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 https://neu.academia.edu/MaxAbrahms. 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 Muftah.org, 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.

Why Terrorism Fails: A Discussion with Max Abrahms | Episode 16

We know that terrorism succeeds at terrorizing its targets but does it help the groups behind it achieve their political goals? In this episode I’m joined by Northeastern University professor and terrorism theorist Max Abrahms who makes a persuasive case that terrorism does not succeed where other more selective uses of violence might. I made a similar argument in episode 7 when I said that the much discussed (and very barbaric) ISIS social media campaign would ultimately be considered a failure because it had helped permanently undermine any possibility that the group could ever transition to political legitimacy.

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

Counterterrorism Challenges – Pondering Seemingly Unsolvable Problems with Phillip Smyth | Episode 11

The first Covert Contact interview features University of Maryland Laboratory for Computational Cultural Dynamics researcher Phillip Smyth. Phillip is also well known for his Hizballah Cavalcade project on Jihadology.

Phillip specializes in Shia militias, and we touch on that topic, but most of the interview is spent looking at the big challenges we face in countering terrorism and its sponsors. It’s an interesting conversation that illustrates the dynamic and difficult problems that we continue to face in places like Syria, Iran, Pakistan, Lebanon, Yemen, and Bahrain.

Robots and the Future of Warfare: The Advantage Might Not Lie with the Inventors | Episode 6

In episode 6 I am looking at the evolution of unmanned platforms and speculate about the impact that they could have on warfare. The technology is evolving faster than our appreciation for the complications it will bring so while there will be countless positive benefits there will also unquestionably be a dark side to it all. Smarter systems are better, and spare innocent lives, but does that mean that less ethical actors could exploit less capable platforms to kill indiscriminately? Does that give them an advantage?

Blogs of War contributor William Tucker also called in to the Covert Contact voicemail line and shared some thoughts on how the U.S. intelligence community should be allocating its resources. I close out the episode with a special drone edition of Five to Follow.

The Week’s Five to Follow

@GregoryMcNeal – Professor working in law & public policy and a Forbes magazine contributor. His blog can be found at http://www.forbes.com/sites/gregorymcneal/.

@DIYDrones – The worlds largest RPAS community with over 50,000 members.

@chr1sa – Ex-Wired Editor in Chief, 3D Robotics CEO, DIY Drone founder.

@dronelaws – Brendan M. Schulman is a lawyer who specializes in commercial drone law.

@drunkenpredator – Knowledgeable commentary on drones cloaked in humor.

Lone Wolf Terrorism and the Importance of Perspective | Episode 5

In episode 5 I take a look at the real impact of lone wolf terror attacks, why ISIS seems to have been more successful than al-Qaeda at motivating these individual actors, and how the average citizen can put these acts of violence in proper perspective. I also briefly touch on the unfortunate role that the media plays in ratcheting up our anxiety. This episode features input from former CIA counterterrorism analyst Aki Peritz, terrorism expert Dr. Max Abrahms (a professor of public policy at Northeastern University), and one other contributor who I know well but who also must remain anonymous.

What the Attack in Ottawa Teaches Us About Terrorists – And Ourselves | Episode 4

As promised earlier today I recorded brief thoughts about today’s attack. I had originally intended this to be a discussion about a particular type of attack and terrorist strategy but much is still unknown in this case. I decided to save those thoughts for another day. Instead, I look at the contrasts between those who seek to destroy and those who serve. I look at how Canadians responded to this tragedy and why that is important.  The episode closes with a tribute.