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.

Saudi Arabia vs. Iran and The Burns Oregon Militia Standoff | Episode 36

William Tucker joins me once again to review the escalating tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran and the militia standoff in Burns, Oregon. Did Saudi Arabia go too far? How will Iran respond? Why is the federal government handling the armed militia members in Burns with kid gloves? We address those questions and others.

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 the Limits of Intelligence and Counterterrorism | Episode 31

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.

The San Bernardino Attack, Small Scale Terrorism, and ISIS | Episode 30

Regular contributor on terrorism and counterintelligence topics, William Tucker, joins me again to review the horrific and unusual attacks in San Bernardino. We discuss the odd, possible hybrid, nature of the attack, the challenge these types of attacks pose to our homeland security efforts, and what can be done in the face of what are essentially unpreventable attacks. Along the way we discuss the ISIS connection and how efforts to counter the group (or an unwillingness to aggressively address the issue) will impact our counterterrorism efforts for years to come.

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 Paris Attacks and Europe’s Security Challenges | Episode 24

William J. Tucker joins me again for a high level look at the Paris attacks and the impact that instability, chiefly in Syria, will have on the region. Failing states and the mass migration of refugees will continue to put immense pressure on dozens of governments. There is no framework, or level of response, that will allow intervening parties to resolve this problem anytime soon. So how do we cope with a security challenge that may persist for a decade – or multiple decades? This is the reality that we must face. The conflict in Syria and Iraq is not a crisis that can be “managed.” It is going to demand more of us, and our governments, than we would like. But as the saying goes – the enemy gets a vote.

Again, if you like what you’re hearing on Covert Contact please let me, and others, know. Your reviews and ratings help!

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 20: Government Email Problems, Wikileaks, Russia, Drone Leaks, NASA Security and Other Counterintelligence Nightmares
Episode 15: Hillary Clinton’s Email Server: Dissecting the Risks with William Tucker
Episode 12: Counterintelligence: William J. Tucker Breaks Down the Challenges

Supporting Independent Art in Afghanistan: Francesca Recchia Updates from Kabul | Episode 22

Regular Covert Contact listeners will recognize Francesca from episodes 9 and 17. This episode follows the same general format. We discussed the mood in Kabul, the emergence of ISIS and AQIS, and I asked her about the perception of both Iran and Russia (which has been particularly vocal about Afghanistan lately). We then move on to discuss her work supporting established and emerging artists in the country.

This was a particularly enlightening conversation for me because Francesca pushed back hard (appropriately I think) against my tendency to view work like hers in the context of international aid or counter-extremism efforts. There may be a place for art sponsored to support social or political agendas but Francesca’s work comes from a different place. She makes a very strong case for putting the art, and the artists, first. Afghanistan has a rich cultural heritage spanning thousands of years and talented artists working today. We should be able to appreciate the work without forcing it into the context of the current conflict.

You can read some of Francesca’s work at, follow her on Twitter @kiccovich, read her blog, or support her work by buying her books – The Little Book of Kabul, Picnic in a Minefield, and Devices for Political Action: The Collective Towns in Iraqi Kurdistan.