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.

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?

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.

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.

System Failure: It Only Gets More Difficult from Here | Episode 71

What if Charlottesville and the dysfunction in Washington are not aberrations? What happens if the challenges facing society and governance only get more difficult for our current failing systems and leaders to tackle? Authoritarianism is on the rise. The threat of fascism is no longer mere hyperbole. There’s a growing sense that profound trouble lies ahead and it increasingly feel unavoidable.

Disaster is, of course, avoidable. But avoidance requires awareness, leadership, and corrective action. The time for that action is now. Public discourse continues to be polluted by computational propaganda and disinformation manufactured at industrial scale. Economic disparity continues to grow. Unfathonable levels of technology-driven job scarcity loom on the very near horizon. Changes in medicine could promise cures for millions while ushuring in massive unforseen conseuqences. Western governments are struggling and states that should have failed continue to persist – and in some cases surge. And we didn’t even get to climate change.

Andrew Trabulsi (entrepreneur, consultant, and co-editor of Warlords, Inc.: Black Markets, Broken States, and the Rise of the Warlord Entrepreneur joined me to explore these questions in episode 71. You won’t find answers to all of these problems but perhaps you’ll find it a useful exercise if you, like us, are trying to make sure that you view our current problem set through the proper lens.

Securing Data, Communications, and Identity with Keybase | Episode 69

Keybase is a small but ambitious company that aims to make cyrpto available and virtually seamless for everyone. Their approach to this problem, a massively challenging one that hasn’t really been cracked to date, has been creative. However, the flexibility and scope of potential applications hasn’t always been obvious as they’ve slowly scaled up from an invitation only directory with basic functionality to the much more robust layer of services and platforms supported today. I have followed the development of Keybase (my profile and proofs) closely and was excited to talk with co-founder Max Krohn about the product, the company’s unique approach, and the potential to apply Keybase’s model to solve problems like we’ve seen recently with the Qatar News Agency hack.

Understanding the Pace and Scope of Technology Driven Change | Episode 63

Covert Contact is back after a bit of break! Andrew Trabulsi, entrepreneur, consultant, and co-editor of Warlords, Inc.: Black Markets, Broken States, and the Rise of the Warlord Entrepreneur, joins me again for a discussion about the inherent challenges in understanding and forecasting technology-driven change. This interview was originally recorded in October of 2016 so we also touched on the increasingly sophisticated use of data in campaigning and the challenge of finding objective truth in an internet experience that is increasingly personalized and shaped to influence.

Fragmented Realities – AV and VR Update | Episode 57

Freelance writer and Zam.com columnist Robert Rath joins me in episode 57 to review the latest advances in virtual and augmented reality. Augmented reality, in the form of Pokemon Go, has captured much of the attention but the virtual reality market will continue to mature. Neither technology will remain a fad despite several false or slow starts. We look at this evolution and looming impact on our already diminished shared experience.

Navigating Massive Technological Change | Episode 44

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.

Art in Diplomacy and Conflict | Episode 34

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.