100 Ideas for the First 100 Days: Adding a Deputy DNI for Domestic Coordination and Multilateral Security in the Indo-Pacific

Welcome to the fifth installment of The Burn Bag Podcast’s special collaboration with The Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Security and Strategy,  where we highlight contributions to the Scowcroft Center’s “100 Ideas for the First 100 Days” project. The fifth episode in the series delves into two big ideas by Stephen Shapiro, and Lt. Col. Matthew Crouch and Clementine Starling. Stephen talks about why the U.S. Government’s domestic intelligence operations need significant reform, and proposes the idea that there be a Deputy Director of National Intelligence who’d lead domestic coordination amongst the varying intelligence agencies. In the second idea, Lt. Col. Crouch and Clementine dig into why the U.S. needs to spearhead a multilateral security architecture in the Indo-Pacific, given the rise and bellicosity of China.

America and the World: Primacy, Alliances, and the Post-COVID Order with Professor Stephen Walt

Stephen Walt (@stephenWalt) | Twitter

In this week’s episode of The Burn Bag Podcast, A’ndre and Ryan speak to Professor Stephen Walt, a distinguished thinker in international relations who currently teaches at Harvard University. Professor Walt, a leading scholar and subscriber to the school of realism in international relations, spoke to us about the state of U.S. power in the world today, and on the idea of primacy (the U.S. being the ‘first among equals’) and why/how the U.S. can maintain it. This leads to a broader conversation on U.S. grand strategy and the viability of ‘offshore balancing’ versus hegemony. A discussion on U.S. alliances and the threats from China and Russia follows, wrapping with Professor Walt’s thoughts on the post-COVID world order.

Professor Walt is a regular contributor to Foreign Policy, and you can check out the litany of books and other publications he has here.

String of Pearls: Naval Power and Geopolitics in the Indian Ocean with Nilanthi Samaranayake

In this week’s episode, A’ndre and Ryan talk with Nilanthi Samaranayake, director of the Strategy and Policy Analysis Program at the Center for Naval Analyses.  Nilanthi provides an overview of the Indian Ocean region, its strategic importance, and geopolitics. They also discuss the role of China in the region and how India and the United States can work to push back against Chinese influence. The conversation concludes with a broader discussion of U.S. strategy and then future of bilateral and multilateral relations with Indian Ocean powers.

Click here to learn more about Nilanthi and her work.

On the Indian Ocean: 

“India is still a major power in the region, with its own prerogatives about its security, and expectations about its smaller neighbor’s ties with great powers like China, like the United States. And India also has prerogatives about what it wants to see in terms of regional architecture, and institutions like the Indian Ocean Rim Association, and the Indian Ocean naval symposium or ions.”

On the influence of China and the U.S. on the Indian Ocean region: 

“I think both the US and China have played a very important role in terms of these countries building their economic security and futures.”

On military/political importance of this region: 

“I would argue that India has really been the focus of US policy in Asia for like the last 20 years and essentially cultivating India as a strategic partner to the United States. So it’s taken a long time, but you’re really seeing that the fruits of all that labor, culminating now in India, is considered a major defense partner to the United States. And it’s also signed the U.S. defense foundational agreements with regard to logistics and communication, security and others. So that relationship has really ascended very strongly, particularly under the Modi administration in India.” 

“There’s been some cost in terms of the U.S. having strategic relationships with some of India’s smaller neighboring countries, like Sri Lanka and Maldives, where you don’t really see as advanced or developed defense and security relationships with those countries.”

On U.S. security presence in the Indian Ocean region: 

“It really spans the entire region. So you have a U.S. naval base in sort of the western part in Bahrain; you have a naval support facility in Diego Garcia at the center of the Indian Ocean; and then the U.S. also has access in Singapore. So really spanning the entire Indian Ocean. And there’s also access to air bases, or across an Indian Ocean country. And so, the US is still an extra regional power. So, it doesn’t have the benefit of having territory in the region, but it does have access spanning the entire region.”

On Chinese competition: 

“I don’t think the Indian Ocean is going to be a hotspot that may be a controversial claim. But I think just for both countries, there are priorities in the Pacific. And so really, essentially rendering the Indian Ocean to be of less importance, not that it’s unimportant to the Indian Ocean is still very important.” 

“You can actually argue that both the U.S. and China have converging interests in this region, essentially keeping the sea lanes open, keeping the region stable. And, you know, just essentially the role of this region to the global economy and the passage of cargo.”

On Sri Lanka’s relationship with China: 

“In terms of the crisis that Sri Lanka finds itself in now, and in recent years, it’s that they’re still trying to essentially update their strategies. They’ve become so used to receiving loans at concessional rates, and that the more you increase in terms of economic status, you kind of lose access to the loans at the concessional rates you had once become accustomed to. There’s this type of debt trap diplomacy, but I think it’s more related to the middle income trap. And really, Sri Lanka’s inability to update its debt management strategies in the context of its growing status economically, and not really adjusting to the fact that it can’t expect to receive loans at the same concessional rates than it used to.”

“It wasn’t like Sri Lanka was paying the loans back to China, it wasn’t that situation. But at the same time, I think you can argue China as a rising great power. Did these organizations really need to help do this deal only under the terms of a 99 year lease with this country that was clearly struggling financially?”

“Well, I think there’s a lot of suspicion about China, just looking at what China is doing in the South China Sea, for example, or elsewhere. So that kind of assertiveness I think, quite logically, people have questions about what China intends to do and in their own country, whether it’s Sri Lanka or other Indian Ocean countries. I mean, these are commercial deals.”

“I don’t know what China intends with these projects. But I think it’s important to look at the smaller states and consider the agency that they have there, I think that tends to get overlooked.” 

On China’s relationship with the Maldives: 

“Maldives has a very different relationship with India than Sri Lanka has. That defense relationship between Maldives and India is very close. Whereas I think you’ve seen more willingness on the part of the Sri Lankans to kind of deviate from India’s preferences in terms of security.”

