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.
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 how profound shifts in technology create risk and opportunities for governments. We look at how artificial intelligence, robotics, virtual reality, and advancements in health care are poised to reshape our world – perhaps even more drastically than the seismic shifts that came before. The United States is well positioned to succeed in this environment, and the technology gap will create opportunities for dominance. However, new technologies also bring new vulnerabilities, new tensions, and new opportunities for determined competitors. The only thing that can be taken for granted is change.
Regular Blogs of War and Covert Contact contributor William Tucker joins me to discuss the Lieutenant Commander Edward Lin espionage case. While little is known about the case, and Edward Lin has yet to be convicted, all signs point to a very damaging affair. Lin was born in Taiwan, left with his family at 14, and became a naturalized citizen in 2008 before working his way into one of the Navy’s most sensitive roles. It will be a case to watch – and will likely take a long time to unfold.
Along the we we touch on the necessity and challenges of integrating naturalized citizens into our defense and intelligence communities, the difficulty of protecting America’s vast intelligence and military machine, and how complex counterintelligence investigations are managed.
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.
Regular contributor William Tucker joined me for the final episode of 2015. We discussed holiday terror alerts, Poland’s unusual raid of a NATO-linked counterintelligence center that it operated with Slovakia, the U.S. Army Europe counterintelligence division’s release of a mobile app for soliciting tips, and more. We closed out this episode with thoughts about the year ahead. We looked at Asia, Russia, Mexico, the future of ISIS – and what may rise when it eventually falls.
Dr. Julia Tatiana Bailey is an art historian specializing in visual politics in the Cold War and art as propaganda, diplomacy and resistance. She recently completed a PhD focusing on official and unofficial Soviet-American cultural exchange and works as Assistant Curator of International Art at Tate Modern in London. Julia blogs on Cold War art at ESPIONART and can be found on Twitter at @espionart and @tattyjewels.
In this episode we discussed the importance of art in international relations and conflict – what we can learn from it and how it can be leveraged for influence. Much of the focus is on art as a tool during the Cold War but we also jump forward to the current environment which is being shaped by concerns about technology and surveillance – a topic of Julia’s recent guest post on Blogs of War.
In episode 32 of Covert Contact freelance writer Robert Rath joins me to discuss video games and the very real violence that surrounds us. Gaming, especially in the first person shooter genre, reflects our view of combat but it can shape our views on the subject as well. Video game inspired technology is also increasingly leveraged by the military for training systems – and weapons control systems as well. The lines between real and simulated combat are starting to blur. There are obvious parallels in the emergence of drones but rapidly evolving virtual reality capabilities and robotics are going to make gaming and warfare, not to mention reality itself, change in ways that are difficult to predict but sure to be profound. This is a fascinating topic and we just scratched the surface in this hour. But rest assured that we will be revisiting some of the subjects covered here for much deeper dives in future episodes of the show.
Robert has written on the subject extensively and I highly recommend some of his recent work on the topic including Ground Zeroes Gets Intelligence Right, Modern Warfare is a Comforting Lie, Military Expert P.W. Singer Predicts the Video Game Wars of the Future (Playboy – But now safe for work), and Pikachu and Pepper Spray: Hong Kong’s Geeky Protest Art.
In episode 31 I’m joined by Patrick Skinner, Director of Special Projects for The Soufan Group. Patrick is a former CIA case officer who specializes in counter-terrorism issues. Patrick’s background in both law enforcement (US Air Marshals and the US Capitol Police) and intelligence has positioned him to understand the full array of challenges we face in our intelligence and counterterrorism efforts and it is those challenges that we focus on in this podcast.
How dow we deal with unpreventable attacks? How do we attack root causes? How can an enormous bureaucracy like the U.S. government adapt to fight incredibly agile adversaries? Does consumer encryption really present a significant barrier? How do we find the balance between human intelligence and technology driven collection? We cover it all – and then some in this episode.
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.
Follow Naveed on Twitter @CatchaRUSSpy
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.