• An Iraqi Army soldier smokes a cigarette while on patrol with American forces in the violent neighborhood of Gazaliyah February 8, 2007 in Baghdad, Iraq. Snipers are a daily problem for US and Iraqi Army soldiers who patrol the neighborhood, which is beset with Sunni-Shia sectarian violence. (Chris Hondros/Getty)

    Dark Anniversary

    What If the Iraq War Never Happened?

    A war correspondent reflects on the grim insurgency in Iraq.

    Not the invasion, that's something else. That was three weeks of aggressive warfare executed, by and large, with stunning effect, scattering a half-million-man army in its wake. The 10th anniversary retrospective haze makes the whole affair seem almost dreamlike, a flicker of blistering success before the years of horror set in.

    So no, I don't mean that. But what of the war that followed, made up as it was of so many smaller wars? Different battles waged against the Americans, against Iraq's new security forces, even among the Iraqis themselves in bitter civil war. But none more than that largest and most targeted of Coalition troops: the Sunni insurgency. What if that had never had to pass? What if we missed means to better, exponentially better, exploit our military supremacy? Not just once. Or twice. But incessantly, for something like four years.

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    Top Secret

    War’s Most Powerful Weapon

    From the fight against Al Qaeda to World War II, double agents are one of war’s most vital and treacherous tools, writes Ben Macintyre.

    Sir John Masterman, distinguished Oxford academic, successful sportsman, and veteran spymaster, spent the Second World War running double agents, spies recruited and trained by the Nazis who had been “turned” and persuaded to spy for Britain against the Germans. He found them intriguing, infuriating, and priceless.

    “Every double agent is inclined to be vain, moody, and introspective,” Masterman complained. His spies were variously louche, opportunistic, greedy, brave, and idealistic. Many were deeply peculiar, and some operated in that gray area between ingenuity and insanity. Most were to some extent fantasists, and thoroughly unreliable, “persons who have a natural predilection to live in that curious world of espionage and deceit.” Spies are fickle creatures, Masterman reflected, and double agents are doubly so.

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    Deep Cover

    Inside the Mind of the Spy

    Psychologist Ursula Wilder on the unseen physical and mental toll—and true heroes—of the espionage world.

    Every few years, major news breaks about spying, with stories of spectacular heroism and shocking betrayal. What goes on in the mind of those who inhabit the clandestine world?

    In early May, the world learned of a real example of heroic espionage. Intelligence officials foiled an al Qaeda plot to bring down a plane by having a suicide operative smuggle on board a nonmetallic exploding device concealed beneath his clothing.  It has been widely reported in the media that the plot failed because the operative chosen by AQ was in fact a agent of British or Saudi Intelligence Services. For those of us in the business, it was rare to see an agent’s heroism come to light, though we get to witness their bravery covertly on a routine basis in our daily work. What do people outside the clandestine world not see?

  • A monitor shows the view from a drone's camera during a training mission at Creech Air Force Base in Indian Springs, Nev. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images)

    Modern Warfare

    The Mind of a Drone Pilot

    As the U.S. takes out another high-value al Qaeda target, the debate over Obama’s 'kill lists' continues. Daniel Klaidman offers a rare glimpse into what it feels like to pull the trigger.

    On Wednesday, wire services reported that 18 civilians were killed in a pre-dawn airstrike in eastern Afghanistan. Afghan President Hamid Karzai blasted the NATO strike, pointing out that the U.S. government would have a hard time explaining the vans filled with the dead bodies of women and children that local villagers displayed for reporters. This latest example of civilians caught in the crossfire of America's Long War got a few mentions in the papers and on TV, but it didn't inspire much outrage.

    And yet it occurred in the middle of a heated debate in Washington and around the country about drone strikes and President Obama's personal involvement in the military's so-called “kill lists.”