“Sri Lanka and Maldives are very different in terms of the their level of development or progression towards being able to sustain major shipping operations in that part of the Indian Ocean.”

On U.S. policy with South Asia: 

“I think, turning more attention toward the smaller countries would help essentially build out on that larger policy. The Indo-Pacific strategy was a term used in the previous administration, and it looks like the new Biden administration is continuing to move out on its effort and the priority of that region for U.S. interests.” 

“I think in terms of development finance, there is this relatively new international development finance corporation. So if the US could do more of that, essentially, in the region, in terms of helping provide finance advancing infrastructure and connectivity, this is something that the countries in the region are very much focused on. They see that increased connectivity is really their key to advancing their national economies. I think that would be well received.” 

On alliance and parties: 

“I feel like there’s an attempt to put political regimes into boxes and align it with particular great powers. But I think that the story is more complex there during the Rajapaksa regime, very close defense ties and security ties with India. So, I think some of those factors get overlooked. And I think sort of this desire to just assign, like political regimes to big powers.”

On the Chinese influence: 

“India has an edge in terms of its defense and strategic ties with Sri Lanka, just the amount of exercises that go on between the two countries, the level of training relationships, military training, relationships, and information sharing. It’s just a lot deeper. It’s just China’s defense relationship. And what’s wrong is that it just doesn’t compare.”

On policy focusing on the Indian Ocean: 

“China has helped augment India’s threat perceptions. And as a result, India is paying a lot more attention to the Indian Ocean region and its neighbors than it did before. So we’ve actually seen India conduct a lot more capacity building efforts and engagements with smaller Indian Ocean countries. India’s very proud of its COVID relief and response going all the way out to the Western Indian Ocean.”  

On India’s changing role: 

“India is also going through this process of evolving its priorities in the region strategically. So India is essentially, for the past few years, developing its capabilities, demonstrating diplomatic leadership in the region, and displaying its operational reach to all corners of the Indian Ocean.”

On ethno-religious tensions:

“There’s that concern about Hindu nationalism in India. Certainly there’s concern about Sri Lanka and the leadership that has come in and essentially believing that the UN Human Rights Council, that entire process, and this issue about the reconciliation and the management of the Civil War, over a decade ago. And then what remains to be done in terms of reconciliation and devolution of powers to the ethnic minority in Sri Lanka. So there’s definitely there’s the Rohingyas in Myanmar. So there are a lot of issues where India certainly has interests and can play a role, if it wants to. It certainly has historically.” 

On the policy of non-alignment: 

“India has come a long way, in terms of its desire to be convergent with the US. I think that there’s always going to be the limits to that, because India insists on what it calls strategic autonomy.” 

“The India U.S. relationship has really come a long way, not only in the last 20 years, but even in the last 10 years, with all of the foundational agreements that have been signed, the defense foundational agreements that have been signed, in terms of defense trade and the sale of major platforms. It’s really quite significant.” 

On naval cooperation: 

“There’s a lot going on in terms of U.S. India naval cooperative opportunities. It’s really led the way among all the military services and in advancing the wider strategic relationship.” 

On creating an alliance: 

“I don’t think it’s likely. India really makes it clear that it’s, it’s never going to be a treaty ally to the US, and relations are really just soaring even in the absence of any kind of formal Media Alliance.” 

On the QUAD: 

“Since foreign policy is conducted essentially by the elite, by government officials, what we’re hearing and what we’ve been consistently hearing is an aversion to a formal treaty alliance with the U.S. But operationally, we are seeing a lot of fruit that has been born of this deeper relationship between the U.S. and India. And I think China has certainly been a driver of that.” 

On the future of Indian Ocean U.S. policy: 

“So I think that you have to think bilaterally, as well as in terms of mini-laterally in terms of these small groupings of countries. And then also formal regional architecture, like Iora, or ions.” 

On a long-term strategy: “It’s certainly good to have an assessment of where a particular region falls within the United States as larger global priorities because the U.S. certainly has higher priorities. I would argue then, that the Indian Ocean is maybe not necessary to have a fully fleshed out Indian Ocean Strategy. But I think it is useful to essentially situate where the Indian Ocean lies in terms of what the U.S. overall has on its plate and what its objectives are and what it actually 

When Governance Fails: Sovereignty Sharing in Fragile States with Professor John Ciorciari

John Ciorciari | Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy

In this week’s episode, we speak with Dr. John Ciorciari about his new book, “Sovereignty Sharing in Fragile States.” Dr. Ciorciari discusses what sovereignty sharing is, defining it as “consent-based agreements between a national government and international actors to share domestic authority,” and he goes on to outline the governance challenges around the world that motivated him to write the book. Dr. Ciorciari explains the common denominators underlying state ‘fragility’, and why he chose to focus on the ‘rule of law’ in contextualizing his analysis in the book, and why ‘rule of law’ reform is very difficult in the international setting — especially in establishing governmental institutions. Dr. Ciorciari describes incentives and downsides of sovereignty sharing for both host and donor country, whether U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan were sovereignty sharing situations, and how corruption and foreign policy have shaped sovereignty sharing.

On his book:

“I wrote the book now, because as much as ever, governance challenges in many parts of the world are really tough to address and development professionals, international security professionals and others are looking for new and innovative ways to deal with these obstacles to the rule of law and to development.”

On sovereignty:

“There’s a second face of sovereignty, that is the Westphalian conception, that sovereignty is a defense against unwanted external interference. And this is the form of sovereignty that’s most often spoken about in international political discourse, when debates arise about what the appropriate role is of international actors.”

On sovereignty sharing:

“Sovereignty sharing arrangements are consent based agreements between a national government and various international actors to share some of the domestic authorities that the government has and it’s generally does for two reasons. One is in the short term to provide better governance services in a country that is torn by conflict or otherwise struggling to meet its responsibilities. And the second goal is to bring about institutional reform.”

