Reopening the World: A Conversation with GEN (Ret.) John Allen, Brookings Institution President

John R. Allen

In this week’s episode of The Burn Bag Podcast, co-hosts A’ndre and Ryan speak to retired Four Star General and current Brookings Institution President John Allen about how we ‘reopen’ both the United States and the world, in a conversation oriented around Brookings’ ‘Reopening’ project. General Allen discusses why a global approach to addressing the pandemic is necessary and why U.S. leadership is unique in its capability to build a global coalition to combat the crisis. We dig into what the General and the Brookings Institution mean when they refer to ‘reopening’ as opposed to mere ‘recovery’, why an ‘America First’ foreign policy hindered our response to the pandemic over the past year, and the opportunities the Biden Administration has in broader diplomacy in addressing the pandemic in a multilateral fashion. A’ndre and Ryan talked about several other issues with General Allen, including the future of the U.S.-China relationship, and why General Allen doesn’t believe the recent tensions are necessarily indicative of a new Cold War. General Allen, the co-author of Turning Point: Policymaking in the Era of Artificial Intelligence, also discusses artificial intelligence as a new medium through which war-fighting will take place, providing an insightful take on another huge challenge that will only rise in prominence in the years to come.

Lessons in Leadership: A Conversation with GEN (Ret.) Stanley McChrystal

File:Stanley McChrystal MG 2003.jpg

In this week’s episode of The Burn Bag Podcast, co-hosts A’ndre and Ryan speak to retired Four Star General Stanley McChrystal about his views on leadership. We discuss the topic with the General by drawing on lessons in leadership from his own career, looking at how General McChrystal spearheaded the transformation of JSOC, or the Joint Special Operations Command, to effectively adjust to new battlefields and circumstances that insurgencies wrought. Under his leadership, JSOC went from conducting 4 raids a month to 300 raids a month, and captured Iraqi Leader Saddam Hussein and killed Al Qaeda in Iraq Leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.  General McChrystal gives us his take on the leadership qualities that made both of these men so lethal and deadly to American forces, and digs into how al-Zarqawi’s leadership in particular transcended his practical duties and made him in some ways more dangerous than Osama bin Laden — even after death. We then bring the conversation to contemporary issues, getting the General’s take on how COVID-19 and the fight against terrorism are similar, and how common failures have exacerbated the challenges associated with each. Lastly, General McChrystal outlines how the military needs to rethink what the ‘traditional’ soldier is in light of new challenges across a range of domains, that include cyberspace,  and how his work now with the McChrystal Group is furthering the ‘battlefield to the boardroom’ mentality.

On Whether Saddam Hussein Could’ve Maintained His Power if We Didn’t Invade: “I think that he would have maintained his power for a while. A few more years, because in reality, there was a logic to it. In the region, he was a balancing act against Iran, with their nefarious actions. At the same time, I think much about Saddam Hussein had been delegitimized worldwide, so it was going to be increasingly difficult for him to maintain power in the long-term. I think our invasion was a mistake. I think it wasn’t necessary. I think we could’ve contained him over time, and his regime would’ve either changed slowly or dropped suddenly. I think that by us going in, we actually created more problems than we solved.”

What Made al-Zarqawi so Unique, Compared to Bin Laden: “Zarqawi created this network or coalition of different groups, little locally run parts of Al Qaeda in Iraq that connected themselves by modern information technology… instead of being a pyramid shaped hierarchy, with Mister or Miss Big at the top giving detailed instructions for what people should do, he gave broad goals, he set a general tone, and then he asked each of those organizations to operate more or less autonomously. What that did, was it made them very fast, it also made them very resilient. If you hit one part, even if you hit them devastatingly hard, it didn’t bring down the whole, it didn’t even slow it down. He created this very elastic network, with himself as this moral leader, and as practical leader in pushing general strategy. It allowed him to become both a practical leader, and a symbolic leader… if you look at any time after 2005 or 2006 in Iraq, all the way up to the rise of ISIS, if you asked those Al Qaeda in Iraq or later ISIS members who their hero was, it was not Osama Bin Laden. He wasn’t the figure, the mythological figure that they admired – it was Zarqawi. By setting that tone and expectation, he created an entire cadre of terrorist leaders, who in many ways followed his example. The decapitation strategy, which is so tempting for many counterterrorist forces… in fact doesn’t work, unless you can do it in a very short amount of time, and if you could take out all of them… I’ve been on the record saying, we killed Zarqawi too late, and that’s exactly what happened.”

