This episode was recorded just after Iran briefly detained and released 10 American sailors. Researcher Phillip Smyth joined me to discuss that event and the avalanche of terrible analysis that it triggered, Iran’s quest for regional domination, and its use of proxies to further those aims. We also look at Iran’s relationship with Russia and the similar strategies they’ve both employed to expand their influence. Where will this sustained, and in many ways successful, effort by Iran to project power regionally take them – and us over the next decade?
This week Lynnette Bukowski joins me to discuss LZ Grace Warriors Retreat. Lynnette, and many volunteers, have transformed a 38 acre farm in Virginia Beach into a place for members of the special operations community and first responders to decompress and recharge. Lynnette shares the story of her husband, a Navy SEAL, and we discuss some of the unique challenges the she faces in supporting who are accustomed to serving, and often suffering, in silence.
The episode closes out with another update on Russia, and their involvement with Hezbollah, from William Tucker.
William Tucker joins me once again to review the escalating tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran and the militia standoff in Burns, Oregon. Did Saudi Arabia go too far? How will Iran respond? Why is the federal government handling the armed militia members in Burns with kid gloves? We address those questions and others.
The episode closes with the announcement of a new segment that will feature William. He’ll be joining the podcast once a week for a short discussion about Russia. There’s much to discuss here, and 2016 will be eventful, so the persistent focus will help us, and you, stay on top of America’s greatest national security threat.
Regular contributor William Tucker joined me for the final episode of 2015. We discussed holiday terror alerts, Poland’s unusual raid of a NATO-linked counterintelligence center that it operated with Slovakia, the U.S. Army Europe counterintelligence division’s release of a mobile app for soliciting tips, and more. We closed out this episode with thoughts about the year ahead. We looked at Asia, Russia, Mexico, the future of ISIS – and what may rise when it eventually falls.
Dr. Julia Tatiana Bailey is an art historian specializing in visual politics in the Cold War and art as propaganda, diplomacy and resistance. She recently completed a PhD focusing on official and unofficial Soviet-American cultural exchange and works as Assistant Curator of International Art at Tate Modern in London. Julia blogs on Cold War art at ESPIONART and can be found on Twitter at @espionart and @tattyjewels.
In this episode we discussed the importance of art in international relations and conflict – what we can learn from it and how it can be leveraged for influence. Much of the focus is on art as a tool during the Cold War but we also jump forward to the current environment which is being shaped by concerns about technology and surveillance – a topic of Julia’s recent guest post on Blogs of War.
Phil Walter joins me again to discuss behavior. Why do the actors we seek to influence, friend and foe alike, behave the way that they do? What advantage does a deep understanding of the underlying motivations for their behavior give us? It’s easy to be dismissive of an enemy’s needs, wants, and desires but in doing so we risk undermining our ability to counter them and anticipate their next move. We also touch on the complexity of the Middle East (how could we not?) and debate how to balance intimate and precise engagement at the individual or tribal level with much broader diplomatic efforts at the macro level.
Phil has written a companion piece to this podcast, Behavior Change and the Instruments of Power, which can be found on Blogs of War.
The views expressed here are those of the author alone and do not contain information of an official nature.
In episode 32 of Covert Contact freelance writer Robert Rath joins me to discuss video games and the very real violence that surrounds us. Gaming, especially in the first person shooter genre, reflects our view of combat but it can shape our views on the subject as well. Video game inspired technology is also increasingly leveraged by the military for training systems – and weapons control systems as well. The lines between real and simulated combat are starting to blur. There are obvious parallels in the emergence of drones but rapidly evolving virtual reality capabilities and robotics are going to make gaming and warfare, not to mention reality itself, change in ways that are difficult to predict but sure to be profound. This is a fascinating topic and we just scratched the surface in this hour. But rest assured that we will be revisiting some of the subjects covered here for much deeper dives in future episodes of the show.
Robert has written on the subject extensively and I highly recommend some of his recent work on the topic including Ground Zeroes Gets Intelligence Right, Modern Warfare is a Comforting Lie, Military Expert P.W. Singer Predicts the Video Game Wars of the Future (Playboy – But now safe for work), and Pikachu and Pepper Spray: Hong Kong’s Geeky Protest Art.
In episode 31 I’m joined by Patrick Skinner, Director of Special Projects for The Soufan Group. Patrick is a former CIA case officer who specializes in counter-terrorism issues. Patrick’s background in both law enforcement (US Air Marshals and the US Capitol Police) and intelligence has positioned him to understand the full array of challenges we face in our intelligence and counterterrorism efforts and it is those challenges that we focus on in this podcast.
How dow we deal with unpreventable attacks? How do we attack root causes? How can an enormous bureaucracy like the U.S. government adapt to fight incredibly agile adversaries? Does consumer encryption really present a significant barrier? How do we find the balance between human intelligence and technology driven collection? We cover it all – and then some in this episode.
Regular contributor on terrorism and counterintelligence topics, William Tucker, joins me again to review the horrific and unusual attacks in San Bernardino. We discuss the odd, possible hybrid, nature of the attack, the challenge these types of attacks pose to our homeland security efforts, and what can be done in the face of what are essentially unpreventable attacks. Along the way we discuss the ISIS connection and how efforts to counter the group (or an unwillingness to aggressively address the issue) will impact our counterterrorism efforts for years to come.
In episode 29 Brookings Institution senior fellow and author of Temptations of Power: Islamists and Illiberal Democracy in a New Middle East joins me to discuss the difficult relationship Islamist movements have with democracy and power at the state level in general. Years of research, and deep contacts, led Shadi to some unexpected findings about how Islamist movements navigate through political systems. We also discuss the state of affairs in the United States – primarily the apparent increase in, and acceptance of, anti-Muslim bigotry in the 2016 presidential campaign. It is a fascinating discussion that reflects the challenges inherent in democracy and serves as a reminder that the tensions balanced by democracy could also destroy it if society rejects or loses the shared value system that makes it all possible.
Follow @shadihamid on Twitter
Temptations of Power: Islamists and Illiberal Democracy in a New Middle East
Brookings Institution: Shadi Hamid