On fragile states and rule of law:

“But the most common bundle of characteristics that fragile states possess are a lack of, of complete territorial control, or a lack of a monopoly on the legitimate use of force.”

“A very common denominator among fragile states is a weak rule of law, where rule of law refers to constraints on the arbitrary exercise of power. And in domestic systems, the ways we usually try to impose those constraints are through independent courts through legislative checks through norms and institutions, such as a free press.”

“One reason why I pick the rule of laws or domain to focus on in the book is that these are tough cases for shared sovereignty. It’s a lot easier for a government to share its authority to hand out syringes for COVID-19 vaccines than it is for a government to partner in an effort that would strengthen independent courts that would then hold that government more accountable. And so rule of law reform is particularly difficult in international affairs and therefore the sovereignty sharing arrangements tend to be some of the most challenging.”

On manifestation of sovereignty sharing:

“It can manifest itself in joint or International Criminal Investigative commissions, as it has in say, Lebanon and Guatemala and Timor Leste day. It can take the form of hybrid courts that mix domestic and international laws and procedures and personnel, as has been done in say, Sierra Leone or Cambodia and elsewhere. And it can take the form of economic governance interventions as it did in a in a particularly interesting and somewhat unique case in Liberia, in which international advisors had co-signing authority over certain key decisions that Liberian officials made as a way to impose a sort of external check on governance.”

On sovereignty trends:

“a sovereignty sharing arrangement that welcomed a single foreign state to carry out functions like policing or criminal adjudication would look an awful lot like practices, the past that are deeply disfavored in a post colonial space.”

“Sovereignty sharing, navigating a sovereignty sharing arrangement, requires considering the interests and possible impediments from each of these different stakeholder groups.”

“Civil society also plays a role, because public opinion is going to say a lot about whether these initiatives are regarded as legitimate. And the average member of the public is generally not as attentive to these things as will be thought leaders in the media and in civil society. And so they do play important roles in in evaluating and potentially legitimating or delegitimating.”

On unsuccessful and successful sovereignty sharing:

“The main factor for success is to have what I call a supportive political equilibrium. Another way of putting this is that you need a winning political coalition that is going to support and defend the venture.”

“If the internationals performed better than the state institutions, then the venture can gain public legitimacy, which helps to protect it politically and bolsters the winning political coalition. If the venture doesn’t perform well, then it will almost certainly be regarded as illegitimate on the grounds that outsiders are calling the shots without a direct line of accountability to the population that they’re purporting to serve.”

On public approval:

“Most of these ventures start with broad objectives about governance and rule of law for the benefit of the people. That’s why we have rule of law institutions. It’s because we want the people to be protected from arbitrary power. And so if the population thinks it’s a failure, by most reasonable definition to failure.”

“Public support can be a very important part of the support, but it is not alone sufficient. There almost always has to be some support from within the government elites, and also from the international community to keep these ventures alive.”

On downsides of sovereignty sharing:

“There’s a tendency when people hear about this concept to think that to have an image that the internationals are standing by the door eager to exercise this authority and control and that they’re having to overcome domestic resistance. In many cases, international organizations and foreign states are very reluctant to take on domestic authority, because they’re afraid of the quicksand.”

“There’s also another way that internationals can get stuck. And that is that as conditions change, many of these ventures come about during periods when the governments are particularly needy or vulnerable and where their leverage is low. And that’s why they either agree to or even request, the internationals come share their authority.”

 On the incentive structure:

“A good example might be the case of US involvement in Haiti. The US government has had a special interest in what happens in Haiti because of the geographic proximity to Florida and to the United States more generally. And that has been a driving force in why the US government has been a leader of some of the sovereignty sharing elements of the International interventions in Haiti.”

“This gets back to the normative question about why sovereignty sharing is so sensitive. If it’s perceived by the host government, or by the population, that the internationals are here, because they want to take our resources, as opposed to they’re here because they want to assist in a in a humanitarian process or development then obviously, that would have effects on the missions legitimacy.”

On compromise consent for sovereignty sharing:

“It might be compromised because new states are being formed with the international community acting as a midwife, as it did in Kosovo and Bosnia and Timor Leste. It might be that a government consent is compromised, because the government is utterly desperate for support and therefore can’t bargain almost to duress like situation.”

On Iraq and Afghanistan:

“One could say in both Iraq and Afghanistan, that the status of forces arrangements that the US has signed with those two governments are also sovereignty sharing arrangements. They’re in a different domain than I look at in this book, but they certainly fit the general description.”

On political corruption:

“It’s a dicey proposition to have unelected foreigners carrying out governance functions. And that’s why I think performance is so important to legitimate these ventures. The population wouldn’t even consider conferring legitimacy on foreigners unless circumstances were quite unsatisfactory in their domestic arena.”

“If the two sides are working across purposes and, and engaging in mutual recrimination, then it’s hard to imagine that anyone would see the venture as a whole as being as being very effective.”

On sovereignty sharing and foreign policies:

“I would say it is quite common in fragile states to seal many elements or faces of shared sovereignty, the rule of law area has been one of the toughest. I would say also that it has been an important part of the foreign policies of the United States of Britain of France of Australia, in particular, since the sort of 9/11 Europe, and remains an item on the menu that is considered in dealing with fragile states. But it has had something of a recession in the last few years. The Trump administration brought a sort of reversion to realism, more respect for Westphalian sovereignty, less interest in intervening on some of these humanitarian grounds, then did the Obama administration and the Bush administration before it. We’ll see if that changes with the new Biden administration, but in other words, it’s not a fixed prong of US foreign policy.”

On sovereignty sharing in Russia and China:

“while Russia and China don’t have a lot of formal sovereignty, sharing arrangements, they absolutely have arrangements with some of their neighbors that have this informal sovereignty sharing quality.”

On sovereignty sharing and capitalism:

“There is a lot of further research that could be done, about the implications of having so many actors other than the host state government responsible for providing governance functions in fragile states, and even making governance decisions.”

