On leaking intelligence reports and the intel community

WARNING: Another political rant forthcoming. Duck and cover if you prefer not to go down this rabbit hole. 

Apparently, the President is quite angry at all the leaks of intelligence information that ultimately led to the resignation of his national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Flynn’s sin was that, according to many well-sourced news reports (i.e. not fake), he spoke to the Russian ambassador to the U.S. about getting American sanctions removed.

In his anger, Trump has lashed out at both the news media for reporting on the leaks, calling it fake news, and at the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) for leaking sensitive information that, presumably, was not fake. Trump has also appointed an adviser to conduct a review of the IC to get to the bottom of the leaks.

I’ve been a reporter for The Associated Press, and I’ve done academic work on the IC (as well as a lot of research on it for my novels), so I thought I’d throw in my $0.02 here. Let’s break it down this way:

  • What did Michael Flynn do and why does it matter?
  • Where did the leaks come from and why does it matter?
  • What will Trump’s adviser do to plug the leaks, and why won’t it work?

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Debunking the myth of the paid protester

Warning: I’m about to commit math! And politics! TOGETHER IN ONE POST!

It’s now the lie du jour  for the Trumpist/Bannonist elements of the Republican Party — and let’s face it, gang, they don’t speak for the mainstream GOP anymore — to state that the protesters who have taken to the streets in the past few weeks are not, in fact, Americans like you and I who are exercising their Constitutional rights to free speech, freedom of assembly and the like.

Nope, they’re paid protesters. Because Trump won the presidency and the globalist/elitist/Wall Street cabal behind Hillary Clinton and the Democrats simply cannot allow the real voice of the people to go unchallenged. See? Even the president has an opinion:

In all fairness — a quality not usually associated with the President or Mr. Bannon — this tweet was about protests near Oakland that got violent when an alt-right provocateur and demagogue went to go talk at Berkeley. Which…dude, you went to Berkeley to talk alt-right politics? OK, then.

But the myth of paid protesters goes far beyond one or two incidents, and the echo chamber is filled with all kinds of conspiracy theories. Apparently, the hardcore Trumpist/Bannonist folks think that the protests we’ve seen all around the country were funded by…someone. (George Soros is always a favorite bogeyman for such shenanigans, for some damn reason.) But whatever — deep pockets and irrational hatred of Trump equals paying to undermine him via protests.

I’m gonna tackle this utter fallacy in two parts. First, the actual costs and logistics of paying protesters, and second, the potential return on that investment. Here we go.

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You can now pre-order MJ-12: Shadows!

Yep, the folks over at Amazon have the pre-order page up and running for MJ-12: Shadows, the sequel to MJ-12: Inception. Yes, it’s lacking a cover, but I’ve been working with my editor and artist on that, and while it’s not done, it’s looking boss. Also yes, that Kindle price there is insane and not going to be the actual Kindle price, because that would be, er, insane.

On that pre-order page, there’s a synopsis of the book (which I kind of spit-balled with my editor via email). The synopsis probably won’t be the final copy that makes it onto the book jacket, but I think it’s a nice little intro. In fact, I’m just gonna put it right here:

It’s 1949, and the Cold War is heating up across the world. Operating in the shadows, the Variants―once ordinary US citizens, but now imbued with strange paranormal abilities and corralled into covert service by the government’s top secret MAJESTIC-12 program―find themselves on the front lines of an international crisis.

In Syria, Variant agents have been sent to support a coup by a pro-American army officer. In Washington, a shocking suicide has them fighting for their very freedom. And at Area 51, the operation’s headquarters, the strange interspatial phenomenon which originally granted Variants their abilities has yielded disturbing discoveries.

All the while, dangerous figures flit among the shadows, and it’s unclear whether they are threatening to expose the Variants for what they are . . . or completely destroy them. Are they working for the Soviet Union, or something far worse?

*dun-dun-DUNNNN*

Yep, we’ll be in Syria this time. While there’s certainly a modern geopolitical resonance there, I would’ve chosen 1949 Syria for this series no matter what, because the CIA/OPC operation there was really crazy, in that sort of you-can’t-make-this-shit-up way. It wasn’t exactly America’s finest hour when it comes to the Middle East, and given our long and horrible history of intervention there, that’s saying something.

Oh, and in the fine tradition of spy thrillers, we’ll also see events taking place in Vienna, Washington, Area 51, Lebanon and Kazakhstan. You may draw from those locales what you will.