Why We Killed al-Zarqawi too Late: “In many ways, we started to chase Zarqawi in the fall of 2003 and 2004, and we were after him hard for two and a half years. His efforts, but also our efforts, helped to raise his stature, helped to make him more famous and more effective. We put a big bounty on his head… we never got anyone to provide any information for that, but that also reinforced him, that made it seem that in the minds of people, that he must be really special. Because he was able to survive until the June of 2006, by the time we killed him, the damage in many ways had been done. We  created this huge figure, he had been able to push the idea of a Sunni-Shia Civil War. So when he was killed… it was not enough to turn off the progress that he had already created, or even to erase the figure that even in death he became.”

On Why Killing Bin Laden was a Necessity: “I think the killing of Osama bin Laden and al-Baghdadi was necessary but insufficient. By 2011, Osama bin Laden was as much of an idea and a symbol, as he was an operational leader… just the fact that he had survived, just the fact, a full decade after the 2001 9/11 strikes, he is still out there and still talking, was a symbol to much of the world of the strength of Al Qaeda and the weakness of Al Qaeda’s opponents in taking him on. Bringing him to justice through capture or killing, was necessary. You had to take the idea that you could live with impunity, after doing the kinds of things he had done, you had to put that to bed. At the same time, because he had already done the acts and then survived for a decade and continued to talk and motivate others, you couldn’t undo what he had done. So it didn’t suddenly take away all that Osama Bin Laden was, or what he’d done. The same was true with al-Baghdadi. The longer they survive, the more impotent they make their enemies seem, and the longer they have time to get into people’s psyche. Again, I think it’s important that they be brought to justice, because you don’t want any future terrorist to think that there’s a retirement home where old terrorists go to comfortably live the rest of their years; you want anyone who makes the stark choice to do that, to understand that it will end violently and suddenly. But that mindset won’t really affect the larger population’s understanding, that for a very long time they were able to push their agenda, and their name, the fact that we’re still talking about them, shows the level of some of their power.”

On Reforming the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC): “We used to always say that it takes a network to defeat a network, we became a network that operated like a machine with very decentralized decision-making and action, with this high-level of transparency of information across this geographically dispersed force, and that allowed us to be able to see, connect, coordinate, and execute at a speed we never could’ve. When I took over in the fall of 2003, we were doing about 4 raids a month – two years later we were doing 300 a month, or ten a night, and we kept that pace up for two-and-a-half more years. The entire nature of how we operated changed, and the culture had to shift along with it.”

On the Similarities Between Terrorism and COVID-19: “A terrorist organization like Al Qaeda is an idea that spreads quickly among people In fertile ground, so you have a viral opportunistic nature to the threat, which will grow very rapidly if you allow it, and it will be lethal if you give it the opportunity to focus on elements that aren’t able to defend themselves. They’re also a bit amorphous, you can’t see them, you know they’re around, so they create fear and they create uncertainty, because of the nature of them. In actuality, a terrorist network and a virus have more similarities than differences.”

On the Failure of Leadership in COVID-19: “If you go back and read the 9/11 Commission… the failure, was literally a failure of imagination. The information to stop the 9/11 attack existed in the U.S. Government. All that had to  happen was to connect the dots, and if people were to be able to connect the dots, and to draw some pretty rational conclusions, the physical act of stopping the attack would’ve been pretty simple. But we couldn’t do that… the different pieces of the U.S. Government just couldn’t connect effectively enough, and put together a picture and act on it.

If we go back to COVID, we say, ‘well, we’ve never seen COVID-19 before, and so it’s right that this a black swan that’s appeared’ – that’s absolutely untrue. We have been approached by viruses countless times in history. Even just in months before COVID-19 arrived, Crimson Contagion, an exercise, was hosted by HHS and it had a scenario remarkably like COVID-19. Public health understood the threat of an airborne virus transmitted between humans, we knew it was inevitable, that it’d come on a certain periodic nature, it would assault society, and we actually knew the right answer.

We knew how to curtail that, we knew the public health measures that would have to occur, but we didn’t do it. If we knew the threat, and we knew it was inevitably coming, and we knew what to do about it, why didn’t we act more effectively? And you compare the American response to other countries, we don’t come out very well. It was largely because we decided to fight it as fifty different states… almost individually, we didn’t connect information wise, we didn’t have national leadership that provided a clear narrative, a set of priorities, the inspiration we needed to do it.