On the future of sovereignty sharing:

“While the rivalry between the US and China clearly will affect the way that shared sovereignty plays out, it doesn’t obviously, to me, make it more likely or unlikely in the near term. And in particular, I think it depends on how the United States government interprets that competition and how it approaches that competition. If the US government approaches the competition by thinking that the best thing to do is to find a friendly dictator, and not to be concerned about governance, then there’s really no reason to engage in this type of venture. If the US government thinks that there may be instances in which this can help strengthen rule of law and democratic systems and that that’s in the US interest, then perhaps we would see instances in which this would be more likely.”

On likeliness of sovereignty sharing:

“A lot will depend not just on the sort of the need side of the equation, as you’re mentioning with climate change and other factors, but also on the policies that major powers adopt, particularly the United States.”

“The dearth of other attractive options means that we need to keep it on the menu, because there might not be better ways of addressing some of these challenges, like corruption and impunity in fragile states.”

100 Ideas for the First 100 Days: Establishing a D-10 and Denuclearization

Welcome to the fourth installment of The Burn Bag Podcast’s special collaboration with The Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Security and Strategy,  where we highlight contributions to the Scowcroft Center’s “100 Ideas for the First 100 Days” project. The fourth episode in the series delves into two big ideas with Ash Jain and Ambassador Alexander Vershbow. First, Ash Jain speaks on why the United States needs to establish a D-10 — a group of democracies that would work together as a steering committee to address global challenges. Second, Ambassador Vershbow discusses how the United States may want to think about denuclearizing North Korea through a “parallel track” approach.

The World’s Most Dangerous Technology: Nuclear Weapons with Dr. Kennette Benedict

Kennette Benedict | The University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy

On this episode of the Burn Bag, we speak with Dr. Kennette Benedict, current Senior Advisor and former Executive Director and Publisher of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, about nuclear weapons and the geopolitical policy challenges surrounding the “world’s most dangerous technology.” Dr. Benedict begins the conversation by giving us an overview of the origins of the atomic bomb, its usage against Japan, and how it affected war-fighting strategy and whether leaders ever actively thought about deploying the bomb after World War II. We then discuss what exactly a nuclear weapon is, and what U.S. nuclear capabilities look like in the present day. Dr. Benedict also provides us with her take on the how real the threat of nuclear war is today, and why substantial denuclearization is possible.

You can check out more of Dr. Benedict’s work here.


Did the United States anticipate a Cold War with their usage of the atomic bombing?

“When President Roosevelt was president, he understood that the Soviets—while they were an ally, during World War II—also could pose a threat to the United States after the end of World War II. Joseph Stalin was not seen as a great peacemaker, really. And so, they understood that the bomb could be used, if that came to us, as a standoff between the two countries. And then in the Truman administration, the same thing, many people understood that this would be something that could be used against the Soviets.”

On using nuclear weapons:

“The way that nuclear weapons changed the calculus was that there is no defense against nuclear weapons. Previously, the defense always had the edge, because it was always more expensive to try and overcome the defenses of a country. And so it was, deterrence was relatively simple. You just built up a huge defense, nuclear weapons are so terrible and one bomb getting through defenses causes so much damage, that there really is no defense against nuclear weapons.”

“it was all about getting back at somebody who came at you with nuclear weapons. So as you suggest, that did change military strategy. It also changed the way we thought about weapons. And it led to an extraordinary arms race between the Soviet Union and the United States. You always needed to have just a few more weapons to ensure that you had a second-strike capability against the enemy who was going to send nuclear weapons over first. So if you built more nuclear weapons for the second strike capability, the other country needed to build even more to overcome your second strike capability. And you can see this dynamic led to an ever-increasing number of nuclear weapons and the arms race of the Cold War.”

On a historical record of world leaders thinking of using the bomb:

“When we look back at the historical record, nearly every single US president has considered using nuclear weapons. This, I think, comes as a surprise to many people, because we haven’t really heard that much about it. It wasn’t always public. But through intermediaries through Secretaries of State through various measures, every president starting with President Truman, after the first dropping of the atomic bomb, has threatened use of nuclear weapons.”

“The United States has actively been threatening to use nuclear weapons since the very beginning. So it’s not a question of the kind of just deterrence. I mean, if you think of, against the Soviets, it’s deterrence in many situations, using both strategic nuclear weapons, but many times tactical, relatively small nuclear weapons in a region of the world.”

On defining a nuclear weapon:

“It’s the most dangerous technology on Earth.”

“There’s a chemical explosion chemical reaction, which ignites a reaction efficient reaction, which then causes tremendous power and x-rays that then pause a fusion reaction in a thermonuclear bomb.”

“It’s just an extraordinary amount of destructive power.”

On the threat of building nuclear bombs:

“The most plausible, other way of these weapons getting around is if a government state decides that it wants to have a nuclear weapons capability. And yeah, this information is well known to scientists all over the world, even nuclear engineers. So that, you know, North Korea was able to develop a nuclear weapons capability. Many countries have that capability. South Africa had a nuclear weapons program, Libya, had a nuclear weapons program, these two were countries that eventually gave them up with the help of international players and international community. But yes, it’s possible for any, any country to develop a nuclear weapons program. And so that’s why we’re all pretty interested in nonproliferation, preventing the proliferation of weapons, and even talking about disarmament.”

On proliferation and disarmament:

“Many thought that at the end of the Cold War, conditions were right where they were. the Soviet Union was gone. There was no presumed threat of an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States. So it seemed like that would be a perfect time to talk about really reducing drastically reducing and even getting rid of nuclear weapons altogether. That didn’t happen.”

On nuclear capabilities and policy:

“The US and Russia still have the vast majority of nuclear weapons. And what I think is probably the most significant, at least from my point of view, is that the US and Russia have these weapons on a very high launch status.”

