Encryption as the New Norm: Discussing A Changing Internet with ProtonMail Co-Founder Andy Yen | Episode 19

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been evaluating ProtonMail. This service is part of a new generation of tools (most inspired by Edward Snowden) developed with the aim of delivering robust encrypted communications and file sharing to the widest possible audience.

Blogs of War readers know that I’m not an Edward Snowden fan, far from it in fact, but I do believe that we have to secure the applications and communication channels that now pervade our lives. Not because I’m worried about the NSA. Frankly I’m far more worried about every other threat. However, I’m also keenly aware of the terrorist and criminal threats we face and why law enforcement agencies and intelligence services (the friendly ones) are deeply concerned about bad actors having the ability to go dark.

There are well-intentioned people on both sides of the privacy debate (see episode 18 with retired FBI agent David Gomez for a law enforcement perspective) and Andy Yen, as a privacy advocate, makes a powerful case for making encrypted communication tools as widely available as possible.

For more from Andy I recommend his TED Talk “Think your email’s private? Think again“.

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The Battle Between Encryption and Mass Surveillance with Former FBI Agent David Gomez | Episode 18

I emailed retired FBI agent David Gomez from my new ProtonMail account to propose a podcast about encryption and its effect on mass surveillance from a homeland security and law enforcement perspective. You’re reading this because he immediately accepted.

Encrypted communication has been available to consumers for decades but new tools are arriving that are actually making it an accessible and realistic option for the majority of users. Easy to use strong encryption is, in many ways, a wonderful thing. It means that good people in bad places might have more freedom to communicate. It means that people can trust that a point to point communication is just that. But it also means that a lot of people with bad intentions will find it easier to go dark, to plot, and to recruit – often across international borders. How are governments going to cope with this especially when they’ve enjoyed great success with the current collection models that allow them to intercept electronic communications on a massive scale?

Even if you support strong encryption and disagree with government interception of electronic communications you must acknowledge the impact that cutting them out of the loop could have on our security. That tradeoff is the topic we struggle with in this episode.

You can follow David on Twitter @AllThingsHLS.

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Life, and Art, in Afghanistan with Francesca Recchia | Episode 17

In this episode I catch up with Francesca Recchia to get an update on life in Kabul, Afghanistan where, mostly thanks to the weather, life has been even more difficult than usual. But the conversation also shifts quickly to the subject of art, and artists, in the country. Francesca is working hard to develop cultural programs there and she explains how local artists view and approach their work in a conservative environment.

You can read some of Francesca’s work at Muftah.org, follow her on Twitter @kiccovich, read her blog, or support her work by buying her books – The Little Book of Kabul, Picnic in a Minefield, and Devices for Political Action: The Collective Towns in Iraqi Kurdistan

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Why Terrorism Fails: A Discussion with Max Abrahms | Episode 16

We know that terrorism succeeds at terrorizing its targets but does it help the groups behind it achieve their political goals? In this episode I’m joined by Northeastern University professor and terrorism theorist Max Abrahms who makes a persuasive case that terrorism does not succeed where other more selective uses of violence might. I made a similar argument in episode 7 when I said that the much discussed (and very barbaric) ISIS social media campaign would ultimately be considered a failure because it had helped permanently undermine any possibility that the group could ever transition to political legitimacy.

You can follow Max on Twitter @MaxAbrahms and read his work at https://neu.academia.edu/MaxAbrahms. I also recommend reading “The Political Effectiveness of Terrorism Revisited” for a more comprehensive breakdown of Max’s research and arguments on this subject.

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Hillary Clinton’s Email Server: Dissecting the Risks with William Tucker | Episode 15

William J. Tucker joins me again to discuss Hillary Clinton’s decision to manage her own email services while Secretary of State. While this decision has angered political opponents and government transparency advocates (not to mention a few historians) we are bypassing the political and legal issues to zero in on the risks associated with her decision – and there are many. Join us as we walk through the information security and intelligence aspects of this story and examine the risks posed to Hillary Clinton, our government, and potentially anyone that maintained contact with her through this method. If you’re not concerned now, you will be.

You can follow William J. Tucker on Twitter and read his guest posts on Blogs of War:

Everybody Spies – and for Good Reason
Hawaii a Priority Target for Foreign Espionage
Would the U.S. Really Kill Edward Snowden?
Snowden’s Snowjob?

Other Covert Contact Episodes Featuring William:
Episode 12 | Counterintelligence: William J. Tucker Breaks Down the Challenges

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Andy Priest on the Importance of Developing New International Crisis Policing Models | Episode 14

Policing is on the agenda again in episode 14. In this episode I talk to Andy Priest about his international rapid intervention concept that focuses on providing advanced police support during critically destabilizing events. Andy stresses the importance of building this capability now so that participating nations can draw on a stabilizing resource in an inevitable crisis rather than over-reacting, over-reaching, or stretching existing resources to the breaking point. It’s an important concept that will only get more important if the threat of Charlie Hebdo style attacks (or other destabilizing attacks) scale up in impact and frequency. Preserving individual liberty could prove challenging in such an environment and Andy makes the case that clearly segregating the roles of police, military, and specialized response forces is work that should be occurring now – before the crisis.