What you really needed against COVID-19, was to mobilize America, to mobilize us in our hearts and minds, and then practically, things like sharing ventilators, to not have a competitive process with states bidding against eachother, and then a political discourse that makes a threat that’s anything but political, suddenly become political. We made ourselves more vulnerable than we had to be. The same happened with terrorism, [but] we got better about it. If a society can’t come together to coordinate a response, it will be defeated in detail, and we’ll lose far more than we need to.”

On How the Idea of a Soldier Needs to Change: “You’ve got to do three things: I think the first thing is that you’ve got to challenge that model, that you say we’re going to bring people in with not just technical skills, but different mindsets, laterally into the force. If someone is a good cyber person, we’re not going to make them come in as a private, we’re going to bring them in as a more senior level and we’re going to operate them and not treat them like they’re some outsider. They’re going to need to be soldiers in the military culture – and they’re not going to be there for twenty years, they may be there for three years. Lateral entry is going to be key, even in the officer ranks and I would argue the senior officer ranks, we should do that and I think we’d be a better force for that.

“I think also in our vertical structure, we’re going to have to look to bring in young people with those skills and those that have different skills, we’ve got to let them mature differently than we had. Not every person as they go through their military career, should have to look and act and think like the traditional soldier – and that’s okay. I think we’ll be just fine if we create some people who aren’t quite the same. A lot of people will be threatened by that idea.

“The last thing is that I think we’re going to have to partner with outside organizations, we’ll need to put a lot more military members out in businesses and technology businesses so that they learn, they develop connections, and we’re going to have to bring the same in, we’re going to have to partner with them much tighter than we had before.”

Big Tech, Populism, and Fake News: Social Media and Politics with Dr. Joyojeet Pal

Joyojeet Pal

In this special episode of The Burn Bag, Dr. Joyojeet Pal speaks to us about the intersection of social media and politics, especially in light of the spread of #FakeNews and the recent banning of President Donald Trump from Twitter. An Associate Professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Information, Dr. Pal starts out by giving us a primer on how politicians like Barack Obama first used social media, before digging deep into populist messaging on Twitter and other platforms by leaders like Donald Trump and Narendra Modi. Our conversation further dives into how #FakeNews and other extreme speech spreads so quickly, and why it’s so effective at infiltrating the minds of so many, giving us some key examples of how this has worked.  We then evaluate whether social media companies can actually fight the spread of misinformation, what the implications of the Trump social media ban are, and how Big Tech and Governments are not seeing eye to eye, and perhaps even may not see eye to eye in the future, given the interests of the tech companies.

Defining ‘Resilience’: A Conversation with Dr. Julia Nesheiwat, former Homeland Security Advisor

Julia Nesheiwat - Wikipedia

In this special episode of The Burn Bag Podcast, we speak with Dr. Julia Nesheiwat, former Homeland Security Advisor (official title: Deputy Assistant to the President for Homeland Security & Resilience) to President Donald J. Trump. Julia discusses the Administration’s response to COVID-19 with respects to the domain of homeland security, in addition to discussing her prior experience in working on resilience, especially with regards to climate change. Having served as the Chief Resilience Office of Florida, Julia had a unique insight on responses to the unique challenges posed by climate change. We draw on Julia’s expertise in her current position in getting her take on what the top threats to the United States are, and then we touch a bit on one of Julia’s past lives, when she was a key official involved in hostage negotiation. Lastly, Julia gives us her take on whether the Trump Administration achieved the goals it outlined for itself in the 2017 National Security Strategy.

Inside the Far Right: Dissecting the Assault on the Capitol and Domestic Terror Threats with NYT Magazine Contributor Janet Reitman

Janet Reitman (@janetreitman) | Twitter

The January 6th assault on the U.S. Capitol Building by a mob of far right extremists looking to overturn the results of the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election was shocking to many, but not necessarily unexpected to some. A’ndre and Ryan speak to Janet Reitman, New York Times Magazine contributor, who is engaged in research on extremism, the far right, and domestic terrorism, to better understand why the events of the 6th happened, and why it’s *not* merely a one-off blip or a culmination of trends, but rather a new marker in the intensity of this threat. Janet provides her perspectives on what the ‘Far Right’ is, why it’s a threat (relative to the Far Left), and the complications in dealing with these domestic threats. Janet also discusses the lack of effort by the U.S. Government to adequately identify the radicalization of far right actors, but warns against “another War on Terror,” instead calling for a national conversation on this complicated topic to understand what is going on, and how we can halt radicalization.

