The Staff of Danger Room
There used to be an established order to the world. A structure to things. You couldn’t print a gun like a term paper. It was impossible to wreck a nuclear production plant with a few lines of code. Flying robots didn’t descend on you in the dead of night and kill you in your home.
But that order has been upended. Cheap videos in California help spark riots in Cairo. Lynchpins of the Middle East now rant about ‘Planet of the Apes’ in public, and Iranian generals trash-talk David Petraeus over SMS. The world has gone a little haywire — sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. Here are our choices for the 15 people most responsible for making it that way.
— Noah Shachtman
15: Paula Broadwell
One day you’re pitching a biography of a top general. The next you’ve brought down a CIA director, stalled the career of another top general and ensnared numerous federal agencies — and yourself — in a sprawling investigation-cum-media circus. Paula Broadwell didn’t mean to wreck any careers, but she accomplished something that no U.S. adversary could: remove David Petraeus from the U.S. government.
Broadwell, a former Army intelligence officer, developed an unhealthy attraction to Petraeus. What started out as spinning for Petraeus’ Afghanistan strategy and a florid book became a full-blown affair once Petraeus became director of the CIA. All that would have stayed between the two lovers — had Broadwell not used an anonymous e-mail account to berate Jill Kelley, a Tampa socialite whom Broadwell considered unduly flirtatious with the military brass. Kelley turned to an FBI agent she knew, Frederick W. Humphries II, to open a cyber-stalking investigation.
The feds don’t usually pursue cyber-stalking cases. And this one ended without any charges filed against Broadwell — but not before uncovering poor data hygiene from Broadwell’s famous paramour. Petraeus and Broadwell shared a password on an e-mail account and would pass messages to each other by saving e-mails as drafts. What’s more, Broadwell got into the habit of talking openly about sensitive CIA operations, like its response to the September attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. It’s unclear whether there will be any charges filed against either Broadwell or Petraeus over classified material discovered on Broadwell’s computer.
Petraeus, the most celebrated general of his generation, resigned in humiliation. The FBI inquiry also turned up what the Pentagon called “flirtatious” e-mails between Gen. John Allen, the outgoing Afghanistan war commander, and Kelley, which has now blocked Allen’s promotion to NATO commander. What’s more, the coming reshuffle in President Obama’s national security team has reopened a debate into whether the CIA should back away from Petraeus’ torrid pace of drone strikes. Petraeus, and not Broadwell, is ultimately responsible for his own poor decision-making. But the next time a cabinet official sleeps around, he’d better make sure his mistress keeps the affair offline.
— Spencer Ackerman
Photo: AP/Nell Redmond
14: Cody Wilson
Cody Wilson, a 24-year-old law student at the University of Texas, didn’t invent the concept of printable, downloadable guns. He’s only created the first platform devoted to sharing the blueprints online for free to anyone who wants one, anywhere in the world, at any time. Wilson and his group of amateur gunsmiths, known as Defense Distributed, are also currently working on producing what may become the world’s first fully 3-D printed gun, which they call the “Wiki Weapon.” If it’s successful, and on a long enough timeline, it could change the way we look at guns — and make them.
But realizing this hasn’t been easy. After leasing a 3-D printer from additive manufacturing firm Stratasys in late September, the company got wind of Wilson’s plans and revoked its lease, then quickly dispatched a team to Wilson’s apartment to seize the machine. “They came for it straight up,” Wilson told Danger Room after it happened. “I didn’t even have it out of the box.” He’s been questioned by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms over concerns he may violate federal law. Wilson has since sought a firearms manufacturers license from the ATF, which has yet to be approved, and has secured access to printers from a sympathetic company in the Austin area, plus a range in San Antonio where the group tested its first prototype. That prototype only lasted six shots, but the possibilities being introduced are huge. What happens to gun control when anyone can download and print a gun with their computer?
Wilson and the Wiki Weapon project have also become something of a test case for how far a group can push those legal limits. “It is just a matter of time before these three-dimensional printers will be able to replicate an entire gun,” Rep. Steve Israel (D-New York) said in December while urging for a renewal of the Undetectable Firearms Act, which outlaws guns that can defeat airport metal detectors. Josh Horwitz of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, wrote: “The Wiki Weapon project is not the work of a dispassionate techie seeking to push the outer limits of modern technology. Instead it is a blatant, undisguised attempt to radically alter our system of government.” That may actually be true. “How do governments behave if they must one day operate on the assumption that any and every citizen has near instant access to a firearm through the Internet?” Defense Distributed asks on its website. The answer may only be a matter of time.
— Robert Beckhusen
Photo: courtesy of Marisa Vasquez
13 and 12: Matthew Dooley and Mark Basseley Yousef
Two successive White Houses have been at pains to emphasize that the U.S. is not at war with Islam. In 2012, two little-known individuals did their best to undermine that goal.
Mark Basseley Yousef is a man of many names (Kritbag Difrat, P.J. Tobacco, Nikoula Basseley Nakoula) and one dubious accomplishment: producing a film, “The Innocence of Muslims,” that went viral and prompted riots around the Middle East for its disrespectful portrayal of the Prophet Muhammad. (For a while, the Obama administration blamed the video for the attack on the Benghazi consulate, but later abandoned that narrative.) As much as Yousef sought to cast Islam in a negative light — something repudiated by his movie’s cast and crew — Yousef’s own criminal antics quickly overshadowed his creation. He’s been jailed for charges related to manufacturing PCP and using false names for fraudulent checks. After he used the name “Sam Bacile” to help produce “The Innocence of Muslims,” a judge ruled Yousef violated the terms of his probation and sent him back to jail in September.
Army Lt. Col. Matthew Dooley didn’t do nearly as much damage to U.S. foreign policy. But the chairman of the Joint Chiefs didn’t take any chances after learning in March that Dooley taught a course for senior military officers that mused about a “total war” on Islam — including “Hiroshima” tactics against Islam’s holiest cities. Gen. Martin Dempsey suspended the elective course at the Joint Forces Staff College, calling it “totally objectionable,” and ordered a comprehensive review of military education to weed out similar material. Dooley, a formerly well-regarded officer, got an administrative reprimand and was shipped out to a bureaucratic backwater of the Army. His defenders have threatened to sue Dempsey and portray Dooley as a free-speech martyr, but so far their threats have been about as substantial as Yousef’s multiple identities. Still, Dooley and Yousef showed that random Islam haters can leave a huge impact.
— Spencer Ackerman