Dr. Clint Arizmendi, an Adjunct Senior Research Fellow for the Australian Graduate School of Policing & Security’s Terrorism Studies program at Charles Sturt University, joins me to discuss information warfare in episode 75.
Of course, we look at the subject primarily through the lens of current events. Russia is covered, as is the Trump administration, social media, and the role technology companies and their platforms play in facilitating propaganda networks and distribution.
This is an issue that, primarily thanks to technology, can feel a bit overwhelming at times. The volume of propaganda that can be directed at an adversary is unprecedented. The ways in which it can be finely tuned and targeted are new developments as well. But all is not lost and we offer reasons for hope. We also argue for slight changes in perspective that will help mitigate the impact of messaging that seeks only to create chaos and divide its targets.
Alex Finley, a former officer of the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, joined me to discuss the rise of deep state conspiracies that often feature a monolithic, highly partisan, intelligence community at their center.
Much of Alex’s work (see the hilarious Victor in the Rubble and The Intelligence Community: Smart People Looking at Computers) demystifies the work of the intelligence community by exposing the tedious realities of government work. It is a perfect contrast to conspiracy theorist fantasies.
We also take on the current administration’s view of the IC, Russia’s role in fueling these (ultimately damaging) views in the United States, and the unusually high media profile of former IC leaders during these turbulent times.
Entrepreneur Evanna Hu joins me to discuss our rapidly evolving relationship with data. The explosion of data streams and technologies that offload challenging analysis to machines are creating interesting national security challenges and opportunities at lightening speed. Evanna, and her company Omelas, seek to leverage these technologies to address hard national security problems (such as countering violent extremism) where metrics have been difficult to acquire or generate.
While opportunity abounds, so do potential ethical dilemmas. It’s impossible to discuss the potential of these technologies without considering the countless ways that they could be abused. Many people still fail to appreciate the amount of data they generate and how it can be used by actors both good and bad.
Russian intelligence presents a significant challenge for the United States but it is far from the only threat. There are dozens of nations and non-state actors actively collecting against us at any given time. There are countless companies engaging in corporate espionage. Every organization has a hostile insider – or will soon enough. Threats are everywhere. Podcast regular William J. Tucker joins me to review these threats, how governments allocate resources to fight them, and strategies that any individual or organization can employ to protect themselves.
What if Charlottesville and the dysfunction in Washington are not aberrations? What happens if the challenges facing society and governance only get more difficult for our current failing systems and leaders to tackle? Authoritarianism is on the rise. The threat of fascism is no longer mere hyperbole. There’s a growing sense that profound trouble lies ahead and it increasingly feel unavoidable.
Disaster is, of course, avoidable. But avoidance requires awareness, leadership, and corrective action. The time for that action is now. Public discourse continues to be polluted by computational propaganda and disinformation manufactured at industrial scale. Economic disparity continues to grow. Unfathonable levels of technology-driven job scarcity loom on the very near horizon. Changes in medicine could promise cures for millions while ushuring in massive unforseen conseuqences. Western governments are struggling and states that should have failed continue to persist – and in some cases surge. And we didn’t even get to climate change.
Andrew Trabulsi (entrepreneur, consultant, and co-editor of Warlords, Inc.: Black Markets, Broken States, and the Rise of the Warlord Entrepreneur joined me to explore these questions in episode 71. You won’t find answers to all of these problems but perhaps you’ll find it a useful exercise if you, like us, are trying to make sure that you view our current problem set through the proper lens.
Phillip Smyth is a researcher at the University of Maryland who focuses on Iran-backed Shiite proxy groups. He is also well-known for his Hizballah Cavalcade project on Jihadology. In episode 70 Phillip joins me for a quick look at how the change in U.S. leadership is impacting the balance of sectarian power and our policy toward Iran. Are there fundamental shifts underway? Is the U.S. actually leading or are actors in the region just seizing a perceived window of opportunity to advance their own agendas? We tackle it all in this episode.
Keybase is a small but ambitious company that aims to make cyrpto available and virtually seamless for everyone. Their approach to this problem, a massively challenging one that hasn’t really been cracked to date, has been creative. However, the flexibility and scope of potential applications hasn’t always been obvious as they’ve slowly scaled up from an invitation only directory with basic functionality to the much more robust layer of services and platforms supported today. I have followed the development of Keybase (my profile and proofs) closely and was excited to talk with co-founder Max Krohn about the product, the company’s unique approach, and the potential to apply Keybase’s model to solve problems like we’ve seen recently with the Qatar News Agency hack.
My friend Angie Gad joins me for episode 68 of Covert Contact to discuss growing up as a first generation Egyptian-American Muslim. We cover a lot of ground in this episode including her family’s struggle to maintain and establish roots in two very different worlds, her own challenges doing the same, her efforts to find common ground and acceptance from the sometimes suspicious or fearful communities she bridges, and how this has informed her work as a Middle East and terrorism analyst.
Angie has managed to navigate contradictory social, family, and religious pressures and then leverage that experience to serve her community and country. It is in many ways a quintessentially American story. It’s certainly a story that many first generation Americans, and immigrants, can relate to. But it’s also a story that Americans seem to be increasingly turning their backs on and that is why I decided to share it here.
Covert Contact returns from hiatus with William J. Tucker, a regular contributor on counterintelligence and security topics for Blogs of War and Covert Contact, joining me for a look at the Manchester attack. This episode was recorded shortly after a suicide bomber struck an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England on May 22nd and the discussion reflects what was known at that time.
You can follow William on Twitter @tuckerwj.
Dean Baratta, Chief of the Analysis Bureau at New Jersey’s Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, joins me to discuss how bias can impact both the production and consumption of intelligence products. NJOHSP also produces a significant amount of unclassified material so we discuss how that can be interpreted (or misinterpreted) and how his office manages the often constructive feedback that it receives from the public.
You can follow NJOHSP on Twitter (@NJOHSP) and access their unclassified intelligence products at njhomelandsecurity.gov. Their podcast, Intelligence, Unclassified is available on iTunes and other platforms.