From the Director’s Chair: Javed Ali in Conversation with LTG (Ret.) James Clapper, former Director of National Intelligence

James Clapper - Wikipedia

In the latest edition of this mini-series, From the Director’s Chair, Javed Ali (former NSC Senior Director of Counterterrorism) speaks with his old boss and mentor LTG James Clapper, who served as the Director of National Intelligence between 2010 and 2017, in addition to prior stints as Director of both the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency. LTG Clapper discusses his long career in the military and in the intelligence community, providing his perspectives on the big changes in the intelligence community from Vietnam through the Gulf War through today, using his career as the lens with which to view these from. LTG Clapper also discusses the creation of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the subsequent integration of the IC, and how the prior arrangement that required the Director of Central Intelligence to both oversee the CIA and other agencies was fundamentally difficult.

Top Risks 2021 with Ian Bremmer, Eurasia Group President and Founder

Dr. Ian Bremmer - Concordia

In this very special episode of The Burn Bag Podcast, A’ndre and Ryan speak with Ian Bremmer, President and Founder of the Eurasia Group, who is widely seen as bringing the trade of political risk to prominence as an academic discipline and to practical usage in financial markets, in addition to introducing a range of other concepts that are widely applied in geopolitical conversations today. Bremmer speaks with The Burn Bag about the Eurasia Group’s newest annual forecast of the top political risks that may affect the world in 2021. In this conversation, Ian digs into what he sees as Risk #1: #46, U.S. President Joe Biden, and how the trends leading to the recent assault on the U.S. Capitol Building may complicate Biden’s Presidency and the broader U.S. political situation. Ian also discusses the other major risks, including COVID, climate change, the U.S.-China relationship, technology, and the future of the European Union. You can find the link to the full “Top Risks 2021” report here.

From the Director’s Chair: Javed Ali in Conversation with Chris Costa, former NSC Senior Director

In the first episode of this new mini-series, From the Director’s Chair, our Executive Producer Javed Ali, who served as the former Senior Director of Counterterrorism on the NSC, interviews his former colleague Chris Costa, who currently serves as the Executive Director of the International Spy Museum. Costa served 34 years in government, with 25 of those years being for the U.S. Army, retiring as a colonel, and then holding a series of civil service positions in the government’s special operations community, wrapping it up with a year-long stint as Special Assistant to the President for Combating Terrorism, beginning in early 2017. Javed discusses this career at length with Chris — a career that Javed got to experience first hand, as the two men were colleagues and worked together on these issues of counterterrorism. We also get Chris’ insights on the state of U.S. counterterrorism policy, and what we might expect in the Biden Administration.

Diplomacy, Transitions, and the New Year: A Conversation with Ambassador Tom Shannon, former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs

Ambassador Thomas A. Shannon, Jr. | Freedom House

In The Burn Bag’s first episode of 2021, A’ndre and Ryan chat with Ambassador Thomas Shannon, the former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (the third highest ranking position at the State Department), who held the position of Career Ambassador and was the highest ranking member of the U.S. Foreign Service, and also served briefly as Acting Secretary of State in-between the tenures of John Kerry and Rex Tillerson. Ambassador Shannon tells us about that Obama-Trump White House transition, the flight of senior State Department officials at the time, and how he ‘formally dissented’ with a Trump Administration immigration policy at the tail-end of his service at State. Ambassador Shannon goes on to provide us with his take on what the incoming Biden Administration’s foreign policy may likely look like, and how President-Elect Biden would need to build a bipartisan foreign policy while rebuilding confidence and engagement with U.S. allies. We then dig into some of the biggest geopolitical challenges that the Biden Administration will face: COVID-19, climate change, state threats, migration, the Indian Ocean, the Arctic — and even space. The Ambassador also provides with his some perspectives on his own career, and his words of wisdom on the importance of these challenges to the vitality of the ‘American Project’.


00:02:33 ON WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A DIPLOMAT: “The work … is vast because it has to do with understanding countries, cultures, political systems that are foreign and unusual to us. It requires language skills, the ability to move easily in complicated and sometimes very dangerous environments. But it is also, from my point of view, an incredibly satisfying career because it puts you at the juncture where the United States meets the world. It’s about helping the United States understand that world and then projecting the United States into it.”

00:07:12 ON THE US BUILDING THE CAPABILITY TO COLLABORATE WITH OTHER COUNTRIES: “The United States has to cultivate partners, many of which see the world differently than we do, and therefore we have to build a capability to understand that point of view and have some empathy for it… I came away from both the beginning and the end of my career believing that diplomacy is important, that being an American diplomat is a high calling, but that it’s a demanding calling because it requires you not only to understand well your own country and understand what your own country’s values are, but to be able to place them in wherever I happened to be at that moment, whether it was in Guatemala in the mid 80s, or whether it was in Brazil well into the 21st century.”

