How to Run a CIA Base in Afghanistan

How to Run a CIA Base in Afghanistan

Plus announcements and our summer reading list


Many of you have asked for the audio version of Statecraft transcripts, and we’re finally delivering: here’s the Statecraft podcast. 

Our first episode is the audio of our interview with Laura Thomas, former chief of a CIA base in Afghanistan. It’s a great conversation and we hope you’ll enjoy.

Going forward, you can expect podcast versions of the new interviews we conduct, as well as releases of the interviews we’ve already published in transcript form. [Unfortunately, a few of the interviews we’ve previously released as transcripts are too poor audio quality to make it into podcast form.]

Careful listeners will notice the podcasts and the written transcripts don’t line up exactly. That’s on purpose. In the written format, we edit for clarity and ease of reading, while the podcasts will contain more of the back and forth of Statecraft interviews. For those of you deciding whether to listen or read, you can expect 1-3,000 more words in the uncut podcast audio than in the transcript.

In other announcements, we’ve tagged the two series we’ve published on the website, so there are now single links available to our series on Iraq & Afghanistan and on Congress’s Support Agencies. We hope this makes it easier to find and save the sets of interviews you find most helpful. Share them with your friends!

What We’re Reading


Dylan Matthews unpacked the mysterious Bureau of Intelligence and Research at the State Department, or, as he calls it, “the Cassandra of American intelligence,” often right when the other spooks are wrong. 

In Newsweek, friends of Statecraft Zach Graves and Marci Harris explained the consequences for Congress if the Supreme Court overturns the pillar of the administrative state known as “Chevron deference.” 

“Ironically, the effort to dismantle Chevron and return responsibility to the legislative branch may happen amid a historically unproductive and divided Congress… outside the Court, commentators fear Congress may be too broken to fix. As close watchers of efforts to modernize Congress over the past decade, we don't share that pessimism. But a lot will have to change.”

Dave Guarino was interviewed by Asterisk Magazine in a format that will be familiar to Statecraft readers. Come for an explanation of SNAP benefits (and why they too often don’t get to recipients), stay for the stories of traveling to every county in California.

A paper from the Niskanen Center’s Ed Dolan argues that liberal democracies tend to have higher state capacity than authoritarian states.

In our interview with Jennifer Pahlka, we touched briefly on how perverse incentives can get in federal hiring. For a truly shocking case study, see this deep dive into the FAA’s recent hiring scandal.

Tracing Woodgrains
The FAA's Hiring Scandal: A Quick Overview
This is a mirror of a Twitter post here, preserved in a more permanent form. A scandal at the FAA has been moving on a slow-burn through the courts for a decade, culminating in the class-action lawsuit currently known as Brigida v. Buttigieg, brought by a class who spent years and thousands of dollars in coursework to become air traffic controllers, onl…
Read more

We’re rereading the classics, too.

In Print

Readers of this newsletter have regularly recommended Bureaucracy: What Government Agencies Do and Why They Do It, by political scientist James Q. Wilson, and rightfully so: it’s tremendous. Readers of Statecraft will enjoy:

“This book is primarily descriptive: it is an effort to depict the essential features of bureaucratic life in the government agencies of the United States.”

Also a good read was Peter Douglas Blair’s monograph, Congress’s Own Think Tank: Learning from the Legacy of the Office of Technology Assessment (1972-1995). I read it ahead of my interview with Blair, and it’s an excellent, short guide to the OTA, for those interested in going beyond that interview.

Less impressive than either of these was Think Tank Aesthetics: Midcentury Modernism, the Cold War, and the Neoliberal Present. Despite participating in a book club full of brilliant minds to parse it, I couldn’t make heads or tails of this book. It’s one part art history, one part history of Cold War think tanks, but nothing seemed to cohere and it was near-impossible to find a thesis or throughline. A disappointment.

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In this podcast, we interview top appointees and civil servants about how they managed to achieve a particular policy goal.
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Appears in episode
Santi Ruiz
Laura Thomas