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.

What Did Russia Gain in Syria? | Episode 41

Regular Blogs of War and Covert Contact contributor William Tucker joins me after a long break to discuss Russia’s intervention in Syria. Why are they there, what were their true motives, what have they gained, and where does this action fit in the context of Russia’s long-standing adversarial position with NATO and the West? We also look at Russia’s conflict with Turkey, structural weaknesses influencing their behavior, and prospects for improving their relationship with the West along the way.

Closing Out 2015 and Looking Toward 2016 with William Tucker | Episode 35

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.

Understanding and Influencing Enemy Behavior | Episode 33

Phil Walter joins me again to discuss behavior. Why do the actors we seek to influence, friend and foe alike, behave the way that they do? What advantage does a deep understanding of the underlying motivations for their behavior give us? It’s easy to be dismissive of an enemy’s needs, wants, and desires but in doing so we risk undermining our ability to counter them and anticipate their next move. We also touch on the complexity of the Middle East (how could we not?) and debate how to balance intimate and precise engagement at the individual or tribal level with much broader diplomatic efforts at the macro level.

Phil has written a companion piece to this podcast, Behavior Change and the Instruments of Power, which can be found on Blogs of War.

The views expressed here are those of the author alone and do not contain information of an official nature.

Turkey Shot Down a Russian Jet – Where Do We Go From Here? | Episode 27

Putin called today’s downing of a Russian Su-24 by a Turkish F16 a “stab in the back” but it this was certainly not an unproved attack. In fact it follows countless warnings from Turkey that violations of its airspace (and aggression against its interests on its border) will not go unchecked. Terrorism analyst and counterintelligence pro William J. Tucker joins me again for a look at this event, the circumstances that got us here, and where we might be going.

Related Links
All episodes featuring William J. Tucker
Follow William J. Tucker on Twitter

What You Are Getting Wrong About ISIS | Episode 26

Northeastern University professor and terrorism theorist Max Abrahms excels at poking holes in the conventional wisdom and he joins me again in episode 26 to do exactly that. I initially asked Max to discuss his recent piece in Harvard Business Review Why People Keep Saying, “That’s What the Terrorists Want” but we expanded the discussion to explore commonly accepted ideas about ISIS – their supposed strategic and tactical brilliance, the viability of their so-called caliphate, and the notion that legitimate governments somehow don’t have the tools to address the problem that ISIS represents.

You can follow Max on Twitter @MaxAbrahms and read his work at I also recommend reading “The Political Effectiveness of Terrorism Revisited” for a more comprehensive breakdown of Max’s research and arguments on this subject.

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.