“But at this point, having such a high state of launch readiness can be the source of accidents, and also blunders wandering into a nuclear exchange, which would really spell doom.”

On the U.S.’s relationship with China:

“I don’t see right now, anyway, any particular threat from China’s nuclear weapons. As I said, they may have as many as 3 to 4, maybe as many as 500. They still enjoyed a policy of decoupling their warheads from their missiles, so that it will take, you know, a few hours, maybe as long as a day for them to be able to launch their nuclear weapons.”

On infrastructure and cyberattacks:

“I think many people have been worried about the command-and-control system, and I have been trying to have been pretty good at defending against it. As you probably understand, any defense against a cyber-attack really is an offensive game, you need to take out essentially the cyber attacker. You need to disable their capability in order to preserve your own safety. So yeah, I think that’s one of the big issues of the day, and some people are beginning to pay much more attention to it.”

“I want to keep coming back to this because there really is no need to have our weapons so ready to go. There just is no need for that. And if there ever was, and certainly not now, what we’re doing is really putting ourselves in the path of much more danger, either through blundering into a war through a cyber-attack, or through some kind of accidental launch, just from human error from the people who are down in those silos watching over the weapons.”

On an accidental nuclear war:

“There are often tensions between states. And when you have weapons and exercises going on, at a fairly consistent level, there are human beings involved. And we know there is something called human error, and miscommunication. There’s always the possibility that we could actually end up in a nuclear exchange. Hopefully one that can be stopped fairly quickly. But that’s not entirely clear.”

“The war plans that the US has suggested is that if nuclear weapons are used, the military would be quite able and willing and perhaps even eager to use our nuclear weapons in such an incident.”

“I think there are quite a number of possibilities. And so that’s why it’s so important to think about how we reduce the launch readiness and reduce the number of nuclear weapons that we have.”

On U.S. nuclear policy:

“For instance, if there were a cyber-attack against the United States, we now say that we are willing to use nuclear weapons in retaliation. If there’s a chemical weapons attack, we say that we would use nuclear weapons in that case.”

On the possibility of a suitcase nuke:

“A suitcase nuclear weapon could actually have the destructive power of a Hiroshima or Nagasaki sized bomb. It doesn’t take a lot of plutonium, I mean, or to make a nuclear bomb, nuclear weapon, it takes a few other things, the mechanics of it and some of the chemical explosives.”

On the prospects of substantial denuclearization:

“If you negotiate in good faith, and you have the right, the right inspection regime, it can happen. Now, the bigger question, of course, is can we get to even fewer numbers of nuclear weapons in the world. The treaty that was just ratified in January to prohibit nuclear weapons was a step in the direction of trying to say what international law says, which is these nuclear weapons are really are not lawful weapons. They are weapons of genocide. They are weapons of mass slaughter.”

“I think there are examples around the world where people have decided that these certainly are not worth it. And so I am hopeful that some time, someday, they will begin to understand these weapons as the weapons of slaughter that they are, and begin to understand that for our civilizations to continue, we need to get rid of them, reduce them, make them far less important than they are.”

The Tech Threat Matrix: Disinformation, Cybersecurity, and Geopolitics with Glenn Gerstell, former NSA General Counsel

In the latest episode of The Burn Bag Podcast, we interview Glenn Gerstell, who as General Counsel, was the top lawyer at the National Security Agency between 2015 and 2020. We begin the conversation by getting Glenn’s thoughts on why he believes that online disinformation is a national security threat, why cyber-propelled disinformation is very different from the spread of ‘old-fashioned’ propaganda, and whether the 2020 Election’s disinformation was primarily bolstered by Russia or domestic actors. Glenn outlines approaches that we can take to address disinformation, and provides his own views on Section 230. We then move on into the SolarWinds hack and broader issues around cyber-espionage, and what the state of U.S. cyber-security is. We close out the conversation on the topic of grappling with privacy amidst concerns about domestic terror threats, and the clear lines that are drawn with regards to how the NSA conducts surveillance abroad. Glenn ends by talking about why the Intelligence Community needs to adapt, and how we can rethink our idea of what ‘national security’ is.

You can check out more of Glenn’s work here.

On disinformation:

“When we have a situation in which due to disinformation, online disinformation, we’re basically talking about cyber propelled online disinformation, where we have a situation in which at least as a recent polling, some significant percentage of people still question the legitimacy of the last presidential election. Apparently, more Republicans than Democrats, but whatever the number is, it apparently is, depending on which poll you read somewhere between 10% to potentially 30% of the people question the legitimacy of the last presidential election. That can’t be healthy for democracy, that can’t be good for our ability to come together to solve the many pressing problems we have.”

“So there are two areas in which online disinformation, spread both domestically and by foreign adversaries, greatly affects our national well being. And if that’s not a definition of national security, then I don’t know what is.”

On lessons of disinformation from the NSA:

“During the last election, to get to that specific question, during the last election in 2016, our nation was caught flat footed. We were the victim of a very significant, serious, sustained campaign by the Russians to interfere in our elections, using some tools available to them online, mostly through Facebook and Twitter. All of this was documented in a bipartisan five-volume study of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.”

“When it came time for the 2020 elections, which the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence have others have said we’re the safest in our history in terms of freedom from online foreign influence, and Florida foreign interference. I think we should feel pretty good about it. We didn’t see any evidence of anyone changing any vote totals anyone getting involved in altering the balloting, the tabulation of ballots, etc. There was still some, some misinformation spread online from foreign countries as well as domestically. And in some ways, perhaps the domestic problem is, is one that is more acute right now than the foreign one.”

On the 2020 election:

“Russia was still involved, and they still had some attempts at spreading both misinformation and disinformation in the 2020 election, no sign that they sought to get involved in interfering, as opposed to influencing interfering in election machinery. But it looks like most of the researchers who’ve studied social media and the and the general question of online disinformation have concluded that the disinformation that existed around the 2020 elections was mostly domestically produced.”