MJ-12: Shadows is tentatively scheduled to drop Sept. 5 — that’s a very preliminary date, of course, but as of right now, I see no impediment to that. If you’re intrigued, you can get a little taste of Shadows when the trade paperback edition of MJ-12: Inception is released (again, tentatively) on June 6, because we’re gonna throw an excerpt in there to keep your appetite whetted.

#SFWApro

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My old English professor reviewed MJ-12: Inception and liked it

MJ-12-newcoverI’ve never been one to say, “Don’t read the reviews.” I totally get why some authors might avoid it, and hey, that works too. As for me, I’m a curious sort, and whether they’re good or bad, I tend to simply take whatever’s been said, maybe learn a thing or two about my writing from a different perspective, and go about my day.

Every now and then, though, I see one that floors me. Like yesterday, for example.

I’m a proud member of the class of 1993 at St. Lawrence University, a wonderful little liberal arts college tucked away in the North Country of upstate New York by — you guessed it — the St. Lawrence River. The alumni magazine, aptly titled St. Lawrence, will sometimes do reviews of Laurentian books, and so I reached out and sent a copy of MJ-12: Inception up north this past summer and hoped for the best.

Last night, the latest St. Lawrence was waiting for me at home. And if you click here, you can read what they said.

First of all, that’s a really nice bit of real estate — three-quarters of a page. The review was quite positive, and also serves as a very good recap of the book. But what really got me in the feels, as the kids say, was the byline: Sid Sondergard, Piskor Professor of English.

Yeah. My English lit professor reviewed my novel. Holy crap. 

sluYou know the super-cool English professor, the one who knows both popular culture and esoteric Chinese literature, has a wall of books and a wall of videos (dude, it was 1993) and wears Hawaiian shirts and has a ponytail? The one who’s just so damn excited to be teaching a sophomore lit survey despite it being a sophomore lit survey, and made it both fun and interesting? That’s Sid. And yes, we called him Sid. Go to campus — hell, go to any SLU alumnus — and ask who Sid is, and they’ll know.

I had two classes with Sid: the aforementioned survey (English literature from Beowulf to Boswell, roughly), and a senior-level course on John Milton. I still have the textbooks for both classes, and I think they’re the only two I’ve kept. I vividly remember writing my term paper for Sid’s Milton course at 2 a.m. the night before it was due because I had decided that afternoon to completely change up my thesis, because the old one sucked. I managed a B+, which at the time was a massive victory for me.

This is better, man. Light-years better. My daughter can attest — and would, gleefully, to any who asked — that I may have gotten a bit choked up as I read the review. Sid liked my book. Holy crap. This is right up there with any review, blurb or accolade I’ve received. I feel like I just aced a test I didn’t even know I was taking.

So yeah. Authorial achievement unlocked, and a pretty rare badge indeed. Thank you, St. Lawrence, for being so generous with your time and pages. I’ve already thanked Sid privately via email, but what the heck: Thank you for being a cool, awesome professor, Sid. I hope this serves as evidence that I did indeed pay attention in class.

#SFWApro

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They will try to silence our voices. They won’t.

churchillThe new regime in scared.

Reports coming in from Washington say the new administration and the Republican-controlled Congress are planning to shutter the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. The NEA and NEH each had a budget of $146 million in 2015. That $292 million is less than the cost of three F-35 Lightning II fighter aircraft, if you want to count beans about it. It’s a few hundredths of a percent of the total federal budget.

Oh, and they want to privatize the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which offers great shows on current events, science, culture and history. And let’s throw in all of the disparaging crap the nominee for Education Secretary has said about public education.

There are plenty of government-funded programs that are spiraling out of control in terms of costs, plenty of fat to trim. But they’re going for arts, the humanities, education, information. And already the U.S. lags well behind Canada and the U.K. in funding for arts and culture.

They’re doing it because they’re scared. They think they can silence artists and scholars, keep Americans dumb and complacent, lest they lose their funding, their perks, their comfy offices.

In five states, Republicans are working to pass bills that would utterly criminalize protest and civil disobedience. Jaywalk on your way to lunch? $50 fine. Join a protest that closes a street or highway? A year in jail and thousands of dollars in fines.

They’re scared. They don’t want to see thousands of people protesting as they strip away healthcare, de-fund commuity outreach programs, shut down initiatives against domestic violence. They want to silence us.

The new president was elected on a platform of “they,” rather than “us.” “They” are coming over the border to take our jobs. “They” are sucking up good citizens’ tax dollars with entitlement programs. “They” are artists who should only entertain, rather than use their voices for anything other than pretty pictures and mindless comedies.

