Catching Russian Spies with Former Double Agent Naveed Jamali | Episode 25

In episode 25 I’m talking to Naveed Jamali, former double agent, and co-author of How to Catch a Russian Spy: The True Story of an American Civilian Turned Double Agent.

Naveed seemed like an unlikely candidate for this sort of intrigue but Russian intelligence used his parent’s company to order U.S. government publications. The FBI, of course, wanted to know what the Russians were reading. He could have remained a low-level informant, notifying the FBI of the Russian’s reading habits and interests as his parents had, but Naveed wanted to take it further. He had access, some natural talent, and a lot interest in playing the game.

Our conversation focuses on Naveed’s unusual position and what it’s like to navigate this very confusing territory as a complete amateur.

Related Links
Follow Naveed on Twitter @CatchaRUSSpy

The Damascus Cover and the Psychology of Spies with Howard Kaplan | Episode 21

Howard Kaplan wrote his debut espionage novel, The Damascus Cover, nearly forty years ago. He joins me to discuss the book, the recently completed the film adaptation staring Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Sir John Hurt, his own experience serving as a courier for Israeli intelligence in the Soviet Union (where he was eventually detained for a short time), and the psychology of human intelligence.

Spies make for dramatic characters in books and in film but real intelligence professionals have to pay a price for that drama. It is a life that can take a toll on even the most committed practitioners. Kaplan leverages his limited (but no less dramatic) brush with the profession to explore that tension in his work. We look at these aspects of the business, not only in his own work, but also through examples such as the classic le Carré character Alec Leamus and the life of the Israeli hero Eli Cohen.

You can follow @kaplanhow on Twitter

Government Email Problems, Wikileaks, Russia, Drone Leaks, NASA Security and Other Counterintelligence Nightmares | Episode 20

Covert Contact kicks off again with an admittedly rambling, but hopefully entertaining, start as I review a number of high profile security issues with counterintelligence pro William Tucker. We look at the hack of DCIA John Brennan’s AOL account, Hillary Clinton’s email problems, and then ponder the broader risks associated with the personal accounts of key U.S. officials. And while we’re at it what’s with the curious lack of interest that organizations like Wikileaks have in exposing officials in Russia or North Korea. What’s up with that? Then we move on to drone leaks and drone policy before closing out the show with a look at the almost depressingly terrible security practices exhibited by NASA in the Bo Jiang case. Again, it’s a bit of a ramble but hopefully a fun one.

You can follow William J. Tucker on Twitter and read his guest posts on Blogs of War:

Everybody Spies – and for Good Reason
Hawaii a Priority Target for Foreign Espionage
Would the U.S. Really Kill Edward Snowden?
Snowden’s Snowjob?

Other Covert Contact Episodes Featuring William:
Episode 15: Hillary Clinton’s Email Server: Dissecting the Risks with William Tucker
Episode 12: Counterintelligence: William J. Tucker Breaks Down the Challenges

The Battle Between Encryption and Mass Surveillance with Former FBI Agent David Gomez | Episode 18

I emailed retired FBI agent David Gomez from my new ProtonMail account to propose a podcast about encryption and its effect on mass surveillance from a homeland security and law enforcement perspective. You’re reading this because he immediately accepted.

Encrypted communication has been available to consumers for decades but new tools are arriving that are actually making it an accessible and realistic option for the majority of users. Easy to use strong encryption is, in many ways, a wonderful thing. It means that good people in bad places might have more freedom to communicate. It means that people can trust that a point to point communication is just that. But it also means that a lot of people with bad intentions will find it easier to go dark, to plot, and to recruit – often across international borders. How are governments going to cope with this especially when they’ve enjoyed great success with the current collection models that allow them to intercept electronic communications on a massive scale?

Even if you support strong encryption and disagree with government interception of electronic communications you must acknowledge the impact that cutting them out of the loop could have on our security. That tradeoff is the topic we struggle with in this episode.

You can follow David on Twitter @AllThingsHLS.