00:10:19 ON THE IMPORTANCE OF DIPLOMACY: “It was unusual (transition) for several reasons. First, the incoming President Donald J. Trump was not a politician by profession and was bringing with him into government an array of people who had not served in government before, and who understood their role and purpose. Not so much in terms of continuity, but in terms of disrupting what they considered to be long term patterns of governance that they thought were ultimately harmful to the United States. This was especially true in the area of foreign policy. The Department of State really had to prepare itself to engage with an incoming secretary and an incoming president who did not understand the trajectory of American power as we did. In fact, we’re going to not only articulate that trajectory in a different way, but we’re going to act in ways that were unusual if not uncomfortable for many diplomats, such as myself, who had spent decades working on a different model of American engagement in the world. In this regard, it required an effort to build working relationships with the incoming team to ensure that the nominee for the Secretary at the time, Rex Tillerson, had all the information that he needed for his confirmation hearings. Then as he awaited confirmation in the Senate that he had access to everybody, he needed access in the Department in order to be briefed for issues related to the transition and that would become his responsibility once assumed the position of Secretary of State, but also helping the new White House understand how the State Department was prepared to engage it. and then helping this Department itself understand its constitutional purpose and role of respecting the results of that election and trying to do the best we could by the new president.”

00:13:07 ON THE IMPACT OF MASS FLIGHT OF SENIOR OFFICIALS: “The decision of some Foreign Service officers to retire or to leave the Foreign service and the decision by the incoming administration to ask others to leave lasted more than just 12 days. In fact it lasted a considerable amount of time as the incoming secretary began to understand better the Department as a bureaucracy and as an institution and as he, his team and the President began trying to put people into place in important positions around the Department and tried to engage and the larger interagency process that defines how foreign policy is made and how decisions are presented to that to the president. In every change of administration there are personnel changes, but in this particular transition, the personal changes I think were larger, they were broader, and they were more significant in terms of the impact on the State Department as an institution. From my point of view, it was regrettable, because it limited the early ability of the Department to have the leadership structures in place to get the job done that needed to get done. I was the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs. There are 700 secretary positions at the Department. The Under Secretary for Political Affairs is… the number three person in the Department. But during that that time, once Secretary Tillerson came on board and then after Deputy Secretary John Sullivan came on board later that year, I was the only Senate confirmed Under Secretary from almost my entire tenure there. I retired in June of 2018… only at the very end was an Under Secretary for International Security and Nonproliferation Confirmed by the Senate. This lack of Senate confirmed personnel had a real impact on the effective functioning of the Department.”

00:21:59 ON THE AMBASSADOR’S DISSENT ON TRUMP’S IMMIGRATION POLICY: “At the end of the day, it was clear that the White House wanted to pull the Temporary Protective Status from these people and I disagreed. What you described is my quiet dissent was an effort to manage a process inside the Department where we called on both of our embassies and our relevant experts in the Department to give the Secretary of State the best advice that we could about the foreign policy impact in Central America if we were to pull temporary protective status and spark, what would be the largest forced deportation of people in American history of a category of people in American history. I knew that the White House was keen on doing this and therefore I thought that Secretary Tillerson needed to understand the foreign policy consequences of it and why I thought it would be so damaging, not only to communities inside the United States where these people lived, but also to our relationships with the Central American countries. I sent to the Secretary a memo displaying out what I considered to be the rationale for extending temporary protective status and arguing that whatever the White House wanted to do, it was the State Department’s job to provide to the Secretary and ultimately the President, the best foreign policy advice possible. I did not believe that the best foreign policy advice meant removing Temporary Protective Status from these individuals. I lost that debate. The secretary did recommend to the President that the conditions under which Temporary Protective Status had been granted at different times in history no longer applied and therefore Temporary Protective Status should be lifted. I disagreed with that decision, then I disagree with it today.”

