opportunities than of security services doing something that is fundamentally different from what they were doing a month ago or six months ago.

Second, don’t be too quick to attribute larger significance to seemingly beneficial developments. Some touted the capture of that Afghan Taliban number two as a sea change in Pakistani policy. But as subsequent reporting has shown, the Pakistanis do not seem to have changed appreciably the game they are playing, which includes releasing some Afghan Taliban through the bac

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April 5, 2010 09:17 AM

We should not be surprised by the recent rough going in our relations with the Afghan president, and not because of the character of Hamid Karzai. The reasons have more to do with the circumstances he faces, and with the mission we have set out to perform in Afghanistan. Goodness knows the man has his faults, with the condoning of corruption perhaps the most conspicuous and disturbing of them. But his personal and political history also offers points to admire. The resemblance with earlier malodorous regimes with which the United States has been associated is related as much to the political systems involved as to the individual leaders.

Resentment of foreign influence and a foreign presence surely has a lot to do with the disagreeable things we have been hearing from Karzai lately, and not just in the sense of presidential posturing. The sentiment is no doubt genuine, for Karzai himself as well as for the Afghan populace. We need to remember how long the U.S. military has been in Afghanistan, with the cumulative effects of more than eight years of operations and the

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March 16, 2010 12:46 PM

This is not about seven lawyers, and it is not a proxy for a debate about what type of judicial proceeding should be used to dispose of the cases of those currently detained. It is simply a throwing of mud by one political element against members of an administration that this element opposes. The sordid nature of the tactic is appropriately reflected in its condemnation not only by Democrats but also by former officials from the Bush administration. One of the core elements of the rule of law in America, dating at least as far back as John Adams’s highly unpopular defense of British soldiers after the Boston Massacre, is that even the most reviled accused person deserves not only his day in court but also capable representation in court. For an attorney to do his or her part to uphold that element of the law says nothing about the attorney’s substantive views on other issues associated with the case.

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