Hillary Clinton’s Email Server: Dissecting the Risks with William Tucker | Episode 15

William J. Tucker joins me again to discuss Hillary Clinton’s decision to manage her own email services while Secretary of State. While this decision has angered political opponents and government transparency advocates (not to mention a few historians) we are bypassing the political and legal issues to zero in on the risks associated with her decision – and there are many. Join us as we walk through the information security and intelligence aspects of this story and examine the risks posed to Hillary Clinton, our government, and potentially anyone that maintained contact with her through this method. If you’re not concerned now, you will be.

You can follow William J. Tucker on Twitter and read his guest posts on Blogs of War:

Everybody Spies – and for Good Reason
Hawaii a Priority Target for Foreign Espionage
Would the U.S. Really Kill Edward Snowden?
Snowden’s Snowjob?

Other Covert Contact Episodes Featuring William:
Episode 12 | Counterintelligence: William J. Tucker Breaks Down the Challenges

Counterintelligence: William J. Tucker Breaks Down the Challenges | Episode 12

In this episode I’m talking to William J. Tucker about counterintelligence. It is a complex discipline that is often misunderstood – even by intelligence professionals. But it presents as many opportunities as it does challenges and this conversation hints at that. Like all intelligence disciplines, it is faced with a rapidly changing environment and overwhelming array of threats. The sheer number of threats, the scope of it all, will force the private sector and governments into far tighter partnerships as they struggle to protect intellectual capital and traditional intelligence targets.

You can follow William J. Tucker on Twitter and read his guest posts on Blogs of War:

Everybody Spies – and for Good Reason
Hawaii a Priority Target for Foreign Espionage
Would the U.S. Really Kill Edward Snowden?
Snowden’s Snowjob?

The Senate Torture Report | Episode 10

It is always disheartening when America does not live up to the standards many of us expect and in the adoption and execution of enhanced interrogation we have failed to do that on many levels.

The primary failure is that our elected officials and the people who serve them strayed into territory where most of us instinctively know America does not belong. The failures continued though – there were failures in implementation, failures in oversight, and failures even today as our political class is failing to find a collaborative resolution to this problem that does not further harm American interests. But America, unlike some countries, is dynamic and very much a work in progress. When we stumble, and we do, it is important that we acknowledge our mistakes, make improvements, and continue moving forward.

Hot Wars are ugly terrible things. Cold wars are too. It is only the scale of the ugliness which changes. America has never been able to find morally comfortable ground in the most violent parts of either despite, at times, excelling at both. Perhaps it says something about our struggle to attain the ideal even while the forces that rage against us fully embrace the darkest parts of humanity. That is the most optimistic take on it all but it is also the one I believe. At our best, American’s have a brighter vision of the world than most others, and while we are far from perfect, we do continue to make progress. Hold that up to the world envisioned by our many of our enemies and the contrast is striking. I want it to stay that way.

That is one reason it is important to confront and rethink the practices we put in place after 9/11. Perhaps some of it can be rationalized. Much of it likely not. But either way the systematic abuse of people, even terrible people, is not a machine that we, as a nation, should put into motion. As a realist I can conjure up scenarios where almost anything is justified but I expect those cases to be the exception. When there is a bureaucracy, workforce, documentation, legal findings, and a language to support that abuse the exceptional threatens to become routine.

Some would say that water-boarding, humiliation, threats, sleep deprivation and other enhanced interrogation tactics fall far short of the brutality exhibited by our enemies. That’s true but it does not make widespread adoption of those tactics acceptable. I trust that America is in no rush to match the inhumanity of it’s enemies. Barbarism is growing and if we chose to we could match and exceed the inhumanity of our enemies with the press of a button. But we don’t do that. We take the hard way. We try to avoid unnecessary suffering even at the cost of the lives and limbs of our own. We are different. We are not them. And we should strive to remain that way even if it is the most difficult road to travel.

