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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In episode 6 I look 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?