Will the Sequester Cost The Pentagon's "Yoda" His Job?

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Oct. 28 2013 2:29 PM

Will the Sequester Cost The Pentagon's "Yoda" His Job?

An aerial view of the Pentagon building in Washington, DC

Photo by AFP/Getty Images

As the Pentagon continues its slow acceptance that it now lives in the Age of the Sequester along with the rest of the government, the Washington Post finds an interesting angle on how that might affect one specific man within the Department of Defense. Of course that one man isn't your normal DoD employee. He is Andrew W. Marshall, a "bald, enigmatic 92-year-old strategic guru" who is a "legendary if mysterious figure in national security circles." Here's the Post explaining why the future of the man dubbed "Yoda" by his colleagues is currently in doubt:

Since the Nixon administration, Marshall has directed the Pentagon’s secretive and obliquely named internal think tank, the Office of Net Assessment, which contemplates military strategy decades into the future. Over his long career, he has foretold the economic collapse of the Soviet Union, the rise of China and the spread of robotic warfare.
Today, confronting a budget crunch, Pentagon leaders are contemplating whether Marshall and his think tank have outlived their usefulness, or need to be reined in. The Office of Net Assessment costs taxpayers only about $10 million a year — pocket change in the $525 billion annual defense budget, but enough to face fresh scrutiny at a time of cutbacks.
Few places, however, are tougher to scrutinize. Many of Marshall’s studies and reports are classified. And he has to share them with only one man: the secretary of defense. Which reports actually get read, and which ones end up in history’s top-secret dustbin, is everybody else’s guess.

It's unclear from the Post's reporting whether the ONA is in real danger of being shuttered or, more likely, simply reorganized. Still, the mere suggestion that Marshall may be pushed out the door has his powerful allies—a group that appears to skew Republican but that also includes at least a handful of Democratic congressmen—rallying to his defense. "Mr. Marshall’s brain is highly networked," John Arquilla, a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School and one of many singing Marshall's praises, told the Post, adding that the nonagenarian has "gotten not just a second wind but a third wind in recent years."

Marshall has typically stayed out of the limelight during his lengthy career, but he hasn't remained completely off the public's radar, no doubt in part because his Jedi-themed nickname is a gift to headline writers. He was interviewed by Wired magazine in 2003—back when he was the "81-year-old futurist-in-chief"—and he has continued to pop up here and there over the years. You can go check out the WaPo article for more on Marshall and the ONA, including the department's noticeable reliance on private think tanks run by several of Marshall's acolytes who receive top dollar from the government for their help.

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 



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