You can follow Andy Priest on Twitter @Priestic1. Andy blogs at https://medium.com/@Priestic1.

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Scriven King on Balancing Security, Values, and Public Perception in Modern Policing | Episode 13

In episode 13 I speak to security blogger/podcaster, and Blogs of War contributor, Scriven King about some of the challenges in modern policing. Security professionals, police included, are scrambling to understand rapidly evolving technologies and threats. Evolving to meet those threats, and leverage those technologies, without significantly changing what it means to be a police officer, without undermining the ideals of the profession, and without permanently damaging public perception of the profession is proving difficult. Even greater challenges loom on the horizon so the time for serious apolitical dialogue is now.

You can follow Scriven on Twitter @ScrivenLKing, listen to his security podcast, The Gate Shack, and read his thoughts on security at his blog, The Security Dialogue.

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Counterintelligence: William J. Tucker Breaks Down the Challenges | Episode 12

In this episode I’m talking to William J. Tucker about counterintelligence. It is a complex discipline that is often misunderstood – even by intelligence professionals. But it presents as many opportunities as it does challenges and this conversation hints at that. Like all intelligence disciplines, it is faced with a rapidly changing environment and overwhelming array of threats. The sheer number of threats, the scope of it all, will force the private sector and governments into far tighter partnerships as they struggle to protect intellectual capital and traditional intelligence targets.

You can follow William J. Tucker on Twitter and read his guest posts on Blogs of War:

Everybody Spies – and for Good Reason
Hawaii a Priority Target for Foreign Espionage
Would the U.S. Really Kill Edward Snowden?
Snowden’s Snowjob?

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Counterterrorism Challenges – Pondering Seemingly Unsolvable Problems with Phillip Smyth | Episode 11

The first Covert Contact interview features University of Maryland Laboratory for Computational Cultural Dynamics researcher Phillip Smyth. Phillip is also well known for his Hizballah Cavalcade project on Jihadology.

Phillip specializes in Shia militias, and we touch on that topic, but most of the interview is spent looking at the big challenges we face in countering terrorism and its sponsors. It’s an interesting conversation that illustrates the dynamic and difficult problems that we continue to face in places like Syria, Iran, Pakistan, Lebanon, Yemen, and Bahrain.

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The Senate Torture Report | Episode 10

It is always disheartening when America does not live up to the standards many of us expect and in the adoption and execution of enhanced interrogation we have failed to do that on many levels.

The primary failure is that our elected officials and the people who serve them strayed into territory where most of us instinctively know America does not belong. The failures continued though – there were failures in implementation, failures in oversight, and failures even today as our political class is failing to find a collaborative resolution to this problem that does not further harm American interests. But America, unlike some countries, is dynamic and very much a work in progress. When we stumble, and we do, it is important that we acknowledge our mistakes, make improvements, and continue moving forward.

Hot Wars are ugly terrible things. Cold wars are too. It is only the scale of the ugliness which changes. America has never been able to find morally comfortable ground in the most violent parts of either despite, at times, excelling at both. Perhaps it says something about our struggle to attain the ideal even while the forces that rage against us fully embrace the darkest parts of humanity. That is the most optimistic take on it all but it is also the one I believe. At our best, American’s have a brighter vision of the world than most others, and while we are far from perfect, we do continue to make progress. Hold that up to the world envisioned by our many of our enemies and the contrast is striking. I want it to stay that way.

That is one reason it is important to confront and rethink the practices we put in place after 9/11. Perhaps some of it can be rationalized. Much of it likely not. But either way the systematic abuse of people, even terrible people, is not a machine that we, as a nation, should put into motion. As a realist I can conjure up scenarios where almost anything is justified but I expect those cases to be the exception. When there is a bureaucracy, workforce, documentation, legal findings, and a language to support that abuse the exceptional threatens to become routine.

Some would say that water-boarding, humiliation, threats, sleep deprivation and other enhanced interrogation tactics fall far short of the brutality exhibited by our enemies. That’s true but it does not make widespread adoption of those tactics acceptable. I trust that America is in no rush to match the inhumanity of it’s enemies. Barbarism is growing and if we chose to we could match and exceed the inhumanity of our enemies with the press of a button. But we don’t do that. We take the hard way. We try to avoid unnecessary suffering even at the cost of the lives and limbs of our own. We are different. We are not them. And we should strive to remain that way even if it is the most difficult road to travel.

The release of this report, and the reaction that has followed, is intensely political and partisan. Rather than scramble to score points for their party all Americans should be looking at this and asking if it fits the their vision for their country and if it will help us tackle the growing threat of Islamic extremism and terrorism. Are we doing what is right and are we being effective? If not, we will eventually suffer collectively.

America is a nation that should advance the most optimistic vision for humanity. It should have a firm sense of itself and what is right. No enemy should ever be able to use fear to drive us one inch closer to systematically adopting the extremes that they embrace. We face enemies with no limits, no constraints on the terrible things they can do to advance their cause, but we can beat them without becoming them. In fact, that is the only way that we will win.

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