Ever since the Soviet Union and the United States started making nice, and especially since the Berlin Wall came down last November, you could hear predictions that the espionage business would go the way of buggy-whip factories a century ago. George Carver Jr. is here to say whoa, Nellie!
"There are those who argue that in the age of glasnost and fax machines, there are no more secrets in the world, hence far less need for intelligence, and that the size, scope and cost of the U.S. intelligence community should be curtailed accordingly," writes Carver, a former CIA official now a freelance (but still well-connected) intelligence analyst, in the summer Foreign Affairs. "This era's demands will dramatically increase the need for better intelligence -- not diminish it."
And he makes a compelling case. However "open" the formerly closed and enigmatic Soviet bloc may become, the importance of monitoring its upheavals and realignments has only intensified. Carver makes a subtle point about existing intelligence capabilities when he writes: "Over the years ahead ... American intelligence analysts and their supervisors should periodically reflect on what short shrift would have been given in the spring of 1989 to any intelligence estimate correctly describing what the world looked like in the spring of 1990."
Track records aside, he has hope for intelligence, especially for human intelligence -- agents in place and analysts at home -- the side of the business that, happily, costs much, much less than technical collection from satellites and such. Carver counsels analysts to "ignore their itch for quantification, curb their fascination with models that bear minimal relation to reality and avoid the temptation to use bad data ... simply because it exists and can be run through computers." Carver seems especially concerned about the intelligence community's vulnerability to indiscriminate budget-cutting when the peace-dividend scalpels are laid on the Defense Department, in whose massive accounts the intelligence budgets are "hidden."
In this engaging once-over, Carver doesn't ignore the conceivably larger challenge of introducing intelligence-gathering techniques to new areas and spheres, especially international trade and finance. "Economic and technological prowess are becoming more significant measures of national strength and importance than the traditional measures of military power," he writes, which raises "an awkward question" about the "legally mandated arms-length relationship between the government and the private sector" in the United States.
"Many Americans," Carver observes, not quite showing his own hand, "would consider it highly improper, or worse, for the U.S. government to use its intelligence assets to advance the overseas fortunes of specific American companies. All of America's major foreign competitors, however, consider this attitude quaint or idiotic."
Hell on Wheels
Unable to ignore Northern Virginia's most striking characteristic, New Dominion devotes much of its June issue to the nightmarish traffic problems, present and future, of Washington's fast-growing, and car-crazy, exurban metropolis.
This special transportation report includes a symposium among five experts plus Til Hazel, Northern Virginia's best-known developer and, ergo, traffic-inciter. They all seem willing to state the problem plainly: Who will have the political courage to tell the residents of this 21st-century arcadia that to ward off disaster, they have to pay more taxes for better roads, or even abandon their vehicles for light rail?
The latter option, creating a circumferential loop through Fairfax County, seems popular -- and even plausible, to hear its impresario, former FAA and Pan Am head Najeeb Halaby, describe it, or to read the endorsement here of former Fairfax County chieftain John F. Herrity. Such new rail links, along with everything else, are touched upon gingerly in a New Dominion Q&A with Virginia's new secretary of transportation, Northern Virginian John Milliken.
Interesting statistics in this issue too, suggesting that the average commuting time for Northern Virginians actually dropped during the '80s. This counter-intuitive datum could be further evidence that out of some peculiar vanity people habitually understate their commuting time to their friends and colleagues, and opinion researchers too.
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It shouldn't be an embarrassment to say it, but some of the best photography, and certainly the most visible, and needless to say the best paid, is in magazine advertising these days. American Photo for July/August glories in the genre, and has the professional acumen to deal with it as some sort of art form without going overboard: Ellen von Unwerth's mock-grainy Guess clothing pictures. Annie Leibovitz's American Express "Cardmember since ..." portraits. Toscani's controversial (to ninnies) "United Colors of Benetton" photos. The Gap's stark faces. Those carless Infiniti landscapes. And, by now almost passe, Bruce Weber's Aryan nudes for Calvin Klein and lobotomized gentry for Ralph Lauren.
The often dark and bizarre imagination at play in these ads raises an interesting question: If such avant-garde images and adventurous sensibilities sell products on a mass scale and presumably have mass appeal, why are their counterparts in the movies, or music, or current books or magazines, considered dangerously beyond the edge of convention, "inaccessible" to popular audiences?
Further recommended current viewing on this subject would include Entertainment Weekly's June 15 spread on the creators of the innovative current J&B Scotch ad campaign, which raised eyebrows on the foreheads of those who've been watching Time Warner's colicky weekly magazine struggle onward, and Interview's June gallery of new Absolut vodka ads commissioned by the flourishing distiller from young Soviet artists, some quite creative in dealing with the limitations of enshrining a vodka bottle. To all outward appearances, the J&B feature was editorial matter and the Absolut feature was paid advertising.