And these cuts are designed to turn “they” against “us.” Because this regime is scared. Cowardly. These nouveau autocrats will not support a culture of critical thinking, artistic expression and freedom of speech, because deep down, they know that culture — that very American culture — will be fundamentally opposed to them.

Our heritage is rebellion. Our nation was born of rebellion, spurred by a government in which the colonies were not represented. But our heritage is also cooperation — E Pluribus Unum. Out of many, one. We are all Americans, no matter who we voted for. But they would silence those who disagree. They would divide the one America into many, turning brother against brother to make it easier to maintain their power and comfort, to divert money into tax savings for the wealthy.

They’ve been successful so far. But they’ll push their luck. They’ll go too far. And when they do, we will be ready for them.

Today we must raise our voices, and there are many more days to come. Today, it is incumbent upon all of us to become the artists, the scholars, the scientists and the protesters. This government will not protect our voices and preserve our culture of cooperation and rebellion against injustice. Because it scares them.

So it’s on us. It’s on use to create, to study and learn and become informed. And most importantly, it’s on us to use our voices to speak out against injustice, to speak for the Americans who will lose their health insurance, either through repeal of the ACA or through the rising premiums to come or through pre-existing conditions no longer protected. We have to speak out against violence against women, against people of color, against LBGTQ+ communities. Speak out against their efforts to divide “us” into “they.”

We are the artists and the scholars, the workers and the students, the people of the United States of America. We are many, and we are one. And no matter how scared they get, no matter what that fear of reproach or rejection drives them to do, they will not silence us.

Instead, we will show them the door.

Let’s get to work.

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That pesky, uncontrollable muse

Note: The muse almost never shows up this way.

Note: The muse almost never shows up this way.

With MJ-12: Shadows in the hands of my capable editor, I thought I would start the new year by tinkering with a new project — one that wasn’t under deadline. I’m truly fortunate to have deadlines for books, and I still have the third MAJESTIC-12 book on the horizon. But at least for a while, I wanted to go back to some pressure-free creativity because, as I’ve mentioned before, MJ-12: Shadows kicked my ass.

I actually have several ideas in various stages of development — some straight-up science fiction, a clockwork fantasy, all kinds of stuff. But the one I chose to work on was new to the idea files, something overtly political in nature with a near-future setting and all kinds of social commentary. Gee, wonder how that popped up on my radar since November. Hmm.

I told my agent about it — I actually tell her most of the stuff I’m noodling on — and I got excited about it. I did my usual worldbuilding notes, my character snippets, my Excel plotting. I started in and focused on the voice, which would be very different from my previous work.

And then I hit a wall.

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Plot, character evolution and Sherlock

sherlockSpoiler warning: This post was written after the last episode of Sherlock series 4, and is kind of a response/riff on that. If you’re a big Sherlock fan, like I am, or just want to view it unspoiled at some point in the future, you might just give this one a pass. On the bright side? No politics in this one!

The character of Sherlock Holmes is among the most famous in all of literature. I would venture to say only a handful of Shakespeare’s creations, a couple of superheroes and two or three horror icons have stood the test of time alongside Mr. Holmes. It’s not just the iconography — the hat, the pipe, the magnifying glass — that makes him so well known, nor the individual cases written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. We know Sherlock Holmes’ character: His hauteur, his uncanny perception, his unfailing intellect, his lack of social graces, his dalliances with drugs, his relationship with Dr. John Watson and, of course, his ongoing search for justice.

The latest iteration of the Holmes mythos, BBC’s Sherlock (seen here in the U.S. on PBS’ Masterpiece), is not only the best modern interpretation of Holmes, but one of the best interpretations of the character ever done. Benedict Cumberbatch had the tall task of inhabiting an icon, and yet not only succeeded, but made his Sherlock perhaps this generation’s definitive take on the character. And Martin Freeman had an even more daunting task — to turn the perpetually confused and amazed Dr. Watson and breathe life into that character, to make him more than just Holmes’ cheering section. He did so beyond any expectation — while Jeremy Brett fans may quibble with Cumberbatch’s interpretation, Freeman’s Watson is hands down the best of them all.

This is why the last episode of Sherlock series 4, “The Final Problem,” is so disappointing. It’s not because it’s poorly written or poorly acted, but because the entire concept of it, from soup to nuts, neatly disregarded all the excellent work Cumberbatch, Freeman and writers Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat have done with the characters for the 12 episodes prior. “The Final Problem” had so many interesting ideas and moments, but ultimately became a case study in how you really shouldn’t sacrifice your characters on the altar of plot expediency.

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