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.

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.

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.

Data, AI, and Ethics | Episode 73

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.

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.

The Nice, France Attack: How Can Counterterrorism Evolve with the Threat | Episode 54

In episode 54 I’m joined again by Patrick Skinner, Director of Special Projects for The Soufan Group. Patrick is a former CIA case officer, with a background in federal law enforcement, who specializes in counterterrorism issues. His background, and current work, allow him to look at these events from related, but different, perspectives. Our focus in this episode is on how governments should shift their thinking to better identify and mitigate that which is almost undetectable and unpreventable. It is an immensely challenging problem yet there are patterns that could inform the creation of a different model – a different approach.

The Orlando Shooting and Our Struggle to Make Sense of the Senseless | Episode 51

In episode 51 I’m joined again by Patrick Skinner, Director of Special Projects for The Soufan Group. Patrick is a former CIA case officer, with a background in federal law enforcement, who specializes in counterterrorism issues.

This episode is not a rigorous analysis of the attack in Orlando. Most of the discussion focuses on how people are responding to the attack in a highly politicized and understandably emotionally charged environment and what that means for domestic counterterrorism efforts. It’s also an appeal for Americans to be more thoughtful, more united, and more resilient in the face of threat that can’t be completely eliminated.

How Will ISIS Evolve and How Will Our Response Evolve with Them? | Episode 45

In episode 45 I’m joined again by Patrick Skinner, Director of Special Projects for The Soufan Group. Patrick is a former CIA case officer, with a background in federal law enforcement, who specializes in counterterrorism issues.

In this episode we discuss the danger of an Islamic State under pressure and what that threat will look like over the next few months and possibly years. We also look at our approach to counterterrorism more broadly and discuss the many ways in which our understanding of the problem influences the tools we choose to use. Understanding the problem correctly, developing the proper perspective, is the key to long-term success and it doesn’t feel like we’re there just yet.

I’ll be traveling so this will be the last episode of Covert Contact until mid-May. Subscribe now and you’ll get new episodes delivered automatically as soon as production resumes.

The Rise and Challenge of Transnational Crime | Episode 42

Andrew Trabulsi, entrepreneur, consultant, and co-editor of Warlords, Inc.: Black Markets, Broken States, and the Rise of the Warlord Entrepreneur, joins me to discuss the growing impact of transnational crime and how it intersects with destabilizing forces ranging from empowered individuals, to terrorist organizations, to rogue governments.

The key question at the heart of this discussion is our response. How can large bureaucratic organizations, such as the U.S. intelligence community, position themselves to counter incredibly nimble (and increasingly empowered) actors who are unconstrained by law or ethics? We just scratch the surface here but this episode will be followed by several more focused discussions with Andrew as we search for answers.