“The fact of the matter is that disinformation works when it falls on receptive ears. If you if you aren’t inclined to believe something, if you aren’t already suspicious of the Democrats, for example, then that note, the allegation that they’re democrats are running a child sex ring isn’t going to resonate with you. But if you really think that Democrats are evil people, well, well, maybe you might be more prone to accept that.

On foreign threats in the 2020 elections:

“I think our foreign adversaries concluded that the risk of getting caught in interfering with our democratic election machinery is not worth it to them.”

On election infrastructure:

“I think it’s important that we have local control of election machinery.”

“So maybe it’s a little inefficient, but I think it balances the needs of our American federal system. And I do not view that the structure will be an impediment to our getting a high quality cybersecurity in our election system.”

On a solution for disinformation:

“Everybody, by now has heard these debates over section 230 of the communications decency Act, which basically gives many of the social gives the social media platforms a lie of a freedom from liability for the content posted on them. It also gives them the freedom to take down accounts and not be sued. And many people have said that, that that section of the law, while it made good sense of the dawn of the internet age to help foster the internet no longer makes sense now when the internet is rife with hate speech, disinformation, etc. And, and we can do a better job online. So I think part of it is maybe amending section 230 in some in some reasonable way we could we could spend more time on that.”

“It’s no surprise that we have a lot of people who were very disappointed that Vice President Pence didn’t personally alter the electoral college vote. And if you had taken your civics lessons, you’d know that that was constitutionally impossible. But if you didn’t, and had no knowledge of how government worked and print the president, President Trump said it would be important for the vice president to nullify the electoral college vote your answer might be well, yeah, sure. So civics education has a huge role to play. I’m obviously oversimplifying it, but there are many factors here.”

On Section 230:

“With so much misinformation and disinformation spread online, and to go back to my earlier comment, it has become a national security problem for us to have information about elections and the state of our political society and the health of our country with a pandemic.”

“It makes no sense to have to allow a system to exist where someone can get away with saying, I’m sorry, I’m just not responsible for that someone else’s problem. That doesn’t make sense to me and in our democracy.”

On finding disinformation:

“I think most people, if they’re careful, are able to spot the difference. And to their credit, finally, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, others are now finally over the past largely last year, really taking great efforts to use their own automated systems to take down fake accounts to strike out disinformation when it is online.”

On the SolarWinds Hack:

“Russia took advantage of a normal update in solar wind software, solar winds, manufacturers, some software that is used for internet management by many, many, many companies that has 10s of 1000s of customers in government and an industry throughout the United States. And it injected some malware into their ordinary updates.”

On the implications of privacy and domestic sort of surveillance:

“But we could take two way sharing of information, do this in a very rapid way. have automated systems, look at these, these what’s called threat intelligence, these signs of compromised signs of infection, whether it’s domestic or foreign, and then very quickly, spit out the answer disseminated widely so that individual computer owners will be able to perhaps even in an automated way, reconfigure their firewalls to block what’s now been identified as malware or malicious website. Cloud providers can stop instantly stop connections to that malicious website.”

On government surveillance:

“We have some very, very important principles in this country established by the Fourth Amendment as it’s been interpreted over the 200 odd years by the by the courts, to draw very, very clear lines about the authority of government relative to American citizens. The Fourth Amendment protects American citizens, whether they’re located in the United States or overseas. And certainly at NSA, we were very careful to make sure our intelligence surveillance was focused on foreigners, not Americans.”

“I want to be very clear with this suggesting that we in any way, shape or form weaken the Fourth Amendment by even one molecule. But I do think we equally need to recognize that we do have a challenge in the United States. And I think we’re going to need to confront that in terms of domestic terrorism and domestic disinformation in a way that’s consistent with the Fourth Amendment. I think we’ve got some tools to do so. But it’s going to require some hard work.”

On addressing new national security challenges:

“And so the pandemic showed us that we now need to have better intelligence about public health crises. The pandemic also showed us what happens when international trade and supplies, shipping and logistics are disrupted. And we saw how vulnerable our country was whether it was you whether it was what we for a number of weeks, we couldn’t get toilet paper on our supermarket shelves to something far more significant, which is right now we’re running a shortage of semiconductor chips, which is affecting the production of automobiles in Detroit.”

“The pandemic illustrated these global dependencies that we all sort of knew about but really became so manifest when there were disruptions in these global dependencies. So I think this shows us that our national well-being due to largely due to technology is now so globally intertwined with so many interdependencies that we can’t just say, ‘Oh, national security is worrying about Russia and North Korean missiles, or Chinese submarines.’”

“No Easy Answer”: Counterintelligence at Home and Abroad with former FBI Officials Bill Priestap and Holden Triplett

On this week’s episode of The Burn Bag, we talk  counterintelligence with Bill Priestap, former Head of Counterintelligence at the FBI, and Holden Triplett, former Director of Counterintelligence on the National Security Council. Priestap and Triplett give an overview on counterintelligence, highlighting how it has changed over the past 20 years, and what types of operations the FBI has worked to respond to. They discuss the FBI’s role in thwarting espionage along with outlining what coordination looks like between the FBI and other agencies, such as the CIA in addressing these foreign threats. Priestap and Triplett highlight how extensive efforts are by foreign adversaries to recruit Americans to spy on their own country, and what the general threat of this has and does look like. Both dive into some modern day challenges, giving us a look at corporate espionage, the controversy behind Confucius Institutes, and developments around cyber-espionage. We wrap the episode with a discussion how we can address domestic threats, as evident in the January 6th insurrection and similar threats.

On general counterintelligence:

“I think there’s a lot of a lot of misconceptions about what it is or is not. Let me start with the most basic form, and that is the idea of, it’s basically efforts to counter the activities of hostile foreign intelligence services. Just like its name, its name implies, but what does that really mean. Well, I think it might be helpful to take a step back for a second. If you think in terms of there’s all these nations around the world, and they’re all jostling with each other for influence of power. Some nations are simply trying to retain their place in the world. Sometimes some nations are trying to expand their place some nations are actually interested in conquering other nations, regardless of what the particular nation is trying to do though, what they all have in common is they love to keep apprised of what other nations are doing.”