00:24:56 ON HIS VIEW ON THE BIDEN TEAM: “First, it’s important to understand that in the President-elect we have a president with more legislative experience than any president since Lyndon Johnson and more foreign affairs experience than any president since Dwight Eisenhower. This is a man who knows the world, who knows American politics and the American legislature. And someone whose time in government has allowed him both in the Senate and in the White House as Vice President, to work with, mentor and develop a whole group of women and men who know how government works, who have worked across several administrations on very tough foreign policy issues. And as I look at the team that the President-elect is naming, I’m very impressed. This is a stellar group of people who have a lot of experience and maybe more importantly, have worked together. It’s true that many of them work together in the Obama administration, but others work together in the Clinton administration. When I first met Tony Blinken, it was in 1999 at the White House at the end of the Clinton administration, when he and I both worked on the National Security Council. I was able to work with him again at the beginning of the Obama administration, but these are people who bring a lot of experience and knowledge, and I believe also a very clear understanding that the world of 2020 is not the world of 2016, and it’s certainly not the world between 2008. Therefore the view that they are bringing or will bring to their work in American foreign policy will not be one that’s been defined by the past, it will not be one that’s been defined by what happened during the Obama administration, it will be one that’s defined by the challenges of the future, and I think they’re very clear eyed about it. I think that the President-elect also understands that this is not about going backwards, it’s about forging a new path forward.”

00:30:08 ON THE US RE-ENGAGING WITH ALLIES: “First of all, I think you rebuild confidence through engagement. On January 20th the President-elect once confirmed as President is not going to be able to turn to the world and say we’re back, we’re now in charge. There’s no doubt that the United States, as the world’s greatest power still wields an enormous authority around the globe and enormous influence. But the last four years have been challenging ones especially for our partners and our allies, but also to a certain extent for our adversaries because it took them quite some time to try to figure out or understand how the United States would behave and why it was behaving at the time. What is going to be needed is re-engagement in the world. I think what the President-elect and his team will do in the short term is use international organizations as a primary kind of launching point of re-engagement. In other words, the United Nations, all of the structures of the United Nations regional associations, like the Organization of American States, the African Union or our Alliance structures, whether it be in NATO… and show up at meetings where we’ve been absent for the past four years or take a determined point of view that we will then articulate and attempt to drive home in these institutions and organizations. There’s going to be a couple areas of very special interest in concern. The first and most immediate will be related to the pandemic. Not only the public health consequences of the pandemic and the effort to ensure that Americans and others are vaccinated and receive proper medical treatment, but also the economic consequences of the pandemic. And in this regard, I think you will see the United States returning almost immediately to the World Health Organization and then to its constituent parts, especially the Pan American Health Organization that handles much of WHO activities in the Western Hemisphere….  I also think you’re going to see a return to the Paris Climate Agreement, in which the United States will announce that it is again engaging on climate change and environmental issues, and that this will actually become a big part of how the administration understands US actions both in our bilateral relationships, but also through multilateral institutions and especially multilateral development banks. How it understands investment in commerce as we attempt to overcome the economic consequences of the pandemic because it will see a huge opportunity to begin to promote sustainable development, renewable energy sources, and a whole series of investments in environmental issues that begin to fundamentally change how world economies function. I think the incoming administration will grab onto the immediacy of the pandemic and the immediacy of its economic consequences to assert a new American presence, to use that presence to define agendas and define American leadership and then and then use that to identify this forward looking vision that I talked about.”

00:38:56 ON FIGHTING THE PANDEMIC: “If you were to list from top to bottom, all the major national security challenges that the United States faces today and will face on January 21st, I think they would be daunting enough that you wouldn’t want to even get out of bed in the morning. But the reality is, we all have to get out of bed and we all have to go to work… I would identify more than a couple of major issues. First and foremost is the pandemic. We’re on the verge of something important with approval of effective vaccines against the corona virus. That is a huge breakthrough and we are to be thankful for that. But even with this breakthrough, it’s going to take time for all Americans to be vaccinated or at least a sufficient number to be vaccinated. It’s going to take time for the rest of the world to the vet to be vaccinated. Therefore how we address the domestic consequences of the pandemic and understand the global consequences of it, is going to be very important. And I think the President-elect and his team understand that you can’t fight the pandemic country by country. The reason this is a pandemic is because we live in a globalized world in which the virus was able to travel very easily along trade and tourism routes. There is really no part of the world that has not been touched by this virus, which for anybody who thinks the world is not globalized, I think this is clear evidence that it is globalized. Therefore to address the pandemic, while we want to vaccinate Americans, we need to understand that we have to vaccinate other people too and that we must be prepared to share resources not just from the United States, but globally. I think one of the big challenges we’re going to face is how you link the domestic effort to address the pandemic and its consequences with the global effort. I think that is going to have to be front and center with everything that the administration does from the beginning and that link to that will be addressing the economic consequences. In other words, trying to ensure that that our economy and the economies of our major economic and commercial partners are also are linked in some fashion.”

