Iraq’s Consolidation and the Kurds | Episode 83

Iraq has made surprising gains in its effort to undermine or eliminate Kurdish autonomy since mid-October when we first visited this issue. Phillip Smyth joins me again to look at recent developments and the potential implications.

Phillip Smyth is a researcher at the University of Maryland who focuses on Iran-backed Shiite proxy groups. He is also widely known for his Hizballah Cavalcade project on Jihadology.

This episode also includes another short recollection from Fred Burton. Fred is the former deputy chief of counterterrorism at the Diplomatic Security Service and the author of the best-selling memoir GHOST: Confessions of a Counterterrorism Agent. His other works include Chasing Shadows: A Special Agent’s Lifelong Hunt to Bring a Cold War Assassin to Justice and Under Fire: The Untold Story of the Attack in Benghazi.

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The Crypto Wars: Update from the Australian Front | Episode 82

Australian freelance journalist, commentator, and broadcaster Stilgherrian is back to discuss the battle over encryption and the seemingly irreconcilable differences between governments and privacy advocates. The Australian government has been particularly active in this space lately and Stil has a lot to say about their approach to the problem and how they could drive responses across the G20.

Stilgherrian’s work can be found at ZDNet Australia, Crikey, Technology Spectator, CSO Online, the ABC’s Drum Opinion, the Sydney Morning Herald, and beyond. He appears frequently on Australian television and radio and, of course, has a podcast of his own – The 9PM Edict.

This episode includes another short recollection from Fred Burton. Fred is the former deputy chief of counterterrorism at the Diplomatic Security Service and the author of the best-selling memoir GHOST: Confessions of a Counterterrorism Agent. His other works include Chasing Shadows: A Special Agent’s Lifelong Hunt to Bring a Cold War Assassin to Justice and Under Fire: The Untold Story of the Attack in Benghazi.

I kick off the show with a special announcement. Covert Contact now has a Patreon page. With your support I will be able to ramp up show production (eventually producing episodes daily) and release patron only episodes and updates. Reasonable, informed, and non-partisan discussion of critical issues has never been more important. I hope that you will help push Covert Contact to the next level.

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From CIA Case Officer to Rookie Cop | Episode 81

Former CIA Case Officer Patrick Skinner has appeared on Covert Contact several times to discuss intelligence issues and break down significant terrorist attacks. Last year, driven by more than a little frustration and a desire to act locally, Patrick decided to make a fascinating career transition and become a local police officer. In episode 81 I catch up with Patrick, discuss the transition, and we dig into the many ways that what he is learning could inform policing, those in his former profession, and policymakers.

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The Kurdish Problem | Episode 80

Phillip Smyth is a researcher at the University of Maryland who focuses on Iran-backed Shiite proxy groups. He is also widely known for his Hizballah Cavalcade project on Jihadology.

Phillip joined me, with very short notice, to push out this look at the complexities surrounding the Kurdish drive for independence and how that looks to play out given the recent setback.

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Propaganda, Influence, and Disruption | Episode 79

Andrew Trabulsi, a strategy, technology, and intelligence consultant and co-editor of Warlords, Inc.: Black Markets, Broken States, and the Rise of the Warlord Entrepreneur, joins me in episode 79 to look at recent developments in the social media space of the investigation into Russian meddling in the U.S. election and what the evidence says about our ability (or inability) to identify and address modern propaganda. The techniques used in the 2016 election are not new but the potential for disaster rises as awareness about how they can be leveraged and misused spreads and the technological and social changes that amplify their effects continue their rapid advance. Complete solutions will remain elusive so how do we, and the platforms we depend on, push back?

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Australian Cyber Policy | Episode 78

Episode 78 wraps up a full month of focus on Australian defense perspectives with a look at cyber policy with the highly-regarded freelance journalist, commentator, and broadcaster Stilgherrian.

We tend to look at technology, and its impact on society, governance, and privacy, through a similar lens so I’ve always found the regional perspective he brings to those discussions to be very useful. If there’s an event in Australia related to technology, governance, security, or privacy Stil is almost certainly involved as an observer or speaker. His work can be found at ZDNet Australia, Crikey, Technology Spectator, CSO Online, the ABC’s Drum Opinion, the Sydney Morning Herald, and beyond. He appears frequently on Australian television and radio and, of course, has a podcast of his own – The 9PM Edict.

In this episode we dig into recent developments in Australian cyber policy and the role Australia plays in Five Eyes, and the region, from a cyber perspective. Along the way we take quite a few diversions into the Australian tech sector, military history, and unfortunate acronyms.

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Australian Approaches to Counterterrorism | Episode 77

The third week of episodes focused on Australian security perspectives continues with a discussion about Australia’s approach to counterterrorism with Levi West. Levi is the Director of Terrorism Studies at Charles Sturt University in Canberra.

Our discussion is wide ranging and spans how the university’s terrorism program is structured, the legal framework governing security operations inside Australia, community engagement, and the nature of the threats facing Australia.

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Australian Special Operations Forces | Episode 76

I’m joined by Colonel Ian Langford, DSC (Two Bar), who has served the Australian Army and Special Operations Command, with distinction, for over two decades. He has served in the Solomon Islands, East Timor, Bougainville, Israel, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Afghanistan where he was recognized with the Distinguished Service Cross for distinguished command and leadership in action as Officer Commanding Alpha Commando Company Group in the Special Operations Task Group, Operation SLIPPER. He is a Distinguished Graduate of the United States Marine Corps Command and Staff College and the School of Advanced Warfighting. He is currently a Visiting Fellow at Charles Sturt University.

In episode 76 we’re taking a look at Australia’s special operations forces. We discuss how SOF are utilized, structured, and how they compliment and differ from similar forces in the United States. We also discuss the current state of the world, where it might be headed, and how that could impact the way special operations forces are utilized.

This episode also opens up with what will likely become a reoccurring short segment with New York Times bestselling author and former State Department counterterrorism agent Fred Burton. Fred worked many massive counterterrorism cases throughout his career and I’ll be rolling out short reflections on those in several upcoming episodes.

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Understanding and Developing Resilience To Information Warfare | Episode 75

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.

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Deep State Conspiracies | Episode 74


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.

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