The release of this report, and the reaction that has followed, is intensely political and partisan. Rather than scramble to score points for their party all Americans should be looking at this and asking if it fits the their vision for their country and if it will help us tackle the growing threat of Islamic extremism and terrorism. Are we doing what is right and are we being effective? If not, we will eventually suffer collectively.

America is a nation that should advance the most optimistic vision for humanity. It should have a firm sense of itself and what is right. No enemy should ever be able to use fear to drive us one inch closer to systematically adopting the extremes that they embrace. We face enemies with no limits, no constraints on the terrible things they can do to advance their cause, but we can beat them without becoming them. In fact, that is the only way that we will win.

The Navy SEAL Who Killed Osama bin Laden and the Heroes You’ll Never Know | Episode 8

In episode eight I look at the case of Navy SEAL Rob O’Neill and the culture that lures men and women like him out of the shadows and into a world of fame, ego gratification, and financial reward. I examine the role that military leadership and our culture at large plays in chipping away at the notion of quiet professionalism and share some thoughts about how we can change course. There is also a call from Phillip Smyth, a researcher at the University of Maryland’s Laboratory for Computational Cultural Dynamics. Phillip shares some thoughts on social media and its impact on national security, politics, and the collection of intelligence.

Crypto Wars: Winners, Losers, and the Case for Compromise | Episode 3

This week I’m focusing on a single critical topic – the struggle between privacy advocates and governments over cryptography. This is a sensitive topic and there are a lot of extreme positions on the matter. I attempt to take a balanced look at both sides of the issue, offer my thoughts about who might win the war, and I explore what the eventual outcome might mean for intelligence professionals. However, I also argue that if either side “wins” the war without understanding and accommodating the positions of the other, we all stand to lose.

This is a slightly shorter and more focused episode but I’m exploring this format with the intention of releasing more than one episode per week. Please let me know what you think about the format change. You can do that on the Covert Contact Facebook Page or by connecting with me on Twitter @CovertContact.

This Week’s Five to Follow

@PwnAllTheThings – Security Researcher and Crypto-Wizard with all the secure golden keys.

@kyrah – A hacker and security researcher before she became a diplomat. She always has smart things to say about security and is a breath of fresh air on the topic of cyberwar.

@matthew_d_green – Assistant Research Professor at the Johns Hopkins Information Security Institute. He blogs at

@briankrebs – Journalist, formerly of the Washington Post, turned security expert. He blogs at

@stilgherrian – A prolific Australian freelance journalist, commentator and podcaster whose work can be found on ZDNet Australia, Crikey, ABC, Sydney Morning herald and his blog at

Intelligence Failures, Agent Storm, and eDiplomacy Trolling | Episode 1

Welcome to the launch of Covert Contact: The Blogs of War Podcast. In episode 1 I am looking at the notion of intelligence failures and why they’re often more complicated than they seem – or not failures at all.  I’m also taking a look at  the new biography of Murad Storm, the towering red-haired Danish agent who infiltrated al Qaeda. Agent Storm: My Life Inside al Qaeda and the CIA is a fascinating read that raises many questions about our ability to infiltrate radical Islamic groups. And then a discussion about the darker side of eDiplomacy. Do we really want world leaders trolling each other on Twitter? I close out the show with “Five to Follow” – a short roundup of the national security, intelligence, diplomacy, and tech experts that make Twitter so interesting.

This Week’s Five to Follow

@NubaReports – Nuba Reports is a team of Sudanese journalists covering the current conflict in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan.

@PhillipSmyth – Researcher at U of Maryland’s LCCD-Focus on #Lebanon, #Syria, #Iraq, ME Christians, Shia, Hizballah. I specialize in Shia militias & write #HizballahCavalcade

@Priestic1 – Andy is a policy consultant and strategist in the areas of irregular warfare and homeland security.

@flwaustralia – Future Land Warfare explores the future of land combat and Australia’s strategic environment.

@IntlSpyMuseum – The International Spy Museum opened in DC in 2002. It features the largest collection of international espionage artifacts ever placed on public display.