System Failure: It Only Gets More Difficult from Here | Episode 71

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.

Iran in the Age of Trump | Episode 70

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.

Securing Data, Communications, and Identity with Keybase | Episode 69

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.

Egyptian, Muslim, American | Episode 68

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.

The Manchester Attack | Episode 67

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.

Intelligence Analysis: Feedback, Bias, and Other Challenges | Episode 66

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.

Exploring Divergent Options | Episode 64

Divergent Options is a new effort to build a body of concise analysis (1,000 words or less) on national security topics from a global talent pool. The project was launched by Phil Walter and he joins me on Covert Contact to discuss the effort and the important gap that it is seeking to fill.

Phil has served in the military, the intelligence community, and the inter-agency. His written works are catalogued on Storify and archived at www.philwalter1058.com. I highly recommend them if you are at all interested in national security issues. You can follow him on Twitter @philwalter1058.

Understanding the Pace and Scope of Technology Driven Change | Episode 63

Covert Contact is back after a bit of break! Andrew Trabulsi, entrepreneur, consultant, and co-editor of Warlords, Inc.: Black Markets, Broken States, and the Rise of the Warlord Entrepreneur, joins me again for a discussion about the inherent challenges in understanding and forecasting technology-driven change. This interview was originally recorded in October of 2016 so we also touched on the increasingly sophisticated use of data in campaigning and the challenge of finding objective truth in an internet experience that is increasingly personalized and shaped to influence.

Russia, Trump, and Hillary | Episode 62

In episode 62 I look at what may have been the most bizarre presidential debate in U.S. history. Covert Contact regular William Tucker joins me later in the show to discuss the U.S. government’s formal acknowledgement that Russia is meddling in the U.S. election.

Listener email makes its debut in this episode. If you’d like to submit your own thoughts for possible inclusion in future episodes please drop me a line at covertcontact@protonmail.com.