“I’d argue that over the last 20 years especially the whole intelligence and counter intelligence realm has absolutely exploded. And so today it’s not just about state secrets, either obtaining another nation state secrets or trying to stop somebody from obtaining yours. Today it’s about seeking advantages in every important area of life…”

On the FBI’s role regarding espionage:

“The FBI is the primary investigative agency for the federal government. So when you have crimes that are so violations of US law but they might happen outside the actual territory of the United States. That’s still the FBI is territory in terms of they are supposed to do that investigation. So often it gets a little bit complicated where you have many cases they’ll have an intelligence piece as well as an investigative piece if that’s domestic that’s purely the FBI, if there’s if it’s overseas, then it gets a little bit more complicated, some of which I can’t really get into today.”

“There’s often a whole lot more going on than actually becomes public.”

“In my mind success is retaining whatever advantages we have to retaining our state secrets not letting them out the door and a government sense, retaining our intellectual property and trade secrets and what other ever other information, our businesses possess that gives them an advantage, globally, over businesses from other countries.”

On coordination between the FBI and CIA:

“Agencies are set up in different ways, And you know at the end of the day, the CIA’s main job is to provide intelligence to policymakers, the FBI his main job is to mitigate threats right to stop these threats and so as a result of that sometimes different missions, there’s different aims and how they would do that.”

“And so there’s all sorts of ways that that is coordinated really kind of top to bottom, from a leadership level to kind of the ground, workers, again I can’t get into the details of how exactly that works. But I can assure you that it’s certainly in these areas in the intelligence world and counter intelligence, we really are, shoulder to shoulder in terms of looking at problems and try to work out solutions.”

On the extensiveness of the American citizen recruitment process by foreign governments:

“Obviously China is really kind of at the vanguard of this, where they’ve made advances that simply just weren’t possible without having kind of the speed with which these, these changes advancements are making without doing this type of espionage.”

“Cyber is a wonderful example of that where it’s given people, really a lot of access to individuals information that just would not have been possible from a resource standpoint, you just can’t avoid that many people, but I really want something that don’t I really try to emphasize with with individuals is to understand that there’s very few sort of brute force cyber attacks that happen, they’re almost always hybrid, someone is involved, a person on the inside either wittingly or unwittingly, either they are, they’re falling for some spoofed email or they’re being socially engineered, or they’re cooperating in some sort of way that may never come to light.”

On the role of intelligence agencies around universities:

“Certainly the universities were always producing a significant amount of science and technology, information or new research and development that we’re doing that was of interest to the Soviet Union or to other countries out there, and they were absolutely targeting universities.”

“And the idea is that China is heavily targeting universities for a number of things, not just for some sort of research but trying to police discourse on campus, they’re looking to recruit, current students and professors in order to kind of control, conversations, certainly about China, or about different types of spheres and some universities where they kind of feeder universities to the government they’re looking to recruit people early so that they have their kind of clutches into them before they get into government space.”

On the success of foreign intelligence agencies recruiting college students:

“And so people really need to understand, universities, you know, the point isn’t that these people are all threats by any means and the vast, vast majority of them are not are here for one reason and that’s to learn and to be part of the community, but they are extremely vulnerable, and so not recognizing that vulnerability is a major mistake. So, thinking about how to protect them, how to prevent them from being exploited is where universities really need to be right in regards to how How successful have they been I, I think anybody in the US who, who thinks they have an answer to that, I guess.”

On corporate espionage:

“There’s even more that the government knows about that we’re not reading about every day.”

“The government has very limited resources overall against the scope or the size over this threat. And so it can only identify so much. It can only work and investigate so much. How many other things are going on that nobody is paying attention to? How damaging is that to our country?”

How can businesses wrangle this problem:

“It can get misdiagnosed as a cyber problem. So an individual, an employee, uses their employee access to take in information, happen to do it from a computer where a lot of this is stored and then it says “Oh we have a technical issue” right? So that’s a misdiagnosis of the issue unfortunately.”

“So we’re starting to see that we’re getting close to the tipping point where companies realize that they’re not going to get very far with just doing cyber security or just doing facility security. They’re going to need to understand the access that their employees have and how to protect them from being exploited.”

On espionage harming COVID-19 response:

“There’s a whole number of countries that use their intelligence services to prove their makeup and getting information, and use it to pull in more information on COVID-19 or the vaccine.”

“If the vaccines weren’t going to be sold but were just going to be given away anyway, well, there’s an awful lot of good will that can be derived when you’re giving something as important as a vaccine to a country what have you. If it was our vaccine and we’re not selling it, but we’re giving it away, we’ll lose all the good will we would have garnered on our own deciding to give it away. My attitude is, even if they want it for humane purposes, they’re still doing activity that is absolutely harming us. It’s strengthening them and harming us. It’s unacceptable.”

Greater threat of foreign prosecution:

“I think China has been detaining individuals for a long time. And it has very little to do with any type of violation of Chinese law despite how they may portray it.”

“If a foreign country unjustly detains one of our citizens, that to me, is beyond serious. I don’t have the answer, I’m not in government in regard to what the appropriate response is, but it certainly deserves one.”

On solar winds and cyber space warfare”

“One of the reasons it’s so attractive is because it’s cost-effective. Another is that attribution can be extremely difficult. You don’t actually have a person you can physically get your hands on…I think this presents a number of issues not just for the FBI and the U.S. government, but for all governments. This is extremely difficult to protect against.”

On the FBI response to domestic partisan attacks:

“This is something that has been a tried-and-true method of the Soviets before them. The Russians, and the Chinese use this as a way to sow discord in the United States. They look for these divisions. They look for these ways in which they can further that divide and accentuate it. And that, in their mind is undermining the efficacy of our system.”