00:42:50 ON CLIMATE CHANGE and other geopolitical issues: “Climate change is going to be a major point, and I think we’re going to find as we get into 2021 is that the extreme weather events that we’ve been experiencing for the past several years don’t go away. In fact, they’re only going to accelerate because of climate change. This is going to generate huge political pressure for countries to respond to climate change and to address environmental issues seriously. But what we’re already seeing is that it’s also generating huge pressure on corporations, and especially on the investment policies of corporations. To really focus on how to be sustainable overtime and how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and how to build energy models that are built around renewable energies as opposed to fossil fuels. While we’re working through these larger kinds of existential issues, we have the very significant challenge of how to manage our relationship with China, how to manage our relationship with Russia, how to manage our relationship with Iran and with Turkey. Then how to address what I consider to be a global crisis that was front and center at the end of the Obama administration, but has since somewhat slipped away, and that has to do with migration… We are living in a world which has more people who have been displaced both internally and externally, internally within countries and then driven out to other countries than at any time in human history. Migration is putting enormous strain on countries, many of whom are partners and allies of the United States around the world. We’re going to have to begin looking at how we address that issue. This is just a quick synopsis of some of the larger challenges. But as you can imagine there are going to be many others out there that that I haven’t even addressed.”

00:45:38 ON THE IMPORTANCE OF THE INDIAN OCEAN: “There are several that I would point to, the first is the Indian Ocean. In all the countries that lie around the Indian Ocean one-third of the world’s population lives in or near on or near the Indian Ocean. Two-thirds of the world’s oil and gas transits the Indian Ocean and two-thirds of the world’s trade in manufactured goods transit the Indian Ocean. And yet its is really only sailed by the United States Navy and Pirates, occasionally the British Navy, occasionally Chinese vessels, sometimes Indian vessels, but it is a region that I think is really going to become an area of strategic competition. It’s one in which the United States has begun to focus really beginning in the Obama administration and then to its credit in the Trump administration through its Indo-Pacific policies, but which is going to need a lot more focus and, in this regard, the Chinese are very intent on establishing military presence in the Indian Ocean. They already have a base in Djibouti near an American base. They are well positioned in the Bay of Bengal and in Sri Lanka to control access to the Indian Ocean through the South China Sea and then the Bay of Bengal. And the Indians themselves understand that they need to begin to play a much more strategic role in an ocean that’s named after them. Then on top of this you have the Australians and others who are profoundly interested in this part of the world. And so I think that that is going to be an area very special focus.”  

00:47:33 ON THE IMPORTANCE OF THE ARCTIC AS STRATEGIC COMPETITION: “I think another area that people oftentimes don’t think about as being one of strategic competition, but I think will be is the Arctic. There are any number of countries that make claims to the Arctic, and those claims were important, but had little kind of practical value when the Arctic was a polar ice cap. But as we get deeper into climate change, as the polar ice cap proceeds what we’re going to see is… a greater ability to navigate through the Arctic and possibly the ability to navigate across the Arctic, which would dramatically shorten the ability to travel from Europe to Asia and from North America to all parts of the world. And on top of that, there will be an opportunity for mining resources that had been hidden away by ice for a long time… In this regard, I think the competition to define how management of resources in the Arctic is handled, how sea lanes are handled is going to be very important.”


00:48:57 ON THE IMPORTANCE OF SPACE: “Another area that I think is going to be hugely important is space. Simply because the nature of technology and the way in which we have used space for satellites, the way in which other countries will continue space exploration and begin to develop the technologies necessary to be able to mine on planets and asteroids. Although it’s not something in our immediate future, it’s certainly something in the not-too-distant future and one in which I think many of your listeners will be alive to see at some point. The extent to which governments are prepared to focus on this, the better it will be for everybody.”

Sources and Methods: Recruiting Spies and Staying Left of Boom with Former CIA Operations Officer Daniel Hoffman

Daniel Hoffman - Concordia

In the latest installment of The Burn Bag Podcast, A’ndre and Ryan sit down with former CIA Senior Clandestine Services Officer Daniel Hoffman for a wide-ranging discussion drawing upon his experience and expertise as an operations officer and a CIA Chief of Station. Hoffman digs into what it means to hire spies and covers why human intelligence is still vitally important and reliable to the United States, and how that information is processed. Hoffman, widely considered to be a leading Russia expert, gives us his take on Putin’s Russia, discussing the recent revelations on the poisoning of a leading Russian opposition leader and how Putin aims to undermine the United States. Hoffman also talks about the importance of counterintelligence, and reacts to the recent news of a Chinese spy infiltrating certain political circles in the United States, that included the targeting of U.S. Congressman Eric Swalwell, a member of the House Intelligence Committee.


00:16:52 ON Aleksei Navalny: “There are protests in Belarus, populist uprising against (Alexander) Lukashenko that has caused Putin to be very concerned, that if the local folk in Belarus think they can rise up against Lukashenko, then there may be some concerns about what might happen in Russia. Now again, Russia has a massive security apparatus and so they would deny the populace any chance to overthrow Vladimir Putin. And remember when the Soviet Union collapsed, it wasn’t because of a populist uprising, it was because of Boris Yeltsin, an insider. That’s what scares Putin, that someone in his own inner circle, a Boris Yeltsin of the 21st century (who’s not drunk all the time), might decide that Vladimir Putin isn’t tough enough, isn’t strong enough, and it’s time to remove him. That’s why Vladimir Putin lashed out and targeted Alexei Navalny with Novichok, this Soviet nerve agent which the Russians continued to develop and improve upon. That one was a discoverable influence operation. He wanted his own people to know that he could target an opposition leader. It’s not because Navalny is threatening Putin, but Putin needed to use him as an example for his own followers, that Putin is still ruthless, and you better not cross him or else he’ll kill you. They could have targeted Navalny with a number of options, including just running him over with the car — they were surveilling him for quite some time, but they deliberately use this Soviet nerve agent just like they did against Sergei Skripal, the Russian Military intelligence officer who was living in England in exile at the time because Putin wanted his own spies to know if you cross me then I’m going to go find you wherever you are even in the UK and I’m going to kill you and he wanted everyone to know about it. That’s why they killed the Former FSB officer Litvinenko with polonium-210. So that’s just kind of how he operates. The protests in Khabarovsk in Siberia are again, not enough to threaten the regime, but enough to cause Putin some concern that people in his inner circle might look at him and think he’s not the guy anymore in whom we can trust to enable our kleptocracy, because that’s really what Russia is.”

00:20:59 ON Russia’s capacity to execute operations: “When Russia wants to do things right, they can, they can pretty well do things right. When they want their operations to be discovered, again to influence the public dialogue, they will do that as well. Consider the massive numbers of discoverable influence operations they ran against us in the United States in 2016… They deliberately left a trail of breadcrumbs, that came back to the Kremlin. You don’t buy ads on Facebook if you don’t want to be discovered. You don’t outsource hacking operations to the Internet Research Agency which is run by Vladimir Putin’s chef Yevgeny Prigozhin out in Saint Petersburg. You don’t go to Trump Tower for a clandestine meeting. That’s the least clandestine place on the planet for then-candidate Donald Trump in June of 2016, and you don’t send three Russians with ties to the Kremlin… for a clandestine operation. Now the Trump family, Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner, never should have gone to that meeting. They were going to go take a piece of free cheese from the mousetrap, as Russians like to say, so they shouldn’t have shown up there. But that was just meant to be discoverable influence operation to make it appear like the Trump campaign was up to something nefarious. The Democrats would accuse them of just that, and then you’d have this rise in animosity between the two parties… and that’s what we have seen a lot of. “

00:30:25 China’s targeting of Representative Swalwell: “Well there’s two ways to do it. The first is again to get back to what I was saying about the CIA mission, is you detect the threat way out left of boom. If you’ve got a source in China who tells you that China is deploying these swallows… If we have a source telling us that the China is doing this, and even maybe tactically who these people are, then we could warn people beforehand. Otherwise, we’re going to have to rely on defensive counterintelligence briefings. Representative Swalwell is not guilty of any crimes obviously. The FBI said that Christina Fong didn’t steal any classified (information) from him. The only criticism I would have is that flops like this, they don’t get better with age… It happened in 2015, she went back to Beijing in 2015. We should have publicized this back then. Representative Swalwell should have said, look, this is what happened to me, these are the measures we have taken on my staff to vet individuals from criteria countries… Secondly, especially if he’s on the House Intelligence Committee, he should have said “look guys what we need to do here is have a program for our state and local elected officials so that they’re aware of China’s ruthless attacks so that they can better defend themselves…” Those are two failures on our part. Now, five years later, we’re learning a little more about this, but again, we should have dealt with it five years ago not now. Not this late. That runs the risk of allowing China to cause a lot more harm than they might otherwise have.”