“To me, the government isn’t the answer. This is a broader societal problem that our adversaries are looking to exploit. But at the end of the day, the American people have to fix this problem.”

100 Ideas for the First 100 Days: AI, Cyber Alliances, and Health Security

Welcome to the third installment of The Burn Bag Podcast’s special collaboration with The Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Security and Strategy,  where we highlight contributions to the Scowcroft Center’s “100 Ideas for the First 100 Days” project. The third episode in the series delves into three big ideas with Robert Manning, Safa Shahwan Edwards, and James Danoy.  First, Robert Manning speaks on why we need to harness artificial intelligence for cooperation, in order to create a regulatory regime for the rapidly proliferating technology. Second, Safa Shahwan Edwards discusses why a cybersecurity alliance is necessary given the rise of digital governance and disruptive technologies. Lastly, James Danoy highlights why new perspectives on national security require that the Health and Human Services Department be made a permanent member of the intelligence community. 

“In True Face”: A Conversation with Jonna Mendez, former CIA Chief of Disguise

Jonna Mendez | The Moscow Rules | Jordan Harbinger

On this week’s episode of the Burn Bag, we talk to Jonna Mendez, former CIA Chief of Disguise, about her work in the CIA. Mendez discusses her reasons for joining the agency, her time as an intelligence officer, and the history behind the Office of Technical Service (OTS). She analyzes the successes and failures of the products that the OTS produced and delves into the measures she and others had to take to thwart intelligence services in Russia, Cuba, and other areas where CIA assets were active. Jonna highlights the importance of human intelligence, revealing to us what the relationship was like between officer and agent, and speculates on how this form of intelligence may have changed given technological advances. We also chat to Jonna about the intricacies of the disguises she made, and why the “Tom Cruise peel” from Mission Impossible should be the “Jonna Mendez peel” — as she details a famous meeting she had with President George H.W. Bush in which she demonstrated the efficacy of facial masks. We close the conversation with a discussion about the true story behind Academy Award winning movie Argo — as Jonna talks about her late husband Tony Mendez (played by Ben Affleck in Argo) and his role in the Canadian Caper operation during the Iranian Hostage Crisis in 1980.

Jonna will be releasing a new book, “In True Face”, in the near future, and you can check out more of her work and her writing here.

On first joining the CIA:

  • “This Office of Technical Service, we were basically a lot like the queue in the James Bond movies. We supplied our case officers, our operational officers, with all of the technical mechanical wear with all they needed to conduct their operations. A lot of it then was photography with unique cameras, unique films you everything about it was unique.”
  • “If I count back, you said 25 years, it was actually 27 years. Because nobody at CIA leaves after five or four. If they do, you know, they really, really messed up. Everyone stays forever.”

On the reality of working in OTS

  • “That’s part of working at the CIA. You can save the world on Tuesday and you have to just go home Tuesday night at dinner and have a beer and go to bed…You know you can never acknowledge what’s done. We had the audio people, we had a huge section that did documents. And they did a lot of other things, not just documents. They could copy almost anything.”
  • “So yeah, I think you can say it’s a little bit like Q in the James Bond movies, but there was a difference. And that was, we didn’t just hand this step off to James. Because James was gonna, he was gonna go out, he was either gonna break it, he’s gonna lose it, forget how it works, or it might just malfunction, all of those things.”
  • “So the job was really fun. And that was part of the fun was the traveling went everywhere.”

On the successes and failures of the OTS products

  • “The failures we were always worried about was that our agents would be arrested, not us. We typically had some kind of documentation, we were more or less protected, we might be dismissed from a country. We very seldom with one of our people go to jail, almost never. But the foreign agents, depending on where they were, it was certainly going to jail. If they were in Moscow, they would go for some sort of show trial, and they would execute. And they did execute. The 1985. The year the spy over James CIA officer who was a traitor, turned over 12 names of Russian agents working for us, and they shut them off. They killed them all. So is life or death.”
  • “You wouldn’t even know that there was a dragon, even at the CIA?”

On approaching relationships

  • “It’s always a personal relationship. It’s the reason that people are willing to risk their lives, they’re not going to do it through a text, they’re going to do it through meeting with someone who they can kind of bond with and share these goals with.”
  • “But there are things that they bring to us that we can’t teach. And there’s this sort of charismatic character that we’re always looking for. And you guys, you would know them in your own life, you meet somebody in a bar, and you talk to him for 15 minutes. And you have this feeling that you just might end up being good friends for a long time. People who just bond with you, there are people who do that, just without even realizing it. We were looking for those guys.”
  • “These are people that could meet people easily, form bonds easily and, relate on a human level to the people they’re working with. They also had to be problem solvers. They should probably be world travelers, they more than likely had some languages under their belt. These are not people fresh out of college. These are people who had worked in some industry and had some piece of capabilities that could account for why they were there.”

On facial disguises

  • “Within the last four or so years, we’ve understood that we could actually talk about and show pictures of masks. And so we do the mask in question, the one I wore into the Oval Office briefing..”
  • “But they’ve airbrushed the mask out of them. on my wall, I have a picture of me in front of the President’s desk, and I have my left my finger up. And it’s looks like it looks like I’m lecturing him. I’m actually holding the mask. And people come in my house and it’s discreetly away in my office. And they say, ‘What are you telling him?’ I said, ‘Well, you know, it was a briefing. That’s my mask story.’

On creating uniqueness sand specificity OTS products

  • “When I started in disguise, we were using some masks that were stunt double masks from Hollywood. They literally came out of Hollywood…we made a contract with a man out there, a famous man.”
  • “The people we were working against were armed; they were going to shoot us at our agent, they were dangerous. The narcotics, the cartels, were just oh, you know, off the chart. So we started looking at disguise as almost a form of body armor that would protect you and would protect the agent. Sometimes we would make a mask for the foreign agent.”